There are 3 routes around and through the islands that make up the lower end of Patagonia in South America. There is the Drake Passage, which is the southern route. This is the area of ocean between Cape Horn and Antarctica. It has some of the roughest water in the world due to the Atlantic Ocean currents the Pacific Ocean currents meeting here. The Northern passage is the Strait of Magellan, which separates Tierra del Fuego which is part of Argentina from the mainland. The last route is in the middle and is known as the Beagle Channel. It was named after the ship HMS Beagle, that explored the area from 1826 to 1830. Charles Darwin was on the exploration and had his first sighting of glaciers on January 29, 1833. He wrote in his notebook, “It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful that the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow”. So with that in mind, our cruise ship left the port of Ushuaia and sailed toward the western side of the Beagle Channel. This are has been called Glacier Alley, and we would see 5 tidewater glaciers in the Beagle Channel that the ship would pass. A tidewater glacier is one that flows into a body of water. The five glaciers are part of the ice field of the Cordillera Darwin. The ice field covers 890 square miles.
We were hoping for good early evening weather, but it turned abit blustery. We found a spot by the window and decided to wait inside. The ships destination specialist was making periodic announcements so we would know when to venture outside.
Five glaciers are named after the 5 European countries, that the explorers who navigated the region on the 1833 expedition, hailed from. The sixth we are not sure where the name came from. We are pretty sure that we have correctly identified all of the glaciers. The first glacier we passed was Holanda (Holland) Glacier.
The next glacier was Italia(Italy) Glacier.
Along the way, we could see the upper edges of the ice field as well as a new layer of snow.
The 3rd one was Francia (France) glacier. The actual glacier never touches the Beagle Channel but the glacial runoff flows down the mountain into the channel.
Alemania (Germany) Glacier was the fourth the ship passed. You could see the glacial fresh water separated from the sea water.
The Romanche Glacier cascades into the Beagle Channel. The blue hue of the glacier could be seen even with the over-cast skies. All the other glaciers are named for a country, we do not know if this one was perhaps named for Romance…hmmm
We think this is Espana (Spain) Glacier. By the time we got to this point of the Beagle Channel, the weather had deteriorated and we could no longer hear the commentary from the bridge.
We did not know what to expect from this part of the cruise but it exceeded our expectations. abit of cooperation from the weather would have been nice, but when you travel you take what you get.
After Glacier Alley, we sailed through the Beagle Channel out into Pacific and then eastward into the Strait of Magellan. Punta Arenas would be our next port…it would either be a day of extreme excitement or sheer disappointment.