We finally got our booking sorted, on the day of departure. 'Welcome to the Via Australis'.
Our fashionable exit from Ushuaia was filled with bustle. We requested (and surprisingly got) a refund on the final day of our campsite we had paid for. We quickly ran through our checklist as we pounded the now all too familiar pavement of Av. San Martin, the main street of Ushuaia. We checked our luggage in 10 mins before the cutoff, our dusty backpacks amongst a sea of shiny suitcases.
Finally relaxing as we boarded the Via Australis for our 4 night cruise to Punta Arenas neither of us could resist a cheeky smile that grew over our faces.
We were spoiled with a fantastic dinner of king crab and salmon as we met the 6 other guests who we would share our meals with. Soon we settled in to sleep, rocked gently by the swell and joy of joys... with a pillow for the first time in about 2 weeks! The first boat expedition was early in the morning to Cape Horn, we were all briefed on the way to get in and out of boats. The monkey grip, strict instructions to sit and slide and the huge life vest we were wearing suggested perhaps it is not always as serene at the Cape as the slideshow suggests. Fortunately we had calm seas for the whole journey and the expedition dinghies were a delight.
Cape horn is windy. All of the time. There is a lighthouse at the cape, with a small gift shop of course. Shannan wondered if the child inside the lighthouse is homeschooled or just back for the holidays. It would be a lonely place to grow up. His father was dressed in a very smart Chilean Navy uniform. Looking out to sea we could see a small yacht tossing in the swell, a sight that vindicated our choice of a somewhat larger vessel.
We visited four glaciers during the trip. There was great variety between them, some a vivid blue colour due to light filtering through the dissolved gas and compression over the centuries. Others holding dirt and stones and giant boulders inside the ice, waiting to deposit when they melt and form the moraines we were walking over. We found ourselves excitedly hoping for the fall of a large chunk of ice into the water below, which we were granted several time with the accompanying all mighty crack and grumble.
After each expedition, while waiting to return to the boat there was the option of a hot chocolate or a whisky on the rocks, the centuries old ice collected from bergs recently calved off the glacier. A favourite was a combination hot chocolate and whisky, it's always 5 o'clock somewhere right? Suddenly we understood the term 'Martini explorers'.
One morning there was the option to either stay on the boat and see a glacier from close range as the captain drew as near as safe or to do a landing and scramble up a mountain to a waterfall (this option seemed to be hilarious to most of the ship's older clientele). After some agonising over the need to choose we decided to go for the scramble. Following a bemused farewell from most of the ship's passengers about 30 of us were ferried ashore. Here, treacherously slippery logs lined the mud and sheer rock faces were made climbable with ropes and an icy waterfall welcomed us. We had a great time and returned slightly soggy but as the new heroes of the boat.
Wildlife and flowers were present on all the expeditions. Wild celery and calafate bushes provide a ready food source for the wildlife and passing tour guides. The highlight was Magdalena Island on the last day. The island is home to 120,000 Magellan Penguins. Many of the juveniles were starting to malt their fuzzy fur for feathers. Once waxed the feathers will enable them to swim in the sub-antarctic waters without instantly freezing. (it took all my strength not to pick one of the little butterballs up and slip it under my lifejacket as a souvenir - Shannan).
As the cruise came to an end, we knew we had entered dangerous territory. Having now had a taste of such luxury the return to hostels, camping and one pot cooking is just a little more difficult. It was a quick decent, breakfast at the hostel in Punta Arenas was either coffee or tea.