Home again, home again
I’ve been dithering for days about how to write about our trip. How many of my hundreds of photos do you really want to see? Can I remember all, or any, of the names of the places we were can I remember? Caught in a loop on indecisions, I’ve done nothing. That can’t continue: I have loyal readers who want pictures of penguins. So I’m just going to start.
After Buenos Aires, we flew to Ushuaia, billed as the southernmost city in the world. I’m pretty sure they define city as anyplace exactly as big as Ushuaia or larger: there are certainly settlements, villages, towns and communities to the south, even with airports and commercial air service. Nonetheless, Ushuaia continues to proclaim itself the one.
The air terminal in Ushuaia looks like nothing so much as a giant ski lodge, all stone walls and steep pitched steel roof. Considering the frigid weather, I guess that makes sense.
Because we landed about noon and weren’t to be allowed on the ship until 4, they loaded us on buses and sent us out to the national park. The far south of Argentina is beautiful, mostly unspoiled and overrun with beavers as the result of a failed attempt to start a fur trade.
History is a living thing here. The Malvinas are what Argentina calls the Falkland Islands, which they still claim.
I saw this poster in a tiny post office billed as “The End of the World” where you could buy and send postcards and get your passport stamped for $3.
We had lunch in the park, drove around the stunning landscape, and finally made our way to the ship.
Our cruise was on Le Soleál, a 175 passenger ship of the Ponant cruise line, based in France. Everything on the ship was French. The staff spoke English, mostly. The food was French, with a marvelous cheese board at every meal. The expedition guides were French, which occasionally led to communications difficulties, but nothing we couldn’t overcome.
The cruise was put together by a travel company who chartered the entire ship and then sold it through association groups. We went with the Commonwealth Club, and the otherers wer from the Harvard Alumni, the Yale Alumni, Duke Alumni, Bryn Mawr Alumni and more. This was an educated crowd.
Sailing out of Ushuaia, we were treated to sunset.
Crossing Drakes Passage to Antarctica takes a day and a half, which we spend doing clerical duties like getting fitted for our parkas and boots, learning the rules of going ashore and talking about being seasick, which nobody was because the passage was calm as a lake–for a rare and pleasant easy crossing. The meals were good and the excitement was building for our first onshore excursion, at Deception Island.
An extinct volcano, with the caldera open to the sea through a narrow passage to form a large protected bay formerly used by whaling companies, Deception Island is a common stopping point for expedition cruises like ours.
The time arrived and we loaded onto Zodiac boats for the short hop to shore. The crew loaded us carefully both on and off–there was even a man in a wet suit prepared to go into the freezing water and snatch up anyone who slipped and fell.
And there we were!!! On land, surrounded by zillions of penguins, all just alike.
The expedition guide were ashore, of course. Here Fabrice reached into the water to find a krill, the small shrimp-like creature that penguins, seal and whales all feast on.
First day on shore, first seal sighting.
He’s just laying on the ice, digesting his lunch. There are no land based predators, so he’s totally unconcerned with the people crowding around taking his photo–and the guides make sure we don’t get too close.
One of the great things about a cruise is the chance to meet other people with similar interests. This is the group leader from the Commonwealth Cruise, Colleen Wilcox. I suspect you’ll be seeing more of her, we all fell in love.
That’s enough for the first installment. More to come.