A Travellerspoint blog

Merry Christmas

semi-overcast 12 °C

Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas) to everyone
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Even down here at the bottom of the world, Santa Claus managed to catch up with us.
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He even left us pressies under the tree.
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We also found out that the penguins have Santa Claus.
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Santa doesn't always use a sleigh.This is him parachuting in to Antarctica.
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This is him in the engine of his train.
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For Christmas Day we treated ourselves to some Argentinian chocolates. They were scrummy.

In the evening we met our fellow travellers that will be joining us for our next adventure.
We also met Tony and Diane who are our driver and tour leader. They gave us a warm welcome and a christmas present of a book on Patagonia.

We had a lovely christmas dinner at a restaurant right on the water front. The Argentinians eat late so we did not have our meal until around 9pm and that was early.

Posted by shaneandnicola 11:03 Archived in Argentina

Ushuaia

Martial Glacier

sunny 13 °C
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Today we decided to venture out on a great day hike with awesome views. The Martial Glacier trail starts at the bottom of the ski lift located just above the city.
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The weather was perfect, so we grabbed a taxi to drive uphill a few miles to the base of the ski area. The road winds its way up the mountain around some upscale hotels with great views, and we soon arrived at the parking lot. The trail for Martial Glacier starts here.
From the ski refuge parking lot, you can either walk up the ski slope trail until you get to the top of the lift or you can take the chair lift. We decided to take the chair lift as it gave you a great view of the glacier. So with Nicola gripping on tightly and looking a bit pale, away we went.
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Upon arrival at the top you head off on a trail which follows a burbling brook through the woods, and a few minutes later you’re above the treeline.
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What really makes the trail special however, is the awesome views. Behind us was the city of Ushuaia, and expansive views looking across the Beagle Channel towards Chilean Patagonia.
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In front of and around you were many trees, and of course the Martial Glacier. The walk up was quite difficult and steep so we stopped several times along the way to enjoy the views. Nicola looked pretty exhausted but the stops were well worth it so you could take in the 50 mile view across the Beagle Channel, contemplating how beautiful it is at “the end of the world.”
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Once we made it to the glacier we took a nice break and ate lunch constantly looking in both directions. Of course the journey back down the slope didn’t take anywhere near as long and downhill is Nicola’s forte. Our legs were like jelly when we returned to the bottom.
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Next we headed back to town to do some shopping for Christmas Eve. We decided that for tonight we would have some crusty bread, olives, cheeses and some Argentinian sausage. Our own picnic in our hotel room - yum. Of course I will top it off with some Argentinian vino.

Posted by shaneandnicola 13:28 Archived in Argentina

Ushuaia

Four Wheel Driving Adventure to Lake Fagnano and Lake Escondido

semi-overcast 12 °C
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Today we headed north leaving the coast of the Beagle Channel and entered the mountains. We were off on a 4 wheel driving adventure today with “Canal Fun”. After crossing the first range, we stopped at the view point of Carbajal Valley, from where we saw the rugged, pointy mountains, partly covered with snow.
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We ascended to Garibaldi Pass crossing over the Andes. From the pass we had a magnificent view of Lake Escondido with the huge Lake Fagnano in the background. Lake Fagnano is 62 miles in length.
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From the pass we headed off the main road and walked down towards the lake. It was a beautiful walk. We then got back in the landrovers to start our off road adventures. At times there was no road and we drove through the shallow parts of the lake.
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We were then dropped off at the lake front for a relaxing walk along the lake as our drivers went on ahead to prepare a lovely lunch.
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The lunch spot was spectacular and right on the lake. Our drivers cooked us up a hearty lunch. Firstly there was lovely Argentinian wine with cheese and olives. Then we had some great Argentinian sausages in a piece of bread. Thinking that was all we were quite full, however next came these massive steaks. What else would I have expected for an Argentinian BBQ. I thought we went all out with meat in Australia but we are outdone by the Argentinians. While sitting at lunch I saw a grey fox wandering through the forest. He must have smelled the meat being cooked. He just sat there and posed for us.
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After lunch we had time to relax on the waterfront before heading back to Ushuaia.
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It was another enjoyable day.

Posted by shaneandnicola 15:37 Archived in Argentina

Ushuaia

Penguins and some culture

all seasons in one day 9 °C
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Over the last couple of days we have enjoyed some rest and relaxation, not to mention some therapeutic shopping.
So today we thought that we would get another penguin fix. To do this we headed off to the Estancia Harberton.
Before we left we found a neat little sign telling us Hobart (Tasmania) was only 2250km from Antarctica, it’s a bit further than that from us here in Ushuaia.
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On the way to Harberton we stopped to take photos of some trees shaped by the viscous winds found here. These trees are commonly known as ‘flag trees’.
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Harberton is the oldest estancia (farm) in the Argentine sector of Tierra del Fuego. Its founder, Thomas Bridges received Argentine citizenship and a donation of land from the Argentine National Congress for his work with the natives and with shipwrecked sailors of the Cape Horn area. The estancia is located 60 km east of Ushuaia it was named Harberton after his wife’s birthplace in Devon, England and was the first productive enterprise in Tierra del Fuego in enterprises, such as sealing, whaling and gold digging.
Harberton now belongs to the grandchildren of Thomas Bridges' sons. Its manager, is a fourth generation great-grandson of the founder, and lives at the estancia in the original 1887 house with his family, members of the fifth and sixth generations.
Declared an Argentine National Historical Monument in 1999, the estancia maintains its original simple buildings of wood covered with corrugated iron, its gardens, stone piers, and terraces. Originally operating with sheep (for wool), cattle (for meat), As an estancia, the sheep were gradually discontinued after 1995 as uneconomical. The estancia now has only cattle.
From there we headed off by boat to visit an island which has breeding Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. To our surprise there was also a King Penguin who has apparently become lost and taken up refuge with his fellow penguins. He was absolutely beautiful.
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This visit to the penguins was also another first for us. As Ushuaia is further north than Antarctica the penguin eggs have already hatched and there were babies everywhere. Nicola had to be dragged off the island with her thousands of photos.
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We then stopped off at the Harberton museum to see various skeletal remains of oceanic species. It was quite interesting to see the jaws and skeletons of different whales, penguins, birds and dolphins.
An hour drive then put us back into Ushuaia for lunch and a lovely big ice cream to finish off todays adventure.

Posted by shaneandnicola 15:51 Archived in Argentina

Antarctica Expedition Part 2

December 13th to 19th

all seasons in one day 2 °C
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Day 6 – 13th Dec
Happy Birthday dad. (Shane’s).
A thick blanket of snow had covered the ship from bow to stern during the night and it continued to snow this morning. We certainly have seen all seasons in the few short days that we have been here.
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This morning we arrived at Paradise Bay. (not that we could see too much through the snow). Venturing out into a white winter-land making our first steps on the Antarctic continent was very special (up until now we had landed on islands).
The snow was settling on the water as we loaded into zodiacs and kayaks, it was like a thick soup of sludge as we scuffled our way through. We landed at the Argentine base, Almirante Brown. The orange buildings were covered in snow and it was difficult to walk. All this snow was quite a novelty so we built snowmen and had snowball fights.
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Back in the zodiacs we cruised ice platforms for Blue-eyed Cormorants and ventured fairly close to a glacier.
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Large chunks of blue ice seemed to defy gravity on the massive glacier edge. One came tumbling down with another piece plummeting upwards to the surface. It was wild, beautiful and breathe taking.
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Peppered in snowflakes we returned to the warmth of our ship.
After lunch we set sail for Doumer Island. Across the Gerlache Strait, the sun came out and shone on the mountain range of the Antarctic Peninsula while the sea was dotted with bits of ice and whitecaps blown by the wind. We entered the narrow winding waterways of the Neumeyer channel while the wind howled through the channel with high glaciated peaks and ice-cliffs on both sides.
Our afternoon landing was at a Gentoo colony near the end of the Peltier Channel on Doumer Island. It was a little challenging from the ship, getting in and out of the zodiacs with the swell and wind, but we all managed just fine. We landed in a small cove; the wind screamed down from the hummocks, it had a nice icy touch to it too.
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It was an intriguing roam amongst the colony, with a variety of species, Gentoo being the main population along with the odd Chinstrap and our first sighting of an Adelie, all wandering and tobogganing about. Skuas kept a good watch over the colony for a chance of a quick feed.
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Day 7 – 14th Dec
We awoke this morning with sunlight highlighting massive glacier cliffs and shiny icebergs in the ice of Neko Harbour.
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Known for the volatility of its glaciers, we witnessed the menacing rumble of a few tumbling avalanches.
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We sat quietly watching the very seductive body language of the Gentoo village. Double eggs were tenderly rearranged, couples necked like swans and others trumpeted for the sheer sake of it. We were both excited to see so many Gentoo eggs.
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Back on board the ship we had a wonderful afternoon whale watching in the Gerlache Strait. We sighted Minki whales from afar and then the marvel of the day were two Humpback whales right alongside the ship. The captain stopped the ship and the whales hung around for about half an hour. One time the enthusiastic were covered in krill spray encrusted faces from hanging over the side of the ship. As the whales moved from one side of the ship to the other, the paparazzi were in hot pursuit despite the slippery snow covered decks. Certainly the highlight of the day.

Today is the centenary of Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole. To celebrate this occasion we had hot chocolate fortified with peppermint liquor and a cake on the bow of the ship in the freezing cold with the ship slowly pitching and dipping in its dance with the sea.
A late afternoon zodiac trip at the Melchiors was an opportunity to examine the sphinx/rubber duck shaped iceberg and come up close and personal with some Chinstrap penguins. All around the light reflected on the mountains.
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Day 8 – 15th Dec
Happy Birthday mum. (Nicola’s)
We awoke early to enjoy the beauty of Cierva Cove. There was a steely grey sky that added to the texture and ambiance of the place. Cierva Cove was calm and picturesque filled with brash ice and gently rocking icebergs.
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The Argentinian base of Primavera stood out with its neat collection of orange and black buildings on the rock slabs, surrounded by high cliffs.
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We hopped into the zodiacs and spent time exploring the cove – glorious icebergs, seeing the odd Gentoo penguin porpoising through the water. The silvery grey backdrop enhanced the blues in the bergs.
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We came across a very relaxed Leopard seal laying on a small ice throne, with his companions a skua and kelp gull. The leopard seal looked quite content, as you would after a meal of penguin! He yawned continuously showing us all his pearly white teeth and gapping jaw.
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After zodiacing for almost 3 hours we headed back to the ship.
A short distance further to the East was our next destination. Hydrurga Rocks lay nestled to the east of Two Hummock Island which was unfortunately obscured by cloud. Chinstrap penguins paraded amongst the rocks, crowing and generally being busy around reproductive tasks.
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Weddell seals with their curled whiskers scratched in the snow.
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A flock of Snowy Sheathbills wandered amongst the rocks. We waited patiently to see a chinstrap stand up and show us their egg. After waiting some time we were lucky enough to catch a good glimpse of an egg.
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Day 9 – 16th Dec
This morning we awoke extra early to see the ship sail through Neptune’s Bellows at Deception Island. Unfortunately it was raining and blowing 50 knot winds so we didn’t see too much.
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This is what it would have looked like on a good day.
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This is one of the few calderas in the world where it is possible to do this and experience the combined magic of fire and ice in Antarctica as it is an active volcano. Due to the prevailing winds our morning landing at Whalers Bay was cancelled, the gusts inside the caldera were very strong reaching 50+ knots at times. The bridge was closed for the exit from the caldera so that the captain could concentrate. We came to anchor in a protected spot so that the ship could be prepared for the storm we were to experience in the next 2 days. So kayaks and zodiacs were stowed lashed down and our cabins were arranged so that nothing could fall and get damaged or heaven forbid hit one of us during the dreaded crossing.
Doctor Lesley handed out the Phenergan and then we had an easy few hours before the roller coaster began. I honestly don’t think Disney could dream up a ride like we were about to experience.
By late afternoon the Drake was giving us its all, the sea was covered with long streaks of white foam; everywhere the edges of the wave crests were blown into froth. Waves pounded the bridge windows and the bow plummeted into deep blue. By then Shane and I had put ourselves to bed. I will also add that on the first day Shane ensured that he told the doctor that Nicola gets sea sick, Shane ended up being worse than me. Doctor Lesley suggested that Nicola get a good night’s sleep by having a jab in her butt, however 1 jab and 3 Phenergan later, Nicola was still awake to experience the horrors that the night would bring.

Day 10 – 17th Dec
During the night Shane awoke to feeling s of weightlessness as the ship dived into seemingly never ending crevasses and then being crushed back into the mattress as we smashed into and rose quickly to the crest of the next wave, with thoughts of ‘The perfect storm’ Shane drifted back to a restless sleep. After a very rough night of 50+ knot winds and a Force 10 storm (Force 12 is a hurricane) we awoke to take more tablets and go back to bed. We were told that through the night the ship was sailing at less than 1 knot which means we were not really going anywhere. The ship was also quite often at a pitch of 45 degrees. Not much else to say really, but we have got video footage of the 9 metre waves. We have now crossed sixty degrees south, leaving Antarctica in our wake.

I blame Shane totally for the weather on our return journey as he whistled quite a few times during our expedition and apparently whistling is bad luck.

Day 11 – 18th Dec
This morning the sea had calmed down considerably for our sail to the infamous Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. This would be our third sailing to Cape Horn but only our second sighting as one was during the night. It was another over cast day with sea mist but we were still able to get quite a good sighting.
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Today was the day to sort out our ship accounts and pack our bags as we sailed into the calm Beagle Channel. A Minke whale just breached off the port side of the ship, but no-one got pictures as it disappeared as quickly as it appeared, I’m sure no-one on board has moved that quickly for the past two days.

Day 12 – 19th Dec
So looking back at our expedition, we didn’t get to sleep on the ice and the weather wasn’t too good but were we disappointed? Not at all. It was the most amazing thing that either of us has done. In fact the bad weather enhanced our expedition with the many experiences from snow and ice, blustering freezing winds to calm seas and sun. Despite our trip back across the Drake, we have already decided that we will return in February 2013 and do the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
We arrived back in Ushuaia this morning and once through immigration and customs hailed a taxi and returned to the Hostal del Bosque. This will be our home for the next 6 days until our next adventure begins. It will be nice to have our feet on solid ground again.

Posted by shaneandnicola 16:36 Archived in Antarctica

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