Our final day aboard National Geographic Explorer dawned sunny and within sight of South America. We idled offshore of Cape Horn, marveling at the giant albatross sculpture that was visible from three nautical miles. Expedition leader Mike read us the famous inscription by Chilean poet Sara Vial:

I am the albatross that awaits you

at the end of the world.

I am the forgotten soul of the dead mariners

who passed Cape Horn

from all the seas of the world.

But they did not die

in the furious waves.

Today they soar on my wings

towards eternity

in the last crack

of the Antarctic winds.

We learned more about this haunted rock that is topped by the world’s southernmost trees as we watched a screening of Around Cape Horn after breakfast. Irving Johnson shot the marvelous documentary with a handheld black and white camera in 1929 during the final days of commercial sail aboard the four-masted barque Peking.

As we made our way into the Beagle Channel, sei whales cavorted near the ship, showing us their hooked dorsal fins and strange, fluke-less dives. What a parting gift from the Southern Ocean, to spend our morning with an endangered species – some of the largest animals that ever lived.

In the afternoon, we formed teams for pub-style trivia to see who was paying attention on our hikes and Zodiac cruises! (Do you know why icebergs are blue, or how many eggs gentoo penguins lay?) Finally, we viewed a touching slideshow full of grinning faces in some of the most spectacular places imaginable – and uproarious images of panicked polar plungers swimming with outstretched hands! Raising our champagne glasses with the captain, we knew we would never forget these ten days.