A preliminary statement: We are not cruise ship people. Our normal mode of operation is to provision our own boat, Allegro, and head across Lake Superior for the Canadian North Shore and have our own private cruise. That said, the four night Cruceros Australis (100+ passengers) cruise we took from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia was fantastic.
Click here for more pictures from the cruise
We boarded late afternoon on the 24th, were shown to our cabin, stowed our gear (we could actually unpack the bags) and headed down for the first dinner. The food was great and there was an open bar almost continuously. But what made the cruise was the guided zodiac excursions.
The first excursion was a walk from the beach through the intertidal zone and on into the forest.
The guides pointed out various species of flora and fauna along the way including edible berries, peat bogs and lichens. We saw pygmy owls and oystercatchers. In the forest, we came to a solid stone wall covered with moss and lichen and paused in silence for a few minutes to listen to the sounds of the forest and the water dripping from the wall.
An hour or two later, we again boarded the zodiacs and motored slowly around a small islet inhabited by penguins and cormorants – some call them “flying penguins.”
On land, they look and act somewhat like penguins, but they are able to fly.
The next day, it was rainy, one of the few times on the entire trip. But the shore excursions proceeded anyway. We went ashore to view the Pio Glacier. This is an intertidal glacier. It is advancing and the face is at the water. Pieces of the glacier front fall away into the water and become icebergs. As we watched, we could hear loud cracks and groans within the ice. Much of the cracking was internal and not related to “calving” on the front.
Back aboard, we proceeded slowly along “Glacier Alley.” We passed one glacier after another; some hanging, some intertidal and some feeding large waterfalls. We were all invited to the 4th deck lounge. We were served drinks and snacks inspired by the country in the names of the glaciers we were passing.
The highlight of the trip – and the main reason we signed onto the cruise – came the third day: Cape Horn.
The ads promised a landing on Cape Horn – weather permitting. This is one of the windiest and stormiest places on Earth. We were given a briefing the night before on what to expect. The captain would monitor the weather minute by minute. We were to put on life vests. Then proceed to the debark point and wait for a decision. If winds were less than 35 knots, they would launch the zodiacs. If the seas at the landing point were low enough, we could board the zodiacs. We could not take vests off while on shore. If things changed, the captain would blow the whistle and we must immediately return to the landing place.
Everything came together and the captain gave word to proceed. We boarded the zodiac and sped ashore, avoided getting soaked in the surf at the landing site, then climbed the staircase to the top. Fin del Mundo. End of the world! The only land to the south was Antarctica. Over the centuries, thousands of mariners perished attempting to round the Horn, with the loss of hundreds of vessels. In 1787, Captain Bligh and the Bounty spent 4 weeks trying to round the horn east to west. He finally gave up and went the other way – around Africa and Australia – to Tahiti. Setting foot on this fabled piece of rock was one of the biggest thrills of my life. There is a monument to the memory of the mariners that have perished over the centuries. The monument features an albatross. The spirit of lost mariners is said to return as an albatross.
We finally returned to the ship, the anchor was raised and we headed north. A pod of minke whales appeared and the captain diverted to follow then to give us photo opportunities. I got some video footage.
Our last shore excursion was to a picturesque little bay and abandoned sheep ranch named Wulaia. We hiked up along a ridge for magnificent vistas. We also watched a beaver in his pond. Beavers have been introduced and have wreaked havoc on the forests.
The final leg of the trip took us into Ushuaia, the southern-most city in Argentina. We left the ship in the morning, found our hostel and settled in for a few days in Ushuaia.