Mission: Patagonia








Like some sort of weird secret mission life, I get a call on a Wednesday night to find out I am going to South America less than 36 hours later. Details would follow.

Without so much as knowing the price of a Chilean visa ($131! Good thing they took credit cards) I boarded a plane Jan. 30 from Madison to La Guardia, JFK to Santiago, Santiago to Punta Arenas in Tierra del Fuego. A couple hours after landing, I was on the Mare Australis, a 130-passenger expedition cruise ship, and heading into the Magellan Strait.

Our first excursion was the following morning. We passed through Admiralty Fjord to arrive at Ainsworth Bay where all passengers boarded a rotation of zodiacs which ferried us ashore for a hike just across the bay from Marinelli Glacier. This was actually the first time I ever saw one, but we’d see one up close later on in the journey.

The landscape is peculiar. The glaciers of long ago left a very thin layer of top soil and so the trees and shrubs have shallow root systems. Lichens and mosses cover just about everything and the rocks look rusty in the sun from one particular type of lichen.

After a lecture on glaciers it was startling to hear the murmurs of the global warming deniers. One passenger tried to argue that humans believing they could affect this planet of 70% water and so much uninhabitable land is “human arrogance.” I kept my mouth shut (for a change) but went to sleep mulling that over. Knowing that even a single massive volcanic eruption can cause a planetwide climatic effect, how can it be that 6 billion people, with cars, jets, factories, coal plants, and billions of various cattle producing methane, farmers clear cutting forests, with millions and millions of acres of fertilized land leaching into rivers and then the sea to cause huge dead spots… what reasonable human being can’t figure that decades of that sort of activity since the industrial revolution accelerating as it does with technology and population explosion would not be just a wee bit more significant than a simple volcanic eruption that lasts only a few days or weeks??? Yes, arrogance indeed. As well as willful ignorance.

The glaciers were melting before our eyes and we were shown where they used to reach not long ago. We stood very close to Pia Glacier and listened to the gunshot cracks as it inched toward the sea. A couple streams ran out below and chunks the size of small cars crumbled away a few times while we were there. The bay was filled with small icebergs and as I found out later at the bar, a couple chunks of the smallest ones were cooling our drinks. Whiskey on the (glacial) rocks? They actually served us Johnnie Walker on the beach.

Lectures and movies and an open bar helped pass the time between excursions. A whale, several dolphins and a group of penguins swam alongside at various times, and the albatrosses and petrels stayed with us the entire time it seemed.

Our last stop was the “end of the world”. Cape Horn is the southernmost point on the South American continent. We were fortunate to have good weather as the waves here can make a landing difficult. We toured the lighthouse there and took photos at the monument. Back on board we were told the seas were so good that, rather than back track up the Murray Channel, we would continue around the horn and back up the other side toward Ushuaia. We ended the day in the bay at Ushuaia slowly twisting on our anchor so that the ship became a revolving restaurant for our farewell dinner as the sky put on a light show with glowing clouds and snow patches along the mountain peaks that surrounded us.

One thought on “Mission: Patagonia

  • February 13, 2009 at 5:57 pm
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    Anyone who thinks humans don’t affect the planet should visit Gary, Indiana.

    Reply

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