Cape Horn

Written by Mark McElroy

Puerto Arenas, Chile, likes to call itself the southernmost city on the planet. Ushuaia, Argentina, likes to pitch itself as the southernmost town. But nowhere, apart from Antarctica, is further south than Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America.

We are here on a cloudy, rainy morning. The ship doesn’t dock; there isn’t a means to accommodate a vessel even a tenth of our size. So we sail around it — or halfway around it, really, since the stormy sea and high winds are too dangerous on the other side.

Cape Horn is essentially a large rock in the world’s roughest stretch of ocean. There are two buildings: a small outpost for the Chilean army (which looks for all the world like a little red farmhouse) and the Albatross Monument, a few yards away.

I’m told a family of four lives in the house: husband, wife, and two children. I try to imagine growing up on a tiny rock, buffeted by shrieking winds and surrounded by storms. How often do the boats with food and water come? How do you amuse yourself when “going outside” would usually mean playing in hard rain and gale force winds? Is there satellite t.v.? Can you get to the Internet?

Before we leave, a second, much smaller cruise ship appears. It goes very close to shore, then disgorges two tiny Zodiacs — small, inflatable crafts with outboard motors. Using my zoom lens, I can make out eight people in each boat, all in those bright orange “survival at sea” suits the guys on _The Deadliest Catch_ pull on when they fear the ship is sinking.

The little boats fight their way to the rocky shoreline, bouncing hard on the white-capped waves. Once there, they tiny people make their way up a steep path, ascending a sheer wall of rock that has to be thirty stories high. In the end, they form a circle around the base of the Albatross Monument. I’m told there is a ceremony there, and that, in a room at the base of the statue, they sign a book, adding their names to a short list of people who made the trip, came ashore, and earned the right to say, “I stood there.”

I’m watching all this through a zoom lens, standing on the slippery deck of a luxury cruise liner, and, for a moment, I’m jealous of those little orange-suited people on the crest of Cape Horn.

Clyde stands beside me. He’s bundled up, with his head topped by a red wool stocking cap. He’s wearing a red coat we bought years ago in Amsterdam, on a freezing cold day a decade ago, when the two of us were stranded there without coats, and, thanks to a French pickpocket, without cash or credit cards. We scraped together enough change to buy a single bowl of hot and sour soup to share … and then we found a forgotten, never-used Target Visa card hidden behind my driver’s license. We felt like kids at Christmas, and immediately ordered heaping plates of chicken and fried rice … and went next door to buy two coats, including this red one.

The wind on deck is howling, howling, howling. And this wonderful man is standing here beside me, right where he always is. He’s shivering. He’s smiling.

We choose our adventures, don’t we? And almost twenty-one years ago, I chose this man and he chose me. We’ve traveled the world since then, going to places most people only long to see. And, more importantly, we’ve navigated every day together, ever since.

I’d rather be here, in this moment, with this man, than on any windswept rock — or anywhere else on the planet, for that matter.

“You cold?” I ask.

He nods.

“Ready for breakfast?” I ask.

He nods.

We go inside, as always, together.

About the author

Mark McElroy

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