Published: March 18th 2010January 28th 2010
A curious Weddell Seal
the photo was taken a few days ago but I like it so here it is.
Its quite a contrast to yesterday, the mist that rolled in last night is still here and there's no sign of the blue skies. The South Shetland Islands are in front of us but they are shrouded in mist. Nevertheless we are all eagerly lined up on the deck in our waterproofs, wellies and life jackets ready to land on Barrientos Island. However, as the first zodiac sets off its beaten to the landing beach by large chunks of brash ice - there's so much of it that the beach is blocked and we can't land. Its another example of just how quickly the weather conditions can change.
We do get to land on Half Moon Island with its colony of energetic chinstrap penguins who are busy pinching pebbles off each others nests. Its very comical - they put so much energy into wandering round, finding the right pebble and carrying it carefully back to their nest but of-course while they've been away someone else has pinched a pebble off their nest. Net result; lots of energy expended, lots of pebbles moved around but each nest still has the same number of pebbles. Its quite wet and hence quite muddy
The South Shetland Islands
the mist is set in for the day and this is as clear as they get
and boy do some of these penguins need a wash - they are incredibly grubby and the chicks look really bedraggled. In contrast the ones returning from the sea look pristine and white. Despite the cold and rain its easy to sit and watch.
Our final stop in Antarctica is Deception Island. It looks like a typical,small, volcanic island about 15km in diameter. Then as you sail around it you come across Neptune's Bellows a narrow opening, only 230m wide which allows you into the flooded volcanic caldera at the centre of the island. What's more the volcano is still active (last eruption 1969) so now we are floating round in the centre of an active volcano!! It's supposed to be sheltered in here but today its more wild and windy inside than it is outside (as it was 4 years ago when we experienced a force 7 gale in here). Despite the driving snow and rain its still possible to make out the remains of the old whaling station at Whalers' Bay and the amazing swirling patterns in the glaciers formed by all the volcanic ash and black sand layers in the ice.
And that's the end
Half Moon Island
nosiy & grubby but very entertaining chinstrap penguins
of our time in Antarctica and our journey south from the Arctic. Now we are heading north and homewards. The first stage is the 2 days crossing of the Drake Passage. The first day its calm and flat and we get a brief sighting of the rarely seen southern bottlenose whales. We are making good progress when we retire for the night but a few hours later we wake to find ourselves sliding up and down our bunk beds as the ship rolls from side to side - we are in the middle of a force 9 gales with 8 meter waves, We are up on the 4th deck but the waves are regularly splashing up on our port hole. I just stay in bed until mid-afternoon when we change course and things get a bit calmer. By early evening land is in sight and we pass close enough to Cape Horn to make out the Cape Horn Memorial, the silhouette of an albatross in honour of the sailors who died while attempting to "round the Horn".
Next morning we are pulling back into Ushuaia. What stands out are all the colours - the reds and yellows, the oranges
Half Moon Island
chinstraps with bedraggled chicks
and greens; after 3 weeks of blue seas, white snow and black and white penguins the colours seem really bold. From Ushuaia it only takes a couple of hours to fly up to Buenos Aires in contrast to the 6 days it took us on the bikes. Its a brilliant flight, we get a bird's eye view of the roads we rode, of the deep blue lakes and glistening glaciers at El Calafate, of the coast line at the Valdez Peninsular and finally the bright lights of BA.
BA is hot and steamy with temperatures of 33C - it seems really hot after being in Antarctica yet a few months ago this was the norm and had no effect on us. Now its just too hot and we are incredibly lethargic. But we can't rest, we have one final mission in our last few hours in BA. We head down to Puerto Madero (the BA equivalent of Docklands) to pay homage to the Corbeta Uruguay - yes the little sailing boat that rescued Nordenskjold's expedition from the Weddell Sea. She's a wonderful old fashioned wooden ship with shiny brass fittings, but she is tiny - its just amazing that
she made it to Antarctica and back, surviving all the ice. Inside is an amazing display of black and white photographs taken in Antarctica and all sort of bits and pieces from the huts on Snow Hill and Paulet Island. You wouldn't think you could get excited about seeing a tin mug but when you know its the tin mug that was used by members of Nordenskjold's expedition overwintering on Paulet Island and you have stood next to the hut on Paulet Island it takes on a whole new significance. It seems like a fitting end to our own expedition.
So, our Arctic to Antarctic journey has been completed. There's just time for one last Argentinian steak before we head out to the airport. Well, we think its our last steak but pretty soon we're headed back into BA - our plane has decided to loose all its hydraulic fluid and the small part needed to fix it has to be flow out from Europe. For us, its not a great hardship to spend the night in the very plush and upmarket Sheraton Hotel in the centre of BA with our big picture window overlooking the grand palaces surrounding
Half Moon Island
a squeeky clean chinstrap returning from a bath in the sea.
the leafy plaza and English Tower and dining on a sumptuous spread of food - we are easily bought!!
Finally though we do leave and are now back in good old Blighty - which appears to have more snow than Antarctica. Is it a let down to be back? No, we're too busy plotting. For what? Watch this space!!!!
P.S. Want some independent proof that we really did it? Check out the Dalton Highway on Google Earth - we appear on it, twice at co-ordintes 68.680471,-149.16481 and at 68.87478,-148.860626
There are more photos below