Heading "towards" Antarctica
Dec 8, 2018
|Hi everyone! My name is timm smith and I’m using this mechanism to share photos and document my travel to Antarctica. Hope you enjoy seeing and reading about the trip – I used mytripjournal before to document my walk across America (www.mytripjournal.com/walking-LA-to-NY) – and it seemed to be an OK way to share. Not sure how many annoying ads you’ll see – hope not many – but I’ll try to make it worth your time!
A bit of background on the trip: I’ve had the good fortune to be able to travel to 6 of the 7 continents. Not too many people are blessed with an opportunity to visit them all, so as I’ve recently retired, I decided to get to that last one – Antarctica. I was thinking about this the other day: during my career at HP I went to 5 of the continents on business, and used the resulting frequent flier miles to get to the sixth one (Africa) so this is the only one I’m having to pay for. Can’t beat that! On a side note to those of you who are artistically inclined, I’m planning a (simple) tattoo to celebrate my 7-continent status, so all suggestions are welcome......
To access Antarctica, I booked passage on a small (116-person) adventure cruise ship. We spend 2-3 days traversing the Southern Ocean, then about 4 days of twice-a-day excursions (on Zodiac rafts) to the continent itself and some of the surrounding islands, then another 2-3 days coming back. So my itinerary is designed to get me down to where the ship sails from, with a couple of days buffer in case of travel delays – definitely a potential during the wintertime.
OK, so on to the trip details. As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Ushuaia, Argentina, having left California 4 days ago. Ideally I’d post every couple of days but I haven’t quite gotten to it. A lot has happened and I want to give you a bit of the flavor of Argentina, so this’ll be a long one. (Sorry, Aunt Margaret!)
The first day’s flights were generally uneventful other than the fact that I can’t sleep on airplanes. (OK, true, I generally can’t sleep anywhere, anyways......) So to fill up 17 hours of travel, Delta blessed me with some movies that I normally would never have watched – like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, ‘Mad Max’, a documentary on raising guide dogs for the blind, etc. Mindless drivel but it passed the time. (I hope I saved some bad movies for the 17 hours of flying home!) Arriving in Buenos Aires just after 10am and facing a 22-hour layover, I grabbed a Tienda Leon taxi to the hotel I’d booked. After surviving the white-knuckle ride (136kph on the busy expressway???) I was happy to find out that my room was ready, even though checkin time was hours away, and they didn’t even charge me extra! It was nice to be able to nap for a couple of hours before hitting the streets, instead of polluting their lobby.
I’d been in BA a few years ago, so didn’t feel the need to go downtown to check out the sights. My hotel was in a suburb near the airport and I just wanted to take in the local sights, grab a good meal, and enjoy the 70-degree weather. I put in a good 10 miles walking the neighborhoods and talking to all the dogs wandering around (they don’t speak English, but I speak dog) and got close to my Fitbit’s calorie-burn target for the day, so all was good.
A word about dogs and Argentina. There are a LOT of them wandering around – but unlike some other countries I’ve been to, most of them aren’t street dogs. My understanding is, owners let them out to forage for themselves and then they come home at night. They’re very car-savvy and careful crossing the street. I watched one old el gordo with bad back legs patiently wait for traffic to clear just to get to the median, and then wait again for the other lane. Of course not all dogs here are loose; many are in yards too. Argentinians love their big dogs and I’d bet there are more here, per capita, than most countries. I’m seeing the same thing in Ushuaia, but to a lesser extent – probably due to the harsher weather.
[Music geek note] I totally blew one thing in Buenos Aires, though: I didn’t bother checking the local calendar to see if anything was going on. Had I done that, I’d have rushed downtown to see what I’m sure was an epic concert. That night the local blind symphony orchestra, accompanied by the local blind choir, was doing the entire Pink Floyd album “Atom Heart Mother”, a personal favorite. I can’t believe I missed it! (Tom L., if you’re reading this, YOU understand!) That lost opportunity ranks right up there with missing Jean-Michel Jarre in Paris playing the light harp on the Trocadéro on Bastille day about 20 years ago – I didn’t know about that one either. Sigh......
Back to the trip. The next day I flew 3 hours down to Ushuaia, which bills itself as the ‘End of the World’ and the world’s southernmost city. It’s summertime here, which means the temperatures are about the same as I left – in the low 50s and not too cold at night. Unfortunately there were 50-knot winds blowing as we landed, so it got a bit exciting approaching the runway. I can’t imagine having to fly in here every day, but the pilot did a great job getting us on the ground in one piece.
Again I arrived early in the day, and again I was able to check in early to my cool hotel downtown, the Alto Andino. I ended up with a suite, not just a room, and I wish my wife was here to share it with me. The front desk staff really understands customer service and are extremely helpful with suggestions for the tourists. I was able to use them to book a bus ride out to the Tierra Del Fuego national park today (more on that in a minute) and find a good pasta place for dinner. Since it was just 2:00, and down here the sun doesn’t set until 10pm, I decided to walk to the Martial Glacier in the mountains behind town. In 6 miles I gained 2700 feet in elevation (I started at sea level) so it was a pretty good climb but not overwhelming. On the way up I walked with a local micro-biologist and his wife who showed me some of the trail shortcuts, and then I caught up with a group from Israel once I got on the glacier itself. (I’m sure glad everyone I meet speaks some English, because my Spanish is pretty bad – no one to practice with at home – and the rest of my languages are non-existent.) It’s always nice to have someone to hike with. The day was sunny and warm enough that I was in shorts and a t-shirt, although the wind was still very strong. Going down there were a couple of times it was physically pushing me down the trail.
Ushuaia is nestled between the southern Andes and the Southern Ocean and it’s really a nice setting with a lot of forested land all around and craggy mountains in the backdrop. I think it exists mostly on tourism and maybe a bit of commercial fishing, but there are over 50,000 people here and a lot of new construction so it appears to be thriving.
Today I caught the bus out to Tierra Del Fuego to do some serious hiking in a really beautiful part of the world. TDF borders the Chilean Patagonia area and is basically lakes, lagoons, waterfront, and mountains. And lots and lots of waterfowl. The bus dropped me off near an inlet of the bay and I started off through the woods in a failed quest to see some beaver, pretty much the only non-bird I’d heard was in the park. Great deer country – but no deer. Or snakes or frogs or any kind of mammal. It was kinda quiet and creepy except for a few bird sounds. I was told by another hiker that the park management wants it that way to protect the flora, which grows very slowly, so in some instances they ‘manage’ the fauna. Not sure how true that is. But anyway the scenery was spectacular, as I hope you can see from the photos. I ended up walking to a different part of the park to do a more challenging hike along a lake, a trail that ‘ended’ (but didn’t really) at the border with Chile. Clearly ol’ Donny hasn’t been out here cuz there’s no fence – just a big iron obelisk and a sign saying ‘stop here’. I’d hooked up with a German hiking partner I’d met the day before, so of course I had to get her to shoot a photo of me pretending to sneak into Argentina from behind the sign. It’s a good thing the two countries are (currently) friendly because the lake and surrounding forest and mountains continue right on into Chile and would be pretty hard to secure in the event of hostilities. All-in-all I got in about 14 miles of really quality nature hiking and some good companionship and calorie-burn at the same time. I’ve always wanted to spend time in Patagonia so now this has whetted my appetite even further.
Tomorrow (Sunday) I will finally board the ship and start towards my ultimate destination. I’ll still have part of the day to hang out here so I’ll probably wander around town some more. At various times over the last three days I’ve met 6 people who are going on the same 116-passenger ship with me, so I’ll already start off by knowing some people. I’ve booked a twin cabin (there are no single cabins) so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of roommate I’m going to have for 9-10 days. Hoping for the best! Thanks for reading......