I am Bruce Good, Seabourn’s director of public relations. I am currently sailing aboard Seabourn Sojourn on a Patagonian Passage East from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s a region I’ve always wanted to visit, and I thought I’d blog from here to let you know what it’s like. Hope you enjoy it.
The first thing one notices is the penguins. Penguins in their thousands, packed densely onto every foot of space. And the sound of them…no, wait. No sound. No smell either. How odd. Because these are not Emperor penguins, nor Adelie, nor Macaroni nor Rockhoppers. These are souvenir penguins. Penguins in every size and material, from semi-precious stone to synthetic microfiber fleece. All pleading with endearing orphan eyes for you to take them home with you. They line Avenida San Martin from end to end, aggressively, competitively on display and on sale.
Ushuaia is an outpost. It clings tenaciously to the shoreline of its bay, encircled by looming sub-Antarctic peaks and buffeted by scouring winds. It is a political statement, a colonial capital bravely hoisting its flag at The End of the World. In fact its apparent main industry is Being There. The visitors who file along the avenue dressed in expeditionary haute couture have come to the Far Corner, and they want their proof. Arrayed between the penguins are T-shirts, ball caps, parkas and sweatshirts emblazoned simply with the name. Ushuaia. I was there.
Getting there is an accomplishment, no matter how you do it. Captain Elliott asked the pilot about the weather report, and received a dismissive laugh. “Those are written by people in Buenos Aires,” he said, “who don’t know anything!” Winds in Ushuaia’s bowl of a bay bring new meaning to the word ” fickle.” They change velocity and direction with almost demonic whimsy. Within a short time after Seabourn Sojourn was made fast to the pier, the wind came around 180 degrees and began to intensify, snugging the ship against the fenders and singing in her riggings as flags ashore snapped flat out. Many of her guests went off to explore the surroundings on shore excursions—cruising the Beagle Channel on a catamaran, trekking in the wetlands around beaver dams, riding on horseback or on the quaint little Train to the End of the World. I made a survey of Avenida San Martin, the main shopping street, perusing the penguins, liquor stores, trekking gear vendors and duty-free electronics stores. At one PM, true to its word, the town’s retail community shut down for the obligatory siesta, leaving the visitors to seek a luncheon among the variety of eating establishments. I chose an atmospheric cottage off the street called Los Pionares, and contributed to the local economy for the fare of a plate of local King crab, al natural. While I was eating, the promised rain blew in, not hard but chilly and windblown. When I finished I snugged down my cap and zipped my collar, and trudged back down to the pier. Late in the afternoon I went forward to the Observation Bar to take a look at the town. The bay was lacy with ragged, wind-blown chop and the peaks stood out against the blue sky, their grey flanks above the tree line pied with hieroglyphic patches of snow, Stepping out onto the terrace, I ventured forward of the bar and was very nearly blown off the deck. I thought to myself that the captain was going to need some help getting off the pier.
At our appointed departure time, Captain Elliott did in fact come on the PA to say that we were effectively pinned to the pier by the wind, and that there were no tugs in Ushuaia to pry us free.
We would have to wait for the wind to abate, which was prophesied in the questionable weather report to occur a few hours later. In a short half hour, we heard the engines erupt into working frequency, and Sojourn began to churn away from the pier with bow thrusters jetting water under the pier and props muddying the bay aft. Captain Elliott told us later that he sensed a lull in the wind and decided to break for it, by the time he got everything underway, the wind had come around 180 degrees and was pushing the ship away from the pier before we got all lines free, and he had to reverse and push back in to get some slack in the lines. A ticklish exit masterfully handled.