Heads or Tails – The Antarctic Peninsula

Feb 22, 2023

Before we boarded the Plancius to hit the Drake, we spent the morning strolling around Tierra Del Fuego National Park, a 20minutes drive away from Ushuaia’s city center, brimming with tourists getting on and off cruises to Antarctica. Apparently 75 cruises were booked for this season. At Tierra, we took the Sendas Del Turbal Mirador Lapataia trail and hiked along the shores of the Beagle Channel where moss covered lenga tree trunks lined the pathway, ancient guindo or evergreen beech trees from a thousand years ago were inland. We identified a rufous tailed hawked looking sharp and a bunch of Magellan geese feeding on grass. Word was that the Magellanic Woodpecker was around, some people from our group spotted it. I observed holes they left in towering trees.

We were back in Ushuaia by noon, so I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the city center until we boarded the ship at 4pm. I resisted the urge to pore over its history, so I engaged in the superficial. Hit the high street to get a taste of Ushuaia fashion. It was siesta. Boo Hoo. Aborted. More walking around then, curious about what the real locals get up to. Although Ushuaia is nestled between the last stretch of the Andes and the Beagle Channel, it feels very industrious. Indigenous groups from thousands of years ago who were able to cope in the harsh weather conditions but not the diseases brought by the Europeans in the 19th century decreased in number. Soon after, Ushuaia became a place of exile where prisoners from across the country were sent to do menial work in the harsh climate, one to bring firewood from Tierra Del Fuego on the train which is now the famous “End of World Train” that travels at the speed of a snail. 

Feb 22 – 24, 2023

After mandatory health and safety briefings, we sailed towards the Shetland Islands, a group of Antarctic islands, accompanied by dozens of birds, albatrosses and petrels following us, soaring above the sea and diving into the water. It was fascinating to watch them fly thousands of kilometers in open sea, in particular the Wandering Albatross, one of the largest flying birds, that lock their wings horizontally to take advantage of the winds.

We prepared for rough weather across the Drake passage, an announcement was made that portholes in the lower decks were going to be covered. In no time, the ship surged across the two oceans, rolling from side to side, dunking into the swells that were pretty wild. I forced myself to breakfast where there were only a handful of guests testing their balance and coordination. Occasionally, some of the chairs toppled over and flung to the other end. It was an exceptional experience I wanted to live through.  Since we were going to be at sea, we sat through lectures about seals, birds and the Antarctic environment until conditions settled.

As the swells calmed down early afternoon on the 24th, we went up to the Bridge and out on to the top deck for some fresh air. Chinstrap Penguins were porpoising at a distance, while we spotted humpback and fin whales surfacing and blowing. 

In the evening, we took a short zodiac ride to Yankee harbour, discovered in 1820 by Captain Andrew Macfarlane, who explored the Antarctic Peninsula at the time. Another briefing about zodiac riding safety rules, the dos and dont’s and what to do if the zodiac driver accidentally fell into the frigid water, ice floes all over. Erm…

Once we landed on Yankee’s cobblestone beach clashed with large blocks of ice at shore, breeding colonies of Gentoo penguins were on the beach’s raised terrace, while Antarctic fur seals grunted at the other end of the island. It was our first glimpse of the monochromatic Antarctic scenery, turned theatrical as the sun began to set. The landing was short and an unanticipated detour from Half Moon Island, our first landing that was halted because of the sudden change in conditions. 


3 responses to “Heads or Tails – The Antarctic Peninsula

  1. I’m finally finding time to read about your latest adventure. Wow, your current obsession with the Arctic is so thrilling, and I love that I can experience its beauty through your eyes. No need for me to go there! 🥰

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