Monthly Archives: March 2019

Cuverville revisited 2

The rest of our time off the ship was spent zipping around in our zodiac. With sunshine and relatively clear skies a wonderland of mountains, icebergs and glaciers was revealed.

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Not to mention wildlife. Such as leopard seals.

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And crabeater seals

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More leopard seal

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Fur seal

Fur seal

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Back on the ship the view from the upper deck was no less spectacular.

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Finally a sunset.

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Cuverville revisited

Ooops!

I have just found a cache of unprocessed pictures that belong to the post before last. It also happens to be probably the best of the weather we had in Antarctica and the photos sparkle as a consequence. I have decided to split these into two posts. This one is on the island and the next one is cruising around in our zodiac around the island.

Firstly we encountered the most sociable of the gentoo penguins here and at times they were downright cheeky!

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Skua bird

Skua bird

Then some lazy fur seals.

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Fournier Bay

And so the weather turns and we have drizzle and even snow but this turns out to be a very special afternoon and we spend hours in our zodiac cruising around chasing humpback and minke whales with some amazing and very close sightings. This remains one of my more memorable excursions.

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Fur seals

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Minke Whale

Minke Whale

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Crabeater seal

Crabeater seal

Humpback whale breaching

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Minke Whale

Minke Whale

More humpbacks

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Crabeater seal

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Yet more humpbacks

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Thousand year old block of freshwater glacial ice

Thousand year old block of freshwater glacial ice

 

Cuverville Island

This little island was one of the few times we caught a bit of sunshine and the photos sparkle as a result. It was most notable for the up close and personal interactions with the sociable little gentoo penguins.

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Juvenile gentoo being fed by its parent.

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Brown Station

Landing at Almirante Brown station is our first landing on Antarctic mainland. This, incredibly, is an Argentine station named after the first Admiral of the Argentine navy, an Irishman called William Brown. Go figure! The Argentinians have built a whole series of huts along the Antarctic Peninsula to keep a foothold and a claim on the continent. Unlike most, this one is actually manned. Built in 1951 it has an interesting history. On 12 April 1984 it was burnt down by the station’s doctor after he was ordered to stay for another winter. The station personnel was rescued by the USS Hero but he was left to stay there for another year as punishment.

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The surrounding seas are known as Paradise Bay. A short zodiac ride around the corner is the beautiful and massive Suarez glacier.

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Base F

Antarctica is a great 20th century historical reserve as well as a natural reserve. Here in the frigid temperatures and and dry air (Antarctica is the driest continent on earth), buildings and objects remain well preserved and are designated historical monuments with strict codes of conduct enforced to protect them. In 1947 the British established a base her that they named Faraday station (or Base F). With only a short period of closure in the 1950s it was continuously occupied as a meteorological station until 1996.

Wordie Hut was the first building here and was in use between 1947 and 1954 when it was superseded by the newer base. This charming old hut is in a remarkable state of preservation and is a unique time capsule right down to the preserved food items that are still in situ.

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In 1960 a newer station was built nearby and it was this station that first picked up the hole in the ozone layer in the 1980s. This station was eventually sold to Ukraine in 1996 for the nominal sum of 1 pound. It is now renamed Verdansky station and between 12 and 26 scientists over winter here every year. It is here that we see our first glimpses of sunshine and blue sky.

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Drake “Lake”

Constant low cloud engulfs our ship but the seas are mercifully calm. We are on our cruise ship RCGS Resolute which is home to us for the next 10 nights. It is a smaller ship with a capacity of 150 passengers but is beautifully appointed and luxurious. Our first 2 days we see no land as we cross Drakes passage a notoriously rough stretch of sea between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands which mark the beginning of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The third morning we turn into the beautiful Lemaire Channel and, for the first time we are in Antarctica. All around are mountains, glaciers and icebergs but the sky is grey, cloud cover is low and there is a consistent fine drizzle. We are called to get suited up for our first excursion ashore and the sense of excitement is muted by the preparations involved. In our cabins we don 2 layers of thermal clothing. Final toileting occurs as no such thing is permitted ashore. No yellow snow! Then we don the waterproof overalls and parkas before trudging 3 levels down to squeeze into our special boots and wash them off in antiseptic. Antarctica is a pristine wilderness and there is no contamination allowed. Trussed up like a “teletubbie” we descend the ramp to our “rubber duckie” zodiacs for the short trip to land.

Plenau Island is our first landing and was named by the French explorer Charcot in 1904 after his photographer which is ironic considering the issues I had with photography here. On landing I chatted with the ship’s photographer regarding exposure settings here. He had a look at my pictures and said that my settings looked OK. I was less certain but being trussed up and struggling to keep the drizzle off my lenses I felt out of control and I am unhappy with the photos here. It is another day and a half before I get the right advice and successfully adjust my camera to the right settings for Antarctica. Nonetheless this is a pretty spot with lots of cheeky gentoo penguins and icebergs all around.

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Leaving the island we spend another hour or so in our zodiac sailing between beautiful icebergs.

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El fin del mundo

Ushuaia, even the name has an exotic sound to it. How about “Tierra del Fuego”, “land of fire”? Evocative names for a unique place. This is the southernmost city on the planet. Below here its ocean and then Antarctica.

This is a small new city with a population of only 70,000. It is the starting point for most cruise ships bound for Antarctica but tourism is not the main source of income here with fishing and extraction of oil and gas bigger industries. An interesting new development here is that this is a tax free haven and responding to the government’s attempts to encourage industry to relocate there big players such as Samsung have moved in and the town is experiencing a bit of a construction and population boom. Nonetheless the heart of town is centred around the docks and sees mostly tourist shops and restaurants. Boldly emblazoned on most souvenirs is the phrase “El fin del Mundo” which translates to “the end of the earth”.

The HMS Beagle carrying the naturalist Charles Darwin on his way to scientific fame in the Galapagos sailed through here in 1832. It is from this that the name of the sea channel that Ushuaia straddles derives, the Beagle strait and it forms a spectacular back drop to the city. When sailing through the Beagle’s crew noted multiple fires dotting the countryside lit by the natives, hence the name Tierra del Fuego. Going ashore they meet the indiginous people. Despite the extreme cold they are naked and Darwin describes them as subhuman savages.

Despite it being just on the end of summer the weather here is best described as brooding. Thick clouds fill the sky, there is no rain but all around is grey and the daily maximum struggles to reach 10C. Our hotel here sits on a cliff overlooking the Beagle strait with magnificent views. Across the strait is Chile as they have claimed all the lands south of Ushuaia including the bottom tip of South America, Cape Horn.

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Uruguay

Now I’m going to be provocative here and I apologise in advance to all Uruguayans when I say that Uruguay was never on my bucket list. I’m sure it is a charming country and it is notable for many beach resorts but that really is not my style. They say that Montevideo is a charming city but again without any “big ticket” items. Nonetheless from BA it is a quick ferry ride across the massive, sea like Rio de la Plata to Montevideo. We eschew this option and opt for the tiny UNESCO world heritage listed Colonia instead.
We are most certainly not disappointed. This 400 year old town was built by the Portuguese and vacillated between Spain and Portugal over the centuries. Heavily involved in trade and smuggling over the centuries it is now a cobble stoned maze of beautiful old buildings and leafy squares made for leisurely strolling. To sweeten the deal with she who must be obeyed I rented a golf cart and we zipped around the streets for a couple of hours before settling down to a fabulous lunch.

Enjoy the photographs!

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P.S. I am not one who will spend a day in a country and pretend that I have seen it all but in this case I must admit that I will probably not come back to Uruguay. I think I can say I have seen the best of it.

Evita and the Big Apple

Finally we are in Buenos Aires to stay and I have booked a guided Evita tour to satisfy the bucket list item for “she who must be obeyed”. We are driven through the green leafy suburbs of upper class, northern BA where all the embassies are located. Our guide relates the Eva Peron story which is well known to anyone who has seen Evita. Two things surprise me, firstly there is still a whole lot affection out there for the Perons. We are fed stories of cynical shenanigans to stay in power, money siphoned off to Swiss bank accounts etc whereas here the focus is on reform, charity lost of good done for the people of Argentina. The second thing that staggers me arises from visiting the Evita museum where they out line her life with props, mementos, dresses used by her and actual newsreel of the life and times of Evita. The life story is amazingly accurately presented in Evita. The show could almost be described as a documentary about her life, albeit with critical counterpoint presented by Che.

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The tour finished with the Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried and this fascinating city of the dead with the above ground mausoleums is a not to be missed feature.

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Later we walk 20 minutes from the hotel (notwithstanding the moans of the excessive walking distance involved from one who shall not be named) to the famous presidential palace the Casa Rosada, sparkling in the setting sun.

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