March 8, 2014

Around Cape Horn, #6: Punta Arenas to Buenos Aires

It’s Friday morning in Buenos Aires. I leave tonight on an overnight flight to Miami and fly Saturday morning to DC’s National Airport. I should be home by early afternoon.

I had planned to write a few more posts about the Valparaiso-Buenos Aires cruise, but I changed my mind. Instead, I'll do one quick photo recap. Then, assuming I get home safely, I'll tell the real story of this trip. Stay tuned.

Rounding Cape Horn
Probably every cruise that rounds the cape offers a similar memento:

Awakened by the ship’s PA system shortly after 6am, we were about to round the cape. We saw another ship that was taking passengers up to the Albatross Monument at the top of the spit of land. It’s a large sculpture by Chilean sculptor José Balcells that shows the silhouette of an albatross. Erected in 1992, the monument honors the many sailors who died attempting to “round the horn.”

We didn’t stop to visit the monument. Just as well. I wouldn’t have been able to make the climb and I doubt there’s an elevator.

Punta Arenas, Chile
Our cruise did offer shore excursions for the southernmost cities in Chile and Argentina. For Chile, it’s Punta Arenas. This was one of my favorite shore excursions. Guess why? Yep, I did it on my own.

Punta Arenas was originally established by the Chilean government in 1848 as a tiny penal colony and to assert sovereignty over the Strait. During the remainder of the 1800s, Punta Arenas grew in size and importance due to the increasing maritime traffic and trade to the west coasts of South and North America. The gold rush and increasing interest in sheep farming brought waves of immigrants to the area.

I’ve never understood why cemeteries often become big tourist attractions. But the cruise director, who gave a talk on the highlights of each stop with shore excursions, described Punta Arenas's cemetery as a must-see. He was especially enthusiastic about the cemetery’s gardens. OK, he convinced me. So I took a taxi from the port to the cemetery. I must have missed something, because I saw mostly flowers like these:

I have the same negative reaction to big mausoleums as I do to McMansions:

But I enjoyed my next stop. I took a taxi to the town square which provided a glimpse into the lives of wealthy residents before the Panama Canal was built. The square is surrounded by many of their well-preserved mansions. One of these has been turned into a museum with original furnishings, ceiling frescoes, and Italian marble floors.

In the center of the square stands a statute of Ferdinand Magellan. Legend has it that if you kiss the toe of the Indian on the statue, you will be successful in business and as a result be able to return to Patagonia. I didn’t bother -- both for hygienic reasons and a lack of interest in returning.

Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia is the terminus of the Pan American highway and claims to be the world's southernmost city. While there, we visited the world's "southernmost post office."

Like Punta Arenas, Ushuaia began as a penal colony. Today, it's the largest city in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego. popular as a jumping-off point for tours to Antarctica. This section of the southern Andes features forests, rivers, lakes, and peat bogs, which we saw on our tour.

It is also home to lots of birds. We took a boat out to this island, tightly packed with cormorants:

Though the cruise stopped mostly in Chile and Argentina, we got two "bonus countries."

The Falkland Islands 
My dear London pal Terry prefers calling the islands by their Argentinean name -- the Malvinas -- given his aversion to Ms. Thatcher and her war against Argentina to preserve the UK’s claim to the islands. 

I’m sure this stop was the highlight of the cruise for many passengers, because it brought the opportunity to view penguins up close. But our tour director repeatedly emphasized that the penguin tour options all involved spending hours in jeeps, bouncing over roadless terrain. He warned that these excursions were “not suitable for guests with bad backs or mobility issues." Those symptoms sounded just a little too familiar, so I reluctantly stayed on the ship.

Punta del Este, Uruguay
Punta del Este was our last stop before the end of the cruise in Buenos Aires. It's South America’s Miami Beach, one of my least favorite American cities. So I chose the only out-of-town option, a 2 ½ hour boat tour to Sea Lion Island. The boat ride involved as much bouncing around in rough seas as riding a jeep to see the penguins.

Thus ended the final tour of the cruise.

Next, my REAL story of this adventure.

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