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Reisverslag Antarctica, continent number 7!
28 maart 2016
Antarctica, continent number 7!
After the hording of some alcoholic beverages and listening to one of the most boring instructions ever, it was time to depart. The first part of the journey, The Beagle Chanel that forms the border between Argentina and Chile, is relatively quite, however, from here on the wild Drake's Passage -the open sea- is entered.
Some amazing Lamb-chops and a few Whiskey-cokes (to balance-out the motion sickness) helped me through the first night. This resistance against seasickness could not be said of all the other people on board. Out of 193 passengers on the ship, the gross part was of Chinese origin of whom the most locked themselves up for the first two days, with the result that we "the English-speaking people" had the ship to ourselves. This is probably also due to the fact that most of us booked a last-minute which meant that we had rooms on the lower floors of the ship. The upper decks accommodated the more luxurious rooms, thus these are more sensitive for the the huge waves; "The more you pay, the more you sway"
Before we landed for the first time we got some important announcements; "stay seated in the Zodiacs (boats that took us from the ship to land) until the crew tells you to stand up", "stay at least 5 meters away from the wildlife, unless they come waddling to you" and "don't surpass the red crosses, these are placed for a reason and behind them it might be dangerous". For everyone who ever visited China it will not be any surprise that this ended up in a total disaster. Multiple Asians almost fell of the boats that cruised in full speed to the island, after which a penguin hunt started to press the gigantic photo lenses in their beaks and few people disappeared out of sight to emerge out of the dangerous parts of the island, all of which was not really appreciated by the crew.
After some wandering around, and giving the penguins the space they needed, one decided that my yellow fisherman's pants were quite interesting. After a few minutes of biting in my pants it obviously realized there was not much to food to find over there and all of a sudden it reached for my finger… one penguin less on Antarctica!
The next day Damoy Point was part of the program. Under the pleasure of some shots of Schnaps we, the German Felix, the American Tamara, and the French-Persian-Australian Fez, enjoyed some endangered Adélie Penguins. An apparently special experience, because these areas are currently mostly inhabited by the Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins. In the afternoon we sailed trough the spectacular Lemaire Chanel, which due to some mysterious cloud-mass gave the idea of several scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the evening our Chinese friends organized some festivities for International Woman-day. After an embarrassing CEO-catwalk (probably the richest woman of China) and a nail-biting karaoke show, we were treated by free champagne for the following hours. After we finished these bottles we already made some Chinese friends that provided us with the necessary wine. After Felix and I joined the group and we both received a full glass of red, we thought that with the word "Campei" they wanted to propose a toast, after taking a sip of this disgusting -although alcohol containing- beverage we received a lot of strange stares because we were the only ones that didn't understand that we had to finish the classes right away. After some more glasses, being kicked out of the club and continued the party in the gym (the only place where they still were playing music), it was already way past midnight and it was time to go to bed.
After a few short hours we had an early breakfast after which we entered the Zodiacs to visit Paradise Harbour (mainland Antarctica), a place that with regard to stunning views and close to 0 degrees Celsius differed little compared to the previous islands we visited. At least I can say now that I really went to Antarctica!!
When we were back on the ship an announcement over the intercom informed us that whales were spotted, the whole ship ran to the decks to capture these giants on the cameras. During our trip towards the -called after the former Dutch queen- Wilhelmina we got an additional message that if we were lucky we could spot more whales, and if so, we might even be able to enter the boats to take a closer look. After several hours without any messages we thought we were unlucky and pretty much gave up, until we were informed via the speakers that "the Bridge" spotted a large group of whales and that we had to prepare for a cruise on the Zodiacs. Under the supervision of the Russian Vladmir we found two whales within a few minutes and we could follow them on just tens of meters. Until we saw something incredible just hundreds of meters away. A young whale that was apparently very happy jumped far out of the water several times. Vladmir took us on a ridiculously fast trip to see this phenomenon more closely and other boats also started to come our way. This is what the majestic beasts apparently also found quite amusing, at one point five massive animals came chilling just a few meters from us, turning around and clapping their fins on the water, staging a great show. Another check on the lengthy bucket list of things I still wanted to experience!!
On this -already unforgettable- day, the crew also organized the Polar Plunch, a dip in the icy Antarctic waters. The most prudish Chinese stood on the sidelines encouraging anyone who took the challenge. After already going through the ice in the Netherlands for several times, these 1.5 degrees Celsius were not that bad.
The last day on and around the peninsula, the Great Wall Station -a Chinese research center on the South Shetland Islands- was visited. One of the instructions that was communicated in advance was to absolutely not ring the bell on this island. After some weird Chinese guy jumped into the water and all crew -including the one that protected the bell- ran after him, another Chinese saw her chance to produce a hard gong of the bell. Again a lot of chaos, free entertainment and an hypotherminated Asian.
The next days we continued the trip to South Georgia. 2 days on the Scotia sea with cold and rainy weather on our way to Gold Harbour and Saint Andrews Bay. A trip that according to the crew was wilder than the Drake 's Passage -which already was at its wildest compared to all other cruises they had done this season- that went together with a lot of creaking of the interior, serious waves against the portholes of our cabins and few Chinese voices around us. Until the moment that one crazy Chinese came running over our floor in the middle of the night, screaming and knocking on all doors on our floor, screaming loud in his language. After I understood nothing of his message, I turned around once more and continued to sleep. Turned out that a pipe had burst in his bathroom and that he was convinced that we were sinking.
The wild weather unfortunately meant that we were unable to to do our first scheduled stop on South Georgia, Golden Harbour. When we arrived at the second planned landing, Saint Andrews Bay, the bridge informed us that katabatic winds with a speed of more than 50 Nautical Miles [more than 100 km / h ] were racing down over the glaciers, and that we probably could not land at this bay either. A lot of grumpy faces walked with binoculars or huge photo lenses around on the decks, because -as far as we knew now- we could not get any closer to the beautiful King penguins and the huge Elephant seals. Awesome, probably four additional days at sea and some not inconsiderable amount of US dollars flushed down the Southern Ocean.
Around 3 pm we finally got some great news, the wind slightly changed and if we were lucky everyone could still do a landing before sunset. At 5 pm it was time to enter a Zodiac to head to this British overseas territory which has brought the UK in 1982 in an unofficial war with Argentina.
At the moment we entered the black sand, there were already a number of curious beasts without any signs of fear walking towards us. Due to the low number of people that visit South Georgia each year, they seem just as interested in people as we are in them. On St. Andrew's Bay there are more than 300,000 king penguins, together with these great numbers there are also many predators around. Thousands of relatively small fur-seals are just a few meters away from the biggest penguins I've ever seen, which -as it seemed- managed to save themselves just fine. Even on a short distance from a troop of giant elephant seals the penguins did not seem very indoctrinated by their size.
At night we were sailing under a surprisingly starry heaven towards Grytviken, the place where Norwegians set up a whaling station in the beginning of last century. This spot was the base for the South Atlantic whaling for almost 60 years. Besides some dilapidated buildings and the grave of one of the most famous Antarctic explorers "Sir Ernest Shackleton" there is not much to do around here. After a toast to cast the "Boss" and some walking around among the old junk, we again returned to the Ocean Diamond.
The next days were planned for the trip back to Buenos Aires. More than 4 full days at sea to cover a distance of more than 1,550 Nautical Miles [> 2,900 km]. To combat boredom our Chinese friends had organized some parties again, with fortunately for us, till a certain extent free drinks.
I had finally gotten used to the rancid Chinese customs; the Wake-up call every morning which stated that "Breakfast is served in the Dining Room"(breakfast which consisted of something else than dry bread); an extensive selection for the lunch buffet; the afternoon tea in the club lounge and the 3, 4 or 5 course menus existent from duck, lamb, beef, king crab and many other luxury food served in the "Dining Room". The serving skills of the Filipino Wu, Ukrainian Krystyna and Indian Edwardo and daily cleaning service and fresh towels from the room steward Vandon. In addition, it was a surprise everyday what kind of view appeared through the portholes. Waves of 10's of meters making the furniture by the ship dance around, giant colonies of penguins, towering icebergs, enthusiastic whales, steep glacier cliffs or chilling herds of sea lions. Additionally the fact that our Chinese fellow travelers consciously or unconsciously (mostly the latter) were always ready to get us to laugh. And probably most important, it was just nice that the only important decision that had to be taken was when and where there was some partying going on., the Observation Lounge, the Pool Deck or the Club Lounge.
Right now it's time again to continue the "normal" backpackers life. The first few days after the trip we tried to get used to this lifestyle again, where we often forgot that Eddy was not around anymore for serving us an extra cup of coffee and that we had to arrange our own meals again. The last evening in the Argentinian capital we met up with the gross of the English-speakers to once more go through all the details of this incredible trip. Thanks again everyone!, it was an unforgettable experience!!
I am currently en route to San Pedro the Atacama, a Chilean city located near the border of Bolivia. But more about the experiences between Buenos Aires and probably Bolivia in a few weeks.
29 maart 2016 12:36 | Door: Marieke, Kees
What a wonderful world, Jesper ! Schitterend al die walvissen.