Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Torres del Paine National Park

The Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most well known and oft visited parks in Chile's southern Patagonian region. On our motorcycle trip in 2010 we visited the park on a day trip out of Calafate, Argentina. We were impressed with the place then and again on this visit. The 10000'+ towers of the Paine Massif give this park a look like no other. Peaks, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and hiking trails make this a very popular destiation for local and foreign tourists alike; approximately 150,000 people visit this 935 sq. mi. park each year. Unfortunately, with the influx of humans come some bad things--namely fires. In recent years it appears that foreign tourists have been the culprits: 1985 (Japanese), 2005 (Czech), and the most recent in 2011/12 (Israeli).

Two different tours of the park were offered to us and we took the 10 hour tour in order to visit the Salta Grande (big weaterfall). The logisstics for these visits were interesting as both English and French speakers had to be accomodated.  Some passengers arrange their own land tours so there are usually several vehicles waiting for the ship's passengers.   On this trip there was an interesting twist. Our tour had a large motor coach for the French speakers and smaller bus for the Anglophones, but I noticed that there was always another motor coach with us when we stopped at a scenic overlook or to do a short walk to see a point of interst.   I finally saw the small sign in the window of the second coach, it said: "Back up Bus"! The remoteness of this location meant that we had to have our own "sag wagon" to make sure that we all made it back to the ship on time!

Lake Amarga and the Cerro Paine mountain range
The Towers
Fire damage
Strong winds warning on the way to the Salta Grande
Salta Grande
Salta Grande
Lodging in the park
We had lunch at the resort below
A beautiful and peaceful place
A nice lenticular cloud

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Kirke Passage and Puerto Natales

Our next landing was by tender in Puerto Natales, the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park. We sailed up the beautiful Fjord Estero de Las Montañas to the Kirke Passage in order to enter the Golfo Almirante Montt. The Kirke Passage is a narrow channel that has treacherous currents that limit when it can be safely navigated. One of the Zodiacs was launched to go into the channel to measure the speed of the current.; after waiting about an hour we slowly passed through the Kirke Passage and were on our way to Puerto Natales.

The Kirke Passage
Zodiac in the Passage
Sunrise off Puerto Natales
                                                   Street art in Puerto Natales
Flying sculpture
Statue of Alberto de Agostini
Le Boréal at anchor

Chilean Fjords

The geography of southern Chile is a labyrinth of channels, fjords, passages, inlets, glaciers and mountains; this is quite evident from the map in the previous post.

We were fortunate to have excellent weather for most of our cruise through the fjords. Our next stop was the Agostini Glacier at the end of a long fjord that boasted many glaciers along its narrow path. We spent several hours outside on deck watching the scenery pass by with the best to come once the Agostini Glacier came into sight.

The following photos attempt to show the beauty of this part of the world.

One of many glaciers on the way to the Agostini Glacier
More of the same....
Agostini Glacier
It's blue!
Cross marking the southernmost point of continental South Amerca
Glacier in the Magellan Strait
Fishing boat
Ripples and reflections
More r&r


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cape Horn

On February 28th we checked out of our hotel, had lunch at the Irish Pub, walked around downtown one last time, then retrieved our luggage at the hotel and walked to the port to board Le Boréal. Soon after we were on board we had the mandatory life boat drill which was followed by a welcome from the captain and a introduction to the ship and the cruise by the cruise director. The big news of the night was the announcement from Captain Marchesseau that not only would we be sailing around Cape Horn, we would be making a landing with the Zodiacs on the Horn!! This landing is not always possible due to the unpredictable weather around the Horn. It was an unexpected "extra" that excited all of the passengers.

As we were leaving the auditorium we met an Australian couple, Laurie and Mattie Jackson, with whom we had dinner most evenings throughout the cruise. At dinner that first night we soon discovered that we had a mutual friend, Brian Vanden Hogen. Brian grew up just a few houses down the street from our home in De Pere and met Laurie and Mattie in Sydney, Australia, where he lives today. The world is indeed a small place these days!

Soon after leaving Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on the planet, we stopped at Puerto Williams, Chile, the southernmost settlement, to clear customs and immigration. The paperwork was taken care of by the ship's staff while we enjoyed the dining room and lounge on board.

The next morning we were up early as our group (yellow) was the first scheduled for the Zodiac landing on Cape Horn. A short ride took us to the landing point and the steep wooden steps to the headland above. The Cape is the southernmost island of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago and is the northern boundary of the Drake Passage.

Once on top we made our way along the boardwalk to visit the small lighthouse and wooden chapel before walking out to the Cape Horn Memorial. The monument depicts an albatross in flight and honors those who have lost their lives trying to round the Horn. The weather was blustery and overcast with an occasional shaft of sunlight finding its way through the clouds. As we turned to return to the ship the sun peeked through and........a condor made a low pass along the shoreline giving us a very special sight on this very special piece of real estate.

Zodiac transfer to Cape Horn
Steep steps to the top
Momentos left by previous visitors to the lighthouse
Cape Horn banner in the lighthouse
Boardwalk to the memorial
Cape Horn Memorial
View from the memorial
Gathering at the memorial
Heading back to the ship
Unloading the Zodiac
View of the headland
Not too rough

As we waved good-bye to Cape Horn, the ship retraced its course to the Beagle Channel; we watched the lights of Ushuaia pass by as we sailed westward toward the Magellan Strait and the Chilean fjords.