Day 104 -107: 11.4. - 14.4.2009
Boat trip Ushuaia – Punta Arenas


People do look a bit estranged while I am pushing my (dirty) bike up the gangway to enter the (rather luxurious) cruise ship. I check in with my boarding pass and keep pushing my bike through the ship, past reception, along the walkway, over the fluffy red and blue carpet all the way straight into my cabin. As if this was the most normal thing on earth. And nobody complains. Just curious looks. Perfect. Now I am ready to enjoy the 3 day boat trip back to Punta Arenas / Chile. My first check of the boat reassures me in my assumption that this will be a comfy ride. The dining room and top deck lounge are very well furnished. Everything is trimmed for comfort and well being. What a contrast to my “tent in the rain” days that I had on the Carretera Austral and in Torres del Paine. I need to make sure I will not overstuff myself with food while being on board. I have heard stories of round-the-clock-eating on cruise ships and don’t want to become a victim of this. Although I will certainly enjoy the good food on board. Just without missing the point where good taste and well being move into feeling stuffed and too full. Hopefully. Well, but if this is my only concern and challenge for the next three days, ok, I can deal with this. Not a bad situation to be in. My cabin is cozy, clean and well equipped. A place made for relaxation. Captain, you can take off.

Cape Hoorn

6:45 am. My alarm awakes me from a baby-like deep sleep. I am sure the gentle movements of the ship have helped significantly in achieving this. For 7 am disembarkation at Cape Hoorn is planned. The crew announced yesterday that the wind needs to be less than 30 knots strong to be able to realize the landing in the rubber boats (Zodiacs). Currently it doesn’t look like plain and gentle water. Rather like significant winds that drive a relatively rough sea. My personal check of conditions on the top deck confirm my suspicion. It is windy and rainy. And there we go, the announcement at 7 am informs the passengers about difficult climatic conditions that do not allow disembarkation for the moment. The captain has decided to wait for a while to see if the weather will improve. Hm, bad luck. I settle with the fact that I will only be able to see Cape Hoorn rather than setting foot on this world’s Southernmost Island (except Antarctica). Better than nothing. I try my best to take some pictures from the top deck and enjoy the view to the Cape Hoorn monument (which depicts a flying Albatross). Then the unexpected happens. The captain allows for a landing because the wind has receded. Yes ! The Zodiacs are being let to water and in 10 person groups we are being shuttled over the Cape Hoorn island. What a feeling. I am excited. At disembarkation the crew lady that helps me out of the boat looks at me with an asking view and gesture: “And where is the bicycle?” She definitely got me there with that joke. I am so surprised and puzzled by the unexpected joke I do not have an answer ready. Nice one. The walk over to the monument is a superb feeling. Even the cold and wet conditions (it is barely over 0°C with a cold wind chill factor on top) cannot reduce the enthusiasm in peoples’ faces. I see big smiles all over the place. We have close to an hour to spend on the island to walk around, visit the flying Albatross and the lighthouse. One complete family (father, mother, two kids) lives in the lighthouse all year long in complete solitude. All the company they get is some cruise ship tourists for about an hour every other day or week. You have to be special to be able to enjoy this I guess. I am sure they are.

Life on a cruise ship

What was that again with not eating too much? It is 1.30 pm now and I find myself sitting in the dining room at my table with 7 other guests. We are an international table of four nationalities (Brazil, Argentiina, Chile, Germany) and quickly agree in one point: By now we should have at least covered or even well exceeded or caloric demands for the day. Breakfast was big and the lunch buffet (Italian style today) was excellent too. I decide to pinch some fruit from the buffet for later today and to skip dinner entirely. The next “programmed” activity I do enjoy is a documentary movie about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s journey into Antarctica early in the 20th century. His plan was to be the first person who crossed the Antarctic continent by foot. This stretching plan couldn’t be delivered by him (it was much later accomplished by Reinhold Messner first). The ship that was supposed to drop him off at the Northern end of Antarctica got stuck in the progressing ice. The entire crew of 27 men had to stay in the ice over winter and to hope for a release next summer with the ice melting. When summer came and temperatures rose unfortunately the melting ice then didn’t release the ship but first of all crashed it between the then moving ice-plates. The real fight for the people’s life began. They abandoned the lost ship as their base and started moving north, without much success though. At some point of time only Shackleton and five of his crew members set out alone and made an incredibly long and difficult journey through the Antarctic sea to reach the nearest point of civilization on Elephant Island. There they got help to save the rest of the crew that was left behind and survived somehow as well. The whole adventure is one big example of how much people can endure if they have a strong will of survival and a strong team spirit under great leadership, which is exactly what Shackleton is best known for these days. I find myself being quite moved by the movie and the rescuing of all 27 crew members alive in the end. After 17 months in the bitter cold and harsh conditions in Antarctica on a monotonous seal and penguin diet The most amazing thing for me in any such early adventures is that those people had to work with equipment which functionality comes nowhere close to what we have today. Back then in 1916 Gore Tex was far from being developed. Still they managed somehow. (Some) people really were tough back then. And men must have been even much tougher and more accustomed to adverse natural conditions some thousands and thousands of years ago, e.g. when they were facing the peak of an ice age that covered the whole northern hemisphere in thick layers of ice. For sure today, with all the comforts mankind has developed for ourselves to live an easy life in civilization, we are taking huge accelerated steps forward on Darwin’s evolutionary ladder. Soon (I guess already now for the majority of humans on our planet) mankind will not be able to survive in nature without a long list of tools and protective equipment to support us. At some point of time in the distant future even the men who still know how to survive in nature will struggle to do so because the human race will have genetically developed into an animal that just cannot resist natural stress without artificial help anymore. With the intelligence to make our lives more comfortable (use of fire, dress in animal skin, build shelter etc.) mankind has already gone far down that road anyway. An interesting topic, the human evolution. I find it always amazing how “real” animals simply live outside in nature, day and night, hot and cold, in what ever conditions they face. They are simply made for it. Mankind is already way beyond having that physique of a natural protection. With the first cold coming we would soon freeze to death without clothing. And if we keep shaving ourselves daily even the last bit of natural protection will be gone soon. I should grow a beard… and read more about the evolution of the human race.

On my visit to the bridge I am surprised by one thing most of all. They don’t use GPS for their navigation. The inaccuracy of GPS so far south goes all the way up to 30 meters and more. As this could mean water or cliffs or ice here they navigate in the good old fashioned way: They use radar to measure the distance to islands and then manually measure and determine the route to take. The steering is done according to the (magnetic) compass then. All the time somebody is there to steer the boat accurately along a certain gradient, in line with the compass directions. That clearly is a surprise to me. I have expected a plane like auto-pilot to control the boat and the crew to be playing cards when I was entering the bridge but reality is different. The crew is very friendly and explains in detail how things work here. They seem competent and leave me with a feeling of safety and trust. Good. And time for a drink anyway.

Two more excursions in Zodiac boats

The summary is short and simple: Heavy rain and bitter cold on the first excursion into one of the hundreds of Fjords of the Patagonian sea and a beautiful sunrise and almost mild temperatures supporting us during the excursion we do the day after. Nature wise both of them where absolutely worthwhile. The first one went into this Fjord that kept getting narrower and narrower until we finally reached the end. There between high uprising sheer rocks and huge waterfalls we saw the Glacier Piloto, winding its way down the mountain to the water, ending up in very rough shapes and an intense blue color. Admittedly, the size is small compared to what I have seen before (e.g. Perito Moreno) but the intensity of the blue color and especially the very sharp edges and shapes, observed from a very short distance out of the rubber boats, are amazing me. A great addition to what I did so far. The excursion on the very morning of our last day at sea was a blast because we started off in the rubber boats right in the sunrise over Magellan Strait. And this was a view. Wonderful. The sea lion colony we are visiting became almost a second priority to me, especially because I have seen it already a few weeks ago. So I find myself simply indulging in the colors and atmosphere of the beautiful sunrise before going back to the cruise ship and enjoying the last breakfast on board.

A nice and relaxing boat trip I have made during the last three days. I have met nice people of whom many had a real interest in what I did with my bike before I came on board. And I kind of succeeded in controlling my foot intake according to plan. I didn’t overdo it. I am proud of myself. I am ready to attack Santiago now. It will have to live up to the comparison to Buenos Aires now. And I might have the time to do one or two excursions around the city, maybe to a winery.

Biking is fun !

How nervous my bike is. This is such a strange feeling. For the first time after having spent more than 3 month on a fully loaded bike I am now doing a trip on my bike without luggage. And I can hardly believe how different the feeling is, how unnatural and strange it feels. As if I was on the bike for the first time. I am way too rude with my steering, not sensitive to the bike movements at all. It feels like on a nervous stallion. The good news is not a surprise but an extremely nice feeling to have: The power in my legs and the stamina in my cardiovascular system are immense. I am pounding up the hill in the Magellan National Reserve close to Punta Arenas and just get no sign of exhaustion although I am pushing hard and go really fast. What a wonderful feeling. I think the last time that I had this feeling was when I was still racing bikes during my studies. The legs just do not hurt and the breath just doesn’t get really short. You can push hard and go fast without a significant feeling of pain in your body, all you feel is the effort but it is not really painful. A wonderful feeling, it brings back loads of memories of old times. I wonder how I can best conserve this shape, ideally for the rest of my life? That will be hard. But then at least for this summer. I think I will do regular work outs during the rest of my trip (running) and then try and have a regular schedule back at home as well. I should be able to find the time to accommodate that. And then I can participate in a few Mountain Bike Marathons and enjoy the good shape I have built up here. That is a plan. Exciting. Motivating.