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PatagoniaAntarctica 2

On 29 December 2007 from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

Early Monday morning we sailed through the Lemaire Channel on the M/V Antarctic Dream. It is a very narrow and scenic channel, but the weather was too foggy to see much of it. The first landing was at Yalour Islands, where we got to see the adélie penguins, that we had not seen before. In the afternoon we did a zodiac tour among some large icebergs near Pléneau Island. Even after a few days in Antarctica, it was still amazing to see these huge blocks of ice. We even managed to see a leopard seal sleeping peacefully on one of them. In the afternoon we went back through Lemaire Channel, and this time the sky was clear, and the scenery was breathtaking. In the evening we anchoraged at Port Lockroy, the UK base-turned-museum.

On Christmas Day (Tuesday) morning we did a landing at Jougla Point first, watching more penguins, but also some cormorants, a crabeater seal and some large whale bones. Then a zodiac took us to Goudier Island, where Base A of the UK was located. Bransfield House is now Antarctica’s most popular museum (17.000 visitors in 2006/2007). It also has the largest souvenir shop, and since all proceeds go to preservation of Antarctic heretage, I decided to buy an overpriced polar fleece here.

Christmas Day afternoon we tried to get to Enterprise Island, but there was still quite some ice in Wilhelmina Bay. That did not stop our expedition leader, and we moved through the ice until we got stuck, moving back, and trying again. After 5 attempts we had created 400m long canal through the ice, but it was decided to abort there, and move on with the expedition. A white Christmas was basically created by almost completely surrounding the ship by ice. And being on an ice-breaking ship was really cool, since there are not that many ships able to do this in the first place. Before the M/V Antarctic Dream became an Antarctic Expeditions vessel, it served in the Chilean Navy, and therefore has a extra-strenghtened hull. After cocktails in the evening, we had our Christmas dinner with the new friends during the trip, very nice.

Wednesday we arrived at Deception Island, one of the world’s safest natural harbours, even though it is still volcanically active. We did the most difficult landing so far, because it was very windy and we landed on a sandy beach. That meant the waves were getting into the zodiac while we were landing, and I got some icy water into my left boot. Luckily that dried up during the hike onto the hill overlooking Telefon Bay. From the hill we could see the landscape formed by the recent eruptions. The waves hitting the zodiac on the way back were even worse, and this time my right foot got all wet. It is a good thing the hot showers on the ship are working perfectly, since it is the best way to become warm after a cold landing. They would also have come in handy after the planned swim at Pendulum Cove, and everybody was really looking forward to a swim in thermally heated water in the Antarctic. Unfortunately there was still too much ice to reach it.

On Thursday the Drake Passage was quite OK again to the point where an engine room tour was organised. You could really tell the people working there were proud of their work, because everything was very clean. The rest of the day I spent sorting out my photos, making sure to type everything in before I would forget it. Friday morning I got up at 6AM to see Cape Horn, the Southermost point of South America.

On Friday evening the expedition leader gave a recap, and after that we had some cocktails and a large farewell dinner. As had become usual, there was way more food than anyone could eat. Since we already arrived in Ushuaia in the evening, we got off the ship after dinner and went to a few bars. It was early in the morning when we arrived back on the ship, allowing only a few hours of sleep before breakfast and checkout. It was a good end to an amazing trip.

PatagoniaAntarctica 1

On from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

On Wednesday 19 December I left the Ushuaia harbour onboard the M/V Antarctic Dream, ready for an Antarctic Expedition. I was one of 69 passengers onboard, varying in age between 14 and 80, but with more younger people than I expected. A great deal of the time seemed to revolve around food: breakfast in the morning, 4 courses for lunch, and 4 courses again for dinner. It is a good thing the portions were relatively small, otherwise I would be leaving the ship with quite a few extra pounds. After getting to know most people onboard a little, I ended up having most dinners together with Michael (Swiss), Patricia (Swiss), Yannis (Greek), Aspasia (Greek) and Shani (Israeli/American/British), all aged between 28 and 32. We had quite a few good laughs together.

It took us until Friday afternoon to cross the Drake Passage, 1000km of Southern Ocean separating South America and Antarctica. We had a very good crossing, with only some china breaking. During the day we had lectures onboard about the penguins, birds, and ice of Antarctica. We got the first sight of Antarctica when huge tabular icebergs passed by in the distance, simply amazing to see. Since we crossed much faster than planned, we already did a zodiac landing in the late afternoon. This meant getting dressed really warm with waterproof clothes and a lifevest on top, stepping into the zodiac from the ship, and out of the zodiac in shallow water. The first landing was absolutely amazing: seeing chinstrap penguins in their real environment for the first time, watching the pristine beauty of uninhabited, snow-covered islands, walking through knee-deep snow, and feeling very small admidst all this.

Saturday consisted of a landing on Aitcho Islands, where we got very lucky to see not only the very common gentoo penguin, but also the uncommon macaroni penguin and king penguin. On top of that there was an entire group of elephant seals. This first two landings were on the South Shetland islands, and it took the remainder of the day to get to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Sunday was a full day with 3 landings. The first one at Neko Harbor, where besides the obvious penguins, there also was a crabeater seal. The main attraction was the huge glacier, and I basically sat on a rock for 2 hours watching it. During that time a few small pieces broke off and plunged into the water, but I felt something big was about to happen. When it was almost time to go, a huge piece of the glacier broke off with a thunderous roar, and it plunged into the water. That meant running for my life, because the resulting wave completely flooded the rock I was sitting on. A unique experience. On the way back I walked down the hill a bit too enthousiastically, and fell down on my knee, which hurt quite a bit.

The second landing on Sunday afternoon was at Waterboat Point, where the Chilean Presidente Gabriel González Videla Station is located. The station was surrounded by a penguin colony, and because of the sheltered location, the smell here was much worse than at the other locations. The station had a small museum and souvenir shop (nothing of interest there). It is hard to imagine how people could spend the winter in these small bases with no supply ship for 6 months, and nothing but bitter cold and snow.

On Sunday evening we did the third landing of that day. Cuverville Island was the location, and there was supposed to be a view from the 275m hill. However, it was quite cloudy and because my knee was still hurting, I decided not to do the hike. Instead, I just sat down among the penguins, and watched them waggle by and approach me slowly. Very funny to see.

PatagoniaFrom Antarctica Hostel to Antarctic Dream

On 19 December 2007 from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

After booking my trip to Antarctica on Monday, the first thing I did was buying the Lonely Planet of Antarctica (yes, there is one, although the first backpacker has yet to be spotted). It proved to provide quite a lot of useful information though.

Tuesday I had time to do another hike to Cerro del Medio, starting from the Antarctica Hostel in Ushuaia. While it was quite warm in the city, there was a freezing wind coming from the mountain, once I had passed the treeline. But the views over the city were amazing. The somewhat tropical sounding Laguna Margot proved to be a half-frozen lake, so that was my cue to go back.

On Wednesday I did some last-minute shopping for my trip, and visited the End of the World Museum, and the Prison/Naval Museum. Perfect ways to spend a rainy day, before boarding the Antarctic Dream late afternoon.

PatagoniaItinerary

On from Ushuaia, Argentina | comments closed

After more than one week on the road, I guess it is time for a bit of an itinerary for both myself and everybody else. This is a post that will get updated, so check it again and again and again…

Date Overnight Transport
09/12/2007 Iberia Flight AMS-EZE
10/12/2007 Buenos Aires
11/12/2007 Buenos Aires
12/12/2007 Buenos Aires Ferry Uruguay
13/12/2007 Ushuaia Flight AEP-USH
14/12/2007 Ushuaia
15/12/2007 Ushuaia
16/12/2007 Ushuaia
17/12/2007 Ushuaia
18/12/2007 Ushuaia
19/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
20/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
21/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
22/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
23/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
24/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
25/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
26/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
27/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
28/12/2007 Antarctic Dream
29/12/2007 Ushuaia
30/12/2007 Punta Arenas Bus Ushuaia-Punta Arenas
31/12/2007 Puerto Natales Bus Punta Arenas-Puerto Natales
01/01/2008 Torres del Paine
02/01/2008 Torres del Paine
03/01/2008 Torres del Paine
04/01/2008 Torres del Paine
05/01/2008 Puerto Natales
06/01/2008 El Calafate Bus Puerto Natales-El Calafate
07/01/2008 El Calafate
08/01/2008 Bariloche Flight FTE-BRC
09/01/2008 Bariloche
10/01/2008 Bariloche
11/01/2008 Bariloche
12/01/2008 Bariloche
13/01/2008 Junín de los Andes Car Rental
14/01/2008 Bariloche Car Rental
15/01/2008 Puerto Varas Bus Bariloche-Puerto Varas
16/01/2008 Pucón Bus Puerto Varas-Pucón
17/01/2008 Pucón
18/01/2008 Pucón-Viña del Mar
19/01/2008 Viña del Mar
20/01/2008 Santiago Bus Viña del Mar-Santiago
21/01/2008 Iberia Flight SCL-AMS