Antarctica: Days 26-27

March 28, 2022 • 2:11 pm

I’ll write this quickly as I just lectured and want to post this before it’s too late in the day.  This may be the last batch of photos I send from my trip. It’s sad, but I got to where I wanted to go!

Don’t forget to enlarge the photos by clicking on them once or twice with a pause

Two days ago, leaving the end of the Beagle channel and heading north, there was a mountain with a long tongue of glacier:

And then we traversed the “White Narrows“, a famous approach to the city of Puerto Natales where a large ship can barely squeeze between the islands. The width is said to be 260 feet  (80 meters) au minimum, and the squeezing through must be done at the narrow window of “slack water”: the period befween the tide’s coming in and going out. I just learned why this is, but we’ve just come through the other way, so I’ll explain it in my next post.

We had to send out a Zodiac ahead of the ship while someone in the Narrows measured the current. Just at the time of slackwater, a signal was sent to the ship and we quickly steamed through.

Here’s the passage; it’s actually between the mainland and the island you can see to the center left. I’ve put an arrow in the second picture to show you where the ship must go through. It’s a formidable feat of navigation.

There’s a narrow passage round the island where the arrow is. That’s the White Narrows.

Here’s the current-measuring Zodiac returning to our ship.

Approaching the Narrows. Everyone was on the top deck for the transit. Look at that squeeze!

This is how close we got to the mainland during the transit:

. . . and how close to the island on the starboard side:

We made it! You can see the boat’s wake curving around from the left as the Zodiac returns to the ship.

A rainbow appeared when we were through as if to smile on our success.

About two hours later we docked at the large-ish town of Puerto Natales. It’s the center of tourism for much of Patagonia, especially those who want to hike or visit the fantastic Torres del Paine National Park. Because of the pandemic and fall-off of tourism, this town suffered economically during the last two years, and many stores are closed.

Docking here was complicated. Because there’s no wharf long enough to tether the ship, there are mini-wharves made of cement (three are shown) to which the Amundsen was tethered as well. There were also two behind the boat

A panorama of the city and its dock, taken while docking. Do enlarge this photo; I quite like it!

Birds in the harbor! These are black-necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus), the largest waterfowl in South America, weighing in at a hefty 3.5-6.7 kg, or 7.7-14.8 pounds.

Here’s the swan’s range:

And some beautiful Patagonian crested ducks(Lophonetta specularioides specularioides); many were tooling around in the harbor. They have beautiful red eyes with black pupils. It’s found only in southern South America, where it prefers quiet waters: bays, wetlands, and coastal areas:

It eats aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, molluscs, and algae, and appears to dabble for them the way our mallards do.

A shiny black beak sets off the devilish-red eyes:

I couldn’t see the crests very easily, but here’s one with a bit of the crests showing. I’m not sure whether they can erect them.

We had a three-hour free bus tour of Puerto Natales and its environs in lieu of the expensive Torres del Paine excusion, which costs 300 Euros. (I did that two years ago; see my report here.) The big sight of the day was the Milodon cave, a cave where many fossils have been found, including that of Mylodon darwinii, a giant ground sloth that gives the cave its name. And the sloth’s name comes from Darwin himself, who discovered the type specimen on the pampas (only one species of Milodon is recognized.

These were some of the largest land mammals who ever lived; some of their relatives, in the genus Megatherium, were the size of small elephants.  Wikipedia notes what’s below, and mark that they mention the cave (my emphasis):

Mylodon is a genus of extinct ground sloth belonging to the family Mylodontidae, known from the region of Patagonia in Chile and Argentina in southern South America. With a total length of 3 to 4 m, it is one of the best-known and largest representatives of the group. The oldest finds probably date to the Lower Pleistocene. Most of the fossil remains, however, date from the Upper Pleistocene period. One of the most important sites of this phase is the Cueva del Milodón in southern Chile. Shortly after, about 10,200 BP,[1] Mylodon became extinct. At this point in time, it coexisted with the first human colonists in America. However, there is little evidence that it was hunted by humans.

In the cave they found samples of the dung, skin, and toenails, which I’ve put below from the Wikipedia article. The freshness of the skin led some to believe that Mylosona were still around 200 years ago, but the samples are dated to 10,000 years ago; they were preserved in the cave because it was dry and protected.

Richard Owen recognized the lower jaw found by Darwin as that of a sloth, and the geographic affinity of modern sloths, all of which are Central or South American, with the giant sloths, all from South America, led Darwin in part to his theory of evolution.

Here’s the entrance to the cave, which is large and high, but not that deep. Two people on the right show the scale:

We were told that they’re still excavating for fossils here, but we didn’t see any activity.

Looking back to the entrance from within the cave.

Some fellow passengers for scale. We were told that there were no plants inside until the pandemic drove tourists away, and the dripping water inside the cave lured in animals, whose dung helped plants grow.

I couldn’t resist getting my photo taken near a life-sized Mylodon statue.  It’s amazing that these animals lived only 10,000 years ago, and coexisted with humans.

Time for food. I’m eating very little breakfast and no lunch, so I get hungry at dinner and often eat a lot. That’s probably counterproductive, but what the hell. Here’s the local Patagonian barley wine.

A small steak, veggies, and fries.

Steamed dumplings with chicken:

I drank all the barley wine, so they gave me an IPA yesterday. It was okay, but readers here know that I’m not a big IPA fan because the flavor is too dominated by hops.

Quesadillas, which are quite good (these are shots from different meals, by the way.) You can have them with either chicken, pork, or couscous filling (the latter is just weird), and they have melted cheese and avocado as well.

What they call “sticks”, which are kebabs; you can get them with chicken or pork and a variety of sauces. These are lamb kebabs with chili sauce and satay sauce:

And my dessert last night: Norwegian pancakes (svellen) with homemade blueberry compote and meringue.

13 thoughts on “Antarctica: Days 26-27

  1. Amazing bit of navigation through that narrow passage!

    I agree with you about IPAs. I don’t understand the fascination with the bitterness. It dominates everything. Give me a hefeweizen or, better yet, a nice dark beer with caramel flavor notes.

    1. There’s a whole range of IPA’s and some definitely can be considered “bitter”. The “best” IPA I have had is in Anchorage (2007). It was at the Glacier Brewhouse; and I don’t say this lightly as I have a huge irrational bias against American bear. It was served at 14 °C (there was a choice you could get it at 4 °C for those who don’t understand beer). This beer was immensely hoppy but not bitter. The citrus flavours of the hops showed through.

  2. What beautiful photos. The cave trip looks incredible.

    That little duck is gorgeous. What a beauty! I never, ever would have noticed the crest without the arrow you drew to point it out. I very much like the red eyes on him. I think on some animals they can look creepy, but they are gorgeous on him, like little jewels. I was just going to write how much I’m going to miss the bird photos, but I realized you’ll probably have some duck photos (maybe?) when you get home. And maybe from your next trip too? Anyway, I’ve looked forward to them and saved some and enjoyed all of them. Thank you for taking us on this trip with you.

  3. “…where the ship must go through. It’s a formidable feat of navigation.”

    To experience something similar, but less pricey than a trip to Chile and/or Antarctica, google ‘Hurtigruten Trollfjord’. That’s up well beyond the Arctic Circle on mainland Norway—or almost mainland as the gorgeous Lofoten area is a sort of man-made very long peninsula built by bridges connecting islands. I’ve long thought I’d like to go again, but on land and rent a bike. But that’s not likely, unfortunately.

    The narrowest passage there is certainly deeper, and probably not so narrow as Jerry’s trip here. But the narrowness is accentuated by the high, near vertical cliffs up the mountains on both sides. IIRC that’s the one where the Hurtigruten ship gets to the end and pivots ‘on a point’ to get turned around, but sits there for quite a time, at least in good weather, for the passengers to enjoy it all.

  4. Very enjoyable group of photos. That one with you and the sloth is excellent. I’ve never had pancakes for dessert, but why not? They have all the elements of a dessert, esp. when you add things like meringue.
    There was a time when I really enjoyed ales with a high IBU and IPAs have the most. Now I’m like you, they are too overwhelming, only good for a very small glass. Nowadays, I usually drink Pilsner Urquell.

  5. It’s really nice to see these photos and get to be an armchair traveler. The thought of being on a body of water for days (and nights!) on end gives me the willies, but I’m enjoying the vicarious thrill of your adventure.

  6. Along with the other commenters, I am greatly enjoying the story and pictures of your trip. The photos are beautiful, as is the scenery. Thanks for sharing with us! (I wouldn’t like to wake up with that duck sitting on my chest and staring at me with those red eyes.)

  7. I’m a real fan of PA’s especially cloudy ones like Tuatara pale ale, hoppy as hell but lets me know the taste buds are alive and kicking. This has been a great trip for a lounge sitter in 26°c helps me feel a little chilled…

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