Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I regarded volcanic islands to be a privilege Polynesian or Central American tropics. I used to envision them covered with a fern tapestry up to the flat peaks crowning them. Well, that was before our ship arrived to mysterious Deception Island, on the Shetand Archipelago. The island is what is left of a volcano that erupted 10,000 years ago, blowing the entire cone off and leaving a almost-circular shaped island. The narrow passage to this natural inlet is just 220 meters wide, and there navigates the brave MV Ushuaia. What is below is, therefore, is not just water, but an active volcano that in 1967 sneezed lightly forcing Argentina, Chile and the UK to evacuate their bases.

It was impressive to step on the island and discover the ground was made of sizzling volcanic clay. As a consequence, when the freezing waters of Antarctica meet the warm shores the water evaporates into fumaroles that give the whole island a ghostly setting. But we didn’t come here to see fumaroles. Along the beach there’s a row of large timber houses, abandoned by men, their painting undone by the elements, collapsed by time. They’re the remaining of Whaler’s Bay.

Deception Island was an ideal base for whaling activity flourishing those days. It provided a natural harbour protected by the island’s circular cliff walls. Behind this refuge Norwegian fleets rested after a tiring day of hunting. It’s funny how Norway is a nation that has left an imprint in the world only beyond 60 degrees of latitude, either in the Arctic or the Antarctic.The rest of the world has deserved the Norwegians less attention than a carrot. I bid only after making sure that in Antarctica they could also die in the middle of a blizzard did Norwegians lit their pipes and bother to exploit the business.

Surfing this wave of history was that Adolfus Amandus Andersen, a Norwegian immigrated to Chile, arrived to Deception Island in 1906. He was an entrepreneur, head of the Magallanic Whaling Society, and established the small village whose ruins we see today. In 1912-3 season, just to exemplified, they hunted 5,000 whales, and visitors to the area reported how smelly the blood-tainted bay had become. Walking along the Beach we find old crumbling wooden boats from which seamen would launch their harpoon to secure a prey. We are also impressed by giant tanks and hatches where whale’s bones were melted to extract oil. Now they are half swallowed by the volcanic clay. There is something wicked about the whole place.


The funniest of all was taking the chance and swimming in the narrow warm strip of water next to the shore. Less than a meter wide, at some point we were brave enough to go beyond, just to meet the freezing stream and run back to the beach yelling and praying for a towel.

With the T-shirt of the People's Health Movement

Laura and I with the People’s Health Movement T-Shirt. PHM has donated us a pocket projector we use for the nomadic educational project we carry on as we hitch-hike around the world. Visiting Antarctica was far off our plans. We just stumbled upon the continent when in Ushuaia we learned it was possible to travel there. We didn’t have the money for the trip, so wishing it became our main strategy. And it happened, just as it happens whatever you request from the universe in a trip. We were soon again setting foot in Ushuaia, disoriented and happy, having achieved that blissful stupid state of sanctity travelling confers the soul.

Monday, December 13, 2010


After harbouring for the night in Neumeyer Bay, the Ushuaia kindly transports us to Goudier Island. There, we visit Port Lockroy, a British base established in 1944, abandoned in 1962 and re-opened as a museum in 1996. Once inside we are welcomed by four smiley ladies who volunteer for the summer period, contributing with UKAHT (UK Antarctic Heritage Trust) to preserve British history in the Antarctic.

I ignore who designed the Union Jack, probably a ginger beard Norman who guised his serfdom as towers and queens to play chess. What I am sure is he had intuitive notions of marketing. The strident colours of the British flags create a nice and notorious contrast with the Antarctic backdrop and seem to hypnotize the gentoo penguin colony nestling around. 


Image of Port Lockroy with penguins nestling around. The sober timber construction is absolutely English style...

The four ladies’s mission within Port Lockroy goes beyond restoring and preserving infrastructure, they are forced to live within the comfort standards of the 1940s, as they are not allowed to modify anything. Therefore they live without internet, computers or TV. Their only link to the outside world is a satellite telephone for emergencies. While we can arguably understand this, it’s harder to guess why they even lack central heating or showers. In the absence of this basics the girls resource to have shower onboard the cruises that every other day visit the base. Some cruise ships also provide them with fresh vegetables.

Laura and I take the opportunity to send a few postcards from her Majesty’s Post Office in Port Lockroy. Each stamp boasts the legend of “British Antarctic Territory”. We tell the girls that the Ukrainians at Vernadsky base have their own bar, and indeed pour free drinks to those female tourists willing to leave their bras as souvenirs. On listening ours story the girls deeply regret having the exact number of bras they need but mentally evaluate the possibility of having some cheap ones shipped from Ushuaia, and then forwarded to Vernadsky in exchange for some vodka. So here we are, contributing to international commercial links within Antarctica.


Our ship with the amazing setting of Antarctic glaciars...

The ice universe around Neko Harbour was the setting of anew zodiac cruise. Here we even see an iced triumphal arch, among many other weird shapes ice can come up with.

OK, this picture proves it. We can’t denied having started a snow battle that promptly sprawled to other zodiacs leaving just a couple of hardliner expedition leaders lecturing on the penguins reproduction cycles as we had fun.

Penguins rocket by in their favourite environment. They are far less clumsy in the water than on land.

We feel incredibly lucky to be able to touch this pristine landscape with our souls. On few occasions the intense solitude and beauty of a landscape has moved me to cry. And this has been one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Our ship MV Ushuaia braving the Southern Seas and heading to Ukrainian Academician Vernadsky Station. A misty horizon welcomes us in a new of our Antarctic adventure. We feel as blissful as is humanly possible.

Academician Vernadsky Station as seen from our zodiac under a soft but steady snowfall. Ukrainians bought the base from the British, formerly called Faraday. The price was symbolic: just one pound. The original coin now decorates the station lounge.

When you get ready to visit a working Antarctic scientific station prepare to tiptoe into a laboratory as a serious looking man with rounded glasses calls you to silence. Visiting Vernadsky was to going to be different. Firstly, a distance pole displays a variety of Ukrainian cities for which the accurate distance is quoted. Just in case you were looking for the highway to Kiev and took the wrong turn. This brings me memories, as when I was homeless in Odessa and was offered asylum by a Russian street musician from Ekaterinburg. The other call to absurd are the palm trees incorporated into the station’s name on one of the fuel tanks.

The most interesting point about Vernadsky Station is its bar. Rumour goes that the bar was built with wood originally reserved for a peer. It seems Ukrainians set their priority on securing where to dock their sorrows, not their ships. The base is noted for the home made vodka they destil and reportedly serve for free to those ladies willing to leave their bras as souvenir. In Antarctica bras get a more favourable exchange rate than rubles.

Gentoo penguins gossiping about our ship in nearby Petermann Island.

Precise moment of our landing at Vernadsky Station. In this way we achieve the record of the southernmost point reached by hitch-hiking. Amazingly for us, even the station is giving its thumbs up! The yellow thumb includes welcoming messages in different languages, but for us it meant far more.

 Back in our zodiacs we went for an iceberg cruise...

Here words become empty elements, wrong freight vehicles to convey my emotion as we float among ice sculptures in human-less continent. Over some icebergs we approach Wedell seals leaning on their siestas after a penguin lunch. Silence becomes an authority, there are no aromas... light and shapes becomes the only language the world speaks to you. Your mind may stay mute, but your heart is connected to that language being spoken directly into your soul. And you shed a tear.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


After visiting the Shetland Islands our ship, the Ushuaia  seems committed to search for the world’s end, as it sails south. Is there anything below the Shetlands? For years humanity thought of the archipelago as the southernmost land on the map. The fascinating thing about Antarctica’s golden age of discovery is that intrepid expeditions such as Palmer’s and Wedell’s pushed south and hit record after record while looking for priced seals and whales ignoring the presence of the neighbouring continent. Now that we intentionally move south I understand Antarctica could only be discovered by someone driven by a precise and motivated search. Cook himself sailed around Antarctica for over two years without ever laying his eyes on the continent.

Today the ship is relatively still and we are awakened by our expedition leader in the intercom saying: “Good Morning Antarcticans!” with the back of Indiana Jones soundtrack. The captain announces in an optimistic tone that we are navigating the mirrored waters of Gerlache Strait, protected from wild open seas by Anvers and Brabant Islands. Between the Antarctic Peninsula and them there’s a stream of floating icebergs of odd size and contours, seemingly brought forward by a loony’s imagination.

We haste to the outer deck to attend the show, favoured by an unusual clean pale blue sky. The continent’s rocky nature only flourishes on the shore; the rest of the surface is well deep under meters of compact ice.

Out of the sudden, from behind an iceberg, we catch a memorable view. As if still striving to retain its course, the Norwegian whaler “Governoren”, sunk in 1916, appears ghostly ahead. Half of the ship lies underwater; the other half provides an excellent nestling spot for skuas and gulls…

We in an area called Wilhelmina Bay in a place known as Port Foyn, a whalers’ natural anchoring place baptized after Sven Foyn, the Norwegian inventor of the explosive harpoon. Back in the beginning of 20th century whale hunting was as a profitable activity as today is oil. Whale’s oil was the ideal lubricant for the industrial era that was in its heyday, aside from being a key ingredient in the perfume industry. Without sustainable plans British, American and Norwegian fleets patrolled the Antarctic Ocean and hunted as much as 5,000 whales in a single season.


As dark as it gets during the Antarctic summer...

Gentoo penguins gathered in the sorroundings of Argentinean Base Brown. It's curious to watch these antropomorphic animal to chase each other over the white carpeted pitch. Enough penguins for us, we go back to the ship to open a bottle of whiskey and toast with Antarctic ice. Sure the times of waiting for a ride by Patagonian roadside will come back, but now Laura, let's enjoy this brief lightning of luxury amid our uncertain journey.

Above, Argentinean Base Brown. It's not opened to tourists, but it should. Our country is proud of its Antarctic presence. Argentina has continous presence in the white continent since 1904 when it started running the Orcadas Base, the oldest settlement in Antarctica to be still inhabited. However it wouldn't harm to use Base Brown as an Ambassador of this long tradition as British do in Port Lockroy.

Friday, December 10, 2010


 OK, the picture is nice, we know, but first we had to survive the Drake Passage, sailing 36 hours across the most dangerous strait of sea in the world. At last, this two martyrs of hitch-hiking (as declared by our stomachs) saw large icebergs floating on the horizon and the precipitous shape of Livingstone Island – Shetland archipielago- immediately rising behind them. 

Antarctica comprises 10% of the Earth’s continental mass and hosts 84% of its ice. Sailing just across the Antarctic convergence the water temperature plummet from 7.8º to 3.9º, as we enter the realm of ice… Surprisingly, this continent was just discovered in 1820 by sealers avid for fortune and not for discovery. Only in 1840 was the new lands considered a continent and as recently as 1899 humans wintered on shore.

The group of islands where we Landed was called Aitcho. Its name resulted from the latinization of Hydrographical Office (H.O, Aitcho)

Gentoo and chinstrap penguins looked superiorly indifferent at our presence, what caused me to admire them. It was our first contact with the average inhabitant of Antarctica.


Amazing Antarctic sunset –as dark as it gets in summer-

Penguins and MV Ushuaia –our home for ten days- on the back.

Laura came to see penguins.. but penguins also came to see Laura!


Antarctica comprises 10% of the Earth’s continental mass and hosts 84% of its ice. Sailing just across the Antarctic convergence the water temperature plummet from 7.8º to 3.9º, as we enter the realm of ice… Surprisingly, this continent was just discovered in 1820 by sealers avid for fortune and not for discovery. Only in 1840 was the new lands considered a continent and as recently as 1899 humans wintered on shore.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Ever since we started planning this new round the world hitch-hiking expedition Laura and were appallingly conscious that reaching Antarctica was a dream rather than a challenge. While setting foot on Ushuaia we understood that roads ended in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina’s and South America’s southernmost tip, but welcoming seas opened. We wanted to sail! Anywhere! We considered we had some chance of finding a ride to Puerto Williams, just opposite Ushuaia on Chilean Isla Navarino, but no chance whatsoever of getting a lift to Antarctica but…

… we cannot surrender without trying first! We had found out that last minute tickets to the white continent started from USD 3200. Taking part of Ushuaia’s Book Fair and making friends had kept us busy for two weeks before we actually did matter about trying a bit harder to find a vessel. But our first attack was not hanging around the peers. We decided to ask in the cruise ship offices first. Antarpply Expeditions was the only tour operator sending tourist to Antarctica to there we headed, with a pink folder full of newspaper articles about our journey.  We explained everything as they let us talk. Eventually they advised us to send an e-mail explaining everything to someone on the decision making department. We thought that was the end of the line. We arrived to Ana’s place, we typed the e-mail, have it sent as the rice boiled in the kitchen. Half an hour later the phone rang. “Could you board on Saturday?” We had two days to adapt our gear to an Antarctic expedition. We couldn’t help but jumping just out of cosmic happiness and run deliriously around the house. Ok, let us say, despite the extreme surprise, Laura and I are conscious that the kind of specialized publicity our next book will bring to the cruise ship operators is well worth their two free tickets. The blogs are in the top of Facebook’s travel blog ranking, so we trust this will invite adventurers from around the world to make Antarpply Expeditions their choice when dreaming about Antarctica.


So after having hitched the windy Ruta 3 from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and climbed to infinte truck cabins we were on board the MV Ushuaia. This was the sight towards Tierra del Fuego coastline. On the bottom picture the sunset profiles of Picton and Lennox Island, while sailing across the Beagle Channel. Everything is possible. As Kinga said: every dream is given to us with the power to make it come true. And I add: the formula of hapiness is launching an assautl on it... This is us, hitch-hiking to Antarctica!