The Chilean Fjords: An Expedition To The Beginning Of Time

An account of the Chilean Fjords voyage by Elyse Mailhot

The guests’ excitement for the commencement of the brand-new expedition voyage itinerary to the Chilean Fjords was palpable.

Right from the beginning, starting with the pre-voyage hotel pick-up in Ushuaia, Terra del Fuego, where I first met fellow passengers and media guests, the excitement for the soon to be happening Chilean Fjords journey was palpable. We were thrilled to be the first guests to sail this brand-new itinerary, one of OOE’s new collection of voyages to non-polar destinations. A new venture for the small ship expedition cruise operator known as a true leader in polar expeditions. 

Glaciers on the Chilean Fjords voyage.
Impressive glaciers. Photo by Elyse Mailhot

I paused and reflected on the tremendous opportunity I had to explore this remote destination with One Ocean Expeditions as I was about to realise a long-held dream to visit one of the world’s most southern regions of the globe, referred to by locals as, “Terra del Mondo” or the “ the End of the Earth”.

RCGS Resolute is the ideal vessel to enjoy the foreign beauty of Patagonia’s temperamental Southern coastal region.

OOE staff during the Chilean Fjords voyage.
Elyse and Afton, in OOE gear. Photo provided by Elyse Mailhot.

From the moment I stepped foot on the RCGS Resolute and met my OOE friendly colleagues, I knew it was going to be a great adventure. I enjoyed the feel of the vessel, its spacious and comfortable cabins, the amenities, the many places of gathering which include two dining areas, the bar, a cosy observation lounge and a beautiful presentation room. As someone who enjoys being active, I particularly liked the pool, the gym, the sauna and hot tub, as well as the outer decks which allowed me to stretch my legs and breathe fresh air while admiring the stunning spectacle Mother Nature was offering.

The light blue hue of century-old glaciers, the moody grey of the meandering fjords, the mist of the raging waterfalls and the dark green of ancient Boreal forest provided the perfect stage for a colourful exploration of one of the most isolated places on earth.

Finding myself in such a foreign and remote environment with a group of seasoned, knowledgeable and engaged writers and travelers, of which many were repeat One Ocean customers I might add, was an opportunity I wasn’t taking for granted.

Guests were deeply touched by the overwhelming beauty of glaciers, waterfalls and narrow channels.

The passengers were already in awe by the second day as we crossed to the Garabaldi Fjord and witnessed two imposing glaciers with snowy mountain peaks as a backdrop. This was a great introduction to the other glaciers we were about to discover. That same day we sailed to the iconic Alberto de Agostini National Park, named after the Italian explorer Agostini.

As we entered D’Agostini Sound, the Dainelli and Serrano Glaciers presented themselves. In an instant, we jumped into a Zodiac for a shore excursion for a closer look at the colossal structures inching into the sea. Prior to the excursion, Ian Godwin, OOE’s expert glaciologist, gave a lecture on the environment we were about to visit. One of his quotes still resonates deeply with me. It sums up what we have been experiencing for the past decades. “We are transitioning from the ice era to the water era”. He reassured us that the planet and mankind, being resilient as demonstrated for centuries could adjust and survive climate change. “It’s the speed in which we address the change that can save or destroy us”, added Ian.

Where Mother Nature rules and excitement tops the chart

In the course of our Zodiac excursions, we observed many glaciers, but it was the Asia and Amalie glaciers in the Peel Fjords that impressed us the most. It took our breath away to hear their immensity moving forward.

View from a cubby hole during the Chilean Fjords voyage.
View outside from her porthole on RCGS Resolute. Photo by Elyse Mailhot

The region is heavenly for photographers and nature/wildlife lovers. During our shore excursions, OOE’s staff and expert naturalist – the amazing Franco Mariott guided the nature hikes, teaching us about the regional ecology. We walked in dense forests and along pristine shorelines, saw South American Sea Lions, Rock Cormorants and spotted a few Andean Condors.  No Condor sightings for me, sadly, and no sights either of the few whales and large pods of dolphins several passengers witnessed while sailing in the area.  I asked Simon Boyes, OOE’s ornithologist, if there was anything I could do to train my eyesight. He looked at me, smiled and said “patience girl… just stop moving and stay still for more than 5 minutes. There is more that can be seen in the horizon than you’d ever know”.

There was a wealth of knowledge from onboard specialists and enriching conversations

OOE’s expert staff and special guests gave lectures, showed documentary films and shared their knowledge and stories throughout the expedition, every morning or during the daily cocktail hour spent sipping Chile’s finest cocktail – the Pisco Sour. I particularly liked the early morning conversations over berry smoothies in the casual bistro.

Australian Professor and One Ocean Expeditions’ lead geologist, Ian Goodwin, took centre stage during the first part of the voyage which focused predominantly on Southern Chile’s rich coastal environment and its ancient glaciers. As the voyage progressed, OOE’s special guest and experienced Patagonia explorer Jacqueline Windh, and Jonathan Chester, OOE’s historian and mountaineer guide, shared their passion and knowledge of Chile’s geography and its rich history during daily lectures. Jacqueline’s knowledge of Patagonia and Chile’s indigenous culture certainly impressed guests. Kaylan Worsnop, the intrepid Expedition Leader, and Jacqueline organised an exceptional cultural visit to the very small and remote coastal community of Porto Eden. That’s where we met the last living member of the Kawéskar people, ‘men of skin and bone’ as white men referred to them. Jacqueline’s Spanish language skills came in handy, as she was able to translate the interview with the wise elder. Her pronounced cheekbones, dark eyes and contagious laugh captivated the guests’ attention. When the elder was asked her age and how many kids and grandkids she had, the elder smiled and said she couldn’t remember. “You will have to ask the historic museum, she replied. I have absolutely no idea”, she added with a sparkle in her eye.

Cultural visits added spices and passion to the second half of the voyage.

Wooden churches during the Chilean Fjords voyage.
Church built entirely out of wood. Photo by Elyse Mailhot

The second leg of the new Chilean Fjords voyage had a strong emphasis on Chile’s rich culture and history. Sailing north towards a warmer climate, the visit to the small town of Castro brought much contrast to what we had experienced to date during the voyage.  Castro, founded in 1567, is the capital city of the island of Chiloé in the spectacular archipelago of the same name. The town has centuries-old manmade wooden churches, curious architecture with colourful harbourside houses built on stilts or ‘palafitos’ and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. The exchanges with the friendly local guides and artisans at the market located on the spectacular waterfront teased guests’ palates with traditional delicacies. The favourites were the sopaipillas, a lightly fried doughy cake and Alfajores, chocolate covered biscuits filled with manjar (or dulce de leche). Some people opted for a spicier treat by sampling local and delicious ceviche.

cultural highlights during the chilean fjords voyage
The town of Castro was a highlight. Photo by Elyse Mailhot

The third and most impressive cultural visit was in the intriguing town of Niebla, at the mouth of the Valdivia River. A site inhabited for centuries by the indigenous Mapuche tribe, it is also known for its historic Fort “Fuerte de Niebla” built by the conquering Spanish army to protect the open estuary of Valdivia River.  Guests enjoyed joining the guided tour while others preferred walking the city streets or soaking in the sun while enjoying a cold beverage on a patio. We could feel the voyage was coming to an end as guests were exchanging addresses and taking pictures with new friends.

The voyage ended in the romantic Valparaiso. Exploring this World Heritage City is a must. The Bohemian and colourful city is a maze of hills, narrow streets and endless staircases. Its eclectic architecture and atmosphere have long-inspired poets, writers and lovers. It has become one of my favourite cities in the world and a place I long to return.

The One Ocean Expeditions way of ‘cruising’ has its rewards

Traveling at a much slower pace than what I’m accustomed to made me see and appreciate the attention to detail invested in the creation and execution of this new cruise itinerary “The Chilean Fjords Adventure”. The visual feast of the region’s theatrical coastline, with its deep fjords, sublime waterfalls and narrow channels, fringed by Ancient boreal forest shaped by the notorious Patagonian wind was unreal. The endless pink sunsets and oddly shaped clouds made it all the more dramatic. It’s a sight I will forever remember.

Kayaking in the fjords. Photo by Elyse Mailhot

The knowledge gained on OOE’s expedition cruises cultivates a deeper appreciation for the planet, the fragility and resiliency of the environments explored, wildlife, indigenous cultures and life in the world’s most remote communities.

The experience has ignited my curiosity and given me the ultimate opportunity to meet exceptional people. I met and learned from renowned scientists, documentary film producers, visual artists, photographers, seasoned mountain and kayak guides and experts and educators in glaciology, marine biology, polar history, social anthropology and many others.

The human connections and friendships forged with OOE’s talented staff and well-travelled, inspiring and adventurous fellow passengers during the many voyages I’ve joined over the years have significantly added to my career and life.

OOE staff for the chilean fjords.
The fantastic OOE Team. Photo by Elyse Mailhot

Being the public and media relations representative for OOE has given me opportunities to travel to foreign and exotic places. It has helped me realise one of my life-long dreams of traveling to all five continents. I love what I do and do what I love, traveling and working with like-minded people and exploring the world. It always brings me much joy to inform media about OOE and pitch stories of the incredible cruising experiences and diverse programing the company operates in the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Svalbard, Antarctica, South Georgia, South and Central America, the Islands of the North Atlantic and Canada’ East Cost. Hosting media in these destinations is enriching and seeing the resulting coverage is always very rewarding.

OOE’s expedition cruises are far from “normal cruises”. I can honestly say that I’ve never been overly interested in going on a cruise, but since travelling with OOE, my definition of “cruising” has completely changed. OOE operates voyages for “non-cruisers”. They are expedition-style voyages that cater to curious, educated, engaged and caring travellers interested in the environment, the ocean, the wildlife, remote, pristine destinations and small communities with rich culture. It is an authentic and genuine approach to exploration and education on board purpose-built vessels, in a safe and comfortable environment that is truly the One Ocean difference.

Interested in experiencing the Chilean Fjords voyage for yourself? Contact your preferred travel agent, or contact us directly here.