February 13, 2007: Traveling Day, Montana to Buenos Aires
The flight from Missoula to Buenos Aires was very long with many stops in the United States, but Atlanta to Buenos Aires was a straight shot. I was seated right next to a woman from Buenos Aires, so our chatting helped the time pass by quickly. She was excited to tell me all about the city, and I was happy to soak up the knowledge. Honestly, I was still a little nervous about being in such a large city by myself and not knowing the local language. My new friend helped ease the anticipation. Upon landing the process of getting off the plane and going through customs was simple. I just followed the signs, which was easy to do even considering they were in Spanish.
I eventually ended up in a long line; similar to the ones you would see for a ride at Disney World. I felt hip because I had the foresight to jump under the ropes, rather than walking back and forth. Finally, I got through customs and made my way to the baggage claim. Since I took a while to get through customs, my fellow airplane companions had already found our baggage run line. This made it easy for me to grab my bag and go. Before leaving the states, I had arranged for a guide to pick me up, as I knew I would be really nervous if there was not someone to meet me. I walked through the exit doors and on my goodness! There were so many people with so many signs!!!
Immediately I saw a taxi kiosk, and wished that I had decided to take a taxi instead. I walked a few laps, trying to find my name amongst the countless signs. After a few laps I could not find my name and frustration started to set in. I almost gave up and took a taxi, but decided to wait. After a couple of laps I finally saw a sign with the Kallpa and Adventure Life logos along with my name in small letters. I formally met Lucy and she called the driver (who was non-English speaking) to say that I had arrived.
Talking with Lucy eased my anticipation immediately and I am now going to recommend any non-Spanish speakers to request an English speaking transfer. She told me so much about the city on our 50-minute ride to the Pecolleta District. Had I just asked for a Spanish-speaking guide, I would not have felt so at ease. The entire way we talked about the city’s history, Argentina’s agriculture and how Argentina supports genetically modified crops, and the various barrios we passed.
Since I arrived so early my hotel room was not ready, and I had to wait for an hour in the lobby. I ultimately asked the front desk attendent, and he said to give him five minutes. When I finally got to my room I took a shower and a much needed nap.
The nap was wonderful and I felt like a new woman. A woman who still did not speak English, but one who was ready to tackle the streets of Buenos Aires nevertheless. I packed my purse, stowed my important papers and documents, and set out on foot.
I love to shop and the Sante Fe District, which was within walking distance from the Park Elegance Kempinski, was a perfect place to exercise my passion. The Argentine peso is 3:1 to the dollar, so it is fairly inexpensive. The people here dress so well, so I made sure to purchase items to replace my “Montana” attire.
After wandering the streets I found a cute place to retreat for a glass or two…of wine and dinner. What a fabulous first day of traveling on my own. I hate the thought of leaving Buenos Aires tomorrow, as I am fond of the humid weather and city life; however things a wait for me in Ushuaia.
February 14, 2007: Off to Ushuaia
This morning started out fantastic, as I had no plans and was able to sleep in. The hotel provided a continental breakfast, and the food was fantastic. They provided hot eggs, French toast, bacon, ham, sweet rolls, breads, muchas des frutas, cereals, fruit juice, and coffee and tea. There was plenty of food and everything was great. I spent the rest of the morning shopping.
I had to guess what time my transfer was going to pick me up, because I had no time given to me. I was wrong by fifteen minutes as the transfer picked me up two hours prior to my flight-not bad. This time I had a non-English speaking transfer, however the guide and I were still able to communicate in broken English and Spanish phrases.
Aeroparque, or the domestic airport, was much nicer than the international airport. There were signs in English and plenty of people to help me find my way. All I had to do was figure out which flight I was on, and then match it to the corresponding desk. I had the option of one of twelve desks, so needless to say the lines moved quickly. I only had my passport and no other kind of confirmation or paper tickets, but this was not a problem. I simply showed the ticket agent my passport and told her which flight I was on.
Aerolineas Argentinas has a weight limit of 15 kilos or 33 pounds of luggage per person, but she did not even weigh my items and just sent me along. The airline also specifies that your carry-on bag cannot weigh more then ten pounds, but again she did not even glance at my bag. It was very easy to find my gate as all of the signs were in English. The gate was nice with large windows overlooking the runway and part of the city. The plane was just like any plane you would see an American company using, not a peddle jumper. So far my journey has been very pleasant and easy for a single traveler.
February 15, 2007: The Beagle Channel and my first Penguin Colony
Well I landed in Ushuaia, after stopping in Rio _____ to refuel the plane. It seems that all of the afternoon flights have to stop and refuel on the way to Ushuaia. We sat in the airport at Rio ______ while some people disembarked. Just a side note-you cannot go to the bathroom while they are refueling so make sure you go before. The total flight time was about four and a half hours and the actual flight into Ushuaia is beautiful! The city is much larger then I thought with a population of about 45,000.
At the airport I was picked up by Joaquin, who was a fantastic greeter! He gave me a welcome letter explaining what I would be doing for the next couple of days, which was very nice to receive. While driving me to my hotel he explained the history and orientation of the city. My hotel, The Companilla, is a few kilometers from downtown, but despite the distance this hotel is fantastic!!!
It is kind of like a ski chateau with only about twenty rooms, everything is spotless clean and decorated very nicely. I felt like I had entered a ski hut in Colorado that was decorated with tasteful Spanish influenced paintings. I really enjoyed the hotel owners and their staff who were are all very helpful. One staff member in particular did not speak much English, and since I don’t speak Spanish we helped each other to understand our respective languages. We had a great conversation, despite our broken sentences and I can feel my Spanish improving vastly.
Breakfast this morning was excellent. The hotel offered cereal, cheese, meat, biscuits, sweet rolls, fruit, and an endless supply of coffee. Everything was refilled promptly on the buffet table, and the silverware, settings, and glasses were all perfectly placed and spotless. It was all very impressive and I highly recommend this hotel.
Today I went on a tour of the Beagle Channel and explored a penguin island, which was so much fun! Anna and Juaquin picked me up at 8:00 AM, and then we picked up five other guests (2 English, 2 Swiss, and 1 French). We grabbed lunch from there restaurant and headed for the Channel. We also met up with another vehicle of guests at the river, so in total, there were about twelve of us. We were provided rubber pants and boots. We all got into rubber canoes and paddled down the river, while our guides told us all about the local wildlife. Eventually we carried the boats across the Beagle Channel, ultimately transferring from fresh to seawater.
While paddling down the channel we saw cormorant’s nests and beautiful scenery, as we were at sea level with peaks towering above us. In all, we paddled for two hours before we got out and transferred to a larger boat. Meanwhile, our guides made us lunch, which we ate on the boat. The food was great and consisted of wine, cheese, beef sausage, bread, roast beef sandwiches, and a cookie for dessert.
I cannot even begin to explain my excitement upon arriving at the penguin colony! This was the first time I had ever seen penguins in the wild! Everyone in the group was excited, including the guides who stayed on the boats and watching them and us. It was so funny to be the only person from the United States, surrounded by so many different languages and cultures, yet we all understood each other’s excitement. It was a great feeling.
We finally left the penguins and moved on to an island. Here we disembarked and started our three hour walk, while Anna, the guide, explained the flora, fauna, and ecology of the islands in Spanish, French, and English! Her knowledge was very impressive and we all enjoyed being with her. The island was beautiful and it was fascinating to see the intricacy of its ecosystem. I never realized how so many different plants can fulfill the roles of similar plants within ecosystems. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this hike!
After our hike we drove 1-½ hours back to the hotel. On the way back we saw condors, and even though they were far away we could still sense their majesty. They were learning how to fly on the updrafts from the enormous cliffs. I was mystified as was the rest of the group, including the guides.
One more thing I want to mention is the plant called calafate. It produces edible berries that are delicious, similar to blueberries, but firmer and more tart. The rest of the group and I definitely ate our fill.
Anna and Jaqquine dropped me off at my hotel and I was sad to see them go. The locals here eat dinner at 9:00 PM and go to the bars at 11:00 PM. Their hours are different because between 1:00-5:00 PM they take a siesta, then go back to school or work until 8:00 PM. Also, during the summer it does not get dark until about 10 or 11 PM.
For dinner I took a taxi downtown to eat at a “locals” restaurant called Chicas. It was fantastic and half the price of the tourist restaurants. I got a ½ bottle or 375 ml of malbec, seafood, and a chocolate dessert. I have no idea what the dessert will be like, but it must be good if there is chocolate in it. As I was leaving the restaurant a group of travelers invited me to join them for a glass of wine. They taught me so much about Italian and Argentine wine, and it was a great way to end the night.
February 16, 2007: Tierra del Fuego
This morning I ate breakfast, and as they did the day before the food and coffee did me well. My transfer to Tierra del Fuego came to pick me up at 9:30 AM and again they were right on time. This time I was the last person to be picked up by a whole new group and two new guides. Our guide Tere was fantastic. She told us that all guides have to have at least four years of university training and should be very knowledgeable in all areas including the government, law, ecology, biology, and so forth. Her major is in tourism, or something similar to it. She loves her job, and I don’t blame her. While Tere provided great information, much of it was repetitious of what the guide from yesterday had discussed, and I could see how this could be tedious for some clients.
Lunch was provided at a campground and consisted of grilled hamburgers, sausage, wine, cheese, bread, tomatoes, and olives. Our next excursion consisted of a canoe ride down the Lago River Channel were we saw a condor, rabbits (many of which were non-native), and numerous bird species. It was a peaceful afternoon and at its end I was exhausted.
Upon arriving back at the hotel, I decided to relax for the rest of the evening. Some of the guides invited me to go out, but they stay out so late! By the time they get ready it is midnight, and I am ready for bed at this time. The guides say they go to sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning and then get up at 6:30, I don’t know how they function!
February 17, 2007: Preparing for my Voyage
Today is my last day at the Campanilla and I have to say I am sad to leave this place; they have taken great care of me here. I am unsure if the Antarctic Shipping Company is picking me up, when I get back to the states I will need to hammer this detail out regarding pick up times. I left my bag at the hotel, headed downtown, and stopped by the pier to check in as instructed around 4:00 PM.
Since I had some time to kill I decided to have lunch at a touristy restaurant called La Estancia. Their menu was meat, meat, and more meat! I ordered a steak with no sides and am unsure if I will be able to finish it. I do have to say it is fantastic though! The restaurant has a room so you can view the cook grilling and cutting lamb, beef, and seafood. To kill more time I think I will check out a museum and have some more vino!
February 18, 2007: Day One at Sea
I am writing this as we are passing through the Drake Passage, and surprisingly I have not gotten sick. I actually enjoy the rocking, which puts me to sleep. The swells here are certainly the largest I have ever seen, although they are pretty small compared to what they can be. Many of the people onboard have gotten sick and less then half of the passengers showed up for breakfast this morning.
The food on board is GREAT! I certainly know good food and their menu is first class. Last night our appetizer consisted of sushi and a Greek salad. The following courses consisted of onion soup, steak with mashed potatoes or grilled chicken, and a dessert buffet. There was crème Brule, chocolate mouse, sponge cake, fruit, and coffee for those who still had room! Breakfast this morning was buffet style and included eggs, bacon, sausage, breads, fruits, yogurts, juices, and coffee.
My cabin is fantastic! I was expecting small rooms that were not quite so nice, because this is technically a research icebreaker ship. I have to admit the bathrooms are small and the showers are hard to maneuver around in, especially when the boat is rocking. Luckily they have handrails installed in them. The beds are comfortable, the sheets fell great, and they provide an extra down comforter.
Today I attended a lecture on the birds of the southern seas, which consisted of a power-point presentation in the conference room. Our lecturer was well informed and was able to adequately answer many of our questions. I look forward to hearing more from him. I also further explored the boat and found a sauna and a gym! I am definitely looking forward to the sauna. They also have an open bridge policy, so you can go and speak with the captain anytime you want. I will make sure to do this soon. I can’t wait to get to Antarctica and see all of the wildlife!
February 19, 2007: Day Two at Sea
Today was another full day on the Drake Passage. I decided to check out the bridge and was shown how they determine our route, the instruments they use, and so forth. They also have a chart labeled 1-12 with pictures of waves from the Drake Passage. Our trip has category 5 to 6 waves. It has been very smooth sailing, relatively speaking.
Next, I attended several lectures, one on the animals of Antarctica, one on plate tectonics, and the last on penguins. Tonight the captain hosted a cocktail party and officially introduced himself and the crew. By the way, the food is still fantastic.
We also had a mandatory meeting about zodiac safety procedures and about the scientific/peace policies governing Antarctica. This is truly an amazing place, and the principle that this land has been preserved for peace and scientific study is unique to this world, especially now.
February 20, 2007: Day Three at Sea
Can I say I am in love with Antarctica! What an amazing place. It is wild and unpredictable with insane weather and curious animals. It has only been one day, but Antarctica definitely tops my list. I have been to many amazing places, and I appreciate them all. However, the inaccessibility, wilderness, weather, and landscape all definitely make this a very special place.
This morning we got a 7:30 AM wake-up call telling us that breakfast was ready. We ate quickly, due to our excitement. We were all given our gear, which consisted of boots and a parka, the night before. Next, we were shuttled back and forth between the boat and land on several fifteen-person zodiacs.
Our first landing was on Discovery Bay. The weather is rainy, snowy, and cold. The seas are not calm, and being in the small zodiac makes the waves look that much larger! We were soaked, cold, and very happy to land. We walked the half-moon shape of the bay and ended at the ice-shelf, whose color truly astonished me. The ice is so blue, and the ice looks to be twenty meters high. Our guide told us that it gets much thicker than this at higher elevations. We didn’t see much wildlife, but saw plenty of great rocks, moss, and lichen. We were told the last zodiac would leave at noon to return to the ship. Our guide, Rodrigo, told us all about the landscape, and I was so engrossed that I was five minutes late getting back to the zodiac. Oh well, I am sure this will not be the last time I get in trouble.
We ate our lunch back on the boat and then prepared for our second outing. This time we visited Aitcho, which introduced us to our first penguin colony of the tour! These birds are fantastic, not only are they comedic, but they are not scared of humans. One of the guides had me site on the beach and a few penguins came up and started pecking at me and trying to eat my clothing. Words and photos can do them no justice.
Our group eventually reconvened and walked up the island, encountering more penguin colonies on the way. When we crossed over to the other side of the island, and saw sea lions, elephant sea lions, skewers, and lots of whalebones. The scenery was beautiful and consisted of rock and ice islands on the distant horizon, barely visible through a layer of fog.
We were summoned back to the boat early as a storm was blowing in. Of course I caught the last zodiac back and the seas were really rough by this time. We were all freezing cold and soaked, however, our zodiac driver was great through it all. I definitely owe him a drink later. The most dangerous part was getting from the zodiac to the ship. A few people looked like they might fall in, but the guides were there to make sure this did not happen. Upon disembarking we were greeted with the best hot chocolate of my life, I will definitely have to get the recipe.
Our day ended with a debriefing at 7:00 PM and then dinner at 7:30. The storm is still going strong and waves I have seen look to be 15-20 feet high! The boat is rocking so much, yet I love it! The captain just came on the speaker and let us knows the waves are 8-9 meters high, which is 24-27 feet.
February 21, 2007: Day Four at Sea
The seas were so rough last night that many people did not make it to dinner. The few of us that did were given quite a show. We could not believe the waiters were still able to serve dinnerware and drinks on trays. They didn’t even spill a drop, even with waves over thirty feet rocking the yacht. There were chairs and tables falling over, dishes crashing in the kitchen, yet they still managed to do their job flawlessly. I was impressed.
Today the storm has blown over and we have our first sunny and clear day since arriving in Antarctica. Our first landing was to a penguin colony on a small island. We lucked out in that we saw a leopard seal hunting for penguins. This stealth predator would swim up the shore and disguise itself as a rock. Many of the penguins sensed something was amiss and were cautious to enter the water, but ultimately an unsuspecting penguin swam right next to it. The leopard seal reacted by reaching over and grabbing the penguin in it mouth and then swimming out to deeper waters where it started to play with its meal. After about a half an hour of this cat and mouse game it started violently shaking the penguin to tear off its skin. The penguin quickly died and the seal ate its lunch. It was quite the show and certainly demonstrated the realistic and wild nature of this place.
Our second outing was to the Chilean Navy Base. Essentially, it is a small island inhabited more by the penguins then the Chileans themselves! On the island there is a basic museum and a gift shop with more then exaggerated prices. They were charging eighty dollars for a small penguin piece. We left the island earlier than anticipated due to the smells emitted from the penguin colony on such a small island. All of our clothing smelled of krill, well what krill smells like after going through the penguins’ digestive track.
We also saw snowy sheathbills, some skewers, and an albino penguin. Albino penguins are very rare with only about one in every 10,000 penguins born with these traits. It was all white in the regions penguins normally have white feathers, but where it should have had black feathers it had light-gray ones. Its coloring doesn’t prevent it from mating; it just looks a little different.
Dinner tonight was delicious and I ended stayed up late tonight talking with Rene and Rodrigo who are both Antarctic Dream staff members. They are so knowledgeable about this area and really enjoyed our talk.
February 22, 2007: Day Five at Sea
First thing this morning we took a zodiac cruise through the iceberg fields, which were absolutely beautiful. I felt like we were in magical lands. We saw a menke whale, penguins, skewers, crabeater seals, leopard seals, and lots of icebergs. Today we hit the point furthest south that we will venture, which unfortunately indicates from this point on we will be starting our journey back.
Next, we landed at the British Base, Pork Lockroy, where I was able to purchase a couple of stamps for a dollar a piece and send postcards to my husband and family. There was also a gift shop with Antarctica paraphernalia, which accepted credit cards (excluding MasterCard), dollars, and pounds. There is also a small museum and the base is refurbished. I was completely fascinated by an old pair of skis propped behind the door.
After we had our fill of shopping we took our zodiacs over to the neighboring island. The sun was falling and cast a beautiful light on the 3,000-foot cliffs. Mountains and the sea dominated the entire landscape, which made for a beautiful way to end our excursions for the day.
Dinner was great as usual, and I have a feeling I am going to gain a lot of weight on this trip!
February 23, 2007: Day Six at Sea
We woke early today, around 6:15 AM, so we could fit in an excursion we had missed on the way down. This time we landed on the actual Antarctica continent. The beach we landed on was nice and we walked along it until we got to the beginning of a large glacier. Ice was calving and falling off in large chunks, which made such an incredible noise because we were in a cove that resonated sounds. On our walk back a huge piece of glacier fell into the sea and our guides yelled for us to quickly find higher ground. We did just as three HUGE waves pounded the shore. They were perfectly formed and had to be at least three meters high! We were happy and lucky to see such an event. Later one of the guides told me he has seen waves three times that size from the calving glaciers on that same beach.
Upon our return to the Antarctic Dream we had a hearty breakfast and spent the rest of the afternoon whale watching. Prior to this activity we made sure to put on all of our warmest clothes, while the captain maneuvered us into the heart of a large bay. At first we only saw humpback whales off in the distance, but the captain quickly motored us closer to them. This first group was hesitant and swiftly swam away. We quickly located a second group that was not shy in the least. They swam right up to us and rubbed their backs against the bottom of the boat. In addition, they showed off their flippers, and every now and then they would splash their tails. They gave us a spectacular show for over an hour.
After a while the temperatures began to drop and it started to snow. However, we were enjoying the whales so much that we didn’t even care. The second group left us and a third group of humpbacks gave us the same type of show. One of the whales surfaced and turned its head side to side to get a better look at us. I was even able to make eye contact with this incredible animal, before he or she slowly turned and submerged itself back into the ocean.
The captain finally announced that it was time to move on and started the engines, which initially spooked the whales. The yacht slowly started to move, but most of us stayed on deck watching the last couple of whales that decided to tail us. This was truly an incredible day.
February 24, 2007: Day 8 at Sea
I woke up around 7:30 this morning and ate breakfast before our first landing. Penny was driving the boats today and it was nice to talk with her. We landed at Deception Island, which is an active volcanic island with black pebble beaches. This island was once a whaling station, but was abandoned when the volcano exploded. The lava flow destroyed half of the buildings. There were a couple of human graves and hundreds of whalebones on this island.
As a group we hiked up to Titan’s window to view the Antarctic Ocean and Deception Island. We were given a couple of hours to enjoy the island as we wished. Some of the guys started a rugby game and others just roamed. I walked the island with Rodrigo and we began making up our own history of the island. Over the course of this trip I have really enjoyed getting to know Rodrigo. He owns a bird watching business in Santiago and I would love to go there sometime.
Alas it was time to go, so we piled back into the zodiacs and headed for the boat. Back on the ship we ate a fantastic breakfast and then got ready for our final excursion, which was to another point on Deception Island. I put on my bathing suit for this excursion, because if you dig in the sand there are boiling hot thermals that you can sit in, similar to hot springs. However, the first thing I did was to go swimming in the Antarctic Ocean, which was 1 degree Celsius. I did not last long and made a beeline for those hot springs. The first dug out was extremely hot and I almost burned my skin. Luckily some of my shipmates made room for me in another pool. We built a small canal to allow in the colder ocean water, and simply opened it whenever we were too hot. I ended up diving into the ocean twice more. Our day was truly enjoyable, however all days must end. We sadly got dressed and made our way back to the boat. Some day I will step onto Antarctic again, hopefully sooner then later.
Back on the ship we ate lunch and then began our journey back through the Drake Passage around 4:00 PM. We had dinner and a lecture, and I went to bed early.
February 25, 2007: Day 9 at Sea
The Drake Passage is a lot calmer this time with waves only 3-5 meters high. Again, I did not get seasick, however many others did not show up for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It was a relaxing day of lectures and I stayed up late again talking with Rene, Adrienne, Michael, and some other shipmates. The stars were amazing, and again I saw the Southern Cross. Later in the evening the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. I called it a night around 3:00 AM.
February 26, 2007: Day 10 at Sea
This morning a storm blew in, which made for rough seas and large waves. I almost fell out of my bed a couple times. I ended up sleeping in late and missed breakfast, which was the first time I had missed anything on this cruise. There were a few lectures and a documentary playing in the conference room, but I wanted to spend as much time outside as I could. I watched one Albatross for close to an hour and it never once flapped its wings. It’s not hard to see why this incredible bird is surrounded by so many sea legends.
We made port around 8:00 PM and the captain treated us to a farewell cocktail and dinner. After the captain farewell, many of us left the boat to check email or try our feet on steady ground. I was very tired, but many people stayed up to party. I just had to go to bed.
February 27, 2007: Back to Buenos Aires
Our final wake up call was at 7:15 AM and I made my way to breakfast with all my newfound friends. It was a somber breakfast and we were required to debark by 9:00 AM. Many of the people had flights out of Ushuaia at 2:30 PM, and had left their bags in various hotels, while others went straight to the airport.
I left my bag and wandered around Ushuaia, checked my email, got coffee, and checked on the status of my flight. My flight was on time and everything went smoothly, except that we flew into AEP and not EZE as was scheduled. I had previously arranged a transfer in Buenos Aires; luckily my guide knew to pick me up at AEP. My guide was a non-English speaker, but we were able to make small conversations.
I was dropped off at the Park Chateau Kempinski, which is a larger and nicer hotel then the Park Elegance. These hotels are part of a chain established in the 1800’s, and are furnished in Victorian era decor. The staff at the Park Chateau was fantastic and the breakfast was the same as at the Elegance. I really enjoyed this hotel.
February 28, 2007: Tango, Tango, and more Tango
Today I took a cultural city tour of Buenos Aires. The tour consisted of a couple, our guide, and me. She took us to four different spots within the city and from here we walked. Some of the places we walked to were the Main Plaza by the “Pink House,” San Telmo, and the Recolleta Cemetery. She was very knowledgeable and talked the entire four hours.
After the tour, I got ready for the Tango Show I had chosen, which was the later show of Carlos Es____. A bus transfer arrived a half hour late to take us to the show, but the show itself was fantastic. We had dinner and watched the live performance and show consisting of dancing and singing. The ring dances were beautiful! The show ended at 1:30 in the morning and it was easy to find our bus driver because he was holding a sign with a pre-arranged number. I went to bed full and happy.
February 29, 2007: Back to the Rockies!
Tonight I am leaving and have arranged a pickup at 7:00 PM at the hotel. I spent my last day wandering around the city and shopping in Sante Fe. My hotel checkout was at noon, but they allowed me to leave my bag at the hotel under lock and key. My transfer was a few minutes late and there were long lines at the ticket counter, in the line to pay the airport tax of eighteen dollars, and for customs. Several others and myself barely made it to our gate on time, and I would highly recommend arriving three hours before your departure. Most of the international flights leave at night so the lines can be very long. I leave Buenos Aires feeling confident in my skills and ability to navigate in a Spanish speaking country. Oh, what a great trip….