Thursday, February 2 was our first day in Antarctica. It was a pretty ugly day, full of fog, snowstorms & 40 mph gales. Nonetheless, your intrepid tourists spent much of the day on deck, freezing our you-know-whats off. We told you that Patagonia & the Magellan Strait were impressive, but they can’t hold a candle to Antarctica. Unfortunately, because of the weather conditions many of the pictures really don’t convey adequately what it looked like in person. But here are a few to start out with, of coastline & icebergs & mountains wrapped in mist, all during a snowstorm.
Stay with me, ‘cause the pictures got better as the sun came out in the afternoon. We saw some impressive mountains, I think on Wiencke Island (we are not entirely sure of the location of many of these pictures).
There was also wildlife, particularly birds on the first day. They move incredibly fast and it is very difficult to catch a decent picture of a bird in flight. There were a dozen or more wasted pictures for every good one below. But I did manage shots of a Kelp Gull (cheating a little, since this was actually shot in Ushuaia), a Giant Petrel, a Wandering Albatross (the largest seabird in the world, with an 11 foot wingspan) & the beautiful Pintendo, or Cape Petrel. As always, you can see the captions by moving your cursor over the picture.
Fans of towel animals may be wondering where they are. Well, they stopped coming for a couple of days, then we got reruns for a few days. We are told that the laundry can’t get sufficient water in the Antarctic region and the towel animals are the first thing sacrificed to reduced laundering. I hope we get them back when we reach Argentina. In the meantime here is an ice sculpture to satisfy your artistic needs; it is a pair of hands holding a red globe centered on Antarctica. I wish it had been made for purely artistic purposes, but in fact it was the background for a jewelry raffle & sale.
So we went to bed the first night, hoping for better weather the next day (preview: prayers answered).
On January 31 we sailed down the Beagle Channel (named for the ship on which Charles Darwin visited here) toward Ushuaia. Yet more fabulous scenery (ho-hum) with a healthy helping of swirling clouds.
We saw some more glaciers (or what’s left of them), but I can’t remember the name of each of them. There were about 6 and they were named after European countries. This area is nicknamed Glacier Alley.
We passed a rainbow unlike any we have ever seen. It was not in the sky, but on a hillside beside the channel & lasted until after we had passed beyond it.
About 12:30 we came to Ushuaia, Argentina, located on the island of Tierra del Fuego on the north bank of the Beagle Channel. It has a rather spectacular setting. It is also quite remote. It began as a penal colony which could not be escaped, since you would not survive an escape through this territory without quite a bit of gear & preparation. There is also a well-known lighthouse here called the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse (red & white stripes, below). It is (often said to be Jules Verne’s “Lighthouse At The End Of The World,” but it’s not (we think the tower with the black roof below, which is at the penitentiary in Ushuaia, may be the one).
Ushuaia is generally considered the world’s southernmost city, but there are two other claimants to that title. Punta Arenas, though north of Ushuaia (and undoubtedly the southernmost city on the South American continent, since Ushuaia is on Tierra Del Fuego island), claims that it is the southernmost city, and that Ushuaia is just a “village,” since it has only about 50 – 60,000 people. Puerto Williams, which lies south of Ushuaia along the Beagle Channel, is certainly the furthest south of the three, but since it only has about 2400 people, it does not qualify for the title of city to the folks here.
Well, we were supposed to pull up to the dock (next to last picture above) and then have from 1:30 to 7:30 to spend in Ushuaia. But the wind was very high & the water was very turbulent. The ship tried to dock but couldn’t, so the Captain announced we would have to go ashore in tender boats. A little while later he came back on the loudspeakers to announce that the Argentine authorities had informed him that their dock was closed to us, even in tenders, and he said it was just as well since we wouldn’t have been able to land in the tenders anyway because of the turbulence. So, the result was that what you see in the pictures above was pretty much all that we were able to see of Ushuaia.
This actually turned out to be a stroke of luck (unless, like us, you actually wanted to see Ushuaia). We ended up leaving several hours earlier than scheduled and the Captain hauled ass toward Antarctica. By doing so, he was able to outrun a nasty storm heading into the Drake Channel (which is the part of the Southern Ocean you cross to get from South America to the Antarctic Peninsula) from the West. We had an extremely rough night bouncing over the waves near Cape Horn (which we didn’t see because it was night when we passed it), but the Captain assured us the next morning that if we had left Ushuaia at the scheduled time it would have been very much worse. We heard later that one woman slept that night in her life jacket, so not everyone agreed with the Captain’s post hoc assessment that the crossing was “relatively calm.”
Anyway, I will leave you with some pictures of the Beagle Channel south of Ushuaia, including a couple of pictures of Puerto Williams as we sailed past. And our next missive will be from (or at least about) Antarctica.