Is there anything as white as a seagull’s breast?
The Brookes Glacier creaks and growls as it shifts on its granite perch. Turquoise columns break off the glacier and thunder into the bay. Again and again. I watch in absolute wonder.
Our zodiac speeds past sculptures floating on the water’s steely surface.
I hear the mountain ridges proclaiming: We are. Impenetrable. Immovable. You are just passing through.
I learn the names of the hardy, local vegetation, adapted to this rugged climate: wild strawberry groundcover, berry bushes, mosses and gnarled beech trees of the Nothofagus family.
Beagle Channel and Darwin Cordillera:
Young, sleek seals frolic in successive arched leaps as if imitating dolphins.
The total whiteness of the Darwin Cordillera overwhelms. It is home to over six hundred glaciers.
A full, yellowy moon glimmers in our wake as we navigate through the last of Glacier Alley.
Cape Horn Island:
One hundred and sixty steps to climb to the plateau, a palette of yellow, ochre, beige and green vegetation: tall grasses, robust shrubs, moist mosses.
On this mild morning, it’s difficult to imagine the force of the wind that ripped in two the steel albatross monument dedicated to shipwrecked sailors.
Back on board, an albatross parallels the ship, its long, outstretched wings narrow and regal.
Torres Del Paine National Park:
Our first fauna encounter: two green and red charanga parrots peeking out of their tree house home- in- a-hole.
Glacier-carved peaks towering over teal blue Lake Nordenskjold contrast sharply with the bleached bones of skeleton forests we pass through. The extent of the stark landscape devoured by a man-made forest fire shocks. The recuperating shrubs and grasses spark hope.
Climbing to the Condor Lookout, I breathe in the fragrances of the vegetation enhanced by last night’s rain.
Estancia Tercera Barranca sheep ranch (east of the Park):
We joggle and bounce along the dirt road winding through the wide expanses of pampa – tufts of beige grass and prickly tough black shrubs.
Sheep graze behind fences that pose no obstacle to the long-legged guanacos. Rocky bluffs rise in the distance.
The lights of the Estancia (sheep ranch). Nancy shows us our room, puts more logs on the fire in the living room and explains that the generator is turned off at eleven p.m. After that, no lights and no heat. It is a chilly night.
A stone path leads to the separate kitchen/dining area, warm and fragrant, where Carmen in a white chef’s hat serves us a savory salmon dinner with homegrown vegetables. Nancy and Carmen pamper us, the only two guests, and tell us their stories.
I’ve come to see the sheep and the gauchos, I tell them.
Oh, the sheep have been taken to another Estancia to be “bathed”, they explain, to be disinfected for ticks. Seeing my disappointment, they assure me the sheep will come back the day we leave.
The next day we pick our way through the prickly pampa shrubbery to climb a rocky bluff from where the pampa stretches endlessly in all directions.
Ready to leave the following day, I hear the shouts of the gauchos in the distance and run outside. Here comes what I’ve been waiting for – a moving wooly mass flows over a low rise, heading for its home pasture.