Saturday (Navigation – Punta Arenas/Ainsworth Bay 90 Nm)

Stella Day 2 sea bird flight copy

The sky is clear, there is a fresh breeze whipping at the flags and the reception desk is a flurry of passports and boarding documents.

AAA Superior Cabin 422 on the bridge deck, Pisco Sours, a welcome toast in the Darwin Lounge (5th deck), meet and greet the captain and the expedition crew and then we are sailing into Estrecho de Magellenes! Everyone wants to be outside on the rails until the very last moment of the sunset before dinner is served in the Patagonia Dining Room (1st deck).

Stella crab copy

We embrace the shipboard rhythm of briefings, drinks and fine food  – and anticipation of what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday (Navigation Ainsworth Bay/Tuckers Islets/Pia Glacier 208 Nm)

The Sky Lounge (4th deck) offers early coffee and fresh, gourmet pastries for those who are keen to photograph the sunrise or work out in the gym.

Stella sunrise 2DSCF copy

Today’s disembarkations are not testing physically but it is the first time wearing all the gear and following procedure for leaving the ship and returning in the zodiacs.

Stella Ainsworth zodiac 2 copy

There is a shore excursion in the morning – we see our first condors of the trip, walk through an Antarctic beech forest, examine delicate marsh plants, mosses, lichens and mussel beds with our guide Javiera in the National Park Alberto de Agostini.

Stella Ainsworth flora 1 copy


Stella Ainsworth 6

I could have stayed longer at the imposing rock face – no cathedral, no matter how soaring or ornate can possibly match the sense of ‘awesome’ as this remote, silent, natural place.

Prior to the afternoon disembarkation to view penguins and cormorants at Tuckers Islet, there is some trepidation about the sea conditions but the crew ensures that the expedition (although thrilling) is quite safe despite the 30 knot westerly wind. AND we see another condor. BUT there are fewer penguins than usual – fewer each year.

Stella Tuckers zodiac

The evening lecture is Glaciology in Patagonia and after the briefing for the next day, there is very little energy for the other entertainments provided.

Monday (Navigation – Pia Glacier/Cape Horn 142 Nm)

There is high excitement as we sail in Ballerno Channel as the clear, early morning weather deteriorates. Snow flurries! The disembarkation for Pia Glacier goes ahead although there are a few modifications to the excursion on land because of the snow. It is quite amazing to be so close to the ice and very satisfying to experience this chilly place while drinking whisky and hot chocolate.

Stella Day 2 Pia landing NK2 copy

We are anticipating a perfect sail through Glacier Alley and are keen to capture all five glaciers on film. It is not to be. The snow increases and there is almost complete white out. Disappointment is put aside as we anticipate the itinerary for the next day and the bar provides drinks and snacks and opportunities for interesting talk with new acquaintances.

33_Stella Day 2 ice on deck copy

Late in the afternoon there is a briefing for the next day’s morning excursion – Wulaia Bay. And in the evening, the Captain’s dinner.

Tuesday (Navigation – Wulaia Bay/Cape Horn 78Nm; Cape Horn/Pto Navarino 94 Nm; Pto Navarinot/Ushuaia 20 Nm)

This place is steeped in history and legend. Captain Fitz Roy, naturalist Charles Darwin, Yaghan aborigines….the stories are wonderfully and meticulously curated in an old naval station. However, as we disembark for the hill hike in Wulaia Bay, our thoughts are on the viewpoints far above us which we will strive to reach. There was fresh snow overnight but now the forest is a winter wonderland (even though it is October and officially Spring).

13_Stella Day 3 wulaia stream 2 copy

The track is muddy and the climb long and steep but well worth the effort as we reach the viewpoint and see Stella as a tiny toy on the bay below. There are photos and a minute’s silence to appreciate the pristine environment and breathe the clear, cool air. No sound except the rushing water of an icy stream.

18_Stella Day 3 Hill view 4 copy

This day yields another excitement late in the afternoon. The captain and crew keep us in suspense as they assess the sea and landing conditions on Isla Hornos – the ultimate experience for most on this expedition is to reach Cape Horn AND go ashore to the monument. After the satisfaction of the morning climb in Wulaia Bay, I am feeling that Cape Horn would be an extra bonus.

The disembarkation begins. I am on the second boat to land and push myself to climb to the monument – then race to the lighthouse and back down to the landing spot in the fading light for the first zodiac back to the boat.

36_Stella Day 3 navchart Cape Horn 6.59 copy

It is time for the farewell toast all too soon. I really wanted a very special keepsake for us to take home – there was a raffle for the 150th voyage flag (the Jack) and an auction of the nautical chart too. But I am happy with the Cape Horn stamp in my Passport and the memory of an unforgettable expedition cruise. The Stella Australis is a beautiful boat with an exceptional crew. I am forever spoiled – cruising for me can only be on a small ship like the Stella – preferably with a barman who understands that champagne is my first love but Pisco Sours come a close second.

Wednesday – Cruise destination – Ushuaia

The voyage destination is Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina – a stepping stone to El Calafate and the next part of our journey in Patagonia.

Stella Day 4 Ushuaia morning 4

We have sailed and walked in this  remote area of legends, pristine waters, the albatross and the ancient ice of the Darwin Range glaciers….we think we have been especially privileged to  have had the opportunity to be here.

Our next destination is back in Chile in the Torres del Paine National Park. Another very special place on earth.

Stella Ainsworth flora calafate copy 2









Fin del Mundo – beginning a journey to the end of the earth

Punta Arenas, Southern Chilesome history, a view across the Straits, a bar and a boat

Our arrival on a delayed flight from Santiago is at 1.25 am. Anticipation of what we will see in daylight is high. This town is the gateway to our expedition cruise to Cape Horn.

The next morning the interior detailing in Hotel Cabo de Hornes gives a sense of the history of this place.

In the following week we are to learn a little of those who were here long before us. Before the Europeans, Indian nomads hunted on land and sea – Aonikenk, Onao, Yamanas, Qanasqar. Only a handful survived the subsequent arrival and colonisation by Europeans.

Early history

Art detail at Hotel Cabos de Hornes

A sunny, morning stroll across the central square reveals an obvious hero, Hernando de Magellanes. Also on the statue is a native Indian. Rub his foot and you will be sure to return – or so the story goes.

Sunny morning stroll

Central square, Punta Arenas

Central square Punta Arenas

Plaza de Armas, Punta Arenas

A short drive along the Pan American Highway to the south is Fuerte Bulnes. This fort was established when the Chilean government sent an expedition in 1843.

Commanding position

Commanding position

Bulnes Fort

Bulnes Fort araucaria

View across the Staits

Windswept view across the Straits

The site was unsuitable and Governor Jose Santos Mardones founded the city in its present location as a penitentiary colony in 1848. Punta Arenas flourished. Sheep “white gold” were introduced; immigrants from Europe came in search of gold.  Then, a large part of the city was destroyed in terrible mutiny in 1877 but by the end of the century with a reduction in the number of prisoners, the city became safe for enterprise to flourish. Wool and timber generated wealth.  Palaces and estancias, mansions and other significant buildings such as the opera theatre were testimony to this prosperity.


Colonial elegance around the central square

Until 1920 when the Panama Canal was opened, Punta Arenas thrived due to its proximity to the Straits of Magellan and the trade that passed between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Coal, gas and oil (in addition to livestock industries), have ensured that this province continues to prosper.

Rusty pieces

Rusty pieces

On a night with a cool, fresh breeze and a clear, moonlit sky we found Punta Arenas historical centre to be a lovely place to walk, find a bar, have a drink and sample the spicy, flakiness of empanadas.

Drinks and tapas

Drinks and tapas

There is the boat!  The first view of her from Cerro de la Cruz, a viewpoint above the town, brings home to us how far we are away from everything we know and how much we are looking forward to the voyage.

Stella is waiting

Stella Australis is waiting

We have checked in. There was a heart pounding moment when I fumbled through the folder looking for the Argentinian visa papers – after 3 days and 4 nights sailing, Stella would take us to Ushuaia, Argentina – the most southerly town in the world.

At the dock

At the dock; not long now

Tug power

Tug power – departure imminent

The adventure begins

The adventure begins!

Ready to sail

Gold braid and pisco sours! Buen viaje!

Santa Ana de los cuatro rios de Cuenca – a weekend visit

Back to the high altitudes of  La Sierra  – this time in the south. Cuenca, Ecuador is the capital city of Azuay province and enjoys a cool climate at 2500m above sea level. Our plan is to wander at leisure in this lovely city, visit a local family who run a panaderia (bakery) and drive to Chordeleg and other nearby villages before returning to the coast the next day.

Part of our road trip from La Costa is shrouded in mist and cloud. When we reach the National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas) – gateway to the mountains – to photograph the lakes of glacial origin, we are more than 3000m above sea level. It is now relatively clear, windy and very cold on this October Saturday.

National Park 3000m

Cajas National Park

Cuenca  was founded in 500 AD as a Canari settlement – “a land as big as heaven”. When the Spanish arrived in 1557 to establish the walled colonial city that stands today, both the Canari and the Inca who had followed them, had abandoned the site.

Flags flying

Flags fly proudly in every city in South America

Cobblestone streets, colonial parks, squares, churches and cathedrals and museums – Cuenca today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Corner “stone”

Bishop's house

Bishop’s house

Old Spanish residence, now Hotel Los Balcones

Old Spanish residence, now Hotel Los Balcones

Spanish interior detail

Spanish interior detail Hotel Los Balcones

Family run Panaderia

A visit to a family operated Panaderia – fragrant smell of fresh bread

Little suns

Little suns – heavenly treat

So many to choose from

So many to choose from……….


Stone church

Cathedral de la Immaculada

Cuenca artisans at Turi viewpoint

Cuenca artisans outlets at Turi viewpoint – some beautiful leather goods

Cuenca evening

Cuenca evening

Plaza de las Flores markets

Plaza de las Flores markets

Flowers in the plaza

Flowers in the plaza

On Sunday we take a very scenic drive.  The pretty town of Chordeleg with its silver and ceramics shops will be the first stop. Our driver, Sergio, has a plan to select a roadside cafeteria for a “typical” family Sunday lunch before visiting his father’s village of Sig Sig. The Pan American Highway will then provide a fast route back to the coast.  Hairpin bends, heavy traffic and double lines seem to be of little consequence to our driver and certainly do not slow the speed of our descent from the mountains!

Church and park in the square

Church and park in the square in Chordeleg

Private museum Chordeleg

Private museum Chordeleg

Chordeleg pink

Chordeleg Plaza Artesanal

“Typical” Sunday family village lunch

Popular roadside Sunday lunch - roving musicians

Popular roadside Sunday lunch – roving musicians

Village street scene

Village street scene


Cathedral “perro” – street dogs sleep all day

Sig Sig cathedral

Sig Sig cathedral – it was Sunday afternoon – an important last stop for our driver

We took few photos on the return to the coast. We were too busy holding on tightly as Sergio drove skilfully (but VERY fast) through the pretty green valleys, sleepy villages, rolling farmland, cloud forest and then the flat rice fields and sugar plantations to reach the outskirts of Guayaquil. The equatorial sunset was incredibly dramatic – huge red sun, golden, hazy light, soft mauve dusk.

Reflections on Tren Crucero – a train “cruise”


The promised volcanos of Ecuador were elusive, lost in the clouds and mist along the route. Cayambe, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo. Instead, the changing panoramas of villages and farmlands, forests and rivers moved sedately past our windows as Tren Ecuador took us on a leisurely journey from the mountains to the coast.

Vistas of beautiful hills and valley

Vistas of beautiful hills and valleys

Encounters with artisans, musicians, crafts men and women and other producers were arranged at each of the many stops.

The haunting music of the Andes

The haunting music of the Andes

One of these, San Antonio de Ibarra, is internationally recognised for its wood carvers, great artists and sculptors who have given continuity to the XVth century-born Quito School of Art.

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El diablo –  San Antonio de Ibarra

Many along the Tren Crucera route would rely on the patronage of travellers to supplement their incomes and revitalise the village economies.

The knowledgeable guides, Sixto and Adeline, gave so much interesting information about this land and the culture of its people. The itinerary had been designed to give a variety of opportunities to understand Ecuador’s history as well as the geography, geology and economy.

First Roman Catholic church in Ecuador - at Balbanera

First Roman Catholic church in Ecuador – at Balbanera


Fabrica Textil Imbabura – a museum in Andrade Marin

The service staff in the train’s cafeteria/bar, the suppliers of fresh fruit and snacks on board, the accompanying outriders on motor bikes, the security guards staff and stall holders at the stations, and of course, the crews of the steam and diesel locomotives, all had jobs dependant on the successful operation of this venture of Tren Ecuador.

Outriders - ensuring safety at road crossings

Outriders – ensuring safety at road crossings

Large international companies like Nevado Roses put out the welcome mat for Tren Crucero and provided guides for tours. Rose production makes a significant contribution to the economy of this region in Ecuador.

roses at Nevado

Roses for export – a flourishing industry in Ecuador

Haciendas and restaurants were obviously delighted to make Tren Crucero welcome for our overnight stays and lunchtime repasts.

A beautiful hacienda

A beautiful hacienda near Riobamba


Lunch at La Roka, Ambato

Red steam engine 14 at Riobamba

Red steam engine 14, Riobamba

Colourful market stalls were everywhere, proudly displaying colourful Andean handcrafted items in wood, ceramics, beads, wool and other textiles. Market day in Guamote was a special stop. This was a day for local people to trade and although our patronage was welcome, the focus was not on us, but on a busy, family day out.

Guamote market day

Guamote market fresh produce

Guamote shoe shine

Guamote shoe shine

There is one section of this train track which deserves a special mention – Devil’s Nose – an incredible feat of engineering. (This near-vertical wall of rock was an obstacle to overcome when the rail line was first built to link Guayaquil and Quito (1899-1908). A series of tight zig-zags were carved out of the rock which allowed the train to climb 800m at a gradient of 1-in-18 by going forwards then backwards up the tracks).

Devil's Nose

Nariz del Diablo

A special highlight for everyone on this trip followed a tour and information session at a cocoa plantation. Producers are very proud of this industry which provides the resource for another industry – chocolate! And then…. LUNCH! At the stunning Hacienda La Danesa.

Plantation demonstration - from cocoa to chocolate

Plantation demonstration – from cocoa to chocolate

Beautiful Hacienda La Danesa

Stunning Hacienda and Restaurant, La Danesa

Last lunch on the trip

A very special lunch on the trip

La Danesa wines

La Danesa wines

But of course, nothing can surpass the excitement of a steam engine, with all the noise and fuss when it is shunted in to replace the diesel locomotive for the last part of the journey – from Yahuaci to Duran.

What a journey Tren Ecuador! Ama la vida!

All cameras clicking

All cameras clicking

Steam engine for the last part of the trip

Steam engine 53 for the last part of the trip from Yahuachi to Duran

Tren Ecuador can be very proud of its faithfully restored steam engines, rebuilt railway tracks, gracious carriages and immaculate stations. The Tren Crucero route opened our eyes to the country and its people.

Folklore Olga Fisch outlet, Guayaquil

Folklore Olga Fisch outlet, Guayaquil

Glimpses of Ecuador (Guayaquil and Quito)

Guayaquil – an old colonial city with new modern energy

Getting acquainted with the city

Getting acquainted with the city on the Malecon

Hanging out in Seminario Park in Guayaquil

Hanging out in Seminario Park on a Saturday afternoon

Evening light in Guayaquil

Evening light in the historical centre of the city

Bario Las Penas was founded over 400 years ago

Bario Las Penas was founded over 400 years ago

Quito – politics and religion and a fiery volcano

Arrival of Latin American leaders to discuss Colombia/Venezuela border dispute

A colourful rally in Plaza Grande for the arrival of Latin American leaders to discuss Colombia/Venezuela border dispute September 21, 2015

Quito treasure

Quito treasure – San Francisco Museum and Convent

Cotopaxi looking benign but very active indeed

Cotopaxi looking benign but very active indeed