Published: February 9th 2011February 9th 2011
Well, it has been a wonderful few days. We were the only passenger ship in port at Ushuaia, but there were container ships loading and unloading all along the same pier. That was one of the differences from six years ago when Mom and Dad and I were there as part of our Antarctic trip. Another difference was how much the town has grown, now at 63,000 when I'm sure it was less than 50,000 back then. It also, unfortunately, seemed less cared for. The flower gardens that so impressed us at that time are still there, but full of weeds in addition to the amazing lupines and pansies.
Hugh and I had morning coffee at an interesting restaurant called "Ramos Generales," a place that was a general store 100 years ago and still had shelves lined with old-fashioned products. We liked it so well, we came back in the afternoon for lunch and had pizza! In between, we took the "Tren del Fin del Mundo," the train to the end of the world. It is a modern replica of a Beyer-Garret oil-fired steam engine, wheel arrangement 0-4-4-0, on reconstructed narrow gauge (50 cm.) track. (Guess who insisted I give that
info!) The train originally carried prisoners to their daily work of chopping down trees in the area now known as Tierra del Fuego National Park. The scenery was great with the line running along a creek that winds between mountains. We are now at the tail end of the Andes which run almost the full length of South America. They are real mountains, complete with craggy tops and snow. Beautiful! A group of dancers from Ushuaia performed on the ship that night. They were excellent, with incredible gaucho dancing -- lots of foot stamping -- but we especially liked how genuinely happy they appeared to be as they danced for us.
The next morning we were supposed to go around Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America, but because the winds were blowing too hard, we only nosed up near the western edge, close enough to see the lighthouse and sculpture commemorating all the sailors who perished in those rough waters. You could certainly see why. The instruments on the bridge measured winds at 70.7 knots and, since we were all outside looking at the Cape,hanging onto the railing for dear life, we were quite happy to turn around
and go back into the calmer waters of the Beagle Channel. At this point the Captain announced, "This has been a production of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines" which got a big laugh. (Incidentally, all the pictures we took six years ago were NOT of the Cape, but of the more intriguing out-cropping a few miles East of it!) Once we all went back inside, the staff served hot pea soup and warm wine, apparently a tradition when rounding the Cape. The rest of the day we cruised the Beagle Channel, passing Ushuaia again, seeing the mountains rising right out of the sea on both sides of the ship.
The following day was spent cruising with multiple trips into fjords to see the glaciers along them. By the way, the Brits pronounce glacier "glassier." We saw a couple of whales -- don't know what kind -- spouting a few times, then one fluke (tail) as they dove away. Got everyone quite excited! The Captain had some of the guys go out in the rescue boat and bring a little iceberg back to make 1000 year old ice for drinks. And, coming out of one fjord, we stopped alongside a tiny fishing
boat we had passed on the way in. The two guys on board offered to trade their king crab catch for some of our supplies, so soon a couple of nets of crab were hauled up, then bottles of liquor, cigarettes, and who-knows-what in boxes and black bags were tossed down to the fishermen. I'm sure all the appropriate taxes and paperwork were completed, too!!! Later on we passed an island that supposedly was covered with penguins, but all we could see were a few dots of white. The Captain had hyped this "surprise" all afternoon, so we were a little let down when we couldn't really see anything. Oh, well.
Yesterday we were in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile. It is an older city that was really important before the Panama Canal took most of the around South America traffic away. We were berthed very close to town, so Hugh and I just walked around -- quite a few miles -- visiting the main square, cathedral (which has a mosaic of Jesus with icebergs!), and the really fascinating cemetery which has rows and rows of trimmed cypress bushes. We found the "Tipico Chile" handicraft shop, way off
the beaten track, where I wanted to buy everything in the place. All of it handmade in Chile: beautiful sweaters, scarves, jackets and jewelry. I just got one of each of the above...for a total of $160. We think. There are about 500 Chilean pesos to the dollar, so we hope we did our arithmetic right! Wish I'd bought more...
Today and tomorrow we will continue to slowly make our way up the coast of Chile, stopping off to enter whatever fjords the Captain thinks will be interesting. We are really appreciating the seamanship of our crew as we go in and out of these fjords. Also are very glad we are on this funny old ship because it is small and nimble enough to navigate these narrow spaces. It has been really fun to see the various crew members -- waiters, stewardesses, deckhands -- out on the deck having their pictures taken in front of glaciers, imagining what their relatives in the Phillipines, Thailand, and wherever will think when they see them with all that ice!
Since I wrote the above, we have sailed up to another huge glacier. There was a sudden klunk which shook the whole ship,
then we noticed some pieces of iceberg with bright blue paint stripes floating by, the same color as the ship's underside. Coincidentally, the theme from Titanic had just started started playing on the outside speakers. Then the Captain announced that he had bet the cruise director she wouldn't stand at the bow like Kate Winslet. It was great fun...and a beautiful, sunshine-filled day.
There are more photos below