Farewell Antarctica

Trip Start Dec 31, 2005
Trip End Jan 24, 2006

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Well, I am really running behind on these updates now....Its actually Sunday (I thin), and that makes this ?January 15 Really - all sense of time, dates and days of the week are gone. The sun rises before 6am and sets after 11, but exactly when who knows. I didnt bring a watch.

Today may have been one of the best days so far. We started out by landing at Neko Harbour...again on the west side of the Antarctic peninsula. The lanfding point was very narrow, and there is only a small pebble beach which rises sharply toward a mountain face. To the left is a glacial lake which is fed by a glacier. It cracks and heaves regularly, with sheets of blue ice falling into the harbour and sening small tides onto shore. Its quite beautiful, and the ice calving sounds like a summer thunderstorm, echoing off the walls of the bay.

To the right is a steep mountain slope, which we climb to get a good viw of the penguin and sea bird colonies (we have to weave our way through the throngs of penguins parading around the island).

Once at the top (I have LOTS of pictures that I cannot upload at this moment...see update for January 14/15 at El Chalten), we proceeded to make like the penguins and slide down the mountain. Now this is a 200 foot drop easily, on glacial ice, so the photos can only do this justice. You have to picture a group of 40 or so people, wrapped up tight in winter clothers, doing a luge run down the mountain!! It was fantastic! I am sure the screams on the way down scared the hell out of the penguins! I have to say my technique was much admired by the other passengers, and they now all believe that all Canadians participate in downhill sledding!!

We had one more stop at Enterprise Bay as the ship made its way north again, in preparation for the northbound crossing of the Drake Passage. Enterprise Bay is a former whale processing centre, and has many abandoned buildings, barrels and other processing equipment from when the whales were plentiful. In any case, we boarded the zodiacs for an hour excursion into the bay.

Our good luck contuned, and a pod of humpback whales were spotted and we trailed them for about half an hour. Although my camera is a bit slow to properly capture the whales, I have a few shots of the whales cresting and flipping tyheir tales. I did NOT get the whale breach (where they come stright out of the water and flip onto their side or back). But several people did get this shot, and they promised to email me. These were large and rather old whales - and they were amazing to watch!! We also got a show frm the leopard seals who were sunning on the ice floes, but nothing compares to those whales!

After the late day excursion at Enterprise Bay, we set sail for Tierra del Fuego, expecting to cross into the Drake passage at midnight or so, and sailing across the open southern ocean for the next 2 days. Thankfully...AGAIN...the seas were completely calm. The captain and all the crew raved that they had never had a crossing as smooth as this (Drake Lake is the name of the rare occurrance of smooth seas in this region), and I was very glad for it!! This time, I had a heck of a time with the transderm patch...my near-sight vision was blurry (I had to read without my glasses) and the dry mouth was very bad. But no motion sickness, so it was all worth it.

The Drake crossing was smooth and unremarkable, and we made such great speed that we diverted West to round the tip of cape Horn, the southernost tip of the Americas, and traditional site of lost ships from the days when european tallships would sail to Asia from Europe this way.

Continuing north again, and with an unremarkable passage through the Beagle Channel, we docked once again in Ushuaia, where our Antarctic expedition would end, and our Patagonia trek would begin.

In true bureaucratic South American style, we were forced to board a bus from the ship to the pier immigration building (20 yards), and exit to claim bags, get on again, and exit 10 yards beyond the customs building. The whole exercise took about 30 minutes for a 3 minute walk. Apparently this serves some security purpose, but I couldnt see what that was. But I was happy to be on dry land...

I will be uploading the rest of my Antarctic pictures (there are some great shots) once I get to the next large (relatively speaking) town at Punta Arenas in Chile..in 2 days. Check this update then.

I have to say, Antarctica was an amazing place, and worth every penny of the trip. So few people have ever set foot on this continent, and yet there is so much to see. I am happy to have been part of this, and it makes me want to see so many other parts of the globe (I have 4 continents conquered now, and 3 to go...Africa, Asia and Austrailia)!

Well, the next stage of the trip promises some excitement and unique experiences..and is definately going to be challengning in its own way. Here goes.....
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