Richie Larson

In January of 2008 I spent nearly two weeks in "Deep South America"; specifically... Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, and the same general area of Argentina, with a "landing" at Cape Horn and finally ending the trip in Ushuaia, Argentina... the "southernmost city in the world".

Links to the various photo albums are positioned at appropriate stages throughout this text.

So where does one start?  Hmm.  At the beginning, I suppose.  And then there are always some questions people ask you, such as "When on Earth did you decide you wanted to go to a place like that.... and WHY?".  Valid questions.  Because it's there?  Not really.

As to the first part of "when" that's pretty easy... probably close to 30 years ago when I was a youngster and a teen, and dreaming about some of the great Explorers in centuries past dates back to my early grade-school years, and I just thought that places like Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn had an adventurous sound to them, and somehow.... always felt that it would be absolutely great to visit.  It turned out far better than "absolutely great", and the reality did in fact meet and equal the romantic dreams and notions I had had for years about it.

LEAVING:  It was a good way to basically end the year 2007... leaving for the southern part of the Americas.  2007 had been a "tale of two cities"; the best of times, and the worst.  Dreams realized and complete disasters largely unforeseen happening.  Some great adventures early in the year to South Africa, obtaining a few other things I'd always dreamed of owning, then the death of my brother following an auto accident and a business implosion and financial exigency where I work which nearly ended that- of which is still in general peril.  So... leaving Oregon on the evening of December 30 for Los Angeles was the first step, although the flight to Chile did not leave until the 31st.  I went there the night before because winter travel here can be so unpredictable, and I did not want to miss that flight to Chile.

It all kicked off quite well.  I stayed at a Radisson near the LA airport which had a great view of LAX, a neat top-floor restaurant with rather great food and really cool upbeat music playing... so it was off to a nice start.  The flight to LA had been fine and there were no winter travel delays so far....

On the 31st I made it to LAX in the late morning and checked in with Lan Chile airlines... asking a few questions about baggage and customs' procedures and then kicked around the airport a bit.  It is usually a 10 to 11 hour flight that leaves in mid-afternoon and with the 5 hour time change, arrives in Santiago in the early morning.  I'm accustomed to flights of that duration, so that did not bother me.  Lan was using a nearly new Boeing 767 with all the entertainment systems and seats that looked like they could come out of a Porsche.  It was a nice flight over the coast, along Baja and then drifting into night-time darkness.  The flight crew came on after about five hours of flying, and going by the local time in Santiago... announced HAPPY NEW YEAR to the passengers.  I also really like the B 767 on account of the outbound 2-seat configuration... never stuck in the middle, and being slow on NY eve... had the two seats to myself.  Nice.  The service that Lan has is quite good; plenty of food which is at least decent, drinks and snacks and all in all, except that they had somewhat lesser English-speaking skills than I thought they might.... all quite excellent.

Being fairly dark in the morning, you don't see a lot of majestic scenes of the Andes mountains, and besides... I was on the wrong side of the aircraft for that anyway.  The airport at Santiago de Chile is quite modern, and I had several hours there before the connection flight to Punta Arenas in the south.

I went outside the airport for a bit.. the only part I saw of Santiago... which even in the morning has a bit of weather inversion and smog characteristics... but the airport was lively and fun.

I discovered the "logistics problems" of South American airports was, in a word... dreadful.  Despite my questions, the ACCURATE information and procedures for clearing Immigration AND customs AND rechecking your baggage ( which I'd been told was not necessary ) was a real challenge.  I had time to figure it out, though.  That sort of problem repeated itself again, later !

After a few hours and few mugs of VERY strong "large" coffee's I was checked in to the flight to Punta Arenas.  Chile is a VERY long and very narrow country.... bordered by Argentina, and mostly along the Andes mountains peaks.  A smaller but quite new Airbus A318 was used for the three + hour flight, and I arrived right on time in Punta Arenas, having seem some very nice ocean scenery and lakes as we came in.  I was not there long at all... and was out of baggage and saw somebody waiting outside, holding a sign with my surname on it.

I'd studied a great many things, and had worked out arrangements with a specialty group to basically put together three main aspects of the trip... local support in Punta Arenas, then travel and tours north at Torres del Paine National Park; the expedition cruise on the "Mare Australis", and it all went most smoothly.

So there I was !  The terrain around the airport was rather unimpressive... and, which I came to be used to nearly every hour of the day... the wind in Patagonia is rather constant, and it's not a light breeze either.  I went out and met Julio... my local guide, who spoke English rather well, and had lived in Florida for six years... a guy of Croatian descent ( as many are there... I later discovered in the fascinating history of the place.... )  Julio drove me the 10 or so miles into the city to my hotel, the Finis Terrae, and we just plain hit if off... talking about EVERYTHING right from the start... so that was a GREAT and wonderful addition to the trip from the start.  The Finis Terrae was a great hotel... small by American standards, but very comfortable, and with great views.  There's a great deal of warmish Alpine designs in that part of the world.  The 6th floor had a fantastic view, a restraunt, and lounge room and the view of the Straight of Magellan was great.. named of course after the famous explorer.

Just before the Panama Canal was built... Punta Arenas was one of the busiest ports in the world, even after a lot of shipping bypassed the Straights, which had a heavy toll, and braved the course around Cape Horn.  Thousands of European people stopped there and settled years ago... some deciding not to finish the trip to the California gold-rush areas... having been convinced that just maybe there was opportunity and gold right there where they were.

Punta Arenas is now a city of about 130 to 160 thousand people... quite clean, really... and nice parks, and in just about every case of which I came across... populated by pleasant and polite people.

I made arrangements with Julio for the next morning.... a half-day city tour before being taken to the bus station for the trip north... and then settled in.  I was on the 2nd floor overlooking a small park, and in the late afternoon of this New Years Day, it was fairly quiet in the area.  One of the most charming things I saw was a young boy perhaps 6 or so years old, who had a new bicycle... probably a christmas gift.  His father was helping him learn to ride it.

You could tell how much they both were enjoying it... the the little guy was all in good nature although pretty apprehensive.  That is something I observed several times, and chatted with Julio about... the dedication to children and family in general that I was to see over and over.  I think the relative standards of life, at least in that part of Patagonia.. are a bit better than I was prepared for.  I thought it was all pretty decent, and tourists are never, EVER hassled or harassed by street peddler types... which are not allowed.  Even on days when large cruise ships call in, they do allow some small tourist stands in the main city park, but THEY do not bother you either... you have to ask them... they just do NOT grind you !

Julio was a rep from a large and exceptionally well organized group called Comapa..their service is first rate, and they had all the various documents and tickets in good order, which Julio explained and went over in detail.

I had dinner at the top floor restaurant and was enjoying the view out of my room, and of course taking notice of how at 10 at night... it was still quite light outside, being THAT far south.  I don't think it ever got "dark-dark until after 11 pm, and whenever I woke up at 5 or so in the morning... it was already light.

So far, so good.  Even better.  It was late, but I was tired, so went to the window to pull the double blind curtains.  A pause to gaze out at the boulevard park and a statue, adjusted the hot-water radiant heater ( confusing to learn ) and called it a day....

The next morning I would meet up with Julio after breakfast, check out of the hotel and make my way north to Puerto Natales... about 100 or so miles north and the "gateway" to the majestic Torres del Paine National Park.  A new vision and new experience every hour of every day.  It sure does not get very much better than that !

Click anywhere below for the album index. To get back to this page and further links as the story progresses, return to each album index page - after viewing the individual pics - and click the link to Deep South America at the bottom, or keep the album open in a new window and click "next album in this series" on each album index page.

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PART 2 - Torres del Paine

The morning of January 2nd, 2008, I awoke at a nearly "normal" morning hour in Punta Arenas, which surprised me a bit because I had gotten very little sleep in the previous 36 hours.  I never DO sleep much at all on airplanes, but felt well enough and ready to go.  Unlike the previous New Years day... it was rather a brisk city scene looking out the window, and I took some more of what turned out to be over 1,100 digital pictures and video sequences...

It's a bit of a challenge taking a shower in some of those places... the bath-tub design is not exactly step-into.. more like crawl over... the things have sides about 2 feet high !  A breakfast buffet at the 6th floor restaurant ( included with the hotel stay and quite good, really.... ) followed and then checking in stateside and some emails at the computer center followed.  Julio arrived right on time as I checked out, and we spent the morning doing a tour of Punta Arenas, including some hill-top panorama scenes and his endless historical narratives of the place and OUR seemingly endless subjects to chat about.

The history of that area... both the original natural residents, then the age of exploration, and the era when the place began being settled by Europeans was just amazing.  We visited two museums, including the home of a shipping tychoon of the 19th century which had taken a decade to build... mostly finished by his young and pretty widow, since he died fairly early, and SHE had quite the soap-opera drama of her life as well.  Punta Arenas has a cemetary that is quite unique... small vault-structures for specific families, and like much of Europe... all that just resonates of history, history, and then some more history.

I had about three or four hours for this, since I had to be at the bus station in the early afternoon for transit north to Puerto Natales.  Julio dropped me off and knew exactly when to pick me up two days later.  The roads and infrastructure northwards are quite good, although there is no way to drive to the northern part of Chile very easily.  The "Buses Fernandez" station was easy to check in with, and the vehicles themselves are all large and fairly modern Mercedes Benz bus vehicles; comfortable, modern, and with a lavatory.  It's about a 3 hour trip north... going through the livestock and sheep raising area of Patagonia, fairly low terrain, and everywhere you see those classic photographs of trees in Patagonia where the wind blows two-thirds of the branches to one side.  It's true !  As you approach Puerto Natales, you begin to see some of the mountains of Paine.. a bit remarkable because at that point they are still many miles away.  Puerto Natales is nowhere near as large as Punta Arenas; located on the water, rather like at the southern end of the "Inside Passage" of Chile, through many of the Chilean Fjords, and the gateway to Torres del Paine.

I had the luck ( and the money ) to be staying at one of the better hotels in town, the Costa Australis, which overlooked the water.  Perhaps one mile offshore a rather awesome super-yacht was anchored.  I learned more about that later, and particularly the evening chat with the corporate jet pilot from California who was "following the ship around.....".  Hmmm.  I walked around the waterfront, parks, and an area about a mile square in the area, and picked up snacks at a side-street store.  The area has backpacker and modest hostel facilities everywhere... being a hugely popular  launch area for younger types and back-packers who come off the Navimag cargo/vehicle/passenger ships which the area relies on for just about everything.

Another interesting Alpine design hotel with a pleasant restraunt, lounge, and computer room, and I would be there two nights.

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The morning of the 3rd I awoke early because the long-day tour up to the park would leave at about 7.30, and I wanted to check out "another inclusive breakfast buffet" that morning.  I was picked up right on time in a medium-size "shuttle van" which could seat about 14 or 15 people, and was quite comfortable.  Like most of them... it was diesel; gasoline is less expensive there than Europe but still more than we in the US complain about, so many vehicles ARE diesel.  The group had a good tour guide who was probably fluent in 3 languages, and was a local, and had obviously studied his subjects quite well.

There is a fascinating stop on the way to tour these immense caves called the "Milodon caves", where fossil remains of this nearly prehistoric and mammoth-like / bear-like creature once lived.  Huge cave systems which are like an immense rock-roofed amphitheater to put it one way, and about a total 1 mile of walking before returning the the van for the trip to Torres del Paine.  As you progress north... you begin to see the mountains of Torres del Paine and the visual majesty of that place cannot be described so much in words as by looking at photographs of it.  The road also turns to gravel for a good many miles, and after a pause at a small settlement for a rest, we enter Torres del Paine and begin SEEING what the excitement is all about.

The "Paine" part is not pronounced as "pain".  I think if you are native, it's PI-NEE and if not, then it's more like PINE.  The TOWERS of Paine, which is what it means, are these enormous rock structures shooting skywards for thousands of feet and are part of one of the most angular, jagged, and completely unexpected rock and mountain formations that you could imagine.  Whatever happened there those many eons ago must have been pretty incredible, staggering, and of gargantuan Earthen convolutions.  It's an amazing sight, and the green-blue lakes of the area with the mountains in the background are simply stunning.  Animal life abounds in the area, too, and after all, it HAS been for years a cherished UNESCO "official Bisosphere" and National Park.  People can spend days or weeks trekking about the area, and it's tightly regulated and monitored for that.  I did not see them, but I do know that there are some staggeringly expensive exclusive resorts there.... like- well over $750.00 per person per day would be during the bargain season !

Which DOES remind me !  Why January?  Well, while it's southern hemisphere and therefore the opposite of the US in January, there really is only about three or so months when it's "nice enough" to visit, although some operations function from maybe late October to early March, but January and February are best.  It's never really COLD.  It's absolutely NEVER really warm.  It ALWAYS in many areas is VERY windy... and makes it bone chilling.  I was in winds well over 70 miles per hour near some lakes and near a glacier, and one needs to be VERY layered and well dressed to be out in that.

The route through the park is carefully laid out so that you can see the best scenes, particularly the Towers, and then alongside lakes and other areas, with frequent stops for rest, and photographs, and some hiking.  A REALLY beautiful and no-doubt expensive resort near a lake was where the group paused for lunch, which was, of course... very good, and the scenery was amazing.  Put that spot on the list for future referance !  Then we proceeded to the lake area near the GLACIER GRAY, one of the largest in the park.  That became QUITE the hike, over a river on a rather lively suspension bridge, then across to the lake area where the winds nearly blew me over.  That lake at the foot of Glacier Gray had ice floes in it even during their summer, of course.

Those winds were probably in excess of 70 and conversation would have been impossible.  The actual glacier is somewhat in the distance, but even at that you can appreciate how massive it is.

Hiking back and over that rollicking bridge was kind of fun, but it was a tiresome hike indeed !  Some time after that we departed towards Puerto Natales, and the day in the park had been incredible.  I won't even much put it into words... just look at a picture or two.  I have known about that place for years; as someone there might think that of the Grand Canyon or something.. so- just another incredible thing to have been able to do.

Back at Puerto Natales about 7.30 or so I had lots of daylight left... so after a quick rest, another local stroll around the neighborhood and at a local shop which sold various clothing items, and I usually DID try to buy things from small vendors.  This was no big business... like a small house where your living room had been made into a shop and you lived behind there... which was the case with this one.  I found quite a few nice things there... tapestry items, some nice Alpaca scarves ( and those things are easy to transport home ! ) and all in all, it had been a fantastic day.  I stayed up until about 11 and while it was still somewhat light outside... knew that it was time to call it another day !  I'd be leaving early for the bus trip back to Punta Arenas, and Julio was scheduled to pick me up at the station.  I had no planned-plans after THAT but that too would change quite soon.  That's one of the reasons it was so bloody COOL !

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The morning of January 4th.  I could really get used to this !  I had fretted about the pick-up for transport to the bus station... only a few miles away, but as usual... they were RIGHT on schedule, so after another quick breakfast and check-out I'm on my way back to the station.  Similar return trip, with several stops which they do for people, and also... I would add that the price of those bus trips is really pretty low.  I think it might have been the equivalent of about $9.00 US $ each way, and it's a 110-120 mile trip.  That's not too bad, really.

A lot of stuff costs less there, but fuel is not one of them.  Chile is well developed in many ways, and they have some labor standards and a minimum wage, but I suppose job-for-job they make less than half of their western-industrialized counterparts.

Southwards bound.  Pull into the station within 10 minutes of schedule.  Julio is there, of course, with his not-old/not-new but clean Lincoln Navigator which he uses for his work when there's not a crowd, and we return to the same hotel I had been before.  That's all he is obligated to do... and leave me for the day on my own, but we'd become pretty friendly by then.  He had some things to do for a couple hours, and then he off'd to return to just do "whatever" for the afternoon... "off the agenda", as it were.  He'd married a few years back and his wife worked for the Chilean government... many hours, too... and he said how his first priortity was his 4 year-old son.

I'd read about a maritime museum of sorts which looked fascinating, but was told that almost nobody went to.  So... after a lunch break and a couple hours, Julio was back and we headed to this museum, which was half-ship itself.  I had begun to realize the unique and abundant care that the Chileans put into their museums, and that had not only history, but just about everything and anything to do with ships and shipping, AND the Navy, AND how the interactions between Chile and Argentina had been ( which is not exactly warm and fuzzy... or had not been... ) and how cool all THAT was, with Julio's conversation and knowledge just enhanced all of it.

We'd cruise around a bit.  Stop at a small store.  Let's check out a Chilean mall and supermarket and see what it's like, which is... surprisingly GOOD, wonderfully well-stocked, and on level with whatever I have seen in this country.  Let's go by the REAL waterfront area !  And around the block that nobody ever goes around, or wander through that one main part again, and talk about THAT statue and who THAT was, and I never even asked the guy to do that. He just liked me and found it interesting, too... so that went right along all day until about 6 or so.

On the 4th floor of the hotel this time, and still time to wander around after dinner and hang out in the lounge.  Hmm.  I just don't know how much better the end of my fourth day in Chile could have been... uh, within reason, of course !  Within reason.

The next day I'd be spending most of the morning with Julio again, and then he'd take me to where you check in for the Mare Australis expedition cruise. And that would be the next seagoing part of the adventure.......

Part 3 - Punta Arenas & Mare Australis

January 5th of 2008 in Punta Arenas.  I started the day with a morning stroll, then breakfast up on the 6th floor with a view of the Straits in this area which is generally referred to as MEGALLANES (their spelling) and in any sense, there are always tributes to ship captains, navigators, explorers, and famous people of one sort or another in this area.

For the record, I NEVER ate a hamburger or cheeseburger or much of anything you'd call "fast food" while in South America.  You hear a lot about the meat dishes, particularly Argentine beef, but I mostly enjoyed the excellent seafood offerings while I was there.  I'm not much of a big eater or feaster but rather do enjoy it a bit more often while traveling.. unlike my home-bound fare, which is basically miserable but keeps me healthy and fairly lean.  Ha !

I checked out for the last time from that hotel after doing a lot of pictures and video from the great top-floor location; the best in town for views, it's said... and met up with Julio for the morning "off the agenda" meanderings.  I'd asked him often about the money I would owe him for doing all this... a subject he rather constantly avoided.  We headed towards the airport where an amazing "living museum" of sorts was developed... everything having to do with the development and evolution of that part of the world... original homes from the latter 19th century... what shops were like, pharmacies, dental labs, watch and clock shops, radio rooms, farm and industrial tractors from more than a century ago which used steam for propulsion, and even an auto garage from perhaps the 20's, which had an old Ford model T and a Peugeot parked inside.  It was just amazing, and the care and attention to put all that together was impressive.

The stiff wind, as always... the wind.  Still... they get used to it.  Because it's on the water near the Pacific... there is NOT the climate extremes that we here in the Northwest US may endure... the frigid winters, or the very very hot summers.  South at Antarctica the winter part is quite something else again, but not in Tierra del Fuego.  I suspect the winter scene right here in early February in Oregon near the mountains is more extreme than they might see, although in the deep south of Argentina it does look like it could be similar.

Cape Froward is somewhat south of Punta Arenas.. and that is the actual most extreme southern part of the continent.  The "Grand Isle" de Tierra del Fuego says it all... it's basically a giant island area, and Cape Horn... well- it's not a Cape at all, literally.  It's called Cape Horn, or Cabo de Hornos, of course, after the Dutch van Hoorn, but it's technically an island.  No matter.  No place else in the whole world is Cape Horn, and that's a fact !

We ambled around the waterfront again and looked at some relics of shipwrecks from long ago, and viewed the coastal patrol boats of the Chilean Navy, and eventually made it back to town where I checked in at the Mare Australis office, which was quite close to where the hotel was.  Julio had to drop me off for a few hours since he had some family stuff and meetings to attend to, so I strolled around, and went to place nearby for some coffee and lunch, and noted this very old and barely-walking man who came in to hang out for a while.  I think the waitress types knew him, and treated him with sincere respect.

He was dressed in an old suit.  The waitress had asked one customer to give him a cigarette, and when the guy started chatting with me a bit... and he was harmless enough, I gave him several of the ciggie sticks, which both he and the waitress appreciated greatly.  Since it was not expensive, I went across the street to hang out and go through the mansion museum again, and then through the park where I bought a few more momento items from some of the informal merchants there... and it was "their day" since one or more of the major cruise ships was there... a Holland America ship, I recall.

Cruceros Australis does "expedition cruises" between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, Argentina... 3-night from Argentina and 4-night from Punta Arenas.

They have two specific-purpose ships... the Via Australis and Mare Australis, of about 2500 tons, no more than 126 passengers, with four or five Zodiacs for excursions.  They are newer ships, comfortable and clean, and the only such ships allowed commercially to navigate those waters in the glacier areas, the protected islands, and as such... render superb service.  I'd done some research on this for a couple years, and knew a lot about it and also knew that there was likely no other way, save a private yacht, to get through that area. IIn much of that area, there is NO human habitation within 100 miles, and I already anticipated utterly spectacular scenery.  I'd worked out the schedule, my time allowed, and air schedules to know that leaving from where I was would be best, and would see the most.  I was hardly let down in the least.

Julio was back in about four hours or so and took me down to the waterfront pier area, where we chatted a bit more, and waited for a special bus that takes you out to the ship.  Finally we spoke about good old money and he said he wanted little more than gas money, since he'd found it interesting.  Well.  The guy demanded little, had paid for some extra museum tickets and such, so... uh- no way, Julio.  I gave him a bundle of Chilean peso's for the gas and some US currency ( all far more than just the gas money, for crying out loud... ) and he said it was more than fair.  He deserved every last penny, or would that be peso or centavo for it.  We exchanged email and final chat, and the guy gave me a mild hug ( which Chilean guys do... ) and we bid farewell.  He was a huge part in making the trip thus far just that much more memorable.

Soon I was next to the ship, and checked on board, and my baggage ( two safari-type duffel types ) had been taken to the ship.  Julio mentioned to get to the dining room quickly to check in and select a table... a good idea because I managed to snare a window view table, and my table-mates became good partners in the adventure.  Mare Australis is not a huge ship... not at all, but purpose designed for precisely what they do, and in that regard... was just perfect, with a nice dining room, two lounges and great scenery from the top deck, and the cabins were really quite large with very big sealed windows... larger than what you might expect for cabin size.  Being a ship freak... I scampered all over the ship checking it out, and took a lot of photography from the top deck.  There was a meeting to meet the main officers and discuss the schedule, and amusing that they pointed out that this was not so much an entertainment cruise ship ( like no entertainment events.... no TV's, no internet... we'll wake you up early for excursions in the Zodiacs.... ) and then dinner later on, after they cast off and we left Punta Arenas.

Yes... I was loving it !  8 pm at dinner I met my table mates.. and that worked out great... one older British couple from London, who had only gotten on board because of a recent cancellation by someone, a younger ( than me ) unmarried couple from France... who spoke decent English, and two Italian guys in probably their early 30's or so, who spoke fair English.. all quite good for me, since I am basically mono-language !  We were on a lot of excursions together.  Most of the ships staff speaks several languages, and modify it as such.  One lounge might be used for the naturalists to give lectures and details for the English speaking crowd, and then another was used for Italian, since there were quite a few of them on this cruise, and some French speaking folks.  Of the 122 people on this cruise, 48 were Americans and about 12 different nationalities were represented, including one Danish woman... actually being a group leader for some folks, probably in her latter 40's give or take.. blonde, and with whom I was enamored from the moment I boarded the ship.  Yeah, I know... shameless.  She quite obviously was single and appeared to be bound to stay that way, although I tried to talk with her from time to time.

I felt quite happy as I returned to my cabin for the night.  I felt really quite privileged to be doing this.  The ship part was one of the, if not the most expensive components to this trip, but I felt then, and am convinced now... that it was completely worth it.  I plan and book early and try to pay it off, or at least most of it, before I leave six months later, so you don't feel buried in debt WHILE you are doing the trip !

The next four days or so would be unforgettable... cruising through that stunning part of the world, sights I'd never dreamed I'd see, and learn so very much... with great fellow passengers as friends.  It was terrific.  For now, the ship is merely moving at a serene 12 knots or so south through the Straights of Magellan and, for a change, I'm not being unduly disturbed about thoughts of ANYTHING going on "back home".  I was a world away, and it really FELT that way.  Not many things, in my opinion, turn out WAY better ( if even close ) to what you see in the brochures and promotional photographs.

So far, this particular one has been the exception to all that.  Tierra del Fuego, the Darwin mountains, Ainsworth island, Tucker islet, Pia glacier, Cape Horn, and Ushuaia, the city where they like to say... "The End of the World... Beginning of Everything..." all feature in the days ahead.

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Part 4 - Adventure to Deep South America

The afternoon of January 5th 2008 I checked in and boarded the expedition ship Mare Australis, and was quite pleased with what I found right from the start... a lovely, smaller cruise ship with a very roomy cabin and a large panorama window, and well appointed "public rooms" which were quite comfortable... just for sitting, viewing, sipping a drink, or attending one of the many lectures given by the ships staff of naturalists.

This particular ship was built in about 2002... purpose built for operations in that part of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, sturdy and reinforced for operations near ice, designed to withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour, and of a bit more than 2600 gross tons, 236 feet in length, 44 in width, and drafting just more than 10 feet.  Mare and her sister, Via Australis are two of the very few expedition cruise ships allowed to operate in those glacial areas of the Fuegian Fjords and glacier areas.

"Wecome to Expedition Cruise Nr 169 !" was what the schedule for the voyage started with.  After attending the mandatory lifeboat and lifejacket drill, there was an introduction to the officers and crew, followed by a "folklore show" and then dinner in the ships "Patagonia Dining Room".

The ships daily schedule perhaps outlines the details best, of which I will offer some excerpts, followed by some personal notes:

Sunday January 6th

"...... during sunrise we will sail the Admiralty Fjord, arriving to Ainsworth Bay during the early hours, where Marinelli Glacier is located... the center of interest this morning will be the Darwin Mountain Range....and in this place we will have the opportunity to see a colony of Elephant Seals.... taking care of the animal's environment.  We will continue our trip sailing to Tucker Island... place of our next disembarkation, where we will see Magellanic Penguins who arrive every spring to breed.  Tucker Island.. located in the Whiteside channel... close encounters with Cormorants, Magellanic Penguins, Dolphin gulls, and many more representatives of fauna.....  Tucker Island is a very fragile place... which is the reason why we are not going to land on the island... and the afternoon adventure will be onboard Zodiacs.....

You wear the lifejackets over plenty of warm clothing, and the ship organizes the passengers carefully and you board the Zodiac, which is hard pressed against the stern of the ship quite firmly.  We landed on Ainsworth Island and had a great hike, checking out the terrain, the animals and nearby Darwin Mountain Range, and after some time return to the shore, where the ships company offers you Coke, water, Hot Chocolate or whiskey and water before reboarding the Zodiacs.  Except for at Cape Horn later on, you can take your lifejacket off when on the shore.  The afternoon excursion to Tucker Island was also fascinating, and the natural behavior of Dolphins... which were frollicking around as if performing a show was awesome.  They would race by the Zodiac... or under and around it, jumping out of the water frequently, and in this remote part of the world, where there is virtually no human habitation for a hundred miles or so... it's just amazing.  The Magellanic Penguins, in all their almost humorous activity and antics on the shore is also really fun to observe.

Lunch and an afternoon lecture on "Penguins and other birds" on the 4th deck Sky Lounge featured in between the excursions.  I'd wanter around the ship, and also chatted with my table-mates from time to time, and just relax.....

I was told later that the ship encountered some somewhat rougher seas and rolled a bit during the night but I never noticed that or was awoken by it...

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Monday January 7th


".... during the night we sail along the Magdalena, Cockburn, and Occasion channels.  Early in the morning we will sail the waters of canal Ballenero ( whaler boat channel )... and during the afternoon sail into the Pia Fjord, located beside the northwest arm of the Beagle Channel on the Chelian side of Tierra del Fuego.  Our excursion will be in front ot the Pia glacier... where we will disembark and enjoy a short walk by the glacier.  Disembarkation will be in Punta Expedicion.... a place that was explored by the expedition team of Cruceros Australis in 1999......  Later on we will sail along the Avenue of the Glaciers, well known by magnificent glaciers like the Romanche, German, and Italy....."

Other COOL things during the morning hours was the "visit to the engines room", and later... a lecture on glaciology in the afternoon, and "History of Cape Horn" lecture that evening....

The VISIT TO THE ENGINES ROOM was totally neat... especially if you love machinery.  They provide noise cancelling headphone devices before you go "down there" because it's pretty noisy.  It's also a predictably SPOTLESS place... where the two big Cummins V-12 diesel engines roar away, and two other smaller diesels hum along to power the electrical generators.  There is another in-line 6 diesel that can serve to auxiliary just about everything, all the pumps, electrical distribution, water and varous systems, and every bit of that place was just immaculate.  They don't hurry you along, or bother you at all, and the two or so engineering crewman will explain anything you want to ask them... provided you can hear over the roar of the machinery.  That was cool..... !  Later on, one informal visit to the navigation bridge was allowed, and one more formal one with lectures, or chats with the Captain ( who frequently went on the shore excursions as well ) and they really NEVER allow you to do that on the big cruise ships !

The Zodiac run through Pia Fjord and the glacier was something else... the Zodiac skirting through the ice floes and sometimes right through the ice which floated around, and the glacier itself is massive... and once on shore, after a lecture by the head naturalist... more hikes, and watching some large chunks of glacier calving off into the water... which is amazing to see happen.  One smallish private motorsailer yacht was moored close by in that area, as well. A hike upwards towards some great viewing areas happened next, and then the "traditional" little drink before returning to the ship.

The "Avenue of the Glaciers" part, later in the afternoon, was going past several large glaciers which were named for different national identities which had some part in the exploration of that area, and as each one was cruised by... the crew would serve some French sort of hors'd'oeuvres , then Italian... then German, and such... and an appropriate drink if you wished it.  Some champagne for the French, lager Beer for the German, and such... and while I'm not a drinker in that sense, it was pretty fun.

The ship cruises southwards and then east a bit, and as it begins to get dark, it slows offshore some miles from Ushuaia, Argentina... where you can see the slightly distant city lights.  The ship does stop momentarily as a small coastal pilot boat cruised up, named the "Beagle", and that was related to Argentine customs and/or pilot services for the slow nightime transit towards Cape Horn.  I went up to the topmost observation deck and gazed at the light of Ushuaia, and not long afterwards called it a night.  The dinner and meals with my table-mates were fun because we could discuss the day, get into all modes of conversational topics, and "our table" even won a questionaire contest that night..... !  There had been some "warnings" by the crew that it could be a bit rough that evening in the Pacific... but again, I slept just great and noticed it naught.....

The next morning we would be calling in at Cape Horn, landing there "weather permitting".  Actually... the ship had only NOT been able to land once... and that was recently during the Christmas of 2007... where the winds had been at 225 km per hour, and that, for obvious reasons, did not allow for Zodiac operations.  I was really excited about the visit there.... being one of the places I had been dreaming about visiting for many years.

I had borrowed a book from the small ships' library collection... "SOUTH", written by Shackleton years ago... of his incredible antarctic adventures more than a century past, and reading it that night... could not help but realize that I was having a FAR easier time of it !

Cape Horn and then departing at Ushuaia, Argentina... that would come next on this adventure.

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Part 5 - Adventure to Deep South America

It was the evening of Monday January 7th, and it had already been a fantastic adventurous day.  Very late in the evening, the ship Mare Australis had paused offshore several miles from Ushuaia, Argentina, for some administrative and pilot-boat work with the Argentina authorities.

I watched the pilot boat come alongside ( which was named "Drake", not "Beagle" )  from one of the lounges on Mare Australis, and then went up to the observation deck to take some pictures and video of the slightly distant city which was well lit up and before it became too dark ( at about 11 pm or later... ) could capture the stirring sight of the snow covered Mountains just behind Ushuaia.  The crew had mentioned that there could be some fairly rough waters during the night, but it was something that I never noticed.  The departure to Cape Horn would be fairly early in the morning, provided the crew felt that the weather conditions would allow for it.

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Tuesday January 8. The ships schedule for the day highlighted these main destinations and activities........


The "early risers coffee" was always a good way to start the morning in the Yamana lounge, so named after one of the original native inhabitants, from whose language the city of "Ushuaia" derives its name.  At 7 a.m. "information for possible disembarkation in Hornos island" would be held, which would consider the weather and sea conditions.  Actually, the ship only failed to make a landing one time there... right at Christmas of 2007, when the winds exceeded 225 km per hour, which ruled that out.  The ships schedule continues with the scheduled visits for the day.....

"The mythical Cape Horn and the surrounding island are waiting for us.... in the Drake passage.  The intense harshness of the area make Cape Horn a unique and unforgettable experience.  Weather permitting, we will disembark with Zodiacs, climb 160 steps and visit the Cape Horn Memorial.  Over the centuries, more than 800 vessels have sunk in this area.  In 2005 the Cabo de Hornos national Park was declared a Biosphere Reserve site by UNESCO.

This afternoon we will visit Wulaia Bay, rich in legend and history... where Captain Fitz Roy on board the HMS Beagle had close encounters with the Yamana aborigines in the XIX century.  We will visit a few archaeological sites in one of the southernmost landscapes of the world....."

Cape Horn?  Technically... it's not a "Cape" at all... it's an island, but the name has stuck with it, quite appropriately, forever, since it IS the point where shipping has navigated "around the Horn" for many centuries.  When shipping began doing that centuries ago, that sort of ticked off one of the oldest companies in the world... the Dutch East India Trading Company, who, with others, had become accustomed to charging a toll for shipping through the Straight of Magellan.  Cape Froward near Punta Arenas in Chile is actually the continents most southernmost Cape.

The weather was cooperative !!  Not too windy ( which you define as under 80 miles per hour ! ) and fairly easy seas, and groups of us were in the Zodiacs heading to an area for landing which has about 160 wood steps upward, and where a cargo loading and transfer device is located.  The Chilean Navy staffs the place with ONE couple who has a year-long tour of duty, and I was able to meet them.  The Cape Horn Memorial is quite the sight, overlooking the ocean, and is a steel sculpture of sorts which outlines the shape of the majestic Condor BETWEEN the steel plates, and is a good photograph spot.  That was fun, and also the walk back to the lighthouse area, which is pretty sturdily built, along with a huge flagpole with the Chilean flag, and there is also a small memorial chapel near the lighthouse and quarters for the couple that staff it.  Cape Horn was the one excursion where the passengers were not allowed to take off lifejackets.

Inside, I was able to hike up the circular staircase to the observation area just below the LIGHT structure of the lighthouse, and take a 360 degree video pan.  The structure was built in 1902 and still functions to this day.  The Chilean Navy officers wife sold some souveniers, would post-mark postcards of the area, and I noted later that even a passport entry for Cabo de Hornos was stamped in my US passport.  Interesting.  Cape Horn is  a fairly small island, but impressive, and while it's not known for stunning scenery, it IS known for stunning historical records and actually landing and BEING on Cape Horn was a serious fulfillment of a dream of my youth, so... I was pretty happy about it.

Back on Mare Australis for lunch and a "Discovering Tierra del Fuego" lecture and a bit of a rest before the afternoon excursion to one of the largest islands in the area ( next to Tierra del Fuego itself ) via Zodiac run through Wulaia Bay.  We landed near this one structure which is something of a remote museum and shelter and may become "something more" someday as tourism develops there.  THIS particular excursion was one of the most arduous... in that there was several miles of hiking and hiking and hiking, quite steep in areas, until near the top of this hillside a sensational view could be enjoyed.

Another rather flexible bridge over a rapidly moving river was crossed, and we were back at the ship via Zodiac by 7.00 p.m. or so.  The ship would be navigating through the night en route to Ushuaia, and as ever... I stayed up as late as I could just taking in that incredible, unique, and pristine scenery of the "uttermost part of the Earth...", as the marketing folks ( and maybe some poets... ) are inclined to say......

Ah, the last night on Mare Australis.  A final enjoyable dinner and taking care of what little bill payment at the small "reception" area was taken care of, and I believe that is when they returned passports, which were already arranged with the proper Argentine immigration stamps and procedures.

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USHUAIA January 9th, as the ships daily schedule notes.....  "Welcome to Argentina.  Ushuaia is the main city of the big island of Tierra del Fuego, with a population of 70,000 inhabitants  Founded in 1884, this place was one of the first points of encounter between the Yamana culture and the Anglicans.

The name Ushuaia is a Yamana name that means "Penetrating Bay", ( and ) the Bay is deep enough to be the best place for the arrival of large cruise and cargo ships.  Today.... our southern most adventure comes to an end....."

I have now seen the city name meaning as noted above, or "bay facing west", and pronounced either OO-SCHWIGH-UH or OO-SWY-UH... and probably a slight blend works best.  When I woke up, the ship was at dockside and it was a clear blue-sky day... very nice indeed !  I had already packed and prepared and had to depart fairly quickly, so barely made it to breakfast in time and also scampered up to the observation deck for photographs and video, and could clearly take in the whole area, including the other ships in port, and it seemed like a lively place at first glance.  There is a building from close to a century past which was originally the first bank built in the city, and now houses a museum.  At the base of that, alongside the road is an expansive white wall and in blue lettering.... "USHUAIA   END OF THE WORLD   BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING".

I did not have as much farewell time with my table mate friends, but we all shared email address' and I was off the ship quite quickly, and transferred to a shuttle which got me to the nearby Los Naranjos hotel, and while I could not check into the room that early, I could "check in" and then went wandering for a while just checking things out.

I would be in Ushuaia for two full days, before the departure on Friday afternoon for the trip back to the US.  I pretty much enjoyed every hour of those two days... and that segment - a fairly brief one, is next.......

The morning of January 9th the Mare Australis was dockside in Ushuaia, and it was a great feeling to gaze out over the scenery from the vantage point of the ships observation deck.  It was nearly a PERFECT day... almost "warm", clear, and the view of the busy harbor, the city ahead and the mountains which loom up behind the city ( from every view point ) was spectacular.  Ushuaia is the southernmost "CITY" in the world... although a tiny town called Port Williams in Chile could in fact claim to be the southernmost "town" or settlement.  No matter. 

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I had checked in to the nearby Los Naranjos hotel which was nearby but had to wait a couple hours for the room to be ready.  The hotel is fairly new, and has the classic Alpine design which is fairly common, and located ideally on San Martin street... a main road in the "downtown" area.  I walked around a few miles and located about three museums for later visits, and walked back around the waterfront, and past the small base for the Argentine Navy. 

It appeared to be a busy place !  Back at the hotel, I had a great 4th floor room with a view over the water and the Beagle Channel, and it could not have been TOO much better a view.  That afternoon, after some lunch, I went back out walking through the city center and visited a "native culture" museum which was inside what HAD been the first bank building built in the city more than a century past.  This area, being really quite remote, and NOT one of the major shipping ports in the past centuries, had resorted to a rather novel way of bringing in "settlers" of various nationalities to help develop the area:  They built a large prison !  The design of the place could almost look like a miniature airport terminal.... a central area with "terminal" fingers which extended outwards; several of them- where the cells were located.  These people were prisoners indeed, but worked in the local area, and eventually got out, and most of them settled there... while more people came in. 

That prison, or "Presidio" is now a maritime and cultural museum, and I took a few hours to visit that as well.  ALL of the museums and cultural restorations or rebuilds I had seen throughout the area had enormous detail and attention, and were almost all very well done and fascinating.  I spent a few hours there, and wandering past the various shops, would stop from time to time to pick up a few items ( mostly clothing type items which were easy to pack ) as gifts for family and friends. 

I walked around the waterfront again, and up the mild hill streets to check out the "back streets" of the town, where the less fashionable homes were ( if really any could be called that ) and commercial shops... where auto repair shops, electrical and plumbing shops, clinics and such were located.  The main street of San Martin had numerous hotels and cafe's, and it was always enjoyable to wander around the area.  I saw a lot of people, of course... and noted for the tenth time to the tenth time HOW close and attentive the parents seemed to be with their children... and that was something I noticed over and over in that part of the world.  At NO time was I ever hassled... bothered by anybody and there was never any street peddler types and certainly nobody EVER hassled me or begged for money or otherwise seemed anything other than genuinely polite and pleasant. 

I did not take any excursion tours while I was there... it seemed that there was plenty enough to do at the city... so I did not go out to any of the other parks outside the city, and... after all- I felt I'd already seen a whole lot of that sort of thing ! 

There was a nice salon for guests off the lounge and restaurant at the hotel, which was pleasant to sit in, take in the view, and enjoy a coffee or a cold Tonic water, which is something that I like, and evidently few other people do !  I did more hikes through the city and had dinner in the restaurant there at the hotel that evening, turning in at about 11 pm when it BEGAN to get dark ! 

The breakfast is courtesy of the hotel, and the next morning I went to ANOTHER museum which was originally the "Governors Mansion" and administrative base for Tierra del Fuego.  It is no longer used for that purpose, and that was quite enjoyable.  I noticed the "different" sort of business hours they have in the commercial section... basically... opening around 10 in the morning until 1 pm, THEN close for 3 hours for the "siesta... Argentine style" and would reopen at 4 pm, often then staying open until 8 in the evening.  I had walked past a jewelry and wristwatch store and had spied a particularly nice Wenger swiss watch which was much less pricey than in the US, since Ushuaia is largely a duty-free city.  I was back there a few hours later in the afternoon to buy that watch... the watch itself is pretty nice, and knowing WHERE I bought it when I look at it is  kind of cool, too ! 

Between morning and the afternoon business hours, I took a long hike for several miles across the bay to where the municipal airport is located... not the main commercial one.. a walk for quite some time on a gravel road, and had been interested in this DC-3 aircraft which had been undergoing restoration and was on display... an aircraft that had been there for years, had flown to Antarctica many times, and was pretty neat to vist and photograph. 

I had also seen the Norwegian cruise ship FRAM... which rec'd some press not long ago because it had apparently had a power failure and bumped into an iceberg which caused some damage southwest at the Antarctic peninsula ... but the press overstated the damage a bit... I really could see little of anything.  I was not sure... but am now pretty positive that the superyacht I had seen at Puerto Natales was also moored in Ushuaia.. and this would have been 5 or 6 days after I'd seen it first.  I later learned that the yacht was a private charter ( and probably a hugely expensive one at that... ) by one or more of the founders of Google... so- along with their corporate "chase jet" that was usually nearby... I guess THOSE chaps could afford it ! 

Ushuaia is really a nice place.  With the growth of tourism and being the launch point for Antarctic cruise excursions, the population of the city has dramatically increased in the past decade, and it seems to be well managed at that. 

I ended the evening back at the hotel restaurant and spent quite some time with final packing, and checked out any messages from the public computer internet they had there, and wrote a couple emails, and prepared for departure the next morning. 

USHUAIA  END OF THE WORLD  BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING .... ah, yes... that's a good way to put it.  I had felt and become immensely relaxed over the course of this trip, and that was good because for a lot of personal and business reasons ( which I totally DID leave behind... ) I was not EVEN feeling in the best of personal shape in my life when I left the states back on December 30th.  Like a revolving door. 

The HISTORY of the entire region is completely fascinating... both the native inhabitants, and the settlement by Europeans, and ALL the things which have happened there during the past century... being political and military, mostly... and HOW the native people lived is fascinating... SOME of whom basically lived in that extreme climate basically naked... occasionally wearing some fur cloth on their backs, and dove in the water for seafood in the nude, and SOME who lived... ALL the time.. including sleeping and cooking, IN dug-out canoes !  It all does merit further study. 

I checked out of the hotel on Friday morning and took a taxi ( the only time any drivers went at it like a competitive near-contact sport ) to the local airport, quite some hours before my flight departed.  I knew a friend who is involved in Antarctic cruises as a business was coming in... and sure enough, I saw him come out of the arrival terminal and it was cool to hail him and talk with him for a while.  I chatted with some other folks from the US Northwest in the cafe', and eventually made it to the international terminal area after having a confusing hassle between a customs area, and a tax fee area, and this problem... poor communication or instructions- is something that happened more than once. 

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Ushuia streets and waterfront; various museums including a former prison which has been converted to a museum

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Waterfront and city scenes, Ushuaia

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The outbound flight on Lan Chile was first back to Punta Arenas, where some of us had to deboard the plane and go through Chilean immigration to come back INTO Chile and then back to the jet for the trip north to Santiago, where... again- have to go back through immigration and customs to LEAVE the country again... so- entrance and exit to the country is stamped in my passport for the same day... !  The flight out of Santiago was on time, and unlike the nearly new B 767 that I flew down on... the one on the return was probably one of the oldest birds in the 767 fleet... but it was all right, and a woman from LA was seated next to me for that flight and was enjoyable to chat with.  The flight stopped at Lima, Peru at about 1 a.m. local but it was not a long stopover, and arrival in LA the "next morning" was on-time, and I had previously changed a flight returning to Oregon somewhat earlier- barely within "legal" international flight limits, but made it onto that flight and arrived "home" a few hours earlier than I originally had planned.  I called my next door neighbor from LAX and he picked me up at about noon or so that Saturday the 12th.  I was back home within the hour, and all seemed well. 

I loved this trip... almost every single minute of it, and it all came off much better than I had hoped for... and when the reality REALLY does exceed the most optimistic anticipations....... as this did... it's pretty great.  I still regard it as one of the greatest adventures I have had, and it was a privilege.  I have done a few of them now... and had planned for them, and budgeted for them.  I am by no means wealthy at all... but can plan ahead, find the time during the winter here, and pay off the expenses over many months beforehand.  That's one way to do it.  I have had the good fortune to be able to revisit some places I have really loved over the past 15 years... Thailand twice in the 90's where I have "family" that live there most of the time, Scandinavia and some of the Baltic area, South Africa twice, and now... hmmmm- well- I COULD see another trip to Chile and Argentina some time again... there's some cool places that I heard about such as...... aargh ! 

So far, I don't think I have ever regretted one minute of the time taken or one dime of the price to do so.  It's just my thing, and I just cherish the memories.. AND the photographs, and everything else !  What's next?  Oh, gosh... I don't know.  The places I mentioned.  Morocco would be cool.  And then there is OZ and New Zealand, and then there is......uh, hmmm... maybe "home"... for a while !  I actually like being home....... :-)) 

Jan and Feb 2008 
Richie Larson, Oregon, USA 


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