December 28, 2016
Our first sighting of South American land came around midday, as we approached Cape Horn. This southernmost point of the Tierra del Fuego (and South America) is located on Chilean soil, so we could only look upon the Cape from a distance before having to turn into the Beagle Channel. As we passed, Cabos de Hornos (Cape Horn) National Park was clearly visible, as was the memorial in the park, sculpted in memory of the sailors who had lost their lives attempting to traverse these waters.
Naturalist Pete Puleston read aloud a poem written by Chilean poet Sara Vial and inscribed on a plaque near the memorial:
I am the albatross that awaits you
At the end of the world
I am the forgotten soul of the mariners lost
Who passed Cape Horn
From all the seas of the world.
But die they did not
In the furious waves
For today towards eternity
In my wings they soar
In the last crack
of the Antarctic winds
Now within the Beagle Channel, we picked up an Argentine pilot (required for travel down the Beagle) to lead us down the channel to Ushuaia. Fortunately, it was light outside, and I got to see portions of the Channel I had missed on our trip out. I was on the lookout for Magellanic Penguins, who apparently nests on islands in these waters. I got some great tips from Chief Officer Aaron Wood as to which islands would be best to carefully observe. Almost in the exact location predicted by Chief Officer Wood, I began to see the small heads of these penguins bobbing up and down in the crests of the waves. This was my 5th penguin species for this trip; I had seen Southern Rockhopper, Chinstrap, Gentoo, Adelie, and now Magellanic!
I got a couple more new bird species as we traveled further into the channel, as Sooty Shearwaters and Chilean Skuas swarmed the boat. In the early evening, we finally saw Ushuaia in the distance! As we approached, the city was brilliantly framed by the misty Southern Andes.
After we docked, we wandered out into the town for dinner. Albeit quite touristy, Ushuaia is very charming, and the locals are incredibly friendly. However, I’m not so sure about the climate – currently in the middle of their summer, the temperature this evening is a brisk 42°F. I can’t imagine what this place is like in the wintertime!
Grosvenor Teacher Fellow
National Geographic Society