Not satisfied that I had been to the end of the world, even though I now have a nice stamp in my passport that tells me I have, I splashed out (excuse the pun) a little bit and booked onto a mini 3 night cruise to go from Ushuaia, around Cape Horn, and back up the Patagonian fjords into Punta Arenas (thankfully at a half price last minute deal!). Having already waved goodbye to all but one of the friends I had made in Ushuaia, I went straight to the top deck after boarding to wave my farewells to Fabio and Ushuaia with a sign we had made over lunch and spent my first evening feeling more than a little bit decadent in a twin room ensuite cabin all to myself with a huge window looking out to sea on the 4th level, and with all inclusive food and drinks on tap... it felt like pure luxury after hostelling it since arriving in SA!
This was the final trip of the season for the boat and crew after being on board for 7 months, and they are not used to solo female travellers, especially under the age of 60 (being a cruise it's pretty much full of couples and older clientele), so I soon found that I had quite a lot of attention from crew and managde to get some special privileges out of it... I had private tours of the bridge (the control room where the pilots and navigators sit with the best views from the boat), both during the day and at night, had glaciers and dolphins especially pointed out to me throughout the journey, and even had an offer to see the engine room although I turned this one down as being a girl engines don't interest me at all!
The first stop of the cruise was an early morning one at Cape Horn, but unfortunately when we got there and all got kitted out in our wet weather gear and life jackets at 7am the weather conditions were not great, with 50 knot winds (100kph) and 2 metre swells, so we weren't able to disembark to walk on the island up to the monument, so made do with taking photos from the outer decks of the ship instead. I'll be perfectly honest and admit that I was quite happy to settle for this after seeing the crew getting thrown around on their test journey in a little motorised rubber dinghy to see if the landing would be possible, and also having to hang on for dear life just standing on the top deck of the boat to take photos. But even just standing there from the boat you could really imagine what the pioneers and explorers such as Drake and Cook went through trying to round Cape Horn and understand why it was considered so dangerous. Looking out past the Cape and seeing nothing but stormy ocean, and realising that the next piece of land you would get to would be Antartica, now I really did have the feeling that I was at the end of the world! Right at the last minute as the boat was heading away from the Cape, stood on my own at the bow of the boat with the wind literally taking my breath away and a shower of hail stones stinging against the side of my face, a perfect rainbow appeared over the end of the world with both ends disappearing into the sea, a memory that will always make me smile thinking about it and will stay with me forever!! (Trying to take a shower in these conditions is also another memory I will probably remember for the rest of my life too, for other reasons!)
The following day we made a stop at Wulaia where we were able to get off the boat for the first time and hike up to a viewpoint at the top of the island. The crew of the boat includes an expedition team that are Patagonia nature experts, so we went off in small groups with an expert each that gave us some history on the area, and pointed out bird life, plants, and beaver dams on the hike up, with some pretty stunning views from the top!
That night our passage took is through a channel of glaciers, which I got to see from the bridge, another advantage of making friends with the right people :o)
On the third day after spending hours watching the world go by from the decks and spotting whales, dolphins, sealions and penguins swimming alongside us, we finally reached Aguila glacier and went off in our inflatable dinghy to go and see the glacier up close, walking through a swampy forest to get there.
The final stop the next morning was Magdalena island, home to a Magellanic penguin colony where we were able to make our last disembarkment to walk around the island and visit the lighthouse, and spend my last few hours mesmorised by watching penguins waddling around,
before we were taken back to Punta Arenas to head back into the normality of sleeping in hostel bunkbeds and paying for food and drinks!