CAPE HORN: THE SOUTHERNMOST TIP OF SOUTH AMERICA
By CHANTAL COOKE
There’s an icy wind blowing in from the west, rain is driving hard against my waterproofs threatening to find a way in, and the clouds are obscuring most of the view – but nothing can detract from the fact I am on the southernmost tip of land before Antarctica. In front of me it’s just ocean – all the way to the ice of the South Pole.
Hornos Island is a small rocky outcrop covered in slushy bog. There is a lighthouse where three people live (husband, wife and small child), a large flag pole flying the Chilean flag, a giant diamond-shaped monument to the men who have sailed Cape Horn, a tiny chapel and, since we are living in the 21st Century, there is also a small gift shop which does a good trade in ‘I’ve sailed the feared Cape Horn waters’ certificates.
We arrived at the island in a small zodiac, which sounds impressive until I tell you that our ship, the Via Australis, is moored no more than a couple of minutes away. We clambered on shore with a helping hand from two of the crew, who must have pulled the short straw that morning as their job is to stand waist deep in the freezing water helping the zodiacs in and the passengers off.
We climb 160 steps up the side of the rocky cliff, huffing and puffing in our layers of clothes and life jackets. But it’s worth the effort. From the top you can look north, east and west to the archipelago of islands that make up Cape Horn, but to the south – nothing. Just the knowledge that somewhere, in that direction, is the Antarctic: the most inhospitable place on earth.
Despite the cold, the wet, and the icy wind threatening to freeze our lips, there is something unrelentingly romantic about being at the end of the world, knowing that from here it is just water and ice. This is as remote as it gets. No Internet. No mobile phones. Nothing.
But not quite nothing… take another look and there are seals breaking the water, giant black-browed albatrosses flying past, a greater kelp goose and his mate shelter on some rocks, and cormorants dive for fish.
This is the sort of place that demands you take a moment and stop. Look. Think. Be. Not do. Drink in what’s around you and marvel at nature and our amazing planet.
After an hour we make our way back along the boardwalk, over the mossy bog, to the wooden steps and gingerly pick our way down to the waiting zodiac. Within minutes we are back on the ship ready to ditch our life jackets and sodden clothes, and head to the Patagonia Dining Room for a hot breakfast.
After all, if you’re going to sail to the end of the world, you need to do it on a full stomach.
Australis runs regular voyages around Cape Horn, through the Straits of Magellan, ending in Punta Arenas.
British Airways flies direct to Buenos Aires. From there you’ll need to pick up a domestic flight to Ushuaia.
To arrange your tour to Argentina contact Argentina Travel Partners
To arrange a tour once in Chile contact ProTours Chile: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.