Sometimes it is good to try something new, and that was true of our journey to the
Antarctic. We had booked a cruise through the southern Caribbean before Hurricane Irma
arrived and did severe damage to many of the ports we were to visit. I do not see
devastation as a tourist attraction. Yes, I know that tourist dollars contribute in a big way
to rebuild these economies, but I do not enjoy being the rich tourist observing and
connecting with people who don’t have a safe place to sleep—just a personal choice.
Sandra and I both went through the cruise catalogues and ensuing conversations
revealed that the only place that had caught our mutual attention was the Antarctic cruise.
A Manitoba couple going to the Antarctic in January did seem a bit like taking coals to
Newcastle. We had seen ice before, but we decided to take the trip. It now rates as one of
our favourite destinations. Argentina, Uruguay, and the Iguazu Falls adventures are
covered elsewhere, but all were part of the lead-up to our visit to the bottom of the world.
A conversation with a long time friend who had taken the cruise a couple years
earlier revealed that the weather could be a bit of a challenge. They had waited three days
for the weather to clear, allowing them to carry on from the tip of South America.
A bit more reading told me that the trip around Cape Horn was judged to be one
of the most dangerous in the world and by this time was being used by very few
commercial ships. Opening the Panama Canal had changed shipping routes and a century
later, doubling the size of the canal had all but spelled the end of The Horn’s role in the
progress of commerce.
Research showed that sailing round The Horn had always been a challenge;
legend has it that this was where the practice of pirates wearing gold rings in their ears
originated. After successfully navigating a trip around The Horn, pirates would pierce
the ear that was landside during their journey then place a gold ring in that ear. It was an
interesting story and I was not able to interview any pirates to check the validity so I let it
go at face value.
There is something about penguins that draws you in to take their pictures, and
the promise of seeing several penguin rookeries was very appealing. Suffice it to say that
I took enough pictures of birds in their tuxedos to match any wedding photographer’s fill
of the suit style. I was even tricked by the cormorants, which look a great deal like
penguins, but the fact that they fly gives away their secret.
Sea lions provided more subjects for photos—thank heavens that photos are only
visual and not aromatic because sea lions stink. On the positive side, they move slowly
and are found in large colonies so the photo opportunities seem endless—but still they are
Our last stop before heading into the ice fiords of the Antarctic was Ushuaia,
Argentina, a city nestled between two mountain ranges. It offers some great skiing along
with a selection of all the trinkets required by a place of this nature.
We went ashore and the weather did not disappoint, it was as cold and windy as
promised in any story we had read or heard. Sandra made it to the end of the pier and that
was it, she was returning to the ship. I persevered just as bravely as the sailors of old and
made my way to the town square.
It was indeed a tourist town and boasted a Hard Rock Cafe, only a few blocks off
the square. By now I had joined forces with another brave soul from the cruise ship and
together we made our way to the Hard Rock. We sampled a couple of the local ales; I
made the obligatory purchase of the Hard Rock Cafe Ushuaia pin and made my way back
to the ship. The weather had not improved but I was by no means considering having my
ear pierced because of the successful sojourn. It was memorable but would not justify
having that kind of pain inflicted—a t-shirt maybe, a piercing never.
The next morning’s weather was a great deal better and Sandra and I ventured
into town to find it at least as touristy as expected. When you are blessed with the title of
being the southernmost city in the world you might as well use it—and these folks did;
every type of souvenir you could imagine was emblazoned with this slogan.
Six decades of winter in Manitoba did not show me all there was to know about
ice; I was still amazed by the sheer magnitude, and the range of colouring in the ice,
including white, blue, green, yellow, black, and striped.
Most of my ramblings about places I have been involve the people I have met,
what they told me or showed me about the areas where they live. The trip to Antarctic did
not afford me the opportunity to meet many—if any people at all.
We did have a crew of four young men join us on the cruise ship, providing us
with a lecture on their work at one of the research stations. While I was impressed with
their presentation, I found it less noteworthy than their performance in the dining room
where they made short work of the fresh vegetables in the salad bar.
The number of research stations on the ice was something I had never thought
about. The size and condition of the various stations reflected an obvious difference in
the budgets that countries allocate to polar research; each post had its own quirky
appearance, which added to the individuality.
The Antarctic ice was a visual far beyond my expectations. A conversation that
remains vivid in my mind, took place with a lady from Minnesota on the deck of the
cruise ship, as we watched a piece of ice, fall off an iceberg.
“That was huge,” she said, “that piece was a big as a piano.”
Just then the Captain’s voice came over the PA: “For those of you who just saw
that piece of ice fall into the sea” he informed, “that was about the size of an average
three bedroom home.”