Tag Archives: Tierra del Fuego

Back to “Reality”, or Buenos Aires, at any rate

Tuesday and Wednesday 12 and 13 March 2024 – So that was it, then. No more expeditions.  Just the run back to Ushuaia and the flight to Buenos Aires.

The former started well – the weather gods continued to be kind to us, and the crossing to Ushuaia was quite smooth.  We had one final day at sea, and this gave the guides a final chance to impress us with their knowledge and passion in a final set of lectures – on minke whales, on endangered species, on the general topic of survival in the Anthropocene age – we humans are having  a dramatic and dramatically accelerating impact on the planet’s climate and biosphere.  The impact has almost always led to damage to the environment, the animals living alongside us and, indeed us, too. This has rarely been done out of malice, and normally out of ignorance of the consequences. Only recently has the human race really taken note of the impact, and steps are being taken to mitigate it.  The time that Jane and I spent on expeditions in these southern latitudes has increased our understanding of the consequences of human activities and our determination to lessen our own impact on the environment in the hope that this encourages others to do the same.  For example, the greatest predictor of the likelihood of a household adopting solar panels is the proportion of its neighbours already using them; so perhaps, as we improve the way we go about things, others might become interested to follow our example.

It’s a very tricky topic.  For all our improved understanding of the environmental impact of human impact and our determination to do better in future, we still flew down there on a jet,  cruised on a fundamentally diesel-driven ship and embarked on expeditions transported by petrol-engined Zodiacs. There are many factors to balance as we consider our future actions.

OK, enough of the philosophising and its none-too-subtle undercurrent of moralising.

During the morning, we noticed some shenanigans seemed to be getting under way around the Zodiacs.

It turned out that this was a Team Photo, which was one of the mystery prizes at the auction a couple of days ago.  We’re not sure what the real deal was, but we got a decent shot of the guides (and the auction winners) out of it.

There were also opportunities to try for more photos of the birds flying round the ship, principally petrels and black-browed albatrosses.

After the lectures came the thank-yous.  Everyone gathered in the lounge and were given a drink with which the toast people who had made our trip such an amazing success:  the captain, seen here with his staff captain, Mia, the first female to hold that role in Oceanwide;

and the guides, a critical part of the expeditions and so ably led by Pippa.

That session was ended with his usual drollery and deadpan timing, by Sasha

before we went into dinner, during which the fantastic jobs done by the hotel manager and his staff and the crew of the ship were also celebrated.  Jane managed to get a shot of Marvin, the steward who had looked after us particularly well, as he celebrated with a table of punters and guides.

And so to bed, awaking early the following morning, because we were being turfed off Hondius at 0830 – remarkably enough so that it could depart at 1800 that day on another Antarctic cruise, taking a new bunch of punters down as far south as possible – maybe as far as 70° S – on an out-and-back journey; 15 days and none of this mucking about with Falklands and South Georgia.  Even more remarkably, the expedition team would be led once again by Pippa, whose drive and energy are utterly admirable.  We wish the ship and everyone aboard it well.

First, though, we had to disembark in Ushuaia, which looked pretty in the morning dark.

and the sunrise gave us some more glorious colours.

Around breakfast time we discovered how our bags were transferred off the ship – not sophisticated, but perfectly effective – a human chain of crew – including our guides – down the stairwell.

Finally it was time for the inevitable and emotional farewells as we all disembarked.

Just after 0900 we were on the bus to Ushuaia airport, along with quite a fair proportion of the other passengers.  On our flight to Buenos Aires It was quite a surreal experience to get on a plane with so many familiar faces in other seats.

The flight was uneventful except for the inflight catering which handed us an unimpressive sandwich and a drink that struggled to be on the same plane of existence as a cup of tea.

Our arrival was more noteworthy.

If you remember, the first piece of baggage on the carousel as we arrived in Ushuaia was mine. Astonishingly, and, it seemed, within seconds of walking into the baggage hall,

Jane’s bag arrived, first on the carousel!  That was at 1730, and about five other pieces came along behind Jane’s.

Then – nothing.

After 15 minutes, the hatch to the outside world closed and the belt stopped.

At 1750, a chap wearing an official-looking shirt looked out through a neighbouring carousel’s hatch

but still nothing happened.  Jane got a message from Mariana, the agent who was looking after us for our time in Buenos Aires, which explained what was going on.  Apparently, it had started raining and the baggage handlers stopped work because they didn’t want to get wet.

A few minutes later, it had obviously stopped raining, because the rest of the bags came through, and we were able to go out to meet our cheerful driver, Gustavo, who took us to our hotel, once again the Casasur Recoleta. At times the rain came down in torrents, and I did have momentary sympathy for the baggage handlers.  Gustavo explained that Buenos Aires had had a month’s-worth of rain in just two days, and there were areas around the city under water that would normally have been fields.

We got to the hotel with no problem and were able to get ourselves outside a room service sandwich and a bar service G&T before heading for bed.  In front of us lay three days of relentless tourism around Buenos Aires, so we needed to catch up on our beauty sleep.  I will write about our time in Buenos Aires in these pages in due course.

Being A Tourist will be strange after the three weeks we’ve had.  Nether Jane nor I want to lose the memories of the past astonishing three weeks and city tours seem to offer a bit of cognitive dissonance.  For now, I’ll try to hold on this image, taken as we entered the Beagle Channel south of Tierra del Fuego, as a symbol and an aide-memoire of our time in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

Tierra del Fuego – 3: All hail Cape Horn. And sun. And rain. And WIND!

19th March 2018

Every excursion from Australis ships is carefully explained to its potential participants, to make sure that safety instructions are well understood and that, if there’s a choice of arduousness of hike, you can choose correctly. The briefing about Cape Horn left me feeling really excited about the prospect of visiting a unique and historic site – all we needed was decent enough weather to be able to make landfall. And it was clear from the briefing that this is by no means a given…

We were lucky. Mostly.

In a relative way, the weather was kind. So, it was only raining at 45°, rather than horizontally, and the temperature was above freezing – a positively balmy 5°C. Getting into the landing craft was a bit more scary than usual, but getting out of them on to Cape Horn island gave us a real insight into the hard work that the expedition leaders on the ship do to ensure that we tourists – sorry, travellers – get the selfies we so desperately need. There were five people, including a couple waist deep in the freezing ocean (who, by the way, had day jobs as the two chief barmen on board), to catch an incoming rib, hold it steady and assist people to disembark on to a ramp. Absolutely sterling work, and these guys deserve all the applause (and tips) that they get. I took a little movie footage of our subsequent departure, to give some idea of what they go through for us:

The Ventus Australis expedition team working in pretty rough conditions on Cape Horn Island to prepare a ramp so that they can take visitors to the island back to the ship on the waiting RIBs

Ah, did I mention the hail? As we approached land, the rain turned solid, and we were lashed with hailstones. Small ones, to be sure, but they didn’t half sting.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we got ashore and started the journey to see the sights. There aren’t many of these, but they’re certainly worth climbing 438 steps to see, and that’s before breakfast. On the island, there’s a monument and a lighthouse. In the lighthouse live the lighthouse keeper, a Chilean Navy officer, and his family. They run a small souvenir shop, with painted rocks being the staple, and live there for a tour of duty during which their only other human contact consists of one supply ship every three months and the odd bunch of tourists, sorry, travellers. There is, we’re told, a waiting list for the job.

The rest of the expedition is spent trudging up and down steps, which are definitely wet and sometimes slippery.

Everyone has to keep their life jackets on, which makes for a striking sight as people ascend and descend the steps.

And the monument is a thing of joy, with two pieces giving shape to an albatross in negative space.

The only other things of note on the island, apart from a weather station and radio masts, are the lighthouse

and a small chapel.

But at least the weather improved and we had some sunshine. And every so often the wind dropped a couple of notches to make it possible to take some photos.

The rain returned as we embarked to go back to the ship, but it couldn’t dampen our enjoyment of what was a very special part of our South American odyssey.