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Published: November 27th 2014
Awesome, incredible, beautiful, breathtaking, stunning, magnificent, striking…… One cannot find enough words, or better said the right words to describe Antarctica. One of the most beautiful and memorable places I have stepped foot on so far. And one of the reason why this travel blog entry is so late is that I simply had to digest this adventure for a long time as it is truly one of the most amazing things I have done so far in my life. But let’s start from the end of my last entry……..
I wrote my last blog entry on the 4th
of November so I had 3 days to kill until I had to join the cruise to Antarctica. And there isn’t really much to do in Ushuaia. While it is one of the most southern city/town in the world (it’s a contest between Ushuaia/Argentina and Port Williams/Chile), it is pretty much a tourist town where all most of the Antarctica cruises leave from. And having arrived 4 days before the cruise it was pretty empty and boring. The only things to do is to have a track in the nearby national park, visit the nearby glazier, do the washing
and just chill out. The backpacker I was staying was pretty cool with people from all over the world so different stories and travel destination tips were swapped and more than one beer was killed. The only annoying things were the hordes of Israelis that never seem to mix with others and occupy all the common areas and sing their army songs.
Finally the day came to pack the backpack and check into the hotel where I finally met my fellow Antarctica adventurers. To be honest I didn’t know what to expect as I had a rather negative preconception about people who are going to cruises, old people with one leg in the grave, boring people that enjoy doing nothing all day long except drinking and playing Bingo or middle aged honey mooners…. Boy was I wrong…..
When I arrived at the hotel Albatross, the designated hotel for the meeting point of the cruise, I was allocated my room. It was a double room and when I get one of them I always hope that I do not get a roommate. But no such luck as soon I was joined by a Canadian guy called Darcy. But in
a way it was a lucky as Darcy was right into photography and as somebody who likes to take photos I didn’t miss the chance to ask for some tips and tricks about this great hobby. And very soon I realised that I had no idea about photography at all. Thanks Darcy…..
I have heard that the good old alcohol was pretty expensive on the cruise ship, so I set out to limit the damage on my wallet to buy some wine to put in the backpack. It is amazing how much wine actually fits in the backpack. Darcy bought some vodka as well so we were all good prepared for the cruise.
The next day we had to put our backpacks/luggage at a central point at 9.30 am so it could be put on the ship. I was a bit worried about it as the backpack was heavy and had free time until the 3.30 pm when the bus would ferry us to our cruise ship. Nothing much was done except drink heaps of coffee and wait in anticipation. But soon the boarding time approached and we were on our way to the ship.
the two men cabin I was soon joined by Garry, a middle aged gentleman from the US who turned out to be a retired biology teacher, which was to be my cabin mate. And he was a real neat person and the first thing he did was unpack his suitcase in the cupboards. I have to admit that after 8 weeks on the road living out of the backpack I couldn’t be bothered to do the same and just lived the next 12 days out of it as it was. Not real neat but also not messy……. German tidiness mixed with a little bit of chaos…..
Soon we were all called in the Discovery lounge for welcome and an introduction to the cruise. And I was surprised how many young people were on board and very relieved about that. While there were many older people on board as well I leaned soon that they all had an incredible sense of adventure and they were all young at heart. So much for my conception about cruise passengers. At least at this one.
After the mandatory emergency briefing and live drill we settled down for our first dinner and what
a feast it was. A three course meal that was absolutely delicious. And that should be repeated at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day………
Having brought all the wine with me, I set out after dinner to find a perfect spot to have a night cap and soon found one at the back of the ship. I was joined by Karryn from Darwin and we started something what we called the “Happy Hour” that was to be held every night at 6 pm sharp at the same place for the rest of the cruise.
We were supposed to leave Ushuaia that night set to get on our way to Antarctica, but there was a bad storm heading our way so the captain of the ship decided to stay in the safety of the harbour. And what a good decision that was as another ship tried to leave but had to anchor at the end of the Beagle Channel due to the weather.
But at 6 am the next morning we lifted the anchor and where on our way to Antarctica. We had two days to get to Antarctica, leaving through the magnificent Beagle Channel, that was surrounded
by amazing glaziers and snow covered volcanoes and mountains, and crossing the infamous Drake Passage. Now the Drake Passage is one of the most unpredictable and wildest water passages on this planet and soon the boat was rocking and rolling like I have never experienced before. And what comes with that rocking and rolling? Heaps of passengers that were seasick; and with seasick I mean seasick. On the second dinner only about 50% of the passengers were in attendance and the other 50% were confined to their cabins or walked around the ship looking like they were about to die. I called them the Zombies and if it wasn’t so terrible for them one could have thought it was funny…….
During the days of the passage and continuing throughout the cruise the crew members gave some very interesting lectures everything from the life of penguins, the Antarctic explorers, the geological making of Antarctica and many others. It opened my eyes about this amazing continent in a lot of ways. Also on offer was a photographic course conducted by Paul and it was amazing what I learned from him during the next 10 days. Not only was he holding the
courses, but he was more or less available 24/7 during the cruise to help out and answer any photography question one had. Great……
On the second day of the crossing we had our mandatory biosecurity check were we had to disinfect all out gear that we planned to take on land and all or cloths was inspected and vacuumed so we would not introduce any seeds or other Antarctic foreign elements to the continent. And on this day we also crossed the Antarctic Convergence where the warm water from the north meets the cold water from the Antarctica. Good stuff for some, the puke bag for others……..
After two days at sea and crossing the Drake Straight I couldn’t wait to see Antarctica. Our expedition leader Jonathan informed us the day before that we should see land and icebergs over the night and I got up at 5 am to see what was around us. And what a great sight it was. The sea was covered with icebergs and the glaziers of the Antarctic continent could be seen. The weather was pretty rough and it was freezing cold; -2 degrees without the windshield factor.
After breakfast the
zodiacs were lowered and it was time to step foot on the continent. And it was a strange feeling to finally do so. Continent #7 for me. Now I had done them all……
Now it is impossible to describe the feeling I had when walking around the penguins with the wind howling and just taking it all in. The noise, the smell (and trust me the penguin colonies smell) Antarctica is a place that is so remote, unfriendly, cold, harsh and at the same time so fascinating and wonderful. The penguins and the seals have no real predators on land so they know no fear. You can literally sit down and the penguins, curious as they are, just wobble up to you and look at you. Some people had planted their gopro’s on the penguin highway and they got some fantastic footage with them just walking up to the camera and looking at it.
After our first landing the ship lifted anchor and we went to our next destination where we tried another landing. I was part of the first zodiac that tried to make the landing but half way we were called back as the weather was
just too bad. I have to admit that is was a lot of fun in the zodiac while attempting to land while he water was crashing against the zodiac and we were all wet in no time…. Adventure stuff….
And so we spend the next 5 days exploring the Antarctica. Every day we had the opportunity to take part in two landings. These landing depended much on the weather as it is pretty unpredictable in this part of the world. One minute the weather was just calm and beautiful, the next it was windy and you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. I was sitting in the middle of penguins, walking and climbing up mountains and taking in the breathtaking scenery, sliding down hills and just sit there in the middle of the glaziers, ice and reflecting where I was.
One of highlights of these days were the visit to Palmer Station, and American research base. Now this was a lucky treat as not all cruises are getting permission to land there. These research stations are just unreal and it is hard to believe that people live there for month and month at the time
in this harsh and unpredictable weather. The staff on the station was great with showing us around and explain to us what they do and how all the equipment works. Fascinating stuff.
Another highlight was the visit Port Lockroy, the old English research station that was maintained by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust. There were only 4 staff members that maintained the site; 3 women and one man. One has to feel for the man …….
And just when I was over the penguins, I have to admit that after 4 days seeing penguin after penguin I was a bit penguined out, on the last day at the continent we were dropped off at Deception Island where there was a big colony of the little creatures with an estimated 100 000 of them. The sight, sound and smell is just something what I will never forget. Unbelievable and indescribable….
The last landing was conducted at an old whaling station at Whalers Bay where we walked through the old buildings, whale oil storage tanks, water boats and airfield. It is hard to believe that people lived and worked in this climate, but they did. This landing was also
the place where the crazy ones of us had the opportunity to take part in the polar plunge; that is going for a dip in the ice cold waters of Antarctica. And what a treat that was. Just getting undressed and waiting for the signal to go into the water was cold, but when you are in the water it is mind blowing freezing and one doesn't last long. They told us that in 60 seconds one becomes unconscious and in 3 minutes one is dead……
So after all these exciting days at Antarctica it was time to head back to Ushuaia and the Drake Straight was more powerful and brutal than on the way to Antarctica. At one stage the waves were over 5 meter high and at night people got thrown out of their bunks. The Zombies ruled the ship again and at feeding time we had to hang on the tables and chairs so not to be thrown around……
So after 12 days we arrived back in Ushuaia and disembarked. And what an adventure it was. As I mentioned before it is hard to do justice with this blog entry on what a place Antarctica
is, one has to experience it for himself to get the true magnitude of this place and it is something that I will never forget.
So after nearly 3 month in the south of South America it was time to say goodbye to the cold and head into warmer climates. I got a good deal to fly to Brasilia in Brazil and after another two nights in Ushuaia I boarded the plane and after 12 hours I landed in Brasilia. There I was greeted by Carla. But more about that in my next blog entry.
I hope you enjoyed this update and sorry it took so long to post. But I had to just digest these days and truly realise where I was and what I have experienced. Only 0.01% of the people on this planet will ever step foot on Antarctica and I was lucky enough to be one of the few.
Wherever you are I hope you really enjoy life. It is the only one you have and it is your choice what you do with it.
Until next time……..
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