Now this is what I call an adventure! Cruising at the bottom of the world is nothing like cruising on a huge ship where shopping, bingo, glitzy evening shows, and gambling make up the entertainment. When you are on a ship in Southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, you will find out a lot about our natural world in one of the last mostly undiscovered regions on earth. It is thrilling and life-enriching all at the same time.
The ship we were on, the Stella Australis sails from September to April between Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina, for four nights. (Ushuaia is the southern-most city in the world.) There are only 100 cabins so the ship holds around 200 passengers. Because the ship is small, it can easily ply the narrow fjords and passages that enable us to get up close to the magnificent scenery and exotic wildlife. Each cabin is outside and each has a large picture window that acts like a frame surrounding the scenery. Every day, after lunch, I would retire to my comfy cabin, ostensibly to read, but invariably, would fall asleep looking at the beautiful real-life pictures of snow-covered peaks and islands where no human has probably ever trod.
Every day we had two excursions — all of which were included in our rate — so there are no surprises of needing extra funds. Zodiac boats ferry guests to get closer to glaciers and wildlife. Each evening, there was a fascinating presentation about what we experienced that day and what to look forward to the next day.
In all my travels I have never had such knowledgeable guides or those more passionate about their work as the guides on the Stella. For the most part they are scientists who have studied Patagonia’s uniqueness and history. They are very willing to impart this knowledge and help make the trip truly extraordinary. It doesn’t hurt that they are all good-looking, too!
Charles Darwin spent two years in this area before he went to the Galapagos and we followed in his footsteps with a visit to Wulaia Bay and the Darwin Mountain Range where guides lead guests through forests and glaciers to visit the completely uninhabited Chilean National Park. It’s amazing to look at a rock and see a tree growing out of it. I learned how tenacious nature is.
We found ourselves navigating through the main part of the Beagle Channel (named after the ship that brought Darwin to this hemisphere) to reach Pia Fjord where small groups disembark into Zodiac boats to visit Pia Glacier. Later, we cruised through the majestic Glacier Alley where glaciers are named after the countries, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Holland. As we sailed past these glaciers, we were served hors d’oeuvres and drinks from each country, i.e. France was champagne and small quiches.
The most fascinating part of the trip was debarking on Cape Horn. Known as the End of the Earth, Cape Horn is where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet and is the last landmass before arriving in Antarctica, 500 miles away. More than 800 ships were wrecked in these turbulent waters between the 16th and 20th centuries. This is all before the Panama Canal was built. At the peak of this windswept island is a monument, a sculpture of an Albatross. A little farther away is a chapel and lighthouse with an apartment for the keeper of the lighthouse. A keeper must agree to spend one year with his family on Cape Horn. UNESCO declared Cape Horn a World Biosphere Reserve in June 2005.
We also stopped at Ainsworth Bay to view copious birdlife; and Tuckers Islets, home to King Penguins and Cormorants. We would also view glaciers calving, sending apartment house-size chunks of ice into the water. Sometimes, guests on the Stella get to see whales but alas! We did not.
The four days simply fly by. In addition to the excursions, there was plenty of time for leisure, like reading a book from the ship’s library or playing a board game. And the food is really delish with a choice of local ingredients and international cuisine. The wines are all Chile’s finest and very conducive to lingering over a meal or sipping a glass of wine on the main deck. Before we knew it, we were in Ushuaia, and time to disembark. If you take this life-changing trip, save time to visit Buenos Aires or Santiago.
For more information, visit www.australis.com.
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title to learn more.
Field Guide to Birds of Patagonia and the South Atlantic. 2017
by Matias Torreguitar
Antarctica: A Guide to the Wildlife (Bradt Guide) 2013
by Tony Soper
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
by Alfred Lansing
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