To the End of the World (Pt. 2)

Patagonia to Cape Horn

Condé Nast Traveler China

Photographer:  Julien Capmeil


It’s a five-hour ride from Torres del Paine National Park to Punta Arenas, where I will board the Stella Australis cruise ship to Ushuaia, Argentina.  I wander on a street parallel to the Strait of Magellan, looking for the port, and pass a sleeping stray dog; he springs up immediately and starts walking ahead of me, occasionally looking back as though he’s guiding me there.  I follow and sure enough, he leads me to a building where I will await embarkation, and leaves me there.

Once I finally reach the ship’s boarding stairs, the stray lay there napping.  My momentary spirit guide makes me feel comfortable, but soon I’m in a small cabin with a very small shower, cueca music blaring from the intercom.  I have a feeling I’m in for a long four days at sea.

. . .

The zodiacs weave through the icebergs in Pia Fjord that have carved off of the Pia Glacier.  Our driver, Canito, gazes at the glacier, inhales the crisp air, and exhales in Spanish, “I love Patagonia.”  The zodiac slows and stalls out against an iceberg halfway between the Stella Australis and the glacier.  Canito looks perplexed as he examines the gear shift and engine, when it suddenly starts back up again.  He laughs and so do we once we realize he was just teasing.  The joke continues as he sings the tune to Chopin’s Funeral March.

We make it safely to land and spend forever staring at the massive Pia Glacier, waiting to witness carving.  First we hear a loud crack and a boom like a cannon being fired, but as we scan the colossal glacier looking for the spot where the carving has occurred, only a giant splash finally gives us a hint of where the iceberg fell, like looking to the sky after a rolling thunder to find that the lightning is long gone.  We hike up to a panoramic viewpoint, though the scenery is somewhat tainted by the spattering of orange life vests and brightly colored North Face jackets.

. . .

I search the skies for an albatross.  Once we reach Hornos Island we’re spared a “wet landing.”  I climb an infinite amount of stairs and then stagger against blustering winds along a wooden pathway to the Cape Horn monument: a sculpture of a silhouette of an albatross.  From the monument, I look to the south and consider that I’m the closest to Antarctica that I probably ever will be for the rest of my life (just about five hundred miles).

On the opposite end of the pathway there’s a chapel and a lighthouse; a family lives there. Each year an officer from the Chilean Navy, along with his family, is stationed here to be the keeper of the lighthouse.  I presume this must be a lonely fate for any family, to be isolated from civilization and faced with brutal weather conditions for the good part of an entire year.  Then my awareness reverts back to the orange life vests all around, and I realize that the keepers of the lighthouse actually receive many visitors each week from the Australis cruises and other sailors that venture to round the Cape.

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(To read the full story here.)

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