This morning we found ourselves in Ainsworth Bay, with the Marinelli Glacier peeking at us from around the corner. Marinelli is the fastest receding glacier in all of South America, and as we took Zodiacs to shore, we could see the terminal moraine which was an indication of where the glacier stood one hundred years earlier. Photographic evidence shows that it has receded 100 km since 1913.
We landed on a sandy beach surrounded by red crowberry and a field of pink and reddish thrift, which is a diminutive, yet hearty, salt tolerant plant. In true Patagonia fashion, the 13 degrees C swiftly dropped to 9 degrees and the rain began. But the intrepid travelers could not be stopped! We began a lovely hike along a sandy beach and headed towards the Northofagus Forest. Austral negritos flitted around, catching flies and hunting larvae while blackish oystercatchers and dolphin gulls gorged themselves on mussels fresh from the shore.
The hike took us among a beautiful density of trees and shrubs into what felt like a mossy fairyland, filled with luscious moss and lichens. As we proceeded deeper into the forest on a wooden boardwalk, we started to see visible damage from the local furry fauna, the North American beaver, which was an introduced (invasive) species that went from 10 pairs of animals to now an estimated 100,000 in all of Tierra del Fuego. They wreak havoc on the forest system and the government is trying to eradicate them as quickly as possible.
As we sailed away the skies lifted, and the rain stopped, which made for a beautiful afternoon sail. We were treated to presentations from our National Geographic photographer Kike Calvo, who gave us tips and tricks on how to take a better photograph, and naturalist Madalena Patacho, who told us about the wonders of the marine mammals at the end of the world.
The bridge team led National Geographic Orion through a narrow channel called the Garibaldi Narrows. The naturalists gave us an informative and entertaining recap until we were so rudely interrupted by a breaching humpback whale! What a way to be interrupted. This whale breached a few times and gave dozens of pectoral fin waves or slaps along the water’s surface. At this point, it was time to wind down the day with a delicious dinner in the dining room with a stunning view of snowcapped mountains and a dynamic sunset. Not a bad way to end another amazing day here in Patagonia!