Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Leaving the Island, Sunday, October 23, 2016

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Our recent trip to Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands and South Georgia is well behind us, but I admit to still getting acclimated, as well as excited when I think back on the many fine moments.

Part of returning home is to get back into whatever routine existed before we left.   The rest has to do with travel memories, putting them into perspective as to what was most important, and given all that we did, what was most meaningful?

Our time away was 18 days, with 13 days spent onboard the National Geographic Explorer.  Motivation for such a trip stemmed from reading about exploration and adventures of Shackleton and many others, for their exploits in the southern latitudes.  But we were open to a good adventure ourselves, learning about places completely new to us, and the birds, mammals and people we might encounter along the way.

Because this was billed by Lindblad as a special expedition - it was the company's 50th year offering Antarctic travel expeditions - that coincidentally was also the100th year of Sir Ernest Shackelton's heroic efforts in finding help at South Georgia.   He and 27 others spent nearly 18 months on the ice after their ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the ice pack, then sailed a small boat in treacherous seas from Elephant Island to South Georgia.  That feat is still considered one of the finest examples of fortitude and navigational success, given the sea conditions they were up against, but in determination it was equalled by the climb of Shackleton and two of his crew, up and over steep mountains and treacherous glaciers to at last reach the Stromness whaling station on the NE side of South Georgia. 

That was the background theme to our trip, one that I hoped would connect us in a meaningful way, including the possibility of retracing the route of Shackleton's final steps on his return to civilization.

Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Groggy from the airports and plane rides from Green Bay to Miami, and then to Buenos Aires, we spent a very comfortable overnight in a fine hotel in the old section of this Argentine city.  Several tours were offered, where we met others who would soon be our shipmates, and we learned about the people and the capital of Argentina.  The following morning, by 7:30, our contingency of approximately 70 was bussed to the domestic flight airport, where we boarded a LAN flight to Argentina's southernmost city near the tip of South America.  This is the port where our ship would get underway later that same afternoon.  In order to give a comparison of the N/S distance covered that day in Argentina, the jet flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia took 3 1/2 hours, the same approximate time it took to fly from OHare to Miami.

End of the transcontinental highway in the
Tierra Del Fuego national park. Dandelions reflect
the spring day's temperatures of over 50 F.   

Ushuaia is a city that's seen tremendous growth in recent years, in part due to incentives by the Argentine government to settle the area.  Not that many years ago the population was under 10,000.  And years before that, Ushuaia was the sparsely settled home of Argentina's federal penal colony, believed then to be far enough away from civilization so as to be a perfect place for a prison.  

The surrounding forests and its natural habitat, and the nearby harbors, have much to recommend Ushuaia for hiking and observing wildlife.  One animal found there today in abundance has turned out to be a major pest without natural predator, is the beaver.  It was introduced to the area as a few mating pairs, but today the numbers are so great and the range so extensive that they can't be controlled.

On a catamaran tour we were treated to observing our first groups of penguins and seals sunning on a rocky outcropping in the Beagle Channel.  The birdlife observed that afternoon was just a foretaste of what we were to see in the weeks to follow.  Thor's beard took a set in the breeze as the catamaran sped toward a colony of penguins, shags and elephant seals positioned on rocks near a harbor navigational light that serves as an icon for the area's tourism.  Today, tourism - ecotourism - is the key to the Ushuaia economy.

We disembarked from the catamaran at Ushuaia's main commercial pier.  A containership from Buenos Aires that shuttles products back and forth to this remote city was busy loading empty containers.  A supply ship resembling an oil patch service vessel was moored across the pier and astern of the Lindblad National Geographic Explorer.  Pier activity was so intense in the late afternoon, with trucks, lifts and other equipment moving about, that we were bussed the hundred yards or so from our landing to the Explorer's gangway, for our personal safety. Within minutes, we were shown our cabin and found our winter expedition gear on our beds.

If I held any concerns leading up to this trip for my own health and mobility - considering our isolation from medical care during our trip - I dismissed those thoughts rather quickly when I observed a number of fellow passengers finding a way to manage, many who appeared to be of an even greater age, and many who exhibited mobility difficulties.  I would soon learn that every one of them would get along just fine, given their personal initiative and confidence, and the kind assistance given by the ship's staff at every point along the way.
There were many dedicated Lindblad travelers, I also learned, who embarked with us, proud to be on their second, third, fourth - and even one couple on their fifth - trip to the Falklands and South Georgia.   They well knew the routine and what was to be anticipated along the way.  

I asked, somewhat incredulously, "What is it about this trip that brings you back so many times?"   Their answer: "Penguins!"  That, and the fact that even though they've managed to visit just about every place on earth, no place for them compared to South Georgia.

With that high recommendation imprinted in my mind, lines were cast off, the dining room was open for a buffet dinner, and we headed down the channel for the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic!

Our ship waited several hours for luggage that was late in arriving.  Then shortly
after sunset, we got underway for the Falkland Islands.  The first several days on the open
sea, once clear of the Beagle Channel, would take their toll among the
passengers, evidenced by empty seats in the dining room as
the ship moved about in the seas.

Note:  I won't attempt to do a day-by-day recap by blog.  However, I've scheduled a future date at the TPAC to show more photos, a few short videos, and to discuss in greater detail our trip to the Antarctic,   titled:  "People and penguins:  the southern latitudes."

Time of presentation:   4:00 pm, Saturday, December 17, 2016.   (Free will donations for the TPAC will be accepted at the door.)

 -  Dick Purinton

1 comment:

Tony Woodruff said...

This entry whets my appetite to hear more about your trip with Thor to the high southern latitudes. We look forward to your presentation on Dec.17.