Punta Arenas, Chile - Sunday, February 8 - 9, 2020
Oh my, our time on this 14-day cruise is going by so quickly! Typically we wake in the morning, prepare to explore the day's port, eat breakfast, and participate in an available excursion. This will probably not be good news for cruise lines but as a side note, we and many other passengers rarely book excursions through the ship any longer. We generally find the very same or similar excursions available by vendors just outside the port. We save lots of money and usually end up traveling with much smaller, more intimate groups. Yes, when we choose independent excursion vendors we risk not getting back to the ship in time due to an accident or vehicle breakdown, but these vendors make their living offering services to cruise ship passengers. They know the ships' schedules at least and sometimes better than we passengers do. And they usually have several vehicles they can enlist in the event something does go wrong. Plus as a bonus, we have met some of our best fellow cruise mates on these local trips.
Again, typically by mid- or late-afternoon we return to the ship and get ready for dinner while choosing where to go for drinks before dinner and which shows to see afterwards. Ohhhh, such exhausting work! My! My! Before I know it the day has completely evaporated. Now, at this very moment we are already on the early evening portion of Day 9. DAY 9! Yikes! It's going by far too fast!
On Friday our ship cruised all day. The weather was amazing! While it seems that we are blessed to have such fine, warm weather this far down toward Antarctica, reality smacks us bluntly in the face. This weather is not natural. It is not a gift. Instead it is a dire warning. It is a sign that we must make a change to take care of our planet. And a very sobering thought is maybe we are too late. Maybe we have crossed a line across which we can never return. How disheartening, especially when so many people don't believe it or care. I read that the very best solution to reducing greenhouse gases, are trees! Everyone, plant a tree!
Around 4:30 pm, we reached the Cape Horn. Everyone went out on the decks to take pictures and to celebrate as we sailed from the Atlantic into the Pacific. No, there was no demarcation. The water in both oceans looked the same. But the moment was significant! I just wondered, in the grand scheme of things, how many of us actually get (or want) to do this?
We arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, on Saturday morning, February 9. Almost immediately we received and safely tucked away our signed certificate certifying our arrival at the "the end of the world!" Wow!
Ushuaia was named by now extinct indigenous Indians and it is pronounced "ooo-shwhy-ah." I find its name extremely fascinating but confounding. It is very difficult for me to get its sounds to come out right, easily and fluidly especially when looking at the name in written form. I have to really concentrate.
The most important site in Ushuaia is the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. We found a vendor and boarded a van that took us to the vintage Tren del Fin del Mundo (end of the world train) station. Built specifically for tourist traffic, the vintage steam train took us across peat bogs—the first we have ever seen -- and through what looked like petrified forests of the Tierra del Fuego Park. Ushuaia and the national park sit at the foot of the Andes Mountains and are bordered by the Beagle Channel; the government of Argentina sought to colonize the area and did so by creating a prison. Beginning in 1904 prisoners sent there from all Argentina worked year round even in the most harsh arctic weather. They cut trees, built roads, sewers and laid the grounds for what would become the city. Because of the short yearly growing/decaying season, tree stumps cut back then turned gray and hardened. They still stand on the ground where they were cut over 100 years ago. Eventually prisoners and their families did new kinds of work to support the town. They did the shop-keeping, shoe-making and performed all the other vital services needed by a community. The hard work and sense of accomplishment served as an early rehabilitation system for previously dangerous offenders. The train, built back then to take prisoners to the forest, now the Tierra del Fuego National Park, originally ran in front of the town along the Beagle Channel and into forest. Today the train we rode still runs on the last 11 or 12 miles of that original track.
Back in town, we shopped a bit and sampled chocolates filled with a sweet and pink, fluff made from wild berries that grow in the area. Called calafate, these berries taste quite a bit like blue berries and grow similarly on bushes as well. Stan bought a jar of jam. Boy, do I wish we could stay here for a while. The town looks like a ski resort and probably serves as such in colder weather but what attracted me was crabs! Restaurant after restaurant showcased tanks of huge live King crabs. They were not quite as large as Alaskan King's but they certainly looked big enough and luscious enough for me. Maybe the ship will offer crab for dinner one evening . . . ha! Get real, not on this ship! Maybe Ushuaia exports crabs to Santiago!!!
Late afternoon our ship sailed the Beagle Channel. Glaciers! Just off the starboard side. Our ship was able to sail close, within a quarter mile of them - there were five in all. The Orlanda, the Francia, important because it touches the water, the Italia, the Romantic and the Espagnia. Do see the photos! The glaciers were magnificent. We were reminded that u-shaped valleys in mountains are caused by glaciers; v-shaped valleys are the result of erosion from moving streams or rivers. The afternoon's weather as we sailed past he glaciers was amazing. Who would imagine observing thousand-year-old glaciers off the tip of South America only 600 miles from the Antarctic Peninsula while standing on a ship's deck in shirt-sleeves and shorts. Even the ship's crew is flabbergasted with our warm, sunny weather. This time of year typically would be cold, windy and rainy.
Sunday, quiet Sunday, was spent in Punta Arenas. I'm still not sure of this city's claim to fame, except it is at the foot of the Andes Mountains in Patagonia and the nearby Andino Park is a popular ski resort. I do know this, this small, colorful city was founded in 1848 and is located on the Strait of Magellan which means explorers, sailors, adventurers, and merchants made it an important place and still do.
We walked past probably 6 hostels today - a tell-tale sign as a destination for an abundance of adventurous young travelers. Needing a little exercise we opted to walk the path most people take via bus to see city highlights. According to Apple watches which never capture accurate workout data - in fact these "smart" watches remind me to start the outdoor walk AFTER I've already walked at least half a mile! Then it wants to pause every time I stop to merely take a sip of water. Cheater! Anyway, according to our Apple watches, we walked about 4 miles around the town. We reached the central park that features a grand statue of Magellan. It also features dogs who appeared to own the place. Perhaps coming from the same lineage, big hairy, well-fed dogs lounged around everywhere like sacred cows. They dosed, they romped with each other and they bothered no one. It was fun seeing dogs live freely. I noticed dog houses and bowls of water left for them in strategic spots here and there.
Visitors from our ship gathered at the park to take photos in front of the statue and to also note recent paint splattering and defacing that occurred during recent demonstrations of the people against the Chilean government. Throughout the town we saw slogans and demands spray paint on public places and government buildings. It was a little unnerving. Yet while I do not support willful destruction for any purpose, I have a bit of empathy for the people in this instance. Sometimes, people, especially common people, must do what it takes to get their point across. We walked to the famous Sara Braun Palace and the Cementario Municipal Sara Braun where the dead are remembered with sometimes grand and sometimes dilapidated graves and mausoleums. Sara Braun, we learned, was a wealthy entrepreneur, philanthropist and largest employer in Patagonia in the late 1800's and early 1900's. She died n 1955 and like a small estate, the mausoleum of Sara Braun is the most grand.
From the cemetery, we walked up the long hill to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. This popular spot looks out over the city and the wharf below. It is a great place for photos! It is marked with two sign posts marking the direction and distance to points all over the globe.
Just before boarding the tender returning us to the ship we walked to the beachside sign of PUNTA ARENAS to take more photos and to watch the big flock of black and white Imperial cormorants.
We will be at sea for the next two days - no Internet.