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WELCOME TO THE END OF THE EARTH by Michaela Cordes | 31st August, 2023 | Travel

From vast, rugged mountain ranges to majestic icy glaciers – traveling through the beautiful landscapes of Patagonia is a dream for any adventure lover. GG took a unique explorer cruise – from Ushuaia in Argentina to Cape Horn and Punta Arenas in Chile.

It’s 4 in the morning as I wake up excited with anticipation. Last night, we left the port of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina, on the Ventus Australis. In just a few hours we will reach the legendary Cape Horn. Until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, 10,000 mariners lost their lives on the dangerous route around infamous Hornos island, which was the most important trading route back then.
Gazing out of the giant panorama window in our double cabin, the sea looks deceptively calm, with only some white-capped ripples indicating that things could change. I decide to get up and quickly put on three layers of clothes, pull on the oilskins I brought with me from home and head over to the lounge of our explorer ship. Its 100 cabins are almost fully booked. A cup of coffee in hand, I join the other early risers as we eagerly observe how the weather develops the closer we get to Cape Horn. Provided it remains calm, we will be able to go ashore and pay a visit to the only family that lives in total isolation on this remote rocky promontory and keeps the lighthouse. But with every nautical mile we draw closer, the foamy caps on the waves swell, and the wind picks up speed, becoming a lashing gale. The spray drifts across the sea like a gray veil of fog.

Finally, after keeping our fingers crossed for the past few hours, at 7 a.m. an announcement crackles through the speakers: “Unfortunately, due to wind force 14 (Editor’s note: the equivalent of around 150 km/h. The highest winds recorded here are 185 km/h) we will not be able to go ashore.”

The waves are too high and rough to launch the Zodiac inflatables. Instead, we gather on deck and take photos of the dramatic scenery. It takes all my strength to cling to the railing, while around me the wind snatches hats off the heads of other passengers.

In the distance on land, we can see the modern memorial dedicated to the many sailors who lost their lives in the treacherous waters around Cape Horn: It depicts an albatross, in reference to the legend that the men who drowned here were later transformed into birds. Finally our ship turns around and heads for the Beagle Channel.

Hungry and exhausted from battling the strong winds, we gratefully enter the Patagonia Dining Hall at 8 a.m. for a well-deserved breakfast. A few hours later, we reach the tranquil Wulaia Bay, which lies slightly to the north. Once, this area was home to the indigenous Yahgan people, nomads who trav-eled in canoes made of birch trunks, hunting seals and fish. As they always took fire with them, the group of islands was named Tierra del Fuego – the land of fire. In the late 19th century, the Yahgan were decimated by the western conquerors and the infectious diseases they brought with them.

In the afternoon, we leave the ship for the first time and hike more than 10,000 steps and 17 stories (according to my iPhone) up into the wildly beautiful mountains and the Magellan Forest, which is a habitat for plants such as lengas and coigües (Southern beech trees), canelo (Winter’s bark) and native ferns. From the viewpoint on top, we overlook the entire bay and, in the distance, can even see whales blowing their fountains into the air. Back on board, we sit on deck and admire the incredible spectacle until the sun sets.

After an excellent dinner (especially if you love fish) we decide to have an early night – which, as we are securely anchored, is calm and also quite short. At 6 the next morning, the Ventus Australis sets off towards the northwestern arm of the Beagle Channel where the Pia Glacier sits in the Darwin Mountains. We wake up at a prime spot with the incredible sight of one of the largest glaciers in South America right in front of our window – a stunning 100-meter-tall mountain of ice.

Excited, we pull on our waterproof gear, again with a lifejacket on top, and gather at the rear of the ship, where Zodiacs are waiting to whisk us over to the shore of the glacier for a walk to the top. The closer we get, the more we feel the intense chill of these massive amounts of ice. From time to time, we hear a tremendous groaning and grinding even as small pieces of ice shear off.

We learn that the glaciers move roughly 40-50 meters every month and that they shine in a range of different colors, depending on how the light catches them and the composition of the ice. After stopping off and visting the Marinelli and Aguila glaciers, and shortly before arriving at the harbor of Punta Arenas in Chile, we pay a last visit to the uninhabited tiny island of Magdalena in the Straits of Magellan. It was charted for the first time around 1520 by Ferdinand Magellan on his voyage to circumnavigate the world and is now known for its vast population of Magellanic penguins that lives here. During our walk, we admire the droll inhabitants up close, who share the island with their biggest archenemies, the skua birds.

IssueGG Magazine 04/23