Sunday, February 25, 2007

Logbook: Fin del Mundo III

Findelmundoiii1I had arranged to spend Wednesday “On the Route of Darwin” -- an excursion which Betsabe (my local travel expert) suggested. She told me it was a brand new trip and that although she didn’t know much about it -- and didn’t know anybody who had actually taken it -- it sounded like something I might like. She also said that since I was so “tranquillo” about things she was comfortable sending me on it without worrying I would be disappointed and hoped I would give her a full report. Her “close” was along the lines of me being an explorer, after all, and here was my chance to explore on her behalf. What could I say besides “I’ll do it!” So, early in the morning I was picked up and driven to the local marina where our first stop was a little shack in which my documents were reviewed and my passport was stamped out by an Argentine official. By means of this event I learned that the trip would involve crossing into Chile, and being loaded onto a water taxi -- basically a Zodiac with an awning over the front -- confirmed that we would do so across the Beagle Channel. Heading out of the harbor we made a quick detour to circle around the “Octopus” -- one of Paul Allen’s mega-yachts -- which was in port (and making quite an impression on the locals) in preparation to take an Allen-Gates all-star gang on a cruise to Antarctica. (Their invitation must not have caught up with me, eh?) Anyway, from there it was a hi-speed, freezing cold, bone-crushing 30-minute ride across the Beagle to Puerto Navarino, a very small, rocky harbor occupied by a lone building belonging to the Chilean Navy.

After waiting awhile for an immigration official to arrive -- during which time I played with the Station’s dog and tried to keep warm -- papers were examined and passports were stamped into Chile. A few minutes later, the Schooner Victory -- our ride for the day -- arrived and the assembled group of about 15 people were ferried aboard in a dingy. The first impression of Victory is very impressive. Obviously, someone has taken a lot of trouble -- and a ton of money -- to restore this old boat in an authentic way. The few modern amenities -- like working heads and a diesel engine -- are well out of sight so you immediately get the feeling that you have gone back in time somehow to an era of sailing ships in exotic foreign waters. Indeed, our two hour cruise from Puerto Navarino, through the Murray Canal and past rugged shores and islands was fabulous. The captain and crew were friendly and engaging, the guide did a good job of narrating in both Spanish and English, and the boat was a delight to ride.

Findelmundoiii2Arriving in the small, natural harbor of Wulaia, we dropped anchor and were ferried ashore in the dingy to explore the abandoned great house which was once the center of an agricultural community, then the base of a small Chilean force which maintained a territorial presence in the area, then a radio relay station for southern expeditions and, now, a place where fishermen occasionally hang out to get dry and stay out of the wind in bad weather. (The photos of this unlikely structure don’t really do it justice but they will give you some sense of it.) From there, we walked through the woods and up the hill to a bluff overlooking the harbor at Wulaia. I’m not going to go into all the historical details -- you can read them for yourself in books such as the recent best-seller “The Darwin Conspiracy” -- but it is an important place in the history of the area: Darwin, Fitzroy and their ilk all came here, it is the site of the famous massacre when missionaries returned with Jeremy Button and it is a focal point of various border conflicts between Chile and Argentina. After some time to sit and enjoy the view of stunning, rugged, primitive scenery and ponder history, we walked down the hill, ferried back on board and had a barbecue feast of meat! (What else?)

Our return cruise was equally enjoyable and a fine end to an excellent day trip. Unlike other excursions in the area which focus mainly on “activities”, “On the Route of Darwin” offers a sense of history and is more “intellectual.” I recommend it. Upon our arrival back in Puerto Navarino, we had to have our papers checked and our passports stamped out of Chile -- of course! -- and after the water taxi ride back across the Beagle to Ushuaia (which was thankfully less rough than the morning crossing) we had to be stamped back into Argentina. For those of you who are keeping score, that’s four passport stamps in one day and a good insight into the really silly protocol between the two countries -- not unlike how siblings argue over an imaginary boundary line in their bedroom!

Thursday was cold and rainy so I did some chores and “other” work, then spent most of Friday checking out the museums in Ushuaia. I give the “prison museum” high marks for its breadth of subjects and quality of displays, and the “Fin del Mundo” museum poor marks for its lack of the same. On a bad weather day in Ushuaia you can make good use of your time in the former and skip the latter. Yesterday I began -- and today I will finish -- the process of getting ready to move on by packing up my gear, updating the website, backing up my drives and checking in with my “Peeps” on Skype.

Tomorrow I will board the MV Polar Star for my six weeks combination cruise: Back to the Weddell Peninsula of Antarctica, a repositioning cruise up to Brazil and an Atlantic Crossing to the Canary Islands. I will have no internet access on board ship so website updates will be impossible. I will capture and process media along the way and post updates whenever I can at ports of call. The next date of which I am reasonably certain is March 15th when I will have the day back here in Ushuaia. I regret the long time between updates that this involves -- and I hope you will mark your calendars to check back on the 15th -- but like all things in life, “it is what it is” on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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