Antarctica & Patagonia Dispatch


Antarctica & Patagonia Dispatch, 14 & 15 December 2013Approaching Cucao Chiloé National Park

During the night Seabourn Quest continued south along Isla Chiloé past numerous floating “farms” rearing salmon, oysters and mussels toward the city of Castro.  Once anchored, some guests boarded a bus to visit Cucao Chiloé National Park across the island, passing small farms raising sheep, apples, vegetables and potatoes. The road led to the park entrance in a temperate rain forest, the rarest natural environment on earth.   Two skillful guides interpreted our leisurely walk through the forest, and local folk musicians accompanied our lunch at the park’s café.

The city tour stayed close to Castro, visiting a number of iconic sites including palafitos (traditional wooden stilt houses), the wooden church in Dalcahue, and Castro’s Church of San Francisco. Sixteen churches in Chiloé have been collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Church of San Francisco, painted in brilliant yellow and purple colors, was built in 1906 entirely from wood, mainly the native alerce trees. At the Museum of Modern Art we were treated to a fashion show of handmade clothes accompanied by local musicians on accordions. 

Orcas in the Gulf of Corcovado

As we began maneuvering through the islands adjacent to Castro, two killer whales were spotted in the channel ahead of the ship.  We slowly made our way past them.  Not to be outdone, a Chaitén volcano on the distant mainland spewed ash and smoke as we turned south en route to Puerto Chacabuco.

Roger Hewitt

Chuck Kennicutt

 Eruptions of Chaitén Volcano


The next morning dawned in the Aysén Fjord, as we sailed towards Chacabuco. Just as we passed the large landslide at Isla Mentirosa, the scene was nicely lit by a rising sun that cast a tight arched rainbow in the mist. Guests enjoyed a narrative about the 2007 earthquake and landslides from their balconies and on deck. Puerto Chacabuco was not the original harbor in this region. Before the Patagonian forests were burned and the nearby Volcano Hudson erupted, ships could sail right up the river into Puerto Aisén. But topsoil washed from the clearing and ash from the eruption silted up the river, and it became impassable to large ships.

Castro seen from Seabourn Quest

It was an amazingly warm, clear day for Chacabuco, which has an average December temperature of about 9 degrees C/48 F, and today it topped out at 22oC, which is over 70oF! Chacabuco also has an unthinkable 2647mm (104 inches, or 9.5 feet!) of rain per year, so a drizzle free day was equally unusual. The Colonnade Terrace was full of guests eating breakfast in the warm breezes.

An afternoon excursion went to the Aiken del Sur Park, and beautiful Riesco Lake. An easy half hour nature hike with our guide Jose, led to a set of falls.  Much of the initial part of the walk showed us the giant herb called Nalca, and buttercup-blanketed meadows surrounded by tall bushes, with nary a decent tree in sight. But near the falls the original flora had been preserved, and we saw large trees and climbing vines. The falls, shaded by tall trees, are blanketed in a continuous mist of spray. They are more than 22m (68 ft) high, and water passes over them in a thunderous roar.

A rainbow near Puerto Chacabuco


In a glass walled reception hall on a hilltop, with a large deck affording views across Riesco Lake, we were treated to wine and pisco sours. This classic Chilean/Peruvian cocktail consists of pisco brandy whipped with sugar, lime, bitters and egg white. It was accompanied by trays of tapas, including empanadas. A troupe then roused the crowd with a display of local dances.

A longer, morning version of this tour included a three-lamb barbecue (or asador) done in the classic South American fashion over coals with the flayed carcass stretched out across metal “asadores” or crosses.

Later, as we sat on the pool deck eating dinner, the tenders clattered back onto the ship and the captain warned us to batten down for the night as we would be on the open ocean until early tomorrow morning. The ship sailed out through the tight channel and a quickly cooling breeze as we moved slowly towards the open ocean and a day at sea for our transit towards our next destination, Punta Arenas.

Jason Hicks
Geologist, Expedition Team

Antarctica & Patagonia Dispatch, 14 & 15 December 2013


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