As we were about to leave Punta Arenas, we said goodbye to our very special guide, Cota. We had grown very attached to her and she to us. She read a Maya Angelou poem to us, expressing her feelings.
We boarded our ship, the Via Australis, at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26, in Punta Arenas, which is situated on the Magellan Strait. By the way, the words Austral and Australis (and Australia) come from the Latin word for "south."
Punta Arenas was founded on Dec. 18, 1848 and is located at 53 degrees parallel. It is the capital of the Magellan and Chilean Antarctic region, and has a population of approximately 131,000.
The birds gave us a send off.
The first thing we did on boarding was to check the 2 life jackets in our room to see if one was the right size.
|The open bar on the 4th floor Sky Lounge|
|Appetizers and Calafate sours for all|
|Welcome by the captain and meeting many crew members|
The map below shows our departure point, Punta Arenas. The next day we went to Ainsworth Bay, then to Tucker Islets, following the Pia Glacier, Glacier Avenue, the Beagle Canal, then down to Cape Horn, and back to Ushuiai in Argentina.
After sleeping very well, I woke up before 7 to a stunning view of tree-covered hills capped with a dusting of snow. Within minutes the stormy looking clouds disappeared.
We got a wake up call at 7:30 over the intercom and an announcement of the temperature--7 degrees C (44 F). . We were near Ainsworth Bay already, the north end of Tierra del Fuego. After breakfast, I went outside on the 5th level and saw a fishing boat bouncing in the waves.
The national park here is named for him.
We saw lots of mussel shells on the beach and a few scallop shells too.
We took the Zodiac motorized rubber boats from the ship to Ainsworth Bay where we had a choice of a rigorous hike or an easier nature walk for about 90 minutes. I chose the latter while 5 of our group chose the former. Our walk was too easy but still informative--hopefully they will have something in between the two on future trips. Our guide was Hernan.
|Photo of our ship taken from the Zodiac|
|Members of our ship traveling by Zodiac and landing at Ainsworth Bay|
After Magellan and his crew explored the area, few others came. Maps only had the Magellan Straits and then ":Terra Australis Incognita). Then the British began to explore the area.
While the weather is rugged here, plants grow. We saw the appearance of living on the rocks starting with lichens, then moss, then bushes (mortilla or diddledee) and finally trees.
|Lichens and Moss|
|Bush then tree|
There is only about 20 cm of rain a year (6.5 inches) so plants grow very slowly. There are three main types of trees, coyeh, niveh, and lenga. The latter are about 7 feet tall.
Animals here include birds, one or two foxes and the invasive beavers. They may have been abandoned as pets because they walk in front of tourists.
We also saw a plant with light green leaves with small red fruit. it is called Devil's Strawberry and it is used as a medicine.
On the trees we saw a parasite called "Old Man's Beard.: It eventually kills the trees. Natives used it to start fires. We also saw false mistletoe (Chinese lantern) which grows on trees but does not damage them.
The land went from flat to forest and hilly.
Just a month before, this area had been covered with snow and then marshy so it was impossible to walk here. . Now toward the end of October, it is totally different. We reached a wall of rock, with peat moss growing on it and water dripping down.
We saw a condor on top of a hill.
We also saw some small waterfalls.
Canelo or Winter's Bark was discovered by John Winter. The leaves look like a rhododendron. Tea could be made from the leaves and the bark. It gave the drinkers vitamin C so it prevented scurvy.
Then we saw the damage done by beavers. 25 pairs were brought from Canada by the Argentinian government in the 1940s. The government felt that the pelts would bring an economic boon to the area. Unfortunately, the beavers here had no predators, so they multiplied fast and also destroyed trees (to eat and to make dams) and dammed stream, flooding areas. They were very hard to catch, and also their pelts were not of a high quality. In Canada, the beaver have predators, and when the beaver see them, they excrete a certain hormone that also makes their pelts softer. Since the beaver have no predator here, their pelts are not as soft. They have destroyed over 5,000 acres of forests, creating swamps or making the land barren. The female beaver has 3 pups yearly and lives 18-20 years. Now there are hundreds of thousands of them, and they have become a plague on the region. They had been accustomed to fresh water in Canada, but after a while, they adapted to the salt water and have swum to different areas including the mainland of South America. Both Chile and Argentina encourage hunting of the animals and give a bounty of $5 per beaver tail turned in.
|Evidence of beavers cutting down trees|
|Swampy lake created by beaver dams--lots of trees have died|
I think the birds in the photo are Churrete ("unclos").
After a wonderful buffet lunch, we headed out at 3:30 to see birds in the Tucker Islets. It had been 46 degrees F (8 degrees C) when we ventured out in the morning, so we bundled up warmly. I was wearing a buff over my face, not a mask.
As we got close to the beach of an islet, we saw our first penguins. A small colony of Magellan penguins lives there. They are one of the smallest penguins and are just about 20" high, 60 cm. tall.
I learned that many penguins do not live in snow. These come here to nest from October to December and then they fly north for warmer weather. In winter they may go as far north as Santiago or Buenos Aires. They weigh about 4 kilos each (10 lb)
I am fascinated by penguins so was delighted to see these.
They can swim long distances. Before entering the water each time, they activate their uropygial gland on their tales and they spread the oil all over themselves to become waterproof. You can see one penguin starting the process below and another below spreading out the oils.
Here is a link on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uropygial_gland
The bird below is a patient one. It stays around the penguin area and works with another in pairs. One diverts the penguin while the other tries to steal the penguin eggs. I think it is called an escuaia.
I did wish we could see several other variety of penguins and stay longer observing them.
The nests are near the beach or in burrows in semi-protected areas but easy for these birds to reach.
Penguin eggs take 40 days to hatch and then leave the burrows when they are 40 days to two months old. Sea lions also eat them.
On another islet we saw a huge number of King Cormorans.
Note the blue eyes of these cormorans
Heading back to our ship.
Some of us got a bit splashed in the Zodiacs on our way back. Having good rain gear was helpful.
We had time to warm up before going to a presentation on Glaciology in Patagonia in the Sky Lounge and an introduction on what we would do the next day. Here are some key slides:
The sit down dinner was at was at 8. I was pretty tired but at 9:45 went to a bit of the National Geographic documentary film of animals in Patagonia, "Eden, at the End of the World" in the 3rd floor lounge. You can see a trailer of it at:
Some joined a karaoke group at 10. I went to bed before the end of the movie because I actually nodded off briefly during the movie. I guess it was all that wonderful fresh Antarctic air!
Wed., October 27:
In the morning we saw a presentation on "Discovering Tierra del Fuego."
We heard about the first encounters with Europeans and Indians of Tierra del Fuego.
The first people seemed very tall to the Europeans.
We also heard about the Indians that had populated the area. There are two migration theories. One is that people came from Africa/Asia through the Bering Strait, then to North America and then South America and finally Patagonia. The other theory is that they came through Oceania. Most of the people that came to Tierra del Fuego were hunter-gatherers.
The Manekenk were an offshoot of the Selk'nam and wore the same hats. They were the first to disappear.
The Selk'nam were good-looking, nomadic hunters that wore guanaco fur and skins for clothing including for hats, who arrived in Tierra del Fuego about 10,000 years ago . They painted faces to show emotions and also painted their bodies as in the photo below.. They used bows and arrows for hunting.. There was a special ceremony where boys "fight" spirits....actually men dressed up as spirits.
It was horrific to see the chart and the extinction of the Indians.
The Europeans brought horses and dogs with them. They hunted guanaco, and the population decreased from 40,000,000 at one time to about 1,000,000 guanaco now.
In 1890s there was a gold rush in Patagonia. Many Europeans killed Indians as when the guanaco became less available, the Indians hunted the sheep. Other Indians died from diseases brought by the Europeans.
A bit later, a number of people in our group joined the captain in the bridge.
Then most of us went to a lecture by a Harvard geology professor traveling with the Harvard alumni group on glaciers and geology in the area. The most fascinating thing he explained was an idea first postulated by Aristotle in 300 BCE.
|North Pole... water/ice surrounded by land masses|
|Continent surrounded by water/oceans|
After lunch, our main activity was walking to Pia Glacier, which lies in a fjord along the Chilean Patagonian coast on the NW arm of the Beagle Channel. It is in a secluded spot--is huge and beautiful! The face of the glacier is 300 meters high (about 1000 feet) and 1.4 km wide (8/10 mile). It was 50 degrees when we got on the Zodiacs but the temperature dropped as we walked and we were happy to be well bundled up. We were in the first group out and the rain started soon after we started walking on the rocks.
Slick rocks we walked on:
We walked to two view points. As we were walking, the rain changed to hail, freezing rain, and snow but my hiking boots were great and I didn't slip at all! My green Frogg Toggs from Amazon kept me dry too! The only parts of me that got wet were my hands as my gloves were not water proof/resistant.
Again, we got very close to a glacier! It was amazing.
Alberto de Agostini named the glaciers including Pia. The Fjord was also named Pia. There were 3 or 4 more glaciers on our left. We were walking on a lateral moraine. The glaciers on the south side of the Darwin mountain range are holding their own while those on the north side are receding.
We did see two types of lichen: Old Man's Beard and English Soldier.
At the end of the hike, I was delighted to see a crew member serving hot chocolate with red label whiskey before we boarded the Zodiac and headed back to the ship.
After warming up at 6:00 we headed back to the Sky Lounge to get good window seats to see the glaciers in "glacier alley."
As we passed each glacier, we were given an alcoholic drink and an appetizer that correlated to the country for which the glacier was named.
That night was the "Captain's Dinner" and the captain shook our hands as we entered the dining room.
Then at 9:45 a documentary was shown called Survival Island, about the animals on Georgia Island.
I think this is the film:
The ship rocked all night. I woke up 3 or 4 times. It was rocky this morning too. We headed out early this morning at 7:30 to go to la Isla de Hornos--Cape Horn Island.
|Where we were heading|
|Cape Horn National Park declared 1945, 63,093 hectares,|
In 2005, it was declared a biosphere site
|Zodiacs coming into the bay from our ship. One more had arrived earlier.|
|Climbing up 162 steps from the Zodiac landing|
It took a few tries for our Zodiac to land in the right place so that we wouldn't splash into the water.
|Well-designed path to the memorial|
|Bush common on the hill up and along the way. About to flower?|
|Almost at the memorial|
|My standing next to the memorial|
|The memorial damaged after a huge storm a few years ago|
|Lighthouse and home of officer and his family who stay for a year|
|Memorial viewed from light house area|
|Chapel next to lighthouse|
|Some of the flags brought by visitors|
Below is a certificate that could be purchased. Later we all found a similar one signed by the ship's captain saying that we had been to Cape Horn!
We had an amazing lunch with many vegetarian choices and even sushi, I think.
Another video we saw on the ship Thursday afternoon was "Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure," an IMAX movie made in 2001 depicting Shackleton's endurance adventure near the South Pole in about 1915 and his rescuing 28 men to safety after his ship had been crushed on ice. I had not heard the story and was astounded by the story. You can see parts of it on YouTube. Here is a link:
After the movie, we departed by Zodiac for a hike in Wulaila Bay. Then we went to an information center that tells more about the cultural and archaeological heritage of the area. Before landing we saw quite a few seals on the rocky shore, some sunbathing/resting and others watching us.
|Dolphins swimming near our ship|
|Beavers at work--there used to be a small stream here and they dammed it up, creating the lake|
|Killing trees which become part of the lake|
Then we went into the cultural/history center that Australis built for travelers.
There was also a section on the Indians who lived in the area and a special section on the three Indians that were taken to England and others later taken and put on "show" like a zoo. It was sad to see that was how they were treated.
During the first trip ofFitz Roy to Tierra del Fuego, a group of Alacalufe Indians stole the British life boat. Seeking to recover it, the captain took 3 hostages whom he later named Fuegia Basket (age 9), York Minster (29) and Boat Memory (20--who died of smallpox soon after arriving in England). Then near Wulaia, Fitz Roy welcomed a 14 year old boy aboard the Beagle and left his parents a button pearl as "payment." That was Jemmy Button. Fitz Roy decided to take the 4 to England, "trusting that the ultimate benefits arising from their acquaintance with our habits and language would make up for the temporary separation from their own country." That was not Fitz Roy's original intent, but after finding that they "were happy and in good health, I began to think of various advantages which might result to them...and to us, by taking them to England, educating them there...and bringing them back to Tierra del Fuego." Thus the four arrived in England in October, 1829. Fitz Roy left the other three under the care of a pastor, and they went to the local primary school for 11 months. They were celebrities in England and were introduced to the king and queen. They returned to Tierra del Fuego in 1833.
|Jemmy in native dress and "English" dress|
After returning to the ship and having dinner, we had a farewell toast and a raffle of the ship's flag and navigation charts used on the trip. A number of groups had participated in a trivia quiz based on information we gathered when we went ashore or listened to talks. We did very well but did not win. The staffer below was wonderful and very helpful. She had a very professional and delightful personality. The hard working staff members are with the ship for 8 months with just two weeks vacation.
|Night view of Ushuaia from the channel|
The next morning, we saw the port of Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on earth.
Ushuaia is located at 54+ degrees south on an island band is called the farthest south city on earth. It has a population of approximately 60,000 to 70,000 people, half of which were not born in town. The Selknam Indians arrived in Tierra del Fuego 10,000 years ago and a southern group of the Selknam, the Yaghan, lived in what is now Ushuaia.
In 1873, the first Argentinians arrived in Ushuaia to teach school. At the same time a prison for re-offenders was suggested in the area, but it was not officially started until after the border was established between Chile and Argentina in 1881. In the same decade, gold hunters came to the area after hearing a rumor (which later proved to be false) of gold in the area. In 1896, the first prisoners came to the prison, re-offenders and political prisoners. It was in service until 1947 and later became the area museum. In 1947, 1,000 people lived in the town. By 1980, there were 5,000 people and oil and gas were discovered on the island. By 1990, 20,000 lived in town.. By 2000, 45,000 lived in the town.
|Definitely a windy day!|
Now 20% of local people work in tourism, 40% in public administration and services. Some are fisherman; others work in saw mills. There is good public education here including a Waldorf and Montessori program and a public university.
The city has a sub-polar oceanic climate with a winter high average temperature of 34 degrees F in July and an average high of 50 in January (summer). It is often quite windy. On a "normal" day, one can encounter wind, rain, sun and clouds. On the shortest day of the year, there is only 7 hours of daylight, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It rains at least 200 days a year and snows 5 months a year.
There are also problems with beaver dams in this area.
Our guide, Inez, was born in Buenos Aires but came to Ushuaia 12 years ago. She said that the town has grown a lot in the past ten to 20 years. Our driver was from Uruguay and came here 13 years ago. Ushuaia is a tax free port so there is no 21% VAT as there is in the rest of Argentina. An industrial area was started in the 1970s and helped jump start the population. Now there are 6 flights per day into town and ten a day in summer.
The town is a very safe place and relatively quiet place. . It is quite isolated with one road to enter and leave town with a check point near the entrance so it would be hard for criminals to flee town.
Ushuaia is 3,000 kilometers from Buenos Aires but some of the roads are not paved. One also has to take a ferry to cross the Magellan Strait (if it isn't too windy) and mountains have to be crossed.. It can take 3-4 days to drive between the two cities.
One of our first stops was at the edge of town where there were more shrines to popular saints including Gauchito Gil:
and La Difunta Llorona who died from lack of water but continued to nurse her baby:
|and shrines of other "saints"|
We then met with Miguel, a resident of Ushuaia, who fought in the Malvinas/Falkland War, a six-week conflict in April-June of 1982. It was quite emotional to listen to him. Lu translated.
Miguel was an artillery expert from Cordoba, an area north of Buenos Aires. He had volunteered to serve. He and his squad flew to the Malvinas on April 21 by Aereolineas Argentinas in military flights without seats, sitting on the floor. They headed to their assigned positions on April 30, but they arrived late and didn't make it to the position. At 4 a.m. they were attacked but had no shelter,
|Picture of his squad|
His unit was attacked daily. By the 5th day, they finally made it to their assigned position. They did not use artillery as their arms were too old to shoot to the island where the British were located. For 20 days they held the British. His job was to fix cables. He was full of fear but had to do his job. He also was not used to the cold weather and lack of food. During the 6 weeks, he went from 62 kilos (137 lb) to 46 kilos (101 lb). At first they were fed twice a day and then with the lack of food, just once a day, and finally just half a ration once a day. He always felt cold. The last two days, he had no sleep and no food. A retreat order was given but his unit did not receive it. The cannons sunk in the peat moss, so they had no weapons. They finally ran for their lives as they knew that the British were not taking prisoners but killing the enemy.
They finally made it to shelter by a cemetery and turned in their weapons to British who took them to a trench. They thought that the British would kill them, so they were desperate and crying. Trucks arrived with Argentinean dead,and they had to take the corpses from the truck and put them in the trench for burial. Until this day, this was his worst memory from the war. After burying more than 100, his companion could not continue, so a British soldier hit him on the head and left him for dead.
After two days, they prisoners were kept in a location for two days without food or water. Finally they were loaded on a boat and taken to Puerto Madrin.
|In uniform with medals|
Miguel and many of the soldiers had PTSD , but were treated badly by their country as Argentina had lost the war. The one good thing from the war is that Argentina regained its democracy. The military leaders were very unpopular but declared elections (which they thought they could win) and then lost. The soldiers were transported in a closed truck back north as the army did not want people to see their poor physical condition. They were finally released from military service. He was 19.
He finally made it home and saw his mother but could not adjust. After 6 months, he could not find work so he backpacked to Ushuaia and has been there ever since for 33 years. Here society see the veterans differently, and it is a better place for them to live. His girl friend (now his wife) came with him and helped him recover. Many war veterans also came here, and 70 to 80% of their marriages failed. His children are the motivation for his life.
|His three children|
He thanked us for listening to him--for being his therapists.
He said that there are still quite a few bodies unidentified and the International Red Cross has asked to go to the Malvinas to help families to have closure. They are still in negotiations.
Argentinians are not welcome in the Malvinas. The Argentinian government continues to try to work with British on the land which logically, geographically should be Argentinian but the British say they "don not negotiate lands under our sovereignty."
After that, we went up the hill a bit to the home of a former guide with OAT in Ushuaia. The couple have built their home step by step and put in it things they gathered from their many trips. They have 3 children, I think, one of whom was delighted to get colorful socks from Nava and immediately put them on.
|Corrugated metal used for roofs and siding--very practical|
|Entrance to home|
Our hostess above: she made a wonderful lentil soupy stew--one vegetarian and one with pork
|stuffed spinach rolls|
They lived on a dirt road a bit up the hill from town. There is a lack of housing so the couple have been earning a living making small homes and renting them out. They were very nice and made a very tasty lunch for us!
Later some of us went on a tour of the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia, housed in the former prison.
The museum is divided into five parts, but the art section was closed. Our tour focused on the prison.
The white post office in town was built by prisoners but the murals depicting them are much newer!
Originally teens and women were also brought to the prison but the conditions were too harsh so just men were brought. They were men with life sentences (the most dangerous), 2nd offenders and military prisoners. The prisoners built the 5 wings of the prison. Each wing had 76 cells for a total of 380. One person was in each cell but some had bunk beds so there were at times 400-500 prisoners. Boats arrived every 4 to 6 months so they had to be self sufficient. Prisoners worked in construction, carpentry, the kitchen, the bakery and manufacturing.
|Hall way of cells with wood heater in middle|
|A typical cell|
We heard stories of a number of prisoners including Simon Radivitsky, a Jewish Russian anarchist. He killed a police chief. He was very popular among the other convicts. He escaped in 1918 but was eventually caught by the Chilean navy as he tried to leave the island. In 1930 he was paroled and exiled.
|Description of cellmate in Spanish and English|
There were stoves in the hall for heat but many of the cells, especially those not near the stoves, were quite cold. The men had a variety of illnesses--breathing and stomach problems for example.
The convicts built a train from the jail to the cemetery. At one point there was a really cruel prison director and the local citizens got him fired. The new director allowed sports and made the atmosphere less problematic.
Santo Godino (the "dwarf with big ears") at age 16 from 1911 to 1912 killed a number of children from age 3 up. He started killed when he was age 8 or 10. He was also an arsonist and mentally ill. He died in prison in 1944 at age 48. The prisoners had a favorite cat, and its bones were found in a stove. The other prisoners were so upset that they beat Godino to death.
Under Peron there was national prison reform and the remaining prisoners were sent to the capital. Meanwhile the prison was given to the navy to use. Our guide's grandfather came to Ushuaia with the navy. More people slowly began to come. They had not before as the prison was a black mark and discouraged people from coming.
Several of us walked through other parts of the museum. I enjoyed seeing the model ships
And also the penguin exhibit:
The Magallanic penguin in the lower right above is the one that is common to this area.
We walked around town and did some shopping before heading to dinner and then back to our hotel.
|The main street and tourist shopping area|
Most of us ate a a popular fish restaurant. Nava and I had fish (hake), a tasty but oily fish.
The two we sat with shared king crab. First they picked a live one out of the tank. The waiter held it and then Cathy also did.
They were given scissors to crack the shell. We were told it was delicious! Not for me though! It also is hard for me to see an animal alive one minute and then eat it the next!
The next morning it was 37 degrees and snowing as we left Ushuaia.
We flew to Buenos Aires (which I wrote about in a previous blog) and 2 days later we flew home, the end of a magnificent and very memorable vacation!