Fire & Ice. Sand & Steam.

CHILE: FROM THE ATACAMA DESERT SOUTH, TO THE END OF THE WORLD.

DAYS 8 – 16: IN PATAGONIA…

Days 9 -12 Cruising with MV Via Australis

Though we were both excited about experiencing the tip of the iceberg on the tip of the continent, Jeff was also a little excited about a small boat cruise and his occasional motion sickness.  Even a few hours tossed by rough seas could ruin his (our!) day but upchucking for 3 nights and 4 days would be like an extended gastro nightmare.   On the MV Via Australis, the berths on each deck level are almost identical but as with most ships, not only does the price increase with each higher level,  the adverse impact of rough seas increases.  On lower deck levels, the boat undulates.  On higher levels, it pitches and tips.  To minimize (but never eliminate) the risk of Jeff personally ensuring that the fish receive a hot meal, we chose a mid-ship berth on the lowest level.

Didn’t matter.

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MV Via Australis, Valparaiso, Chile

MV Via Australis was stable and steady and the seas were calm.  Except for the first night. Waves slapped against the hull as we plowed along the narrow Strait of Magellan, famous for unpredictable winds.    The gentle rocking motion was more like being cradled in the arms of a loving parent.  The steady drone of the engine, a humming lullaby, filled my brain with white noise.   The likelihood of being tossed out of bed was non-existent.  I fell asleep almost instantly in spite of wanting to stay awake to enjoy the sensations.  Further from Punta Arenas, past Useless Bay (Bahia Inutil), steep fjords sheltered our route through various arms branching from the Strait of Magellan, as  we moved south into Almirantazgo Sound.

tierradf

At Ainsworth Bay in the Parque Nacional Alberto de Agostini, we hopped into Zodiac inflatable boats, landing on a rock strewn-beach overshadowed by the magnificent Darwin Mountain Range.

TdF - bergie bits - on the beach
On the “beach”

On another Zodiac excursion, we tramped through lowland meadows and boggy sub-polar forests past streams, waterfalls, and tree stumps gnawed to sharp points about one foot above the ground.  Our guide asked if we knew what animal had done this. With a laugh, I quipped: “If we were in Canada, I ‘d say beaver.”

Canadian beaver on vacation -cropped
Yum yum!  Restaurant for Canadian Beavers

But I was right! Canadian beavers on vacation are the culprits!  Realizing the financial potential of luxurious beaver-pelt coats, someone schemed to import beavers from Canada.

What could go wrong?

In preparation for the long frigid Canadian winters, fur-bearing animals like the beaver need to develop dense coats.  In Patagonia winters are cold but not -40 (C or F – it’s the same actual temperature) so the introduced species didn’t need such thick coats.  The beaver pelts were useless, the beaver multiplied, and those “busy little beavers” chewed and chewed, needing to build more and more dens for more and more little beaver.  Some bureaucrat in Chile brilliantly decided to impose a bounty on beaver, not for the hides, rather to encourage trappers to help minimize the population explosion.  Not recognizing boundaries, many beaver had relocated to Argentina.  Clever Argentinians trapped the beaver in Argentina, reducing the number of Argentinian beaver, then sold them to Chilean authorities.

In preparation for the long frigid Canadian winters, fur-bearing animals like the beaver need to develop dense coats.  In Patagonia winters are cold but not -40 (C or F – it’s the same actual temperature) so the introduced species didn’t need such thick coats.  The beaver pelts were useless, the beaver multiplied, and those “busy little beavers” chewed and chewed, needing to build more and more dens for more and more little beaver.  Some bureaucrat in Chile brilliantly decided to impose a bounty on beaver, not for the hides, rather to encourage trappers to help minimize the population explosion.  Not recognizing boundaries, many beaver had relocated to Argentina.  Clever Argentinians trapped the beaver in Argentina, reducing the number of Argentinian beaver, then sold them to Chilean authorities.

Relaxing on a bergie-bit
Naptime for Christopher,  Almirantazgo Sound, Chile
TdF - glacier
Sunlight on Glacial Ice

Throughout the cruise, amphitheatrical fjords surrounded our 130 passenger boat.   Our final excursion to meander amidst two-foot-tall Magellanic Penguins was the coldest by far.  Frigid winds whipped across the open water and the barren surface of Magdalena Island, located about halfway between the landmasses of Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean mainland.    Spheniscus magellanicus, the Magellanic Penguin, is native to South America and considered to be a “threatened species” primarily due to the vulnerability of large breeding colonies to oil spills off the coast of Argentina which kill 20,000 adults and 22,000 juveniles every year.   In previous years, before fishing was banned in the Strait of Magellan over-fishing contributed to the decline of this species.  Today more than 63,000 breeding pairs call this island home!  The only trace of human habitation is a museum inside a vintage 1902 lighthouse, a dock, and a paved path for visitors.

peguins cropped
Magellanic Penguins, Magdalena Island, Chile

Next stop?  Off to Eco-Camp Patagonia for some hiking in the renowned Torres del Paine National Park.