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South...

Start near the equator and head south, way south. Peru to Antarctica, Alpaca's to Penguins, Amazon to Ice, Inca's to well, nobody really. A journey to places that have names that inspire. Venga explorar tierras del fuego y del hielo.

Diary Entries

Sunday, 05 February 2006

Location: MV Polar Star, Antarctica

What a way to finish. We just stepped back onto dry land after an amazing week and a half on the Antarctic peninsular. Easily one of the most beautiful places in the world. Its not going to be easy to write about it because there is so much to tell. I'm also very conscious of not sounding like our expedition leader, Dave German. His floral descriptions of the place were a little over the top.
Actually life on the trip started a little shakily. We got to our five star hotel and met up with many of the other people on the boat. We immediately noticed that there was not single person under the age of 50. Okay, so we weren't out for a party, but we expected at least a little bit of variation in the crowd. Over the course of time, some other 'young' people were found to have fun with, and believe it or not old people can be fun too. In fact almost everyone on the boat was pretty interesting to talk to. Unlike your standard tour group, Antarctica tended to attract the more adventurous types.
The other shaky thing about the start was that around 80% of the people on the boat were in fact there for a second time. They had all been on a trip to Antarctica on the same boat two years ago and it had run aground and had to limp back to port. The company had given them a free trip to make up for it. They'd neglected to tell us this when we booked, but I guess it's not a good selling point that you nearly sunk the ship two years ago.
We also discovered from someone in port that someone had died on our ship on its previous voyage. Fell down stairs while crossing the Drake Passage. Looking at the age of some of our travellers this was not overly surpising. But a bit disturbing.
None of these negatives actually affected our trip in any way, but it didn't make for a feeling of confidence as we sailed out into the Drake passage. It should, however be mentioned that Fathom Expeditions, the company we went with were very good, every effort was taken by the crew to make sure the trip was a success - which it was.
The Drake is known for its rough seas, it's the water that surronds Antarctica and its full of sunken ships apparently. Admittedly we were kind of looking forward to some rough seas. But it wasn't to be. Both on the way there and on the way back the Drake was very calm. So instead of clinging on the railings for dear life, we had to make do with trying to photograph the albtrosses that followed our wake. They truly are big birds. Antarctica is a bit of a bird geek heaven. We had our very own bird geek on the boat - Graham. He gave a few lectures whilst on the Drake, and also could be seen running in from the deck to let us all know the Great Southern Spotted Petrel was flying past. However, It was the blow from humpback and fin whales that tended to interest us more.
We sailed for two days, and on the second day we began to see icebergs and the temperature started to get much colder. The icebergs are incredible. The bergs we've been seeing in South America are absolutely nothing compared to the mighty beasts that float down in Antarctica. They are huge and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some have broken off from massive glaciers and are jagged like castles. Others have broken off from ice shelves and are completely flat on the top. These tabular bergs are impressive, like a massive cube of ice floating past you taller than the ship. They are truly huge, you could build a small town on some of them.
As the bergs began to get more frequent, we started seeing some signs of land. In particular penguins jumping out of the water. Eventually we reached Elephant Island - an island just north of the Antarctic peninsular. Very beautiful and very inhospitable. Massive rocky peaks covered in ice soaring out or the ocean. The reason we visited this place was because it was where the crew of the Endurance spent a winter living under two upturned boats many years ago. Interesting for both of us since we'd read Ernest Shackletons book about this back when we were in Nepal. If you haven't heard the story, you should find out about it. It's a truly amazing story of survival. I'm not going to repeat it here since we heard about in print, in a lecture and twice in film format on the boat and I don't think I can take another recap of it. Suffice to say, that little beach was not a place I would like to spend an Antarctic winter with 20 other men. Even without the cold, the smell of penguin shit would be enough to send you crazy. It really does stink and you can smell it from miles away.
Rough seas meant we were unable to land the zodiacs on the island, in fact we were lucky to get out in the zodiacs at all. Boarding the zodiacs involves climbing down a gangway and jumping at the right moment as the swell lifts the zodiac up and down. The age of some of the people boarding them was staggering. My hat goes off to them.
Back on the ship we set sail again towards the Antarctic Peninsular proper, it was at this stage in the trip that it became almost impossible to go inside the ship. The views were just too stunning. The best spot by far was up on deck seven outside the bridge and it was always the same die hard gang up there. It was tough at times with freezing winds and low temperatures, but many layers of clothing and the occasional trip back inside to get warm made it possible. The icebergs in the Weddel sea are everywhere and occasionally the ship would hit them. It could handle it. We know this because later in the trip we crashed into a really big one, the ship stopped dead, no damage done.
The following day we had to cancel a landing which was a bit disappointing, the weather was pretty rough. We were all pretty keen to put two feet on dry land at this stage. In the afternoon our luck changed and we managed to land on Paulet Island. This island is a volcano and is home to thousands of Adelie penguins. It is an incredible experience to get off and walk around amongst penguins. They are trusting little things and aren't too bothered by humans, which means you can watch them up close and of course take thoudands of photos. Although they are extremely fast and agile swimmers, they are cumbersome and comical on land which makes for great watching. Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the penguins and went for a much needed hike to the top of the volcano. Volcano number two for the trip. The view back down to the ship was pretty good, but in truth we just wanted to get back down to the penguins, which seems funny now, since by the end of the trip you become a bit penguined out. They are everywhere.
The next day there was more bad weather which meant the only activity we could do was to go cruising in the zodiacs in amongst the ice in a sheltered area. You would think thats a little boring. But no. The ice holds many a secret and we got up close and personal with crabeater and weddell seals. We also got up close to a tabular iceberg which makes you feel pretty small in the scheme of things.
That evening we sailed further in to the Weddel Sea and the wind was really blowing hard. But the sun decided to put on a show as it set and lit up all the bergs in spectacular fashion with the wind whipping up big waves onto them. Truly amazing and very cold. Watching sunsets means a late night in Antarctica since it doesn't dip below the horizon until about 11pm and you can see its glow all night. Thankfully the ships bar has windows to see this. The ships bar was always an interesting experience, for some reason only the Brits, Irish, Canadians and Aussies seemed to frequent it and it was always the usual crowd. Our Irish room mate Pat was always there despite not being a drinker. He is an extremely funny guy. Always ready with a wisecrack for any occasion. In fact you find yourself laughing even when he says something serious. He also is a singer and made for good entertainment in the bar. Doctor Rob was usually in the bar too - the only other Aussie. He didn't drink because he had so many oldies to look after, but he was a typical top Aussie, even if he has moved to New Zealand.
A good indicator of the weather was that one of the ships anchors snapped during the night. Thankfully there were two.
The following day our luck changed with the weather. Partly because the expedition leader, Dave made the right choice to head away from the Western side of the peninsular and North to the protected South Shetland Islands. The sun was out and the water was calm for our next landing at Arctowski base. A Polish science station in Admiralty bay. The station itself was closed to us, but there was plenty to see on the beach, including our first encounter with Elephant seals. We thought the penguins stunk... these babies are like giant slugs on the beach that burp and fart and roar at each other. Incredible to see at such close range.
In the afternoon we landed at a place called Aitcho Island. This place is nothing short if incredible. One of many cold and craggy islands that soar out of the sea, the views all around are breathtaking. But, you barely get a chance to look at the views, since this island is a nature documentary on steroids. Elephant seals, Gentoo penguins, chinstrap penguins and nesting Petrels all inhabit this tiny island and it was difficult to decide which to go and watch. We must have spent hours on the island, but it felt like only minutes when we were called back into the zodiacs to board the ship for another sunset.
The next day it only got better. The sun was out and the Antarctic scenery was amazing. It was a busy day with three landings. The first at Cuverville Island for some more penguin watching and an attempted hike. We straggled behind the hiking group because they generally went pretty slowly. This was a mistake, there is a bird in Antarctica called a Skua. It likes to eat penguin chicks and defends its own nest quite vigourously. Its also pretty big. Seems we got a little too close to its nest and it decided to take action. Its not a good feeling as a massive brown bird with an evil look of death hurtles at you blocking out the sun. We survived to tell the tale however. Back down on the beach it was so sunny you could lie and watch the pengiuns in total comfort, and it got so warm that when we got back on the boat for a barbeque lunch, we could sit outside in t-shirts. The barbeque lunch was fantastic. Truly weird feeling sitting outside in Antarctica hoeing down to a steak. Everyone was on a bit of high since the weather was good and the ship was steaming down a channel that had some of the best scenery yet. It wasn't possible to not interrupt your lunch to take photos.
After the barbeque we landed on the continent for the first time in Paradise bay. Very appropriately named, this place is spectacular. I won't try and explain how beautiful it is I'll leave that to the photos. We took a hike up a hill to get a better view and then glissaded back down the hill. Tim's snow sliding ability has greatly improved since Pucon, and it was pretty funny to see Grannies whooping down the mountain.
Paradise bay is meant to be a good spot for whales, but unfortunately we saw none. We were getting a buit anxious by this stage as we really wanted to see one up close. That evening Tim went for a hike on Danco Island to see a spectacular sunset, and dammit - a whale from afar which all the zodiacs bar one were over looking at. Unfortunately Nick was in the one zodiac driven by the ships marine mammal expert Rob that did not see the humpback. We started to put some pressure on Rob that evening to produce a whale for us.
In the morning the ship sailed through the Lemaire channel. After an exhausting day the day before, we had wake up early for it. But it was rewarding. Some call it the Kodak Channel for good reason. At the end of the channel is an Iceberg garden which we cruised through in the zodiacs. Lots more photos were taken.
More landings on this day, many more penguins and a British base at Port Locory where you could send postcards. Sorry folks, we sent none. The day was very warm, in fact the warm weather although good for us was not good for the penguins. The penguin chicks are born with massive furry coats to help them stay warm. They can't swim when they are young and therefore can't cool off. They would all pant like dogs and looked generally distressed. Some of them spreadeagled on rocks to try and cool off. Difficult to understand when we were all wearing at least a fleece to stay warm. Unfortunately the chicks were being picked off by the Skuas (of swooping fame) one by one and the colony was very agitated when we visited. Seeing the effects of global warming first hand wasn't so nice.
Its not all bad, whether caused by global warming or not, the glaciers around Port Locory were very active and one enourmous chunk fell into the bay at one stage sending a huge wave onto the beach.
The following day we were at Neko harbour. More spectacular ice and glaciers to be seen, and yet more bloody penguins. We were really itching for a whale by this stage and getting a little worried that we wouldn't see one. The weather was turning bad again too.
That evening Rob the whale man delivered. Cruising in Cierva Bay we encountered not just one, but about nine humpback whales. Awesome. It's truly amazing how big they are, and they come right up close to the zodiacs and yet never touch them. Every so often they 'fluke' which means they show their tail as they deep dive and then you don't hear them for a few minutes until they surface behind you a breath out their blowhole. Incredible stuff. At one point there were two of them just sitting in the water checking us out, one of them made a noise which was deep and full of bass. We were out there for about an hour, and due to the rush to get into the zodiacs were wearing no where near enough clothing for the cold. But you just don't feel it with the adrenaline.
It was definitely back to the bar that night. The usual suspects were there. Including Robert and his daughter Gillian and nieces Julie and Deborah. They hail from Yorkshire and Robert is one funny guy. Wearing a different tie every night, he would make every one laugh and ply his daughter and nieces with wine. Now thats responsible parenting. Also in the bar was the Irish crowd - members of the Tom Crean society. Tom Crean was an Irishman on the Shackleton expedition mentioned earlier and they were here to see where it all happened. They'd even brough the lovely Rachel along, a composer who was recording sounds to compose a piece for them. Tough job.
Another early morning was skipped by most of us as the weather had turned on us. We woke to find that we were circling inside the crater of an active volcano. Deception island is a volcano that sits with the bottom of its crater below the surface of the sea with the rim of the crater forming a ringed island. There is only a narrow channel to sail into there. Even in the crater, the wind was howling and we had to wait for it to die down to make a landing. Thankfully it did slightly and we ventured onto shore in the zodiacs. There is an old whaling station there that was destroyed when the volcano last blew. It made for some interesting photography. But more interestingly, if you dig in the volcanic sand on the beach a pool of hot water forms creating a nice piping hot geothermal bath. It had to be done. Off came all the foul weather gear and dressed only in swimmers the Antarctic wind hit our bodies. Not content that there was enough discomfort we headed for the sea, yep, we dived into the water in Antarctica. Extremely cold (well what did we expect). The fact that the depth of the water dropped away very quickly made things a bit interesting, since you would dive into the water, immediately decide that you wanted to get out before being overcome by an icecream headache like no other and realise you could no longer stand up. After a bit of frantic swimming it was a dash to the hot pool on the beach. Sweet relief. That water was warm and you could sit there as long as you liked in the Antarctic wind whilst being watched by people in head to tow Gore-Tex.
That was pretty much it for the journey. We had to head back along the Drake for two days and back here to Ushuaia. They had forecast heavy seas, but there were none (to our disappointment). Obviously the only thing for it was to head to the bar two nights in a row, so I hope this entry makes sense as I am not entirely conscious right now. Lots of fun was had on the way back and goodbyes were said this morning. Tonight we're heading out in Ushuaia again with the bar crowd and tomorrow god help us we get on a plane and leave this part of the world for the UK. All good things have to come to an end, and there is no better way to end than with a trip to Antarctica, easily the most beautiful place I've seen.


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Recent Messages

From Ryan
What company did you use for your Antarctica trip? Sounds fabulous!

Response: Fathom Expeditions - they were great. It is an older crowd, its serious about learning and experiencing - great guides and awesome experiences.
From Lindsay
Damn... it must feel good to be planetrangers #1! Sounds like you are having an amazing trip... sendinf planetranger love from the southern hem... Aussie baby! Keep up the good work :)
Response: Thanks Lindsay - you can only last so long at the top.
From Simon Wilson
Wow, great trip. LOVE your Antartica shots. I'm jealous, that's the one place in the world I REALLY want to get to. Well done, great trip.
Response: You should go. Spare no expense, it's beautiful. Fathom Expeditions I would recommend. Thanks for your comment.
From happy en bill
Good to hear from outsiders that Robert was behaving himself a little and surely enjoued the company of his girls!!!!!! Besides that you all seem to have had a tremendous holiday. Keep it up
Response: Robert was behaving perfectly, as were his girls of course.
From Robert S
Glad all your bags are finally here and sorry Nick cannot manage a quick visit to God's own country,Yorkshire!Next time definitely! We are on for Manley Beach and maybe the Radisson and the Kiosk -so will keep in touch.Just had an E-Mail from a Canadian cousin who has looked at all the pictures and says the outstanding one is THE boots!!Safe Journey and Bye for now. ROBERT
Response: Hey Robert Manly and the Kiosk for sure. The boots is the business, although Nick took it and we all know his photos are second best. Hope you yourself have made it safely back to "Gods own".
From robert sugden
Back at last after our 16 hour delay-but at least we have our bags -hope yours have arrived too by now??? As mentioned via Gillian your report was fantastic and the photos great-lots of our friends are looking.Gillian was home at 3 and into work at 4pm(will help future holiday days) We managed lunch on the train(and a drop of wine!!) to end our trip. Mangaed a River Plate football match on our "bonus " night in BA -lively atmosphere! ROBERT
Response: You are lucky - one bag left to go, its been delivered to London. We are in Edinburgh. Glad you enjoyed right up till the end. It's the only way! Great to meet you Robert, see you in Oz.
From The Yorkshire Girls
Bing Bong from BA!
Response: Hey girls. Who else who have been such a pleasure to share a bathroom with. Have fun in BA, but tell Robert he can stop getting you pissed now.
From Angel
Looks like you guys had a blast! Hope you have a good flight to the UK which I am sure will seem very mundane after all those adventures, lucky you have a wedding to go to! I hear that it is quite cold in England at the moment so you will have to wait a while to refresh your tans! I will keep a spot on the beach for you for you :)
When can we expect you back in Sydney, Tim?
Response: Thanks for keeping a spot, tans are long gone - that'll happen in Antarctica. I will be back in Sydney on Feb 27 or around then.
From Chris Ross
Hey Nick,

Sounds like you're having a great time - look out for the icebergs!

Chris
Response: Hey Chris, Awesome trip... all I hoped for and more. Hope you enjoyed Nepal, catch you soon.
From Banana
Hey Timbo... your wade through the icy stream reminded me of our mid winter Newquay swim, some years ago now... remember???
I feel your pain!!!

Stay crazy guys
Response: I remember - we just bettered it with a swim in Antarctica. Pain like never before.
From mang
Hey guys, the trip sounds awesome, getting better every day! I am extremely envious. Pleased you finally managed to get into the 5 star hotel they must have recognised "Lord Nick-el-ass" when they met him! ha ha Have a great trip, stay safe, don't scare too many wild animals and keep taking lots of photographs! ps don't drink the water! You will get brain freeze!
Response: Glad to see you haven{t lost that sharp wit Mang. Looking forward to catching up over some cocktails soon...
From Duane
Hey Jake, hope the trip is going well. Thanks for your congratulations, and no I didn't sell the bike!

See you soon

Duane
Response: Looking forward to the wedding, thats if Im invited. Might see you before for the run of 30s...
From Perfect Nick's siste
Hi guys... not long till you head back down under now. You will be on the boat as I type this. Let's hope it's nothing like the titanic - unless of course Leonardo is on board. It will be a good test of your loyal fans the next 2 weeks, to see if you stay at numero uno with no entries! Enjoy the ice
Response: Well we hit a few icebergs, but we think they did that for fun. We are no longer number 1... guess the trip is over.
From Craig
Hey guys, wicked pics. Sounds like you are enjoying the weather. Must go ,beach calling.
Speek to you later .
Craig
Response: Thanks mate, will remember that one. But we´ve checked in to 5 star, are having dinner at one of the worlds best restaurants before cruising out of the harbour tomorrow afternoon. Wouldn´t mind a dive in the surf though! Take care, see in Feb.
From Bronte and Alex
Hello Tim and Nick,
Please say hello to Santa if he lives at the South Pole. We think it may be the North Pole where he lives, in which case please say hello to the Penguins.
Bye Bye,
Bronte and Alex.
Response: We think Santa might have an office down south too, we´ll put in a good word for you for next christmas.
From Brendan
G'day Nick, I met your Dad at Christmas. My old man built the house across the street from his at Scott's. He told me to check out the site, very impressive, sounds like a fantastic adventure. Have you had an Argentinian BBQ yet? Hope you're not a vege. Cheers. Bren.
Response: Many Parrillas - some wicked BBQs over here. I think they eat meat better than us. See you at Scotts sometime...
From Bea
Chicitos. I am awestruck at the latest batch of photography. Amazing stuff.

Where does the adventure end?




Response: Thanks Bea, Tim took them all! The adventure ends in Antarctica in a couple of weeks, but there will be some further adventuring in Europe after that.
From Nick & Jodes
Love the travel page guys - very inspiring. In a couple of months my partner and I are off to cover the same territory plus Central America and Cuba by backpack - weve got 8mths to cover it, so should be a blast.

I like a photo and am typically trigger happy, so I am trying to figure out the best way to store my digital photo's eg multiple memory cards, copy to disk and send home, or ipod memeory etc.. How are you guys doing it and how have you found the local store technology along the way ? This is a fairly boring topic, so happy for you to send me a separate email.

Thanks and keep up the fantastic updates.

Cheers
Response: It will be a blast. We have a few memory cards and batteries and basically burn to DVD. Finding a internet cafe with a DVD burner is not so easy sometimes, but we always found one eventually. We usually burn one and send one back home. Don't have the iPod adapter, its bulky, but our friend Ben used one in Peru and it was good. Only thing is you may want to send a DVD home anyway in case of breakage/theft etc. The advice pages on this site have info on this too. Enjoy your trip!
From leaf
your photos are wonderful
i really admire you can travel so much and get so many cherished momeries

they are miracle
Response: Glad you like them Leaf. The memories are very good.
From Tim's Mom.
Dvd arrived safely. Thanks for the lovely card. Mom
Response: Many thanks for looking after the DVD, glad you liked the card and got home safely.
From Rob Milligan
Hi Nick and Tim,

Love your web page. Just a quick question, who did you do the Manu Jungle Tour with?

Thanks
Rob.

P.S. we were also hiking the Torres Del Paine on xmas day.....
Response: Hi Rob, SAS travel, you want Fernando as a guide , he's an Amazonian legend.
From Banana
Happy Happy Happy New Year boys... keep warm, stay safe and be happy. Look forward to catching up with you both at the "wedding of the year"
Response: It is the year of Brenner. You stay warm, safe and happy new year too!
From Brad (Hookdog)
Hey boys,
Glad to see you're having a good trip. Hope you enjoy a really great Christmas / New Year. Just got back from Indo & Hawaii - may also need to start a PlanetRanger account soon. Take care, cheers for now!
Response: Hey Brad, let me guess - you were surfing? Hope it was fun. See you in Feb.
From Dave & Lou
Happy Christmas Guys! Hope you have a good one.
Response: Sure was, hope yours was too. Austria is coming soon!
From Tim'Dad
Good to talk to you and I am sorry for the early hour South time.

Have a great Christmas and a Prosperous, though less exciting New Year.

I am at Alex and Angel's at present and the temperature is about 35 degs; just like being in KL.

Dad
Response: Less exciting? Hopefully not. You could come here for a little cold weather! Glad you had a good christmas.