Sailing around the Antarctic amongst all the ice sculptures is quite an experience, you take endless photos and at every other moment there is yet another bizarre scene to record. By this stage of the trip everyone is very comfortable with the routine, the ship moves along sedately and there are lectures and trips out on the Zodiacs and landings on the ice. At every briefing it is always made clear that “We hope to” do this or whatever and so it was that on the 3rd January we were unable to land at Portal Point as the ice build up was too great for the Zodiacs to be able to get to shore. It was a disappointment of course as you long to get off and out but there’s nothing anyone can do about it so they provide another activity instead.
Portal Point is the entrance to Charlotte Bay on the Reclus Peninsula, West Coast Graham Land
On way to Portal Point
After lunch we are told that yes we can land at Mikkelsen Harbour – much happiness all round.
Mikkelsen Harbour: South side of Trinity Island in Palmer Archipelago. Lots of Gentoo Penguins and whale bones from the whalers from the early 1900’s
Old Water boat at Mikkelsen
Another wonderful outing. That evening the crew had set up an on deck Braai and Silly Hats competition – yawellnofine, not everyone’s cup of tea but you have to give them credit for trying to make things as joyful as possible and by providing variety in the middle of nowhere. Every morning BTW a newspaper was delivered to each cabin containing world news; not everyone appreciated it but again effort on the part of Quark.
Silly hats Braai
4th January 2016 the day we get to the furthest South that we are going: Petermann Island 65.10.7. This Island lies in the Penola Straight where there are Adelie Penguins and one of the most southerly colonies of Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Also there are Antarctic Cormorants. Looking North there are stunning views of the very elusive entrance to the extremely narrow Lemaire Channel, which we were fortunate to do twice; once on the ship and the second on a hair raising Zodiac experience; rushing past those enclosing snow covered mountain walls. Looking South from Petermann are the mountainous landscapes of Graham Land
Early morning on board we were greeted by this scene
Yep it was that cold !
Entering The Lemaire Channel
The Lemaire Channel is 11 Km’s long and it runs from False Cape Renard to Cape Cloos – separating Booth Island from the Antarctic Continent. It is less than 800 metres wide.
We went off on the Zodiacs to Petermann Island
Full Zodiac – fun way to get around – 10 per boat
The Ice floes were getting quite thick which made for “bumper” zodiacs
Memorial to lost explorers
A lonely place to die
Small “exclusive” tour about 10 people on board
So back to ship and more fun and games – This time those brave souls who wanted to go for the “Antarctic Plunge”
Of course there is always one exhibitionist !
Lunch followed thereafter ! Time to get warm again before heading off out again on the Zodiacs.
Cabin View – they were really nice with comfortable beds and variable heating – the shower was a bit of a hit and miss affair over the bath with grab handles for when the ship lurches – usually whilst you have soap in your eyes and can’t find the bloody handle 🙂
Back out on the Zodiacs
So many shapes and sizes
Our Pilot on the Zodiac – a youngster – looking for some excitement asked if we would “like” to go down the Lemaire Channel again, this time at speed – majority decision You Bet !
What a truly fantastic day – what sights – back to ship and the inevitable call for group photo
That done The Captain announces that a storm of note is approaching so he is going to turn now and put foot to get to Drake Passage and hope to miss the worst of the storm for our comfort and without further ado – it’s over – we’re heading for home and develop that oh so familiar sinking feeling of yeah well that’s that. !
The way out
And put foot he did, we exited via the Nimrod passage and hit Drake for 800km of rocking and rolling. The way in had been mild a sort of 2/10, a few people had felt queasy – going home it was a 6/10 I reckon, and the restaurant was VERY quiet and people quite subdued. Some really serious lurches where whole tables of cutlery & plates went flying – not a great time to be in the shower, sick bags were put out along all the gangways and stairwells – nice decorative touch that ! NOT ! At one stage all the outside doors were closed and we were not allowed outside – not that we all listened to that one – it was a real blast standing just under the bridge counting the waves for the next big one which rushes over you and the go-pro big time.
The observation lounge – a good quiet place to watch the approaching storm – Drake passage
As I said earlier on in part 1 – I do not do boats. I do not even like boats – far too many bad memories of crossing the English Channel as a boy. My brother suggested that I get the wrist bands and our Doctor recommended Sandoz, Cinnarizine 25. Which we both duly did. The trick is that A. you must start wearing the bands a day or so before embarkation and B. start the tablets a day before too. Well it worked – I was not at any stage even vaguely nauseous, nor did I lose my appetite either. Lin, as usual – over-facilative to the end – gave her bands away to a girl who felt unwell on the 2/10 way in and lived to pay the price on the return trip. So I don’t know if it was the bands and the tablets that made me fine or just the bands, in any event, who cares, they worked & I felt great.
Hanging in there – duck & dive with the howling wind
The guides arranged more lectures & films, we had the Captains Farewell party and spirits were kept high despite the sense that it was all over. The dark sky and choppy seas meant that there was little on the ocean to observe but it was fun watching the birds try and go with the wind, which was howling. This went on for two days until we reached the beagle Channel – on the bridge radar you could see where all the other boats were hiding out from the storm. The bridge with all its charts & maps was a fascination for me – and officers only too willing to explain.
Standing outside watching the crashing waves & occasionally getting soaked – what fun !
Dismal return up the Beagle channel
Having reached the Beagle Channel it all died down and we were back to normal and in the morning found ourselves docked at the appropriate berth back in Ushuaia. It was a dark and dismal day that greeted us and Ushuaia was taking a battering from the winds. We had two choices, we could either disembark, dump our bags at the lock up and spend three or so hours walking around Ushuaia or just take the provided transport straight to the airport and wait for our flight later that day. Given that we had already seen all there was to see In Ushuaia and given the weather, we opted for counting the tiles again at the airport. My goodness did the time drag.
Back in Port Ushuaia
Eventually our flight was called and we found that we had been booked right at the back of the plane, inquiring at check in if we could move were told no the flight is full. On entering the plane, priority, I point at Lin with her stick and commented that we have been put right down the back and the attendant says no, no problem, here take these seats right upfront in business class – What joy ! What extra legroom for the 3 hour flight back to Buenos Aires. Not that the “snack” was any better – don’t these people ever do real food ? 🙁
It was great being back in Buenos Aires, a bit like feeling you were coming home, we knew where to grab a taxi and we were going back to the same wonderful hotel in the middle of town near the Presidential Palace again and upon arriving and getting our on-going boarding passes sorted & printed we dumped our bags and hit the streets. It was late, 6 pm and as we had spent the day really doing nothing we were really glad to be able to get back into summer wear and get outside and breathe and enjoy all that Buenos Aires has to offer. We went back to a restaurant that we had been to before on the grounds that the locals eat there and we had really enjoyed the place first time around. Mindful of our early start in the morning we were not late back into bed.
Vertical view of Life in Buenos Aires from top down……..
Going around outside to the back – They see this as a natural expression of their wishes – this says what exactly ?
The other side of life – entering building
A warren – four or five families living here
Nighttime litter – the bench top is concrete BTW
The beautiful side of Buenos Aires
Fantastic street furniture
Next morning the bizarre breakfast feast again and a taxi back to the airport. If you take a metered taxi the fare is 130 Peso but can be more, traffic dependent; a mini cab is a fixed price of 190 Peso.
But eggs & bacon a no-go area !
More “wonderful” aircraft fodder – they have a serious sugar problem
So we flew to Sao Paulo again and walked miles to our connecting flight back to Jhb, more tile counting. Jhb walk more miles to get to domestic and at check in they are not happy with Lins sewing scissors – she points out that we have been through how many checks with these since leaving home, eventually he gives up and says well they may be blunt ended but they are still not allowed – I hate flying – I hate all the nonsense of it all – The number of times I just wished we had the landcruiser with us and could bugger off on our own !
Coming into Sao Paulo
More counting tiles for the wait to board for CT and an uneventful flight with what passes for real aircraft food for a change.
Coming in to Land Cape Town !
Mixed feelings about being home until we are knocked off our feet by our Grandson who is having his first visit to an airport ! Happy times.
Well I never thought that I’d ever do a trip like this. When Lin suggested it I sort of thought well maybe. Since reading Bruce Chatwin years ago – his book – In Patagonia – There was always a desire to go there, especially given the South African Boer war connection.
Lin found Quark and Leo Van Heukelum of Unique Destinations and after one meeting I could see that this was going to be a go – albeit an expensive go – and the more we went into things the more comfortable we became with the idea, but for me it was always a no-brainer not to see Argentina as well and with Leo’s help and knowledge he put together what has been truly a trip of a lifetime.
Argentina was wonderful; the people, the sights everything. That said: an observation made by a neighbour friend; “That’s a lot of flying” proved to be all too true and that was a drag with a lot of time wasting but the upside is that we did get to see and experience the many faces of Argentina.
The Antarctic: what to say. It was a true rare experience – photographing becomes addictive due to the tortured shapes & designs of all the icebergs – sorry if there are too many here – Being on a ship which 180 other people is OK but not great – however if you are selective and keep to yourself most of the time it is endurable. To be able to do this on a private charter with a few good friends – now that would be something, but totally un-affordable for the majority of us.
Our Jhb 4×4 travelling friends reckoned “Fantastic way to spend kids inheritance” Yep totally accurate. 🙂
More photos at: photo album
Unique Destinations – Leo Van Heukelem – a truly first class outfit.
SEE BELOW for Part 1: Iguazu & Buenos Aires & Uruguay
SEE BELOW for Part 2: Bariloche, El Calafate & Ushuaia
SEE BELOW for Part 3: Ushuaia & Antarctic proper