STRAITS OF MAGELLAN, USHUAIA (ARGENTINA) AND BEAGLE CHANNEL
A couple of quick historical notes: The Straits of Magellan were named in honor of Ferdinand Magellan, the great Spanish or Portuguese explorer who made his way down to South America and rounded the tip of South America, called Cape Horn. He’s a big guy in these parts, considering he discovered the place. Here’s a picture of his statue that stands in the Plaza de Armas, the town square, in Punta Arenas, Chile:
with the inscription at the bottom of the statue:
The Beagle Channel is named in honor of the HMS Beagle, the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed when he made his voyage to these parts and through these waters, and from here up the West Coast of South America and eventually to the Galapagos Islands. His observations down here and in the Galapagos formed the basis for his writings The Origins of the Species.
The waters of the Pacific are not so peaceful down at the tip of South America because of the cold sea currents from Antarctica. The straits are a series of “inside passages” of bodies of water that weave in between small islets that form land barriers between these inside waters and the Pacific Ocean, so sailing in them means sailing in calm waters. Combined with sailing through the Beagle Channel, this route provides a kind of calm waters shortcut between the east and west coasts of the bottom tip of South America.
Last year we did essentially the identical trip going around South America by leaving Fort Lauderdale and sailing down the east coast of South America, to the Falkland Islands and Antarctica, then around Cape Horn and up the west coast of South America, through the Panama Canal and back to Florida. This year we are taking more or less the same voyage, only in reverse order, going from the west coast of South America first and ending after a cruise down the Amazon. This year we arrived in Ushuaia about 2 weeks earlier than last year. Because the seasons here are reversed, it’s summertime here now, and apparently coming here a couple of weeks earlier in summer mattered.
In a number of places throughout this trip so far, the weather this year has not been nearly as good for us as it was last year. Such was to be the case today as we sailed to Ushuaia.
Having left Punta Arenas, Chile last night, our day cruising through the Straits of Magellan and the Chilean fjords to Ushuaia Channel started off overcast and drizzly rainy.
Here’s what Ushuaia port looked like today as we approached:
The waters were rough, as you can tell by the whitecaps in the photo, which was taken from at least 10 stories above the water. The waves were between 3 and 4 meters high – that’s ROUGH WATER !!!.
By comparison, last year the weather was beautiful, the skies clear, with the only clouds in the sky placed there, it seemed, for photographic effect.
Still, we had high hopes of stopping in Ushuaia, even though this year it was cold, windy, with drizzling rain on and off, overcast, very low cloud cover – in other words, a cup-of-hot-chocolate kind of day. In fact, we had planned on making one of our first stops this Chocolateria we saw but didn’t go into last year, for just that cup of hot chocolate:
In spite of the fact that Ushuaia is at the “Fin del Mundo” (the end of the world), two of the most charming things about it are the beautiful flowers that bloom here in summer, as seen here by the sign at the entrance to the Port of Ushuaia,
and at this garden in memory of Evita Peron – that’s a bust of her in the center (don’t forget, this IS Argentina!)
and at yet another public garden:
The other cool thing in Ushuaia is PENGUINS – there are lots of penguin colonies outside the town, and tour companies do a big business taking people there, but the penguin is also found throughout the town in various forms of display and advertising such as the following:
And sometimes, they’ll even look you right in the eye:
Last year we found a namesake restaurant here
and went looking, like Diogenes, for an honest Argentinian fisherman:
But alas, when we arrived at Ushuaia port this year, the Argentinian Coast Guard would not allow the ship to dock because of the water conditions. Casting anchor in the port and tendering in passengers to the dock was not possible because the waters were just too rough to lower the tenders and load passengers into them. Perhaps that’s what happens when, as the welcome sign says, you arrive at the “Culo del Mundo.”
And who should know better than the Argentines?
And so, with great regret, we had to cancel our visit to Ushuaia and continue on our way. The captain tells us he will be racing to get out of the Beagle Channel and hang a left into the Southern Ocean (the name of the ocean between the tip of South America and Antarctica) and into Drake’s Passage in order to try to get out of the storm’s way. Tomorrow we’ll know if he succeeded.