Monday, December 19, 2011

Dec 16th – On The Ice at Laguna San Rafael

After two days of sailing in amongst the beautiful Chilean fjords (looking not too dissimilar to the Norwegian fjords), we arrived at Laguna San Rafael for our chance to sail up to the San Valentin Glacier, to get up close and personal with this vast river of ice.

We transferred onto a Catamaran that would take us down the narrow channel to the Laguna; and as we sailed towards the ice field, we were treated to champagne and caviar on the boat – a surreal experience to be sailing through such a barren environment in such luxurious circumstances. As we got closer, we began passing small lumps of ice floating in the water, the excitement mounting as the icebergs gradually increased in size. The most remarkable thing about the ice is that it's so ridiculously blue – everything tells us that ice should be white, not blue; but here, the ice absorbs most of the light and only leaves the blue.

The cobalt blue icebergs were spectacular enough, but nothing can prepare you for the sight of the vast wall of ice of the glacier when you come face-to-face with it. The glacier is over a mile wide as it meets the sea, the ice in various shades of blue, with vast chunks of it periodically breaking away and crashing into the water – a process called "calving".

The previous excursion had apparently seen very little calving, but as soon as we arrived, as if to order, the glacier began to calve all over the place. It's an amazing experience to witness – there's a distant crack, then a deep rumble like thunder, and then big chunks spontaneously break away and thud into the soupy water – it's difficult to explain why it's so exciting, but there was a real adrenalin rush that went around the boat.

The sad thing is that this is a sight that might not be available to watch for much longer – due to global warming, the glacier is retreating by over 100 metres every year. And so, in a few years time, the ice may not come down to the sea any more. Maybe it was this fact, and the feeling that we were so incredibly privileged to be witnessing it, that made this one of the real highlights of the cruise. Fantastic!