December 15-16, 2019 Buenos Aires, Argentina to San Diego, CA

Buenos Aires Mall

Buenos Aires Cultural Museum

Buenos Aires Church

The morning weather was raining but as the day progressed it gradually improved until late afternoon when the skies cleared and the sun came out. We checked out of our hotel room about 10:30am and checked our luggage for the remainder of the day until it was time to leave for the airport. We walked with Eric and Sally and Sandy and Becky to the Recoleta neighborhood where they were having a handicraft fair. There were probably a couple of hundred small stalls where artisans sold things they had created. There was lots of jewelry, paintings, woodcrafts, crocheted clothing, sculpture, and more. Everyone purchased an item or two for souvenirs or gifts.

For lunch we all went to a fast food type hamburger and hot dog restaurant that Eric and Sally had enjoyed a couple of years ago when they were in Buenos Aires. They sold an assortment of hot dogs and burgers with a variety of condiments, French fries and drinks.

We meandered around town a bit looking for a last empanada for Kent, but we had trouble finding them where we were. We finally found a restaurant that served them in the food court at a very nice shopping mall. The shops in the mall had beautiful window displays and the central atrium was decked out in holiday displays and lights.

Our shuttle came to the hotel to pick us up for the international airport about 6:00pm. Mila and Neil were on our flight also. We boarded a flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina about 10:00pm bound for Houston, Texas, arriving about 5:00am. This was a long ten-hour flight but we had some United Club passes so we enjoyed a bit of breakfast and coffee at the United lounge. We departed Houston about 9:40am for our final leg home. After pushing away from the gate and taxiing to runway a young woman ran up the aisle wanting off the airplane. The pilot turned us around and returned to the gate to let her off the plane. As luck would have it, the jetway we just departed from was not working and so they could not pull the ramp up to the plane. We finally had to be pulled to another gate where the jetway was working to let her off the plane before departing. We left Houston about 90 minutes late, arriving exhausted in San Diego about 12:30pm.

December 14, 2019 Ushuaia, Argentina to Buenos Aires, Argentina

Kent in Ushuaia

Ushuaia Christmas Tree

Ushuaia Flowers in Bloom

Ushuaia Roses in Bloom

We had breakfast onboard before boarding a bus at 8:15am for the five-minute ride into town. We were given 90 minutes in Ushuaia to look around before departing for the nearby airport and our flight to Buenos Aires. It was a Saturday morning and most of the shops were closed at this early hour so most folks just window shopped. We were able to buy some chocolate candy!

We arrived at the airport about 10:15am where we checked our bags in and went through security for our 12:15pm charter flight. We departed early and arrived in Buenos Aires about 3:00pm where we claimed our bags and boarded a bus for our hotel.

Our hotel for one night was the Hotel Emperador where we had stayed for a couple of nights before we headed south to Ushuaia to board the ship to Antarctica. For dinner we walked a short distance to a local Italian restaurant called Figaro with travel mates Eric and Sally, Becky and Sandy from the Carolinas. When we arrived about 7:00 it was too early for the locals to dine and there were only two people in the restaurant. By the time we left after 9:00 the restaurant was filled to capacity.

December 13, 2019 Cruising Drake’s Passage

Captain at the Bridge Tour

Cape Horn

Ship’s Position at Cape Horn

Ushuaia Upon Arrival

We had a quiet, smooth, uneventful night at sea on the Drake’s Passage. By morning the air outside was cold and gray but the water was nearly smooth.

After breakfast we took a short tour of the bridge with the captain and the navigator onboard. The ship was built in 2003 but most of the equipment in the bridge was replaced and modernized about six months ago. The equipment appears to be very modern with colored monitors although they do still also use a backup system with the traditional maps in case of computer failure.

We attended a lecture on whales in Antarctic where we learned about the size, markings and differences of the area’s whales. Some of these whales can intake as much as 5,000 gallons of food and water in one swallow before straining the water back out through their comb-like brushes they use instead of teeth. Some of the whales are very particular about their diet and will only eat one species of animal, like only the breast of a penguin or a particular variety of salmon.

About 11:00am we sailed by Cape Horn, the furthest point of South America, before heading northeast to enter the Beagle Channel for the final leg of our voyage. The weather was cold, drizzling and gray outside but the outside decks were filled with people taking photos.

We then attended a lecture on the life of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton who was a British Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was born in Ireland before moving to London at the age of ten. His first expedition was from 1901 to 1904 under Captain Robert Falcon Scott. From 1907 to 1909 he and three comrades set a new record for traveling the furthest south, only 112 miles from the South Pole. His third expedition was from 1914 to 1917 when he hoped to cross Antarctic from sea to sea, via the pole. Unfortunately, disaster struck when their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in ice and slowly crushed before the shore parties could be landed. The crew escaped by camping on the ice under the boat they sailed in until it disintegrated. Then they launched the life boats to reach Elephant Island and finally South Georgia Island over 830 miles away. In 1921 Shackleton returned to Antarctica but died of a heart attack while his ship was moored in South Georgia. At his wife’s request, he was buried there.

After lunch we attended an interesting lecture showing some of the footage from an underwater drone that explored the waters of Deception Island last week while we were there. The drone showed an incredible number of living creatures on the sea floor that you would not expect in such a cold climate. The sea floor was covered with sea stars, sponges, sea urchins and sea snakes. Many of these creatures were things that we have never seen before and the colors were unbelievable.

At 5:00pm we met up with the Vantage Travel group in the library for a look back at our trip to Antarctica and to see a slide presentation that our group leader, Paula, had prepared for us. She had taken photos along the voyage, including a group photo, and will send the photos to all of us via Drop Box when we get home. She said that others will also be able to share their photos if they like, which might be nice to select a few more photos to add to our collection.

After dinner some of the exploration staff presented some of their favorite moments from our voyage. This was followed by a slide show and movie of our voyage that you could purchase in the gift shop onboard. There were two photographers onboard who took great photos during our entire voyage.

We arrived back in Ushuaia about 9:00pm, nearly 10 hours early, due to the smooth seas in the Drakes Passage. Some guests chose to go into town and have a look around, but we chose to go to bed about 10:00pm.

December 12, 2019 Cruising Drakes Passage

Midnatsol Cabin

Midnatsol Cabin Bath

Midnatsol Panorama Lounge

Midnatsol Lounge

Midnatsol Upper Deck

We started our journey back north to Ushuaia once again crossing the Drake Passage. Lucky for us the seas were very calm and the skies continued to shine brightly. Since the Hurtigruten exploration team had been busy with our landings, camping, photography and snowshoeing, they filled this day with lectures and films.

We first attended a lecture on the Antarctic Treaty which allows all countries the opportunity to do approved research on the continent but does not allow any country to own any portion of the continent. The treaty has been working well until now, but there is concern about what will happen when the treaty comes up for re-negotiation in 2048. The treaty only applies to the land and ice mass, but does not apply to the surrounding ocean. Counties like China have been doing much research in the ocean.

Next, all guests needed to attend a disembarkation meeting to learn about: returning our boots we used for landings, paying our bills, retrieving our passports, etc. The process went smoothly as people returned their boots and collected luggage tags for the disembarkation in two days.

We then attended a showing of the BBC’s Frozen Planet series, Episode 3, about the Arctic and Antarctica. This episode showed the lives of the polar bears, whales, seals and penguins and the often-difficult life they live with the changing environment.

After lunch we attended a lecture on the world’s changing climate. Here we saw many graphs and charts about how temperatures around the world have continued to rise over time. We saw information about emissions from many sources that contribute to the warming and some ideas about how we might reduce the effects.

One of the members of the expedition team owns 30 arctic dogs that pull sleds in the most northern town in the world. He shared with us some very interesting facts, videos and photos about these dogs and how they not only survive but thrive in such a cold climate. They love tow work and are very dependable. Their diet includes such things as whale for the essential oils. They eat different things depending on the time of year, the weather and what work they need to do.

The dinner on this evening was a fixed seating dinner for the Captain’s Farewell Dinner. They served us a glass of champagne for the captain’s toast. The menu included a choice of Char fish or reindeer steak. The deer was not my favorite meal on the ship but it was a different experience.

After dinner we attended a movie including footage from a 1929 voyage around Cape Horn on a wooden sailing vessel that had no motor and was only moved by the ingenuity and power of the wind and man. The seas were extremely rough and the footage was incredible to believe. It was narrated in 1980 by one of the ship’s crew members who had filmed it. Very interesting.

December 11, 2019 Damoy Point, Antarctica

Damoy Point Lockroy Historic Antarctic Station

Kent with the Explorers Tent

Damoy Point Skua

Damoy Point Argentinean Emergency Hut

Damoy Point British Survey Hut

Midnatsol Crew Show

This was our last stop before we began our journey back towards Ushuaia, Argentina, and our return to civilization. When we awoke in the morning the sun was once again shining brightly and white mountains surrounded us in every direction. The water was scattered with chunks of ice ranging in size from small to very large. The temperature was a comfortable 40 degrees Fahrenheit with no wind.

The landing site on this day was located on a small rounded hill with several penguin rookeries. Some guests headed out first for a snowshoe outing or a photography expedition in the snow. This is a paid adventure similar to the camping out and we did not feel compelled to pay to spend more time out in the snow and ice.

After breakfast in the dining room, we attended a lecture with a biologist onboard who spoke about the different birds found in this region of Antarctica. For it being so cold, there are quite a few birds that not only live in the region, but also nest and reproduce in Antarctica. Since there are no trees, grasses or vegetation (only algae and lichen), most of these birds rely on fish to survive. There are some however who rely on other birds’ eggs, chicks or dead animals to survive. The largest birds in the area have wing spans of about ten feet across which is just amazing. Most of the birds are white or shades of brown, black and white to blend in with the environment.

We were scheduled to go ashore about 2:30pm but the snowshoe group had not yet returned to the ship. Since the ship can only have 100 guests ashore at any time we had to wait to depart until about 3:15pm when more guests had returned to the ship. The skies were clear and sunny and the temperature was very warm. We wore lighter layers of clothes but it was still very warm hiking up the hillsides.

Damoy Point has a series of gently sloping hills leading up to the site of an ice airplane runway and a British Antarctic Survey hut built in 1973 and last used in 1993. Today the site has been repaired and converted to a mini museum. Unfortunately, it was closed on this day. There is also an Argentinean emergency shelter built in 1953. The views of the bay and the surrounding mountains from the airstrip are spectacular. We saw several penguin rookeries with busy penguins moving stones and a Skua bird resting on a rock. The ship had put up a small tent similar to one that had been used by previous explorers (Roald Amundsen) so guests could take photos next to it.

From the runway you could see down the hillside to Port Lockroy where you can find the most southerly operational post office in the world. The bay was discovered in 1904 and used for whaling between 1911 and 1931. During World War II, the British military established the Port Lockroy Station A on tiny Goudier Island in the bay. The station continued to operate as a British research station until 1962. In 1996 the station was renovated and is now a museum and post office operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. A staff of four typically processes 70,000 pieces of mail sent by 18,000 visitors who arrive by ship during the five-month Antarctic cruise season. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we visited the area.

The crew put on a talent show at 10:00pm where many of the ship’s crew had a part to play. The panorama lounge was packed with guests who came out to support the crew. The crew sang songs, performed modern dances, Pilipino folk dances, played the violin and more for about an hour. Some of the performances were good, others not so good, but the crew seemed to be enjoying themselves and the guests had a good time as well.

December 10, 2019 Gonzalez Vadela Station, Antarctica

Gonzalez Vadela Station

Gonzalez Vadela Station Direction Sign

Gonzalez Vadela Station White Penguin

Gonzalez Vadela Station Penguin Eggs

Gonzalez Vadela Station Living Room

It was another beautiful sunny day with temperatures around 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The crew tells us that it is extremely rare to have so many lovely sunny days with little wind in a row as we have had. Whales and other wildlife have been present also.

Our landing on this day was at the Gonzalez Vadela Station operated by the Chilean military during the summer months. The station was named after a Chilean president who was the first head of state to visit Antarctica. The station is located on a small peninsula that juts out into the water and is covered with Gentoo penguins and all the poop that goes with them. Our walkway was surrounded by penguins nesting on their very well-developed nests of small rocks. There must be a much greater abundance of rocks at this location because many of the nests were very large. When the penguins stand up, many of them were hiding one or two eggs that they would adjust with their beaks before covering the eggs again. There was even one penguin that lacked much color and was nearly beige in color.

Today for lunch we ate with three Australians we met on board. Marcus and Jim, from Sydney, were a couple who have been together for 23 years. They were traveling with their straight friend, Bryan, from New Castle. We had some laughs as we became better acquainted over lunch.

The station has about fifteen service members manning it from Chile. They welcomed visitors from researchers to cruise ship passengers. There is a small museum on the property with many black and white photos of historic events in the area. They were also selling some souvenir t-shirts, patches, pins and stickers for your passport. We were welcomed into the residence where the service members live to see the kitchen, living room and dining room. The residence was comfortable looking and they even had a lighted Christmas tree in the living room.

Back onboard the ship we sailed further south where there was much floating ice and icebergs to contend with. The captain had hoped to take us through a narrow channel with high mountains on the sides for its scenic beauty, but by 8:00pm when we reached the channel, there was too much ice to continue. Instead, we stopped our travel south and just parked in the sea to admire the beauty of the area as the sunlight changed the shadows of the ice-covered mountains.

December 9, 2019 Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Neko Harbor

Neko Harbor Penguin Pair

Neko Harbor Penguin Rookery

Neko Harbor Penguins

Neko Harbor Landing Site

Paradise Harbor Campground Island

This morning we went ashore at Neko Harbor with another gorgeous sunny day in Antarctica. The hike up the hillside was much less steep than in days past and Kent was able to make it up the hill to the penguin rookery for a look. The penguins had created a couple of penguin highways cut into the snow like a foot-deep channel going up the hillside to the rookery. We could see penguins’ heads bobbing along up and down the channel between the water and the rookery. The penguins were busy stealing pebbles from other nests and sitting on their nests.

Mark hiked up the hillside further to a place where the views of the harbor were easier to see and took some photos while Kent waited at the rookery below. Every vista and direction you look is different as the ice, snow and glaciers create unique beauty everywhere. This area is known for large pieces of ice falling and creating large waves so they kept us well off the beach when we were going ashore. We did not experience any ice falling on this day.

Later in the morning we attended a lecture on krill that most of the animals in the sea feed on. The krill are a small shrimp like crustacean that is very plentiful in the cold waters around Antarctica. There are two researchers onboard who are up in the bridge documenting the number of wildlife they see, along with their location. This will assist in making sure that the wildlife has enough krill in the areas where they live and hopefully allow fishing of the krill to be done in areas where there are more than enough krill. Krill are used for fish food, feeding livestock and fish bait. Research has found that krill oil can be effective in the lowering of “bad” LDL cholesterol and may increase “good” cholesterol. So, we may be seeing more things with krill in it.

At 5:30pm it was time for us to go out on one of the tender boats to explore the area around our ship called Skontorp Cove in Paradise Harbor. We saw some seals, several varieties of birds and the usual penguins. There is also an Argentinean research station on the harbor. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and colder than in the past few days. With a white cloudy sky, white ice and gray looking water, everything kind of blurs together and does not look nearly as beautiful as in the sunshine.

Before dinner we had our daily update for the activities planned for the following day. After the update the ship’s navigation officer gave us a short lecture on the navigation of the ship. We learned that the ship uses both paper maps, GPS, the website for weather reports, NASA satellite images for ice volume, sonar and a software program from Norway. The software tracks every ship’s navigation equipment in Antarctica to register the depth of the water at every point. The depth of most locations was last measured by a string and a weight in the early 1900’s and many of these measurements are lacking current conditions.

After dinner, 30 of the guests onboard headed out on a camping adventure on a nearby island. They paid $500 each for the opportunity to pitch their own tents and camp out until 6:30 in the morning. The ship provides the tents and down sleeping bags as well as some type of latrine since you are not allowed to leave anything on land. Oddly, this activity did not appeal to us.

December 8, 2019 Danco Island, Antarctica

Danco Island Landing Site

Danco Island Penguin Rookery

Danco Island Penguin Rookery

Danco Island

Chiriguano Bay Ice

Chiriguano Bay Ice Sculpture

Towel Animal

We arrived about 5:00am at Danco Island this morning. This island was charted by a Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Adrien de Gerlache in 1897-1899. Danco Island was the site of a British research station from 1956 to 1959 with the intention of researching the geology. The main hut was removed in 2004.

Our tender boat took us ashore at 6:00am with beautiful clear skies and sunshine. Our landing spot is home to several penguin rookeries. The penguins were busy moving rocks, building nests, mating and just hanging out. Many of the penguins had already hatched their eggs which are about twice the size of a chicken’s eggs. Once in a while we would come across an eggshell which was broken, probably picked up by a predator bird.

There are about 15 vessels sailing in an area of about 35-mile radius but you would not know that anyone else was in the area. The sites where we stop are reserved by each cruise company about six months in advance and as the date draws closer and depending on the weather conditions they are changed or confirmed. This assures that two ships are not competing for space at any one site at any given time. The area is quite small because as you travel farther south the ice and ice flows prohibit you continuing. There are a few ice breaker ships that can cut through ice that is up to a yard thick, but these ships are booked long in advance and can only travel into the arctic circle a short time during the year.

We attended a lecture on the geology and ice of Antarctica, where the lecturer said the journey is not all about the penguins. We learned about how Antarctica is one and a half times the size of the United States. We also learned about how the land masses of the world have changed constantly over millions of years and how Antarctica was once a jungle. This has been confirmed by fossils found on the continent.

Our cabin steward cleans our cabin once each morning about 8:00am. On this morning he left two towel animals for us on the beds. After the cabin stewards are done cleaning rooms they have additional duties like assisting guests disembarking the ship at the tender pit or working in the dining room.

In the early afternoon the ship moved positions to the beautiful and picturesque Chiriguano Bay. Here we explored the area with cruising the bay on the tender boats. The floating ice is like a sculpture garden with all types of shapes and sizes of sculptures. Some have birds or penguins on them while others remind you of animals or architectural buildings. We even saw several Humpback Whales as they meandered the area spouting and waving their tails.

December 7, 2019 Orne Harbor, Antarctica

Kent and Mark in Orne Harbor

Orne Harbor Hike

Orne Harbor

Orne Harbor Iceberg

Orne Harbor Chinstrap Penguin

Orne Harbor Penguins

Orne Harbor Penguins

On this day we arrived at Orne Harbor on the western side of mainland Antarctica about 7:00am for a day of exploration. The harbor is about one mile wide and was filled with many floating pieces of ice. The skies were partly cloudy, it was dry and the temperature was just a little above freezing.

At 11:30am we headed out for a bit of a strenuous hike on shore. We had to climb up a switch-back trail to the top of a ridge about 1,000 feet above sea level. The expedition team had come along before us and created a trail for us to follow, well-marked with red flags and cones. They had plenty of walking sticks for everyone to use during the climb. Many folks chose not to climb to the top but we persevered and reached the summit. Once we reached the top of the hill we followed the ridge to a Chinstrap penguin colony. The penguins were busy building rock nests, stealing the neighbor’s rocks and squawking at each other. The smell of poop was not particularly pleasant but not as bad as it might have been.

The climb was treacherous enough that Kent fell multiple times on the walk up and the walk back down was even more treacherous. Kent lost his balance on the snow regularly and would end up falling. At one point he fell and began to slide down the slope towards the rocky bay below. Several crew members came running for him and telling him to put his legs in front of himself and to stop himself from sliding further. Once he stopped himself, the crew assisted him in getting the rest of the way down the hill to the tender boat for the return journey to the ship. All in all, we were out on the excursion for about 2.5 hours.

After a short break we bundled ourselves up again for an afternoon boat ride around the area. We spent about 75 minutes on one of the tender boats exploring the floating icebergs and area glaciers. It was like going to a sculpture garden with each ice berg like a unique piece of sculpture. Sometimes we would find penguins floating along on top of icebergs. The glaciers have crevices and cracks that appear very blue in color from the reflection of light from the water and sky. The glare from all of the water and ice would have been overwhelming if not for the polarized sunglasses we had. The glasses discolored some of the scenery and made it look almost like twilight at times but at least you could see everything with ease.

After our cruise we stopped on the eighth-floor bar where every afternoon they serve soup, cookies, cakes and fruits, along with coffee and tea. On this day the soup was a potato and leek soup that was very buttery and tasty. The cookies are small and very crispy but we are always able to eat them. They also put out an assortment of small squares of cakes.

After dinner we departed our position and several Humpback whales were spotted along the way. More visible are the penguins who seem to be traveling in every direction jumping out of the water as they travel.

December 6, 2019 Deception Island, Antarctica

Deception Island Map

Deception Island

Deception Island Krill

Deception Island Penguins

Whalers Bay Buildings

Whalers Bay

Whalers Bay Boats

Leaving Deception Island

Fruit Carving Demonstration

We arrived at Deception Island about 6:00am in full sunshine and with temperatures about 34F degrees. This island is a caldera of an active volcano that has partially collapsed over time and filled with water allowing ships to enter the center of the caldera through a small passage. The volcano has erupted in recent years in 1967 and 1969 destroying scientific stations. The size of the island is approximately 7.5 miles in diameter with the highest peak being nearly 1,800 feet in height.

The island was the site of a short-lived fur-sealing industry in the early 1800’s. In the early 1900’s an active whaling industry was established. Whaling processing factories, a small cemetery and housing for workers were built. The overproduction of oil led to a collapse in the whaling industry and by 1931 the operation ceased production. Today, remains of previous structures, boilers and tanks, an aircraft hangar and British scientific station house exist.

Our first stop was Pendulum Cove names for the pendulum and magnetic observations made there by British expedition under Henry Foster in 1829. Here we found thousands of Krill washed up on the beach because the water is too warm for the Krill here due to the geothermal heat radiating from the earth. Some locations in the caldera are so warm that they create hot spots and steam radiates off the surface of the cold water.

There were a few penguins coming ashore, checking us out and then heading out again. Inside the caldera is too warm for them as well and the volcanic rock on the shore is not inviting to the penguins for nesting either. One loan fur seal was lying on the beach sleeping. We were escorted by the ship’s staff to get near the remains of destroyed meteorological and vulcanological research station buildings built in 1955.

Back onboard the ship Mark attended a photography class on how to capture great photos in the Antarctic. The class was taught by one of the onboard photographers and she covered all types of cameras from cell phones to go-pro devices. She talked about manual settings as well as ideas for compositions.

For lunch the ship has set up a light lunch outdoors on the top deck where they served soup and reindeer wraps. The reindeer meat was thinly sliced and placed on warmed tortillas with lettuce, pickled onions and lingonberry preserves. The meat is slightly gamey tasting but not bad.

Our second landing for the day was at Whalers Bay which has been named an historic site. It comprises pre-1970 remains from the early whaling period from 1906-1912, the Norwegian Whaling Station from 1912-1931, a British scientific and mapping activity from 1944-1969 and a cemetery containing 35 burials and a memorial to ten men lost at sea. Once ashore we were able to see a few penguins, whale bones, a leopard seal, the remains of two wooden boats, some storage tanks, a few research structures and some headstone markers. The site was very beautiful.

Landings in Antarctica are adventurers that require a lot of time and patience. Since only 100 people are allowed on land at any given time, the ship is broken into 15 groups of people and only three groups are called to go ashore each hour. Once the first group returns, the fourth group is allowed to go ashore. This procedure continues until all groups have had a chance to go ashore. Each group is limited to about one hour ashore so others have the chance to go visit. On this day with two landings a short distance apart, the landings took place from 7:00am until about 8:00pm. A long day for the crew and a lot of waiting for the guests onboard.

After dinner, several of the chefs onboard presented a fruit carving demonstration. They created penguins out of eggplants, carved roses in watermelons, a duck from a grapefruit and orange, as well as several other creatures.

The days are very long as we have moved farther south. The sunrise is about 3:00am while the sunset is at nearly midnight. This means that no matter what time you get up or go to bed it seems like the middle of the day.