Postcards from Around The World: Ushuaia, Argentina & Chilean Fjords

After our Antarctica Experience during Holland America’s Amsterdam’s World Cruise, we went to the “End of the World,” as Ushuaia, Argentina, is known because it is the southernmost city on earth, and we circumnavigated windswept Cape Horn on the way there.

At “el fin del mundo,” or the end of the world. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

Picturesque Ushuaia, with mountains and some architecture that give it a Swiss feel, is on the Beagle Channel (named for the H.M.S. Beagle expedition ship once taken by Charles Darwin for his observations that led to his work on the Origin of Species). Ushuaia is the gateway to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, a half-hour southwest of the city. On a previous visit, we headed to the park which has within it the end of the Pan American Highway – a thoroughfare that you could take from here all the way up to Alaska.

Ushuaia’s Swiss-style architecture. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

The Tierra del Fuego National Park was created in 1960 to protect the southern tip of the Andes. It encompasses mountains, deciduous and evergreen beech forests, lakes, streams and the sea. Flowers found in the park include white, yellow and green orchids, and its fauna features 20 species of mammals, including the llama-like guanaco, rabbits and the red fox. We spotted one of the latter – a beautiful creature with a black-tipped tail – in the woods and it nonchalantly crossed the road ahead of us. Other fauna we spotted included black-necked swans and a family of Upland geese walking proudly with their chicks. Giant woodpeckers and condors also frequent the park.

Other points of interest we took in during our previous visit included Ensenada Bay, with the Earth’s southernmost post office and hills embracing its waters; Roca Lake (shared by Argentina and Chile); and the Alakush Visitors Center. At the latter, there’s an exhibit about the Yamana, the area’s original inhabitants, and an observation tower with expansive views of the majestic southern Andes.

The view of Ushuaia from the Beagle Channel. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

For this visit during our world cruise, we chose to stay in Ushuaia and enjoy its scenic beauty. Ushuaia means “deep bay” in the language of the Yamana people. The city is nestled by a lovely bay with the Beagle Channel in front of it, and for a backdrop it has the breathtaking Martial Glacier Mountain Range at the foot of the southern Andes. A town of about 80,000 people, it has a lively main thoroughfare, San Martin Street, with lots of eateries, watering holes and shops selling souvenirs. There are various interesting monuments to the fallen in the Falklands Islands War with the U.K. over possession of the islands that Argentina calls the Malvinas. Another interesting monument – in the shape of an albatross – honors early settlers.

This monument honors early settlers of the region. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

There are colorful signs telling you that you are at “the end of the world,” and few visitors can resist taking a photo of themselves there – us included. Other attractions include a Maritime Museum with ship models and antique maps and the 19th century El Presidio or Old Prison, which is modeled after England’s Port Arthur Prison in Tasmania, Australia, and France’s Devil’s Island and designed to hold Argentina’s worst offenders in this remote outpost, which it did until 1947.

From Ushuaia, we sailed into the Beagle Channel and from there on to the Strait of Magellan and the beautiful Chilean Fjords.

Calbuco Volcano. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

We had thought we had had our fill of scenic cruising in the wonderland of Antarctica, but at the Chilean Fjords we would feel that “our cup runneth over.” The parade of wonders began with scenic cruising on the Beagle Channel including in the so-called “Glacier Alley,” with a series of rivers of ice that spill over from the Darwin Mountains and are named after European countries, cruising by such incredible beauties as the Holanda (Holland) Glacier and the Italia (Italy) Glacier.

Ice river Italy spilling over a glacier. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

Another day, a two-and-a-half-hour-long session of scenic cruising afforded us vistas of Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, with its impressive towers, and views of the majestic Andes Mountains. Fur seals were spotted frolicking in the water as were fin whales. Sunsets, typically around 9-9:30 p.m. were gorgeous.

Enjoying the scenery in Amsterdam’s Crow’s Nest. © 2020 Georgina Cruz

After admiring these vistas, we spent another day in the Chilean Fjords –dividing our time between the outer decks and the Crow’s Nest, the Amsterdam’s forward observation lounge. While lesser known than the Norwegian Fjords, they are impressive with a multitude of fjords and fjord-like channels found in the latitudes between Cape Horn and the Reloncavi Estuary. They are bordered by rugged peaks and beautiful, glacier-chiseled landscapes, and have a mind-boggling maze of beautiful islands that are a photographer’s delight. Stops were made in Punta Arenas with an opportunity to visit Magdalena Island with its colony of Magellanic penguins, and in Puerto Montt. While in Puerto Montt, we admired a duo of volcanoes with snow on their peaks: Calbuco and Osorno Volcanoes.

The fjords were definitely a highlight of the World Cruise in Chile. Next on our agenda are a few more Chilean ports and then the start of our Pacific crossing.

Some quick superlatives:

  • Moments of greatest relief: Crossing Cape Horn where the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans converge, and finding it calm as a lake.
  • Most reassuring: Hearing the announcement by Capt. Jonathan Mercer that anyone – including port agents, crew, visitors and new guests trying to board the Amsterdam –will be receiving screenings as one of the precautions against Coronavirus.
  • Most scenic sailaway: The view of Ushuaia from the Beagle Channel with its beautiful mountain backdrop.
  • Most impressive: The glaciers in Glacier Alley and the views of Torres del Paine and the Andes.
  • Most disappointing: Not being able to see, as our itinerary called for, the sight of the wall of ice of El Brujo (the sorcerer) Glacier, located in Bernardo Higgins National Park, and originating in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It is more than a mile wide at the back of the Asia Fjord. When we asked, we were given two explanations: the navigation officers deemed that ice from the glacier in the narrow channel that leads to the glacier would not be safe for the ship, and that we would not get to the next port on time if we did scenic cruising at the glacier.
  • Most delicious: Being able to “taste” Chile during the Chilean Seafood Dinner in the Lido with a Chilean ceviche bar, chilled green-lipped mussels, steamed mussels, crab legs, clams with white wine broth, and fresh-caught Chilean salmon, among many delights.

Fast Facts About Glaciers:

  • Glaciers are rivers of ice, sculpted by the elements and fissured by pressure.
  • When snow falls on them, it compacts to ice.
  • The river of ice is moved forward by gravity. And as it moves downhill, melted snow mixes with rocks and soil in its bottom, thus forming a lubricant that keeps the glacier moving.
  • Debris from the crushed rocks gets forced to the sides of the glacier creating features called “moraines.”
  • The glacier’s movement also causes cracks called “crevasses.”
  • When snow accumulation outpaces melting, the glacier advances. When there is more melting or evaporation, the glacier retreats.
  • Some glaciers are blue because the more compact the ice, the longer the light has to travel and the bluer the light appears. Air bubbles in uncompact ice absorb long wavelengths of white light, so we see white ice.

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