Tag Archives: Antactica

Aaaand….we’re off!

Tuesday 20 February 2024 – We were Being Called For at 11.00 to start our Antarctic expedition, so we had a relaxed start which mainly involved discovering that the breakfast we had back in Buenos Aires seems – on the unscientific basis of two samples – to be standard. Some fruit, many sorts of pastry and bread. Oh, and liquid yogurt and scrambled egg – not together, I hasten to add. We filled ourselves up, checked out and were duly collected on the dot of 11am by a man with a van, who took us a short distance down to the seafront and a place called Club 1210; normally a bar, but today a holding place for the bags of people such as us who were boarding Hondius.  As we had suspected and I had feared, boarding wasn’t until much later – 16.00 – and so we now had four and a half hours to kill before being allowed on the boat. So we went for a walk. Obviously.

We weren’t at all ambitious in our wandering – coffee was basically the objective, rather than any further cultural enlightenment.  We found the Banana Bar, which provided an approximation to coffee but also some internet, and spent an hour there before deciding we ought to move on. Just around the corner was Parrilla La Estancia, which Google promised was open, so we hied ourselves thither.  Open it was, and, being a parrilla, it had an open fire over which lamb was being cooked (for, we discovered, empanadas) as well as another, more conventional charcoal grill.  It was a bit unfortunate that breakfast had been so recent because neither of us were feeling that hungry; all we wanted really was a salad. And a g&t, of course.

Jane had a couple of empanadas with her salad and I had a chorizo sausage, which was tasty, but more like a conventional English sausage than the chorizo one buys in a UK supermarket. The service was very agreeable, and the price quite reasonable, which made the matter of a tip a bit problematical.  The only US currency we had was 20 dollar bills, which seemed a bit over-generous. The matter solved itself rather neatly, as our waiter asked us where we came from, and when we said England, enthusiastically talked about getting hold of some UK paper money for his son who was collecting foreign currencies.  So we gave him a tenner and he seemed very happy with that.  It might have been an entirely concocted story, but it seemed a decent way forward at the time.

This still left us with some time to kill, so we pottered around the corner – almost everything in Ushuaia is “just around the corner” – to the Museo del Fin del Monde, “Museum of the End of the World”,

which had a few artefacts from significant events in the area, such as the figurehead from the ship Duchess of Albany which was wrecked in the 19th century due to rubbish maps and worse weather.

The museum also had a very considerable collection of stuffed birds of the region. There was a sister building that was part of the museum, an old house, large parts of which had been preserved, and this took us closer to the magic four pm.

There were some Interesting Buildings on view

and I noticed that although the locals disapprove of the current ownership of the Falklands, they appear to b OK with repurposing our London buses.

Our final diversion as we ambled about wasting time was a Feria de Artisanos – a handicraft market, which lived in a slightly ramshackle, erm, shack, but which featured a great variety of sellers and goods, from paintings, through jewellery to woodwork.

This was our final and rather charming diversion before we were able to enter the port and walk up to Hondius.

Where there was a queue to board, of course.

It wasn’t a huge wait and we eventually boarded, got our cabin keys and were able – finally! – to unpack the suitcases we’d been lugging around for the past four days.  One of the nice side-effects of having to reschedule and wait and reschedule and wait for four years was a gradual uptick in the standard of cabin we were offered in return for not demanding a refund. So we had a nice cabin, which seemed to have plenty of room and decent comfort.

After we’d unpacked there were the usual sort sof things to attend that figure as part of every cruise – welcome briefing, compulsory lifeboat evacuation practice, meet the team presentations, that kind of thing, and these gave us the opportunities to grab a decent cup of tea (they have Earl Grey aboard, though not, sadly, Twinings Finest) and chat to a few other passengers, such as Pete and Pete, one from New Zealand and one from Luxembourg, who had first met each other on a trans-Siberian Express when they ended up sharing a cabin. Astonishingly, not only did they share a first name, but a surname as well, which is a statistical outlier if my grasp of statistics is still sound.

The ship is set up as a hotel, so has a hotel manager (William) to run that side of things. But the most interesting presentation was from Pippa, who is the expedition manager. She pointed out that while the hotel guys’ job was to make us comfortable on board, her job was, if at all possible, to get us off the ship, so that we could better experience the environs. Her team consisted of over a dozen people from a bewildering variety of countries and backgrounds, all of whom had developed relevant expertise for Antarctic expeditions – bird life, mammals, geology, geography, history – which promises to make the next three weeks an intensely educational time.

A key thing she stressed was that we were on an expedition ship, and this meant that any itinerary we had in mind was at best approximate and quite possibly a work of fiction, as we were entirely at the mercy of Mother Nature, meaning it might not be possible to visit some places mentioned on the original itinerary map we had been shown.

Or even, as it turns out, the very direction of travel. Pippa showed us that the current weather forecast would have likely rendered it impossible to disembark at the Falklands or South Georgia, our first destinations under plan A. Therefore her plan B was to run the entire cruise the other way round – anticlockwise, starting with Antarctica and finishing with South Georgia and the Falklands.

So the first thing we will have to do, once we clear the Beagle Channel that leads from Ushuaia into the Southern Ocean, is a right turn and a crossing of the infamous Drake Passage, which is notorious for being rough and stormy. This means two full days at sea before we get somewhere near the Antarctic landmass, two days of opportunities to attend lectures, educate ourselves and find out if we are as immune to seasickness as we hope we are.

And that’s the current state of play. We had a quick buffet dinner, encouraged that way by the fact that the bar was closed at the time, and so are now on course to hit open water during the night. Let’s see how that works out….

Going South

Friday 16 February 2024 – Just one sleep to go before what is very likely to be an epic journey, at least for Jane and me, both in terms of distance travelled and of cultures explored. For this is definitely an exploration: travelling to Antarctica.

Similarly to our Canada trip, the timing of this one has been bedevilled by events.  We started planning in 2019 for a 2020 trip which fell foul of the first pandemic lockdown.  Subsequent rescheduling then fell victim to the current unpleasantness in Ukraine, which trapped our vessel where it couldn’t get away in time. The excitement has been building, therefore for the best part of five years, and we owe a great deal to the patience, persistence and good humour of Joe Johnson at Sunvil for actually pulling the whole thing together for us.

The vessel we’ll be travelling on, M/V Hondius, is not simply a sort of floating Selfridges, it’s a proper exploration ship – “the first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel in the world, meeting the latest and highest Lloyd’s Register standards for ice-strengthened cruise ships.”  So there.

This is comforting in a way, particularly the knowledge that a Titanic-style end probably doesn’t await us. But I’m finding the overall trip to be a daunting prospect, principally on two counts.

Firstly, given that we’ll be travelling via, and staying for a couple of days in, Buenos Aires (current temperature 29℃) via Ushuaia (9℃) and Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands (12℃, winds gusting to gale force 8) to the pointy bit sticking up to the north of the Antarctic continent* (anywhere from freezing point to -40℃, as far as I can work out), how to pack for the variety of conditions?

Secondly – and much more importantly – the strictures placed, quite rightly, on visitors to the Antarctic and South Georgia are quite draconian.  There is a huge emphasis placed upon biosecurity generally and fighting avian flu particularly.  Whatever the conditions, we will be obliged to wear waterproof trousers and jackets, being careful about carrying everything with us in only one waterproof bag, and only being allowed to stand once we land: no sitting, squatting or putting anything down on the ground.  I absolutely understand and support the need for and the importance of these, but it’s going to make handling camera gear into a non-trivial task, complicated further, of course, by the need to wear robust enough gloves.

Here’s our cruise itinerary, spanning some three weeks in total.

This is, of course, only an initial plan – specific destinations will be subject to weather and sea conditions, as you’d expect.  But it’s an exciting prospect as well as a daunting one.

I’m hoping to get some suitably dramatic scenery photographs of snow and mountains (somewhat different from my recent skiing holiday vistas). Also, of course, there will be plenty of opportunities to take photos of the wildlife – seals, whales and a wide variety of birdlife, from albatrosses to terns. Among all the possibilities there are nearly a dozen types of whale, over half a dozen varieties of seals and penguins, five sorts of albatross and nearly two dozen different kinds of petrel.  So I doubt there will be a petrel shortage (indeed, I expect to Fulmar boots) and I might even get a shag out of the trip. But please don’t skua my pretensions, at least for the moment.

There are many challenges ahead, almost none of which are of any great pith or moment. What photographic gear to take? Will I be able to cope with being offline for possibly days on end?

I will write about them as I go along, but I have no idea as to when I’ll be able to publish anything. I hope you’ll be patient enough to wait for and then read about the trip, so watch this space!


*   Yes, I know that everything sticks up to the north of Antarctica