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Published: January 23rd 2017
Young Elephant Seal
Ocean Harbour, South Georgia
Coffee with Joan - Ushuaia, Argentina
If you have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the confusion of mind occasioned by wind and spray together. They blind, deafen, and strangle you, and take away all power of action or reflection. Edgar Allen Poe.
One of my favourite books about the early explorers of the Antarctic is ‘The Storied Ice.’ It’s an easy-to-read book with accounts of many different explorers that ventured south during the age of exploration during the turn of the twentieth century. The expeditions of Adrien de Gerlache in the Belgica
, Jean Francois Charcot and the Porquoi Pas,
and the epic race to the South Pole between the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen and the British, Captain Scott. It’s a great book, one that I use as a reference almost daily as we visit the sites of the region…
The author, Joan Boothe just happened to be in Ushuaia, Argentina on a day we were in port and I had the unexpected pleasure to have coffee with her at the Albatross Hotel. We shared stories over espressos as she waited to meet with a local publisher…
A few hours later, I re-boarded our vessel M/V Ocean Endeavour with a full complement of passengers and set off through the narrows of the Beagle Channel…
That’s where the year ended…
The New Year started after a leap-second! A small blip in time that
St Andrew's Madness
half a million king penguins line the beaches at St Andrew's Bay, South Georgia
was neither Saturday nor Sunday (and officially, for us, not here nor there), this additional second was placed to put the planet’s rotation and atomic clock back into sync. Celebrating the New Year was all fine and dandy, but the extra second was a rare treat, and it was welcomed as it moved effortlessly and flawlessly through our linear, unidirectional timescale.
New Year’s Day was spent at sea as our vessel made way under calm conditions towards the small British Dependency of the Falkland Islands. We were accompanied by many feathered friends who call the southern seas home. Conversations with Characters – Stanley, Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands certainly have their fair share of eccentrics, as can be imagined from such a remote place… I had some wonderful conversations with a few of the colourful characters that live in the capital village of Stanley.
Bob is often found in the sitting position with a bottle of red wine nearby, and is a very keen historian…
“You’re well-travelled, you’ve been down to the Antarctic – right Bob?” I asked.
“Oh yes, yes of course… Yes, I’ve been to all seven continents actually, and I’ve been
Spigot peak in the background on the Cuverville Gentoo colony, Antarctic Peninsula
to jail on six of them!” was Bob’s casual response.
It was a great conversation as Bob spilled-the-beans about being in jail in several nations.
Phil, a Falkland Resident, manages a small collectibles store in a historic government building at the museum in Stanley…
“The new museum has the only elevator in town.” He said.
“What about the one at the post office building?” I enquired.
“That’s the other one, but we don’t talk about it. Most visitors to the islands don’t know that.”
His answer satisfied my inquisitive nature.
Interesting conversations however, do not only occur on land…
Fiona is one of the penguinologists onboard. Tom, the other penguinologist, is trying to get the word ‘penguinologist’ into the Oxford English Dictionary, but that’s another story.
I was dining with Fiona and a couple of others when a lady asked; “Are penguins, mammals or fish?”
Fiona’s response was a very calm and kind, “Well actually they’re birds.” And then she explained…
I could not look Fiona or the lady in the eye for at least five minutes… It was a remarkable question - one that will go on my
list. I will file it between; “Where do whales lay their eggs?” and “Where does the ice go when it melts?”
Stanley is truly an off-beat destination, a British town at the bottom of the planet on a remote windswept island group… I love it there. I visited my favourite watering hole, The Victory Inn, and got my usual fish ‘n chips, not because they were tasty, but because the service is dreadful. You get growled at and scowled at, and your plate gets slammed on the table with a frown – love it.
Just up the road from the Vic is a curiosity - a garden full of gnomes. What I find fascinating about this small garden is not just the amount of gnomes, but the fact that the gnomes are set on an extremely well-kept lawn. The owners must either move the gnomes daily to mow their grassy domain, or the gnomes are actually real beings and are capable of walking around on their own… All the locals believe the latter – so I guess I should too?
There are many wild places spread all over these islands, in fact most of the Falklands are
Early Evening, South Georgia
bleak, barren and windswept, and penguin infested! Stanley is the only built up area in the territory – it’s an anomaly - the place is growing on me…
And of course, Stanley is an essential stop to acquire British treats such as Penguin Biscuits, Club Biscuits and Galaxy Chocolate…
Great to have treats when you get smashed about for two days on a miserable Scotia Sea… Separated by a Flipper-slap: South Georgia
Above all else we wish that the name of South Georgia will forever represent an icy paradise, a place where nature is still mostly robust and the way of life of millions of birds, penguins and seals goes on almost unaltered by the peripheral presence of humans. A clean, pure spring of icy water in our collective consciousness… - Tim and Pauline Carr
South Georgia is a place where the penguins are all a flipper-slap apart… Millions of penguins line the massive beaches and sprawl into the valleys and up the hillsides. It is a sensory spectacle that has to be witnessed to be believed! It is really difficult to express South Georgia in words and pictures as it is so much more than that. It is so real and so raw that our meagre human languages have no way to describe such scenes…
My fondest memory was in the rain and snow - times when nature tells you to put away your electronic devices and simply be and observe with all of your senses... I was soaked to the skin. The ship was
anchored more than a mile offshore in high winds, sideways rain pelted my face as I swerved and snaked my way through the kelp beds to the shore of Ocean Harbour. It is a magical place with fur seals patrolling the beach and whaling station relics scattered across the tussock grass plain that sprawls to the mountains that overlook this deeply cut cove. The rain hammered down on the rusted, silhouetted wreck of the Bayard, a Norwegian ship that ran aground in the early nineteen hundreds… It was a tremendous scene… Waves hammered over the bow of the Zodiac, ice-cold water and salt smashed into our faces – I love this… This is what South Georgia is about – the extreme elements and the furious force of the ocean…
Ideally Adele should dilly-dally with Adélies daily: The Antarctic Peninsula
South Georgia will be remembered as journey’s end for a great British polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton; and that alone is enough to secure it a place in history. Duncan Carse 1954
Adele and the three other girls that work at the Port Lockroy post office are the only ‘other’ people we meet on these trips to Antarctica. The entire continent is almost devoid of humans – only in a handful of research bases will others be found. There’s something quite magical about a visit to Base A on Goudier Island
in Port Lockroy – a mini-reunion with familiar faces... The girls also study the effects of human interference on the resident penguin that also live on the small island. It seems that the penguins are rather indifferent… Oddly though, Adele’s ideal, daily dilly-dallies are with Gentoo penguins rather than Adélies.
Our last few days on the peninsula saw many incredible scenes, from vocalising leopard seals to breaching humpback whales. Cape Scrymgeour on Andersson Island rose like a giant and pointed east, sixty knot winds howled across the chop in a wild Zodiac ride, we crossed the elusive Antarctic Circle (66°33’44” South), and one of my favourites, Tom using the word ‘demonstrably’ in wonderful context in a ridiculous sentence…
I also learned how to count in Morse Code… I am not sure how handy that’ll prove to be…
Rounding Cape Horn and then transiting the Beagle Channel in the daytime was a spectacular way to end my final voyage of the season. The southern tip of South America is truly stunning. It is dark, bleak, and haunted with the ghosts of the early explorers and the mysteries of yesteryear…
The wonderfully clear days, the sight of a new rock beyond the snow rise, the tremendous feeling of freedom among the mountains and glaciers, the close comradeship which develops in isolated groups from shared experience and the growth of mutual confidence: these are the lasting memories... V.E. Fuchs, ‘Of Ice and Men’
The tangled skyscrapers
Saunder's Island, Falklands
of Buenos Aires disappeared beneath the clouds as I rose to such great heights. The sea and the Antarctic are silent, but the sky is even more so… The sky is something I see every day, yet I know so little about it – from its daytime glow to its starry ceiling of night - I looked down on it – I looked down onto sky…
I sat awake with my emotions, my thoughts and experiences as I flew across a planet on a jet…
The end of an epic season…
Houses are but badly built boats, so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition. The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place. Racundra’s First Cruise, by Arthur Ransome.
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