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January 2003 trip to the Antarctic

Part 3 of this story left us on Deception Island getting ready to return to the Chilean mainland ...

4. Round the Horn to Chile

Across Drake's Passage to Cape Horn

A slight diversion

But fate had another destination in store for us first. One of the passengers was taken ill and had to be taken by air to Chile. Luckily we were only half a day's travel from the nearest airstrip at the Chilean Base of Andvord Bay in the Fides Peninsula. After a successful evacuation of the patient we turned and headed for “Drakes Lake”, but what a difference to our previous crossing. It started OK, but by midday Friday the Lake started to get a little rough. By dinner time the restaurant was half empty and we knew it must be rough as the waiters were carrying single plates on trays instead of balancing several plates on each arm. Drake Passage was now all we had heard – moody and magnificent with rough seas and 40-foot waves but Nordnorge coped extremely well. We didn’t mind the weather being a little rough but obviously some people succumbed as the bar was almost empty that evening. We went to bed happy but wondering whether the rough sea would prevent us from landing on Cape Horn. However the bad weather didn’t prevent us seeing a great number of birds including Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Black Browed Albatrosses and some Wandering Albatrosses.

Rough Seas

Saturday was as rough as the night before. The captain couldn’t find anywhere that was sheltered enough for us to could land and walk to the monument on top of Cape Horn. However to stop us feeling totally disappointed he did give us a trip around the island of the Horn. I can’t see many captains wanting to try that, but our Captain was Norwegian and used to many very tight places in the Fjords. After circumnavigation of Cape Horn we cruised to Puerto Williams for customs and immigration clearance for Chilean waters, then through the Beagle Channel and along the Straits of Magellan to arrive Sunday lunchtime at our next port of call Punta Arenas.

 

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The infamous Cape Horn
A pair of Albatrosses
The Chilean Navy has gunboats everywhere! Here they greet us to check passports at Puerto Williams
In the Canal de las Montanas
The Zamudia Glacier in the Canal de las Montanas
Zamudia Glacier. Note the island of boulders that the glacier has delivered into the sea

The Chilean coast

The Straits of Magellan

Allan and Debbie went separate ways here. Debbie went off to see the Magellanic Penguins at Otway Sound Penguin colony. The Penguins here make burrows in the sand dunes to lay their eggs. We also saw Condor, Grey Foxes and lesser Rheas. Unfortunately Debbie was coming down with Antarctic flu and didn’t appreciate the wonderful countryside; even the penguins seemed of little interest. Meanwhile Allan departed with the trip to an “Estancia” or Sheep Farm. Here he saw sheep shearing, watched a local rodeo and experienced the most superb barbeque ever. Back on board ship Debbie took herself off to the Doctor who said there were a number of cases of Antarctic flu, gave Debbie a massive injection of Penguincillin and sent her on her way with pills to take. Debbie went straight to bed and didn’t get up for 24 hours.

 

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Magellanic penguins amongst the grass and sand-dunes
Gauchos at  the Estancia
Riding backwards in the display of horsemanship
Rodeo. The objective is to make the running cow stop at a precise point, preferably from behind or at least from alongside it
Demonstration of sheep-shearing
An amazing barbecue!

Fortunately Monday was cruising among the Chilean Fjords so Debbie only missed beautiful scenery not visits ashore, however as it was her birthday it wasn’t the best place to spend it - ill in bed. She did manage to get up for dinner - not to eat - but to see a wonderful birthday cake appear, decorated with a roman candle!, and to be serenaded by the restaurant staff with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”. The planned party had to be put on hold.

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Puerto Eden

Tuesday saw us arrive at the small fishing village of Puerto Eden, a village built on wooden stilts. Once a thriving bustling village but now a poor, near derelict place due to the fish along most of the west coast of South America being infected by a lethal virus which virtually wiped out the fishing. This occurred a couple of years before and things seem to be improving now. The Chilean Government have poured millions into helping this, and other settlements similarly affected. The rest of the day saw us sailing among the “English Narrows” and other beautiful channels among the Chilean Fjords.

 

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The Chilean Navy keep an eye onus at Puerto Eden
Puerto Eden - beautiful fishing village with a sad story to tell!
The ruins of the local fishing industry, wiped out by a virus. There is no other source of employment
Beautiful wild fuschias grow in profusion at Puerto Eden
There are stray dogs everywhere in Chile. They are well-fed, and the Government pays for them to be neutered.
This ship was scuttled in the 1960s as an attempted  insurance swindle. The insurers didn't pay out and the wreck is left there as a warning to other would-be swindlers

Patagonia

Wednesday lunchtime we arrived at the port of Chacabuco where we boarded coaches for a trip to the town of Coyhaique about 2 hours inland. We were delighted to find that the guide on our coach was Scottish, although this didn’t prevent her from speaking perfect English!  She and her husband had settled in Coyhaique about 2 years previously and loved the life here. On the way to the town we passed lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, mountains and small settlements. We stopped at the Museum of Natural Resources in Simpson National Park to see wonderful fauna and flora. Onwards into the interior passed great tracks of desolation in the countryside due to the way natives and settlers had obtained their tracts of land; they were told that they could have all the land they wanted free of charge if they cultivated it, so the settlers had started huge forest fires and claimed all the burned land as their own because they had “cultivated” it. Unfortunately the land had been too poor in quality to recover from the wholesale fires, and the area had effectively become a desert. Again the Chilean Government seem to realise their mistakes of the past and are trying to put things right, but it is a massive task.

We decided that Chilean Patagonia was one of the most beautiful places we'd been to. The scenery is magnificent, the weather is perfect, the people are friendly, and the relaxed way of life there is amazing. If we had to leave England, I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather live.

 

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This wonderful tree was 250 years old - they chopped it down so you can count the rings and read what history ut has seen
The biggest Rhubarb I've ever seen (can you spot Debbie waving from behind it?)
Wind farm in the VERY windy mountain pass near Coyhaique. Note the swathes of devastation caused by forest fires on the distant mountainsides
Coyhaique was full of the most  magnificent flowers.
A cara-cara. This great bird can fly off with a whole lamb for its supper!

On arrival at Coyhaique the first thing to hit you is the colour and number of roses growing around the town.  We were able to wander around this small town which even had an internet café, trying out our non existent Portugese in a café and on the local souvenir sellers before returning to the ship. We were very lucky to see a couple of Cara-Cara’s, these birds are so big they can carry away a lamb and food of similar size. After dinner Debbie had her party with several friends we’d made on board. Numerous bottles of champagne were consumed and a drunken time was had by all.

The Island of Chiloe

The next morning, Thursday, saw us passing the end of the Island of Chiloe. This was to be our next landing but the island is big and it was several hours later before we arrived at the town of Castro ready to explore. We visited the church which had been built of wood, to a design by an Italian architect, then covered in sheets of tin to make it look like the stone which the architect had specified; we also heard how the locals give one day of their time to help build a needed building like the church or school, and in return can ask for help on something they need building such as a house. We went to a café where we tried the local dish and drink while being entertained by local dancers and music. There was time to wander round the market where Debbie bought a poncho made of llama and alpaca wool for about £4. In Harrods these ponchos sell for nearer £100. The sun was hot, the locals were friendly, and it was with sadness that we had to return to the boat. Not only would it have been enjoyable to stay longer here, but tonight was our last night aboard ship.

 

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Would you fancy being a lineman in Chiloe
When they move house here, they literally "move house" (photo from the museum of Chiloe)
The magnificent church at Chiloe ...
... is made entirely of local timber ...
... then covered in tin to look like stone
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The native people were not very tall. Debbie (5ft 2in) compares herself against life-size models in the museum.
Traditional boat building techniques at Chiloe
This church was built in a day by communal labour
A traditional hotpot recipe of mussels and meat, usually buried in the beach to cook while the fisherman were out at sea
The market at Chiloe, full of amazing local cloths made from Llama or Alpaca wool.

Santiago

We awoke Friday morning to find we had moored at Puerto Montt the port of departure. On the way to the airport we had a tour of this small town, visiting the fish market with weird and wonderful looking fish, certainly not seen in Britain. Our short flight to Santiago was uneventful, the cabin crew friendly and helpful. On arrival at Santiago we were taken to our hotel, Hotel Carrera, overlooking the Presidential Palace. However here we hit a snag. The hotel had not booked the 15 or so English into this hotel. Our itinerary said we were staying here so we had a sit in until the hotel manager relented and found rooms for us. The room we had was simply enormous with sitting area, king size bed and a huge bathroom. During the afternoon we took a tour of Santiago, but unfortunately not having time to visit a vineyard, we went to a restaurant for a most enjoyable wine tasting. The wine we liked the best we were unable to buy due to wine rules and regulations, but hopefully it will be available in the U.K. in about 3 years. In the evening we went to a club for dinner and cabaret. Dinner was a huge barbeque served on the table and the cabaret was folklore dances from Easter Island, Polynesia and Cuecca. It was a most enjoyable evening rounded off by the pleasure of using our wonderful room at the hotel.

 

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On the way to baggage retrieval at Santiago airport this magnificent sculpture brings a smile to everybody's face
Santiago as seen from the surrounding hills
Statue overlooking Santiago from the hills
Magnificent statue in Santiago
Changing the guard at the President's palace in Santiago

Our flight the next day was early afternoon so had the morning to explore on our own. We watched the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace, a ceremony which takes place every couple of days, then wandered around the local area until it was time to leave for the airport. The locals told us that the difference between Chile and Argentina, is that in Chile the President arrives at his palace every other day to watch the changing of the Guard; in Argentina the Guard arrive at the palace every other day to change the President.

Home again

We flew home Iberia but the cabin crew this time were helpful and friendly making the long trip pleasanter. We had a 2 hour wait at Madrid airport before arriving back at Heathrow mid-morning.

Our adventure had been wonderful. We saw so much that normally isn’t seen. The best advice we were given was “Take nothing but photos - Leave nothing but footprints”, but nothing can ever take away the wonderful memories of our holiday to Antarctica.

 

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