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Full Circle

Day 156: Cape Horn to Puerto Williams

Cape Horn, Chile 
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The Isaza lying off Cape Horn.
Michael Palin - Full CircleI'm surprised to find a chapel on Cape Horn. It's small, not much more than fifteen feet long. The walls are made from planks of wood sheathed in rough, pine tree bark. A tin-roofed porch protects the entrance and rubber matting covers the floor. The altar is a wooden slab resting on two tree trunks. A plaster statue of the Virgin surveys the empty chairs. What light there is falls from two small windows, one on each side, both of them murky with sea salt.

Out of one window is the Pacific Ocean and out of the other the Atlantic. Nowhere else do the coastlines of the world's two greatest oceans come so close that by a simple turn of the head you can see them both. And that's not all. Behind me, through the narrow doorway, I can see the point where America ends. Where fifteen thousand miles of coastline peter out in a cluster of grassy rocks.

I walk down towards them and close my eyes and try to concentrate so I can remember what it feels like to stand on the tip of a continent, for it's not something you do very often. After a while I'm no longer aware of land. The sound of two great merging oceans drowns every other sound, and my awareness of the sea, covering almost everything for thousands of miles around, overwhelms all other sensations. The Cape has brought me south of Tierra del Fuego, beyond the Wollaston Islands, described by Charles Darwin as 'one of the most inhospitable countries within the limits of the globe'. It is truly one of the ends of the earth.

The first westerners to land on this desolate spot were two Dutchmen, William Shouten and Isaac Le Maire, who reached here in 1616 and named it Cape Horn, after the town they came from in Holland.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 156
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Cape Horn
  • Book page no: 212

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