Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Beagle Channel (Pt. II) from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas

From Ushuaia, Argentina, our ship took us westward through the Beagle Channel, then returned to “inside” waters upon entering the Strait of Magellan. Though the Patagonian fjords provide a fine inside passage, there have been times when our larger ship diverted to an “outside” passage. We’re not sure if this was due to the size of the ship, or to the fact that Chilean law only allows them to open the casino for play when the ship is in international waters (beginning about 12 miles offshore). Anyway, a couple nights ago, after days of calm cruising, we were rocked to sleep by 12-15 ft swells. Case slept like a log, but Jolene spent the night sleeping lightly and dreaming she was on a sailboat in storm.
We’ve seen a whole lotta fjordland, complete with steep rock walls and multiple cascading falls, but only two tidewater glaciers on this trip. I suspect our ship can’t get into the smaller arms fronting on the two large Patagonian ice sheets we were told about and, at times, glimpsed atop the surrounding mountains. But, the ones we saw were certainly quality!
Unlike the golden days of trans-Atlantic voyages, the various classes on the cruise ship are delineated only by the size and position of their rooms. (That and, perhaps, how much one is willing to spend at the roulette table.) We all share the same restaurant options, common areas, and evening entertainment. We, being un-employees and pre-retirees, felt constrained to purchase the lowest passage and determined to be happy with whatever accommodations were supplied. Fortunately, we have been pleasantly surprised and delighted with our rather spacious (by cruise ship standards) inside cabin.

The only liability we have found comes with the observation that we both are, apparently, very dependent upon sunlight to moderate our sleeping-waking cycles. Which is to say, with no windows in our room, we have been sleeping an inordinate amount, even at latitudes where the sun sets at 11 p.m. and rises again at 4:30 a.m. This is just fine with us, except that there is the challenge of the thrice daily buffet meals. I’ve been on a few ships and boats in my time, and I notice that on cruise ships, the doorways are all full American standard size, whereas most other ships provide narrower doorways and hallways. I imagine this design criteria was set when crew of the first couple of cruise ships built suffered the challenge of extricating inside-cabin passengers from their rooms after they attended the midnight buffet, slept 16 hours, and awoke to wedge themselves firmly into those smaller doorways while struggling valiantly to follow their noses to the breakfast area.
Punta Arenas was our only stop in the Strait of Magellan. This smallish town bills itself as the “End of the World”. Sound familiar? So does Ushuaia, which, being on the Beagle Channel, is indeed farther south! However, Ushuaia is on an island, while Punta Arenas is actually on the continent. (This fine point alone convinces me that Chile must have its share of lawyers somewhere…) In actual fact, there is a tiny Chilean town – Puerto Williams – that lies even farther south of Ushuaia. Haven’t heard yet what they are claiming. “End of the Universe”, perhaps?

When we arrived in Punta Arenas, we were surprised to find the town dead, with shuttered shops and businesses, despite its being a weekday. Someone later told us it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is apparently celebrated as a national holiday in Chile. This may explain the rather lengthy and ornate Catholic mass we attended at noon in the local cathedral.

We thought we were just going to catch a quick noon mass and admire the cathedral art & architecture. However, we entered with a large procession of teenagers, all nicely dressed, followed by the full episcopal parade, complete with bishop in his most lavish vestments. There followed the most awfully long and boring (at least, if you don’t understand Spanish, which we don’t) service with lots of standing & sitting, singing and preaching, and all that other stuff your average Adventist kid is very familiar with by age 10. We were spared oppressive boredom (as any Adventist kids would be) by the lovely artwork, architecture, symbolism, and ceremony. Also, by trying to guess the reason for this excess of show. We guessed it was a confirmation service, a fact later confirmed as the teenagers were individually presented to the bishop and took communion. On the whole, it was an interesting cultural and religious experience for us. We felt a little bad we didn’t have small change to contribute when the usher came around with the collection plate.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Amazing how much this reminds me of Glacier Bay, AK!

Sounds like a fun trip - like I said several years ago, it won't be long before you'll be able to afford more expensive trips than I can -- I'll just have to wait until after the Second Coming!

TTYL, gw