A Travellerspoint blog


El Calafate & El Chalten

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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We docked in Ushuaia on time and having survived being seasick on the Drake Passage again.  Captain Belugar said how lucky we had been with the weather during our expedition, in a Russian accent.  A delivery boy showed up as planned with our final rabies booster vaccination, which the onboard doc administered.  Then we said our goodbyes and headed to a cafe to catch up with wifi.  Some ship mates met us for lunch before our flight to El Calafate.  
We were dropped at the wrong hostel in town, the MarcopoloInn, rather than the MarcopoloSuites, easily done.  A short hike across some windy scrubland and we arrived at the right place.  They didn't speak much English and we have realised that our Spanish needs to improve a lot.  The pousada was on one side of the old town airport runway, a ridiculously wide road with few buildings along side it making it a wind tunnel in a windy town.  We had a mooch about the main drag, shared a pizza and got an early night, in a bed that didn't rock with the waves.
We were picked up at 7:15am, once they'd worked out which hostel we were at. .. Went for a boat ride in front of the Perito Moreno glacier wall, then got fitted with crampons and trekked over the ice.  We got to look into deep ice crevasses on the massively impressive glacier, see water falls and finished with a glass of Jameson over glacial ice!  Nice touch.
Dinner was more fantastic Parrilla shared with a couple of Antarctica expedition ship mates that we arranged to meAt up with.
The following day we got picked up early again and set off to see the second biggest glacier in Patagonia, Upsala, at over 500 square kilometres surface area.  We had a boat ride to the icebergs in front of the glacier, which after Antarctica, didn't particularly impress Mel and I!  However, we had an awesome lamb lunch at Estancia Cristina and were then shown around a museum about the farm.
Our exhausting itinerary dictated that the following morning we had to heave our backpacks on for a twenty minute hike to the bus station.  Cant wait to send some of these cold weather heavy clothes home.  The three hour bus journey along the famously beautiful Route 40 was spent asleep.  Here we are about to slump to sleep again after completing some paper work, booking Mel a horse riding excursion which she's very excited about and having another lovely dinner.  Argentinean Milanaisa, meat or chicken escalope, is a favourite of mine.
On our first full day in El Chalten, the capital of trekking in Argentina, we awoke to rain.  We trekked for 2.5hrs in rain, wind and bitter cold up to a view point that we couldn't see anything from.  We actually enjoyed it, it was good to walk at a pace that wasn't being dictated by little grannies for a change and to be out achieving something on our own.  There wasn't a tour here, just us out in the very wild.  We found a campsite and took shelter among the trees to make up our picnic; we'd bought a frenchstick and some jamom y queso, which has become a daily staple.  We got back to town just as the sun came out (they say you can experience four seasons in one day here) but the views of the river and surrounding mountains are still stunning from the village.  Some coffee and cake felt deserved in the afternoon.  The bible recommended a restaurant called El Muno for dinner and we shared the best Parrilla yet.  
Mel was due to go horse riding at 9am but when they didn't show up, our landlady kindly called them and found out that it was postponed until 2pm.  It was pouring down so we couldn't do much other than make it down a dirt track to a cafe for hot chocolate and jamon u queso sandwiches.  Mel was the only person on her horse riding excursion and the rain held off for most of the afternoon.  She rode a horse called Capes Grandes and loved galloping in the mountains.
Today is a travel day; up at 6am to get the bus back to Calafate, taxi to the airport and the flight to Buenos Aires is delayed again, grrr.  So that was four consecutive Areolineas Argentina flights that were delayed, the least punctual airline in the world?  At least they give you an jamom y queso sandwich.

Posted by Graemeandmel 14:59 Archived in Argentina Tagged trekking puerto glaciers patagonia cristina estancia merino upsala Comments (0)


Icebergs! Expedition aboard the Akademic Sergey Vavilov

all seasons in one day 0 °C
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Well, we have just had THE most amazing 10 day expedition to Antartica....it is so hard to put into words just how incredible the experience was but here goes.....

20 Jan - pre-expedition meet and greet:
Marcello, the land based rep for Quark Expeditions gave us a short talk about meeting the following day to board the Vavilov and start our expedition. We did meet a couple of people who we would end up having an absolute ball with for the duration of the trip. Following our meet and a few local beers later (3 hours in fact!), we headed off for dinner at a local Parrilla for meat, meat and more meat! Oh and some salad, if you could fit it in! Admittedly it was a relief that we would at least have some people our own age on the boat!

21 Jan - Expedition day!!
Lots of excitement around as it became reality that we were about to embark to Antarctica. Ready with our essentials (wine and sea sickness tablets!), we headed to the port to meet our expedition reps. Even though we were a stones throw from the port, insurance dictated that we had to be driven by coach to the ship. Looking at the ships that were docked, we were facing a huge cruise ship which absolutely dwarfed our ship! Slight nervousness set in as we wondered how on earth our "little" ship would cope with the journey to Antarctica. Arriving next to the Vavilov made us realise that the cruise ship was just a monster and was actually heading up the coast to Rio. Slight jealousy may have occurred when thinking what luxuries that ship came with but they were soon forgotten about when we had the pleasure of boarding our amazing ship.

Once we had dumped the remainder of bags in our cabin, it was off to explore the ship! It didn't take long of course given that the (former science and spy) ship was equipped to take approx 100 passengers and around 61 crew in total! Fantastic all the same and finally being on the ship gave way to further excitement of our adventures to come.....

So, the boarding went without mishap - quite remarkable really. The ground staff and crew worked like clock work to ensure all went smoothly so that we "newbies" could enjoy the moment of boarding without having to worry about a thing. Our cabin was fab and very comfortable. The Russian crew kept everthing immaculate - absolutely no complaints there!

As we said bye to Ushuaia, we headed to the bar for welcome drinks! This is where we made claim to our corner of the bar which would become our home for most of the trip! The two following days of sailing were through the dreaded Drake Passage......sea sickness pills and sea legs at the ready!

21 night, 22 and 23 Jan
Not too much to report over these couple of days. We were sailing through the Drake Passage where enormous swells and the roaring forties are experienced. We were lucky (apparently!!) that our crossing was quite smooth....I beg to differ! I felt pretty rubbish so only took the opportunity to set foot outside of our cabin for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the lectures, catching up on sleep inbetween. Our alarm calls were from Oliver, our "hotel" manager who after everytime of advising us the dining room was now open, proceeded with wishing us all "Boooooon Apetit" over the intercom. By the end of the trip, all of the passengers were joining in on this famous line of Oliver's!

Test of those two days....showering whilst experiencing swells which required you to hold on to anything when stood up. Trying to shower and holding on at the same time is not an easy task! Very funny all the same!

The sea days were very well managed by the staff. Lectures were put on to explain about Antarctica from all levels. From the history,wildlife and geology, to the safety of getting on and off the ship into the Zodiacs (black rubber boats that were going to get us from the ship to shore and cruise us through various places). These lectures were made all the more entertaining by some of the ridiculous questions or statements that were being made. We were especially impressed with one woman.....who was aptly given the name "life jacket woman".

The Scene - sitting in a mandatory lecture about safety aboard the Zodiacs which included a life jacket explanation. 5 minutes after explaining the life jackets too us (not rocket science by the way!), life jacket woman proceeded to say....."can you please explain the life jackets again as I wasn't listening as I didn't think it was important".....entertaining and worrying at the same time!!

Other favourite comments to follow......

24 Jan - land ahoy - 29 Jan
Happiness all round as we sailed into calmer waters and sighted Antarctica for the first time! We saw our first iceberg too! And after the excitement and many pics we initially took, we now look back on those pictures with amusement as we had absolutely no idea at the time the size of the icebergs we were going to see. To put it into context, we were holding position next to icebergs the size of our ship and bigger.

To save you all having to read each and every day we will give you some information on our daily routines and can give a copy of our full itinerary to those who want to see it.

So, our days consisted of being woken up between 7 and 7.30, breakfast at 8, either a landing or Zodiac cruise for 3 hours from 9, lunch at either 12 or 1 (which was buffet style and absolutely amazing food - we did not go hungry!), afternoon excursion leaving the ship around 2 or 3pm for another few hours. Happy hour drinks with Alice (the bar manager) in the bar at 6/6.30 and then dinner at 7.30 or 8pm. Dinner was also a 3 course affair and again, we did not go hungry and it was fantastic food.

Some of our highlights:

Zodiac cruising - the Russian passengers had no manners!! Our "pun zodiac cruise" (Graeme's favourite!), where everything we saw was a joke: stopping at that shag on the rocks, the whales would Crill for something different to eat, etc

Island and continent landings - reaching our 7th continent, treks up to view points, taking a moment to realise where you are and what we were actually doing.

Lemaire Channel - being on the ships bridge while the captain and first officer were pushing through sea ice and icebergs.

The wildlife:
Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins.
Weddell, Leopard, Crabeater, Fur and Elephant Seals.
Humpback Whales.
Birds! tons of them. Shags, Skuars (scavenger birds, they steal the eggs and weak penguin chicks), the Antarctic angel - snowy Petrel, giant Petrel, giant Albatross, other Petrels and Albatross which we can't remember the names of at the moment!

Our final night on the ship was extremely good fun; we had champagne at the Captain's dinner and then hit the bar. Us 'youngsters' decided it would be a good idea to put out the emergency big red immersion survival suits and go dancing in the bar, hilarious!

Sharing stupid questions and quotes:
Does the ship produce its own electricity?
Can I take my walking poles (asked on every single trip)?
How many Seals or other animals will I see?
Does the water go all the way around the island?
And the best: Did Captain Scott die on his first or second expedition?!!!

Posted by Graemeandmel 17:34 Archived in Antarctica Tagged antarctica vavilov Comments (1)

Arriving at the end of the world


sunny 12 °C
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Buenos Dias!! Here's the first entry to our blog....better late than never I guess!!

We left Miami on 16 Jan, driving from Orlando after a fab week in Disney and Universal Studios, arrived at Miami International Airport with an hour to spare before our flight only to be told we were unable to get on that particular flight! No negotiations, we were just told! On a plus side we're offered compensation of USD200 per person and we were put on a flight that was direct to Buenos Aires as opposed to flying via Lima, which was our original plan. The downside - spending 5 extra hours waiting around an airport....I suppose we should get used to that! The flight was only 9 hours, positively "short haul" considering we flew for 21 hours plus a 5 hour wait in Paris to get to Miami in the first place! (and that flight wasn't without issues.....being told as we were boarding that we needed visas to enter America....running through the airport with 10 minutes to spare before the flight was due to depart to get our visas sorted....it was close but we made it....and we were last on the plane! A great start!)

Back to Argentina....

We had an 8 hour window to get ourselves from the International Airport in Buenos Aires to the domestic airport for our flight to Ushuaia so we managed to fit in a quick guided 3 hour tour of the city on the way. Buenos Aires = an amazing place with some incredible sights. Luckily we are returning for a couple of days at the beginning of Feb so we do get to explore the city in greater detail.

After getting to the airport in plenty of time for our Ushuaia leg, we were told that the flight was delayed by 2 hours....so another wait at an airport!!

It's 10pm at the moment in Ushuaia and it's not yet dark. First impressions are pretty spectacular. We are planning on taking a day out tomorrow to explore the town on foot and the following day we'll be hiking for a few hours and then off canoeing!

We've only been away for 10 days - it feels like 10 weeks already!

We'll hopefully update you in a couple of days! Hasta Luego!

Posted by Graemeandmel 14:13 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

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