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Falkland, South Georgia and Antarctic Islands
Montevideo, Uruguay
I landed around 9am after leaving LA at midday the day before. Montevideo has a small airport, there were only 4 gates and getting through immigration was a breeze. My ride to the starting hotel was included and waiting for me as I exited the airport. The only flaw was that I arrived at the hotel too early to check in. Not the end of the world as I was able to leave my bag, get some breakfast then walk around the harbour front. A Saturday and the path was fall of people out exercising or taking their dog for a walk. It looks as the Montevideo is next to sea but the brown colour of the water gives the game away. It's actually at the mouth of the Rio de La Plata, it's just so wide at this point that you have no chance of seeing Argentina on the other side. In the evening I had a steak and some chorizo at a local BBQ joint and ended have up having a long chat with an Argentinian guy. It was a really cool little place and you sit around the grill and watch them cook your meat over the charcoal.
+23/10/2016Meat Market
Montevideo, Uruguay
I had a whole day to kill but was feeling lazy so didn't do a great deal. I walked the 5km into town through the centre to the Mercado del Puerto, a market by the port that is full of BBQ joints like the one I'd been at last night where I got a late lunch. It's a bit of a touristy place but was full of locals as well and as the cruise ship season hasn't started yet not many other tourists. I walked back along the waterfront to my hotel where I had an early night.
+24/10/2016Setting Sail
Montevideo, Uruguay
We had most of the day to kill before boarding which I spent by walking along the waterfront and having a long lunch. We boarded the ship a bit after four and set sail a couple of hours later. It's a nice boat and the food is top notch. The vast majority of the other passengers are retirees with only a few people near my age which will be interesting. Not too surprising given the length and cost of the trip I guess. We now have almost four days at sea before we get to the Falkland Islands. They put on lectures during the day which breaks up the monotony a bit, otherwise it's eat, sleep and find something like reading to fill the time.
Saunders Island, Falkland Islands
After so many days at sea it was great to have a change. While we get jackets and boots, waterproof trousers aren't provided so I had to fork out $200 in the gift shop for a pair. Normally I'm much better prepared but this was a last minute booking mid trip so I'm a bit out on that one. Our first stop was at West Point where we hiked to what's known as Devils Nose, a Rockhopper penguin and Black Browed albatross colony. This was a really cool experience and our first Zodiac landing. The weather was cloudy but calm, so landing was easy. The birds just sit around on the hillside and you can walk straight up to them. They've got a barrier around the colony so that you don't go wandering through but you're close enough to touch them (though you obviously don't). In the afternoon we headed to Saunders Island and had our first onshore landing, the morning's being at a small jetty. This site had Gentoo and King Penguins as well, the Kings being the most impressive being larger and with a yellow stripe down the sides of their throats. There was also a sea lion lazing on the beach and they've got an old whale skeleton spread out on the grass. All in all a great day, it was nice to get off the boat and the wildlife was terrific.
Stanley, Falkland Islands
In the morning a few of us went for what was described as a moderate 2 hour hike but turned out to be a slow 3 hour stroll over 6km. The guide was full of info about both the local flora and fauna as well as the Falkland War which he'd been involved in. I was hoping to stretch my legs a bit though so found the pace a bit frustrating. In the afternoon I walked into Stanley to buy a few odds and ends and check out the town. Cute little place but a couple of hours was plenty to check out the museum and cathedral. It was a gorgeous day after the rainy start in the morning so I enjoyed a pint n the sun before walking back to the ship.
+31/10/2016Shag Rocks
Shag Rocks, South Georgia, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
In the middle of the way we passed the Shag Islands, a lonely outcrop of rocks in the middle of the ocean populated by a huge group of shags. We also saw humpback Whales on the approach before a quick circumnavigation of the of the rocks on onwards to the South Georgia Islands.
+1/11/2016South Georgia Islands
Rosita Harbour, South Georgia Islands
After two days at sea we reached the South Georgia Islands. Our first stop was at Right Whale Bay and while it was overcast we had beautiful calm conditions. There were Elephant and Fur Seals along the beach and a solitary Leopard Seal where we landed. This is a major breeding ground for King Penguins and the beach was full of them and their fluffy chicks. At one point there was a group of Giant Petrels and Skuas ripping apart a penguin they'd just killed. In the afternoon we pulled up at Rosita Harbour which was more scarce on the wildlife which allowed us to have a decent hike up the hill.
Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Islands
We woke up in the morning to a beautiful sunny day and could finally see the snow clad mountains rising up around us. We cruised a short way around the coast to Salisbury Plain, another King Penguin colony. The beach was littered with Elephant and Fur Seals and we had a small hike inland to where the King Penguin chicks were clustered, stretching up the hill above us. The expedition crew were excited by the presence of South Georgi Pipits which haven't been seen in the area before, indicating that the rat eradication program is working. I was the last one to climb the hill above the waterfall before returning so was lucky enough to be there when Alex found a nest of Pipit chicks that he'd been monitoring as people climbed past up the hill. In the afternoon we headed to Prion Island where the Wandering Albatross breed. Only half the ship could land at a time so I had a fairly boring cruise in a Zodiac around the island beforehand but then we got to climb the hill and view the nests. There were eight chicks visible and at one point a parent was feeding its chick before taking off and flying around the island. I hadn't realised we might get the opportunity to see these fantastic birds so close so it was a delightful surprise that we did.
Grytviken, South Georgia Islands
In the morning we headed into Grytviken, the only permanent human dwelling on the South Georgia Islands. The weather had flipped, and while still reasonably calm there was a steady rain the entire morning. The attractions here were Shackleton's grave, the old whaling station and a cute little museum full of interesting odds and ends. We had a dram at Shackleton's grave in the rain before exploring the rest of the site. In the afternoon we headed to St Andrews Bay. This is the site of the largest King Penguin colony and features a glacier that melts into the sea. The rain fortunately had stopped but there was a fare swell and the mist hung around. It was still a great landing with Elephant Seals battling on the beach and a Zodiac ride along the beach to where the run off from the glacier flows into the sea.
+4/11/2016Storm Warning
South Georgia Islands, South Georgia Islands
We left South Georgia a day early as there was a huge storm incoming and are running south. Hopefully this way we'll avoid the worst of it and it may give us the opportunity to visit South Orkney or get an extra day in Antarctica. Either way it means we're heading much further south into the Weddell Sea than originally planned. We passed some Fin Whales about midday that were heading in the same direction and leaping out of the water beside the ship.
+5/11/2016South Orkney Islands
South Orkney Islands, South Orkney Islands
We arrived to snow at South Orkney Islands which covered the deck as we anchored. They sent a scout ship ashore to the base then sent out the message for the first groups to start boarding. Five minutes later the first Zodiac was heading back as the bridge had cancelled the landing as the winds started to increase. Bit of a shame as it would have been nice to get off the ship and check out a new place but understandable given the horrid weather. We set sail straight away and in the afternoon hit the roughest seas yet as we skirt the southern point of the storm. But we're on our way to the Antarctica Peninsula which everything going to plan we should reach tomorrow night.
+6/11/2016Antarctic Sound
Antarctic Sound, Antarctica
We arrived at the Antarctic Sound in the evening and headed south into the Wendell Sea. The sun was out and we were able to watch the tabular icebergs as we sailed by into the setting sun.
+7/11/2016Sea Ice Walk
Seymour Island, Antarctica
The plan had been to head down to Snow Hill Island but the sea was full of ice and the winds were too strong so we sailed around to the West side of Seymour Island and made a landing on the sea ice. This was a short trip as the wind was still rather strong but we took a short Zodiac ride out to ice between the island and the peninsula and clambered out for a short walk and photos. A really fun experience and something not too many people get to do. It also took us past the 64 degree line and further south than most people get a chance to go. In the afternoon we headed out to Seymour Island, a colony for some 100,000 Adelie penguins. This island was quite steep and volcanic with a frozen lake in the middle that we walked around before a few of us climbed the hill at the back for views from the top. Dinner was a BBQ out on the deck though most chose to take their meals inside as it was below freezing outside with glasses of water freezing solid on the tables.
+8/11/2016Missed landings
Astrolabe Island, Antarctica, Antarctica
The plans for the day kept changing as when we arrived at each landing site the winds were too strong or there was too much ice to safely set anchor. First was Brown Bluff on the Trinity Peninsula then Gourdan Island where the winds were gusting at 70mph. So we headed to O'Higgins station, a Chilean base on the peninsula but giant icebergs were parked on the few anchoring sites available so that was called of as well. In the evening we reached Astrolabe Island and the conditions were deemed good enough for a Zodiac cruise around the island. It's a steep little island with no decent landing points but made for a nice cruise. It was great to just get of the ship and have a change of scenery in any case. After a day of missed landings I was getting restless.
Cierva Cove, Antarctica
We woke up to a gloriously calm and sunny day. Our first stop was for a Zodiac cruise at Cierva Cove where because of the pristine conditions we were able to make landing at a tiny pebble beach and set foot on the continent. Because of missed opportunities yesterday this had been looking unlikely so it was great that we got this chance to properly tick that box for the seventh continent. In the afternoon we headed to Mikklesen Harbour were we landed on a small island that hosts a small chinstrap colony.
+10/11/2016Polar Plunge
Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
We headed to Deception Island overnight, a circular island with an entry point on it's southern side. It's the rim of an active volcano, though there hasn't been any serious activity in fifty years. Our first landing was at 5am on the outside of the rim at Baily Head, a steep black sand beach that made for an interesting landing. It doesn't look like much when you get there but the valley open ups behind and is full of Chinstrap penguins; the noise they make as they all chirp away is quite impressive. Next up we headed into the caldera itself and made landing at Whalers Bay. The ruins of the British base that was abandoned after the last eruption and some old whaling stations litter the bay. There was a nice walk along the beach to a breach in the cliff called Neptune's Eye. At 11am it was time for those of us that chose to to take a dip in the Antarctic waters. They choose a spot near where there's some thermal activity so it's not too punishing. As we had another beautiful day with the sun shining and no real winds it was actually quite an enjoyable experience, though we all kept it at a quick in and out. Back on the ship it was a shot of whiskey and straight into the sauna, enjoyable if not really necessary. In the afternoon we headed to Half Moon Island, named after the curved bay it sits in. A bunch more Chinstraps and a sole Macaroni penguin, the only one I saw on the trip. Apparently he's been going there for over ten years but no other Macaronis show there.
+11/11/2016Drake Passage
Drake Passage, Antarctica
The good weather continues for the Drake passage even if it's a bit more cloudy this afternoon. This is typically where the worst weather is encountered so it seems our luck continues. We were woken by an announcement at 7am about Humpback Whales feeding, something that annoyed those trying to enjoy a sleep in but good news for the rest of us. I dragged myself out of bed to enjoy a good 45 minutes on deck as the captain circled around where they were feeding. Brilliant start to what otherwise promises to be a long boring day as we sail to Cape Horn.
+12/11/2016Cape Horn
Cape Horn, Argentina
We woken at 6:45 by an announcement that we were passing Cape Horn. While fairly calm the Cape itself was shrouded in cloud and it was raining and hailing intermittently on deck. So not the most picturesque settings but we did sail pass.
Ushuaia, Argentina
We were bundled off the ship early in the morning as they had to get ready for the next trip out that started that evening. I had a couple of hours to kill before I could check in so wandered around town with a couple of others. The weather's been a mixed bag for my time in Ushuaia but that's suited me fine, as after 3 weeks stuck onboard I'm looking for some quite time to recharge. That means I haven't made much out of my two days here but it's been what I needed.
+16/11/2016Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina
I had a flight just after midday to Buenos Aires so checked out of my hotel as late as possible then waited around at the airpot until we were away. It had snowed overnight so the hills had a light dusting to just above the top level of town, until the rain arrived in the morning anyway. My first impressions of Buenos Aires are quite positive, it’s a pretty place, busy and full of life. There are trees all over the place blooming with bright purple flowers and in the mid twenties temperature wise it’s decidedly tropical after where I’ve been.