17 February 2020 - Tempanos Glacier and Chilean Fjords
As we travelled from Antarctica back to South America, after seeing several species of penguins and approaching more penguins, we found a totally new and unknown species of penguins: meringue penguins!
Really, one afternoon I went up to the buffet area for a cup of tea, and discovered the meringue penguins lounging on ice floes all over the dessert area!!! Okay, more like lounging on iced cupcakes, but still. They were absolutely adorable!!! I mean, penguins are cute by themselves, no matter what they do. Penguins are just endearing and charming. But edible penguins decorating dessert? Yes please!!!
I went back after dinner, to take some photos, not having had my camera with me the first time through. (I prefer to eat dinner in the dining room.) By the time I arrived at the buffet, all the penguin desserts were finished. Gone. No more.
However, they reappeared the following day, and of course I had to take their photos. Yes, I’m the person who stands near the dessert buffet taking photos of the penguins. At first, other people laughed. Then suddenly, they came back and said, “You’re right, I need a photo of these!” So then we had a crowd of people taking meringue penguin photos. I’m such a trend-setter!
Richard and I had the dark chocolate flourless torte with berries, which came with a penguin on top. Delicious, and obviously not an Antarctic penguin lounging on dark chocolate. Possibly from as far north as the Galapagos penguins.
That was our silliness for the cruise.
We had several days cruising the Chilean fjords, with a side diversion to visit the Tempanos Glacier. Technically, this is the San Rafael Glacier, coming down the Tempanos moraine (the accumulated rocky debris moved by the glacier), and according to scientists is of an unknown age. (Our ship referred to it as the Tempanos Glacier.) However, the deepest (thickest) part is about 40 meters, or 130-plus feet of ice!!!
It was GORGEOUS!!! Glaciers are basically old snow that is compacted into such dense ice that it doesn’t melt. Or melts really slowly because the dense and thick sheet of ice is so cold, it keeps the whole glacier cold even in summer. Glaciers do move, sliding slowly downhill – and the center moves slightly more quickly than the sides do, because the sides meet more resistance from the rocky surfaces below the ice.
The top layer of the glacier isn’t clean pristine white snow, it has years of dust from the wind, rain, volcanic eruptions, all that. So it looks a bit dirty, sort of greyish or beige-ish or something.
But the cracks and crevices and crevasses are shades of pale blue. Almost a pale aqua blue. At the base of the glacier, the oldest and I would guess densest ice is a deep aqua, a beautiful deep almost turquoise, glowing through all that ice like some precious gemstones!!!! It doesn’t look real, somehow, to have that incredible color seemingly buried under all that ice!!! And it really does seem to be lit from within – we were there on a grey and cloudy morning, but that glacial blue was shining as if lit from within!!!
Yes, glaciers carve landscapes with their ability to drag down mountains and gouge out valleys. Glaciers have changed the land for millenia, and continue to do so today.
But I was struck by how truly beautiful the layers and textures and colors of a glacier can be, especially the Tempanos Glacier. Almost steps of ice and snow, with the aqua between the ice, and then those deep rich turquoise jewels of ice in the center – it was like another world right there!!!
I know, the scientists among us are saying to themselves that the blue comes from water and ice reflecting back the blue color that is part of the spectrum that comprises white light. That water and ice absorb all colors of the spectrum except blue. But really, how prosaic is that? Much more poetic and artistic to see these hidden jewels of turquoise blue inside the icy world of a glacier!
The fjords were also lovely, dark and mysterious as fjords tend to be. And somehow, even though most of these fjords are interconnected and make an inland waterway amongst the coastal islands, each fjord seems to be different. To have their own personality and mood.
Some fjords are lined with rocky hills and cliffs. Others are softer, with rolling hills covered in trees and dense bushes. Still other fjords are merely watery corridors between snow-capped peaks and mountains towering dramatically along the sides and in the distance.
We had foggy and grey days in the fjords, when the world becomes a composition in black and white and all the greys in between, where fog shrouds the hills and rain sheets obscure the distant views. Fjords in their sad mood, hiding any signs of life other than the constant sea birds.
Other days, the fjords were happy and sunny, shining with bright cheerful colors. The water and sky were blue, those mountains some vague muted color of grey-to-lavender, and all the foliage was green green green! I even saw something furry slicing through the water, possibly a sea otter since the face was a bit rounder than a seal, which was the other likely option. (Our penguin specialist said he saw two cougars and a condor – I would LOVE to see a cougar, but of course I missed that.)
Fjords are formed by glacial action. Basically, glaciers gouged out chunks of the steep hills and cliffs that formed coastlines of the continents – and somehow, most of these were on western coasts. (Canada, Greenland, and Iceland have fjords on both coasts; Alaska, New Zealand, Chile, Norway and the northern part of Scandinavia have fjords only on the western coasts.) Anyway, the glaciers carved out U-shaped valleys and channels, which filled with water from the oceans.
The fjords of Chile are not only deep channels or valleys into the mainland, they also wind around islands, creating a web of waterways. Some of the islands are inhabited, some or not, but all are isolated in this foggy and watery corner of the country.
The sides of the fjords were dotted with waterfalls coming off the glaciers or snowy peaks. If we could see them this well from the distance, these must have been HUGE waterfalls! No way for us to get closer, but the cascades of water certainly added drama to the scenery!
Some of the channels were wide enough for our smallish cruise ship to do a 360 and provide everyone with a view, and then we’d turn 180 and head on out of the dead-end fjord. Other channels, we could make a U turn. And a few side fjords, or maybe arms of the fjord, were too narrow for our ship.
But it all was beautiful, and that’s why the cruise company plans this route through the Chilean fjords – beautiful scenery for the passengers, and smoother sailing than if we were at sea.
Because cruising is all about slow travel. We might need to rush through port visits, but the travel inbetween ports is definitely part of the journey, and there’s no need to hurry through. Relaxing and enjoying the trip is what it’s all about.