Aiken del Sur Park

Estero Slight

Pious XI Glacier area

Seno Montańas (fjord of the mountains)

Torres del Paine National Park

Staten Island, Argentina

Staten Island, Argentina (day 2)

Isla Observatorio

Patagonia

October 2015

In late October 2015, Kathy and I embarked on a grand adventure. We went to Patagonia (southern Chile and Argentina) on an an expedition called “Rounding the Cape: Chilean Patagonia and Argentina’s Staten Island”. This was the title given to the trip by National Geographic and Linblad Expeditions. We flew to Santiago, Chile and then on to Puerto Mont, Chile, where we boarded the National Geographic Explorer, an ice class ship holding 148 guests and 100+ staff. This ship would be our home for the next 18 days. We would hike in temperate rain forests, take photos of waterfalls, see penguins, guanacos, seals and sea lions, and walk on glaciers like the one shown below.

Patagonia Penguins Patagonia Guanacos Patagonia Waterfall

Patagonia Glacier

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We arrived in Santiago early in the morning of October 22nd after an overnight flight. Rather than take the city tour that afternoon, we slept. From our room we could see the snow capped Andes mountains. That evening Linblad hosted a reception and dinner in a tented venue at the hotel. There we got to meet our shipmates.

Alps Hotel Atrium
Hotel Reception Hotel Reception 2

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The next day, we flew from Santiago to Puerto Mont. Again we could see snow capped mountains in the distance. Before going to the ship, we toured some of the local shops where Kathy took these photos.

Puerto Mont 1 Puerto Mont 2
Puerto Mont 3 Puerto Mont 4

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We sailed during the night and arrived at Chiloe Island the next morning. We drove past the fishermen’s houses built on stilts over the water. We hiked in the Chiloe National Park. The naturalists explained the various plants and birds that we saw.

Chiloe 1 Chiloe 2

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On Sunday we finally felt like we were exploring a remote part of Chile. The ship anchored off of Pumalin Nature Sanctuary. We took a Zodiac ashore and explored the park. We hiked up a very steep, difficult trail to a waterfall. We crossed suspension bridges on a trail to see the “Alerces” trees, some of which are over a thousand years old. Then we headed back to the ship for lunch.

Pumalin 1 Pumalin 2
Pumalin 3 Pumalin 4

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On Monday we docked in Puerto Chacabuco. We were the first to use the new port facilities. We were serenaded by local dancers (children) and a local band and choir. Then busses took us to Aiken del Sur Park. This is a private park bordering Lake Riesco, with waterfalls and marshlands. We went on a 2 ˝ hour nature walk (supposed to be one hour). The guide did a good job of explaining local flora and fauna. At the end, there was a waterfall where I got some good photos. After the walk, we had a very nice lunch of barbecued lamb. There was a local singer/guitar player who entertained us. A very nice day.

Chacabuco 1 Chacabuco 2

Here are some pictures from the park.

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We sailed through the night and the next morning. In the afternoon we arrived at a location known as Estero Slight. It is an uninhabited peninsula except for a lighthouse keeper (at the other end of a 6 mile “road”). We went ashore in the Zodiacs. We went on a nature walk along the road under the temperate rain forest. We saw many ferns and mosses. Some of the mosses have much more structure that I associate with moss. The “road” could not be traversed by an ordinary car. There are ruts, boulders, streams, etc. We got a workout because the road went up and down.

Estero 1 Estero 2

Here are some pictures from Estero Slight.

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On Wednesday, we visited the town of Tortel. It is a small village of 500 people. It is reachable only by boat. There are no roads. The houses are connected by boardwalks. We explored the boardwalks. Unfortunately, it rained (it was sunny when we were getting ready). This was the first day that I did not bring the rain cover for the camera. We walked for 45 minutes or so, took a few pictures, and then went back to the boat.

Tortel 1 Tortel 2

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By Thursday October 29th, we had left behind the temperate rain forests and now we have glaciers (and it is colder). The naturalists say that this is still the rain forest, but the forest here doesn’t look like it could produce its own rain.

We are at the Pious XI glacier, the largest western outflow from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. At 41 miles in length, it is the longest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside Antarctica. We cruised around the glacier in Zodiacs. We saw Andean Condors eating on a beached whale. While we were out cruising in the Zodiacs, the “Hot Chocolate Zodiac” showed up and served us hot chocolate with whiskey. In the shot of the Zodiac, the forest can be seen in the background.

In the afternoon we spotted Orcas, but didn’t get close enough for good pictures.

Pious 1 Pious 2

Here are some pictures from exploring the waters around the Pious XI glacier.

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Friday morning: we had sailed all night and arrived at an area called Seno Montańas (fjord of the mountains). It was cold, windy and raining. We went ashore and hiked to the glacier. I took lots of pictures. The rain stopped and the sun came out for a while.

Seno 1 Seno 2

Here are some pictures of the glacier and the surrounding area,

In the afternoon we continued sailing south, heading for the “White Narrows”. At the narrows a Zodiac was put in the water to check the current before the ship went through.

Narrows 1 Narrows 2

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Sometime during Friday night we docked at Puerto Natales (we were waiting for the wind to die down before they would open the port). We got up at 5:45 AM Saturday morning in order to leave at 7:00 AM! We took coaches to Torres del Paine National Park (pronounced PINE-ye). Until today we had seen mostly dense temperate rain forests with very tall trees. Now there are few trees, mostly grass and bushes and some small trees. Also, until today we mostly we had clouds and some rain. This day we had sun and blue sky with some white clouds.

When we arrived at the park (about a 2 hour drive), we were amazed at the snow capped mountains and the lakes and rivers with glacial flower in the water giving them an aquamarine color similar to Lake Louise. We stopped many times to get off the bus and take pictures. When we got out it was very windy!! Some of the lakes had whitecaps and large waves.

This park was one of the highlights of the trip.

Paine 1 Paine 2

Here are some pictures of the park.

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After 2 days at sea, we intended to go ashore. By 8:30 in the morning we had checked out 2 locations; the first had high winds and the second did not have a good landing site. So we looked for a third site.

Finally, we found a large glacier and the seas are calm with light rain. At 10:00 AM we boarded the Zodiacs to explore the glacier and the surrounding landscape. We saw a number of birds of many types. The glacier is huge (see the size compared to the Zodiak). There is a lot of ice in the water (see the photo below). We heard and saw the glacier calve. The only downside was the off and on rain (mostly on). But my camera water shield worked just fine.

Glacier 1 Glacier 2

Later in the day as we made our way through the Straits of Magellan, we stopped at a national park on the largest island of Tierra del Fuego. At 5:00 PM we went ashore and hiked into the forest. There were mosses and lichens and water dripping out of the moss on the hillside.

Glacier 3 Glacier 4

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After another day of exploring, we woke up at 6:30 AM and looked out the window to see Cape Horn!! Unfortunately, right then the conditions were too rough to attempt to go ashore.

We circumnavigated the island (how many people do that?) to wait for better conditions and to wait for the local ship anchored there to leave. When we got back we anchored close to shore in the lee of the island where it was calmer. By 11:00 AM we were being shuttled ashore in the Zodiacs. We climbed the steps (150 feet) to the top. The climb wasn’t as strenuous as I predicted. The wind at the top was very strong. Some went on to the lighthouse or the monument, but Kathy and I were content to say that we had been on Cape Horn (and also that we had “rounded the cape”).

Cape 1 Cape 2
Cape 3 Cape 4

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The next morning the sun was shining and there were no whitecaps on the ocean!! We were on our way to Staten Island, Argentina. We would be the first tourists to visit this island!! The first group went out in the Zodiacs about 9:15 or 9:30. We were scheduled to go at 10:45, but didn’t go until almost 11:30. We got back about 1:00 and went to a late lunch. But the outing had been worth it. We saw Rock Hopper and Magellanic penguins. We saw them on land and in the water. We saw a number of birds including a great petrel which tried to fly away but didn’t get very much height before crash landing. We saw some very pretty kelp.

Staten 1 Staten 2

Here are some more pictures from that day.

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The next day we moved to a different part of Staten Island to explore. A crew went ashore to check out the possibilities. Then we went ashore and hiked to the “Lighthouse at the End of the World”. The trail was narrow and we went uphill for a mile or two. The scenery was great. The lighthouse (not the original) was very interesting. The Linblad historian installed a plaque noting the first visit here by the National Geographic Explorer.

Staten 3 Staten 4

Here are some more pictures from that day.

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The next day (our last on the ship) we moved to another island in the group – Isla Observatorio. This is where a magnetic observatory was maintained from 1902 until 1917. Then the buildings and equipment were removed and the island returned to its natural state. We were lucky to be in the first group. Wow!! We saw everything – thousands of birds, hundreds of penguins, dozens of sea lions and fur seals, colorful kelp. And the weather couldn’t have been better – sunny skies and calm water.

Observ

Here are some more pictures from that day.

Then we returned to the ship for the last time.

Observ 1 Observ 2

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The next day we left the ship at Ushuaia. Then we flew home via Buenos Aires. It had been a great trip.

Ushuaia 1 Ushuaia 2


C. Brandon Jones
email: Brandon "at" cbjones.info
updated January 30, 2017