Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cruising up the Seno de Última Esperanza (Channel of Last Hope).

Bro posing with the Balmaceda glacier in the background.  Our first glacier!

We spent pretty much all day today on a boat, cruising up through one of the channels that run off the Seno de Última Esperanza (Channel of Last Hope).  I had high hopes for this cruise but in the end, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.

Flash back to morning.  Per our revised itinerary, which had been communicated to me by both denomades.com and the local tour operator, Bro and I waited outside The Shed for our pickup.  I was surprised when a very small vehicle showed up.  There was already a family of four on board and only two seats left - one for Bro and one for me.

Our driver took us to a pier, a different one from the one that Bro and I had scoped out two days ago.  The place looked more like a shipyard than a public ferry dock.  Our boat was already waiting for us.  We would be riding on the Joaquin Alvarez - not a very big vessel, holding only up to 70 passengers.  The boat is owned and operated by a tour company called Turismo 21 de Mayo.

As we approached the boat, we were handed two paper bags and then they checked for our names on the passenger manifest.  As we boarded, we were directed inside the cabin.  


There were already a few passengers seated so we just picked a spot.  I was curious what was inside the paper bags - just cookies and sweets. I guess that's our snack.  Just so we didn't have a repeat of yesterday, we packed along lunch today.


We also got a brochure that documented the path of our boat journey today.  It looked very interesting and with the sun shining brightly, I was very much looking forward to cruising up the Chilean fjords in this region.



One by one,  more passengers boarded.  Surprisingly, a good number were directed to the deck areas.  I guess their tickets did not give them cabin seating.  In fact, by the time the boat pulled away from the dock, I would say the cabin was maybe only two thirds full.

It was a picture perfect day for a boat ride and Bro and I settled into our seats for a bit before heading outside.


The first part of the cruise would be up the Señoret Channel which would lead to the Seno de Última Esperanza which is an inlet stretching from the mouth of Eberhard Fjord to the outskirts of Monte Balmaceda, within the Magallanes Basin. The navigator Juan Ladrillero named it so in 1557, because he felt it was this direction was his last chance to reach the Strait of Magellan.  Unfortunately, he wouldn't have known that the inlet ends at a glacier, and not at the strait without going up the inlet.

The Seno de Última Esperanzacontinues on for about 100km until it meets the Río Serrano, which, after 36km, arrives at the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers.  The two glaciers form the southern tip of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins, the largest and least visited national park in the whole of Chile. The east of the park is almost entirely made up of the Campo de Hielo Sur (the Southern Ice Field); the west comprises fjords, islands and untouched forest.







As I joined the folks who were already out on the decks, two things were immediately apparent.  One, there aren't a whole lot of people on this cruise which was nice and two, aside from a handful of tourists who appeared to be European, everyone else looked to be a native Spanish speaker.  We've encountered quite a few Chileans on this trip as well as other South Americans - particularly Brazilians.


I gravitated between sitting inside and standing on the deck.  Every now and again, a voice would come over the loudspeaker to tell us about a particular point we were passing.  I  presumed it corresponded to the description in the brochure but I had a very difficult time matching what was being said to what was in print.  After a while, I gave up trying to match things.  Besides, the scenery is so spectacular, I'd much rather just enjoy what my eyes are taking in.            





It was sheer coincidence that I was inside the cabin when one of the crew members came by with a tray of coffee.  We broke in to our snack bags and I had a mid-morning cookie.


The *kitchen* was located at the back of the cabin.  I left our empty coffee mugs with the others that were already there.


According to the brochure, we would cruise past a very large colony of cormorants.  After having seen them in Punta Arenas, I knew what the birds looked like.  Where were my cormorants?  We never saw any cormorants on our ride :-(  I have been truly spoiled with getting to see all the amazing wildlife in Chile.


Grassland soon gave way to all mountains.  The Coke bottle green color of the water made the view just that much more scenic. 





I quickly figured out that the only way to reach the back of the boat was to go up to the upper deck and then down. :-)



We had been warned that the weather here is very unpredictable.  Sure enough, the closer we got to the Seno de Última Esperanza, the cloudier and darker the skies got.  It looked to be threatening rain.  It also got a lot colder.  I was glad I had brought both my blue plastic rain poncho and my Uniqlo lightweight down jacket with me.



Indeed, by the time we our first sightseeing highlight came into view, it was raining and the wind had really picked up.  There were only two of us on the bow of the boat when I saw the strip of blue draped down the face of the mountain.


I quickly took as many photos as I could as I figured an announcement would be made over the loudspeakers and everyone would rush to where I was standing.  Unfortunately, since I had broken my lens hood in Valparaiso, I had no way to shield my lens from the rain.  So, all my photos are dotted with rain drops.

I went back inside the cabin and got Bro so he could come out and get his shots in before the crowd descended on the spot.   The boat was pitching back and forth in the rough waters and the rain was coming down harder and harder.  It wasn't easy taking photos!





I've never seen a glacier before so I didn't have any expectations for how big the Balmaceda glacier would be but seeing it, I all of sudden expected something larger and so I was a bit disappointed.  I know, that's an odd way to think but that's what crossed my mind.

The Balmaceda glacier is located within the boundaries of Bernardo O´Higgins National Park, one of the least visited national parks in Chile.  I can see why - it's pretty remote here.

Sadly, it's clear the glacier is in regression due to global warming.  Who knows how much of the glacier will exist in the years that are left in my lifetime.

If you look closely at the photo, you'll see thin cascades of water running down the side of the mountain, from the glacier.                  




Not that this would be the only glacier we would be seeing on this trip but just in case....I had to take a photo of Bro.  Too many people on the small bow of the bow to really get a good shot....not to mention all the raindrops....not to mention we were getting soaked.  A couple quick snaps of the camera shutter and it was time to head back inside the cabin!  I felt sorry for those people who had to  go back to the open decks.  Even though they are covered, it was windy and cold.  I didn't realize we had paid extra to be in the cabin but I'm glad we did!!


It was almost four hours later by the time we arrived at our next destination.   We had reached the end of the Seno de Última Esperanza and another glacier was in sight.



To reach the Serrano glacier, we would have to disembark the boat and take a short hike.  More about that in the next posting.