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Landing on Cape Horn; when is a tick box not a tick box?

Written by Thomas Power | 29th March 2019 |

Category: Chile, Stories

Chile cape horn australis cape horn monument c pura aventura thomas power p1330201

This March I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel back to Chile in order to take an expedition cruise to Cape Horn. Despite 25 years of travelling to Patagonia, I had never been south of the Beagle Channel, never stepped on Tierra del Fuego and never landed at Cape Horn.

With the launch of the Route of the Parks this year, stretching all the way from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn, and Pura Aventura being the first (and only) international tour operator to be associated with the project, 2019 seemed like the time to go.

Knowing that there was only a 70% chance of landing at Cape Horn, I kept my expectations firmly in check until I woke up to as clear and still a day as ever happens at the end of the world.

The only way to land at the Cape is to take a four-night cruise on the very comfortable 100-cabin Australis ships which travel the beautiful, wild, fjords between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. I was with 167 passengers on board, it can be up to 200. Either way, that’s a lot of people to disgorge from zodiacs 10 at a time onto an island with just two narrow wooden walkways – one to the lighthouse, the other to the Cape Horn monument.

Sound like a bit of a crowded nightmare? Add to it that everyone keeps their bright orange lifejackets on and you have long threads of vivid humanity shuffling across the landscape. Anyone who knows me, even remotely, will by now assume that I was getting quietly cross with the hoards. In fact, I would have assumed the same. But I wasn’t.

Quite the opposite. Cape Horn is the end of South America, the most southerly landmass. To me, it felt much more like the start of Patagonia. And that made it profoundly moving.

Conditions were such that the captain altered course to navigate around the cape (something which happens perhaps once a season). I stayed up on the observation deck after it had emptied, more than an hour. As long as I could see Cape Horn, I wanted to be up there.

There are undoubtedly some who are simply ticking off items from a list, that’s not my business nor my concern. For me this was something very personal, something which completes a part of me, something for which I am extremely grateful.

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