January 21, 2003

Chile flagAn early rising this morning, before 6 am in fact. Our departure for the morning hike was to be at 6:20. This hike was a strenuous climb up to a waterfall above the fjord, in the cold rain forest at Garibaldi Glacier. The day was once again overcast, but the clouds were reasonably high, so we could see the glaciers.

“Strenuous”: it was steep, and muddy, and over and under tree trunks, and it had fixed ropes for handholds, but it was only an hour of climbing. After all the average age of people on the cruise is said to be 54. And it wasn’t all that muddy, even though it had rained quite a bit overnight.

Once back on the ship, we had breakfast while the ship went closer to the Garibaldi Glacier. In the same fjord as the glacier was a colony of sea lions. There were about thirty of them, crowded onto a narrow rocky bit of shoreline. Some were tiny pups, and there was a couple of large males supervising at one end. And there were about twenty Turkey Vultures just waiting, hoping for dinner. The ship spent quite some time just sitting and watching them.

We decided to skip the wine-tasting demonstration, and opted to sit in the lounge and on the top deck and just watch the scenery go by. We were going through the Avenue of the Glaciers by the Canal Beagle. The glaciers would have been more spectacular years ago, before they receded, but today they are still impressive despite ending quite a way up their valleys. We saw the Holland and Italy glaciers, which were very impressive, but we missed the Romansch glacier while we were resting and taking showers. We still had the overcast skies, although at times the sun was almost shining.

Early in the afternoon we noticed buildings and road cuts on the left bank, and before long we were passing Ushuaia. It was odd to see these signs of civilization after a few days away from them. But we carried on past Ushuaia, because our destination today was Puerto Williams, where we docked shortly after 5 pm. Although it describes itself as the southernmost town in the world, it is mostly a navy base. So we had to wait for some unspecified formalities to be completed before we could leave the ship.

When we finally did leave, it was raining, as it had been for the past couple of hours. There is not much to do in Puerto Williams so we did it. We photographed the bow section of the Yelcho, the tug that is famous for rescuing Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition in 1916. The bow is all that is left, and it has been made into a monument. Then we walked around the town centre, which consists of a small square surrounded by six stores. There isn’t even a Plaza de Armas. So we headed out the road to walk to Ukika. The houses along the road are very small, made of wood with metal roofs, and heated by wood. It seems the people who aren’t in the Navy live by fishing, and there doesn’t seem to be much money in that.

The road followed the water, so we could look at the water birds along the way. There were Dolphin Gulls, Kelp Gulls, Flightless Steamer-Ducks, and a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Ukika is where the last of the indigenous Yamana people are living, about two kilometres out of town. They run a little craft store there, called Kipa Akar, where they sell traditional baskets, harpoons, and the like for quite reasonable prices. We bought one of the baskets, made of junco rushes, and it was made so recently that it was still green, not dry yet. In fact the woman behind the counter was just tagging another basket for sale as we left.

Back in town, we found out that the museum was staying open late, so we hurried up there to catch it. Inside there were several maps of what the area was thought to look like and pictures of the Yahgan (Yamana) people. Quite a good museum for such a small place, well laid out and very informative. Later we heard that the Navy is planning to cut its presence in Puerto Williams by half; that can’t be good news for the town.

Back at the ship we went through the Chilean exit formalities, basically a check to see if we matched our passport pictures. Then dinner at 9 pm. Some passengers were leaving us in Ushuaia, so it was their last dinner on board. Pam and Peter, the English couple, were staying on but the four San Franciscans were all flying from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas. Tonight’s dinner started with shrimp cocktail, followed by beer cream soup. The main course was lamb, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. The dessert was calafate ice cream with a chocolate sauce.

By the time dinner was finished it was 11 pm so we said good night and went back to our cabin. Before going to bed we greased our hiking boots and turned out the lights at midnight. Just then a small boat bumped up against the ship, right outside our window. Someone—it must have been the Ushuaia pilot—jumped aboard the ship and the small boat roared away.

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