Cruise Cape Horn

Finally I did what I’ve yearned to do for years: I took a cruise around South America’s Cape Horn. I’ve sailed the Caribbean and Mediterranean, waking each morning at another sunny port. This trip provided many days at sea as well as exciting locations ashore.

One captain said to me, “Many passengers choose the ship that stops at the most ports.” But I want to see the ever-changing sea when I’m not sleeping.

Cruising Cape Horn turned out to be an unforgettable experience with magnificent scenery. After leaving Valparaiso, Chile, the ship soon enters the Chilean and Argentinian fjords, exposing spectacular mountain vistas for hundreds of miles. It whets the appetite for the adventure to come, and you soon begin to anticipate the romance of sailing the Horn.

German influences add interest
First stop is Puerto Montt, Chile. It’s the end of the line for the railroad and the Pan-American Highway. It also marks the end of the Lake District, a place of powerful beauty. German settlers arrived there in 1852. Today, their influence is everywhere. Quaint Bavarian chalets are scattered among cerulean lakes and majestic ice-cappedolcanoes.

It’s easy to see why, well before the Germans arrived, the Mapuche natives refused to share this beauty with the Spaniards.

Today’s Chileans are noted for their politeness. So polite, the story goes, that when the army disposed of their dictator the tanks stopped at every red light on their way to the palace.

Following a day and a night of rising sea, you become aware of encountering history. Our ship, Holland-America’s Ryndam, passes gently through the Canal Darwin, named after Charles Darwin, famous for his theory on the origin of species (he sailed through this region on H.M.S. Beagle in 1833).

The Ryndam arrives later the same day at the Spanish town of Punta Arenas in Chile where you can overlook the Straits of Magellan. It took Magellan more than a month to navigate this narrow passage. He thought each day would be his last.

Leaving Punta Arenas, our ship sails further south to Ushuaia, Argentina, “the city at the end of the world.” At 55 degrees south latitude, Ushuaians live in the southernmost city on the planet. In the past, many of Argentina’s most notorious criminals and political prisoners were imprisoned here. Today, Ushuaia is a fascinating rustic town with steep streets and wooden buildings painted in bright colours. The stores are loaded with classy merchandise and, for those with North American currency, there are great bargains.

But what about the scenery at the bottom of the world? Don’t expect it to be similar to Alaska. The eerie landscape looks alien and more primitive with unspoiled mountain ranges and spectacular glaciers. It’s justifiably referred to as “Mother Nature’s last and best work.”

Not one passenger has to be urged to rise early as we approach Cape Horn, where three oceans meet with no land to block the tidal flow, which swirls around the whole polar region. The passengers brace against the bitter wind on the rain-laced deck. But the Ryndam steadily rides the 15-foot waves.

Link to early exploration
Then finally Horn Island, a massive black rock, looms in the distance, its peak 1,400 feet above the sea.

Everyone stares in silence at the awe-inspiring scene. This is when you stretch your imagination to envision what it would have been like to circumvent the Horn on a small sailing ship. Or consider how Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s shipwrecked crew managed to navigate these waters in an open boat for 800 miles. 

On the eastern coast, there’s time to pick out a favourite deck chair and simply relax for two days at sea en route to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Argentina has claimed this territory – Islas Malvinas, as they call it – since the British occupied it in 1834. And we can all recall the Argentinians’ ill-fated invasion in 1982.

The Falklands are a tiny slice of England. The total population of Port Stanley is 2,000. Another 500 live in the surrounding countryside, tending 600,000 sheep. It’s interesting to wander the wind-whipped town and have fish and chips in a local pub. But as we sail away, I wonder why anyone would want to live there or own the Falklands Islands.

Buenos Aires has been rightly called the Paris of the South. Beautiful European buildings, wide avenues, classical monuments convey an air of Latin sophistication. Our stay provides an opportunity to fly to Iguacu Falls, twice the height of Niagara Falls and with 250 giant cascades.

Buenos Aires at last
We visit a ranch on the Pampas for dinner featuring renowned Argentine beef. Although there’s much to discover in Buenos Aires, I have a particular reason for wanting to see this city. Five years ago, my wife and I were about to fly to Buenos Aires to attend our son’s wedding to an Argentine girl. But I had a heart attack a week before the ceremony. Bad planning on my part.

But, at last, I finally see the church where they were married and am given a special welcome to Buenos Aires by my daughter-in-law’s parents.

The next port is Montevideo, Uruguay. We spend a warm day strolling the old city, savouring its history. Others choose to drive along the coast to Punta del Este, playground of the jet set. Then it’s another two days at sea travelling to our final destination, Rio de Janiero.

Brazilians say, “God made the world in six days. The seventh he devoted to Rio.” Perched between rugged mountains, sweeping golden beaches and blue sea, its beauty is incomparable. We say a wistful farewell to the Ryndam to spend two days in Rio.

South Americans claim the people of Buenos Aires worry about problems that haven’t happened. In Rio, when problems arise, they worry about them later.