Sea Kayaking in the Straits of Magellan

by Wayne Young

Wayne and his wife, Cindy Lu, all are smiles while kayaking in the Straits of Magellan
Wayne and his wife, Cindy Lu, all are smiles while kayaking in the Straits of Magellan

Several friends and I turned 50 and decided to take a birthday cruise to celebrate. After much discussion it was decided to book the March 2009 Star Princess, South American cruise from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago.

I could not wait to visit Rio, Buenos Aries, Santiago, the Falkland Islands, round Cape Horn, and sail through the famous Straits of Magellan, you get the picture. All these places would be on my Bucket List if I had made one.

My wife, Cindy Lu, was dubious; she kept saying “It will get colder as we go south, I will have to pack everything from a bikini to fall weather clothing.” Her concern evaporated when she saw the Sea Kayaking in the Straits of Magellan Tour  out of Punta Arenas, a Chilean city at the bottom of South America. My wife loves to sea kayak and could not wait to do so in an exotic location. I booked the tour just happy she was now excited about the cruise vacation.

The day in Punta Arenas arrived with crisp cool fall weather (late March in the Southern Hemisphere) there was not a cloud in the sky and most importantly no wind. An international group of tour participants gathered in the ship’s theatre, couples from Canada, US, Germany, and Australia etc. In the van to the Kayaking Club we also discovered that very few of us had kayaked before, all we had in common was a sense of adventure.

At the club we had a lesson on kayaking essentials, donned waterproof suites and lifejackets and off we went under the tutelage of several expert guides. The three hour tour enabled us to view the scenic coastline, unfamiliar birds and aquatic life in the crystal clear water. A highlight was a pod of porpoises that swam nearby.  

Part of the fun was the leisurely pace that allowed us to stop and talk to our fellow kayakers. Floating along, cameras were exchanged to take the “proof that we were actually doing this, picture.” Back at the Kayaking Club it was an excited group that shared Pisco Sours (Pisco is a strong Chilean/Peruvian Brandy) while warming up and discussing the highlights.

After kayaking, the tour headed back to Punta Arenas to touch the toe of the bronze Indian figure on the Statue of Ferdinand Magellan, in the city’s Main Square. Legend has it that if you see the statue and do not touch the Indian’s toe you will never leave the Straits. This story was related to us by our Venezuelan kayaking guide who came to Punta Arenas five years before for a short kayaking trip. He did not touch the toe and had yet to leave. While we all had a day to remember in an amazing part of the world there was a line up to touch the well-worn and shiny toe.  We were not taking any chances!

Ironically I picked the cruise to visit the famous South American cities and the adventure of traveling to the bottom of South America. The cruise proved to be everything I imagined, yet the screen saver on my computer is still a picture from the kayaking tour and in my home office I have hung the framed “I kayaked the Straits of Magellan” certificate provided by the tour operator. The lesson is, you may pick a cruise seeking one Essential Experience but the best part is when you leave the cruise with another unexpected Essential Experience.