What’s on your bucket list?
As a longtime travel and guidebook writer, I’ve traveled to 91 countries on every continent. Yet, I had but one destination remaining on my bucket list. I’ve always wanted to stand at the end of South America at the very tip of Cape Horn.
Gloria and I decided to “go for it” and began our Chilean adventure at the bustling capital of Santiago. After spending a week exploring the city, we headed south to Patagonia and spent a day wandering through the rusty and tired old port city of Valparaiso. The highlight of the day was a visit to the home of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
From there, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend a few days at the famous Eco Camp in Torres del Paine National Park. ( www.ecocamp.travel ) And, it does live up to its “eco” title. Located within the rugged range of Patagonian mountains, the isolated camp is as close to “roughing it” as you can get. You can’t get much further off the grid…flashlights excepting. There’s great hiking, a cruise to nearby glaciers for more hiking and just doing “nothing.” The only power at the camp comes from a small generator powered by a nearby stream.
The camp is composed of about 15 small geodesic domed tents, with clear ceiling panels, situated along a rustic boardwalk to a larger communal tent where we gathered for meals and meetings. At night, we crawled through a small doorway into our “dome”, climbed on the animal skin bedding, viewed the stars shining brightly overhead and were soon asleep.
After a week of hiking and exploring, we were ready for the next stop in our journey to “the end of the earth” from the pleasant town of Punta Arenas, the jumping off port for our cruise.
Before boarding, we shopped for some last minute items and warmer foul weather gear. Heading for the pier we were ready to embark on the Mare Australis, a ship that comfortably carries about 125 passengers. (www.australis.com/…/our-fleet/stella-australis). Our itinerary would take us through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, en route to Ushuaia Argentina “Desde el fin del Mundo.”
Our first evening, the captain hosted a pleasant dinner and cocktail reception which gave us the opportunity to meet and mingle with fellow explorers of all ages and nationalities. Soon after, we were
The Mare Australis is a pleasant and spacious ship, the crew is friendly and English is spoken everywhere, the food is more than we had expected and the trip was truly top quality.
Our first morning found us navigating through Almirantazgo Sound. After breakfast, we arrived at Marinelli Glacier where we went ashore in Zodiacs and hiked through an interesting Magellanic forest with an ancient beaver dam and where we spent nearly an hour photographing a large colony of elephant seals lazing on the beach.
The following day, we sailed through the main portion of the Beagle Channel passing numerous icebergs and “Zodiac’ed” ashore to hike to the Pia Glacier at the perfect time to see it calve.
“This was the sound of the Ice Age as it shaped the world, carving valleys, molding hills.”
Back aboard the ship, we sailed again through the northwest arm of Beagle Channel, past numerous glaciers, and through the Murray Channel. There, to everyone’s excitement, we finally sighted Cape Horn National Park. The waters here were rough and choppy and we were reminded of the hundreds of vessels that met their doom here in the 1800’s before the Panama Canal shortened the trip to the western coast.
We donned life jackets and climbed aboard the Zodiacs for a rough choppy half mile trip to Cape Horn on Hornos Island. Everyone then climbed to the 1394 foot rocky promontory and visited the small gift shop for “End of the earth” postcards and souvenirs.
As we gathered at the primitive pier, a sharp sleet storm arose and detained our departure for about half an hour. We spent much of the time taking photos on the signage proving that we had indeed reached Latitude 55 degrees and Longitude 67 degrees…the world’s most southern port. Then, we climbed into the Zodiacs and had another wet and choppy trip back to the trip back to our “mother” ship. The shore excursions aboard the inflatable shuttle were by far the roughest portions of the cruise… otherwise, it was very smooth sailing.
Just an hour or two later, we docked at Ushuaia Argentina, had a wonderful hot lunch before heading back to the airport for a flight back to Santiago and the long journey home. It was soon over and standing at the tip of Cape Horn could be scratched from my “bucket” list. Maybe I’ll put standing on China’s Great Wall in its place.