Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Touched by the luminous shades of the ice continent

I'm not sure how to start this post off – how to begin to describe the beautiful experiences and memories I've just had the privilege of having through 10 days visiting the Antarctic Peninsula. I think the easiest way in true Susan style is just to rattle these off.....starting with my most treasured memory of the beautiful subtleties of the luminous light of the glacial snow rising up out of clear water tinged with blue icebergs, towering towards a bright blue sky with dotted white clouds. The way the water and snow catches and throws the light, the subtleties that the eye starts to pick up and the glow of a nearly never setting sun is something that has marked me forever. Not just on those clear bright days, but especially as the ship make its way slowly through icebergs floating between towering mountains of snow and rock with clouds and mist rising. Spectacular. Oh and those sunsets. Breathe Susan breathe!

The pure majesty of the landscape is something that even surpassed all the very cute (and smelly!) penguins diving through the water and rushing up through their highways up to their colonies (we visited numerous Gentoo, Chinstrip – definitely the most characterful and Adelie colonies), lounging seals on precariously thin slabs of ice (including Leopard, Elephant, spotty Weddell), the poetic serenity of a humpback whale diving in a glowing 2am sky, beautiful spotty cape petrels (or pretzels as I called them), albatros and other sea birds dipping their wings around a rocking ship and hiking up the snow to a panoramic view to whip off layers of clothing and being rewarded by a giant snowslide back down!

The pics are pretty self explanatory – but to give a bit more on the actual journey – after leaving Ushuaia and feasting on an open buffet of goodies (yes after hostels and camping, it was a glorious sight to behold!) we sailed into the Drake Passage – some say the roughest passage of water in the world, and 2 days later emerged (me proudly with no throwing up!) at the South Shetland Islands. A short trip like the one I took would normally average about 5 days of 2-3 landings a day – meaning that for the start and end of the trip you lounge around, listen to lectures, and there are 5 days when you actually explore the islands and set foot on the 'continent'. Out of about 10 landings, 3 were actually on the Antarctic Peninsular, and the others on islands along the Peninsular and on the Shetland Islands.

The landings were mainly to visit penguin colonies, to see research stations and historic sites, and often combined with 'zodiac' (the rubber boats you launch on) cruising around icebergs to see (and taste!) the icebergs up close, see seals and other animals. Some of the most glorious scenery however was sailing through channels – for instance the Lemaire Channel which we were lucky to go through as the ice often prevents entry.

The Expedition staff presented us with a very detailed log of all our activities, as well as a fantastic slideshow of us (rather than all our pics which are of what we were seeing!). So if you are interested in more detail check out the Ship's log or the map of where we actually went.

On board I met some wonderful people – many on long travels, some on short breaks, a couple of people who had been dreaming and planning such a trip for 8 years, others that decided at the last moment to travel, honeymooners, groups of friends travelling and quite a few single travellers. A broad range of ages – not all reitirees, and from countries all around the world. Ours was an Argentinian ship (others are Russian, American etc) so when we visited some of the Chilean and Argentinian bases there were eager crew and warm welcomes. Also we were lucky to visit a US research station, Palmer Station (they only receive 12 ships a season) so got to have a look around a functioning research base which was very cool!

There are many many photos (sadly they tally in the thousands) but I've tried to pick out some that try and capture my lingering memories of this majestic place. Something to leave you with – a quote that I pinched from a fellow traveller Josh (check his blog out) who helped convince me to do the trip! I think it goes some of the way to summing up how this majestic continent leaves you feeling...

Antarctica left a restless longing in my heart beckoning towards an incomprehensible perfection forever beyond the reach of mortal man. Its overwhelming beauty touches one so deeply that it is like a wound.
- Edwin Mickleburgh

Monday, January 3, 2011

The long road south the the end of the world!

On Boxing Day I started the trip down to Ushuaia; in Tierra Del Fuego right at the very south of Argentina. 5 days, 2366kms, 60 hours on a bus, 2 very long border crossings, 9 episodes of how I met your mother (Miguel... I curse you for getting me into this show!), a stellar find of a nut shop in Rio Gallegos, alfajores on the bus, a ferry ride and miles and miles of open patagonian plains, The first thing I noticed after steppng off the bus after leaving BA was the wind. It really is windy, and getting windier as I head further South.

OK so I'm being lazy with the captions on the pics... but there's more pics on Picasaweb (, most with captions.

(this was written on 31st Dec) Currently I'm about 2100km into the stretch, and stuck at the last border crossing back into Argentina. While our passports have gone off walkies for checks, I've taken advantage of a still bus to jot this entry down. I feel slightly sheepish that I've not done this earlier; it's not like I'm 'busy' or have no time, but time just seems to pass here and perhaps there's not too much to write about yet. But here goes..

I started the trip down with an overnighter in the bus to Viedma/Carmen de Patagones. Before I get stuck into regaling you of the not so exciting trip, can I just say this about Argentinean busses; everyone says they rock and they really do! I can't imagine spending 15 hours in a bus in Australia or England, but here the time just seems to go by, the seats recline to nearly a bed and you get fed:) Everyone always did say how comfortable they are, and all I have to say is that they really are and definitely an easy way to travel here.

So, after spending a day walking around a not so exicting Viedma and napping on the riverside, I caught the 2am connecting bus to Puerto Madryn. I jumped straight on another bus to take me to Puerto Piramides, a smaller, rather touristy town near Peninsula Valdes; a UNESCO world hreitage site wildlife reserve and breeding grounds of the Southern Right Whales, elephant seals, sea lions. And you ask did I see any whales... well the silly answer is that no, I didn't. I suppose maybe I should have made more of an effort, but I did have a lovely chilled out afternoon walking on the beach with my new friend Juliana, and we also went up to the Elephant Sea colony and even saw a recently born seal (complete with seagulls hanging around the placenta). I have since met other people who saw whales there, but it will just have to be saved up for next time I suppose.

It was the prefect break though from the city-ness of Bueons Aires, and I'm glad that I got to do some beach wandering and relaxing. Puerto Madryn sort of feels like the gold coast on spring break – loads of party tents set up on the beach, lots of teens going crazy and having a good time. Would have been a fun place to be with friends for NY on the beach, but no I decided to press on with another overnighter bus to Rio Gallegos.

Many people diss Rio Gallegos – right so it's a flat rather dreary town, but the odd thing about it is it's got a lot of money. Nice European cars, lots of health food/alternative shops, shops galore, expensive restaurants. It is a mining town, and it sort of had that feel of people with money to spend in a rather dreary place. The river for which it is named isn't that exciting, I forayed down there and it was windy, misty and pretty empty of life. But nonetheless I did sort of like it, it was relaxed, had everything and abounded with shops I can buy nuts in. I sort of got a little excited and spent about 5 pounds on a bag of macadamia nuts. Oops... but soooo good. It's pretty much half of what I paid for accomodation that night so have resolved to steer clear of the expensive items.

Ok, getting a bit hot and bored waiting at this border crossing. Having so many immigration/customs queues to line up in though does mean I get to practice my abysmal Spanish with fellow travellers. The type of traveller on this final leg is definitely more touristic and affluent, up till now it's mainly been people either visiting family, returning to work or mothers/children travelling to see the fathers. More hiking gear everywhere!. Oh and I've resolved to get a tent. A highly wind resistent one:)

Bus is moving again now and the rocky roads probably not condusive to my awesome little netbook on lap so going to sign of now:)

Oh I've just realised that it's 5pm here, so therefore already a happy new year in Australia!!! By the time I post this it will be about 10pm here, so happy ny to one and all:)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Masterchef pressure test – eat your heart out!

First things first - Happy new year!! For all my free time I'm a little behind on posts, so here goes a marathon catch up...starting with xmas - and after I get back from a hike today to celebrate the new year at nearly the end of the world in Ushuaia, my trip to get down here.

Yes, a little self indulgent, I'm starting off this xmas update on how awesome the pavlova I made at xmas was – crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, piles of cream and fruit delicately yet robustly balanced on top;) (I used the Donna Hay's recipe that was in the pressure test for Masterchef Australia - little known fact is how addicted I and my flatmate in the UK Chris was to this show.) so yes, I made it for my contribution to xmas lunch/diner.. and it totally rocked!!

My little gloat... pavlova!!!
Xmas this year was special – although not with my family I was with a great group of people from around the world who had converged on an apartment in Palermo, Buenos Aires. We pretty much ate our way through xmas eve, xmas day, boxing day with food from our countries (hence the pav although um it was sort of the first proper pav I've ever made), Carmen made it all very festive with hats and xmas d├ęcor, and in between lazing on the hammock, watching movies in the air con it was a pretty relaxed and fun couple of days. Even Santa made an appearance:)

Thanks to Ziss, Steffan, Urban, Miguel, Carmen, Jon and Chase for making it a great holiday!

The whole gang

Santa makes a guest appearance

Carmen getting into erbing up the chicken. 

Xmas style:)