My wife and I have returned from a sea voyage around the tip of South America, a journey of 4,071 nautical miles. It was a special opportunity to see a dramatic spectrum of landscape and seascape, and to travel storied sea lanes.
Seeing our 25th wedding anniversary approaching, we spotted this trip some years ago. Escaping Chicago's snowstorm on Jan. 22, we flew to Buenos Aires, from which we embarked on a cruise ship that is old and small by today's standards. The passenger list of 1,200 spanned a broad spectrum of nationality. My ear told me that Americans were in the minority. Passengers included a sizable Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking contingent, a large group from the United Kingdom and Canada and a smattering who spoke Slavic languages, French and Italian. Our dinner companions were an English couple and a Scots couple.
It was a special voyage, especially for the South American passengers whom we met. A white-haired man in his seventies from Santiago, Chile, told me that he took the trip to see parts of his continent and country that may otherwise be seen only in a few components. A Colombian couple said it was their first experience at the southern end of their continent.
For an American, there was an otherworldliness to the voyage. On clear nights, my wife and I climbed to the top deck to see the constellations such as the Southern Cross that are unique to that hemisphere.
Our ports of call included Montevideo, Uruguay; Puerto Madryn, Argentina; the Falkland Islands, a British protectorate; landfall 1.1 mile off Cape Horn; Ushuaia, Argentina; Punta Arenas, Chile; the Amalia Glacier and the PIO XI Glacier in Chilean waters and Valparaiso, Chile.
After seeing Cape Horn, our ship navigated a portion of the Straits of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, as well as the Smythe and Samiento channels.
The most dramatic passage was from the Falkland Islands to Cape Horn. Sailing southeast, the seas roughened, the wind strengthened, the temperature dropped and the sky darkened. We saw the cape's east-facing profile, whose broad outline resembles a sphinx. At its southern end, Cabo de Hornos rises sharply out of the sea, attaining an altitude of some 1,400 feet. About two miles back from the headland, there are two buildings housing an outpost of the Chilean Army. I cannot imagine a lonelier, more windswept duty station.
The gray seas and the barren cape are forbidding and desolate. My great-great-grandfather of Scots ancestry made his passage to the Oregon Territory in these waters in 1848 or 1849. Seeing this remote part of the globe gave me a keen appreciation for the adversity he and thousands of other emigrants faced in order to reach the West.
From Buenos Aires to Punto Arenas, I read Laurence Bergreen's Over the Edge of the World, a book that reminds us we live in a golden age of biography. Bergreen captures the adversity Ferdinand Magellan faced in seeking a sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For its enlargement of global consciousness, Bergreen asserts that Magellan's exploration was of much larger significance than NASA's flights into outer space.
Our ship traveled a portion of the Beagle Channel, named for the ship that transported Charles Darwin, before moving into the Strait of Magellan, which Bergreen describes as "a brooding landscape." Early Feb. 1, I looked out our stateroom window just in time to see the rusting hulk of a steamer, resting on its side in the shoals of the Beagle Channel.
The Chilean coastline is like seeing the Cascades emerge full-blown from the sea. The majesty of the Andes is breathtaking. Our ship moved through interior waterways, allowing us to sit near massive glaciers. There is very little human settlement in these parts. In one day, we saw two fishing boats. We also observed a village at the foot of the Andes, apparently supplied only by sea.
WEDNESDAY: Buenos Aires as a forlorn beauty The cults of tango and Evita Penguins in the desert Ushuaia as Hood River at the end of the earth Nationalities conjoined in death in Punta Arenas Flying over the Andes