Valparaiso, Chile Feb 2020

We stayed three nights in Valparaiso from 4th February 2020. Valparaiso was the principal port of Chile for hundreds of years and the government, navy and wealthy traders built several impressive buildings. The opening of the Panama Canal reduced its importance and recently San Antonio has been made the preferred port for imports. Valparaiso is now a gritty city perched on thirteen hills. The old established houses are now surrounded by thousands of lesser houses, including many that look like shacks, (apparently) precariously balanced on the steep slopes of the hills. Most houses are covered with corrugated iron sheets, apparently to hide the rough finish behind. Thirteen funiculars (there used to be more) transport pedestrians up steep cliffs. The roads twist and turn with sudden corners and steep ascents. Small municipal buses follow amazing routes. Residents have no need for gyms as their daily exercise of getting to their houses keeps their hearts in a healthy condition. Many houses have very long flights of stairs that pass their front doors. I have no idea how washing machines and fridges get delivered. This mass of hodge podge buildings await the next, inevitable earthquake and fight back the relatively common fires that attack from beyond the hills. A huge number of the houses are covered in the most amazing street art. Many houseowners pay artists to decorate their external walls. The street art has recently been added to with graffiti supporting the current wave of anti-government protests. We had dinner in three different restuarants, each with a spectacular view over the city.

We hired a car and ten kilometres north, on the coast, found Vina del Mar, a world away from Valparaiso. This is a holiday destination with thousands of smart apartments, beach side restaurants and up market shopping. No street art or graffiti is to be found. As we headed inland and east to Santiago on Saturday, the traffic to the coast was bumper to bumper with the workers of Santiago, heading, not for Valparaiso but to Vina del Mar.

Tomkins Conservation

I attended a lecture onboard our cruise, hosted by the World Wildlife Fund, which principally focused on the work and legacy of Douglas Tompkins. Co-founder of The North Face and Esprit, Doug sold his part of Esprit in the early 1990s and moved to Chile to do conservation work full time with his wife, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. Doug was killed in a kayaking accident 2015. The foundations under the Tompkins Conservation umbrella, along with their partners, have helped to conserve over 14 million acres in Chile and Argentina and have created five national parks and are in the process of creating five more. Chile has protected 20% of its land in parks and reserves. More information on Tomkins Conservation can be found at: http://www.tompkinsconservation.org/home.htm

Advocacy by Tomkins Conservation probably also contributed to the creation of the law in Chile in February 2018 that created a further 450,000 square miles of marine protected areas. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are regions of the sea in which human activities are regulated in order to help conserve, manage, and protect vulnerable ecosystems and wildlife. The way in which human activity is restricted in each MPA varies greatly – in ‘no-take’ MPAs, no extraction of resources, such as fishing or mining, is permitted, while in ‘restricted use’ MPAs certain human activities may be permitted while others are not, or activity can be restricted depending on season, fishing gear type, or other factors. With the new parks, more than 40 percent of Chilean waters have some level of legal protection. There is some criticism that the Chilean government has not committed sufficient resources to properly manage, monitor and patrol all these conservation areas but they must be given credit for taking the first steps, both on land and sea.

Beagle Channel and Magellan Straits Jan 2020

Let’s start with a trivia quiz question. What is the southernmost point of the South American continent land mass? We all know that to sail around the bottom of South America one needs to pass Cape Horn. But Cape Horn is on an island, Isla Hornos, one of many islands south of the large island of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). There are two navigable sea routes through the islands between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Beagle Channel (named after the British ship) is 240km long and 5km wide at its narrowest and has the Argentinian city of Ushuaia on its northern shore, which is on Tierra del Fuego. The Beagle Channel is also a border between Argentina and Chile with Cape Horn in Chile. The Magellan Strait (named after the Spanish explorer) is 570km long and 2km wide at its narrowest and has the Chilean city of Punta Arenas on its northern shore. Ships that travel along these waterways need to have local pilots on board. Punta Arenas had its heyday in the early 1900s before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

We sailed the full length of the Beagle Channel, with the captain diverting up the cul de sac of the Garibaldi Fjiord to show us the spectacular Garibaldi Glacier. Large pieces of ice, that had broken off the glacier, floated past us. We then entered the Pacific Ocean for a short while, before turning north to zig zag between islands to enter the Magellan Strait near Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas is a run down city with all the interesting buildings and the cemetery dating back more than a hundred years. We did a walk in the morning.

In the afternoon we left the city and travelled south for 50km to the Strait of Magellan Park. There we had greats views of the Strait and saw the replica of Fort Bulnes, built there in 1843 when the Chileans staked their claim to the land.

When we were there we learnt the answer to the question posed above. A little further south from where we were is the southernmost point of the South American continent land mass, with the curious name of Cape Froward. It is located at 53.9⁰ S.

Other southern extremes are Cape Aghulhas, South Africa at 34.8° S; South East Cape, Tasmania at 43.6° S and Slope Point on the South Island of New Zealand at 46.7° S. We feel that we are very far from the equator and yet York in the UK is slightly further from the equator than Cape Froward.