Expedition Stories

Our fleet navigates the world in search of adventure. These are the stories they bring back…

Previous Reports

Daily Expedition Reports

3/10/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Tierra del Fuego

The Caledonian Star at the Romanche Glacier: We are on the path of Fitzroy and Darwin through narrow fjords, like secret tunnels from one ocean to the other. We slip between cliffs of polished rock patterned with swirls in pleasing symmetries. Beyond the cliffs are rank after rank of craggy peaks over which fleets of rare lenticular clouds drift upon the crests of a distant wind. At times the heights are not so sheer and the rocks are wrapped in dark, pathless forests dominated by southern beech and the famous Winter's bark, a precious source of vitamin C that helped to preserve the minds and teeth of Drake and his companions. Perhaps this morning we stepped where they stepped when they scoured the countryside to reprovision their tiny larders and medical cabinets. They ate this bark and sailed these waters long before my great grandfather's great-great grandfather held his first son in the setting sun of Spain and her empire. And older yet were the naked Fuegans who lit their myriad fires upon rocks freshly scarred by the cold claws of glacial rivers, icy masses which have recently retreated and now lie perched above us, like gigantic silver-blue cats in a lazy slumber. Today we find this land mostly quiet and delight in its uncivilized stillness punctuated by the leaps and puffs of dusky dolphins, the gentle sighs of soaring condors, and the rush of water down cliff and canyon. Here, time does not flow, it softly blends like the patterns on the cliffs and the dance of giant petrels in our wake.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/14/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in the Chilean Fjords

The Pio XI Glacier is the most active tidewater glacier in Chile. She is three miles wide and somewhat over 100 feet high. Unlike her sisters, she is advancing. We spent the early morning exploring in Zodiacs, cruising about her beautiful children, each unique as snowflakes. There were blues and whites, transparent crystal and hard green glass, with sharp edges and smooth contours. We saw faces and bodies, long-necked swans that changed to bears or then again to fierce dragons as we drifted past and shifted our perspective. The sea was milky with glacial flour; bits of finely chewed-up rock suspended in a lens of fresh water floating on the denser salty sea. At times we slowly pushed our way through brash ice, bits of bergs that tumble beneath the Zodiac. Among the floating ice there was the constant sound of popping and cracking as pockets of pressurized air burst from gelid cells of weakened crystal, air that might have last been breathed by the earliest people to settle here thousands of years ago. Occasionally, in the distance, there was a sharp report, a powerful reverberating boom. At a mile away it was impossible to pinpoint the source; at a half-mile though we learned the truth: it was the announcement of a birth, the creation of fresh new bergs. Mighty towers of ice would suddenly lurch, shatter, and plunge into the sea with a mighty splash of muddy water, sometimes reaching over fifty feet in the air. Often we were lucky and the first birthing was followed by another and yet another. Each calving brought a rolling swell that gently rocked the Zodiacs and caused the nearby drifting ice to shift and sparkle. From here the glacier seemed a living thing, a being so huge and grand that we were beneath her notice while she sent her children seaward, to slowly melt and die, transient bits of beauty to be enjoyed by all, or perhaps most importantly, even by none at all.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/16/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

The Fish Market at Puerto Montt: Puerto Montt is the southernmost city on the Chilean road system and, at 100,000 plus inhabitants, our biggest town yet. The biggest, but it does not seem particularly large. At the fish market we are amazed at the creatures for sale. Where else in the world are the stalls dominated by shellfish and algae? That's easy, wherever there's a giant kelp forest. Clear, cold water, 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit is where the kelp thrives. In the late morning a diver alternately drifts, then soars through the "redwoods of the sea," between kelp plants that can be over 100 feet tall. There is no tank of air on his back, he fills his lungs from a yellow hose that snakes through the water to a compressor in his boat, a thin umbilicus to his native world. At 50 feet of depth the sun's light is a golden mist, much like dawn deep within a moss-shrouded, primeval forest. Brown pennants, three-foot long fronds, gently sway back, forth, up, and down, to the rhythm of the rolling swell. There's a pinnacle ahead, thirty-five feet tall and clean of kelp. Soft current flows about the rock carrying with it clouds of tiny plankton. Over the stony walls there is a plush carpet of reds and oranges, lavenders and whites, blues and pinks, each color and hue a different type of animal waving claw, tentacle or feathery foot, all of them plucking, grabbing, or simply sucking their meals from the passing stream. To his left, the diver notices a patch of delicate clubfoot anemones, their trunks pale lavender, their tentacles white; they surround and almost conceal a large object. In their midst a feathery brush appears and slowly swipes at the sea, one, two, three, then abruptly retracts into the maw of a hidden giant acorn barnacle. With a pry-bar, the crustacean is broken from the rock and added to a bag, a good one, this creature, almost eight inches long and four inches wide. By late afternoon the bag of barnacles joins the mussels, clams, urchins, crabs, kelp, conger eels, and king mackerel at the market, all categorically and aesthetically arranged just in time for us to pass by and take this picture.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/18/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

The Austral University Botanical Garden in Valdivia, or "The case of the missing tree": This morning we anchored at the mouth of the Rio Valdivia and after breakfast, transferred to a most pleasant catamaran for an hour-and-a-half cruise upriver to the town of Valdivia. It was fantastic, great birds, great scenery! One of the striking features along the way was a forest on the tall slopes of the southern riverbank, thick, green, and obviously fecund. But what are those trees? Ah, mostly Australian eucalyptuses with some patches of Monterey pine. These are tree farms with a harvest cycle of about twenty years, primarily producing wood chips for export. The native forest? Cut long ago. Here there was temperate rainforest, very similar in look and feel to what one sees in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, and here too there was a giant, the alerce tree. At first glance this tree resembles, very much so, a redwood, the leaves, the twelve-foot wide trunk -- and it is also a member of the conifer families. The alerce only occurs in Chile and was named Fitzroya cupressoides by science to honor the Captain of the HMS Beagle. Many of the beautiful shingles on the sides of the older houses from Valdivia to Puerto Montt were made from this wood, highly esteemed for its fine grain and resistance to rot. Not surprising, most of the remaining alerce are in remote places, but now the tree is protected, recognized as a natural treasure, although one should not expect to see a new alerce forest in the near future. A tree, three feet in diameter, certainly not very big for a mature alerce, is a thousand or so years old. And where will this new alerce forest be located? That is the question being decided in Chile today. While most of the native forests are being protected, and about half of the pre-colonial forest acreage remains intact (predominantly in the undeveloped far south) the future of deforested areas is in a gray zone. Plantations of non-native trees are doing very well indeed; as of 1995, 10% of the value of all Chile's exports was timber products. That's more than all the other agricultural and fishing exports combined, and the industry is growing and needs more land. So, will new plantations be sown or will native forest with the majestic alerce be replanted? Probably both, but in what proportions? From our stops ashore it seems obvious that the people of Chile love plants and nature in general. Yes, the pendulum is swinging towards conservation. I think this can be seen in today's picture, a magnificent garden proudly presented to us by our Chilean guides, where our Captain, Joergen Cardestig, is pointing at a rather impressive specimen of pampas grass and sharing his enthusiasm with fellow voyagers on the Caledonian Star .

Daily Expedition Reports

3/20/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

Statue commemorating the Mapuche culture: There are so many sights in Santiago that it is difficult to select just one, but when I saw this statue I knew this was what I wanted. After its war for independence Chile was a small country, with neither its present northern nor southern territories. The Chileans adopted a geopolitical philosophy very familiar to those of us living in the United States and much of Europe -- a state is like a biological organism; if it does not grow it will die. In the mid-1800s, Chile annexed the lands of the Mapuche people known as Araucania, to the south of Santiago and the Central Valley. The settlement of this area was not without hostilities; however in the long run, the greatest cost to the Mapuche people was impoverishment, both economic and cultural. Now a more mature country, Chileans express themselves, their culture and their history in art. The Mapuche culture is broken but not destroyed, its people scattered but not forgotten. History is not a road from one place to another, from one battle to another; it's a voyage, an odyssey. A life is rich, it is the sum of all who have touched it and who have loved it. Chile remembers, just as we remember when we grow older, when the road beneath our feet becomes more important than that distant point on the horizon.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/22/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

El Tatio Geysers (on the Atacama Extension): At sunrise we were high in the Puna, the area between the volcanoes at over 13,000 above sea level. This is a geologically active area where cooling magma chambers lay close to the surface of the earth. Before the morning wind and dawn's light, the geyser field is alive with plumes of vapor. We explored this area by foot and van. We could feel the power of nature beneath a thin shell of rock; this place has a primitive feel. Nearby, we saw exotic animals, the vicu¤a, the cameloid of the high plateau, with a child-like face; and vizcachas, looking like a cross between a rabbit and a kangaroo rat, dancing and bounding about the rocks like characters in a madcap cartoon. We were all a little giddy and breathless as we ate our breakfast amidst the steam and rushing bubbles, under the brow of the ever present Andes, all jagged peaks and volcanoes, all snow-capped. Perhaps it was the thin air that made us feel we were standing on the edge of world, at the point of creation, or perhaps for just a moment, just before dawn, we truly were…

Daily Expedition Reports

3/11/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in the Chilean Fjords

From the perspective of North Americans and Europeans, South America is indeed a mirror image. After two days in these fabulous fjords one can not help but to compare them to those of Norway or Southeast Alaska, maybe repeatedly. So similar, yet so different, almost like meeting someone who resembles an old friend who was lost to you in the shuffle of your life. Perhaps you had a conversation over a drink or two in a quiet pub, and you find that your life and experiences are completely different from those of your friend, but you can not help but remember him or her, repeatedly. You're told it's the latitude and the water currents, the glaciers and the igneous rocks, the winds and the rain, but really it's completely different. so they say, but you remember your friend anyway. We took a Zodiac cruise and saw trees that looked like hemlock, but they were southern beech, we saw fruits that looked like blueberries, but they were calafate, and delicious. Then finally we saw something that we all knew: a female sea lion, but it was not her. Pictured is the South American sea lion. Yes, it looks like a California sea lion, but it's not even in the same genus, and if you saw the male, with its great, shaggy lion's mane, you would know that it too was completely different.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/15/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

Our last sunset in the Chilean Fjords: Late this afternoon we made an impulsive landing at the small fishing village of Puerto Laguna. I went ashore with Expedition Leader Tom Ritchie to test the waters. We zigged and zagged our way about several small buoys and arrived at a stony beach that turned to sand above the gentle surf. A very curious Ram¢n and his two grandsons met us. Ram¢n, looking more Indian than not, stood next to his yellow fishing "panga," something firm in the face of the unexpected, his open wooden boat with two hand-carved oars. Tom told him we were eighty or so people with a keen interest in the forest, the birds, and the flowers. Ram¢n nodded his head, smiled, and seemed to think this was very good indeed. We asked if there were roads or trails; he said, "No," but waved his arm toward the beach and said we could walk there, and he pointed towards his house and told us there was a lovely lagoon behind it. Soon his awe gave way to enthusiasm, which was clearly reflected in the sparkle of his grandson's eyes. He gestured towards the sea, towards the buoys; perhaps we would be interested in buying a few crabs? Perhaps indeed! Tom radioed the Caledonian Star and our Hotel Manager, Bob Houston and Chef, Mats Loo were in the first Zodiac to arrive ashore. Meanwhile the eighty or so enthusiasts spread out to the left and right, along the beach and woods, and many ultimately moved up a small stream, black with tannins, where there was a way to the lagoon. Other folks investigated the settlement of three simple houses, gardens, and eleven people, all members of the same extended family. In "town" a handful of sheep posed for pictures, skittered off like a woolly school of fish, and reappeared for yet more photos. A lone dog sat and barked at no one in particular, and two cats lay in a pane-less window washing and sunning, favoring us with an occasional, almost interested glance. On the beach, Bob and Mats critically examined fresh Cancer crabs, much like Dungeness, and we loaded two large coolers-full onto a Zodiac; to me they were a precious cargo like unearthed chests from a Treasure Island. But we weren't done yet! At the Caledonian Star there was another yellow panga full of spiny orange king crabs and we bought these too. The cost: flour and shirts, postcards and sugar, and a number of other consumables, no money was wanted, although it was offered. And how were the walks on this spur-of-the-moment landing? The only answers I have were gleaned from an immensity of smiling faces!

Daily Expedition Reports

3/17/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

The Osorno Volcano: The ground trembled, again, but not as badly as yesterday. It wasn't like this back in Prussia, but then again there wasn't any free land there either. The volcano's been smoking for months now and sometimes at night the peak glows like a thousand campfires and spits orange stars high into the sky. It's hard to see the snow now too; it's all covered in ash, and maybe even gone, melted. Perhaps we should have left the farm and gone to Puerto Montt like the neighbors, but we can't leave the farm, there's too much work to do. Besides, the Indians say the volcano does this every few years and nothing ever happens, but they've all gone away too! Volc¢n Osorno did indeed erupt in 1861 and covered much of the surrounding area with ash and fresh flows of lava. The forest was destroyed, either buried or just burned. Then a new forest grew, fast and tall, stronger than ever on the ash-covered soil, or a bit more slowly and stunted on new, hard rock. All of this is but a single dramatic performance in the ongoing tectonic play in this very excitable region. We had a morning tour as far as the freshwater "port" of Petrohoe with several scenic stops along the way, coming and going. For the entire tour, along the lakes, through the forest, past the picturesque town and chalets, we were "under the shadow" of the magnificent Osorno Volcano for which the picture does only little justice.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/19/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star at Sea

The fluke of the sperm whale: Cold, cold, cold and a pure darkness defiled only by the occasional luminosity of a bizarre predator, softly drifting, gently nodding an alluring light that beckons to the unwary, draws the unknowing towards a bloated body, a ghostly beast with gaping jaws and a dagger-fringed grin. SWISH! The unsightly fish is startled and tumbled by a passing shape, quick, fluid, and huge. Its lights are quenched, its body buffeted by a massive pressure wave, this former "terror of the deep" flees blindly into the blackness. The new arrival has no need of light to find his way, to pursue his prey. And this little "lightshow" is certainly not on the menu today, unless it foolishly gets in his way. Yes, he knows it's there, as insignificant as it is. Click, click, click, click, click, a series of sounds, rapid beyond counting, pitched higher than hearing. These are sounds to build a picture, a three-dimensional hologram. He knows the shape of his prey as well as you know your face. He also knows where its hard, where its soft, whether its coming or whether its going, and how fast, all with sound, Click, click, click, click, click. They're ahead, a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, and more thousands. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK. A huge sound, a hurting sound, a stunning sound, sound as a weapon. He drives through the school with jaw opened, his two-pound teeth exposed, each a battering ram crushing the stunned squid, cutting a swath through the school, like a bullet through a body. He can sense his pod-mates nearby doing likewise. They harvest a ton of squid in less than half-an-hour, these four, but they are huge and they are still hungry. But now it is time to return to the air, their oxygen spent, the carbon dioxide hurting. Up, up, up, a thousand feet. Light, heat, exhale and inhale within a heartbeat. "They're up at ten o'clock," Lyall Watson, ship's naturalist, lecturer, and whale aficionado, breathes into the radio from his perch high in the crow's nest. "These are sperm whales!" says expedition leader, Tom Ritchie over the ship's P.A. "These are the largest of the toothed whales, which include the dolphins, porpoises and killer whales." he continues. "Notice the slanting blow, left and forward." Nine breaths, ten breaths, eleven breaths and time to go down again, into the cold again, into the dark. A final lifted fluke and we are left breathless and wonder, "What is it that they do down there?" And we wait; we wait until next time.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/21/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

An Andean flamingo in the Atacama Salt Lake (on the Atacama Extension): While the Caledonian Star continues up the coast of Chile, a small group of us (fourteen adventurers) has traveled inland to the heart of the Atacama Desert. For the most part it is dry here. It is said that there are weather stations in the Atacama that have never received precipitation. We are based in the high desert, at the city of Calama, at over 8,000 feet above sea level. Here the days are warm and nights are surprisingly cool, under a clear, dry sky of bright stars that seem close enough to touch. Yet, while there may be little or no rain, there is water, underground water from the snowpacks of the vast, looming Andes that sometimes pushes through to the surface. The Salar de Atacama is a badland of rugged blocks of salt and clay, a paste squirted up from below, broken, bright, and sparkling in the desert sun, in the thin air. In places there is open water, salty, but alive. Brineshimp thrive here, in their thousands, in their millions. Their eggs can survive for years in the dry clay until the rise of ground water gives them new life and they in turn give life to others, such as this flamingo.

Daily Expedition Reports

3/23/2000

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National Geographic Endeavour

From the Caledonian Star in Chile

Mooring lines of the Caledonian Star : Our small band of desert explorers reunited with the Caledonian Star today. There were many stories to be shared between us and the folks who made the trip by sea to Arica, Chile's northernmost port. Evidently the sea was bountiful, with three species of whales, two species of beaked whales, and many, many dolphins. A new group of voyagers have also joined us "old salts" today. Arica is a strange town, an oasis in the harshest desert in the world, rich in beauty and history. A thin green ribbon twists and turns from the mountains to the sea -- a road that was followed by ancient traders and wanderers who made giant glyphs of themselves and their animals on the high sandy bluffs. Were they signs of possession, or direction, or simply for celebration and hope? At the end of the road there is the sea and thousands of birds, including the wondrous Inca terns who feel right at home on the mooring lines of the Caledonian Star , watching the sunset, and the play of rosy colors on the water, the boats, the buildings, the people of Arica, and us as we return from an afternoon of exploration.

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