S: Buenos Aires to Antarctica 2012
BC: I will return!
FC: Buenos Aires to Antarctica 2012 | One Man's Ultimate South American Adventure | Jerry Segal
1: Welcome to High Summer in the Southern Hemisphere! | Patagonia, Argentina | Corinthian II off the Antarctic Peninsula
2: Patagonia, Argentina January 5, 2012 I could think about during my ten hour plus flight to Buenos Aires was how little Spanish I know and how lost I was sure I was going to feel in this strange South American country, traveling solo for almost a week prior to my traveling companions from NYC joining up with me for our flight halfway across this continent to Ushuaia, the gateway port to Antarctica! The same phrases kept repeating over and over inside my head -- snippets of sentences or a word here or there that I remembered after thirty years as a court stenographer, listening to Spanish interpreters translate the same questions and answers over and over again! Alas, how many of these would really prove to be of any practical use in trying to order my steak medium rare or to ask for walking directions to the Casa Rosada, where Evita Peron famously spoke to the masses and inspired Patty Lupone to earn a Tony Award singing, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina"? But all I could think of were phrases such as, "no me requerda" (I don't recall) or "algo mas?"(any more?) A lot of good that's going to do me! So I've been sort of speaking French but trying to use a Spanish pronunciation!! I get a lot of "crazy American tourist" stares from folks but I just smile and hope for the best! I haven't had a chance to see too much of Buenos Aires yet, having left for the area known as Patagonia the morning after my arrival, but I'm scheduled for several days here at the end of this adventure to explore the city and I also have 2 nights there this weekend prior to flying south to join our expedition ship, Corinthian II. Our flight to Patagonia left at 6:00 am so I asked for a 3:00 am wake up call as we were leaving the hotel at 4:00 am -- but someone screwed up and I was called at 2:00 am instead -- don't ask!!!!! Patagonia is comprised of steppes or flat plains from the great Andes mountains which separate Argentina from Chile. The land is primarily sheep ranches but along the coastline the wildlife is abundant and amazing. Today we hiked for miles along the Atlantic shore along the Valdez Peninsula where we saw colonies of sea lion pups, along with a few mature males . Tomorrow we head out to visit the largest penguin colony in South America. I discovered I like empanadas!!! Down here they are as ubiquitous as pizza by the slice and come in endless varieties! Well, it's way past my bedtime and we have another early call tomorrow!! Watch your in-box for further updates on my exploits en route to the last continent -- ANTARCTICA!!!! | Patagonia | All
4: Visions of Patagonia
5: Molted sealskin
6: Magellinic Penguins | Penguins and Peach Preserves? Trelew, Patagonia, Argentina January 7, 2012 As the sun comes up over the Patagonian steppes with the Atlantic Ocean visible in the distance, our flight takes us northeast, back to Buenos Aires, the "Paris of South America," where I will meet up with my friends from NYC later this morning. If time permits perhaps we'll stroll over to the Teatro Colon, the magnificently restored mid 19th century grande dame of an opera house, a building built in the belle epoch art nouveau design with purportedly some of the best acoustics in the world. Tours are given daily in English and being an opera buff myself, I would love to attend a performance there. Alas, January is mid summer south of the equator and the house is dark and currently silent. Yesterday's adventure took us to an amazing sight -- the largest penguin colony in South America where literally close to 500 thousand Magellanic penguins (after Magellin the explorer) come ashore once a year to nest after actually spending six months out at sea without landing -- but steadily fishing and fattening themselves up prior to mating season which begins around September, when they come ashore and then always return to the same nest among the thousands and thousands that have been left behind, as well as the same "spouse" penguin!! Mrs. Penguin lays two eggs and then both mama and papa each take turns keeping the eggs warm until they hatch. Usually only one chick survives but it's not unusual to see a set of twins being fed by their doting parents! It's not all sweetness and light, though, as we did spot one lone gull gorging on the remains of some unlucky chick who didn't fare so well when mama and papa weren't watching closely enough! | ... and their predators eir predators
7: Later in the day we stopped to visit what seemed like a lush oasis in the midst of the dusty, arid brush of the steppes as we enjoyed a typical "Welsch afternoon high tea" at a Welsch farm that's been here since 1858 when the first group of 151 settlers left Wales, seeking religious and other social freedoms which they didn't enjoy under the rule of their British sovereign. These settlers came to Patagonia's arid steppes knowing nothing of farming, having been mostly coal miners in Wales, and suffered dearly as a result when their crops never made it -- that is, until they learned the science of irrigation using ditches to siphon off the water flow from the sole river in the area! Today this farm we're visiting along the river banks is almost a lush "Garden of Eden" in comparison to the vast surrounding countryside, as green as one can imagine, with huge poplar and weeping willow trees shading the green lawns and fruit trees in the orchard! Our tea consisted of buttered home baked artisan bread, scones with tomato or peach jams, a special type of Welsch fruit cake, lemon meringue tart, peach cobbler, cherry cobbler, chocolate brownies -- the list goes on and on! Interestingly enough it was served at 5:30 pm so that by the time we left after 7:00 pm the thought of dinner last night was totally absurd! My photograph of the lovely ivy walled conservatory of the farmhouse where we were served! hardly captures the charm and true feeling of this intimate room! I suppose you can say that it was a day chock full of activity and well worth all the long driving distances between locations! Oh -- look, the captain just put on the seat belt sign and a not too friendly Aerolines Argentinas flight attendant growled at me to put away the IPad that I'm pounding this out on ... so I better say once again ... happy trails ... until I write again!!! Best regards from seat 13A on this Embraer aircraft!!! | Welsch High Tea!
10: Ushuaia, the Southernmost City in South America ... | sits on the island of ...
11: ... Tierra del Fuego!
12: Tierra del Fuego | 50 degrees with a constant drizzle ... and this is high summer!!
13: Antarctica bound ... only 1000 KM and Drake's Passage left to go!! January 10, 2012 Ushuaia, Argentina Greetings from the southernmost city in the world!! In about an hour we embark on our ice breaker expedition vessel, Corinthian II, and set sail for the great white continent, Antarctica via the Drake Passage -- purportedly the roughest seas in the world due to the confluence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meeting south of Cape Horn -- the very tip of the continent. We've been told to prepare for the possibility of 35 foot seas or more with severe rolling of the ship, high winds and stormy conditions as we push onward for more than 1000 KM to reach the seventh and largest of our planet's continents!! To be sure -- I've got a stockpile of those seasickness patches and medications to take -- for all the good they'll probably do, although I have never gotten seasick on any of the many, many cruise ships I have been on before -- but these are definitely different conditions! There's WI-FI available on board but due to our location I've been informed that it may be very difficult to get a good strong signal. So though I will do my best to keep you all posted as to our progress, we may endure a period of "radio silence"!! Keep your fingers crossed for us all, that we have a safe journey tonight through the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel and the Drake Passage so that I may continue to write to you all of our adventures here at the end of the world!!
14: Corinthian II Suite | First Landing Antarctica!! | Seat belts on the bed!?! Oh, my!! | Nora's Nightmare!
15: Words can't describe the feelings one senses the first time you see the snow capped outcroppings of jagged rocks known as Antarctica, when the vast frozen continent comes into view over the bow of the ship! Today we made our first landing via rubber zodiac landing craft and walked among colonies of gentoo and chinstrap penguins who seemed as interested in seeing us and as curious as to what we were all about as we were at seeing the hundreds of thousands of them all along the beach and especially in their "rookeries" on the higher ground where the month or so old chicks were still being fed and tended to by their parents! What you must understand though is what it took to get to this "other world" like place!! Sailing from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, was a heady experience as I along with my fellow explorers eagerly anticipated what lie ahead. Although we embarked at 4:00 pm, our actual sailing time was delayed due to weather and fueling issues, so while enjoying the wonderful food, ambiance and elegant service in Corinthian II's dining room when we did finally lift anchor and depart at about 8:00 pm we had smooth sailing for the first four hours or so as our ship's experienced Danish master navigated the relatively calm protected waters of the Strait of Magellan and then the Beagle Channel into the open seas of the notorious Drake Passage for the 1000 KM crossing to the world's eighth continent! Drake Passage is that body of water below South America and north of Antarctica where the Pacific meets the Atlantic Ocean -- and the currents flow from one into the other, but our course due south would take us across those rip currents, making for an even more precarious crossing of what are generally considered to be the world's roughest seas to begin with! We all were given a pretty strong hint at what was to come the moment we returned to our cabins from dinner, where the cabin stewards had performed the usual evening turn-down service, replete with chocolates left on the pillow. While I was certainly happy to see the sweet goodnight token, what I saw next made me howl with screams of both laughter and fear -- simultaneously -- for lo and behold, sitting across my bed, attached firmly to my mattress as matter of factly as that chocolate mint was, I kid you not, what I can only term a "seat belt"! We were also instructed to "Drake-proof" our suites, which meant to batten down everything that was loose so that it wouldn't fall during the voyage that night!! Even the dining room and lounges had all the tables and chairs chained to the decks to prevent them from flying away! Oy vey! | "Drakeproof your cabins before turning in tonight!" | Nora's Nightmare! | Seat belts on the bed!?! Oh, my!!
16: port holes were closed and covered over with their heavy steel inner "doors" as well. Luckily I have a suite on a higher deck with panoramic windows so they cannot cover them over and I can still see out at all times. And so, with my anti-nausea seasickness medication patch behind my left ear and a special magnet bracelet given to me as a bon voyage gift by a well wishing friend to ward off "mal de mer" -- I proceeded to buckle myself up under a wonderfully fluffy duvet and sink into bed for what I hoped would be a long event-free night's sleep, all snuggled up in my cozy bed!! NOT!! Being greater than 60 degrees south of the equator there's daylight for approximately eighteen or so hours a day down here and at midnight it's still only barely twilight and even with the drapes drawn there's enough light sneaking in through the chinks in the curtains that I felt like I was taking an afternoon nap and couldn't really settle down for quite awhile. Then the rolling began! From starboard to port side -- the rolling would continue as the hours passed until I felt as if I was on the Coney Island ride from Hell!! Fortunately my stateroom is quite midship -- both fore and aft as well as far as in terms of the number of decks -- so I'm very close to the ship's center of gravity which means that as bad as I thought it was -- heaven help those in less well situated cabins!! Double oy vey!! Being of a certain age, I am now a card carrying member of the "Late Night Pee Posse" and being on a "rocking and rolling" ship just adds to the fun! Each time I would get up -- usually at 3:00 and 4:00 am -- I found myself hurtling across the entire length of the cabin with my arms/hands extended in front of me so as to prevent myself from crashing full face into the wall on the opposite end of the suite! Happily, the bathroom is right there as well. If you think I had a difficult night of it, my poor dear friend Nora in the next suite found herself suddenly on the floor when in the middle of the night her mattress flew off her bed -- with her in it, seat belt and all attached!! A while later her bed frame also came crashing down so she wound up sleeping on the sofa in her room until morning when the staff was able to fix it all up again and really bolt the bed to the floor properly!! Morning finally comes with a knock on the door and my cabin steward comes in with the morning coffee and orange juice I had ordered the night before -- ah, room service!! Well, I take two sips of the juice and drink one cup of coffee and couldn't even make it to the bathroom before I had to grab for one of "those" bags you see in airplane seat back pockets but you never use!! Happily, the cabin steward left a couple on my nightstand the night before! So I shower and dress and plan to go to breakfast but that feeling hits me again so I just put out the "Do Not Disturb" sign on my door, climb back into bed and don't come out until 10:30 for a lecture I don't want to miss. Turns out only about ten people showed up for breakfast! The whole rest of the day the ship is violently rocked by 30-35 foot waves and heavy winds, although the skies are clear blue, and most everyone spends a good part of the day asleep except for the occasional lecture on what we'll be doing or seeing when we land. We all mostly skip lunch as well -- and sleep in some more, but by dinner time the worst is past and we all seem to emerge from our cocoons and turn up for cocktails and dinner, a bit pale but ready to face the world anew!! The next night is still rough but in comparison to the first -- a piece of cake! The next morning (today) we even all show up for breakfast and lunch too! Then a miracle happens -- land ho! There she is -- the Antarctic peninsula in the distance, the South Shetland Islands, the first in the archipelago we pass and we make our first landing this afternoon!! One step ashore and all the headaches are totally forgotten and we are all in total awe as we wander around this frozen land way down under that is actually teeming with life and all the new penguin chicks representing a new generation and a new beginnings! It's all just fabulous to be here and to see it all. | All
17: First Landing | Antarctica!
18: Disinfectant ritual on every disembarkation and re-embarkation!!
19: First zodiac tender ashore!!
21: The South Shetland Islands our first Antarctic landfall | Ginsoo penguins
25: we are now sailing inland in protected waters along the coastline of Antarctica and will be making two different landings tomorrow. The sea is very calm with only a gentle rise and fall of the ship as we steam ahead -- just enough to rock one to sleep, so as to awaken refreshed tomorrow and ready for new adventures! Oh, I almost forgot to mention the delicious hot cocoa laced with Bailey's Irish Cream that awaited us when we reboarded the ship after being out on the frozen tundra this afternoon! YUM!! Internet service WI-FI here on board is via satellite but it's very, very slow and quite hard to connect so it may be a while until you hear from me again! Until you do though ... happy trails and warm hugs from a damn cold place!! | Tonight
26: Sleeping whales!
33: Where's Marcia? Who do you think is taking this shot?
36: Neumayer Channel, Northbound 10:15, Sunday, January 15, 2012 As you have probably figured out by now, we finally were able to receive a strong enough satellite signal for my WI-FI connection to hook up and so the messages sitting in my out- box flew out as quickly as pent up children on the last day of school when the final dismissal bell rings! Woosh -- and they were all gone -- however, I hadn't actually finished the last message I was writing, nor had I signed it, nor had I even had an opportunity to attach any photos of some of what I had been describing before it so eagerly made its mad dash into the mysterious nether world of cyberspace!! As magnificent as this frozen paradise is to behold, one cannot wander about unprepared for the environment and although this is "high summer" down here, the temperatures during the day have been hovering around the freezing point of 32 degrees Farenhneit with occasional ups and downs -- a few times getting up close to 36-38 but when the sun recedes and the cloud cover rolls in, one is rapidly engulfed in a flurry of snowflakes that are as fluffy as white velvet and as quick to pile up as fancy wrap on Christmas morning after a houseful of kids have opened their gifts -- I mean, it's all over the place and it's a real mess! Here the snow quickly freezes on the water's surface, giving the water a greasy appearance. This "grease ice" ultimately thickens and solidifies until the entire surface is thick with pack ice, solid enough so that there is little difference between land and sea for miles on end! A good ice cover is vital to the ecosystem here though, as algae form under the ice,clinging to it in the frigid water, providing sustenance to the million of krill or tiny shrimp like creatures that thrive down here. Krill are one of the most basic elements of the food chain as they are eaten by penguins, certain seals and some whales eat ONLY krill and require up to two tons or 4,000 lbs of krill per day to satisfy their needs! But I'm getting away from myself -- where was I again? Oh, yes -- being prepared for the weather when outdoors down here! We begin by wearing regular undies, then silk long johns, both tops and bottoms, jeans or other rugged type slacks, a long sleeved shirt, then a heavy sweater or fleece type garment on top of which we wear these great insulated parkas that we were given by the tour company. They are fairly lightweight but extremely warm! We then have one pair of heavy socks plus one to two pairs of extra heavy thermal wool socks which go under the heavy waterproof rubber boots that we wear -- loaned to us by the outfitter here! Oh, I almost forgot -- on top of our jeans we wear outer slacks or pants that are totally waterproof -- which along with our boots make "wet landings" possible in the 30 degree water which can be up to your mid calf or more, depending on how far in they can get the zodiac at each landing site we hit. Then on top of all this we are required to wear a life vest and of course a nice warm hat plus waterproof gloves and glove liners!! By the time we get all this gear on -- the boots are put on last on deck just before boarding the zodiac -- one can hardly bend over, so crew members are standing by to assist us in putting on and pulling off our boots! Don't ask! And then most of us carry a ski pole or two as a walking stick plus a back pack!! Oh, yeah -- and then our photo gear to get all these incredible shots! This afternoon we stopped at a TINY, TINY island called Port Lockroy which is only about 300 meters from one end to the other! The island used to be a British scientific post but was taken out of service many years ago. Today the old building houses a museum which is really a reburbishment of the living quarters as they existed back when it was in use as a station, plus other exhibits as well as a small gift shop and the only actual post office in all of Antarctica. It's under the British flag and run by six volunteers who live there all season (six months) and who conduct research on the two penguin colonies residing at the tiny outpost. Mail service is quite erratic from here. You may purchase stamps here which are UK postage (British) and they hold your mail until a ship happens along that's heading for the Falkland Islands or the Malvinas as the Argentinians still insist on calling the islands they feel are rightfully theirs.
37: the mail reaches the Falklands it is flown to London from which is is then routed to wherever in the world that it's addressed. As a result your post card may take anywhere from three weeks to three months to arrive at its destination! I sent one to myself just to see how long it would take! (Two months!!) I also managed to spend a tidy sum in the gift shop and believe it or not, even at the ass end of the world when I gave them my Mastercard -- in thirty seconds it was approved! Let me just say this about the prices -- when you purchase a T-shirt thousands of miles away from the nearest civilization and with absolutely no competition whatsoever -- let's put it this way -- they've sort of got you over a barrel and if you want that damn T-shirt you're not going to get any bargoons!! Tomorrow is our last day of landings prior to heading back through the Drake Passage for two days of rock 'n roll and the toilet bowl two-step!! Hopefully, our northbound voyage will be calmer this time but being realistic, I think that what we experienced on our southbound crossing was probably quite normal, even if we all thought it was horrific!! Heaven help us if we REALLY hit a storm and have to deal with that! We're currently heading for Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands, at the northern part of the Antarctic Archipelago, and so as I write this we are sailing in open unprotected waters which are making the ship roll quite a bit -- port to starboard and back but it's a gentle roll and as I'm in bed, it's kind of pleasant and the rocking will hopefully lull me to sleep. I've already laid out my clothes and gear for the morning and have my transderm mal de mer seasickness patch all set to place behind my ear tomorrow late afternoon!! | Once
38: captain has promised to try and sail us through a protected channel as we head to the Drake Passage again tomorrow at dinner time so that in case it's rough, it won't affect the dinner service! LOL. I think I'll eat a very light dinner tomorrow just to be on the safe side. I think I've taken at least 500 photos this week! This has been the most amazing experience ... rivaling my travels in Africa this past September to be the most incredible life changing of journeys!! I sign off here, hoping that the satellite signal remains strong enough for this message to get sent to you all. Until I write again ... happy trails to you all!! | Our
39: Penguin Prints
42: Port Lockroy
47: Neumayer Channel
48: Deception Island
49: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 Somewhere at sea, Drake Passage northbound, toward Ushuaia, Argentina Sailing northbound through the Drake Passage all day today, having survived last night's relatively calm seas, the winds have now picked up this afternoon to near 30 knots and the seas have been as high as ten meters -- about twenty-five feet at times, causing some tremendous rolling from side to side, but it's really the crashing of the ship against the water as it comes down against the crest of the waves we are riding into that really reminds one of the vast power of the currents and the forces of nature as our relatively tiny island of humanity bobs along like a cork, being tossed about, turned this way and that -- yet Corinthian II's master skillfully steers a steady if slow course northward to our final port of call, this time our destination, Ushuaia, which we left over a week ago!! Our captain managed to navigate through relatively protected waters for the first few hours after we began our homeward bound journey late yesterday afternoon so that the dinner service might be completed with relatively little movement of the vessel and the least amount of discomfort for the passengers. Our first leg through the Drake Passage over last night was NOT exactly what one would consider calm seas, yet in comparison with our outward voyage on the way down it was infinitely better and much smoother, which most passengers seemed to agree on when we met for breakfast this morning. Personally, I put on my little old transderm patch behind my ear last night just before dinner and have been perfectly fine since, despite all the ship's movement so far and really have no complaints in that regard! If I have anything to complain about it's that the food has been way too good and just too damn plentiful and as big as I am, I am destined to come home even larger!! It is approaching twenty-four hours since we lost sight of the last of the Antarctic Archipelago with its massive icebergs, impressive glaciers, it's snow/ice covered extension of the Andes Mountains, the pack ice covered waters and the open seas and bays filled with ice floes, along with all the awesome wildlife sightings we've made during this voyage of discovery! Yesterday, our final full day on the archipelago, we made two extraordinary landings that were among the great highlights of the entire trip for most of us. In the early morning Corinthian II's captain very carefully maneuvered her through the extremely slim narrows known as Neptune's Bellows, as we sailed into the caldera within the circular outcropping of land that sits above the ocean's waterline known as Deception Island, so called because its original discovering explorers initially believed that it was simply an island. However, upon their circumnavigation of the island they ultimately discovered the very narrow opening described above as Neptune's Bellows, which permitted access into the inner caldera which is in reality the rim of a still active volcano that is protruding above the sea, so that were one to view it from a bird's eye perspective, it would appear to be a donut with a very thin slice (the bellows) taken out of it, floating in the ocean! As it is still experiencing subterranean volcanic activity, there are heated gases which bubble up through the ground and these heated gases ultimately heat the sand under the water and along the beach. As the water is at a frigid 30 degrees or so in the area this time of year, the gases from the volcanic activity only manage to heat the water in the shallow parts of the crater up to a few feet in height, and then there's a layer of cold water at the top -- a few inches thick. This hot spring effect has given rise to a rather absurd local activity which has come to be known as the "Polar Plunge" where one may take a dip and enjoy the delights of the warm springs here in the midst of this winter wonderland! Sure enough, there were quite a few hardy souls among my traveling companions who relished the idea and made quite a spectacle of themselves doing so, much to the delight of the rest of us and allowing for some hilarious photographic opportunities!
52: A lone Macaroni penguin traveling incognito among the chicks of a Chinstrap rookery!
53: can be sure that yours truly was NOT among those foolish enough to join them in this endeavor! At home I pay a tidy sum every month to have a nice young fellow come and service my swimming pool and to keep it at a nice 80 degrees -- and even then I still hardly take what I would call the "Plantation Plunge"! All this polar plunging silliness aside, Deception Island offered us one of the very best observational opportunities for wildlife behaviors of the entire expedition! Lying, sunning on the beach in all his glory, attempting to simply take in a few undisturbed zzzzz's was a lone Leopard Seal who seemed to care very little as we oohed and ah-ed and snapped away as if we were a bunch of Hollywood paparazzi that just caught up with Brad Pitt or Angela Jolie at some favorite local haunt!! These massive beasts of fur and blubber which seem to be so clumsy on land when attempting to move from here to there, but they become amazingly swift and agile once they hit the icy waters in search of their dinner -- a nice plump penguin or two, fresh from the sea! Interestingly, while they're quick as lightning to strike their prey at sea -- when on land they do not attempt to molest their prime dietary delight, the penguins which wander about to and fro, neither predator nor prey really seeming to pay much attention to their roles in the food chain at that particular point! So trot around the penguins will do -- both examining with great curiosity and taunting them because they can, their arch enemy just laying there, seemingly almost oblivious to their presence -- up to a point!!! As luck would have it, we stumbled upon a foursome of adult Chinstrap penguins who seemed to be totally mesmerized by this one particular seal and as they huddled together, they would creep closer and closer to him -- each one sort of pushing his neighbor to be the one to actually go and take the lead -- until they were close enough to peck our snoozing pal on the nose -- at which point he would suddenly jerk his head up and around in their direction, his huge maw (huge at least to a penguin) agape as if to emit a roar or perhaps to snap his ultra long, sharp front fangs in their direction to snatch one of them!! But alas, no sound came out as his lower jaw fell slack and so the four feathered musketeers all as if in a synchronized movement, cocked their heads to the right, and with their heads all at such a human like inquisitive tilt, they each craned their little necks forward to peer into that seal's open mouth as much in awe as in fear as they literally stared into the jaws of death -- knowing full well, that was someplace that they did not want to end up -- yet they just couldn't get over their intense curiosity as to what was actually in there!! Just like the proverbial cat who allowed curiosity to get the better of her, these fellows seemed to be helpless to the Siren call of their mortal enemy!! And just then the seal would jerk himself awake, rise up and roll over to a new comfy position -- and whoosh -- the four penguins ran and scattered for a few moments -- until he was all settled into another comfortable position, at which point the whole macabre dance would begin anew!! This managed to enthrall our entire party for close to forty-five minutes, by which time the aforementioned Polar Plunge was about to take place and everyone's attention was diverted!! Another wonderful morning on shore in this amazing part of the world! Just one more landing in the afternoon and then it's anchors away as we head back northbound to civilization! Later on yesterday afternoon we made our final landing of the expedition before heading northbound -- Hannah Point -- which turned out to be the real cherry on top for all of us! We have been so very fortunate on this voyage in that the weather has been great; we've seen more wildlife than many predecessor expeditions this season have seen; we've managed to get further south than any prior expedition this season and we are the first and only group to land at Hannah Point on a bright sun shiny day with clear blue skies! Here we've seen more Ginsoo and Chinstrap penguins but were incredibly fortunate to have been able to spot a pair of Macaroni penguins which rarely are seen at this latitude! | You
55: Carlos, taking the "polar plunge" in the thermal springs!!
56: Coexistence at Hannah Point!
58: One of our naturalist guides spotted the Macaroni Penguin pair among a colony of Chinstraps as if they were trying to blend in so it was hard to notice them. but our guide had an amazing, HUGE professional pair of binoculars, the likes of which I've never seen before and she was able to point the Macaronis out and I was lucky enough to get a series of shots of them with their distinctive golden feathered crowns that almost look as if they are wearing yellow tiaras! It remains a mystery what they are doing among this colony on this landing site -- perhaps they're lost or became disoriented, but whatever the reason, we were the lucky ones who normally never would have seen them on this particular itinerary! Also on this small landing spot we discovered a large colony of Elephant Seals, just lounging about on the rocks, similarly being scrutinized by the local penguin population as well as we human visitors! They seemed to be very cooperative and rolled about, waving their hind legs/flippers and raising their heads, opening their mouths and just generally posing for their close-ups to the squealing delight of most of the shutter-bugs who gathered around to snap away! After about an hour and a half of meandering here and there it was finally time for us to leave and head back to the ship where we would be taking off our boots along with the umpteen layers of gear for the very last time on this trip! YEAH!! Now, while we all thoroughly enjoyed every moment on shore or in the zodiacs, packing on all the cold weather clothing and life preservers and those damn boots was just waaaaaaaaay too much trouble!! Once one had all those layers upon layers on plus the life jacket and usually a back pack, the possibility of bending down to pull knee hight boots over three pairs of heavy wool socks was no easy task! Fortunately, the ship knew its passengers well enough to ensure they had a crew member down on the marina deck to help with the booting and de-booting process at every embarkation to/from the zodiacs. Kenneth was quite patient with each and every one of us old codgers as he kindly assisted each one getting into and out of their boots! Needless to say, after we returned from the last landing yesterday afternoon most of us tipped him generously for his invaluable assistance all week! Had he not been there for us, most of us would probably never have made it ashore! He's a lovely young Filipino lad who is saving his money up to attend nursing school in the States. I hope we've made some contribution to that goal!! And now it's time for dinner -- I had my pre-dinner cocktail in my cabin as I wrote you all this message rather than going up to the ship's club lounge -- but my companions await me in the dining room as I dilly-dally in my stateroom!! So until I write to you again ... happy trails to you all!!!
62: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 Anchored at the entrance to the Beagle Channel Approximately five hours sailing time outside Ushuaia, Argentina to the powers that be -- our northbound crossing of the Drake Passage over the past day and a half was a piece of cake in comparison to our southbound voyage just ten days ago! Despite the occasional high seas for an hour or two here or there, with relatively mild winds -- although there were some periods with sustained winds as high as thirty plus knots -- most passengers concur that this was a very easy crossing! An extremely simple method for determining just how rough the journey is requires one to simply take a look at how full or empty the dinning room is at any meal service! This time around saw very few of my fellow expeditioners missing out on any of the food service options on board! Speaking of which, anyone who has ever taken a cruise knows how much food they throw at you -- even in between the regular three customary meals per day! Mangia, baby, mangia!! We've actually arrived at the entrance to the Beagle Channel, the protected body of water that separates the tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego from the open seas of the Drake Passage -- about fourteen hours ahead of schedule!!! The reason being that the captain never knows what weather he and his ship will encounter in the Drake and because a storm or very high seas and strong winds can delay the ship's arrival in port as much as a day, it's really necessary to plan for any such contingencies in the time schedule. Therefore, although we arrived here this afternoon, we must lie at anchor until about 1:00 a.m. tonight/tomorrow morning at which time the harbor pilot from Ushuaia will board Corinthian II and guide her safely through the channel and into her berth at the port which is at the foot of downtown in the city. We disembark at 6:15 a.m. tomorrow morning and head directly to the airport for our flight up to Buenos Aires where my dear friend Nora along with 85% of the other passengers on Corinthian II will transfer to the international airport for their onward flights home later in the evening. Lucky me -- I will be overnighting in Buenos Aires prior to heading to Iguazu Falls which lies on the Brazilian -- Argentine border. We travel to and from the airport at Iguazu, Argentina and stay at a hotel on this side, but walk across the border to the Brazilian side for the view -- similar to what one would do at Niagara Falls, New York -- walking across the Rainbow Bridge into Canada to view the falls from the Canadian side -- which really is the better scenic view! Believe it or not, in order to enter Brazil even for a few hours I had to go through a ton of rigmarole to get a visa! Not only did the Brazilian consulate in Miami make me file an extensive application, including photos and all my itinerary info, employment info, et al. -- but they actually required me to send in THREE MONTHS OF BANK STATEMENTS!! I was permitted to redact the account number and any other identifying data, except for my name -- but this still seems to me to be a real invasion of privacy -- but the Brazilian government's response is that this is how our American government treats their own nationals when they apply for American visas! I suppose it's simply an international version of "tit-for-tat"! Once at the falls, I hope to send you all a report from there -- a totally different climate from Antarctica to say the least -- going from the eternally frozen tundra down under to a tropical rain forest!! Before I end my Antarctic transmissions there are just a couple of things that I don't recall whether or not I've mentioned, that were quite astounding to experience -- one was the chance to actually witness the "calving" of an iceberg or in other words, watching a humongous portion of the edge or face of a glacier at the water's edge just come roaring down in a single huge mass as its mammoth size and immeasurable | Thanks
63: weight gave way to the force of gravity and the whole thing plunged into the sea below ... causing a thunderous roar that almost sounds like a freight train -- and then this newly born baby iceberg, some the size of NYC apartment buildings, would just bob about in the water like enormous blue/white corks for a few seconds until they find their own center of gravity and decide which ends will be up or down! What I found interesting to learn is that this calving actually produces a small to medium sized limited tidal wave with ripple current effects that spread out far from the point of contact with the water. We were standing on a protected beach at one of our landing sites when we saw and heard this white wonderland phenomenon occur from afar, as we were paying attention to a colony of Ginsoo penguins on the far side of a lagoon while walking on a rocky pebble beach. First we heard the roar, all heads turned and then saw the huge mass fall! "Hurry, move up to higher ground," Claudia, one of our naturalist guides said in a calm but forceful voice. "There's going to be a tidal wave!!" We moved but only few feet, as we were far enough away from the point of "birth" and the newborn wasn't really that large a "baby" when viewed in comparison to the many others we had seen all week long -- but hey, how often do get to see ANYTHING being born, no less an iceberg, for heaven's sake!! Another astounding sight was seeing a skua -- a beautiful, chocolate brown bird of prey swoop down low over a penguin rookery or nursery if you will, to first do some "window shopping" for dinner, and then to actually attempt to snatch away a penguin chick right from under the watchful eye of its mother. More often than not they're unsuccessful but as they too are part of the natural food chain and must feed in order to stay alive, the penguins too are there purposefully as their prey. And so as sad a scene as it is to witness what seems as a cruel act of Mother Nature, the main difference between the Skua and mankind is that we cleverly manage to keep our distance between our "prey" as it were and ourselves when it comes to what we eat! How many school children think of a nice juicy piece of beef as anything other than what comes wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam in our market's cold case in the meat dept.?? How different might our eating habits be if we had to hunt for, then butcher and clean every single living thing we currently take for granted at the supermarket, before we could sit down to feast upon the spoils of our own labor??!! Now as the final day of our fantastic journey comes to a close, I look out the window of my cabin and watch the sun slowly set at about 10:30 p.m. -- a marked difference from the twenty-four hour a day sunshine of the Antarctic continent that we've left behind just two days ago! None of us who've made this journey will ever be quite the same again after experiencing this incredible sense of timelessness and serenity of this seventh continent. At breakfast this morning I overheard a very interesting exchange between two passengers, having "survived" the Drake Passage in both directions now. The first woman, attempting to say something bright and cheerful the first thing in the morning said, "Well, at least now the worst is all behind us!" to which her companion replied, "Yes, but so is the best!" And so I leave the gorgeous frozen wonderland at the bottom of the world with the firm promise to myself that someday I truly must return!! All this captivating beauty is simply way too much to be able to take in on one journey and I urge all of you who scoffed at the mere mention of my intentions to make this voyage, to take a good long look at what you're missing by not undertaking this experience yourselves!! If and when you do you'll wonder how you could have ever stayed away for so long! Until you hear from me at Iguazu Falls ... happy trails to you all!!
75: Thundering Iguazu Falls
76: Who's a happy camper?
78: Old Man River!
80: another early morning flight, we arrived back in Buenos Aires, marking the end of a tropical interlude at what has recently been voted one of our current era's new "seven wonders of the world" -- Iguazu Falls, which actually forms the border between Argentina and Brazil. The name, "Iguazu" comes from the indigenous indians' name for the falls, meaning literally, "big waters," and a more apt or appropriate name one would be hard pressed to find! Among the greatest water falls in the world, Iguuazu is considered the widest, consisting of many falls along both sides of the bending and turning Iguazu River with a spectacular dog leg bend in the center known as the "Devil's Gorge" where the flow is the most intense at the widest single point, creating a thunderous display of rushing waters over the rim that ranges anywhere between 1,200 cubic meters per second to as much as 4,000 cubic meters per second -- the latter figure being a record set back in 2006 at the time of a severe flood that caused tremendous damage in the area. Our first day there we headed directly for the Brazilian border from the airport and spent most of the afternoon exploring the Brazilian side of the falls where we were actually viewing the Argentinian falls from Brazil. The most impressive falls are actually on the Argentinian side of the river, but one really needs to be in Brazil in order to get the correct angle to view them. Carlos, our tour escort, and Juan our local guide had us close the curtains in our mini-coach as we approached the point where we were to experience our very first sighting of the falls and then we were instructed all at once to open the drapes -- at which point all the "Oohs, Ahs" and "Oh my G-ds" came flying out of our mouths in unison, for that very first spot was at the head of a footpath or walkway that trails along the top of the Brazilian falls, leading one through the jungle and rain forest with clearings along the way and special platforms which jutted out here and there for unbelievable views of the Argentinian side! Once again, as we did when we made our Antarctic landings snapping photo after photo of all those penguins that looked exactly alike, now we were all snapping away at the view like mad, trying to capture every nuance of the views from each slightly different vantage point. After a while though, many shots started to look alike. No matter how good the shot appears through the lens, you really can't capture the thrill of the sound and the feel of the mist and spray of the huge amount of water rushing by One of my reasons for wanting to take this add-on excursion to my trip down under was to compare Iguazu with Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe which we just visited and experienced a few months ago in September. We were so blown away by the majesty and grandeur of Victoria Falls that I was sure nothing could really top it and I wouldn't say that Iguazu does particularly "win out" over Victoria Falls, but he major difference is the infrastructure provided by both the Brazilian and Argentinian governments and the huge effort and the obviously considerable funds that went into providing incredible physical access to the falls no matter which side you were viewing them from! You just get so damn close that it is unbelievable -- and that's just never the case at Victoria Falls. The catwalks here virtually crossed over the rapids at the base of Devil's Gorge and along the rims and at so many different strategic vantage points that afforded one the opportunity to view the rushing waters just above the precipice of the falls, right at the top before they roared over the edge and cascaded down in torrents of white foam! As you will see from some of my photos, you'll say to yourself, "Goodness, where was he standing when he got that shot?!" | Photographing waterfalls as opposed to penguins?? Sunday, January 22, 2012 Buenos Aires, Argentina | After
81: Buenos Aires | Tango!
83: awe inspiring as it all was -- a great counterpoint to the icebergs of white and blue floating in seas of pack ice thousands of miles away -- one could not escape the fact that we were in the jungle where the temperatures rose to 95 degrees by noon and the humidity topped out at over 92 percent for the day!! I don't know which gave off more liquid -- the mist from the falls or from my brow!! Thankfully, most of us opted for a speed boat river rafting ride, the highlight of which was a direct "assault" into the bottom of Devil's Gorge at the point of its heaviest flow, with our modified zodiac craft's driver revving the twin outboard motors to full throttle as he "charged" full speed ahead!!! As the roaring waters came thundering down onto our hot, perspired, weary from hiking bodies, we all threw our arms up into the air, screaming at the top of our lungs as if we were on the most wonderful roller coaster in the entire universe! Most waterfalls come from rivers which originate from melting snow or glaciers and therefore are relatively cold water. However, the Iguazu River which feeds these falls is fed up river by rainfall and in summer the water is very warm -- mid 80's!!! Let me tell you, that water spraying us until we were all soaking wet was ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS!!!!! And after we had completed our numerous "run-ins" with the "big" kahuna -- Devil's Gorge and a few smaller ones, we then set off for a high speed ride down the rapids that lie down river from the falls in the canyon formed by the high walls of the two sides of the river bed -- the sun shining so very brightly and the sky a crystal clear blue with little wisps of white clouds here and there -- I had a bigger smile on my face than I've had for years and years! It felt so good to be alive! My kingdom for a doobie!! Just in case you were wondering -- we were each provided a large rubber-ish waterproof bag to put our shoes, sox, cameras, hats, eyeglasses into -- anything you didn't want to get wet or blown away! So when we disembarked down river everything was all nice and dry as we were torn from our reverie and the reality of the real world was once again thrust upon us! Once back at our hotel again we had time to freshen up before meeting at the lobby bar for a farewell drink -- something they said was the "national drink" of Brazil, made with sugar cane liquor, green lemon juice and a touch of sugar. It's very strong but not to my liking. Give me my Johnny Walker Black Label any day!! For dinner I barely had energy to have a burger in the hotel's lobby grill restaurant and go straight up to bed!! This morning once again afforded us the opportunity to do some last minute airport souvenir shopping or in my case, playing Solitaire on my IPad, and then our flight to Buenos Aires brought us all back to the city where it all began three weeks ago! Everyone else is leaving tonight on flights between 9:30 and 10:00 pm but I'm staying on for another two days to see a few more sights on my own. As there was a bit of time left this afternoon I accompanied two women I had befriended at the very beginning of the trip in Patagonia, on a futile last minute attempt to locate some local flea market where they were looking for some bargain or other but when we couldn't find it I treated them to a light pre-flight "dinner" of the local favorite -- empanadas or little baked half moon savory pastries filled with anything from meat or cheeses to veggies -- the combinations are endless. And then it was lots of final hugs and empty promises to keep in touch and send each other photos via email -- blah, blah, blah! And off their bus went to the airport with the brilliant Carlos, our fearless and most charming group leader and general go-to person for the last three weeks, while I came up to my nice quite hotel room to write this to all of you! After this I plan to watch a film on my IPad that I preloaded prior to leaving home, then read my book and then get a good night's sleep! Tomorrow is a brand new day and for the first time in I cannot remember how many years I will be totally alone in a foreign city where I don't know a soul, nor do i speak the language -- no itinerary, schedule, appointments -- just a free day, a city map and my own curiosity! So let's see what mischief I can get into! I promise if it's anything interesting, you'll hear about it first from me! Until I write again ... and just in case I don't ... happy trails to each of you! | As
84: Front cover photo credit: Arnelle Blas
87: Evita's Balcony Casa Rosada
89: Eva Peron
90: Teatro Colon
92: Teatro Colon
94: El Subte or the Metro
96: National Assembly
97: Homelessness has no nationality!
98: spending my final two and a half days solo in Buenos Aires, walking from one end of the city to the other -- this time at MY OWN VERY LEISURELY PACE -- I managed to wander through some lovely residential neighborhoods, got to see what a local supermarket was like, wandered into a small deli-type establishment to see how Argentinian cold cuts and cheeses compare with what's available back home, managed to get to the private collection of modern art at the MALBA museum -- most of which was a bit too over the top for my tastes, but I really enjoyed the time I got to spend at the city's Museum of Fine Art, a miniature version of NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art -- a really miniature version that I was able to thoroughly enjoy in only a few hours time! And when I finally had run out of steam, with no hotel room to fall back to for an afternoon siesta, yet hours to go before it was time to head out to the international airport for my 9:30 p.m. ten hour overnight flight to Atlanta (Delta, of course!) and then an hour and a half flight to Ft. Lauderdale -- what was I supposed to do with myself? Simple, I trotted over to the glamorous, glitzy new Recoleta Mall across from the famous Recoleta cemetery where Evita Peron's polished black granite mausoleum is a huge tourist attraction -- but last minute shopping wasn't on my mind!! Nope -- I plunked down my 28 pesos ($6,50 US) for a seat in the super plush cinema there and watched George Clooney get outsmarted by Ryan Gossling in the stupendous political thriller also starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman -- "Ides of March" in a deliciously air conditioned theatre, where I sunk back into my super comfortable blue velour stadium seat with a fresh tuna and pimiento sandwich that I had just picked up at that deli I told you about -- emerging two hours later, thoroughly rested, entertained and ready to come on home -- after a bit of flying and then some more flying!! And so here I sit, back at my desk at home, drinking a freshly brewed cup of American coffee THE WAY I LIKE IT -- totally exhausted after traveling all night -- even in business class -- having to deal with security and passport control and customs both leaving their country and reentering our own -- being pushed and prodded through x-ray machines and then made to take shoes and belts off and put back on again -- then confined to your seat, belted in for hours on end, trying to get some sleep if you can with all the turbulence and flight attendants constantly wandering the aisles with their carts and fellow passengers jostling you as they cue up for the lavatory -- it's just one long nightmare one has to endure in order to have what we call a "vacation"!! But, hey, it sure beats the way the pioneers had to travel out west!! So here I am -- back from one hell of a brilliant journey ninety percent of the way to the south pole! Am I sorry I didn't go the other ten percent? Nah -- you always have to have a reason to go back again! So until I take off again on another one of my adventures to some far off place -- why not let me hear about one of yours for a change? I would love to read about your latest when you take the time to write! Until then, happy trails to you all! For now I've got a ton of dirty laundry to look after and then I'm going to take one really long nap!!! Cheers! | Back home at last -- my own fridge, bed and bath!! YEAH!! January 25, 2012 Plantation, Florida After | Jerry Segal