Monday, November 9, 2015

Rolling Thunder!

Map picture


Rolling Thunder!

At this moment, and actually for the prior two days, our ship has been cruising deep within the Chilean fjords. If you look at a map or satellite view of this part of the Chilean coast, it appears as a highly fractured landscape, literally crisscrossed with deep fissures and channels. At first glance, I would have assumed that our ship would be going along this part of the coast out in open water, but boy was I mistaken. Because of our small size, we are actually able to spend most of our time cruising deep within this mysterious and beautiful landscape surrounded by deep valleys and towering snowcapped mountains. That was how we spent all day Saturday, November 7th.

On Sunday morning, we continued our journey arriving in the afternoon at the face of Pio XI Glacier. This glacier was named in honor of Pope Pius XI, and it is the largest outflow of glacial ice in all of Patagonia. The massive face of the glacier stretches for over two miles in length.

Now I must in all fairness tell a story on myself. When we arrived at the glacier, weather conditions were far from ideal. The outside temperature was 7 C, or 44 F. The winds were blowing down from the glacier at 35 mph, and just to liven things up a bit, we had a constant drizzle with occasional sleet in our faces, and the water was choppy and full of spray. So, wise old traveler that I am, I announce that this is crazy, and I am not going out for an hour and a half ride along the glacier in a little zodiac-so there! I mean after all, I’ve been there and done that, so what’s to be learned?

All the while I am pontificating, Lisa is busy going about getting dressed in all the gear we bought to handle this weather. Let’s see, first the silk underwear, top and bottom. The heavy socks, over our regular socks. Next we have the waterproof pants, followed by the heavy rubber and insulated boots. At this point, I help her into the incredibly warm and heavy red parkas given to each of us – and this takes some time to do right. Next we have the silk glove liners, the heavy gloves, and oh yes, the synthetic wool caps. Now all that is left is the life vest on top of everything else, and at this point Lisa is red-faced and overheating in our cabin. She looks like a little girl who has been dressed up by her mother to go play in the snow.

Ah, the hell with it, she will not listen to reason, so not to be outdone, I start my own process in order to join her. My one concession to the weather was that I did not take my camera. It is a shame because as I’ll explain later I saw some incredible sights, but the camera would have been ruined by the rain.

Conditions on the zodiac were exactly as I expected, in a word, “miserable!” Luckily, Lisa and I were dressed correctly, but I felt sorry for a number of “first timers” who had no clue and were just plain miserable.

Forgetting my pride for a moment, I will admit to seeing three things which I had never before witnessed. First, we got to watch the spectacle of a sea lion catching an unsuspecting cormorant, and then thrashing about in the water as it tried to tear it apart for food; this went on for the longest time. Second, at the very edge of the glacier, I saw where the ice flow was actually moving over the TOP of nearby trees; a very unusual phenomena. Finally, there was the rolling thunder.

As a glacier slowly advances towards the water, chunks of ice will eventually fall into the sea. This is called “calving.” I have been in front of glaciers many times when chunks of ice would fall off, but what happened yesterday was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. As we cruised along the glacier front, from time to time the sound of loud thunder could be heard, but nothing was happening. I kept thinking perhaps a storm, but at one point it was so loud that I looked up to see if a jet was overhead somehow. The thunder would go on at times for a long while and would literally roll across the water. Suddenly, large chunks of ice would fall into the sea, and the thunder would stop. Ah, ha! So the thunder is actually the sound of the ice cracking apart from the glacier until it eventually falls off. Once I made the connection, every time there was thunder. If I waited patiently, there would eventually be a calving event. Amazing, and yet another first for me.

To end this little adventure, I must relate an amazing story. Our zodiacs were being recalled to the ship when the thunder started up again, and our driver said, “Let’s wait a moment, and see what happens.” Even though you hear the thunder, you could not know where along the two mile face an event would occur, but on this occasion the first person on our zodiac pointed to a spot on the glacier where he said the sound was coming from, and with all of us looking at that spot a giant event did indeed occur, even causing a small tsunami event. But, the ice that had fallen off had removed the base from a gigantic piece of blue ice which looked as if it would fall into the sea at any moment. Our intrepid guest suggested that if we clapped our hands, perhaps it would be enough to dislodge it, and so we clapped, and by golly that absolutely, huge chuck of ice came crashing down right in front of our eyes! This time creating an even more significant wave! Who would have believed in the power of clapping?

On a final note, allow me to point out something absolutely absurd. Before coming on this trip, Silversea advised guests to prepare with proper clothing, and even provided a “supplier” who would be sure we were properly outfitted. Since we left all of our expensive Artic gear on the North West Passage cruise when I had to leave unexpectedly with a broken shoulder, we literally had to start from scratch. So, for this cruise, we were advised essentially that we needed to be outfitted pretty much as if we were going to Antarctica. Acquiring all that gear was a rather expensive proposition, and of course, for our 90 minutes yesterday, it was essential. Now get this – that’s it! That is the one and only time we needed that gear! When that hit me, I was dumbfounded! Yet, to come are two days on bus tours ashore, and another sea day before the cruise comes to an end. So not only did we spend all that money, pack, and carry all that “stuff,” in the end, it was for 90 minutes. If you ask me, that was a damn expensive zodiac ride!

Today is another sea day as we make our way towards Puerto Natales, a place where I have never been. This afternoon promises to be exciting because the ship will transit a very narrow winding passage. In fact, during our trip down the coast we have been followed by a French vessel, Le Boreal. She will not be able to make this course for the simple reason that the vessel is just that much longer and the narrow turns are too much for her to follow. I understand that as we approach the narrows, we will put a zodiac to go in front of us in order to monitor tidal flow, and to insure we will be able to transit safely.

Hope you are enjoying this trip with us.


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