Monday, February 8, 2010

Circle South America: Chilean Fjords and Glaciers- Part 2

Dear Family and Friends,

Greetings from Antarctica! After a two day sail across the Drake Passage where the turbulent Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean meet at the “end of the world”, we are passing Deception Island at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Huge icebergs surround the ship as we cruise south at latitude 63°. Yesterday we experienced 24 foot waves which rocked our ship and bounced us around like a cork in a whirlpool bath. At one point we were sitting up in the Observation Lounge on Deck 12, nine stories above the ocean surface when the ship was shaken like a rag doll and a rogue wave came over the top of the ship, spraying the panoramic windows of our lounge with a force and volume similar to a fire hose. But I get ahead of myself.

For the previous two days we continued our journey down through the Chilean Fjords to the tip of South America. At Punta Arenas we took a tour across the Pampas, which basically translates as “flat lands”, to Otway Sound where we visited a penguin reserve. The nature of this area is so totally different than the green mountainsides of the fjords. There are just enough low shrubs to offer camouflage to the guanacos and South American ostriches or rheas. Our buses took us past a huge open pit coal mine, which ranks among the world’s largest coal reserves, and finally to the seaside penguin “rookery” where we mingled with a substantial colony of Megellanic penguins as they nest and breed. These penguins live 25-30 years, are monogamous and return every year to this spot between October and March to lay eggs and raise their young. The adolescent penguins have all white fronts and the adults have a black stripe that runs through their white fronts.

The Chileans like to claim Punta Arenas is the southernmost “city” (population 150,000) in the world, but it is a distinction debated by the Argentines who claim their “town” of Ushuaia (population 125,000), at latitude 55° south, is the furthest south and truly at the “end of the world”. More important to us, however, was the journey getting there through the Beagle Channel. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. As we cruised down the “Avenue of Glaciers” we saw one huge ice flow after another, each one more spectacular than the one before. Look closely at the photo which shows the huge face of the Italian Glacier and the small tender our captain lowered and sent out to gather a piece of glacier. It will give you a sense of how large this glacier really is. The calved piece of glacier, known as a “growler”, was nearly as large as the tender. The crew cut off a piece and brought it back to the ship. And we got a picture of Vicki and me touching this 10,000 year old piece of pristine and pure frozen snow.

At Ushuaia we took a ride on The Train to the End of the World, a narrow-gauge steam train which was originally used to transport prisoners from the penal colony to the timber fields on Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fires), an Argentine island on the other side of the Beagle Channel from Chile. After our train trip we boarded a catamaran for a cruise back to our ship where we passed by several islands that are the home to thousands of cormorants and hundreds of sea lions. Our guide estimated the dominant male in our photos weighed 1200 pounds.

We are currently inside the Antarctic Circle at latitude 63° 25’ 30” S and will arrive tomorrow at Paradise Bay on the coast of the continent of Antarctica. Until then, God Bless you all.
Jud and Vicki

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