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Antarctica

ADVENTURE to ANTARCTICA



          Roslyn Motter reporting......


For two years I’ve been promising Gigi the story of my trip to Antarctica in January, 2009. I’ve promised and promised and finally, I can stand the stress of having the half finished story on my computer for a second longer!

 

Lazing by the pool on a deck chair in the sun sipping Caipirinha;

loafing in the Jacuzzi half submerged in bubbling hot water watching icebergs pass by; sipping hot chocolate as penguins drift by atop ice flows;

and sitting on my own private balcony watching the most spectacular sunset in the world; these are just a few of the wonderful experiences I relished on my cruise on the Star Princess to Antarctica.

 

I’ve never been on a guided tour before, however we booked this trip through Travel Express in Balmain, who said that they specialize in taking the pain out of travel. Considering the scrapes I have been known to get into on my forages overseas, I thought that it could be helpful to have the pain taken out in advance!


                                 Hardy & Mumsy


Our guide for the voyage was Hardy Schneider, a most convivial and well organised man who seemed to make all problems disappear at the snap of our fingers. On the plane going to Argentina, he had us mysteriously upgraded and later, on the ship, we were all most grateful when, after our initial disappointment that nearly every single decent tour from the ship seemed to disappear the instant the booking office opened, Hardy was able to organize some ‘you beaut’ tours for our arrivals at Ushuaia in Patagonia, Argentina and Puerto Arenas in Chile. Without him we would have only been able to walk around the town which would have been most disappointing. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

 

                                      the Group


We travelled in a group which comprised travellers mostly from Sydney but also from as far away as Perth. On arrival in Buenos Aires, where we stayed for five days, Hardy organised some great events for us which included city tours, dinners in top restaurants, a tango night tour and a river cruise which were all chaperoned by our Argentinian guide, Monica, who introduced us to the Argentinian way of life.


                Big night out in Buenos Aires


If you visit Buenos Aires, please consider a trip down the Rio Plata as I very much enjoyed having a look at the fascinating little houses which line this river. I could easily see myself living here away from the stresses of the world – sitting on a dock watching the water, and all the boats drift by. The colourful little houses look like weekenders but apparently many people live in them permanently.


Unfortunately, Argentina has fallen on hard times since the year 2000 when their peso floated. The city of Buenos Aires is looking a bit worse for wear. The footpaths are poorly maintained - where workmen have drilled into the sidewalks, no one has bothered to replace the tiles and pedestrians have to keep a vigilant eye on the ground as there are numerous potholes wherever one walks.


At night in the city, colonies of street dwellers looking for recyclable items to barter, sift through bundles of rubbish which have been deposited on street corners. The barter economy was generated by the 2000 economic crisis.


The Argentinians are a resourceful and resilient lot. Those that lost their financial status in the crisis have found ways to survive and recoup. Our guide, Monica, was one of those who suffered badly. A former teacher, she has now turned her hand to the tourism industry.


  The cemetry where Eva Peron is interred


If you’re visiting Buenos Aires make sure to visit the fashionable suburb of Recoletta.  Eva Peron is buried in their famous cemetery which is definitely worth a walk around.  It is full of the most interesting mausoleums and we had a most enjoyable walk around looking at the inscriptions on the gravestones and mausoleums.


The shopping in Recolleta is fantastic. Fashionware sold here is right up to date with the lastest European styles. Also it was not overly expensive and compared most favourably with Sydney prices. Sadly, these fashions are much more flattering on slim Argentinian women (which most are) and so I cheered myself up with a stunning necklace which cost about $Aus 45. It certainly would have cost well over $100 in Australia.

 

                      It's the tango Ole!


I’m not too sure if any tax gets paid in Argentina though. In every boutique I visited, not one item was rung up on a cash register. In fact the only places I saw a cash register in operation were in supermarkets and big department stores.

                     Colourful houses


If you go to Argentina, try Alfajor biscuits. Alfajors are traditional Argentinian biscuits which comprise two biscuits joined with jam and coated in chocolate. I bought a box of them in a supermarket in Recolleta and if I’d known they were so delicious I would have filled my suitcase with them.


I was also impressed with the generosity of our hotel – the NY Hotel. On our arrival, one of the members of our group suffered severe pains in his kidneys. The hotel paid for his taxi to the hospital and for his medical tests. This was a kind and unexpected gesture to promote tourism.


After five days in Argentina we were keen to get a move on and on Saturday we boarded the ship for Antarctica. The Star Princess is a lovely liner and it was quite exciting exploring all the floors – from restaurants, bars and picture theatres to umpteen swimming pools and at least three spas, a gym and nightclub.


             Our ship found a friend


I was in a balcony cabin and where at first I thought that it was a bit of a waste of money, time would prove me wrong.


Each night a programme of the following day’s activities would be pushed under the door. The variety of entertainment was astonishing –magic performances, hypnotists, tango dancers, singers of every variety, line dancing classes, trivial pursuit contests, bingo, aerobics, wine tastings and art auctions. There was a plethora of guest speakers ranging from a rocket scientist who talked about GPS navigation systems, to numerous experts on the Falkland Islands, Chile, Argentina and Antarctica and Antarctic wildlife. All talks were recorded and played the next day on their cable television.


Of course, if all else failed, there was always eating! Here of course lay the problem. At home, the average person does not have a buffet breakfast, followed by morning tea, followed by a buffet lunch, followed by high tea with cucumber sandwiches and Devonshire tea, followed by a three course meal and late night supper. I


f they did, they would need to be doing Olympic training to work it all off, and unfortunately, the opportunities to do a significant amount of exercise except for stretching out on the deck and reading a book, are limited. One lady with whom I became quite friendly, said that during the trip she’d gone up two dress sizes. She admitted that since she’d paid so much for the ticket she thought she should get her money’s worth. I understood the sentiment well.

                      Food glorious Food


There were so many yummy things to eat. Breakfast was a showcase of the foods of the world from oatmeal porridge, chicken congee, wonton soup to grits. Waffles, pancakes, sausages of all shapes and sizes, fruit both fresh and stewed, Danish pastries, croissants, smoked salmon and herrings – it was all there and more. Lunch was just as amazing and dinner was a choice of entrees such as lobster bisque, savoury mousse, smoked salmon, followed by chateaubriand, rack of lamb, vegetarian strudel or Atlantic Salmon. Dessert was chocolate mousse, various ice creams, cake or pudding. So you can see it was hard to watch kilos or count calories.

Australia Day was celebrated on the ship - might have been because the Captain's wife was an Aussie!


I took a particular liking to the cocktails. Not used to having cocktails at home, I couldn’t resist trying quite a few on the ship’s cocktail menu. They seemed cheap enough at the time – costing only $US7 – (they do add 15% tip (for your convenience) to the bill every time you buy drinks of any kind on the ship) but unfortunately the weak Aussie dollar at the time meant that the price had doubled when the final damage bill was received at the end of the voyage.


A number of day stops had been planned, including Montevideo in Uraguay; the port of Stanley in the Falkland Islands; Ushuaia in Patagonia and Puerto Arenas in Chile.


Unfortunately, we missed the greater part of our planned stop at Montevideo as a gale force wind kept us at sea until 4pm.


The Falkland Islands are famous for their penguin and albatross colonies. However, the tours to see them were quickly booked out and I think most of the passengers decided to take walking tours. Stanley reminded me very much of an English village and of course their lunch specialty was fish and chips. We had been warned not to wear anything that looked remotely like it had come from Argentina and one of the locals told me that in the Falklands, Argentina is referred to as ‘East Chile’. The animosity lingers on, on both sides! Now that Britain has started drilling for oil off the Falklands, I’m sure Argentina is even more furious.


Despite the fact we were visiting in summer, it was nevertheless biting cold with a cutting wind.


Now we were on our way to Antarctica.


We were to spend five days cruising between icebergs, visiting bays and glaciers, and watching penguins and whales frolicking in their natural environment.


As we approached Antarctic waters the air became chillier and chillier. The night we reached the bottom of Argentina I thought the ship was going to turn over. We rolled violently all over the place and anything on a table in the cabin flew off and onto the floor. The next day someone told me that they’d jumped out of bed and started praying.


However, we all survived and as the air became ever chillier, we saw our first icebergs- spectacular cliffs of white and blue ice.


For five days we sailed around the bays of Antarctica drinking hot chocolate in the lounge and watching out for whales and the passing parade of penguins. It was now that it paid off to have a ringside seat on our own balcony. Right under our noses we could see penguins shooting through the water like torpedos, or  hitching a ride on floating chunks of ice.

                            The penguins entertain


I suppose the main problem was that no matter what side of the ship we were on, the  best action always seemed to be on the other side! This was definitely a case of the grass being greener on the other side. If I told someone I’d seen one whale, they immediately told me they’d seen five. Actually, I was under some misapprehension that everywhere we’d look we’d see seals, Emperor penguins, killer whales chasing penguins etc. The reality is, it’s a very big ocean down there and I never saw one seal (though of course others did!) and only a couple of whales. We didn’t see any Emperor penguins as they have their colonies more into the interior of Antarctica.


The cruise ships are also prevented by insurance clauses from sailing too close to the Antarctic shores.  Icebergs are a worry because the part you can see if only a fraction of the total iceberg. The biggest danger is under the water.


All along the way guest speakers gave running commentaries on the passing wildlife -from the birds to the sea life.


The scientists come from the Arctic Base to give us a lecture on Antarctica


One of the people on board asked the captain what he thought about global warming. He said that he had definitely noticed a big reduction in the amount of ice in the Antarctic region for this part of the year. He said that twenty years ago in this season it was extremely difficult to negotiate the Antarctic waters by ship. However, now the ice is much more thinly dispersed in the area. Nevertheless, recently I’ve heard that where one side of Antarctica has thinned out, the other side the ice has spread and become much thicker. Of course, cruise ships passing through the area by the thousands can hardly be helping.


                                 Spectacular


I think what I enjoyed the most was passing through the Fjords of Chile. Here we saw the largest glacier in South America. We travelled down the Magdalena Channel which joins the Strait of Magellan with the Cockburn Channel.


It was absolutely spectacular to laze on our own private balcony watching the spectacular passing parade of mountains of ice, islands, penguins and whales while we sipped our coffee and hot chocolate.


                                Jocelyn all rugged up


When we landed at Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world, we were taken by bus to Tierra del Fuego National Park. The drive to the park was wonderful. The houses lining the side of the road are absolutely gorgeous. They’re packed closely together, all painted in bright yellows, reds, blues and purples.

               The magnificant glacier


Unfortunately, someone introduced beavers into the National Park and these have caused all sorts of beaver destruction, leading to trees dying and waterways clogging up.

Later, we visited a penguin colony and saw penguins digging burrows. Sand flew everywhere as they set to work with their busy flippers.


        It was icy cold but didn't stop the dishards


The sorts of penguins you’re most likely to see in these areas are the Magellanic penguins, with two black stripes across its neck and the less plentiful Gentoo with its red beak.


It was all so long ago that I’m getting our stop overs mixed up in my head. One thing I do remember is a fantastic lunch at Puerto Arenas where we were given the drink Pisco Sour. I place it up there with the Singapore Airlines version of Singapore Sling.

                             Most southern Post Box


Tell you what – I was very disappointed to see plastic bags floating in the otherwise pristine waters of Puerto Arena in Chile. Given that this is very close to Antarctica, I guess the Antarctic will be their next port of call!


On the positive side, the ships have a strict ethical code of conduct regarding disposal of waste in the Antarctic. They are very careful not to dispose of any waste that could contaminate the region.

Our final destination was Santiago in Chile and I was most impressed by this city which somehow reminded me of Sydney. In fact Chile reminded me of New South Wales, especially since I saw quite a few eucalypts along the side of the road.


For all the single ladies reading this – Chilean men are very easy on the eye and affable too – so a couple of days wondering around any Chilean city could be most illuminating!

Special thanks go to Jocelyn Frederick & Marilyn Sullivan for some of these wonderful photos.

 

 copyright Roslyn Motter.