Sparky Travels

February 25, 2011

Returning to Port

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On the evening of the 22nd we’d begun to make our way North into the Drake’s Passage. Weather reports indicated that strong winds and large swells were coming our way so we attempted to make as much headway as we could to try and beat them.

On the 23rd we were well into the Drake proper. We had some really interesting presentations about the experiences of some of the expedition team. Laurie the team leader told us about his skiing expedition from Russia to Canada via the North Pole while Rick talked about his time running dog sleds in the Antarctic and Alaska. Their stories were amazing and quite inspirational.

Our second day on the Drakes Passage was not too bad either and we had further presentations, the Captain’s farewell toast and meal followed by a 1000 picture slideshow of the best/funniest photos taken on the trip.

We ended our final evening up in the Panorama lounge for some farewell drinking. Slowly everyone sloped off to bed, all was quiet, and I realised that this spectacular trip had come to an end.

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On the 25th we were up early in the morning, left the ship and returned to the civilization of Ushuaia.

My overall impression was that I made the correct choice in terms of the ship and expedition I chose. We were lucky in terms of the weather and managed a great number of excursions. The quality and variety of food was excellent throughout, indicated by chips being available only twice. The expedition team were very well qualified, enthusiastic and great fun with some of the destinations we went to being special even for Antarctic cruises. Lastly the people were all lovely, with everyone getting on well and getting into the spirit of the things.

Truly a trip of a lifetime!

February 22, 2011

Final Antarctic Landings

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On our penultimate day of excursions in Antarctica we landed on Danco Island. After saying hello to the obligatory penguins we climbed up the hill, which was quite an effort, to see the relatively unimpressive view due mainly to the poor weather.

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Back on board, as we cruised along the Errera Channel a voice came over the tannoy saying that Humpback whales had been sighted around the ship. We rushed from port to starboard watching these great mammals splashing around us.

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Our afternoon landing at Orne Harbour initially looked similar to the morning, though with a steeper climb.

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Then the sun came out and showed how much the weather can affect a landing. After chatting to the fur seals we trudged up the v.steep hill and I pushed on ahead to be the first at the top. As I climber higher and higher I passed penguin colonies nesting on the rocks, all the way to the top. If it is hard work for us to climb you can only imagine what it is like for the wee penguins having to make their way up and down several times a day!

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The view at the summit was breathtaking. One of the expedition team had clued us in during an earlier landing that it is a good idea to plonk yourself down on the snow and sit silently, enjoying the view and the sounds of the Antarctic. It makes a big difference from running around taking pictures and gives a much deeper appreciation of the environment we are in.

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Once we’d had our fill of that we started making snowmen and having snowball fights. Finally, when we reluctantly had to head back down the slope was perfect for sliding and throwing ourselves down the hill.

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Our dinner this evening, given the beautiful weather was a barbeque on the top deck of the ship.  It was advertised as hat party so people turned up with assorted homemade, altered and silly headpieces. The free mulled wine and vast amount of tasty meat got everyone into the spirit. Speakers were brought on deck and we spent hours dancing away. It was very surreal, with a full dance-floor bedecked in sunshine surrounded by white snowy peaks. For our sins, the Macarena may even have been involved at one drunken point.

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Our final day of landings (22nd) began with a landing at Hannah Point on Livingston Island. There were Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins here and a Giant Petrel colony. The most impressive sights were the Southern Elephant seals wallowing in mud baths. The smell of penguin guano is bad but the stench coming from the elephant seals was horrific. Fortunately I had a blocked nose for most of the landing but when it cleared I joined the rest of the people upwind of the smelly mass of blubber.

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Unfortunately, before our zodiac landed an earlier group had strayed too close to one herd in an effort to get pictures and spooked the largest seal. They had unwittingly blocked its escape route so it turned and threw itself of the cliff away from them, killing itself in the process. This put a bit of a dampener on the last day and is obviously not good for the expedition team.

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In the afternoon we headed for Deception Island, an old caldera which has been flooded by the sea. For the first time, on our last attempted landing, we were unable to get onshore due to strong winds. It was disappointing but given the weather we’ve had and the number of excursions we’ve been able to make we have been extremely lucky overall.

The Ocean Nova cruised round the caldera instead as we looked out from deck and the panorama lounge. Then we set sail for home.

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February 20, 2011

South of the Antarctic Circle

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On the morning landing on the 19th of February we landed at Horseshoe Island. Perched on the rocks was an interesting old base still in the condition it was in almost 40 years ago. It resembled a ghost ship, with shelves still stocked and old newspapers lying on the table.

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The island’s current inhabitants are adele penguins and seals. Adele penguins are small and with pure black faces, some of the young were moulting at time while the ones that had already moulted were heading into the water for the first time.DSC01003DSC01024

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Past the bay there was a scree slope which was fun for rock-hopping up but with an un-exceptional view at the top. Dotted around the place were interesting rocks with green oxidised copper veins running through them.

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This landing turned out to be our most southerly landing of the trip at 67º 51‘ S 067º 12‘ W. Nice!

Our afternoon landing was a rare treat. We had been invited to spend the day at Britain’s still-functioning Rothera Station, the British Antarctic Survey’s principal logistics centre. Apparently, only one other tourist ship had reached them this year so we felt quite privileged. As we arrived at the base we were able to watch a couple of their planes landing after supply runs further into the continent.

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We were split into groups and were given an extremely interesting tour of the whole base which has a population of over 100 people in the summer. The research buildings were especially interesting (the atmosphere was similar to QinetiQ in many ways) with terrestrial and underwater biological studies being undertaken. We were shown the diving centre with its hyperbaric chamber.and an aquarium filled with weird creatures such as sea spiders and various starfish type creatures. The staff who showed us around were extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

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That evening, on board the ship, we had a poker tournament between 20 of us. I managed to reach the final table but had fewest chips and didn’t last long. Out of the game, which was purely for pride, I took on the role of dj as we turned the library into a party room. It was pretty rainy on at this time and at one point I managed to slip on the deck, throwing half a cup of whiskey into my eye in the process. Not very clever!

Today, the 20th we started off with a zodiac tour of the icebergs around the Fish Islands. DSC_0257

The ‘bergs were spectacular and tightly packed. At times we had to force our way through the ice to make our way around. The bottom of the zodiac was filled with water but this couldn’t dampen our joy as we zig-zagged from ‘berg to ‘berg. The sheer variety of shapes and sizes was unbelievable with ones resembling towers, churches and ski jumps. We’d also regularly happen upon crab-eater seals lounging on icebergs and cruise right up to them to say hello.

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We thought it couldn’t get much better, but as we reached the end of the morning’s activity the sun came out and showed everything up in a whole new – and stunningly beautiful – light.

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We took advantage of the perfectly calm and clear weather to go out again in the afternoon. This gave us more time to enjoy the icebergs lit up by the sun resulting in vibrant colours. Although the icebergs were less densely packed we had the advantage of sailing through gorgeously blue water with great visibility above and below the water.

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In the late afternoon we had a chance to experience something very shocking! We changed into our swimming togs and headed to the zodiac platform to do a polar plunge. 40 of us (an amazing two0thirds of the passengers) queued up to jump into the freezing Antarctic water. The temperature was apparently somewhere between –1 and 0 degrees Celsius! Some jumped in naked, some dived in, some jumped high and some tried lowering themselves in. All of us received a well-deserved shot of vodka immediately afterwards. I have to say that although it was cold it was over so quickly that it didn’t really have time to register.The second you got out it almost felt like your skin was burning and it didn’t take long to get warmed back up.

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A further highlight was getting to drink a 12 year old Glenlivet with 30,000 year old (approx. could be older) icecubes taken from a piece of ice we grabbed from the water. This ice looks almost black in the sea because it has been compressed for centuries under subsequent ice on the ice sheet, causing all the air molecules to be pushed out.

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February 18, 2011

Antarctic Exploration

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After our camping trip that night, we returned to the ship at 5am for a well deserved breakfast.

There was little time to relax as we went on our morning landings on the Wilhelm Archipelago. We began by landing at Charcot Bay on Booth Island. We got our first sight of chinstrap penguins. These were smaller but more sturdy than the Gentoo penguins we’d seen already, with the characteristic black line across their necks.

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Booth Island also had a hill with a steep walk up to a cairn built by French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot’s team during their 1904/1905 expedition to the region. Amazingly it is still in great condition given the environment its survived in. The wind here was pretty strong and the walk up was very exposed.

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We also stopped off at nearby Winter Island, the site of another abandoned British research station named Wordie House where Nigel, another one of our Expedition Team remembered spending a night while wintering in Antarctica many years ago.DSC00902DSC00900 

In the afternoon we landed at another research base on Galindez Island in the Argentine Islands. This one had an added attraction though…
Previously Britain’s Faraday Research Base, it was sold to Ukraine for £1 (cheaper than dismantling it) and is now called Vernadsky Research Base. It’s atmospheric measurements (in cooperation with two other sites) were pivotal in discovering the hole in the ozone layer. It’s most important room is at the other end of the base from the antiquated atmospheric equipment. A remnant of the days when the British ran the station, is the wooden bar situated in the Faraday lounge.

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It is considered the southernmost public bar in the world, where visitors can purchase shots of vodka for $3. The vodka is made on the premises and they made a fair bit from us as we took advantage of the visit. Any woman could exchange her bra for free shots and there was a modest collection hanging behind the bar. Our stereotypical Ukrainian hosts also showed us round the base and it was interesting to see the difference between here and the British bases in terms of funding and the age of the equipment.

Warmed by the vodka and back onboard the Ocean Nova we dined and then headed up to the Panorama Lounge for an “S” party (Dress up as anything beginning with “S”). My Samurai outfit was a real hit with my t-shirt ninja mask, bathroom squeegee as sword, cardboard throwing stars and toilet-roll sheath. Our team - Team Yu – was named after one of our team members. Yu is a 50 year old 6’4” Chinese man who is travelling the world in a romantic - if somewhat misguided – attempt to prove his love for the woman of his dreams back home in China. After the Pictionary and charades round we were trailing in last place. Myself and Trevor, the astoundingly authentic superhero then fought a superhero-samurai duel which impressed the judges so much in terms of grace, enthusiasm and style that Team Yu were crowned the winners! The standard of costume was high overall with surgeons, snowmen, snowflakes, sick-bags and sheiks among the assemble guests.

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At about 4am on the 18th of February, ahead of schedule and while we were all asleep the Ocean Nova crossed the Antarctic Circle. We had left the shelter of the islands and were back in open ocean - West of Adelaide Island - so the sea was pretty choppy. As we headed South that morning we had lectures on Seals and Sea Ice.

We’d made good time so were able to do a landing at Blaiklock Island in the afternoon. There was an historic refuge hut here and a hill to hike up.DSC00990DSC00963DSC00965 

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February 16, 2011

Welcome to Antarctica

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Waking up at 7am on the 15th of February, it felt a lot like Christmas morning. There were eager smiles on everyone’s faces as we queued to board our zodiacs for our first Antarctic outing.

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Our first landing was Mikkelson Harbour on Trinity Island and we landed slap-bang in the middle of the Gentoo penguin colony beside a small abandoned research base. A few of the penguins had young chicks but since it was late in the season most of the chicks were larger and were beginning to moult.

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They were relatively indifferent to our presence and also the presence of a half-dozen fur seals lounging on the beach. The fur seals would give a bark if you got too close but were more concerned with fighting between themselves and having a sleep. DSC00339

Further round the island, among the fur seals perched on the intermittent rocks dotted around the snow was a solitary Weddell seal. Larger, shinier and with dappled white spots on his coat, he was happy lying directly on the snow. Nearby there was the wreck of a water-boat from the times of whaling ships with masses of whale bones littering the area. DSC00408

In the early days of whaling, before ships could take a whole whale on deck, the whales would be cut up on shore and then the blubber taken aboard, leaving the huge bones where they were. Flying around the penguin colony were numerous Skuas, large birds that prey on penguin chicks and will pick at any carrion they can find.

The weather was really nice with blue skies mingled with cloud and after a rapid 2 and a half hours on the island we reluctantly clambered back in the zodiacs and back to the Nova.

 

After lunch we had a Zodiac cruise around Cierva Cove. Early in the cruise we detoured over to an insignificant break in the colossal ice wall where we could get onshore. We all jumped out and celebrated setting foot on the Atlantic continent proper for the first time. There would hopefully be further chances but given the unpredictable weather of the region it was good to make sure.

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With ten in each zodiac, we plowed through the water weaving in and out of icebergs searching for seals. We saw many crab-eater seals ( which apparently don’t eat crabs) lazing on the icebergs and we were able to get uncomfortably close to some of them. As interesting as the seals were the icebergs themselves. Huge silent chunks varying in size from Tom Thumb to Tom Cruise to a cruise ship! The fact that 90% of an iceberg is hidden underwater only added to the awe we felt seeing these floating works of art in colours ranging from brilliant white to crisp blue.

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The ice cliffs that extend out from the land were also impressive, dwarfing our little boats as we pulled up close to them, or as close as we dared. Ever so often a ‘school’ of penguins - or a solitary one - would swim past. Diving in and out of the water as at home in the water as fish.

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It was a brilliant introduction to the 7th continent and only whetted our appetites for the days ahead.

On the 16th of February, our second day truly in Antarctica we began with our second landing on the mainland, this time at Neko Harbour. There was a sizeable Gentoo penguin colony here too who’d made their home in a particularly muddy area near to the shore.

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Behind this was a snowy hill with a good view of the natural harbour. The Ice wall forming a side of Andvord Bay was quite active with pieces regularly calving off and falling into the sea accompanied by a loud crash and mini tsunami. Having climbed to the top of the hill and admired the view we had to get down again, the only sensible way of course was to slide down on our bums. It was fairly steep so we could pick up some good speed and it was very enjoyable.

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Our afternoon landing was at Port Lockroy which is split into two islands, Jougla Point and Goudier Island. On Goudier Island, there is an old British Research Base from WWII which has been restored as a museum, post office and gift shop. The post office has use as it supports Britain’s sovereignty claims to the Peninsula. We were lucky to have Rick Atkinson as one of the members of our expedition team. He was one of the team who restored the abandoned base in 1996 and was able to entertain us with his experiences there.

The museum gave a good idea of what life was like on the base back in the day and the current staff were able to explain what life if like there now. We were able to send postcards from there and purchase presents as well as having our passports stamped there. It was very interesting to see this outpost and get an idea of how humans fit into Antarctic history.

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Nearby we spotted the Royal Navy survey vessel, HMS Scott prowling around and some of it’s crew were also stocking up on gifts at the giftshop.

Jougla point had a decent population of Gentoo Penguins (as did Goudier Island) as well as more whale bones from the whaling days a century ago. There was a reconstructed whale skeleton using bones found there which indicated the size of the whales.DSC00681DSC00687

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I’d been told by my ever unreliable travel agents that the extra activities were sold out, namely camping  and kayaking. At $800 the kayaking was over my budget but the $200 camping seemed too good a deal to miss. It was almost cancelled due to the high winds in the early evening but thankfully the Captain and Expedition Leader gave it the go-ahead. 20 of us wrapped up warm and hopped in the zodiacs after dinner heading to Dorian Bay on Wiencke Island.

My tent-mate was Jim, a jolly American gentleman and together we made pretty good work of pitching our tent in the driving snow. DSC00742DSC00727 

Not long after everyone finished making camp and had said hello to our Gentoo neighbours, the wind died down and the sky began to clear. By 11 o’clock it was an absolutely perfect night with the moon breaking through the clouds and shining on the bay The whole place was very serene as we stood looking at our home for the night.

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I waited to be the last person up and then finally succumbed to tiredness and cold to climb into bed. I slept like a baby in our warm tent and woke up refreshed at 5am ready for another day of adventure.

February 14, 2011

Aboard the Ocean Nova

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Today, the 12th of February, I walked along Ushuaia docks towards my floating home for the next 2 weeks and hopefully, Antarctica. After clearing the security screening (uninterested security staff nodding ‘ok’ as I walked past them) I reached the Ocean Nova. A small ship apparently, it looked pretty big to my non-maritime eyes. DSC00237

As I got there the bus pulled up with the vast majority of the 69 passengers booked on this ship. As expected on a trip that normally costs $12000 USD, the majority of the passengers were in the retiree age-group but a few young faces punctuated the mass of wrinkles and grey hair (mine excepted).

I raced on deck and chatted to some other spritely young faces who had made it up the flights of stairs: Astrid from Amsterdam, Nick from Adelaide and Trevor from Canada. My room mates for the voyage were both in the younger age group; Stephane, from France with a command of English as poor as my French and Kratos, a guy from L.A with no interest in movies.

Pretty soon the tannoy went off inviting everyone to the welcome briefing. Introductions, and H&S formalities were completed, including a trip up on deck to go through evacuation procedures, and were followed by a glass of champagne, speech by the captain and toast to the journey. Dinner was a real change from the grotty backpacker kitchens and cheap Parillas I’d been used to. White table cloths, salad bar, 4 course meals and a cheeseboard to finish, hit home the fact that this expedition was way closer to a cruise. I’d expected a free glass of wine with dinner but it turned out that all drinks had to be bought, it may even be a relatively sober trip.

During dinner the anchor was raised and the Ocean Nova left port, heading for the dreaded Drake’s Passage.

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I took advantage of the bar for a couple of drinks and chatted to a few travelling companions before heading to bed.

Our first full day at sea was the 13th of February. We were allocated our jackets (bright yellow) and wellies and had an extensive buffet breakfast (my daily routine was to become cereal, yoghurt, fry-up, orange juice). During our trip across the passage there were a number of presentations by the expedition staff to keep those of us who were still upright amused.

I don’t have a great amount of experience aboard boats so I was kind of wary about the experience. I even bought anti-seasickness tablets in Ushuaia just in case. I took one on the evening we left port but it tasted so horrible ( earwax mixed with brie ) that I never took another one. It turned out that I have pretty good sea legs which was helped by a mild crossing of the Drake’s Passage.It is an infamous stretch of water, sustained by the circum-Antarctic currents and winds looping round the continent. It can produce the dreaded Drake’s shake (50 knot crosswinds with 15m swells) or out of nowhere calm down to become Drake’s Lake. Our crossing was probably 3 or 4 out of 10 on the severity scale.

To keep us amused during the crossing and in-between meals, the Expedition Staff gave topical presentations on their subjects of expertise. Natalie, the marine biologist gave a talk on whales while Bob the geologist gave one on the geological history of Antarctica and the areas we’ll be visiting. After lunch, Nigel the ornithologist gave a presentation on birds we are likely to see. After the presentation we spent some time watching the huge albatrosses following the ship. We also had a presentation about the zodiac landing craft we’ll be using to get from the ship to shore. All pretty obvious stuff really.

That night we climbed up on deck and braved the chill and swell to have some drinks with the Expedition Staff. As an added bonus, the Captain ( a huge Russian) even joined us for a while. I’d cracked open the bottle of Johnnie Walker which I’d purchased in Ushuaia prior to boarding which helped to keep my trips to the bar to a minimum.

The next day we were again blessed with a relatively calm Drake’s Passage with swells of less than 6 metres. Our talks this day were another one on birds, history of Antarctic exploration and icebergs. We were also inducted into the bio-decontamination procedures when leaving and returning to the ship, basically washing everything we will be wearing onshore and then cleaning our boots on embarkation and disembarkation.

Just before dinner we sighted land, the South Shetland Islands. DSC00262

Soon we were sailing past islands covered almost completely by a deep layer of ice with little rocky peaks jutting up through the smooth white hills.

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The excitement was building throughout the passengers as we reached the shelter of the islands. To celebrate Valentine’s Day the staff hosted a Valentines Day party, with fancy dress and a topical quiz. That day we spotted cape petrels, the slightly smaller cousins of the albatross and the smaller Wilsons Storm Petrel. We also caught our first, albeit brief glimpses of fin whales, an unidentified seal and some penguins swimming by.

February 12, 2011

Ushuaia

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I arrived in Ushuaia (Southernmost city in the world, apparently) at 10pm on the 10th of February and checked into the aptly named Antarctica hostel. A couple of beers later I headed to bed. The next day was spent finalising the trip to Antarctica and buying essentials (gloves, booze etc). I met Lecia for dinner at Moustachios and then the Dublin Bar, one of Ushuaia’s three Irish bars and the only place in town that seems to get busy, with some guys from the hostel. One of them was ‘Scottish’ though had been at private school in England so long that he was an archetypal toff with accent and attitude to match. At the bar I also met some familiar faces from Buenos Aires – a canadian lad and couple from Edinburgh. Small world, nice people.

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Ushuaia’s centre is a compact grid of 15 blocks wide and 5 blocks deep, leading steeply up a hill. It is pretty much set up for tourists with restaurants and outdoor shops dominating the main street. Its a safe and pleasant place, away from the main tourist area the town seems to be made up of ramshackle houses built from what looks like the remains of previous houses and sheds.

I awoke on Saturday, checked out, grabbed the last few things I needed and made my way down to the harbour to hop on my Antarctic cruise ship.

February 10, 2011

Buenos Aires

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I arrived in South America for the first time early in the morning on the 25th of January. From Buenos Aires International Airport I caught the Tienda Manuel Leon bus service to my accommodation, PAX Hostel in the San Telmo district, not too far from the centre.

I spent the afternoon getting my bearings by walking around the city centre. I strolled on Plaza De Mayo, the boulevard which joins Congress to the Presidential Palace (Casa Rosada). It is immediately noticeable that Buenos Aires (BA) has a very European feel, both culturally and architecturally.

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On my first full day in BA, I put on my walking shoes and strolled through town to the famous Recolleta Cemetery in Palermo. The main tourist draw here is the tomb of Eva “Evita” Peron but the cemetery itself is a fascinating place. It is a city of the dead, a network of lanes lined with crypts containing the great and good of Argentinian history. Other than the crowded spot around Evita’s unspectacular tomb, the cemetery is a quiet and majestic place where it pays to get lost in the maze of little ‘houses’.DSC00051

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I popped into the church beside the cemetery where I met a couple from Edinburgh who other than being #Hibs fans were very nice and gave me a tip for a walking tour to sign up for.

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After a steak lunch in a cafe nearby I made my way to the Gallery of Fine Art. The upstairs exhibitions were surprising good, mainly displaying works by famous Argentinian and South American artists. The ground floor was devoted to European art from the 14th – 18th  century and held no real appeal for me. I walked to the nearest underground station and got the metro back to the hostel, at a cost of almost 20pence.

Back at the hostel a big gang of staff and guests ended up going clubbing in San Telmo. I met a good few classy people on the night out, including Matt and Jo from England and Swiss Mathieu. The Porteno’s (Buenos Aires-ites) don’t even think about going out till after 3am so we had followed suit, thus the next day was pretty much a write-off. A couple of girls in our hostel had decided to walk home from the club at 6am and paid the price when they were held up at gunpoint on the main road not far from the hostel. It was a reminder to all of us that as charming as BA is it still has its rough edges.

On Saturday I took the walking tour the Edinburgh couple had recommended. Run by Cutours and using history students as guides, it covered part of the areas I’d walked already. This time though I really got a feel of the importance and history of the sites and what its like to live in the city.

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On Sunday I went to San Telmo market which stretches for a couple of kilometres up into the city centre and on that weekend also went for a beautiful steak dinner with 20 other people from the hostel. The Argentinean steaks have so far lived up to their legendary status with the portion sizes being huge and the quality exceptional.

I’d signed up for a week long Spanish course to help me on my travels and this began on Monday the 31st of January. At $150 for 20 hours its pretty cheap and quite intensive. Three other guys from my hostel were in my class of 5 beginners and the classes were held at at the inconvenient time of 2pm till 6pm Monday to Friday. This left too much time for drinking and not enough for sightseeing.

On Monday evening, after our first class a gaggle of us went to see La Bomba del Tiempo, a percussion group who play every Monday night in the Konex Centre. Some people had been before and it was highly recommended. The 30 peso entrance fee was worth every penny as we were treated to a couple of hours of high tempo improvised percussion played by a dozen or more musicians. The 1000 strong crowd really got into it and we all had a great time!

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The rest of the week was mainly spent studying, cooking steaks and - of course – drinking with various buddies from Pax hostel. The hostel rates up there with some of the best I’ve stayed in. The staff are professional and helpful when on duty while also being friendly and eager to join in when not working. The common area/ basement bar is like an underground den where people come for breakfast, to watch sports, eat dinner, play beer-pong, chat and dance long into the night.

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On Saturday the 5th of Feb I took a stroll around Puerto Modeno, the modern and expensive district built on reclaimed docklands.The four docks are still there with bars and restaurants lined along it in refurbished red brick warehouses. It’s a nice change of style compared to the dirty buildings and crumbling streets of the rest of the city.

That evening, six of us booked a table for dinner at the famous La Cabrera restaurant. Famous with tourists for great steaks we had a reservation for 11pm and finally got seated at close to midnight, which was no problem given the free champagne on offer while we waited. The steaks were delicious, served on wooden boards with a multitude of side dishes such as pumpkin puree, sweet garlic cloves, salsas and dips. My aged steak wasn’t quite as tasty as I’d hoped but that was more down to my choice of steak than meat itself.

The next two days were similar to the week before with a stroll round San Telmo market on Sunday and La Bomba del Tiempo on Monday. It was raining that evening so La Bomba was moved inside the venue and with a different guest accompanist every week the show was very different to the previous one. At one point a mosh-pit even formed in the midst of the crowd.

I’d also spend the last few days planning my onward journey. I’d met a few people who had done an Antarctic cruise and it had been in my back of my mind for a few months. Sophie, a Dutch girl who came through Pax on her way back finally persuaded me with pictures, tips and recommendations. I emailed an agent in Ushuaia (the port where all the ships depart) and then went to their office in BA to finalise everything on Tuesday for a ship leaving on Saturday. Due to the cost of last minute flights I’d booked myself on a marathon 50 hour bus journey down the length of Argentina that would see me arrive in Ushuaia on Thursday evening. I’d spent a little extra to get a full cama (reclining, wide) seat and at least knew 1 person on the bus. Lecia, an american artist was heading down to book her own Antarctic cruise.

The journey was uneventful, with very little to see as we passed through the barren Patagonian flatlands. The new Wall St movie was the pick of the bunch of in terms of in-bus-entertainment and the food on a par with average airline meals. There were a few delays as we had to cross into Chile in Southern Patagonia, get a ferry,drive for a few hours and then cross back into Argentina on the last leg of the route but that was all as expected.

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