Argentina and Antarctica: December 12-30, 2010

We so enjoyed our Polar Star trip to Svalbard that we resolved to go with her to Antarctica. We enrolled in a Road Scholar program and added on a side trip to Iguazú Falls, arranged by Holbrook Travel. [JC] denotes photos by Josephine; Marilyn or I took the others. [click] means you can click to image for a higher-resolution photograph.

As our plane banked south out of LAX, the Point Vincent Lighthouse and Long Point slipped under the wing.

Our Buenos Aires hotel, the Park Central Unique, reflected in the office building across the street.

In a telephoto image, you can see us waving, taking a bit of time to reflect on our exotic location.

We set out to get Pesos for local shopping, only to find that ATMs at multiple banks all refused to disperse cash. We went inside a bank to inquire, where a clerk told us that the banks were all out of cash, and that more would arrive from the Central Bank later that afternoon. When we departed for Iguazú falls, pallets of cash bags at the airport led credence to this explanation.

Our hotel was down a diagonal street just off Avenida 9 de Julio, by the obelisk. This large avenue is emblematic of Buenos Aires' population of about 13 million.

Yenny, our local guide, recommended a superb Italian restaurant--Broccolino, Spanish-Italian argot for Brooklyn. Thanks Yenny!

The street/mall outside our hotel hopped with some of the vibrant Buenos Aires nightlife.

This panorama of part of the Argentine (East) side of Iguazú Falls shows some of the 275 individual cataracts that drop up to 269 feet over a basalt cliff 1.7 miles long. Catwalks run across the top of many falls (Curcuito Superior) and paths penetrate to near the bottom of smaller cataracts (Curcuito Inferior). Jet boats (Zodiacs) run against the current into the canyons for an exhilarating, wet ride!

Through the mist, you can just make out an overlook building on the Brazilian (NW) side of the falls. The largest cataract, Devil's Throat, (Garganta del Diablo) spills over here.

From the catwalk on top of one of the smaller falls (Salto dos Hermanos) a portion of the lower path is revealed (the white speck is a person). Curcuito Inferior is a great place to get a dose of cool spray. Keep your mouth shut and protect your camera: the dark runoff began after upstream forests were cleared for agricultural use, resulting in increased flooding, erosion, and pollution.

A forty-passenger jet boat enters spray on the Argentine side of the falls. To the left is Isla San Martin.

Here is the huge fall behind Isla San Martin.

A small, open-car tourist train takes passengers from the National Park Headquarters to a long catwalk over the Iguazú River. At the end of the catwalk, people peer into the Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo).

The Devil's Throat's sustained roar limits conversation to WOW!


In addition to a Toucan, swifts that live behind the falls, Caracaras circling above looking for washed-up bodies, and many other birds, we saw this Argentine Giant Tegu,

a Capuchin Monkey, and

many Coatis, in large families with nursing mothers.

This delightful server provided me with my first Argentine stout: Cerveza Quilmes. She was thrilled with a Washington silver dollar.

We rode a jet boat up both sides of Isla San Martin; we got drenched.

After walking over all the paths in the Park, we relaxed with excellent Argentine wines and snacks on the Sheraton Iguazú veranda.

The jungle around the old hotel at Iguazú Falls is slowly overgrowing and disassembling the structure.


After we returned to Buenos Aires, Fernando lectured the Road Scholar group on Porteño culture, including Yerba Maté (above).

Then sommelier Lara led us through tasting wines from around Argentina. Tom took a critical sniff of Fin del Mundo Merlot =>

Our walking/coach tours the next few days took us to the Plaza de Mayo (government square), with its graffiti and blue outhouses in front of the presidential palace, Casa Rosada,...

La Boca Barrio, the artsy neighborhood near the site of the original, highly polluted, Buenos Aires port, and ...

Recoleta Cemetario, where "necrophiliac Porteños" (Fernando's phrase) entomb their elite in elaborate mausoleums, many of which cost more than houses.


Evita Peron is entombed in the cemetery. The faithful still place fresh flowers in her mausoleum door every day.

This paper sign (Salida = Exit) from the Cemetario evoked ironic laughs from our group, especially since a billboard at the end of the exit exhorted us to "Make a Wish".

Our evening was filled with a tango class and dinner at Sabor a Tango. Diane displayed her newly-acquired tango moves on stage with one of the performers during the warm up performance.

Our next walks took us around the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, where we walked by this muskrat, ...

and over the beautiful Puente De La Mujer suspension bridge. The center section of the bridge rotates 90° to allow boats to pass.

Our flight into Patagonia came in over the Beagle Channel, with the Chilean Andes on the horizon.

A new local brew-a soft IPA with crystal malt. The next day, we took El Tren del Fin del Mundo into Argentine Patagonia.

The green car (left) at the end of the line supplied a baño stop

A long walk took us to the end of the Pan American Highway. Four motorcycles from Ontario, Canada drove up and were greeted by our Road Scholar Coordinator, Alex. What a trip!

We wandered Ushuaia doing some last minute shopping before boarding the Polar Star. This tour bus had premier parking. It added mobile graffiti to that decorating most downtown buildings.

College students visiting Ushuaia from Europe kindly took our photo at the End of the World.

The Polar Star (on left) was berthed next to the National Geographic ship that helped rescue the Clelia II, damaged by high waves in the Drake Passage ten days earlier.

As the South Shetland Islands emerged from the fog at the end of our interesting trip across the Drake Passage, Pintados (Cape Petrals) came out to greet the ship.

On our first landing (Barrientos on HO Islands), female Elephant Seals laid about, on kelp beds, digesting. The whale vertebra may provide scale-- the seals are about eight feet long.

We took a zodiac cruise along the edge of this incredible 490' volcanic plug, Edinburgh Hill, on Livingston Island.
The view up, from the wave-undercut edge of the plug, shows the hexagonal basalt cells that formed when the volcano cooled =>

Josephine snapped this image of our zodiac going in for a wet landing on Half Moon Island in the South Shetland Islands.[JC]

Gentoo Penguins were nearly everywhere we landed in Antarctica.[click].

These Weddell Seals are doing what seals do best when ashore: sleep, digest, grunt, burp, .... They are easy to approach (our instructions: "do not approach any wildlife closer than five meters")

A Macaroni Penguin (with yellow-orange tassels) was hanging out with a mob of Chinstrap Penguins. This was a difficult shot: wherever penguins gather, the air is thick with ammonia from guano, making your eyes water so much that it is hard to check focus. Chinstraps in this colony were sitting on eggs and feeding chicks.

We sailed into the caldera of an active volcano: Deception Island. Note the ash covered slopes (above) and the ash flow at the entrance (Neptune's Bellows--below) as we sailed through the gap. The volcano last erupted in 1970.

Signs of volcanic activity include steam rising from the beach. We climbed to the notch in the caldera lip, where, legend holds, American sealer Nathaniel Palmer first sighted Antarctica.

Wrecked and buried houses, boats, oil tanks and machinery bear mute testimony of the power of the eruptions, ash flows, ash falls, and lehars.

Chinstrap Penguins pose on Deception Island. [JC]

After a freezing dip in the Southern Ocean, we could warm up in a geothermal hot-tub dug in the beach by crew members. The bucket is for adding cold water to avoid scalding.

As we sailed into the Bransfield Strait, we passed this iceberg showing its roots.

The next day, we cruised Gerlache Strait and went ashore at Paradise Bay. From the top of a ridge (over the tops of fellow-climbers' heads) we got a fine view of an abandoned Argentine station and the Polar Star. A sitting glissade got us down-fast!

A zodiac cruise about the bay took us by large glaciers, icebergs, stunning scenery, and Weddell Seals.

We loaded up the zodiacs to trek down the Lemaire Channel.

Our icebreaker had no problem cutting through heavy brash ice.

This Crabeater Seal found our passing ship sufficiently interesting that it deigned to lift its head from a floe to look us over.

Circumcision point is on Petermann Island. When I noted the coincidence, Hannah provided two explanations: 1) Jean-Baptiste Charcot was anchored here in the Pourquoi Pas? when he had to winter over because he was "cut off" by a large ice berg;
2) officially, Charcot spotted the island on 1 January 1909, the traditional day for the Feast of the Circumcision.

As we rounded the point, a wind-eroded berg. provided the real explanation for the "circumcision" name (remember, 9/10ths of a berg is below water)!

Thick brash ice kept us from launching our Zodiacs to visit Vernadsky Station, where women can trade a bra for a shot of vodka. Fortunately, Joan was able to signal the station,... it sent out a small craft to see to our needs! They also picked up supplies and brought stamps--one to mark our passports, the others to attach to mail from our southern-most post office.

On 12/24 we landed on Plenéau Island. "Penguin Highways" are clear on this slope leading to a Gentoo rookery.

We climbed a ridge on Damoy Point overlooking Port Lockroy. Gale-force winds knocked several climbers flat at the ridge.

In a cove across from our landing spot, this sailing boat was lashed down by four lines to anchors and rocks to keep it from blowing aground. I imagine its traversal of the Drake Passage was exciting!

The narrow Neumayer channel provides multiple "Kodak Moments" of stark rock, white snow and clouds, and blue skies and sea.

Christmas eve saw Father "Watermelon" Christmas on our BBQ dinner table,...

... and a concert of carols by an newly-formed choir, under Ian's baton.

We could not land the zodiacs at Port Lockroy on Christmas eve due to brash ice and strong winds, but the women operating the station joined us at our BBQ dinner in the observation lounge.

They also brought souvenirs, stamps and postcards to sell. Port Lockroy was started as a secret British base in WWII (Operation Tabarin), but is now operated by the Antarctic Heritage Trust as a living museum.


My southern-most brew was at 65°15' south, just 88 miles north of the Antarctic Circle. The Quilmes 120 Años brew is a lager, similar to Carlsberg.

On Christmas, we landed at Neko Harbor on the continent. As we hiked about, a large glacier calved into the harbor, forcing us to scramble up from the beach to avoid big waves.

Marilyn's sweater bottom has penguins. What some mammals will do to fit in! The snow color comes from Gentoo Penguin guano (as I explained to Lal, "guano" is polite for shit).

As a Gentoo rises to greet another bird, it reveals an egg, the favorite food of Brown Skuas. They try to move penguins off their rock nests so they can pick up the eggs.

The Gentoos on the left have just returned from the ocean, the ones on the right just slid down a guano-coated penguin highway.

On Boxing Day, the sun illuminated cloud-shrouded mountains as we cruised to Cierva Cove and Primavera Station.

A pod of Humpback Whales put on a show for us. It is amazing: these huge creatures can jump clear out of the water!

Humpbacks blowing,...

going, ...


Moby Dick, topped by an Adélie Penguin, made an appearance. Finally, a whale that stayed still long enough for me to photo it!

We spent the morning in Cierva Cove, site of the Primavera Station. Porpoising penguins shot away from our zodiac.

The cove also had Minke Whales and this Humpback lifting and closing its mouth to skim krill near the surface.

A Leopard Seal yawned at us as we eased up on its floe.

We circumscribed a huge iceberg drifting about the cove.[click]

A pair of shags took a break atop an iceberg.

As we toured the cove, a brisk wind brought in thick fog.

Near perfect lighting made this iceberg glow.

At our last landing (Mikkelsen Harbor), a beach slug (Weddell Seal) welcomed us by remaining in a digestive coma.

This Chinstrap surfed ashore near us, then walked just past my feet on its way to the rookery. All together now: "Ahhhh..."

How does a Gentoo woo a mate and prove he can be a good provider? By presenting rocks for the nest.

Old glacial ice is clear and dense. It adds fine "rocks" to your single-malt scotch.

From this angle, the ice berg projection is a sphinx.

Brisk winds can change light and temperature instantly. A cloud scudded over the ridge, dropping the temperature and making zodiac pickup difficult. This is, indeed, the planet's icebox.

Our last view as we return to the Polar Star and move away from the Antarctic Peninsula.

Another humpback dives near a large iceberg. In Antarctic silence, glaciers and icebergs "sizzle" when ancient air trapped in small, compressed bubbles in the ice burst free as the ice melts.

North through the Drake Passage, we encountered high winds and 3+ meter waves. Many fewer responded to "Bon Appetit" calls.

Smooth water means we are back in the sheltered Beagle Channel. A beautiful sunrise welcomes us to South America.

12/30/2010--we sailed back into Ushuaia

The road north on Route 3 goes by shrines for the dear departed or to promote good luck to travellers on the road..

Boggy alpine valleys in Tierra del Fuego National Park are the perfect habitat for Sphagnum Moss, a major export of Patagonia.

4WDs with small rafts drop down to Lago Escondido at Paso Garibaldi.

North American Beavers were introduced to Tierra Del Fuego just before the pelt market collapsed. The invasive species is now a problem. This Nunatak Adventure 4WD promotes "Beaver Watching" tours. Note the dipping schist beds in the background.

The border between Chile and Tierra del Fuego runs across Condor Peak.

We had our last Argentine libations at Morada del Aguila, Cerro Castor (Beaver Hill) Ski area, with lunch.

Cerro Castor has a ski school. Apparently, snowboard does not translate to Español.

When we landed at LAX, we got a harbinger of things to come--a planned Inter-generational Road Scholar trip to Tahiti with a grandkid!

OK, one last cute Weddell Seal, with its eyes open!

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