Beagle Channel

As promised, the winds picked up again yesterday evening and we spent the night slithering up and down our beds as the ship swung from side to side. Awaking from a not particularly restful sleep, we found our view unchanged, ocean to every side.

As we slowly inched forwards towards the southernmost tip of Argentina, the amount of birds flying alongside the ship increased, and as we were finally given leave to go back out on deck, with great caution as the seas were still rough, all the photographers took the opportunity to grab some fresh air, and aim our cameras at the passing petrels and albatross. None of us lasted outside long, the winds were fierce and our hands suffered. After a number of attempts we were driven back inside by a hailstorm.

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Finally, 48 hours or so after leaving Charlotte Bay, just as we were sitting down to lunch, we spotted land in the distance. By this point, plans had changed again, and instead of taking a detour to Cape Horn as planned, the weather had caused the captain to alter course, and take a direct route into Ushuaia.

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The final stretch up through the Beagle Channel was a slow one, allowing us to enjoy the scenery. We had our final session in the Discovery Lounge, to toast the Captain and his crew, and as we settled down to dinner, with a prime seat at the bow, we watched the ship dock in Ushuaia. We’re don’t disembark until tomorrow morning, so it’s a strange night on board, in a stationary ship. Well, it’ll be nice to sleep in a calm bed!

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Ushuaia and the Drake Passage

With the wonders of modern technology, I’m writing, and hopefully sending, this blog post from the MS Expedition, located just past 59 degrees south, halfway across the Drake Passage en route to our first point of call in Antarctica, the South Shetland Islands. We expect to make our first landing tomorrow afternoon, but it’s not yet clear exactly where.

The journey here was long, 20 hours door to door, to my hotel in Buenos Aires, followed by an early start the next morning to fly to Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern most tip of Argentina.

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After a day in Ushuaia, in which we more or less exhausted its tourist possibilities, we boarded the ship yesterday afternoon and set sail through the Beagle Channel, reaching the Drake Passage in the early hours of the morning.

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The crossing thus far has been remarkably gentle, although there are a few people laid up with sea sickness nonetheless. I’m one of the lucky ones, despite being one of the few onboard not dosed up to the eyeballs, I’m just fine.

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Today has been an at sea day, with little to see – no land on the horizon, and only the occasional black browed albatross in the distance. Standing out on deck and feeling the light rain on your face is always a pleasure though, and a good chance to get to know new people. Both passengers and crew are very international, although with the expedition company being based in Toronto, there are a disproportionate amount of Canadians, one of whom is my cabin mate who hails from Saskatchewan.

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To keep us occupied, there have been a number of lectures, on the birds, seals and geography of the Antarctic, and the story of Scott and Amundsen’s race to the pole. This latter story will be revisited in a few minutes, in the form of a film. We’ve also had the mandatory vacuum session, to try and remove all traces of seeds and contaminants from our gear, so that we don’t accidentally introduce new species to the area.

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Our photography group numbers eight, plus Chris our leader. Two of the faces are familiar from previous trips, the rest all new to me. After the initial shock of being introduced to six new names and faces at 4:30am the day after I arrived, I finally have everyone’s names down, and we’re all getting to know each other.

One small disappointment, we’ve discovered that there was the possibility to camp out on Antarctica for a night. Unfortunately, it’s something you had to sign up for in advance. If only we’d known, I’d have taken that option for sure. Guess that’s another reason I’ll just have to come back in the future!

Getting ready for the off

There’s a flurry of bags arriving in the lobby of the hotel, ready for loading onto the ship.  I’m going to go on a tour of the Tierra del Fuego National Park before we board ship this afternoon.  The tour leaders have the fun job of standing guard over all the bags until we leave!

Southern-most city in the world

My bags and I have now arrived safely in Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world.  Despite having the smallest amount of luggage of the group I checked in with, I was the only one got stung for excess baggage charges.  Still, at 96 pesos (about 30USD) it wasn’t enough to really complain about, and the good news is that no-one questioned the weight of my camera bag.

I’ve met up with a number of members of the tour group now, including one of the leaders who I met on my trip to Spitsbergen, 4 or 5 years ago.

I’ve taken a small wander around town, enjoying the fresh air and now I’ve come back to the hotel to take advantage of the last little while of internet connectivity before heading off to sea tomorrow.

It’s Spring in Buenos Aires

25 hours after I left home yesterday, and after a two hour delay in Paris, my flight touched down in Buenos Aires, and for the first time, I put my feet on South American soil.

This is my third visit to the southern hemisphere, but the first time that the shift in seasons has been truly evident. After all, when you visit Africa, you expect it to be hot and sunny, no matter whether it’s winter or summer. This time, however, I left the leaves hanging on to the trees by a mere thread, and arrived to find everything in bloom again! There may have been torrential rain in Buenos Aires yesterday, but there is no sign of that today.

So, I went for a wander around town,

… admired the flowers …

… spotted some trains for Dad …

… found a whole bunch of palm trees …

… watched a tango demonstration …

… managed to order myself an ice cream (lemon and chocolate mousse) …

… watched the local wildlife, hard at work …

… visited the cemetary,

and then went back to the hotel at 5.30 for a short nap, and didn’t wake up until 2am.