That´s right, we just arrived back from Antarctica this morning! It was stunning.
The blog incommunicado was not planned, but was the result of being too tired to write after first dealing with banking, accomodation, transport and other issues at e-mail cafes. From Bariloche in Argentina we travelled down to Puerto Montt in Chile. The guide books describe Puerto Montt as a city with a setting similar to Vancouver or Seattle. The weather there is certainly the same, but that´s about where the similarities end. Pleasant enough for a few days or as a transportation hub. A traveller we met from Rome, who was frustrated with southern Italians, said that Puerto Montt was nicer/cleaner than places in souther Italy. We´ll go back there later to hike in the giant larch forests and explore the island of Chiloe but that might be about it.
From Puerto Montt we boarded the 3-night Navimag ferry down to Puerto Natales with a short stop in tiny Puerto Eden. Puerto Natales is the gateway to the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, the most visited park in Patagonia. However, we were in a rush to get down to Ushuaia to try to get a last minute berth to Antarctica and so caught a bus the next morning.
The landscape through southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego was extreme. Windswept, not a tree to be found, only sheep, guanaco (like a llama but closely related to a camel), and rhea (large flighless birds). The ferry across the Magellan Straight was interesting. No pier, instead the ferry had a gate that lowered onto the beach, but it was so windy that the ferry was blown around. When the bus neared Ushuaia, the Fuegian Andes sprouted from out of nowhere and trees returned.
Ushuaia is a pleasant enough city, the southernmost city in the world, nestled between a range of 1,200-1,500m peaks. From here we climbed up the Glacial Martial, spent three days in the National Park, and then boarded our boat to Antarctica.
We were lucky to get a last minute berth aboard the G.A.P. ship the Polaris. If you remember, G.A.P.´s other ship the Explorer sunk in November. For this reason there were a lot of cancellations/refunds and G.A.P. leased this ship from a Russian shipping company to finish the season (most people buy tickets a year in advance). At 65 passengers, the Polaris is much smaller than most other boats out here which allows for more frequent shore landings
The ten days aboard the ship and especially the four days in Antarctica were magical. We had two humpback whales swim UNDER our zodiac, saw leopard seals from 10 ft away, and countless penguins, albatross, petrels, fur seals and ice, lots of ice.
Plans for the next week are to trek around in the mountains around Ushuaia and then go back to Chile to trek in Torres del Paine. Hopefully the next blog update will not take so long.
Some photos posted at http://www.flickr.com/photos/edenandjosh/
Josh and Eden