Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chilean Vacay 2015.......part 4.....Puerto Chacabuco, Patagonian Fly Fishing and Glaciers

Monday, December 14....We arrive in Puerto Chacabuco around 12:30 on Monday.  It's a pretty day  -  partly cloudy, brief rain showers every so often.  We are told the town is nothing....Nowhere good to eat.  Two primary reasons for coming here are fly fishing and an over night trip to a lodge connected to the largest single vein of marble in the world  -  complete with caves.  Many are going there, but I wanted to fly fish and our good companions agreed.  So Monday afternoon was an off day at port.  Since it was sunny, we decided it was time for tennis again.  And play tennis we was a cool, crisp, sunny day and we got some great photos of the tennis pros we all are!!.  Then hot tub and movies and dinner in the apartment.  Oh and wine.  Great evening given that we have to get up at Zero Dark Thirty tomorrow morning!

Playing some tennis in this setting, with those mountains as our backdrop was pretty fucking spectacular, I must say!!

Tuesday, December 15.....Fly fishing in Patagonia....7:30am.  It is rainy and very windy as we board the tender to meet our fishing guides at the dock.  Puerto Chacabuco is called the "place where the Andes tumble into the sea" and that is a good description.  We are traveling about 30k up the valley to fish the Rio Simpson at an internationally known fishing lodge, Los Torreones.  We are going to float the river and Jill, Ed, and Joni are going to learn to fly fish....two anglers to a boat with a guide.  The river is about the size of the Rio Grande in Colorado and it snakes down a glacial valley.  In fact we are surrounded by sheer granite cliffs and there are glacial valleys off to each side.  We pass through a town called Aisen, originally founded by British settlers in the 1800s and called Ice End because that was where the glacier ended back then.  It is now nearly 100k further up the Andes.  Over the decades, the locals Chileanized it to Aisen but pronounced the same as the english.

The lodge is owned by an American, Phillip Cary, from near Golden, Colorado and a Patagonian, Pancho.  If there ever was a Patagonian, Pancho is it....mid-50's, grey beard, beret perched jauntily on his head.  His oldest son will be Joni's and my guide while another American, Monty, will be Jill and Ed's.  Monty came to Patagonia from Wyoming in the early 90's and stayed.  A character, of course.  The lodge is beautiful  -  great big fireplace with a roaring fire.  Since rain was forecast as 100%, they gave us wading attached to waterproof pants that come up to your shoulders.  Off we went in two very well used vehicles, boats in tow.  I don't want to ruin the secret but it never rained a drop the entire time we fished.  Awesome.  The scenery was incredible...waterfalls, birds, sheep, cattle, scenic homes, vast green fields and very beautiful.

Jill, Joni and Ed had an onshore lesson in fly casting and then we were off.  Ed and Jill in one raft and Joni and I in a three seat pontoon boat about 10 feet long.  Ed and Jill's guide stopped in a sand bar and got them out to practice casting some more and, well, Ed is TALL and the rocks were slippery and Ed went tumbling.  Got a nice bath in water that is nor more than 50 degrees warm!.  Of course, this was at the beginning of the morning so Ed got to stay wet for three hours.

Ed before

Ed after

The fishing wasn't particularly good.  There was a hatch going on and so the trout are not hungry and you need to trick them into striking.  I know Ed had a good one that got away, but I'm not sure about the rest of their day.  I will let them tell you their own fish stories. (That was pretty much it!!)  Joni got great instruction on fly casting and became darn good at it by the time we were done.  I boated two trout  -  a rainbow and a brown trout  -  both small.  Two got away mid fight but the guide was wonderful, the day fabulous and life is grand!  The river had small rapids - one might have been a class two.  Maybe.  But who cares.  It was truly a wonderful experience and we all loved it.

Wednesday, Dec. 16....At sea....somewhat rough, not great scenery, choppy, rainy, windy and cold.  Repeat the pattern of previous days at sea.......

Thursday, December 17...We wake to absolute calm and we are back in the archipelago.  And this is the beginning of the real reason we all came  -  the glaciers.  Early in the morning, we cruise up on arm of a fjord into a vast ice flow field.  Loose ice all through the water  Beautiful.

Then we turn around and head back out to turn north again and head up the fjord to the first of several glaciers we will visit, Pio XI.  The fog ends, the sun comes out and the day is spectacular.  We have signed up with about 30 other people for the zodiac trip.  It will be 1.5 hours in very cold weather.  We had all seen the crew practicing "man overboard" rescues in zodiacs back in Chacabuco port and now we understand why.  The water is at or slightly below freezing and you don't have long in it if you fall.  But the fjord is like a gigantic lake  -  little breeze.  Fabulous.

As we approach Pio XI, the water turns bright olive green and then gradually takes on a brownish hue  -  obviously from the debris in the water.  As we come to anchor  -  a pilot has been with us since Valparaiso to guide us  -  the water is brown and muddy like the Mississippi River.  The glacier has that classic stripe of brown dirt and rock down the middle with huge expanses of blue ice on both sides.  In our trip to Glacier National Park in Alaska, we got reasonable close to the we are getting right up to the edge....WITH THE ENTIRE SHIP!  Another difference we note is very little calving of the ice.  In fact, very few floating icebergs.  Just solid, solid ice.

Then the zodiac adventure began.  What an incredible experience.  We loaded the boat with our group of 8 and off we went.  There were a total of 40 folks who went out in the boats.  The sun was out.  The wind not too brisk.  We spent an hour and a half cruising along the face of the glacier....taking pictures, getting right up to floating ice.  In fact, we brought a small chunk on board for cocktails later.  Ancient ice.  Words dont really do justice to the experience.  Surrounded by peaks, other ice fields and complete quiet.  Occasional sound of ice cracking....some birds, but no other animals.  We had seen several dolphin pods earlier in the day, but none while we were out in the boats. 

Up anchor promptly at 6 pm for the trip back down the glacier and tomorrow, again, we will be out in zodiacs at the Amerlie Glacier.

We had a dinner party with our Dallas friends....lots and lots of laughs.  They are a good group, if a bit less partiers than we are!  (Isn't everyone?)  As we keep heading south, the days are longer and the nights shorter.  As dinner ended, we were watching the sun set behind the fjord and realized it was 10:30!

**While out on our zodiac, our group decided we really deeded a chunk of that glacial ice for cocktails.  So, we fished one out of the sea, had it taken on board and delivered to the bartender and had it served in our cocktails right after we returned aboard and then later in another bar when the eight of us met for pre-dinner drinks!  (It's THE WORLD.  Of course, that chunk of ice was delivered wherever we asked!!)  One of the residents who, of course, is a great expert assures us that the ice must be hundreds of years old at least!  Who are we to argue!

That's my future cocktail!

Tequila, club soda, lime, and ice as old as Ed......

OK....let's get to more "resident" stories, shall we!!  They call themselves "the residents" and those of us who are Exclusive Resorts users  -  ER has four apartments on board  -  are called "guests".  Not to be confused with "guests of residents".  There are a number of hotel sized rooms on the sixth deck that the residents can reserve for their own guests for a fee.  SO....there are, in fact, two kinds of guests.  Can't make this shit up.  As "guests" there are an entire set of rules that apply only to "guests" but not the other two categories.  We have very limited internet usage and, in fact, we have already received THREE warning letters that our apartment had exceeded its 1 gig per 24 hour limit on a given day, of course, by MANY gigs.  Primary abuser is Jill (Marty)

OK....let's get to more "resident" stories, shall we!!  They call themselves "the residents" and those of us who are Exclusive Resorts users  -  ER has four apartments on board  -  are called "guests".  Not to be confused with "guests of residents".  There are a number of hotel sized rooms on the sixth deck that the residents can reserve for their own guests for a fee.  SO....there are, in fact, two kinds of guests.  Can't make this shit up.  As "guests" there are an entire set of rules that apply only to "guests" but not the other two categories.  We have very limited internet usage and, in fact, we have already received THREE warning letters that our apartment had exceeded its 1 gig per 24 hour limit on a given day, of course, by MANY gigs.  Primary abuser is Jill (Marty) who keeps downloading her photos to facebook....she would claim it's me  -  outrageous charge!  But, in any event, those limits don't apply to "residents".  Guests also have a long list of wardrobe don' flip flops, no housecoats (as if), no jeans in many places, no flowered jeans (for the love), no workout clothes in public spaces, etc. etc.  These rules, however do not apply to "residents: and we routinely see very old women and semi-old women with lots of plastic touch ups, walking around in flip flops, house coats, etc.  We are told to wear "resort casual" - sometimes with a sportcoat, sometimes optional to specific restaurants and do so only to see residents in these places in all manner of crazy looking outfits.  And finally, there are events reserved only for "residents".  Ok, I guess, but we noted on the calendar that for a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in the formal dining room that only "residents" are permitted to attend.  Generously, "guests" are evidently permitted to attend Christmas Day dinner.

One more aside  -  while Joni and I truly may be pond scum, Ed and Jill are members of Exclusive Resorts and so, on a very small scale, they are owners of the apartments as well.  You would think that would garner the Buker's some respect, but it is not to be!!

But more the daily point of my bitching....."residents" in general treat "guests" like the unwashed.  There are exceptions....a few of them are quite nice and go out of their way to be friendly.  Others, however, not only make no bones about their generic dislike of us outsiders, they can be openly rude. In fact, on our fly fishing trip, there were eight people on the trip with four of them being "residents". This one woman, with whom we have all and run-ins, said rather loudly, "I thought this was a "residents" only trip?  I DO NOT want to fish with them."  This while pointing us out to the guide.  Sure enough.  And then there was Thursday evening.  The Texas 8 (we'll include Jill and Ed) were having cocktails in the lounge.  A quite old couple were in the corner.  They are "residents".   After about 20 minutes, they get up and as they are walking out of the lounge they stop and as Jill, "Where is your group having dinner?"  She tells them.  "Well, we are too.  Please be sure they seat you all as far away from us as possible."  NO SHIT!!

The economics of this place are hard to imagine.  While the apartments can be bought and sold freely, there is a minimum price set by the HOA that a unit cannot be priced below (currently) $3,500/sqft.  Not kidding.  So, a 1000sf apartment would have to see for a minimum of $3.5m...more if you like, but not less.  And then there are the yearly home owners dues on top of it.  Essentially 10% of the purchase price per year.  So that 1000sf apartment would halso have a $350,000/year home-owners fee.  Finally the HOW gets a 7% cut of any sale or purchase.  Taking all that into account, I guess the "residents" have a reason to feel snooty!

Friday, Dec 18...We all wake early for the ship is to anchor off Amalie Glacier at 8am and it's to the zodiac boats at 9am.  It's cloudy and dreary and rainy.  As we approach we begin to see lots of floating ice and then this enormous glacier appears.  The old saying "you've seen one, you've seen them all" does NOT apply here.  Amalie is high walled and very active with a completely different look and feel from Pio XI.  It is going to be colder so we all bundle up again and hea for the boarding area.

As soon as we get into the boats and head for the glacial wall, we are surrounded by ice fields that grow in size and intensity.  Sitting in a tiny zodiac, idling through chunks of ice that are nearly as large as the boat, is a trip!  After a bit, we see the head of a seal who has surfaced to check us out.  Over the next 15 minutes, he continually surfaces in various spots around us performing and posing for photographs.  Lots of photographs!

Meanwhile, there is a near constant roar as the ice continuously cracks and small to medium chunks fall into the sea.  When they do, small waves are created and head toward our zodiac.  After about 40 minutes and lots of photos, we are very near the steepest wall when we hear a rapid set of cracking and an enormous wall completely breaks free.  Amazing!  And of course, the shouts then went out among the zodiacs to turn and face the glacier with your bow to be ready for the mini tsunami that will come.  We estimated the waves to be at least 10 feet.  Just awesome.  As we idled carefully through the ice field, we would frequently get a huge chunk of ice stuck under the boat and hitting against the outboard drive.  We would raise the drive and use the oar to shove the flow out and away from the motor.

We all sit mesmerized by the glacial wall, the sounds, and the bitingly cold, beautiful primitive scene. We are all pretty sure that the number of people in this world who have actually been in small zodiacs right in from of this remote glacier deep in southern Patagonia and the Chilean Fjords probably numbers in the low thousands at most.  These last two days have turned the trips duller days and excessive length into a "well worth it bucket list" experience.  It begins to rain and we decide it is time to return to the ship.  We get back into the warmth of the Village Deck and decide it's a perfect time for a big brunch.

By 11:30am they are already pulling anchor and we leave Amalie glacier.  The rest of today is spent cruising south toward the Magellan Strait.  It is bitter cold outside, windy and raining steadily.

In the middle of the afternoon, Jill spots a whale breaking, just like the life insurance commercial.  We all get at the ready with cameras to see if it happens doesn't!.  We had all seen the Greenpeace ship again earlier in the day and so we presume the whales are moving and Greenpeace is following them to protect them from whalers.

By 8pm we are moving through a bizarre channel  -  very narrow with enormous numbers of tiny islands, large rocks barely jutting out of the sea.  The channel is marked almost like a highway with buoys on both sides, marking it's boundaries.  As if to make the point we pass a rusty shipwreck, it's stem sticking out of the sea next to a rock formation.

Tomorrow is our last day aboard ship and promises to be spectacular.  We are to cruise Serrano Sound, the Strait of Magellan, Magdelana Channel and pass in from of Mount Sarmiento, which Darwin described as "the most sublime spectacle in Tierra del Fuego".  We shall see.

Saturday, Dec. 19........"Lost at sea"  Not the ship.  We four trapped in the confines of apartment 822!  Our last day aboard The World is a lost one.  We are without internet service from 7:15am on.  At first, we assume the entire ship is experiencing it because of our location near the arctic circle.  By mid-afternoon we get skeptical, call down to the desk and find out the ship's is working fine,  We loot at our "guest rules booklet" and discover that after three warning letters for excessive bandwidth use, you are shut off for the week!  We have had three warning letters with the last one being delivered on Friday!!.  The troops start to get angry and self-righteous.  We call down to the desk and get no real answers.  We finally go down to the main deck and are able to again get the limited "guest public area" internet service.  The answers we get are sufficiently vague and fumbling that it only fuels our paranoia.  We talk the front desk into sending up a technical.  He fiddles around, declares we have a bad cable and returns a half hour later with a new one.  We are restored, we live again, we are found!!  Who knows whether the cable was really bad or not.  Some of us are certain it was an excuse and they so feared Jill's wrath tha they restored service.  (Hey!  I'm right here!!)  Likely the ennui of 14 days aboard this ship and the knowledge we are getting close to heading back to good ole US of A just left us in a mental fog of too many glaciers, too many islands, mountain peaks, sounds, channels, and straits.

We awoke to a cold rain which continues for much of the day.  First we cruise up a fjord to another glacier, turn around and head south for the push to Ushuaia.  The low clouds and rain are with us most of the day.

If we passed by Mount Sarmiento, we couldn't distinguish its base from all the other unnamed beautiful mountains we passed.  All of those Sounds, Straits and Channels begin to look alike.  The topography is similar yet so very different than southeast Alaska.  There are no creatures except seagulls, no land birds or mammals are seed from the ship even with binoculars.  The shores is covered in lichen and scrub trees of some kind.

We actually spent the entire day in the apartment.  Cooked breakfast, then ordered room service for both lunch and dinner, read, sorted pictures, played Rummikub and attempted our most daunting tast of the trip.....deplete our alcohol supply before bedtime so as not to waste it!! Well, we make a damned good effort at it, but in the end, there will be some left for the cleaning crew.  Well, not really.  There are partially consumed bottles of a white, red and champagne in the fridge.  We bought w and a half cases in wine did we estimate our needs so well?  Was it careful planning or devotion to the task on the final day??

As we get further south the composition of the boulder-like little islands changes.  They are a different color.  The sea looks like someone spilled a thousand cookie crumbs on the kitchen floor.  Everywhere you look are islands, so as small as a VW (pre-scandal, of course) while others are quite large.  Behind them, walls and walls of craggy peaks.  How in the hell either Magellan or Darwin found their respective Strait and Channel successfully without Google Maps is beyond me!

Only one more part.....Ushuaia and Buenos Aires....tomorrow.

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