Adventures in Antarctica – Part I

M/S Explorer – Grytviken

Our 19-day trip was, funnily enough, called “In The Spirit of Shackleton” which – if you’re familiar with the story of the 1914-17 Endurance Expedition….

Anyway, the tour retraced (backwards) part of that ill-fated voyage; starting in Ushuaia, Argentina, and heading east to the Falkland Islands before stopping at South Georgia and eventually Elephant Island (where Shackleton’s men were famously stranded for four and a half months).

But, back to the start: we landed in Buenos Aires and spent a lovely couple of nights there exploring the city.

Buenos Aires

If you haven’t been, you should go – with loads of outdoor cafés and restaurants, little outdoor markets and art galleries and places to sit and watch the world go by, it’s just a delight.

Our hotel was clean and basic with nothing special or outstanding to recommend it other than a good location. The food in BA was another story though: if you’re a vegetarian, you might find it a challenge, but if not, you will be in heaven. Meat is the way to go here, and the famous Argentinian barbeque doesn’t disappoint. It was over 5 years ago but I still remember those amazing skewers and chimichurri sauce.

The other thing about BA I couldn’t help but love was the amazing wine – only a few dollars buys a

Tango in La Boca

spectacular bottle that – if it were even available – would cost many times more here in Toronto. But, I digress. Food and drink are hard for me to ignore. 

In a strange twist, just before getting in a cab to the domestic airport, my friend and I were both hit by a single bird deposit of albatrossian proportions. Now, this is not something I’d normally comment on, but it is widely considered to be good luck to be targetted by a bird and in retrospect seems too timely to ignore.

It was a short flight to Ushuaia – the only real distraction was the putrid, fishy smell I couldn’t eliminate from my clothes or hair with the only tools I had: pink hand soap and paper towels. I do however remember that the tiny airport was almost overwhelmed by the arrival of our flight.

Ushuaia is a funny little city; tourism is the major industry, but because the Antarctic season only runs during late spring and summer (November to March) it has that strange mix of locals and people who are local only part of the year. 

We stayed at a centrally located hotel near the port, but there is a wide variety of hotels to choose from. Ours included a reasonable buffet breakfast. The bars and restaurants cater to tourists (we went to an Irish pub!) and, of course there are many outdoor activities; everything from horseback riding, which we enjoyed, to thermal baths or helicopter glacier tours.

We finally embarked and set sail from Ushuaia on November 11, 2007- although not without some drama – after a frenzied, epic journey thanks to a flight delay, one of my colleagues caught the ship as it was literally about to pull out of dock.  

After watching the fin del mundo slip out of sight, we spent next two nights at sea, arriving at Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, on the 13th. 

The Falklands was a surprise to me: I had obviously been looking forward to the Antarctica part of the trip, but I hadn’t realized how much I’d enjoy visiting the islands en route.

Colourful Stanley

And, as a very young person during the Falklands war, I didn’t really understand or appreciate what the invasion must have meant to the islanders. It was interesting for me to see how fiercely proud they were of their heritage and how fresh the war seemed to be in their minds.

I saw hand-written signs in several windows, proudly stating their status as British Subjects and rejecting any notion of Argentinian control or influence. The local grocery sold the sweets and crisps from my childhood in the UK – I even bought a few things to take home for my mum. 

We explored all we could in Stanley, where the colourful houses brought some relief to an otherwise very grey day. 

I decided to take advantage of the chance to see the little museum which holds many interesting artefacts; supply order ledgers written in spidery fountain pen ink, well-worn but once grand antiques, affectionate