The weather Gods took a day off, and so did the engines. That is the answer to the question that I left dangling, almost three days ago. After all, we had been well served “down south” (it translates for all my suspected readers, in their subconscious world vision, into “up north”).

Actually, and also because the Fjords did not create shareable joy and excitation, it deserves a minute or so to dwell on that subconscious world. If I am not mistaken, I have already indicated earlier on that each one of us has been raised with world maps that put us in the center of the earth. Consequently US printed maps are shocking to most Europeans because they are used to see Europe in the middle, and inversely. And all Northerners are shaking their heads when they are confronted with a projection that gives a closer rendition of true continental size: Africa bigger than Euope? Come on!.

By the same token, but less conspicuous, because it is somewhat out of the daily sphere is the rendition of North at the top, and South at the bottom of a chart that shows the earth’s circumsolar path. To be sure, astronomically or cosmologically there is no reason to have any preference. We have selected (subconsciously no doubt) to have North on top because the astronomers were Northerners and “top” is, presumably under the influence of Darwinian selection, always perceived as “better” than bottom.

Although I have been on the Southern hemisphere before, I have never had the opportunity to spend quality time (!) in it. Let me emphasize that a sun that turns backward in the sky, takes some getting used to. Indeed, the fact that you have to find it in the North at high noon is a little bit awkward. Luckily, it still rises in the East, and sets in the West… The exercise of imagining and thinking through Mercator maps that have the Southern Hemisphere at the top would be quite disorienting! Also, the psychological implications for the apparent “feelings of domination” in the Northern hemisphere would be worth researching – useful exercises in human relativity.

I will not digress into those inviting questions because they relate to other Grand Voyages, not to this one. I must say though that I was a little but surprised to find, after Ushuaia and Punta Arenas, that the sun was rising on MY side (of the ship), whereas I still expected it to set on my side. Subconscious knowledge needs double-checking at every turn, especially every 180° turn!

The Chilean Fjords are beautiful – lush, green, sculpted, wild, “encantador”. At least, that is what they say – and much more. That is also why I had decided to skip the alternative for an overland tour across the Andes, visiting the world famous National Park and the Torres del Paine.

The cruise through the fjords, along the southern ice fields, would be comparable to the “Darwin Cordillera” visit, along the Beagle Channel in Patagonia, but much bigger, much greener, much longer, … in a nutshell: the entire Grand Voyage Works! It was not.

Although we had left the metallic winds from Antarctic origins behind us – they were replaced by normal fifty degree, cool and moist laden westerly’s – the Weather Gods had left us behind as well! Shortly after leaving the Magellan Straits and turning north into the narrower waterways (the Smith Canal), the outlook worsened. Low hanging clouds and clammy rain had shrouded the upcoming spectacle behind a foggy curtain that would not lift all day long. It was a dreary day. That is why we exited the fjords in mid-afternoon, via the Golfo Trinidad, so that we could make better speed in the open ocean and take it easy the following morning.

Believe it or not, I was up again at six-something and … the promise of a glorious day announced itself on the eastern shores, thirty miles away. A naked, irregularly toothed, granite comb, hundreds of miles long, was bending – or so it seemed – the rays of the rising sun. Luck had joined us again, were it not for an inkling of trouble as the ship, during my early breakfast, slowed to a virtual standstill. Never mind, we soon continued our journey, followed by whales, albatross and many other flying creatures that I can admire but not name. Our path even got crossed by a few playful dolphin families.

It was one o’clock, when the captain announced that we had problems! Indeed, for a number of hours the ship had struggled with the cooling water intake as krill had accumulated in the water filters. We had come to a point where going into the narrow channels, with engines and boosters that could not produce maximum power on demand, was unsafe. Thus did we need to stop the engines to get everything cleaned out, before being able to continue. He could not estimate the time it would take, but we would not continue until it was all clean.

Obviously, the prospect for more fjords suffered another blow, because it was obvious that this was not an affair of a few hours. Surely, it was disappointing news. Then again, with yesterday a wash out, I had already concluded that I would have to come back and make it a round trip: overland and oversea, with enough spare time to wait out the weather. On the other hand, this unplanned “day at sea” was a gorgeous day. Lots of caressing sunshine, a warm oceanic freshness, an ongoing marine spectacle (although our “dancing with whales” must have contributed to the krilly setback), and … a white wine, a mojito, and a book (of course, what else?)

By seven, all that needed to be checked and repaired was checked and repaired, and the skipper announced our imminent re-departure. Instead of the planned “easy going, meandering route” (through the Darwin Canal) we needed to make up time and we would venture into the fjords a little bit more to the North. I cannot compare the route with the other alternatives, but sailing this last segment of the day, through the (wider) fjords, proved to be a gentle reminder of what we probably had missed. With the sun slow-diving into the open ocean behind us, we were witnesses to a water-and-light show, with the odd snow-covered mountain or volcano in the background. It was a pleasure for the senses.

Even though there was some compensation sailing through the last fjords in the dying light, I would have preferred the normal route (the so-called Magellan) through the fjords, past the ice fields and the glaciers of the famed “Campo de Hielo Sur” but we cannot instruct Nature to please us as we wish, luckily, for otherwise the ostentatious arrogance of 21st century (western) man (and woman – no discrimination here!) would culminate in speedy self destruction.

All in all, this was the last leg, the epilogue, of the second A and, notwithstanding the absence of the final and grandest string of glaciers, it has been an exhilarating adventure, the sensual (and where it concerns Antarctica also psychological) impact of which, one can only grasp if one has experienced it!

Prinsendam, Day 48 – Monday Feb 21st, 2011

After more than six weeks, I slowly but surely start to feel like a Robinson Crusoe