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Patagonia, Chile 72-Hour Vacation

Cruise at the End of the World
Exploring Patagonia's majestic glaciers and fjords

The blue shades of the Pia glacier
The blue shades of the Pia glacier


During the night we have sailed along the Magdalena, Cockburn and Ballenero Channels, and entered the Beagle Channel. The Ballenero (whale boat) Channel owes its name to Captain FitzRoy who tried unsuccessfully to retrieve a skiff there that was stolen by the aborigines. Captain FitzRoy commanded the HMS Beagle that took Charles Darwin around the world. Three centuries after the discovery by Magellan in 1520, this area was still uncharted and ignored.  The shores of the Beagle Channel on the southern part of Tierra del Fuego are steep, covered by green forests and cloaked by national parks where nature is untouched. A gold rush and sheep farming attempt occurred in 1890, but both were shortlived and human presence has since been minimal. The Indians, the Yaganes, are extinct. They expertly sailed (in the nude) these treacherous and often furious waters in their canoes, staying warm with fires in their frail boats. Five of them were deported to England and presented to the king as a curiosity. They could never get used to Western civilization and returned to their lifestyle. Despite the protection of the missionaries, they were massacred by European predators and succumbed to imported disease.
Mare Australis in the Pia fjord
Mare Australis in the Pia fjord

The Mare Australis sneaks her way into a maze of narrow bodies of water in the fractures of the Darwin Cordillera and penetrates the Pia fjord facing the majestic glacier Pia. Next to the glacier, the Zodiacs drop us on a beach named by the pioneers of this cruise/expedition that opened in 1999—Punta Expedicion.

Zodiacs have no keel, thus they can run onto the beach. On a muddy trail, we escalate the hill to discover the mammoth size of this mountain of ice layered with blue hues. From time to time, ice breaks from the mass and falls into the water with the noise of a canon shot. We stay speechless, listening to the mighty sound and admiring the grandiose spectacle of a centuries old nature deleting, or maybe just transforming, itself. A comforting hot chocolate is awaiting us before we return onboard.

The afternoon is less demanding. We are sailing along the “Avenue of the Glaciers” and sitting in the lounge, or on the panoramic deck, passing by the Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch  and Italian glaciers named after the nationality of their discoverers. While we sit comfortably sipping tea, watching the pristine nature, we listen to lecturers who teach us some of the history of this part of the world and some of what we should know of its past and of its flora and fauna. But no one can explain why the Yamanas were able to withstand this harsh, barren climate. In these channels, whales are not unusual, but we are most likely to see the playful Patagonian dolphins.

Continue to Day 3


* Photos courtesy of

(Updated: 06/04/08 HC)

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