So all that was left was to go home. Back onboard ship, Steve, Reid and I spent the next several hours topside to experience our departure from this truly remote and otherworldly place. It suddenly hit that we were really leaving. Sometimes these past weeks seemed never ending. The workload was heavy, I thought. Steve and Reid might say it was about equal to requirements of other workshops they’ve been involved with, but I’ve been out of the professional workforce for a long time, so it felt heavy to me.The ship began working it’s way out of the archipelago, and as we slipped past the last of the shorelines on the many islands along the way, I actually started to feel a bit desperate about leaving. For 2 weeks photographing this landscape has been an everyday activity. Now as I watched the ice fields and icebergs dwindle, I realized it most likely was the last time I will be ever get to be here. With every passing minute, the narrow channels began getting wider and iceberg fewer and further in between. I turned to Reid and saw him there with a great reflection in the glass behind, and cool clouds above. I guess this would be from the “Deadpan” school of photography, but the moment did feel a bit somber. Few happy smiles on deck today.Somber but still dramatic. We watched once again as super-sized blue icebergs floated by. The light was pretty great this final afternoon. Surprisingly, there were only a few other people on deck to watch the ice parade. Looking through a tinted outdoor window on the top deck, I could see shorelines on both sides, one reflected in the glass. Eventually, the ice cleared out completely and we began the 2 day crossing back to South America. The captain announced we would be landing at Cape Horn, near the southern most tip of the continent – weather permitting. During the return crossing, the three of us busied ourselves with the task of editing submitted residents images shot during the excursion. It is part of our contract to create a finished Antarctica book that residents can purchase. We also conducted classes, attended meetings and took down Steve’s show.
Cape HornQuite early on our second day of the crossing, we saw our first green landscape in 2 weeks. Cape Horn slowly came into view.
It is named after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands, is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island. Although not the most southerly point of South America (which are the Diego Ramírez Islands), Cape Horn marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage and marks where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide. For decades it was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard. We cruised alone the shoreline quite a way before being met by a Chilean Navy vessel. This to drop off a Chilean pilot to bring us in to the bay where we will anchor. I thought it a bit strange they unfurled the large gun on the deck as they approached. I guess we intimidated them.There was a question as to whether we would be able to land even as late as the previous day. But today we found the waters to be quite calm. Our luck continues to hold. It is actually a beautiful day with chilly, but only moderate-to-light winds. The landing was on. Our goal was to climb the stairs to the lighthouse and chapel, and visit the large sculpture nearby. This is just a short landing visit. We will be back onboard in an hour. It was a bit of a trek up the wooden steps – especially in the heavy rubber boot we needed to wear for the landings – but worth it for nothing else than the cool extra stamps in my passport. It was wonderful to smell the earthy aromas of dry grass and see a snow-free landscape again.
Once up on the ridge, we made our way over to the lighthouse and nearby chapel for a look around. From just outside the chapel I could see off in the distance, the Cape Horn Memorial. On December 5th 1992 the memorial was inaugurated. It was erected through the initiative of the Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood, the “Cape Horners”, in memory of the men of the sea from every nation that lost their lives fighting against the merciless forces of nature of the Southern Ocean that prevail in the vicinity of the legendary Cape Horn.When I first looked at it, what I saw were two angelfish swimming away from each other. Someone nudged me and said,”No, it’s an albatros”. Oh, now I see it. My brain works a little differently sometimes. Near the sculpture on a plaque reads a poem by author Sara Vial of Valparaiso, Chile. It reads:
I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world…
I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world.
But die they did not
in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity
in my wings they soar
in the last crevice
of the Antarctic winds
This was the final stop for us. From here we walked back down to the rocky beach for a quick ride back to ship.I probably would have been feeling a little depressed if it wasn’t for the fact that tonight is New Year’s Eve. The ship will be back in Uschria later this afternoon, and I am looking forward to the party onboard tonight.All through the trip I had the opportunity to visit the bridge, but was so busy or exhausted most times that I never took the time. What a mistake. Just before the party started, Steve, Reid and I finally went up to have a look. A pretty impressive vantage point. It is not the highest spot on the ship, but the view is somehow unique. I should have come up here during my ship-bound days. By the time I was showered and dressed, the ice sculptures were already laid out in the main reception area, and balloons were being hung for the midnight drop.
The party itself was a blast. All the pressure of the busy schedule was off now and everyone was relaxed and feeling good. The band was playing loud and strong and the dance floor was busy. Sorry, not many photos. Not really encouraged. The bar was quite popular, especially since the bartender was disgruntled and planning to quit in the morning. I’d made pretty good friends with him over the 2 weeks – you know, lots of visits. He was pouring whatever I wanted quite freely. A good guy to know.The party was also a last chance to hang out with other expedition members and a few of the guests I’d gotten to know and like.
The party wound down slowly after the balloon drop, and so did I. Reid went off to the crew lounge for a little more music and drink, but I was done. Hopefully a good night sleep to be ready for a grueling set of flights home tomorrow. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Except for being shut down for 2 days, everything went better than I’d really expected and my experience was exceptional. It was a lot of work -there were moments when I thought it might not have been worth it. Looking back though, I am thanking the Universe for my good fortune and friends who made this possible.
My trip back was indeed grueling, but also harrowing. Made my 10 hour flight out of Buenos Aries by just minutes when what I thought was a cab driver took me on a ride and shook me down and threatened to leave me under an overpass if I didn’t pony up the extra money. An expensive ride, but I made it back uneventfully after that. Live and learn.