Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Beagle Channel

For most of the day we transited from west to east the Beagle Channel. The channel was named after the ship HMS Beagle during its first hydrographic survey of the coasts of the southern part of South America, which lasted from 1826 to 1830. During that expedition, the Beagle's captain Pringle Stokes committed suicide and was replaced by Robert FitzRoy as captain. On a later and perhaps more famous voyage, the Beagle again sailed in South American waters, this time carrying the most influential biologist ever to have lived- Charles Darwin.
 The Beagle Channel separates the south coast of Tierra del Fuego to the north, from the many large and small islands in the archipelago to the south. These islands have been a source of serious dispute between Argentina and Chile.

In the morning we passed six impressive glaciers originating from the Darwin Cordillera ice field to the north in Chile. All these glaciers are retreating- you know the reason why is you have been reading this blog. We were struck by the contrast of the local Southern Beech silhouetted against the blue and white glacial ice. 
We noticed the sea water in the Fjord below the glaciers was coloured light blue-green. This we learned was due to rock dust or flour ground by the flowing ice from the rocks below. This dust makes it down to the sea in melt water streams or small icebergs that calve off the glaciers.

We then enjoyed great weather (for this place!) as we sailed further east towards Puerto Williams, where we landed in the late afternoon. We explored the town and its forested surroundings, and enjoyed a cultural show and local food provided by the community specially for us. 
On the hikes, several spectacular Magellanic Woodpeckers were seen. This bird is the icon of this cool southern Lenga forests. Lenga is one of the three species of Southern Beech- Nothofagus. Another remarkable plant to be found in many places was the native Dog Orchid.