Antarctica and South America: Once in a lifetime? I certainly hope not!
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
They say that the only things you leave behind in Antarctica are your footprints. Well, I left more there... I left a piece of my heart.
A fellow traveller on our Machu Picchu trip once told us, that his goal was to say 'Wow' at least once everyday whilst on holidays. I think since then, it's been an aim of ours to continue that philosophy into
everyday life as well. Life is wow.
Antarctica is WOWSERS!
What had been a future dream, a 'one day' bucket list item, is now a memory, and whilst it's a privilege to have been there, I, for the first time in all our travels, have been feeling quite melancoly since our return. I'm normally looking towards our next adventure...but this one I'm not ready to let go of just yet.
I miss the ice.
I miss the penguins.
I miss the vast silent beauty, where life seems to exist as it always has been. A life without (many) humans.
An almost alien life.
A frozen, stunning, naturally harsh, yet perfect world.
I will return one day.
Before we get to that extraordinary frozen seventh continent, (yep, we've ticked off all seven now...), we first have a few days in Argentina, starting off in the lovely Buenos Aires.
If you ever stop here enroute to somewhere else, do yourself a favour, and grab a couple of extra days to visit this charming city.
It has quite a French influence in much of its architecture, including an extremely wide avenue that splits the city, much like what Paris has done.
There are many different areas to explore, so grab a tour, a map, an on/off bus - whatever is your deal. Even grab taxis...they are like 3 USD for about a 15 minute ride. Hardly breaks the bank balance!
If you love steak, this is your kind of place. Vegetarians may have to look the other way, as there are skewered and roasting meats and open BBQ's in every restaurant, and if you don't eat bread, you're going to miss out too. I try not to eat it, bread that is, I find it bloating and inflammatory, however, if you are ever going to eat what you normally avoid, their fresh mini bread rolls are AMAZING! And, they come with every meal! Carb loading plus. Bon appetite!
The restaurants by the waterfront are where you want to be...and don't forget to book a table! We dined at the fabulous Cabana Las Lilas. Not cheap, but we enjoyed it immensely.
Make sure you visit the famous above ground cemetery, "La Recoleta". In 2013, CNN claimed it's one of the top ten cemeteries in the world. It is over 14 acres, and has 4691 vaults, of varying degrees of charm, design, and wealth.
Some you can look in and see the coffins just lying atop each other! There are some 100 year old abandoned tombs too, but they stay,
alongside the marbled monoliths. And, the drawcard of them all, is the one everyone tries to find. Just look for the crowd. There, you will find the final resting place of the infamous,
Eva "Evita" Peron.
The 'Pink Palace' ( the Government House), is a landmark, right in the main square -
it's hard to miss.
You can get tours inside, which would be great, but it was closed the day we were there. It has the famous balcony where Evita gave her speeches to the people,
(as did Madonna for the movie too!).
Lastly, we got over to La Boca, an age old part of town, once known for seedy bars, drunken sailors, prostitutes...and The Tango!
This is where the famous 'vertical lovemaking' dance originated.
It still has shanty areas, so stick to the main drag, where you'll be mesmerised by a kaleidoscope of colours, vendors, shops, bars and restaurants. Have a tango lesson.
Get entrenched in the moment of where you are.
After a couple days relaxing in this gorgeous city, it's time to sign up with Hurtigruten, and be taken under their wing now for our trip south to Ushuaia, 'The World's End', the southernmost city in the world, on the Beagle Sea and the tip of the legendary Cape Horn. Our ship awaits!
They are renown for their King Crab here, so if you make it this far down,
don't go past their speciality.
We always like to try the local fare, as its usually the freshest, not always the cheapest,
but often the best choice. You can also pop into the information centre by the waterfront,
and get your passport stamped for free.
It has a cute penguin on it. :)
Excited? Oh, you bet! There is no passenger terminal here, so it straight onboard with our passport, you get your swipe card, and that's it. Cruising is such an easy way to travel!
The next couple of days could test us...we have to cross The Drake Passage - a notoriously rough section of ocean between Cape Horn and The Antarctic Peninsular... it acts like a narrow funnel between the mighty Pacific Ocean and the South Atlantic.
Fingers were crossed for a 'Drake Lake', and not a 'Drake Shake'!
Okay, fast forward two days...two days Trev, and half the ship would care to forget.
It was a very rock and rolly, 7 metre swell that, overnight in your cabin, felt like a cross between 'The Perfect Storm' and 'The Poseidon Adventure'! Seriously, you could feel the ship head up a wave, get some air, and come crashing down. Later, we were to learn that out of a Drake Passage scale of 1 - 10...we were only at a 2.5. I'd hate to know how a 7 + feels!
Anyhoo, we made it! And to sit at the front of the boat, all warm and toasty inside, and seeing the ice shelf appearing on the horizon, is something I'll treasure forever. I couldn't believe we were actually sailing to the bottom of the Earth. It seemed so surreal, and every person on board was excited as I.
We spent the next six glorious days, cruising from place to place, some were research stations, some were just landing sites. We were assigned to specific boat groups, and each night we we told what the next day entailed...what time to be at the tender pit to board your zodiac, for either a landing, where you would have 18 in your boat, or cruising around, where you had only 12 in the zodiac which ensured comfort and ease of photography for the hour or so as you cruised past glacial blue icebergs, or found some whales slumbering on the surface.
It was beyond incredible, and we got to do both each day.
For a start, its always great to get your land legs and get ashore... but to share that land with the locals...AKA penguins and seals, was just fantastic.
You are there to strictly observe.
Not to interact.
Not to leave any human residue other than footprints. It was absolutely exhilarating, both the freezing cold, and the way nature simply dwarfs you.
And the penguins. Oh, the glory of the sweet penguins will languish in my heart forever. I can talk in superlatives till I'm blue in the face, but this location represents the age old adage, 'A picture paints a thousand words." Enjoy.
Our zodiac drivers were the best. Such an important job, particularly when many of the passengers weren't young or agile. They did a great job. Notice his amazing skin protection.
Second day was an active volcano, Whaler's Cove on Deception Island. The grey is the remnants of volcanic ash. (Last eruption was 1970). Every winter it gets covered in snow, but as it's summer, the ash reappears to create a wonderful monochromatic canvas. It was super cold this day, with snow, and sleet amongst the sulphur laden steam clouds. Some brave folk even dropped their layers and did a 'polar plunge' in here! Not this little red duck...BRRRRR!
Hard to believe these are colour photos!
Third landing day was the Argentinian Research Base, 'Base Brown'.
There's a story that goes with this place:
Apparently the doctor based here (some time ago), after his first winter wanted to go home, to which they told him he couldn't and had to stay one more season. So he did, reluctantly. He then asked to go home the next year, to which they replied that he had to stay yet one more season. So he did, resentfully. He then begged to be replaced again, to which they said he had to stay yet another season. So he burnt the base down, and every last person got to go home!
So the story goes... ;)
Anyway, it was a steep little outcrop, and once we managed to get past the curious Gentoo penguin babies, we got to walk the 300 metres up the icy hill to see the most spectacular views. Its ALWAYS worth the extra effort. I'll never NOT do it.
We had a 2 metre clearance rule, so often the penguins just sat on the path
and we had to wait. :)
Then, in the afternoon, we got to cruise amongst the broken ice, and marvel at the sheer beauty of the surround. Welcome to Paradise Cove.
It was a day of days!
Next landing was Neko Harbour... a sheltered little spot amongst some pretty severe weather. We shared this sight with a yacht...a surprising sight down here, but apparently it was a Norwegian research boat, with 5 people and a dog.
AND, they were diving!
These Norwegians have a real affinity with the cold!
We were all alone with some molting Gentoo penguins here, as we watched for glaciers calving into the sea,
seeing that this spot is notorious for it. We were told that if we were on the water's edge when this happened, we had 40 seconds to get to higher ground to avoid the tsunami! We saw a few ice chunks drop, and a mini avalanche, but we were spared... The blue ice here on the glacier, and later as were cruised, was spectacular!
Then this happened!
The video is over on the video wall, make sure you watch it with the sound on.
It was an incredible experience!
The next day were were excited for the landing, at Damoy Point.
We were to go snow shoe trekking for the first time. They told us it was a 2-3 hour walk, with gentle slopes. Gentle slope my ass!
We hiked up the first hill, only to go down and then up a steeper one, then trek up along a seemingly endless ridge. It reminded me of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro!
It was really tough going. I highly recommend getting slimmer and fitter for this kind of activity! I managed, I struggled, but I never gave up, and it was worth it. At the top we had our backs into the wind, it was brutal, and we truly felt like intrepid explorers!
Leaving here, we were presented with the most stunning afternoon of cruising through the channels.
The clouds cleared, and the late afternoon light had all the keen photographers out on deck, lapping the visual feast up. We stayed out there till almost dark. It was magnificent.
Last day ashore was to be spent at the Polish Research Station, Arctowski.
We were welcomed into their common room, and even offered tea, biscuits, fresh fruit and sweets, which to me was highly generous considering they are heading into a winter-over, and will have no supplies for 8 months. We were well fed cruise ship passengers, and hardly in need of sustenance! Very hospitable!
So we signed the visitor's book, bought a patch for my backpack, and headed back out into the cold for once last experience on the continent. It was a bleak, black and white day.
Winter had arrived, just in time for our departure.
I can't tell you how much I'm going to miss our daily landings.
I love this. One lonely Gentoo penguin...his orange beak the only colour on a black and white day. The penguins by now were all but gone. Gone into the ocean until breeding season next spring.
So there marks the end of our Antarctic landings.
We now are heading towards Elephant Island, where the famous, yet doomed explorer, Ernest Shackleton, had to leave 22 men under the canopy of two upturned wooden canoes - for 4 and a half months, after their ship had been crushed by ice. It's an incredible story of survival, and rescue. They all made it, only to head back to England, and into WW1 where 3 of them were killed on the battlefields. I can't even begin to imagine the hell that must have all been.
Anyway, first we had to battle the ocean ourselves, and a severe storm was heading our way, and we were trying to outrun it. That was to fail that night, as the seas were extremely rough, it was minus 11 deg cel, we had the iceberg spotlights shining into fog, and with the risk of iceberg damage, apparently the Captain turned us around that night.
It was scary.
We had only 2 ship lengths visibility in the fog this night, and with driving sleet and high waves, the boys on the bridge did a great job looking after us.
The next morning we awoke to the news that it was way too rough to have headed to Elephant Island, and we were currently still trying to outrun a storm in the Drake Passage, so we were high tailing it to the Falkland Islands, which was to take another 2 days. Time for most to pop those seasick tablets, and hold on as we were walking around the ship.
We had a two day stop over planned at the Falkland Islands, and I know at the time, most passengers would have rather spent those days still on the Antarctic Peninsular...however, as travelling goes, some places come as a complete surprise, and happily, The Falklands was one of them. Certainly not what we had envisioned.
1982 saw The Falklands War take over our news channels, and I have to be honest, all I really remember of it was the introduction of the exocet heat seeking missile, and the legendary Gurkha soldiers. It was a conflict that lasted 74 days, and to this day, both Britain and Argentina still lay claim to the Islands.
Sailing into Port Stanley was like a little fairy tale stop. The buildings are all immaculate and most colourful. Not quite the 'Cinque Terra' of the South Atlantic, but it made me think of it all the same.
The town itself was extremely quiet, an easy walk from one end to the other. We visited the Historic Dockyard Museum, and watched an interesting short documentary that was made about the Falkland invasion, told by adults who were children at the time. A frightening experience.
The people here, some are 6th-7th generation, and they are truly British, right down to the pubs serving fish and chips, ale and playing rugby on the telly. Thankfully England won that game, or it could've gotten ugly!
But before we settled into an afternoon of ciders with the locals, we had a trip out to 'Bluff Cove', to see more penguins, yeay, and this time, my favourites - The King penguins.
A 30 minute minibus drive to a farm, then we were put into 4 x 4's to drive the rest of the way to the beach area, where they have over 1000 breeding pairs of Gentoo's, and only 15 valuable pairs of glorious King penguins.
I just LOVE these guys.
The babies were still really small for this time of year, and they reminded me of kiwis, next to their strikingly handsome and tall parents. We also got to watch the Gentoo's play in the ocean, as well as a seal surfing in the waves.
Our driver, get a load of him...'Keith' wore a hat like no other, and if we were in outback Australia and this dude picked us up, we'd be definitely worried! But everyone has a story, and he was such a unique character, a softie, and very memorable!
Back to Port Stanley, and an afternoon at 'The Local'.
Here we were joined by cruise staff enjoying their day off,
and some other Aussie cruise buddies. It was a fun afternoon and GREAT fish 'n' chips!
Arriving back onboard, we noticed that the Bridge had opened itself up to a walk through for passengers...How cool! I've never been offered this opportunity on any ship. It was cool chatting with the officers, seeing their charts, and generally acting like Star Trek idiots at the helm and Captain's chair. It was here that I learned about the other night at sea, being so dangerous. I must say, the crew on this ship have been second to none.
Very young too, our Norwegian Captain being only 38! But more than able, and they have done a mighty job, not just on our cruise, but the whole season in such a harsh environment.
We left Port Stanley, for West Falkland Island, for our last stop before heading north for a 4 day at sea stretch, to reach Uruguay, our final destination.
As it was getting warmer now, maybe 9-10 deg cel, it was nice to start spending more time out on the top deck. Not quite time to break out the swim suits, but nice at the back of the ship all the same.
Next morning saw us pull into a gorgeous cove, of a privately owned island. We were blessed with perfect weather, and for this place, that was amazing, as the weather here can be quite foul apparently. But our luck of great weather is still following us, and we had one of the most enjoyable days we've had on holidays...
(aside from the ice and penguins, that is in it's own category forever ).
Welcome to 'West Point Island'. Population 2, plus Bosun the dog.
It is a 3000 acre sheep station, but they also open their doors to visiting cruise ships. We were to be the last of the season, and with the help of two of their friends, plus some crew, they served tea, coffee, cakes and slices to over 450 people! Not bad when they get supplies only every 6 weeks! What a champion effort from the nicest of folks.
Great aerial shot from the Manager's drone. You can just see the farmhouse near the beach, so we walked from there up to that pointed mountain on the right, Mt Ararat, but not before we headed to the dip between the hills where the albatross nesting grounds were located.
From there, we walked back to the farmhouse for some much needed sustenance and sugar, before heading across to the very left, where the pretty aqua watered beach is, to see the Magellanic penguins.
A great day's hiking, 16.5 km's and 63 floors, so said my iPhone. But it was the very special time we had with the albatrosses that stole the show. Definitely a 'WOW' day to finish on!
As this place didn't have the number limitations Antarctica did (only 100 people are allowed ashore at one time there), we were allowed to pretty much spend most of the day here. We alighted early, lucky for us our boat group was an early one!
So first things first, we headed for the long walk across the island to the Brown Browed Albatross nesting grounds. This for me, was what I called a true "Attenborough" moment! We walked through a narrow muddy path amongst the giant tuft grasses, only to happen across them just behind these grasses on a rocky outcrop high above the roaring ocean below.
The babies were still fluffy, about adult sized by now, and they were starting to spread their enormous wing spans in a practise for what was ahead. They would leave this site, and not touch ground again for 5 years! Then, they'll return to this exact spot, every year for five years, and spend all that time finding their perfect life partner, and once found - even practising raising an egg, without one! The total 'let's live together first' situation. At 10 years of age, they are sexually mature to breed.
A word of conservation; the albatross numbers globally are in decline, due to long line fishing and plastics invading the seas. We MUST continue to try to improve this, its our fault, and our duty. Off soap box.