Photos and commentary from Feldman family vacations.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Journey to the South Pole: Santiago, Tierra Del Fuego & Beyond

From Antarctica
Greetings from Antarctica!

We are now steaming our way towards the Antarctica Peninsula. Here is a brief report of what we did and saw in our first three days of this journey:
Our plane route was a 3.5 hour flight from Houston to Panama City where we changed planes and then had a six hour flight to Santiago. We arrived in Santiago, Chile on Friday morning January 28. It was in the seventies and we enjoyed exploring the area around our hotel and resting from the trip to this city. On Saturday, there was a city tour planned by National Geographic which we did not find very interesting.

That evening there was a welcoming cocktail party and dinner with the group. We have about one hundred forty-four passengers from all over the US, Australia and India. You know it is a small world when you meet someone from Cape Cod and he knows your Houston friend’s parents. There are ten people from Texas including another couple from Houston. People range in age from fourteen (with his parents and two brothers and they are the only kids on the ship) to people in their eighties. There forty-seven single people – mostly females in their fifties and sixties.
We boarded a charter flight to a small city in Argentina called Ushuaia then boarded buses and took a trip into the beautiful Tierra del Feugo park. This town is known as the end of the earth and is inhabited by about 65,000 people.

After driving about twenty minutes, we got out and boarded these very large double-decker catamarans. We cruised the Kami river and had lunch. The landscape surrounding this river was magnificent. We were very lucky because it was fifty degrees and sunny. Our guides told us that it is usually raining and very cold. They also talked to us a lot about conservation efforts in the park. Historically, missionaries brought in foreign animals, including beavers and silver foxes, into the park, devastating local species. The park is 63,000 hectares of the southern tip of the Andes and borders neighboring Chile.

While on the catamaran, we went by a small stretch of land where we saw sea lions and birds that look like penguins, called Imperial Cormorant. Just as a reminder, the primary difference between sea lions and seals is that a sea lion has ear flaps and a seal does not. I really wish Michelle had been with us when we hung over the railing and stared at these wonderful creatures. We had our lunch on the catamaran and then took the bus to the ship where our delightful crew and on-board naturalists were waiting to greet us. I am glad Mike chose the largest room for us where we have plenty of space to move about.

We set sail around six in the evening. We had heard a lot about how rough the Drake passage seas would be but again we lucked out and had calm seas that gently rocked us to sleep after dinner. Food on the ship is good. We eat each meal with different folks - so interesting to get to know new people. Today I worked out at the ship’s rec center which is located toward the bow of the boat. It had glass on the front that enables you to watch the ocean and the birds at the same time as burning a few calories! We also had a safety session with the ship's captain where we learned what to do in case we abandoned ship.

Later, we were introduced to the naturalists -- most of whom have Ph.D’s in various areas of study including marine biology, ecology, marine mammals, etc. We also have two young female researchers on board who are studying for their advanced degrees in penguin research. I read a book while flying here on penguins and their current seventeen species. I was stunned to learn that in pre-historic time there was a five foot, seven inch penguin that weighed over 300 pounds – now that would be something to see!

We had a lecture on birds this afternoon. We have seen many even though we are in a vast ocean area. Oceanic birds, as they call them, spend eighty percent of their time out in the ocean. Some species like the Stormy Petras travel 17,000 miles between fall and winter even their wing span is only sixteen inches wide. There are several categories of Albatross birds and Mike has photographed one which we believe to be a Wandering Albatross. These beautiful blue-gray birds can stay out to sea for five to seven years without ever seeing land and fly as fast as fifty-seven miles per hour. Now that’s a job! All of these birds are scavengers for food on the ocean’s surface.

We have the captain’s dinner this evening and then off to bed early as we will reach the Antarctica peninsula and land by zodiacs. I am glad that we had a few days rest before the landing. The ship provides a mud room where we can put all of our big boots and other gear in lockers so we don’t have to take it to our room every day. They made everyone whose boots or back packs had been used before this trip to come to the mud room to be “disinfected” as they want absolutely no organisms or seedlings that might be stuck in the boot treads to be carried into Antarctica. They speak constantly of conservation and how to are to conduct ourselves while visiting this vast arctic wilderness.
Onward Ho, to the Land of Ice and Snow!


Blogger pmbond said...

I enjoyed reading this. Just getting into the history of expeditions to the South Pole, ill fated and desperate as some are, I find it fascinating and a picture of human endurance. Although not quite the difficultie our ancesters faced, still not without risk to do such a trek.
You obvioulsy getting alot out of this trip, where did you start and where do you end?

NB I just stumbled onto your blog looking at pictures of Elephant Island, currently reading Shakleton's journal.


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