Tag Archives: Antarctica

My year of travel – a summary

Well, the year of travel is over.   And it was absolutely awesome!  So much so, that I’m avoiding “real life” for another year and heading off again!   So more to come…

Here is where I ended up going over the past year:

The Places

Many people have asked me what has been my highlight from the year, which is always a tough one to answer.  

As far as places go, most would expect me to say Antarctica.  And, while Antarctica was truly incredible, what has stayed most keenly in heart is the 10-day Huayhuash Trek I did in Peru back in September (yes, I know the blog post only just came out – too many pictures to process!).   I traveled with incredible people on both of these journeys, but I think the reason Huayhuash pips Antarctica is that I had to work for it.   10 days hiking above 4,200m, with a pass over 4,800m every day – that takes some doing, and delivers a significant sense of achievement at the end.  

The other thing that Huayhuash had going for it, is that the only time my brain completely turns off is while I’m hiking.   And trust me  – that that point in my trip, I really needed to switch my brain off for a while!  10 days of not thinking about anything except my immediate surroundings was absolute bliss!    And the scenery was amazing!

As far as the biggest positive surprise goes – El Salvador takes that one out hands down.   I loved it there, as did all the people I traveled with.   The El Salvadorean people know that their country has a reputation for being unsafe, and go out of their way to help you and ensure you have a great time.   And oh the pupusas…..

As far as the biggest negative surprise – unfortunately, Cuba.   The way everyone raves about it I probably went in with too high expectations – but most of the time I just felt like I was a walking money-bag.   A couple of caveats with this – I suspect most people go on an organised trip and only stay in the “tourist triangle” – La Havana, Viñales, Trinidad, Varadero.    This would give you a very different experience to the one I had during my first couple of weeks in particular – travelling independently in the eastern part of the island.  

I can only speculate, but I have met several other people who where there either at the same time as me (and who I traveled with) or around the same time, who also ended up with the same opinion.

The People

Apart from where you go and what you see/do, the other key aspect of traveling are the people that you meet.  I strongly suspect that this is even more keenly felt by long-term travelers and, although I shared my journey with many, many wonderful people, the following have left a particularly strong mark:

Nicaragua:   Pedro Torres, Keith Manyin, Caite Handschuh, Tom Rendulich, Sven and Caroline Hansen, Sekar Bala

El Salvador:  Andre (did I ever know your last name Andre?), Susan Jung

Guatemala:  Susan Jung, Julia Koch

Cuba:  Wendy Moors, Rebekka Wessels

Ecuador:  Jenny Waack

Peru: Max Abé, Niccoló Quattropani, Jenny Waack, Rebekka Wessels

Bolivia: Jenny Waack, Kimberley Carter

Chile:  My old ESO buddies, Jenny Waack

Antarctica:  Tyson Brooks, Carl Enfohrs, Remco Verstappen

And a very special thank you has to go to Eliza Hernandez – the most awesome spanish teacher ever!   I am infinitely grateful to have had Eliza as my grammar teacher over the total of 3 months I spent at La Mariposa Spanish School both this trip and on my previous visit.  It is largely thanks to her that my Spanish is almost fluent!

What did I discover?

The other thing that people often ask about when they find out I’ve been travelling for a year is “what did you learn by doing it” and/or “how has it changed you”?   Well, it’s not like I specifically set out to learn anything (apart from improving my Spanish), though I did have a few periods of pretty intense reflection of what I wanted out of life.  

So here’s some non-exhaustive dot point musings about travel from the last year: 

  • it makes you live more in the moment.  I was not really worried about the future and what I needed to do/should do next.  Well, right up until the point where I had to decide whether I would return to my job or not…
  • it allows you to relax and encourages you to take time to do nothing.  Though somehow the days are incredibly full and I have no idea how I managed to fit a full-time job in previously!
  • it gives you the opportunity to meet lots of new and (sometimes) interesting people, and have different conversations to what you would normally have
  • it highlights how little you actually know about the world, and that you should ask more questions, always!
  • it really cuts through the rubbish and highlights how similar we all are, no matter where we come from
  • it teaches you patience and resilience.  Fortunatley I already had a good amount of both, having lived in Latin America previously
  • it forces you to live simply.   You cannot fit very much in a 60L bag, and I’m here to tell you that you really don’t need many material possessions to have an incredible life
  • it doesn’t change the fact that Australia is home and always will be (no matter how much I love Latin America).  If anything, I become more patriotic (but hopefully not in an obnoxious way) when I travel.   It also showed me just how little I knew about certain aspects of my own country (e.g. politics)
  • it makes you really appreciate the luxuries we enjoy in our everyday, first-world lives.   Clean drinking water, hot showers with plenty of water pressure,  the huge variety of fresh and cooked food in Australia, being able to buy a truly cold coke on a hot day from the service station or supermarket…

And what do I want out of life?   Well, I’m still not quite sure I know.  But I’ve always wanted to go back and live in Latin America again for a while, and that now factors into my plan for this coming year 🙂  Living in Ecuador (Chile is too expensive 🙁 ), doing freelance work for organisations back in Australia – it’s kind of one of the ideas Tim Ferriss puts forth in “The 4-hour Work Week”, though I’d had the idea before I read the book.   If it all works out like I hope – it could make for a great life for a while!  

Stay tuned…

Falkland Islands – Day 12 – Stanley

Our expedition ended this morning with the Vavilov docked in Stanley – the capital of the Falkland Islands.   We had about an hour to wander around the town, which was more than enough time given it is pretty small and nothing opened until 10am (we were there at 8:30am).    Very British though, including red telephone boxes and post boxes, and it’s a definite stronghold for Land Rover – didn’t see any other type of car!

Stanley - Falkland Islands

Stanley – more British than Britain

Then it was an hour-long bus trip to the airport.  We had a guide on the bus who told us lots of bits and pieces about the Falklands to keep us entertained, and with a quintessentially British sense of humour.

The airport is actually inside of a military base and it took us over an hour to get through all the different security there.   I don’t think I’ve ever seen such strict security in all my travels!  The number of times things got scanned, things got written down and I had to sign things was truly incredible!

And so, the Antarctic adventure ends…

 

Summary of trip

So, you may be wondering what my overall thoughts are on the trip. Words really can’t do it justice, it was incredible!  I’m sure this was aided enormously by the fact that:

  • We had only ½ the usual number of people on the ship and it was a young crowd (the crew said that they’d never had a crowd this young before) so it was a lot of fun
  • The One Ocean crew were great and really interacted with the guests a lot
  • We had incredible weather that allowed us to do all the planned excursions plus some bonus extras, including the excursion around the southern side of Cape Lookout, and Point Wild on Elephant Island
  • We got to see 7 of the 8 species of penguins (apparently, this is very rare) plus some other truly incredible wildlife experiences, such as the whale bonanza on Day 6

Being on a ship for 11 days was, in itself, an experience – and one that was very easy to get used to.   That being said, I’m glad I don’t get seasick – a lot of people had a very hard time on the days we spent crossing the Drake Passage!  You certainly don’t go hungry on this expedition!  

Antarctica itself was absolutely beautiful.  To be able to visit such a pristine environment where the animals are totally not fussed about you is incredible.  The only other place I’ve been like this is the Galapagos

To be able to experience the harsh environment (but with the comfort of polar clothing and with the assurance of a hot shower, tea and coffee afterwards) makes you really question the sanity of the early Antarctic explorers: Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott, Mawson etc.   Even more so since we had great weather, and it wasn’t as cold as it could have been, given there was nary a blizzard in sight.

And although tourism in the Antarctic continues to grow (40,000 visitors in 2015-2016 season), we only saw 1 other ship with passengers, 2 yachts and 1 “mystery” ship in all of our time there.   We were the only group at each of our landings so essentially had the place to ourselves.    Very special.   Very glad I went with the spur-of-the-moment decision to go!

 

Recommendation:

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a One Ocean trip to Antarctica.  The Vavilov is very comfortable (there is also a sister ship the Ioffe), the crew are incredible and it is an amazing experience.    I booked through Freestyle Adventure Travel in Ushuaia who are also really awesome – very, very responsive and incredibly friendly bunch.

Note that regulations limit the number of people who can land at a site in Antarctica to 100 at a time.  So keep that in mind when you are choosing your ship.   You can see a lot more if you choose a ship with <100 people on board!

 

Falkland Islands – Day 11 – Saunders Island

In the afternoon, the winds miraculously died down again just enough for us to be able to do our last excursion to Saunders Island – still part of West Falkland.  It was the wettest of all our zodiac rides but even then, not too bad.  Apparently, that kind of wetness is fairly standard on an Antarctic expedition so we have been very lucky indeed.

Gentoos on beach at Saunders Island - Falkland Islands

Greeted by more Gentoo Penguins on the beach at Saunders Island. The Vavilov waits patiently offshore. Actually several of the Russian crew joined us on this excursion

Landed on a beach with tons more Gentoo Penguins (they really are everywhere) and then headed up over the spit of land to see the very small King Penguin colony – our 6th species of penguin for the trip.   They were cloistered in with the Gentoos, but behave very, very differently. 

They are very upright and regal birds and walk like slightly distracted old men – as opposed to the frantic waddling of the other penguins.    They are really very beautiful and we were all so excited to see them.

King Penguins - Saunders Island - Falkland Islands

King Penguins are so regal

Oh – and although it wasn’t clear whether they had eggs or newborn chicks, there was this guy – a 1-year-old chick – who should be just about to lose his brown plumage and head off to the ocean.  

King Penguin 1-year-old - Saunders Island - Falkland Islands

A 1-year-old King Penguin chick. He should be just about ready to molt and leave the colony

Walking further over the spit we arrived at a long beach with tons of penguins on it.   Including our 7th species for the trip – the Magellanic Penguin.   I’d seen these guys in Chile before, and they seemed to be much more timid than the other penguins we’d encountered.

Also, unlike other penguins, they build their nests in burrows, so we had to be very careful where we walked to ensure we didn’t put a foot through one of them.

Magellanic Penguins - Saunders Island - Falkland Islands

Magellanic Penguins use burrows for their nests

We visited a large Rockhopper Penguin colony as well

Rockhopper Penguins - Saunders Island - Falkland Islands

And then headed up the hill to watch the Black-browed Albatrosses in another colony.

This colony also had loads of Rockhoppers co-exsting, as well as a slightly different type of Blue-eyed Cormorant than what we saw on Day 8.  

Blue-eyed Cormorant - Saunders Island - Falkland Islands

It was just beautiful sitting there watching the Albatrosses soaring so close – we stayed for probably an hour just enjoying that view alone.

Then, on the way back to the zodiacs, I came across this Brown Skua that had successfully managed to get to one of the Gentoo chicks.

Brown Skua - Saunders Island - Falkland Islands

Unlucky Gentoo chick – eaten by Brown Skua

Brilliant final excursion, even though I was coming down with the flu pretty badly.  Glad that has happened at the end of the trip!

Falkland Islands – Day 11 – West Point Island

Just as we thought that our run of great weather had come to an end, the wind dropped and we were actually able to disembark for our first excursion of the day at West Point Island in the Falkland Islands.   

Falkland Islands Excursion Points

When we arrived at the entrance to this point during the night, the winds were waaaay too strong so we kept going, but soon after, the winds had dropped and we circled back for a second attempt.

And it was gorgeous!   Beautiful sunny day, actually very little wind, nice hike over the island in only our shirtsleeves – it felt like the middle of summer after over a week in Antarctica!    And so strange to smell and see grass again!

West Point Island - Falkland Islands

The main reason for visiting West Point Island was to see the Black-browed Albatross colony.  These birds are absolutely beautiful and serene, and most were sitting on eggs or chicks.

Black-browed Albatross - West Point Island - Falkland Islands

The colony also housed our 5th species of penguin for the trip – Rockhopper Penguins.   These penguins nest in Albatross colonies for the extra protection offered by the long necks of the Albatross, defending them from predators from the sky.

Albatross colony - West Point Island - Falkland Islands

Part of the Albatross colony with Rockhopper Penguins mixed in

The Rockhoppers are also affectionately known as “satan’s penguin” due to their fierce faces and red eyes, and are the noisiest of the penguins we’ve encountered so far.  They must really drive the Albatrosses crazy!

Rockhopper Penguins - West Point Island - Falkland Islands

I wonder why they are called “Satan’s penguin”?

They were also starting to sit on chicks – we really lucked out with seeing all these newborns during this trip!

Rockhopper Penguin - West Point Island - Falkland Islands

Rockhopper Penguin and its chick at West Point Island

Antarctica – Day 9 & 10 – Recrossing the Drake Passage

After several incredibly full-on days in Antarctica, we headed back across the Drake Passage en route to the Falkland Islands.   Not much to do over these couple of days so the crew put on a lot more talks and social activities, including an auction to raise money for several Antarctic charities, and a tour of the ship itself.  This took in an explanation of the bridge and navigation room, the scientific equipment in the mudroom, the emergency steering controls and the engine room.

Vavilov ship tour

I submitted a few photos to the on-board photographic competition, and these ones made the finals (as selected by the on-board photographer).

Photographic competition - Vavilov

Finalists in the on-board photographic competition. The Skua (bottom right) won the wildlife category

Had never done anything like this, and I have to admit it was quite satisfying to hear the on-board photographer praise my images, and the gasps from the crowd as the two bird photos were shown.  Several passengers also came up to me afterwards to say how beautiful my images were.

I ended up winning the Wildlife category with the Skua picture – many thanks to the clap-o-meter and my fellow passengers 🙂   Very happy about that as I’d been eyeing off the One Ocean beanie in the gift shop, but it was quite expensive.   Guess what I won?!

One Ocean beanie

One Ocean beanie – winner of the wildlife category of the on-board photographic competition

Ate waaaaaaaaaay too much icecream at the icecream buffet at dinner on Day 10 – in fact have eaten waaaaaaaaaay too much food in general on this expedition, a fate we have all suffered!   Need to get off this ship!

Icecream buffet on the Vavilov

Icecream buffet on the Vavilov – I might have gone back for thirds…

Antarctica – Day 8 – Point Wild

Over lunch we motored from Cape Lookout to Point Wild, with some more amazing whale sightings against incredible backdrops.

Elephant Island - South Shetland Islands - Antarctica

Following whales from Cape Lookout to Point Wild at Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands

Point Wild is a narrow spit of land where Ernest Shackleton left 22 of his men from the Endurance under the command of Frank Wild, while he and 5 others sailed off to South Georgia Island to get help.  Wild and the men managed to survive there for 4.5 months heading into winter awaiting their rescue.

Again, the One Ocean crew were keen to manage expectations, almost guaranteeing us that we would not be able to leave the Vavilov, but to be prepared with binoculars to see the monument erected by the Chilean Government to commemorate the Chilean captain who ultimately rescued Shackleton’s men back in 1916.

Point Wild - South Shetland Islands - Antarctica

Point Wild. If you look really hard, you can see the monument to the Chilean captain on the narrow spit of land to the left of the triangular rock in the middle. This is as close as you can normally get

But when we got there, the weather was gorgeous and the swell was not too bad.   The Expedition Leader did a test launch of a zodiac and decided it was safe enough – so for the first time ever for all but 2 of the One Ocean crew, and in a very, very rare opportunity for Antarctic visitors, we set out in the zodiacs to explore Point Wild.

Vavilov - Elephant Island - South Shetland Islands - Antarctica

Looking back at the Vavilov as we zodiac towards Point Wild

The primary focus was to visit the memorial to the Chilean captain, which turned out to be well guarded by a colony of Chinstrap penguins.

Monument at Point Wild - South Shetland Islands - Antarctica

The monument to the Chilean captain that rescued Shackelton’s men from Point Wild. Guarded by Chinstrap Penguins

Over the past 100 years, the beach where Shackleton’s men survived  has essentially disappeared, and it was also high tide, so we couldn’t actually land.  But we certainly spent a great deal of time contemplating how miserable it must have been to be stranded on this small spit of land in front of a massive glacier in the middle of the Antarctic winter, with no guarantees of rescue.  Surprisingly, all 22 men survived this ordeal – I can’t imagine the strength of character required to do that! 

Glacier at Point Wild - South Shetland Islands - Antarctica

Massive glacier behind the spit of land on which Shackelton’s men survived

After all, we pretty much had perfect Summer conditions, and we were still cold…

Leaving the monument, we explored a little further afield in the zodiacs (again, all new for most of the crew) including the very impressive glaciers, the really cool geology, and some more Chinstrap penguin colonies.   It really was an incredible experience – again made more special due to the genuine excitement of the crew.   

Point Wild - South Shetland Islands - Antarctica

Exploring Point Wild by zodiac. Amazing conditions!

We’ve really had incredible weather this trip and have been very, very lucky.  Fingers crossed it continues for the Falkland Islands once we have re-crossed the Drake Passage over the next couple of days!

Antarctica – Day 8 – Cape Lookout

We were warned often and well in advance that what we may or may not be able to do today was very, very dependent on weather conditions and swell – and so to be prepared for worst. 

Elephant Island (part of the South Shetland Islands) basically sticks out into the Drake Passage and has no shelter, therefore it is often only possible to do a short zodiac cruise at Cape Lookout (our first excursion) and not leave the Vavilov at all at Point Wild (our second stop).

Elephant Island is a very cool and craggy place – when you can see it.  Many of the One Ocean crew had only seen it as a thin strip of brown hidden below massive amounts of cloud, apparently today was a very good day!

Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

Approaching Cape Lookout at Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands

We loaded into the zodiacs and started the excursion by following some Humpback whales south for a bit.  The whales led us past where the zodiac cruise usually goes, which is when the One Ocean crew became super-excited. They had never been to this more exposed side of the Cape Lookout before and kept remarking that they had never seen it so calm.  So, Expedition Leader, Nate, decided we would take the opportunity to explore this uncharted territory. 

And it was really amazing!    For a start, the geological structures were incredible.

Geology - Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

We brought our tally of penguin species to 4 for the trip (out of a potential 7) by finding a good-sized Macaroni Penguin colony. 

Macaroni Penguins - Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

Macaroni Penguins are named for their yellow flourish above the eye

The reason they are called Macaronis is because of the yellow embellishment on their brow.    Apparently, a fancy headdress back in the olden days in Italy was called a “macaroni”.  Having just learned this, that children’s rhyme: 

Yankee Doodle went to town,
riding on a pony,
put a feather in his hat
and called it Macaroni

makes a lot more sense!

We also found another Chinstrap penguin colony, and could even land on the beach near the colony.  Apparently, they have never landed on Elephant Island before – so this was an absolute first!

Chinstrap Penguins - Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

On this landing, we were also able to get up close and personal with a moulting Elephant Seal

Moulting Elephant Seal - Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

In fact, there were plenty of Elephant seals and a few Fur seals lounging around on the beaches in this area.

Fur Seals - Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

Also got a first look at a krill – the food on which the majority of the Antarctic species feed.

Krill - Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

Krill – the base food source for almost all Antarctic wildlife

And an Antarctic Cormorant.

Antarctic Cormorant - Cape Lookout - Elephant Island - Antarctic Peninsula

After first exploring the “unknown” area, we then did a shortened version of the regular zodiac cruise.   I’m sooooo glad we got to see the other side, as the regular side was nowhere near as interesting!   The Macaroni penguins on this side were a lot further away and the geology nowhere near as cool.  We really, really lucked out!

Returned to the Vavilov frozen, but full of excitement – especially because the One Ocean crew were so incredibly excited about what they’d seen and the amazing opportunity to explore a place that very few (if any) people had been before.   They were really buzzing, and that made us even more excited than we already were 🙂 

Antarctica – Day 7 – Weddell Sea

Last night I almost fulfilled one of my bucketlist items – I almost saw the midnight sun.    I say almost, because at the latitudes where we are, the sun does actually set briefly, but I definitely stayed up to see the midnight twilight 🙂   Here’s the proof – a picture of Rosamel Island, the entrance to the Weddell Sea, taken at midnight.

Rosamel Island - Weddell Sea - Antarctica

Image of Rosamel Island taken at midnight from my cabin window on the Vavilov

Easier day today, spent mostly on the Vavilov cruising around the Weddell Sea looking for “big birds” – ie Emperor Penguins.    Absolutely gorgeous day with blue skies and very little wind during the morning – so wonderful to be out on decks enjoying the views.

Weddell Sea - Antarctica

Extremely unusual – mirror water for our Weddell Sea excursion in search of Emperor Penguins

The One Ocean crew were saying that the conditions were really unusual for the Weddell Sea – normally they can’t actually get in there – and this was only the second time one of them had made it in 9 seasons of coming to Antarctica!    So very lucky again 🙂

Unfortunately, not much wildlife at all, and definitely no Emperor Penguins, though we sailed as far south as we could before the ice turned us around (it was always going to be a long shot).   Had a relatively short, late afternoon landing on Joinville Island, underneath Durville Monument at a large Adelie Penguin colony (with Gentoos thrown in of course).   Again, only the second time any of the crew had visited the site – it is not well known and often difficult to get to.

Durville Monument - Weddell Sea - Antarctica

This isolated peak is known as the Durville Monument

And it’s not only Gentoos that are sitting on eggs at the moment.   The Adelies have an extremely short breeding season and we managed to catch them right at it.

Adelie Penguin and egg - Durville Monument - Weddell Sea - Antarctica

Adelie Penguin sitting on an egg

Back on the Vavilov and it was time for another hot tub before dinner.

Hot tub - Vavilov - Antarctica

Time for another hottub (this time with Assa and Carl) after exploring the Adelie Penguin colony near the Durville Monument (thanks Carl for the photo!)

And then a back-deck party (with buttered Rum) to watch the ship’s progress through the huge tabular icebergs that crowd the Antarctic Sound.

Vavilov bar - Antarctica

Hot buttered rum greeted us after dinner as we headed out on deck to watch our progress through the enormous tabular icebergs

These icebergs are up to 20 metres high (much taller than the Vavilov) and very impressive.   And the light was incredible!

Tabular Icebergs - Weddell Sea - Antarctica

This was then followed by Antarctic Trivia up in the Vavilounge in which my team, Shack Pack, ended up coming 2nd after some very dodgy decisions…  

Yes – the days are very full here on the Valivov (another 11:30pm night), but great fun 🙂   The One Ocean crew were saying the other day that this is the youngest crowd they’ve ever had by percentage of passenger numbers, so I think they are having a lot of fun with us as well.

Antarctica – Day 6 – Brown Bluff

After leaving Esperanza Station and yet another amazing lunch, we continued to be lucky with the swell and the ice, and could actually land at Brown Bluff – a site with another Gentoo Penguin colony and an Adelie Penguin colony – something like 90,000 nests in total!

Brown Bluff - Antarctic Peninsula

Approach to Brown Bluff – ominous clouds but not much swell or wind

Here I saw lots of Gentoo chicks – the One Ocean staff are really surprised to see them this early, usually they don’t hatch for another week or two apparently.

Gentoo Penguins and their chicks - Brown Bluff - Antarctic Peninsula

Gentoo Penguins and their chicks at Brown Bluff

Simon (the One Ocean bird expert) also found a Snow Petrel in a cave and set up a scope so we could all have a close look.

Snow Petrel - Brown Bluff - Antarctic Peninsula

And we got to go for another hike – this time up the glacier for a great view down over the bay.

Hiking at Brown Bluff - Antarctic Peninsula

Hiking up the glacier at Brown Bluff

It was nice to do a bit of exercise again, but the problem with the hiking is that because we have on so much wet/cold weather gear – you are positively boiling if you end up hiking uphill, like we did in this case.

Brown Bluff - Antarctic Peninsula

Admired the view and the incoming snowstorm for a bit and then slid down the first part of the hill rather than walking – much faster!

Sliding down the glacier - Brown Bluff - Antarctic Peninsula

Sliding down the glacier at Brown Bluff

Back on the Vavilov, it started to snow lightly, but without wind so it was actually quite beautiful.   And it turned out that dinner was an Argentinian BBQ out on the back deck … yes, in the snow.

Argentine BBQ in the snow on the Vavilov - Antarctica

Yes it was snowing. Yes it was freezing! Yummy though

They turned up the 70s and 80s tunes, had mulled wine to hand, and we had a great (if cold) time eating out in the snow as we headed towards our next destination.

Argentine BBQ on the Vavilov - Antarctica

Unfortunately, the snow meant that we couldn’t go camping 🙁  but we ended up with something even better.   A most amazing Orca and Minke whale show!   There must have been at least 30 whales around us for over an hour, and the capitan of the Vavilov was awesome, driving the ship in circles so we got to enjoy the show for longer.

Orcas - Antarctica

Most of us were out on the bow of the ship, and it would have been funny to create a timelapse of the movement of people out there as there were gasps and exclamations from one side of the ship and then the other.  

Watching the whales from the front deck of the Vavilov

Watching the whales from the front deck of the Vavilov (Photo credit: Carl Ehnfors)

There were so many whales, you really didn’t know where to look!

Orcas and Minkes - Antarctica

Saw a few Minke breaches

Minke Whale breach - Antarctica

Minke Whale breaching

Lots of Orca fins and saddles

Orcas - Antarctica

Individual Orcas are identified by the white markings

And several of the whales swam right beside and/or under the boat – and we could see them in the crystal-clear water of the Antarctic.

 

No blood or carnage though (usually Minkes are food for Orcas), so the naturalists on board were not sure as to why the Minkes and Orcas were hanging together, though one suggestion is that the Orcas had already attacked and eaten.

Words can’t describe how amazing this was (the photos don’t do it justice)!  A really, really special sighting for us, the One Ocean crew (they were all out there with their cameras too) and even the crew of the Vavilov said that they’d very rarely seen anything like it.    We didn’t feel so bad about the camping after that 🙂

Antarctica – Day 6 – Esperanza Station

Up at 7:30am for yet another bacon and egg breakfast (loving it – though there is a vast array to choose from on the breakfast buffet) before heading out to an Argentine Antarctic Base – Esperanza Station.  

Breakfast buffet on the Vavilov

Breakfast buffet on the Vavilov

Another amazing overcast day with no wind, and the approach to the base before breakfast was awesome – lots of icefloes with Adelie penguins – and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery!

Heading to Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula

We were welcomed to the base by Lt Coronel Miguel Ángel Vázquez, the base commander, who then gave us a complete tour of the base, translated by Joao from the One Ocean crew.

Welcome to Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula

Welcome to Esperanza Station

This base is unusual in that it allowed women to give birth there from the 1950s to the 1980s (there were 8 children born there until they discontinued the practice), and to this day they have a “family” approach (ie the people who work at the base can bring their families as well), as they are stationed there for 12 months.  For this reason, the base has a school (kindergarten and primary school are taught directly, secondary school is done online), which was one of the stops on our visit.

School House at Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula

School house at Esperanza Station

We also visited the church/chapel

Church - Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula

And had tea and coffee and bikkies laid on for us in the refectory

Refectory - Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula

Tea, coffee and bikkies at Esperanza Station. Lovely welcome for us!

The base also respects its history and location with a recreation of the stone hut in which 3 shipwrecked men survived back in 1903 until rescued, old machinery and sleds from the establishment of the base back in the 1950s, and an extensive museum. 

Memorabilia and museum - Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula

The outside of the museum (top), old antarctic exploration equipment (centre) and a reconstruction of a stone hut from 1903

While we were in the museum I got chatting with the Base Commander about Antarctica and Latin America and how much I loved these places.   Had a great chat for about 15 minutes before we had to continue the tour, but he specifically came up to me later and invited me come along with the film crew to his house where they were going to do an interview with him and his family.  Of course!

So got to peek into what one of the base houses looks like (reminds me of the houses in the recinto of Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in La Serena), meet his wife and daughter and hear what they had to say about family life at the base during their year in residence there.

Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula

He seemed super-keen to keep in touch with me, so gave me his email address and I’ll send him some of the pictures I took of him and his family today.   I think he was just really happy to have someone different to talk to who could speak Spanish and who loved Latin America.     Making friends, even in Antarctica 🙂

Me and the commander - Esperanza Station - Antarctic Peninsula