Thursday, March 08, 2007

stumble of the penguin ...

Here's some pics and video from my Antarctic Peninsula trip in 2005.

After a 4-hour domestic flight from Buenos Aries (and nearly 48 hours after leaving Leeds) we finally reached Ushuaia - sitting on the banks of the Beagle Channel against the backdrop of the stunning mountains of Tierra del Fuego - and the start point for our voyage.

Ushuaia bills itself as the southernmost city in the world, but it's really just a small town of around 5,000 people with a thriving harbour catering for frieght and Antarctic tourism in seemingly equal quantity.

Many of the wooden houses outside the centre of town are on wheels, so moving house means literally just that, no need for packing etc.

The other notable feature of Ushuaia is the Irish bar (yes, everywhere really does have one) with a signed Maradonna shirt on the wall behind the bar. They have a fine collection of vintage-style Guiness posters, but curiously no supplies of the black-stuff itself ...

Our 2 days sailing across the Drake Passage were calm by normal standards (the previous trip had taken 4 days due to an encounter with a pair of hurricances), but it was still enough to give us a first taste of "Drake Shake" - the continual rocking motion that sent most passengers scurrying to their cabins with profound seasickness.

When we reached the calmer waters around the peninsula the weather cleared and we enjoyed a day of drifting through incredible scenery (see opposite), with regular zodiac rides that took us up close to the kind of wildlife you normally only see on TV.

Over the next 4 days in and around the peninsula we saw whales (humpback and orca), seals (weddell, fur, elephant & leopard) and a staggering number of birds.

The Leopard Seals (left) are the Antarctic's top predator, but seemed happy enough to let us drift right alongside in our Zodiac. While the Elephant Seals (right) are just big and very smelly indeed - at well over a tonne I didn't get too close.

One of the major highlights of the trip was hanging out with the Penguins - every morning around 6am we'd get kitted up and head off in the Zodiac's to go see them.

These chaps are having a little difficulty getting down to the beach ...

Finally this short video was shot on the way back, with the notorious Cape Horn in the background. It should help you imagine the effects of Drake Shake ... in fact, despite 4 further nights in Buenos Aries and a long trip home I could still feel the swaying when I got back to Leeds if I just closed my eyes ...