Friday, January 26, 2018

Around the Horn - Happy New Year 2018!

A typical scene off the southern part of Argentina from a cruise ship. Cape Horn is not far away. This area encompasses a park called Tierra Del Fuego, which is part Argentina, part Chile. It is also part of Patagonia, which encompasses the southern-most reaches of each of the two nations. They don't always like each other.
We celebrated New Years Eve sailing around Cape Horn - the southernmost tip of South America - with our son, Chris Korbulic and his partner, Chelsea Behymer. The experience - and the entire month traveling that it included - was stellar, way more than we could have hoped for back in late October. That was when we discovered that our original winter travel plans had been crushed.

What we'd planned—two to three months on the Baja Peninsula in our camper van.

Why it didn't work — Van requires ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel, which is not yet widely enough available in Mexico. 

What we decided, on a whim, to do instead — try for a last-minute cruise deal in South America.  

So en route home from visiting our Reno family, I began searching. An outfit called Vacations to Go includes last-minute cruise deals. The site asks for trip preferences to narrow your search, so I put in two: Depart in early December and start from Chile. 

Only one result popped up, a 15-day Celebrity Infinity cruise starting in Santiago, Chile, sailing around Cape Horn and ending in Buenos Aires. 

Interesting!  Cape Horn!

But wait! I felt my heartbeat quicken. 

I asked PK,  Isn't Celebrity the cruise line that Chelsea contracts with for her naturalist programs? And isn't she expecting to do her first contract in South America sometime this winter?! 

I texted her.

Seconds later she confirmed. YES!

Random and wild. It gets better.

Not only would she be on this ship, but if we could wait a couple weeks and embark in Buenos Aires, Argentina, instead, Chris would be with us, too. 

Unbelievable. Unstoppable. A gift from the Universe.

Within a few hours we went from doldrums and searching blindly for a destination, to anticipating a sea-and-land journey beyond our imagining. Three days later we were booked for the trip of a lifetime. 

We also made plans to spend a few days with Chris in Argentina before the cruise, and for a two-week road trip in Chile afterwards. I hope to write a series of posts with words and photos highlighting some of the best days ever.

Here's the first, New Year's Eve 2017, sailing around Cape Horn and then through the Beagle Channel.
We spent a lot of time on our cruise ship veranda with binoculars and cameras on December 31, 2017, and many other days. Even though December and January are officially summer, we were, for a time, just 400 miles from Antarctica. The days are long and can be cold. We used every bit of winter clothing we packed. This was one trip where we did not succeed in getting by with carry-on luggage only.

The cruise highlights, for us, were mostly contained within this mapped area. After our leisurely look at Cape Horn,(see below) the Infinity made its way to Ushuaia via the Beagle Channel, named after a ship that did the first hydrographic survey there. On its second voyage the HMS Beagle had on board an amateur naturalist, young Charles Darwin, who paid his own way while gathering information that led to the the theory of evolution as described in his book, Origin of the Species. 

Albatrosses were thick on this day, December 31, 2017. Hundreds, if not thousands filled the air and the sea. This image represents a fraction of the multitudes. What are they doing? Most likely feeding on sealife brought by upwelling as currents from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans collide. The oceans were in a rare state of calm, defying the Horn's reputation as weather hell. 
Albatrosses flying solo, or in small groups, were common.

For the first time in three years, the captain announced the Infinity would pause at Cape Horn, and he would guide the ship on a lazy 360 turn. Passengers were invited to the helipad, usually closed. I was disappointed that we missed the drama of high seas, but was grateful for the long look at a historical place. Part of our journey was reading nonfiction books (on small devices) about early explorations, primarily about Magellan. More about this later.
As the ship paused at Cape Horn, Chelsea was invited to bring "her family" up to the captain's bridge to enjoy the view. We did. Plus it was fun seeing the command post.

Imperial cormorants. The only ones we saw.
Lack of brilliant color didn't detract from the pleasing effects of light and clouds, land and sea, in all directions. 

The next stop: Ushuaia, Argentina, and a New Year's Day hike I'll never forget. Well, we didn't take any hikes on this trip that I will forget. But this was the first hike of 2018. And after hiking, came Glacier Alley. Unforgettable, of course. Pictures coming. 

If good fortune is leading you toward a cruise, spring for a
cabin with a balcony, or veranda, as they're called.
The extra cost was worth every peso. If you go around the Horn
from Buenos Aires, be sure to get a starboard cabin. Best views!