Beagle Channel – 2nd Feb

Sea Day 3 of 3. Beagle Channel.

Here come the glaciers. (Insert debate here: GLAY-SHER? GLAY-SEE-ER? GLA-SEE-ER? We settled for the middle one probably being the most grammatically correct, but the third one feeling the most natural to say. The announcer on the Bridge worked his way through them all).

Now, for those of you who really know your geography and/or have an atlas open at South America in an attempt to follow my journey, you will see that things got even more bizarre last night, after I stopped typing. Having gone past the Cape twice East to West, we then did it West to East, as I told you, and then we just kept going. We went back up the eastern side of Patagonia and entered the Beagle Channel this morning, which will take us back from East to West. Whoever designed this route was on some serious substances at the time. I want some. This is weird.

Anyway, now we are in the Beagle Channel and, once again, heading in the correct direction – East to West. We have had announcements alleging penguins swimming around the ship (although I have yet to find anyone that saw that) but “No whales yet”. The Beagle Channel is basically a calmer route across the bottom of the continent, that obviates the need to actually go around the Horn at all. It feels like you’re in the Panama Canal, but instead of marvelling at the human ingenuity/ perseverance necessary to cut it, you’re gazing at the glaciers that cut it instead, and the (fairly little but admittedly permanently snow-capped) mountains on either side that were separated in the process (twice the height of Ben Nevis is hardly huge by global standards, I don’t think).

The weather was varied – clear and cool but not damp, so you could cope in just long sleeves and trousers –  rather like Alaska – with occasional bouts of bright sunshine and the occasional, short but unenthusiastic, rain shower, that passed by as quickly as they arrived.

And that was it for much of the day. We passed some pretty scenery – snow-capped mountains and barren landscapes and a few waterfalls and some glaciers. That’s it. That’s a summary of the past twelve hours, right there.  Now, please don’t get me wrong – I love a pretty view as much as the next person – but twelve hours of what essentially amounts to the same stuff can be a little wearing. We had stopped bothering to take photos by about 3pm. There’s only so many mountains and glaciers and pretty water patterns you can stand. Frankly, I think if I hadn’t stopped, the camera would have refused anyway – like a horse coming to yet another jump and thinking, you know what, enough already.

I spotted one condor and we saw a whale come up for air (which is essentially a few inches of hump and a bit of spray;  no point in staring – it can be 20 minutes before you see another, and we were moving at 20mph). That was pretty much it for wildlife. For the whole day. Apart from one or two other small birds (some people swore they saw penguins on a little island/rocky outcrop, but I remain unconvinced), that was it for the whole day’s viewing and doing.

It would probably sound appallingly blasé to say that, frankly, if you’ve seen one fjord full of glaciers, you’ve seen them all, but, really, they do look awfully similar. A breathtakingly beautiful, awe-inspiring field of ice slowly carving its way between the mountains is very similar to the next breathtakingly beautiful, awe-inspiring field of ice slowly carving its way between the mountains. And remember, we have sailed the fjords of Norway AND I have flown over the fjords of Alaska in a seaplane, as well as sailing them, so when I say we’ve seen a few, we’ve seen a few. I do feel extremely grateful to have the sort of life where I get to just gaze at this level of natural beauty all day, but, at the same time, the novelty does wear off after a while.

All in all, our transit of the Beagle Channel can be summarised as pretty, but dull. Which is probably one of the meanest things you can say about a person, and it doesn’t seem any kinder to say it about a landscape.

Tomorrow? Punta Arenas. And if you can find that on a map, you get a prize.

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