A Call to Joy

The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. – Romans 14:17

When we came home from traveling to South America this January, I was left with an impression I couldn’t shake.  I think I began feeling it one morning after talking to a Polish man on our ship during a day at sea.  This man asked to share a table with me at the breakfast buffet. Right away, he began to open up with me as if we had known each other for a long time.  (Or, perhaps he was opening up with me because he knew he would never see me again!) He explained that he had owned and operated two hotels on the west coast of Florida.  He grew tired of the work, and retired.  He explained that he and his wife take four to six long cruises a year to most anywhere.  The destination did not matter to him because he rarely gets off the ship. Instead, he uses his time to play blackjack.  Here is what struck me most about this man: he had all the resources and opportunity to have an immensely enjoyable life, but he was profoundly unhappy.

jjThen I began to see this pattern with many others we met.  They were “living the life,” but joy was entirely absent.  I started people-watching when we returned home, especially observing faces.  I began asking: what emotion do I see?  Is there contentment?  Happiness? Joy?  I saw worry, anxiety, concern, boredom.  Only for brief moments did I see flashes of happiness.  Then I remembered what Sigmund Freud said in his Civilization and Its Discontents.  He said that human advances have made us almost godlike, but we are not happy.

These things that, by his science and technology, man has brought about on this earth … not only sound like a fairy tale, they are an actual fulfillment of every–or almost every–fairy-tale wish. All these assets he may lay claim to as his cultural acquisition. Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience, which he embodied in his gods. To these gods he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes… Today he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has almost become a god himself… But, present-day man does not feel happy in his godlike character. – Freud in his Civilization and Its Discontents

This struck me as true.  We have gained so much, but in the end our faces are downcast.  Where can we find joy?  That’s what set Christians apart from the very beginning.  They manifested a remarkable and sustaining joy the world had never seen.  Where did it come from?  That is what we will be exploring in worship for the next month.

Before we get started, I invite you to share in the practice of people-watching, looking for signs as you read people’s faces that give a hint to what they are feeling and experiencing.  In addition, note how you are feeling as you go through the day.  Take a few moments to gauge how you see life: are you hopeful and encouraged?  Is there contentment? Is there joy? Then bring your experience along as we start this journey together.

Departure Day – Santiago

valdiva santiago

Pedro de Valdivia in Plaza de Armas

We were booked on a red-eye flight back to Miami.  That gave us the entire day to spend in Santiago. We heard that a free city walking tour begins each weekday in Plaza de Armas.  The literature said to meet in front of the Santiago Cathedral right at 10am.  We were skeptical but decided to go and check it out.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a twenty-something man wearing a red tee-shirt with large lettering advertising “Free City Tour” on it.  He allowed people to gather for about 15 minutes before leaving.  He provided us a map and told us that indeed the tour was free.  At the end, people would have the opportunity to give him a tip for his services. Nothing more was asked.

He was immensely knowledgable about the city and the history.  The first stop was right in Plaza de Armas.  Our tour guide explained that in opposite corners of the plaza were statues revealing the conflict of the earliest days in Santiago.  In one corner of the plaza Pedro de Valdivia rides his horse as if in victory. But, if you look closely, there are no reins in his hand. While he was the first governor of the new settlement of Santiago in 1541, ultimately he was defeated by the Mapuche Indians who destroyed the city and killed him.  So yes, he seems to be riding in strength, but he is not holding the reins of power or history.

Mapuche statue in Plaza de Armas

Mapuche statue in Plaza de Armas

At the other side of the plaza stands a stone statue of a Mapuche. The broken stone well expresses the experience of the Mapuche people who lived in brokenness through the colonial period continually fighting to preserve their land and heritage.  The fighting between the parties never really ended. Every people battle for place and significance, to protect what is theirs. This was the perfect place to start the walking tour and to learn the early history of the city.

From there our guide took us through the streets past the Pre-columbian Museum of Chile.  Sadly, it is closed on Monday, but it is a “must see” to take in the early history of Chile and the native peoples from Peru to Patagonia.  Around the corner from the museum were two cultural curiosities.  First, there is “the Rapid” sandwich shop that is the native fast food of Chile. (You can see a youtube video of what they do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaVOC6wT5zE ).  They serve sandwiches and empanadas, and yes, they do it very quickly!  Next door you will find Cafe Haiti. Remember, we learned that the people of Chile like sweet drinks! This makes selling coffee difficult.  The solution: they have established coffee shops around Santiago that our tour guide called “Coffee with Legs.”

Screenshot 2015-04-07 15.09.20These coffee shops have no places to sit. Visitors drink their coffee standing up.  You may wonder: how can coffee have legs?  The servers are beautiful women who wear outfits that show a lot of leg, hence the “Coffee with Legs!”  This is a new wrinkle on Starbucks baristas! Now of course, the way things work, there are more progressive coffee houses that show even more than legs, whose windows are darkened.  These are the lengths to which some will go to sell coffee in Chile!

From the museum area we walked through the financial district.  Our guide told us how the country changed under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1981.  He was swept into power following a U.S. backed coup against Salvador Allende, the socialist president elected by the people.  Apparently, the U.S. was concerned that in Allende they might have another communist country like Cuba arise in the backyard.

wall street chilePinochet and the military stormed the presidential palace in September 1973.  Allende committed suicide before he could be taken into custody. Early on Pinochet decided to reform the economy of the country.  Inflation in the early 70s had been 1000%.  He sent the “Chicago Boys,” about a hundred male Chilean economists, to the University of Chicago to learn how to create a market economy. They returned to bring about what has often been called the “Miracle of Chile.”  Pinochet provided them key positions in and outside of government so that they could reproduce an economy that reflected the U.S. The result was an increase in wages, and in general, a raising of the standard of living in Chile. Even today, Chile has the strongest and most stable economy in Latin America.

Here’s what was most interesting to us. We heard impassioned speeches from both sides of the Pinochet debate.  We heard people speak of the people he had killed to clear the decks for change in Chile. More than 1/2 million were arrested or detained at various times during his rule.  The nation lived for years under a curfew that meant you could be shot or arrested if found outside at night.  Then we heard people praising the advances Chile made during his dictatorship.  Even today, the people of Chile remain greatly divided over this man. Ultimately, he lost power in an election.

palaceInterestingly enough, the current President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, is enacting policy that Allende had proposed all those years ago!

From the financial district we walked to the Presidential palace.  It is called La Moneda because the national mint is there.  We could see where the army arrived and the bullets flew when the coup took place. This is a very important place to visit to understand the modern history of Chile.

From the palace our tour wound through the streets of Barrio Lastarria, the place we visited the day before.  Passing through Bellavista, we were given an explanation of the favorite native foods of the people of Santiago. Our guide was kind enough to show us a few places we could get authentic food to sample.  We returned after the tour ended.

Sandy trying conger stew in Bellavista!

Sandy trying conger stew in Bellavista!

The last stop on the tour was the home of Pablo Neruda. He is the poet-diplomat of Chile and beloved of the people.  He has a number of homes in Chile, and this one on the outskirts of Bellavista belonged to his mistress that he later married.  The house is part history and part shrine to this man.  His words captured the hearts of the people of Chile when he was quite young because he brought together the common and the sublime.  For example, he wrote a now-famous “Ode to Conger Chowder.”  Conger chowder is an eel stew much enjoyed in Chile!  He also wrote an ode to his socks. (Yes, you read that correctly.)  His poems capture life as the people know it, but then add a beauty and familiarity that makes life experiences of every day more enjoyable.  Of course, he also wrote about the country he loved, politics and much more.  His writing has left an indelible impression on Chile. Each of his homes have nautical themes as he loved everything about boats and the sea.

Before our tour ended we tipped our guide, and also pumped him for information about the neighborhoods of Santiago.  Following our visit to the Neruda house and at the end of the tour, Sandy and I retraced our steps to a restaurant in Bellavista where we could sample the Conger chowder!

barrio brasilWe did not have much time before catching our flight home, but we wanted to follow a lead our tour guide had given us.  He recommended we take the metro to Barrio Brasil.  We emerged from the metro to this beautiful community built over a hundred years ago by the wealthy of Santiago.  The buildings retain their historic character, but some have fallen into disrepair.  This was the reminder we needed as we prepared to fly home to Miami. Each generation must love the city for it to be sustained and for it to thrive.  We see that with our city as neighborhoods change and as the city grows.

Along the way, God was reminding us to love the city he has placed us in, to invest in the developing of culture and tradition and life.  We came home longing for a growing sense of culture at home, and desiring to love and serve the city by contributing in the ways we can.

We were glad to be going home but appreciative of all that we had the chance to experience.  We were enchanted by the beautiful people and the culture of Latin America and we were looking forward to the day we could return.

Day 12 – Sunday in Santiago

San Marcos Church

San Marcos Church

After awakening early on Sunday and enjoying a hotel breakfast, we rode the metro red line to Los Dominicos.  This is the last stop on the line and it lies very near a Dominican Monastery.  A scenic park and beautiful grounds greet you as soon as you walk from the metro station.  From there, we made a fifteen minute walk, nearly a mile, to San Marcos Church.  This is a sister church of Granada established by a team led by Sam Mateer.  They did not know we were coming to join them for worship, and somehow we managed to walk in just as the service was starting. It felt like home.  The music, the message, the people…it is a beautiful community of people.

In some ways it felt like the reverse of Granada.  San Marcos is the English speaking church that shares space and ministry with a Spanish speaking church.  These two congregations are united by more than a common worship facility.  They share life in the same presbytery.  In the San Marcos Church there were people from the U.S. and a number of other English speaking countries such as the Philippines. The building is contemporary and set in a very nice suburb of the city. (You can find the church’s website at: http://sanmarcoschurch.cl/)

Sam and Lois Mateer planted this church.  Sam explained to me that when he was being commissioned as a missionary, he visited Granada, and the church helped to send them off. Sam retired a few months ago, and a new younger pastor named Samuel Lago who grew up in Santiago has taken leadership.  The transition seems to have worked wonderfully.

Lunch with San Marcos f

Lunch with San Marcos congregation

One of the traditions of this church is that following worship each week, everyone is invited to a local mall to share lunch together in the food court.  This gives everyone the chance to get the food they want and then to visit together at a common table.  Sandy and I loved this time  because it gave us a chance to meet the people, to learn about the history of their church and also to make new friends. And yes, there is very little difference between the mall there and the mall here!  And no, we did not eat McDonalds!  The greatest joy for us was seeing the gospel at work in this great city.  People are coming to faith in Christ and growing as disciples.  New churches continue to be planted there.

From San Marcos Church we rode the metro back into town and began walking through the neighborhoods near our hotel.  Just beyond Santa Lucia is Barrio Lastarria.  This is a small neighborhood filled with small cafes, art galleries and some small bookshops.  It has a very bohemian feel, and there are artists doing and showing their work on the sidewalks.  The area reminded us of some of the small streets of Paris.  Barrio Lastarria also happens to be the location of the best of Santiago’s ice cream shop, Emporio La Rosa.  This is a place you want to hang out. When you enter you decide how many scoops you want, buy a ticket and then exchange your ticket for the ice cream flavors of your choice.  Some of the flavors were a bit unusual. Thankfully, another patron stepped in to explain the ropes and tell us about the choices.

Ice Cream in Barrio Lastarria

Ice Cream in Barrio Lastarria

It is always more fun to explore ice cream in hand.  On the weekends antiques and books are sold along the sidewalks. You can imagine, the neighborhood is full of foot traffic. We could have spent the whole afternoon here.

From Barrio Lastarria we made our way through Parque Forestal  and along the river.  The park was laid out and commissioned at the centenary of Chile.  From one end to the other the monuments were gifts given to the government of Chile from other countries for this celebration.  The United States provided an interesting statue of Abraham Lincoln.  The German Government provided an immense fountain that graces one end of the park. On warm summer days, families enjoy the park while their children use the fountain as a swimming venue!  The beautiful trees and the monuments make the park a beautiful place to relax and people-watch.

German Fountain in Parque Forestal

German Fountain in Parque Forestal

After walking the length of the park and crossing the river, we entered into another neighborhood called Bellavista.  This neighborhood is the center of nightlife.  Shops, boutiques, and restaurants fill a huge section next to the university. Bellavista became the hotspot for evening entertainment during the days when the city was bound in by the river.  If you crossed the river, you left the jurisdiction of the city authorities.  It was an anything-goes sort of place.  Today it is a place for nice restaurants and evening entertainment of all kinds.   We stopped in the shopping area to look for gifts we could take home for our kids.

From there we made our way to the base of the hill just north of Bellavista. It is called Cerro San Cristobal.  This hill rises steeply to the summit where there is an immense statue of the Virgin Mary.  Since this hill is much higher than the rest of the city, it gives the impression that Mary is overlooking all of Santiago.  You can see this hill from anywhere in the city.

There are a series of walkways leading up the hill.  Thankfully, you can ride a funicular to the top in just a few minutes.  We waited for about a half hour to get a ticket.

Mary - Cerro San Cristobal

Mary – Cerro San Cristobal

As we waited, we met a young family from the Santiago who told us much about life in Chile and about their city.  They reflected the gracious and welcoming attitude of the people.  As it turned out, we did not find out until after the half-hour wait that they would not take a credit card for payment.  The young couple we met insisted on paying for our ride to the top. (I was thinking: “Sure, that would happen in Miami.” It made me wish we were more welcoming of visitors in our city!)

The view from the top was spectacular.  Close to the summit there is a place where worship services are held; there is also a rather large chapel, and flowers, lots of flowers.  From the top of this hill, you can get well oriented with the lay of the city. (No, you cannot climb stairs to the top of Mary!)

We made the decision before we rode to the top to walk down the hill to Bellavista.  As it turned out, this was a rather long walk of almost five miles. The roadway, the only open way all the way to the bottom, encircles the entire hill.  The good news is that it was all downhill!  Along the way, we had to chance to see families enjoying Sunday picnics, bike rides, and also taking in the sights.  We also were given a 360 degree view of the city.

Selfie from top of Cerro San Cristobal

Selfie from top of Cerro San Cristobal

By the time we made it back to Bellavista our feet were tired and our throats were parched.  The good news: it was time for dinner! There were three types of restaurants in Bellavista. First, there were ones clearly for college students.  They each advertised the cheapest beer. Second, there were ones for tourists, more expensive and clearly very trendy. Third, there were ones for the locals with dishes we had never heard of.  We wanted local food so that we could try new tastes to complement our experiences of the day.

By the time we reached our hotel, it was clear why people love this city. The people were gracious and friendly.  There always seemed to be someone happy to help us and ready to explain things.  The variety of the barrios in architecture and activity make the city all-together a place of many moods, and refreshing diversity.

Day 11 – Santiago, Chile

Valpo Port with Ship in the Background

Valpo Port with Ship in the Background

After three days at sea and nearly 1,500 miles, our ship arrived in Valparaiso, Chile, the closest port to Santiago.  We schlepped our bags off the ship and sadly said goodbye to the cruise part of our journey.  We were picked up by motor coach and given a tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.  Valparaiso is the largest port city of Chile and one of the largest on the Pacific. The ship traffic took a huge hit when the Panama Canal was completed in 1914.  Before that time, the port and the city flourished. The opening of the canal brought tough times that are evident even today.

Valparaiso sits along steep slopes at the waters edge. Because the city lies along a steep hill, there are funiculars or cog trains to make getting up and down easier.  On the Pacific side of the mountains, plants and flowers flourish.  As soon as you cross the mountains toward Santiago, you find yourself in the desert filled with tumbleweed and cactus.  The transition is startling.  Valparaiso is the location of the congress for Chile even though Santiago is the capital.  Today the city is a business, education and political center.

Flower Clock in Vina del Mar

Flower Clock in Vina del Mar

Just to the north along the coast lies Vina del Mar, a resort town that is a favorite for people from Santiago to escape the heat and the frenetic activity of the city.  It boasts nice parks and a scenic seascape to enjoy. The waters of the Pacific take the edge off the heat and there are some beautiful views along the water’s edge.  After passing through the resort and casino area we were taken for lunch to a huge estate about a half hour drive toward Santiago.  We were greeted by native dancers and also invited to share a sampling of local wines, other drinks, as well as empanadas and meats. We ate family style passing plates and enjoying the flavors of Chile.  We were introduced to Mote con huesillo.  This is a sweet drink enjoyed in the summer heat made from wheat and peaches and often sold in street stands or vendor carts.  We had never had anything like it.  We learned that the people of Chile like everything sweet!  If the drink is not sweet it does not originate in Chile.  Of course, the German brewers have had a tough time introducing beer because it simply is not sweet enough! Along the way, we learned that Chileans eat more ice cream per capita than anyone else in the west.  There were ice cream shops everywhere, and it seemed that most everyone took a break from work in the afternoon to eat a few scoops.  We encountered flavors we had never seen before and I doubt we will see again, for example, pepper flavored ice cream!  After our very large lunch, we were given an orientation tour of Santiago. Our bus stopped by the presidential palace and then on to Plaza de Armas.  We got off the bus before the tour ended at a place close to our hotel and walked the few blocks on Alameda, the main street of the city.

Ice cream in Santiago

Ice cream in Santiago

As it turned out, our hotel was in a perfect place to explore downtown.  After dropping our bags, we ventured across the street into Santa Lucia.  This hill has two forts that mark one of the earliest places of settlement in the city, dating 1541.  There is steep climb that leads above the lower fort to a vista where you can get a great view of the city.  We were surprised that as we entered the lower fort, we were asked to sign a guest register.  This is a beautiful spot and near the top of the hill there is a small chapel–very nice!  Below there are gardens that seemed to be perfect for photography sessions.

As we learned, Santiago was well defended by the Mapuche indians who claimed this land as their own. They were a fierce people, and for a time took possession of the valley where Santiago lies.  Plaza de Armas has on opposite ends a statue of Pedro de Valdivia, who founded Santiago, and a statue of a Mapuche indian.  Actually, the Mapuche killed de Valdivia in 1550.  The juxtaposition of these two statues tells much about the earliest years in Santiago.   The city gets its name from the patron saint of Spain, Saint James.  After walking Santa Lucia hill, we returned to look for dinner and found most everything closed downtown.  We did, however, stumble upon a small restaurant where we bumped into the Scottish couple we had met on our ship.  It turned out to be a nice time to share dinner.  Fiona and Sandy were headed to Peru the next day hoping to see Machu Picchu before returning home to Scotland.

View from top of Santa Lucia

View from top of Santa Lucia

When we returned to our room at the hotel, we were on a mission.  We knew we had a sister church in Santiago, but we did not know where it was.  We hoped we could track the church down and join them for Sunday worship. We discovered that San Marcos Church is an English-Speaking Presbyterian Church just a ten minute walk from the end of the subway line our hotel was next to.  We made plans to make the 9:30am service the next morning!  What a great day it had been, traveling from the ship into Santiago.  We fell in love with the city right way, and were looking forward to tomorrow!

 

Day 8 – Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

The morning after leaving Ushuaia, the ship arrived in the Chilean city of Punta Arenas.  This is the southernmost city of Chile. It lies on the mainland and is accessible by road from parts north.  Gone are the steep slopes of the glaciers replaced by rolling hills and large ranches. The city has a beauty that reflects the water and hills meeting in the primary colors of the buildings and roofs.  The colors radiate a joy that makes you happy to be there.  Soon after we disembarked we saw a sign with our name on it. An elderly man led us to his van. We boarded and he took us on a 1/2 hour drive out of the city to a ranch.  It seemed a bit strange, but I had arranged for us to spend the morning on a Chilean ranch horseback riding. As it turned out, Sandy and I were the only ones who booked this excursion!  This meant we had the place all to ourselves and lots of individual attention.

sa riding 2Upon arrival at the ranch, we were showed the lodge.  The woman of the ranch was third generation Polish.  Her grandfather arrived almost a hundred years earlier, and purchased a nice piece of land to settle and raise cattle.  Over time, he developed the property into a camp with cabins where families could come and vacation.  Visitors could enjoy horseback riding during the day, and time around the campfire at night.  The climate is very dry in this part of Chile and very few trees grow there.  This woman took pride in the trees her grandfather planted on the property.  He had to water them every day for them to survive.  Now they are mature, providing a rich canopy for the front of their lodge.

Following a brief orientation, her daughter saddled up two horses for us and her favorite horse for her to ride.  Then she coached us to follow her.  She had almost no English and while we know some Spanish, very little has to do with horses!  Sandy is a veteran rider so she found it very easy.  We rode from the lodge down along the shore into their fields along a beautiful hillside.  There we were greeted by other horses who clearly felt like they were being left out of the fun.  It was a peaceful and beautiful ride, and we saw a number of young foals that were recently born into the herd.

s riding beachOn the way back to the lodge we had the privilege of riding along the beach.   As we did, we noticed dolphins playing offshore nearby.  This reflected the richness of life in the area.  Though there are very few people, we were surrounded by birds, and sea mammals, and a beautiful array of flowers and shrubs.  Now I have to admit, my thoughts of horseback riding on the beach were nothing like this.  It was about 40 degrees and quite windy.  I’d always envisioned being able to ride right down into the water!

Upon our arrival at the lodge, a fire was glowing and fresh homemade pastries awaited.  We sat and enjoyed the delicious treats, and learned the history of the area from the owner.  She explained to us that much of this part of the country was divided into large ranches called estancias. Usually, estancias are 5,000 acres or more.  Her family owned only about 80 acres that were carved off a much larger piece of property.  The estancias were originally provided to people brave enough to settle this part of Chile during the early days.  This was the way the government could push back the wilderness. The reason they were so large is that with the extreme climate many acres of land were needed to pasture the sheep and cattle.  It made sense once we saw how dry everything was, and how little natural grazing food was available.  After having our fill of stories and snacks, we were deposited back in town at the main square.

punta arenas squareOf course, the monument in the city square pays homage to Magellan, the explorer  who always seems to be looking far afield as if he is looking for something new to discover.  Magellan passed through these waters on November 1st, All Saints Day, in the year 1520.  The passage he sailed, the one dividing Tierra del Fuego from the mainland of South America, is called the Strait of Magellan.  Punta Arenas lies on this straight.  It was on this passage that Magellan named the Pacific Ocean.  He gave it this name because on the day he emerged in this new ocean it looked calm. (Think of the word “pacify.”) The city continues to be characterized by Magellan’s spirit of adventure because so most of the Antarctic exploration parties set out from Punta Arenas.

The Magellan Square was ringed by a walkway filled with merchants.  This was an excellent place to buy handmade woolen items like sweaters and gloves.  You could purchase a nice sweater for less than $20US. From the square we visited two museums within walking distance of our ship.  First, the Museum of the Salesian Order has four floors of exhibits showing the history of Patagonia from ancient times to the present with information on the flora, fauna, and even the minerals of the region.  Of course, there are a number of exhibits on the religious history of the region.  The Salesian order of the Roman Catholic church dates back to the 19th century, and it began as a movement to serve the poor, especially children. The Salesians did much work in Patagonia in the early years of settlement, establishing schools and churches in the region.  The museum is free and quite well done.

museum punta arenasThe second museum, the Regional Museum of the Magellanes, we stumbled into on our way back to the ship.  We did not know the nature of the museum and when we walked in, the ticket sales man offered us free admittance when he heard where we were from!  The museum is housed in a mansion.  It has been beautifully restored showing the life of the wealthy in the late 1800s.  The sculpture and tapestries have been carefully preserved and the furniture is stunning.

The basement holds an exhibit of photos and and information about the last of the native peoples of Patagonia.  The photos capture the culture that has now disappeared from the region.  Following the photo collection and the stories you get the feeling that something precious has been lost to time and development.

museum billards roomThis little museum is well worth the visit, and the contrast of the old world and the new world, wealth and poverty is not to be missed.

When we arrived at the dock to catch the tender back to the ship, the conditions had changed from our morning disembarkation. The winds were blowing at about twenty knots.  Right away we could see that getting back to the ship was going to be an adventure.  The 3/4 mile tender ride was through harsh winds and six foot seas.  More than once waves swept over the bow of our little boat.  Yes, this was the most exciting ride of the day!  We were reminded of how quickly conditions can change and how vulnerable we are in the water.  The people cheered when the tender finally pulled up alongside the ship!  We were safely aboard!  No doubt navigating the Strait of Magellan was not so easy for the native peoples of Patagonia.  They must have been a sturdy bunch.

Day 7 – Tierra del Fuego

Town of Ushuaia

Town of Ushuaia

After rounding the cape, the ship docked in Ushuaia. This small city in Tierra del Fuego belongs to Argentina and is known as the city furthest south in the world. Ushuaia began as a penal colony.  The site was perfect for this use since Tierra del Fuego is an island and the extreme nature of the climate and its remote location made escape impossible.  No walls or fences were needed! Disembarking the ship, it feels raw and cut-off from civilization even though there is a significant population there now.  Originally, Tierra del Fuego was inhabited by the Yaghan people.  When Charles Darwin visited Tierra del Fuego and met the Yaghan, he said he had never see so primitive a people. None of them remain today because when the Europeans arrived, they were displaced by disease and encroachment.  These people are something of an enigma. Why? Photos nearly always show them without clothing or covered in simple animal skins. Let me tell you, Tierra del Fuego is a place you need clothing (think Alaska)!  No doubt they were hardy and sturdy folk.  Their language was simple.  They lived, as all native peoples, close to the land.  Or, in this case, close to the water!  They lived off fish, seals, sea birds and whales. We were told that the men refused to do the swimming necessary for collecting food.  Instead, they required the women to do this work!  (In their mythology, in ancient times, women ruled over men so they took the lead in many things.)

Outside Ushuaia

Outside Ushuaia

So how did they keep warm?  Fires were always lit. Actually, the name “Tierra del Fuego” (Land of Fire) was coined by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 during his rounding of Cape Horn.  He saw the light of many fires burning, and he believed that the native people were lying in wait for them to land so that they could attack his ship. The name stuck,.  The necessity for fires makes sense when you see the conditions.

The Beagle Channel passes by the city of Ushuaia.  This is the passage named after the ship Charles Darwin was on when he made passage there.  The wildlife of the channel is stunning: penguins, seals, a extraordinary variety of water birds, and numerous whales.  Many people from the ship took boats out on the channel to get a closer look.  Sandy and I opted for an alpine hike in the mountains outside of town. We disembarked the ship and were taken by bus into the mountains to a rustic cabin.  Upon arrival we were issued rubber boots not quite knowing why we would need them.  Soon enough we found out.  We were led by our guide from one ridge-line across an immense peat bog to a mountain range to our north.  The peat bog is a dense but spongy mass of plant material that has collected in the valley for millennia.  It is topped with a mixture of grass, moss and various types of ferns.  The valley was dissected by a number of tributaries, and we could see quite a few beaver dams blocking the streams that created lakes and sloughs.

Alpine Hike

Alpine Hike

The story of the beaver is an interesting one.  Land mammals are scarce in Tierra del Fuego. Some wise people got the idea of bringing mammals from North America to enrich the landscape and help with water management.  As is often the case, the experiment was a disaster.  Having no natural predators on the island, the beavers flourished building dams in all of the valleys like the one we were hiking.  The dams created so many lakes that many valleys are now flooded.  The result: many trees have been drowned and are dead.  Now, they would like to be rid of the beavers, but they are everywhere and it is too late for that.

The valley was about a mile and half wide where we crossed it.  The peat bog retains an untouched beauty.  It is filled with an array of flowers and ferns, grasses and many types of mosses with colors from across the range of the color spectrum–green, orange, red, purple, and even blue.  The sounds of birds filled the valley and the mountain we climbed afterward.  We did not see any land mammals on our hike. This gave a feeling that the land was empty.  Perhaps, this was part of the reasoning in bringing in beavers.

Alpine Valley

Alpine Valley

On our return from the hike, we were greeted at the cabin with coffee, hot tea, fruit and sandwiches.  Everyone had walked up an appetite and we had also gotten rather cold at times during the hike. Two squalls had passed through the valley.  Each time we were pelted by freezing rain and sleet!  But, the whole experience was one of beauty and feeling close to the diversity of life on the island. Very nice.

We were returned to Ushuaia early enough that we had time to walk the town.  The youth of the buildings makes it clear that the town is young and has been growing rapidly because of tourism and shipping. There is little to commend the town itself.

That evening when the ship pushed away from the dock we were in for two amazing treats.  First, entering the Beagle Channel brought us around a famous lighthouse on an island covered with seals and inhabited by many sea birds.  The island is stained white by their droppings, and we could hear the seals barking as we passed.  This little area was swimming with life and our presence didn’t seem to disturb the activity at all. The next destination along the channel is called Glacier Alley, named in part after Richard Alley who passed through this part of the channel and helped name the Glaciers.  A stretch of the land at this point is dotted by one glacier after another, all of which he named for European countries.  France, Germany, Italy, and so on.  Some of the glaciers are tidal, coming all the way to the water.  Others are alpine glaciers that appear to cling to the side of the mountains.

sandy glacierOur stateroom was on the starboard side of the ship so we sat on our balcony and watched as we passed each of the glaciers.  This was such a sweet time for us to enjoy (although quite cold at times!).  The presence of the fog shrouding the glaciers along the full distance of the route gave an eerie sort of feeling to the whole experience.  And, the run-off water bears silt that gives the channel a unique blue-green color.  The experience is extraordinary and part of the creation to be treasured as a rare sight for us Floridians.

What a day!  We were so grateful for our time together and this new place to see and enjoy.

Day 6 – Around the Cape

Heading South

Heading South

There are rites of passage. This is one for sailors. Cape Horn is the place where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. The word “collision” does better justice to the confluence of these two mighty bodies of water.  Leaving the Falklands/Malvinas we noticed the seas increase.  The winds became more biting and quite cold. (The pool on board the ship was not longer being used!)  In the late afternoon, the ship rounded the Cape.  More often than not, it is too rough to go around. Winds can be over a hundred miles an hour and forty foot waves are not unusual. Faced with this, ship captains choose a channel further north to cross to the Pacific.  Our guide explained that in almost twenty times rounding the Cape, he had never seen the sea so calm.  Mind you, it looked rough to us.  The waves appeared to be 14ft and the winds were 25knots. But, the sun was out, and the day was beautiful.

capehorn1

Typical Cape Weather

It struck me how difficult moments of transition can be, the passages we must make where one phase of our lives collides into another. Years ago, when our family moved to Miami from New Jersey, we had no idea how disorienting and painful the passage would be. We knew we were making a big move, but the magnitude of the storm caught us off guard.  Our whole family was affected.

We learned during our trip around the Cape that often ships waited for weeks until the conditions were favorable.  We also heard of ships that went down. For the better part of a year, our family felt battered making the passage before us.  We thank God that we arrived safely on the other side.

Selfie rounding the Cape

Selfie rounding the Cape

That afternoon our ship passed another ship making passage at the same time.  Nearly everyone went on deck to send up cheers to those on board the other ship.  As we rounded the Cape, we were told that at the southernmost point there is a small naval station staffed by a few members of the Chilean navy.  We assumed that being stationed meant you were being punished for some serious infraction of navy policy!  We couldn’t imagine living so far away from kith and kin, and in such extreme conditions.

Many years ago, a group of Christians also erected a massive cross at the Cape.  I’m not sure how they got it there. But, what an encouragement to know that God is Lord of the storm, to see the cross from the height of a massive wave with the wind howling, and to know He can bring us through the passages of life.  In the end, God has given us even more confidence in his mighty power, and his great love for us.

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