It is now Friday, November 8, and this marks our 23rd day aboard the Zaandam. For the past five days we have been coasting along in the fiords except for one brief stopover at Punta Arenas, the southernmost town in Chile at the 52nd parallel or about where Winnipeg, Canada, is in the Northern Hemisphere. The weather has been pretty consistently inconsistent the whole time. One minute you are fogged in and can only see silhouettes of mountains at best. The next minute the sun peaks through, the water sparkles, and snowcapped peaks tower into the heavens above you. Then a rain shower comes, then a snow shower, and then suddenly the sky is blue again, and the cycle repeats itself. It was like this the entire time. The experience is mesmerizing. The spectacular scenery is never the same, always changing, always surprising you. In fact over the entire fiord experience I have spent most of the time just marveling and taking photographs as we cruise along. The big decisions are do I marvel from our balcony or the library with wide windows or the Crow’s Nest or the open aft deck. Tough choices. About the only thing that remains constant are the chilly temperatures—highs in the low 40s—and the brisk winds at 25 knots with higher gusts but ameliorated by the protection we have in the narrow channel.
Why doesn’t the word get out about this extraordinary natural wonder? Why isn’t it on the Top 10 List? Why isn’t it high on everyone’s bucket list?
One of the most amazing things is just how isolated this space is. There is no sign anywhere of any human activity—no houses, no boat docks, no visible paths or roads, no indication than any human has ever set foot on the steep slopes at the edge of the channel. Except for the passage through the Straight of Magellan leading into the town of Punta Arenas, we have seen a total of only six vessels—two tramp steamers, two fishing boats and one partially sunken freighter. We have seen a few seagulls, cormorants, and a few albatross, but not as many as you might expect. So where is everybody, you ask. You get the feeling that time has been rolled back eons, to a time before there was any human life on the planet, even before there was any animal life. So, you think, this is the way it all looked way back when, way back before we humans had our opportunity to leave our mark. Or perhaps it is a scene out of the future, when we humans are long gone, having left behind a mixed legacy.
Besides peering out of the ship’s windows or shivering on our balcony or the aft deck, we have continued to do the things people do on cruises—enjoying the food and meeting interesting fellow passengers at the evening dinners from all over the U.S. or Canada or the UK or Germany or wherever, doing our walks around the deck when weather permits, enjoying a cocktail at one of the ship’s many bars, attending the daily, classical music concerts by two gifted, young musicians, a pianist and a violist, or taking in a movie or a show or a lecture about what we will be seeing. Getting cabin fever is a bit of a risk on a long cruise, but on this leg we have been saved by the views.
At Punta Arenas, a back woods port of around 120,000, the Zaandam paused long enough to permit excursions during the day. Via a speedy catamaran, we joined an excursion to a small, flat island with over 30,000 Magdela Penguins (of which we saw maybe a hundred) and probably even more huge seagulls. Quite impressive cute little fellows and nice to get off the ship and stretch our legs. Late in the day, the ship departed again, headed toward Argentina where we will anchor at the world’s southernmost town, and then on to Cape Horn, which we should arrive at around six a.m. tomorrow, then toward the Falkland Islands.