Monday, 19 January 2009

Arriving Home - and reflections 18-19/01/2009

Days 22 and 23 18th and 19th January 2009

The trip home was long and tedious but easy. The taxi arrived at the hotel a few minutes early to take us to the airport, the roads were empty (it was a Sunday), the queues at the Airport were short, the plane left on time and arrived on time 15 hours later etc etc.

The thing we noticed most when we arrived in the UK was that it was dark and damp and miserable! After all, over the past few weeks we have lived in up to 24 hours of daylight, hot temperatures and cold temperatures, rough seas, calm ponds, snow and ice but never 14 hours of darkness and constant rain.

We had left the central heating on continuous but lowish whilst we were away so the house had not suffered with the low freezing temperatures (only -7C in Bishops Stortford). This of course means a high gas bill but it also means no burst pipes - something which would have been a certainty.

Thinking back on the past few weeks:

We were delighted with Buenos Aires, its architecture, its vibrancy and the friendliness of the people we met there. It really has become one of our favourite cities and we do want to go back there sometime - and ideally get closer to real city life. We would also like to get out into the countryside and see more of the country.

If we manage to go back, then we shall try to learn some Spanish before hand, it was most embarrassing not having any facility in the language and having to rely on the kindness of strangers to get by.

We felt very privileged to be able to go to Antarctica, to see the landscape and observe the animals and we now appreciate why it is a very special place.

These few weeks have provided us both with physical and mental challenges and also the opportunity to pass certain important milestones in our lives.

We have had a wonderful few weeks and are looking forward to the next trips - watch this space for blog updates or subscribe to the RSS Atom feed at the bottom of the blog !

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Tigre and the Delta 17/01/2009

Day 21 Saturday 17th January 2009

Today we went to the town of Tigre which is a one hour train ride north of Buenos Aires and part of the Rio de la Plata delta.

The air conditioned train went from Retiro station and the fare was one of the great bargains in a country which recognises the need to price public transport low in order to encourage its use (2.7 pesos return (about 54pence)). Because we left early, it was not too packed. One is used to buskers on London Transport but never a Harpist! This one entertained the carriage with a medley of traditional Argentinean tunes.

This is a snatched photograph of him seated a few seats away, taking a posed photograph was not possible. There is also a constant stream of people selling things you did not know you needed. We were offered handbags, socks, sweets, a strange squeaky toy, fortune telling etc as well as being asked straight out for money.

Busy Waterway

Tigre is a working town in the Delta above Buenos Aires which also uses tourism as a significant source of income. The river is very busy with not only Water Taxis but also tourist boats. The taxis carry passengers inside and

Dogs on Roof

their luggage and dogs on the roof.

Speeding Water Taxi (2)

All boats zoom around the waterways at breakneck speed - the wake of this taxi indicates how fast it is travelling. Cutting up other drivers is the norm unless you are overtaking the police (who also travel by boat).

Police Boat

The museum


and the Boat Club (of course)

Boat Club 

front onto the river. Ship building and ship maintenance are major users of the river

Working Boats

although some ships seem beyond repair

Wrecked Boat

Being a delta, the waterways take the place of roads and therefore everything travels to the houses on the waterways. Some boats travel around stopping at house jetties for the

Travelling Shop 

owners to come down and select their daily

Water Shop and Sarmiento House

food needs etc. This one has stopped near a house which used to be lived in by the seventh president of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) - it is now preserved as a museum. Others are moored and you go to them by your own boat to shop.

Water SHop (1) 

as in this shop and petrol station (for boats - no cars). To get to the local park, you go by boat


as you do for the local restaurant.


The houses vary in grandeur from great

Lived in House (2)

Lived in House (3)

Lived In House (1) 

to simple

Nice Boat Steps

to wrecks - some of the wrecks are very picturesque.

Wrecked House (1)

Wrecked House (2)

Pat likes jetty

A surprising number of houses are up for sale.

Some Houses for Sale

Tigre operates a large arts and crafts market

Craft Market

for the numerous BA residents who visit the town, a speciality of the area seems to be reed based products, probably because of

Water Reeds 

the large number of reed beds which fill the delta. The train ride back was equally as easy as that going although by then, the temperature had risen to 35 Centigrade (a bit of a shock when we were used to zero or less) and the humidity level was very high.

In the evening we went to Tango Porteno as a last evening out. This was a well produced Tango Show (rather than dance) in a historical theatre in the centre of town. Upon arrival, we were both asked if we would "pose in an intimate manner with two Tango Dancers and have our pictures taken". I think something was lost in translation there. The show in general and much of the dancing in particular, was very good and we think the general plot was to narrate the history of Tango and the role of the Theatre. The theatre provided a pick-up and return service to our hotel as well as drinks and snacks to keep us satisfied during the show.

if you are interested in seeing exerts from the show, the costumes etc, click to the Tango Porteno name above and you will go to the theatre web site.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Arriving in Ushuaia and on to Buenos Aires 16/01/2009

Day 20 Friday 16th January 2009

We sailed up the Beagle Channel on schedule overnight and as we passed Puerto Williams (in Chile) at around 0345 my blackberry picked up 285 email messages! Arrival in Ushuaia was exactly on schedule at 6 am. The weather was miserable, rain and cold and it seemed far worse than that in the Antarctic.

Over the past 13 days we had travelled 2132 nautical miles, going to 22 nm below the Antarctic Circle at 66 48 95. We saw 31 species of Birds, 4 types of penguins, 8 marine mammals, attended 16 lectures and ate 108 courses of food (approximately).

There is a view that travelling to Antarctica changes your opinion of the world and your attitude to conservation etc - that certainly is the case for us. Standard superlatives are insufficient for Antarctica and we feel very privileged to have been there.

Surprisingly, the journey back to BA went very easy and exactly to schedule. We landed at Rio Gallegos to pick up passengers and fuel and got to BA (the correct airport this time) on schedule and they did not loose our bags. The taxi was waiting for us and took us straight to the Hotel and check in was very


easy. Our bed is about as large as the cabin

Hotel Room

we have been sleeping in for the past two weeks so it will take some getting used to.

The temperature in BA is around 31 C and very humid and so we feel totally washed out.  An early night beckons.

Around the Horn 15/01/2009

Day 19 Thursday 15th January 2009

Another nice picture of Pat

Another nice picture of Pat

As we get up, the Drake Passage is still relatively calm, the ship seems to be swaying more but there are no 40 ft seas to contend with.

On the agenda to keep us occupied are: Tour of the Ship, more lectures on the Pole and the Horn (and also the Arctic) and of course repacking.

They showed a video of a sailing ship going round the horn in 1929 narrated by the person who took the film - it gave you a very good appreciation of how tough it was. Some ships on approaching the Horn from the East to go to a port up along Chile had to give up and go round the world the other way because they could not cope with the West to East winds which are strong even on a mild day in this area.

The tour of the ship was not very useful in that the person taking us around knew so little about the ship and kept having to refer to his notes which did not tell him much.

An attempt was made to put forward the case that the ship was still used for research but totally unconvincingly. It is used to take people like us around the North and South Poles in the summer seasons (10 months), sails back to Kalingrad for servicing once a year and "is available for research" the rest of the year!

The Ioffe was build as a hydro-acoustic research ship in 1989 as one of a pair which

Ships Registration Details

worked together. Four years later it was out of date and the Soviet Union was in disrepair and the ship was converted to expedition use. A lot of the old equipment remains but key elements have gone.

The Mud Room (where we stored our shore boots and other camping equipment) contains

Hydroaccoustic Equipment

some transmitters which were lowered to the sea bed. It is very noisy because essentially it is open to the sea below.

The engine room looks and smells like an

An engine

engine room (fuel consumption was estimated

Engine Control Room

to be 7 litres to the km) and the Bridge is where they do what they do on the Bridge!

Bridge (1)

Bridge (2)

Later today we sail round the Horn. It is not certain if we will actually see it because the waters around the Horn belong to Chile and if the ship goes into Chilean waters, it has to pay a tax to Chile. The sky however is very clear so we are hopeful that we will see the monument on the horn dedicated to sailors who perished sailing in these waters through binoculars.

Heading for Cape Horn

There is a saying that when a man has crossed both circles and rounded the Horn, he is allowed to put both feet on the table - we now qualify for that having gone north of the Arctic Circle a few years ago. One wonders what the saying is about a man who has done this but also swum in both Arctic and Antarctic waters.

We passed the Horn at about 12 miles away and the actual Cape is on the very left of the picture below. The monument to lost seafarers is on the shore line below the second hillside dip but it is too small to be seen in this photograph.

Cape Horn

Cape Horn Chart

We are due to get back to the Beagle Channel around 1900 hours and then take it slow up to Ushuaia.



Northwards across the Drake Passage 14/01/2009

Day 18 Wednesday January 14th 2009

Northwards across the Drake passage and into rough seas. Last night we had to Drake proof the cabin which means ensuring that everything is low down and cannot fall on to us and also that sick bags are nearby. We have not only our own tablets but also the Doctor's extra strength tablets.

Breakfast was 30 minutes later this morning, reasonably well attended with few people commenting on sea sickness although we are all feeling very tired from the doping effects of the tablets and probably the exertions of the last 8 days on land.

This morning's lectures were on finalising your photo albums and glacier origin and history. This afternoon there was a very interesting lecture on Scott and Amundsen.

We are sailing direct for Ushuaia now, directly into a strong headwind which means the sea is not too rough. Even so, everyone walking around the ship has gone back to rough sea walk mode - legs wide apart, bottom low, holding on to handrails whenever possible.

The longer term weather forecast for us seems to indicate that the Drake Passage is going to be no more than a heavy swell. We are making about 11 knots and the headwind strength is only 11 m/s so with any luck, the next 36 hours will be bearable.

Sunset 2200 hrs Drake Passage

Sunset over the Drake Passage 2200 hrs

The after dinner talk was on bird wing spans. The span of the Wandering Albatross is amazing - 10 feet is typical (below are Northern Giant and Southern Ocean Petrels the larger of which have spans typically 8 feet).

Northern Giant Petral (1)

Northern Giant Petral (2)

Souther Ocean (2)

Southern Ocean (1)

Whalers Bay, Hannah Point and Swimming in the Antarctic 13/01/2009

Day 17 January 13th 2009
Remember - if you want to see a larger version of any picture - just double click on it
A nice picture of Pat (taken at lunch today)
A nice picture of Pat
Day 17 January 13th 2009
Whaler's Bay is the first bay inside Port Foster as you pass through Neptune's Bellows at Deception Island. It was given it name by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot due to the whaling activities undertaken in this bay in the 1900's/ This site has a flat cinder beach which extends approximately 100m inland before meeting the steep caldera wall. The buildings include the remains of the Norwegian Aktieselskabet Hektor whaling station and a British Antarctic Survey base which was evacuated in 1967 during an eruption. The BAS base, Station B has been a centre for aircraft operations in 19555-7 and 1959-69. Meteorological and geological research had also been conducted as this site. The beach itself is covered in ash and cinder under which you can see barrels, whale bones and other artifacts. From the landing beach it is a 15 minute wall up to Neptune's Window on the caldera wall. From this vantage point there is an excellent view of Port Foster and on a clear day you can see the Antarctic Peninsula on the other side of Bransfield Strait. The temperature of the water leads to cooked invertebrates being washed up on shore, for example, krill, brittle stars and sea urchins.
Educating the traveller is an important priority on this boat (and the fact that it happens is one reason why we chose it). On board there is a bird specialist, geologist; photographer; geneticist; biologist; historian and various other specialists (some a bit too esoteric to remember). There are also a number of general "dogs bodies" who help out and can answer most general questions. We are out in the boats or on-shore for five to six hours each day and one of them can usually be within distance if you have a question (unless you have chosen to go off on your own).
Overnight we have sailed through open sea to get to Deception Island and therefore the sea swell has picked up. After breakfast we sail through Neptune's Bellows (in the fog) into the
Neptune's Bellows in the fog (fog going in)
Neptune's Belllows (no fog going out)
Caldera and make our penultimate shore landing. It is very foggy at the moment but we are told it will clear up soon because it is quite warm at 2 degrees.
Around 1100 years ago, Deception Island was an active volcano, it erupted (massively) and once that eruption ceased, the volcano collapsed leading to a caldera which flooded and it also created Neptune's Window (a low part of the volcano wall) through which an American explorer (Palmer) claimed to have been the first to see the Antarctic Mainland in the 1800s.
Neptune's Window
Ioffe in the Bay
The Ioffe moored in the Bay and we went ashore. The shoreline exhibits the remains of whalers stations.
The British Antarctic Survey briefing on Whalers Bay says: "Deception Island has a history of human occupation dating from 1911 when a whaling station was established by "Hvalfangerselskabet Hector A/S" of Norway. It closed in 1931 because of a slump in whale oil prices.
On 3rd February 1944, a British base (Base B) was established on Deception Island by the Royal Navy during "Operation Tabarin" using three of the abandoned whaling station buildings. In 1945, Operation Tabarin terminated and the base was handed over to the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), the forerunner of the British Antarctic Survey. The main activities were meteorology and the operation of an air facility to support survey work and the other British bases in the Antarctic Peninsula region. An aircraft hanger was built in 1961.
The base was abandoned when the 1969 eruption mud flow destroyed most of the buildings and dramatically changed the topography and coastline."
WHalers Buildings and Tanks
Whaling Hut (0)
Inside Whaling Hut (1)
Inside Whaling Hut (2)
Inside the whalers hut and also the apparatus for extracting Whale Oil from blubber.
Boilers for whale oil

Whale oil conversion faciliity
Tanks with volcanic steam
Boilers for extracting whale oil
Graffiti from 1911
Whaler Graffiti dating from 1911
There is also an old British Antarctic Survey base which has its origins from the Second World War when the Navy established a base here to try to listen to what the Germans might be doing in the South Atlantic.
Whalers living quarters
Aircraft Hanger
The BAS base was last used in the 1960's when it had to be evacuated when the volcano erupted again covering many things with ash.
Tractor buried in ash
Evidence that the Volcano is still active is seen from the steam which erupts from the beach in a number
Volcanic Steam
of places plus the sulphur smell which drifts over the bay.
There are a few old graves of old whalers scattered around (this one has a Kelp Gull chick and mother keeping guard)
Old Gravestone and Kelp Gull
The whole place has a very eery feel about it and feels a bit ghostly.
Being our last day before the return over the Drake Passage, we decide it is just the place for a swim in the Antarctic waters. This is a bit of a cheat really because the Volcano warms the water close to the shore to 90 degrees and therefore the difficult part is to find a spot which is not too hot nor too cold. We are successful as is seen below.
It's hot
Surely he cannot be going in for a swim
Paul swimming in the Antarctic
Coming Out
Getting undressed in the Antarctic wind is painful, getting into the water is worse because it is so hot along the waters edge - one's feet cannot really tell if it is hurting because of the heat or the cold. You soon realise it is cold when you start swimming - then you get back into a hot water wallow as soon as possible. When you are revived, you get dressed as quickly as you can and they take you back to the ship as a priority case.
Anyway I have swum and Pat has paddled in the Antarctic - beat that! We also got certificates to prove we did it (or to prove we were mad) and to commemorate our membership of the Antarctic Polar Plunge Club.
Plunge Certificate
The certificate says: "This certifies that on the thirteenth day in January in the year Two Thousand and Nine, Paul (Patricia) Harvey "did nost sturdily enter the invigorating waters of the Southern Ocean when the observed temperature of the ocean registered very cold. We do solemnly acknowledge that this was an act of indubitable courage (as well as extraordinary, incomparable foolishness). Based on the Expedition Leader's observance of the act of absurd heroism and the Ship's Doctor's confirmation of the said person's temporary loss of any common sense, we consider the bearer of this certificate a key member of the Antarctic Polar Plunge Club."
It is then signed by the Ship's Doctor and the Expedition Leader.
Hannah Point lies in Walker Bay on the southern coast of Livingston Island. It is named after a sealing vessel that was shipwrecked on this site in 1820. Hannah Point is renowned for its abundant wildlife. This includes chinstrap and gentoo penguins and the occasional macaroni penguin along with blue-eyed shags, snowy sheathbills, kelp gulls, pintados, skuas and southern giant petrels. An elephant seal wallow is located near the gentoo penguin colony while a small collection of fossil plants can be found at the base of Walker Bay. Antarctica's two species of flowering plant Deschampsia Antarctica and Colobanthus Quitensis are also present at this site.

This link leads to the official Antarctic Treaty visitor site guide for Hannah point - it is worth reading because it shows the seriousness with which Antarctica is treated by most nations. 

After lunch it was off to Hannah Point in Walkers Bay. To say that the weather had changed is somewhat of an understatement. The swell was up, the wind was blowing hard, it was raining and generally horrid.

Weather changes very fast in the Antarctic and this was another example. Very few people were put off however since this was our last landing before heading back. We got soaked going to shore and then very very wet coming back and there was ice on the shore line which we had to tramp through when we landed. The attraction here was two wallows of Elephant Seals plus Gentoos of course and Chinstraps and a few Macaroni Penguins. The Elephant Seal with the biggest nose gets the best girls by the way.
Elephant Seals (1)
Elephant Seals (2)
Giant petral
A Giant Petral looking for lunch
When we got back to the Mud Room it was somewhat of an end of term feeling, we had done the last Zodiac ride through heavy seas, we did not have to put on six or seven layers again and the Beach Boys were playing on the ghetto blaster.
At the moment the ship has got wet weather clothes spread along all of the corridors to dry as well as hanging from every possible hook in our rooms.
The Travel Teddies had inadvertently made
Travel Teddy 2 gets dried
the trip with us and had to be dried before they could go back into the rucksack (when that is dry).
We have been given an unofficial weather forecast for the two day re-crossing the Drake Passage and it is not good. Apparently there are "three lows close together" which the sailors in our midst say is bad news. Because of this, the navigator has said that the boat is going East (rather than directly North to Ushuaia ) to try to avoid the worst of the weather - let us hope that the sea sickness tablets together with our sea legs work. Whilst it would be interesting to see it in full force, we shall not object if we have a calm passage.
Now it is off to the Bar for Happy Hour - we are assuming we will be too seasick over the next two days to enjoy it again.
Pat also buys a new T-shirt to prove she has been to Antarctica.
Pat in new T Shirt
During Happy Hour, the Ship's Doctor comes on the tannoy (all ships carrying more than around 60 passengers have to have a doctor on board) offering free prescription strength sea sickness tablets - proof positive that a rough ride is expected (apparently after midnight when we hit open ocean).
The post dinner talk this evening is on "passengers most profound questions". Examples offered (from earlier trips) include:
What are those black and white birds?"
Does the ship generate its own electricity?
Are there female sperm whales?
Do I put my bag out before or after I go to sleep?
Is this the same moon I see back home?
What nationality are the Russian crew?
Is the Great Auk still extinct?
If a penguin lays two eggs, does that mean it has two nipples?