Expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula,
On this virtual tour you may see:
South Georgia, Cape Horn,
Falklands & Tierra Del Fuego
Majestic mountains dipped in snow...
Whales, seals, Soaring Andes condors...
Ice-blue Glaciers that shimmer like jewels..
This page was a former Patagonian newsletter.
Below is a subscriber's comment:
Thanks so much.
Animated GIF satellite photo showing the changes in the Antarctic continent
ice during the year 1998.
To see the animation, reload page.
When I saw the ad for vacationing in Antarctica I hit the magazine with
the back of my hand and cried "Yes!" Prior to that, I didn't even
know you could go there. Hardly anyone else knew anything about Antarctica
either I was to find when I mention I had tickets. The geographically challenged
automatically converted it to the North Pole. I got questions about white
bears. Those who did put it correctly in the southern hemisphere assumed
I would be traveling by dog sled with Admiral Byrd. What I knew was what
birders know -- in Antarctica are penguins.
I bought books. There are seventeen species of penguins spread all around
Antarctica. To see them all would require the $40,000 trip. Scrap that.
The $3,400 trip, inclusive airfare, hotel layovers, food and ship was possible.
Add in waterproof clothes, rubber boots and thirty rolls of film. I reserved
my spot and started studying.
Antarctica is a continent larger than the United States and Mexico combined,
separated from all other continents by a wide, below-freezing, swift-moving
Southern ocean so inhospitable to life as we think of it that only four
families of fish, one with clear-colored, antifreeze blood, can even survive
there. The usual ocean life are squid and krill, shrimp-like little guys
with too much fluorine for humans to eat. The continent itself is covered
with a two-mile thick ice sheet. Nothing, nothing at all, can live in the
interior. Okay, scientists live there. But they don't live off what's available
in Antarctica, so they don't count. Only the edges of the Antarctic ice
sheet melt. On the edges, life flourishes.
Dark rock, cold water and glaciers.
The edges are glacier-polished dark rock sheets. Per the ship's lecturer,
there is no soil, no trees, few plants, sparse lichen and moss. That's an
over-estimate. In three days ashore, I saw zero plants, two orange lichen
growths, and one patch of moss. In some places the snow is pink and green
with algae, which when viewed at a low angle, gives an impressionist picture
of a field of grass and wildflowers with penguins walking through. There
are millions of penguins, all very actively taking advantage of the summer.
Gentoo penguin stone nest. The male is moving stones. The female watches
where he puts the stones and coos approval or chatters and scolds him if
she doesn't like where he puts them.
You leave winter in the United States, heading for summer in Antarctica,
which is going to be just like the winter you just left with freezing temperatures
and sleet. Confusingly, you pass through a tropical summer in Buenos Aires
where the hibiscus are blooming and you get sunburned on the one-hour walking
tour. Then on to Tierra del Fuego, where the weather is perpetually bad.
It's named Land of Fires because passing explorers saw the fires by which
the Indians kept themselves from freezing.
The ship took two days to cross the infamous Drake Passage. The Drake lived
up to its reputation. Twenty-foot waves pitched and rolled and tossed and
heaved the eighty passengers and even some of the crew into sea sickness.
Two people fell and broke arms, one hit her head and got two black eyes,
another sprained an ankle. After a short look at the waves, and library
books leaping off shelves and people in chairs being dashed to the deck,
I retreated to wedge myself in my bunk and become starved and dehydrated.
(Sip water. Skip the crackers, you'll only throw them up.) The time I spent
in my bunk, sliding down hitting my feet on the wall, then sliding up and
hitting my head, bracing with elbows and knees to prevent being dumped out
during the up-pitched weightless rolling motions, was, well, interesting.
It sounds bad, but it wasn't. The crew took good care of us. Everyone, including
the sick and injured, were having the time of their lives. These eighty
passengers were experienced, dauntless travelers. At dinner one night, the
gentleman in charge of the expedition asked: "For how many of you is
this your seventh continent?" About twenty percent of the hands went
Any amount of traveling is worth getting to see penguins. We made two to
three landings a day. While others took the zodiacs boats to the Argentine
research station or the British historical station (where souvenirs are
actually sold), I stayed in the penguin colonies. Of the seventeen species,
I saw an incredible five.
The Magellanic penguins I wasn't ready for. We had hardly left port in Tierra
del Fuego. The ornithologist aboard ship was lecturing in the bow and pointing
birds out: "There's a Black-browed Albatross." "Those are
Wilson's Petrels flying like swallows above the water." I just happened
to glance over the rail and saw what I thought might be penguins -- but
they looked like ducks! I played it safe and asked like any tourist, pointing
over the side, "What are these?"
"Magellanic penguins! Oh, look everybody, Magellanic penguins!"
Even the ornithologist got excited. They nest at the tip of South America
in grassy hummocks.
Gentoo penguins were next. The first day in the wonderfully calm, glassy
waters of Antarctica, we landed at a Gentoo penguin colony.