Category Archives: Antarctic

Back in Blighty

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We are back. In fact we have been back six months. How time flies!!

It took us a while to get back into the swing of things & even longer for our prized table top book to arrive from Australia.

Packed with memories from our Polar Pioneer adventures; our daily journals & photos brought together in a one off edition, for us & our fellow passengers..

With thoughts now turning to where we will go for my big birthday in 2016 – Patrick……if you are reading this, there is something I need to ask you! – plus our imminent trip to Sri Lanka to celebrate a friend’s wedding & check out elephants, we thought it was high time to recall the highlights…..

Our bucket list holiday delivered everything we could ask for – & so much more – up closer than close encounters with mighty humpback whales, curious & playful leopard seals & more penguins than we could possibly hope to see. We didn’t think much could top this – & then we went to the Galapagos Islands. Nature once again blew us away as we literally had to pick our way along paths & beaches littered with iguanas & seals, saw an enormous number of other species & swam with penguins.

There were other highlights of course; the mournful tango watched in an old dancehall in the heart of Beunos Aires, savouring wines galore in Mendoza & the first jagged peaks of Fitzroy coming into view…. Patagonia, a playground we will surely return to.

Even now, when someone asks us “so how was your trip” a wry smile passes our lips as we try to put into words just how utterly a-mazing our holiday was. We can’t. We dubbed it as a an adventure to the end of the world; it was all that & so much more.

Matt & Jules xxx

For anyone interested in reading our mini adventure in Sri Lanka, go to the link below:
mjules2013.wordpress.com

Running on empty

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We had planned to pick up cash in Calafate before jumping on the bus to El Chalten. Had we known two things we would have certainly made the extra effort….
1. The bus would not leave on time; it was oversubscribed and we ended up having to wait for second bus
2. The ATM in El Chalten had been without any money for four days

Consequently we arrived with not a lot of dosh to our name. Potentially not an issue, as we were destined to be self sufficient with enough food to cover six days of camping and $400 Argentine pesos in our pocket for emergencies.

It wasn’t until we started on our third (out of four) partly used gas canisters, far earlier than planned, we realised things might get a little too tight for comfort. We had, reluctantly, agreed to try to help make inroads into the mountain of gas left over by previous trekkers that had stayed at Lautaro, in Calafate. Only problem in that is you are never 100% sure as to how much each has been actually used… The “shake test” only a broad indication; We took four of the fullest we could find.

Three meals, four breakfasts to go, it was time start rationing gas use. Less brews and to hell with the possibility of nocturnal visits by scavenging grey foxes…. we started to soak our trekking staple of porridge overnight in the tent too. We even joined both right hand sleeping bags to conserve energy and save on fuel; I stayed warmer for longer and needed less hot brews of an early evening … Complete wuss, that I am, as quick as you could say ‘sundown’, I was already tucked up in my double thermal and ‘duner’ layers.

We had a Plan B and a back up Plan C (natch). Not that we would need either but we figured if we weren’t charged for both nights camping at Paidre del Fraile, we would have enough for simple supper at El Chalten… should our gas run out (camping outside of town).

Our guardian angel was defo with us on this trip….. We marched into El Chalten with just enough gas to make a final last brew, clutching one unused bag of porridge and a handful of dried snacks.

Luckily, the only thing that had eaten into our paltry funds was a one off camping fee….. We had enough in our pockets for a longed for beer from the microbrewery AND a few cheeky empanadas for the bus journey back to Calafate. Bring.It.On!!!

Money well spent .... Cheers!

Money well spent …. Cheers!

Condor moment

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Lago Electrico

Laguna Electrico

After a couple of mega blustery days being bounced around the boulders along the shores of Laguna Electrico, we were happy to wake to an almost perfectly cloudless sky and promise of a dry day ahead. Whatever it was, that we managed to do right in a previous life, I am truly grateful for!! Camp routine down pat; bed tea, pack up sleeping bags etc, porridge, pack up tent and head out, we almost skipped out of camp in the early sunlight, buoyed by the prospect of actually being able to catch more than a glimpse of the majestic Fitz Roy massif.

Happy nirre forest

Happy nirre forest

No surprises, the previously bleak, dark and eerie ancient nirre beech forest took on a whole new different feel as we approached second time around; dappled light played on the bright green leaves and sparkled on the lichen, parakeets and woodpeckers could be seen and heard – our pace was faster than the walk in and we made good time as we headed back down the valley, on the true left bank (the way the water flowed). This route took in the ‘exclusive’ Hostelria Pillar. A pretty sexy looking privately owned hotel on the farther shores of the Rio Blanco; picket fence surrounded the manicured lawns that housed cute red brick roofed lodges with pale apricot washed walls and trellised porches. Quite surreal to stumble upon something so stylised in a landscape of gnarled nirre and lenga forests, wide open scrubby river flats, boggy grassland intimidating rocky moraine and dirt roads. We followed the white stoned edged path towards the bank of the river and back into the National Park. Easy to see why this side of the valley was a dream for day walkers parking up at the designated car park behind Pillar; a well trodden trail wove its way through the forested terrace, tracing the path of the river with exposed tree roots worn smooth by passing feet plus lookout points along the way. Jaw-dropping ones at that – on a cloudless day that is!!

Glimpse of the great Fitz Roy

Glimpse of the great Fitz Roy

Fitz Roy ahoy!

Fitz Roy ahoy!

As the path weaved it’s way nearer towards Laguna Capri, our final campsite, we were treated to a series of different views of the rugged shark-tooth like mountain range that formed the centrepiece of the massif. Seraks, crusty pinnacles of ice stood spiky, tall and proud on the glaciar below the jagged rock face, as whispy clouds came and went, softening the tips of the peaks. Just as we thought it couldn’t get any better a lone Andean condor came into view, circling high above the ridge. The first we had spotted, we literally held our breath as we watched, mesmerised, as it slowly glided in the thermals above us, almost moving in slo-mo across the sky and out of sight. We were made up to say the least.

Rangers on the bridge

Rangers on the bridge

The sunshine had also brought out a team of park rangers. Busy working on the pathways and general maintenance of the park, we bumped into a team raking the gravel on the open riverbed around Poincenot, making repairs to bridges and realigning paths to reduce soil erosion and marking areas that were now deemed fragile. Hard to believe no park fees are collected for such a well maintained national park.

That-a-way please...

That-a-way please…

With the sun on our backs we returned to the dustier lower slopes and heathland, dipping in and out of the forest towards the tip of the lake and it’s little pebble beaches. Campamento Laguna Capri was upon us in no time; a perfect and relatively secluded pitch for our last camp night in the park with the double whammy of views of both Cerro Leon and Monte Fitz Roy plus friends.

Penguins enjoying the views at Laguna Capri

Penguins enjoying the views at Laguna Capri

The penguins, a lovely Dutch chap, plus a couple of fellow Brits shared the sunset with us; perched on driftwood along a sandy stretch above the shoreline and campsite, the tranquility and views were more than you could hope for. With dusk falling we all reluctantly went off to rustle up a bite to eat; an ‘instant’ veggie risotto finished off with grated Parmesan and the last of our salami hit the spot.

We awoke to yet another perfect dawn and a truly chocolate box sunrise over the lake – the fleeting orange glow of the rocks perfectly captured in the millpond calm of the lake below. Blessed for sure! So what if we had missed the “must see’s” of Cerro Torres and the Fitz Roy mirador

We had had such a fun camping trek with spectacular views, magic moments and now had an excuse to return!!

Rocky sunrise

Rocky sunrise

Camping and caffeine

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It all began in Nepal. The practice of “bed tea” brought to gently awaken and refresh the quietly slumbering walker on a “tea house” trek… Sign me up for a Lifetime subscription! I swear I don’t fire on all cylinders without a java fix. Incorporated into the pre-nup (natch), this tradition was eagerly adopted in our household with Matt invariably getting up to make coffee in bed, come hell or high water. Yep. Spoilt.

Fast forward to this trip… A lot of thought had gone into which blend and indeed what method would be adopted to get the perfect camp brew. Research done, investment was made into a nifty little HD Ortlieb waterproof filter holder, with cheeky welded loops to slot tent pegs in (to hold it over your camp cup). Neat or wot?!

We foolishly used up our supply of Union Hand Roasted revelation blend in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia and had to include coffee in our supermarket sweep in Calafate. Decision time; we had seen various coffee brand names posted outside confiterias, yet none of them were represented on the shelves. We settled for Super Cabrales; a name we vaguely recognised, but missed the connection between ‘torrado‘,roast and azucar, sugar. All of the brightly coloured foil pouches before us had, during roasting or post, a percentage of sugar added. We are not complete coffee geeks, but it does make you wonder how bad the beans might be if you have to add sugar from the get-go, right?….

The fab filter had to be tweaked as the grind was that little bit finer than our ‘home grown’ and tested blends – Matt the ever professional bed tea-maker persevered and perfected the brew, adopting the pre-steeping of coffee and double filtering approach. Camp coffee at it’s finest!

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What happens on the Pioneer, stays on the Pioneer…

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We bumped into Ted, one of our comrade kayakers aboard the Pioneer, literally, in the middle of a forest walk today in Los Glaciares National Park (as you do) – we almost lost sight of our small group that were heading towards the moraine alongside Perito Moreno, as we shared our unbridled enthusiasm for our incredible trip aboard the Polar Pioneer all things Antartica.

A perfect reminder we haven’t talked about two traditions aboard ship, that happen, pretty much without fail, every voyage… The Polar Plunge and the BBQ. In spite of a Russian crew the ship sails out of Sydney effectively, so “throw another XXX on the barb-ie” CAN be heard from the stern decks.

Thankfully the BBQ came first as the thought of jumping into icy cold water, even with a rescue diver in place, was enough to have us both reaching for the goose fat and inhaler.

Snowy stern deck on our BBQ evening

Snowy stern deck

We came back from our landing at Detaille Island with snow in the air and teeth chatting to smell the universal smell of meat cooking outside #yum. As the zodiacs and kayaks were stowed away, the chefs huddled behind huge drum BBQ’s wrapped up in quilted coats and beanies, turning chicken thighs, pork kebabs and sausages… Time to head to the sauna to thaw out and get our glad rags on.

We needn’t have bothered with any finery as it was cold as and the expedition team had “kindly” provided a dress up box to get us into the swing of our summer BBQ. Arriving a little (fashionably) late I spent the evening impersonating a belly dancing Emirates stewardess.

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Let’s get the party started

Gluwein flowed as sounds were pumped out from the back of the bar… Party time! As the snow came down and started to settle, a full scale snowball fight ensued which left s all confused as to who was on who’s side… Time to ‘retire’ to bar for more bevvies and rocking tunes. It will come as little surprise that we were one of the last to leave. Yep, we threw more than caution to the wind and drank our weight in Wyborowa.

The Plunge is normally only attempted on calm preferably sunny days, which is why we thought we had gotten away lightly as the window of opportunity was fading. Drake -1 and unsurprisingly, given our hungover state we thought “what the hell” as the call was made, today would be the day.

Bouyed from our final and truly exhilarating paddle around Paradise Harbour, with it’s millpond conditions, carving glaciers and sightings of minke, we lept into the sub-zero temperature waters….. It was effing cold and all hope if emerging elegantly from the water were completely dashed!

Matt surfacing from his plunge

Yep he did it

Jules emerging from polar plunge

And so did she…

Up Close and Personal….

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Over the radio came the call to action. “Howard to Judd, Howard to Judd come in please, humpbacks by the ship” …….

Three km from the ship, we headed back. Quick. Double time. The first of our truly closer than close encounters that made us appreciate, just how privileged and insanely lucky we were on this trip, came about as were heading back from our landing at Cierva Cove. Arms aching from pushing and pulling our paddles at breakneck speed, we headed back to the Polar Pioneer and the bobbing Zodiacs, unsure of what to expect. Whales, yes but which ones and where were they?

Captain Sascha had spotted two ‘sleeping’ humpbacks earlier and they were, some thirty odd minutes later still spy-hopping, ‘spouting’ fishy breath, diving and showing their flukes to the passengers and crew of the ship, who watched in awe and astonishment from the four zodiacs… Thankfully some with Go-Pros and decent cameras!!

Suddenly the pair turned their inquisitive nature towards us and the rest of our band of merry kayakers, slipping under us, literally and quite scarily, (all 15m of their length gliding within a metre of us) performing underwater acrobatics to reveal their barnacled flippers beneath the surface of the water. The whales sauntered off, circling and spouting en route, to check out the Polar Pioneer with the crew running from side to side, watching what the gentle giants were going to get up to next.

Frigid with cold and excitement we didn’t capture many decent images, but what we took away with us was the most incredible memory; one of the most majestic creatures there is on this earth honouring us with it’s playful presence. It truly felt like we were in our very own ‘Frozen Planet’ episode… Minus the cameramen.

We are sooo looking forward to sharing the video footage – it was THAT incredible and really quite difficult to put into words alone!

The very next day our whale blowing experience was replaced by seal sirens…. One leopard seal in particular took a shine to Judd (or his kayak) and led us a merry dance through the labyrinth of ice around Cape Renard.

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Crystal clear water around the cove

Not only was the vista amazing with shifting colours of blue; azure, indigo and turquoise troughs of water and icy sculptures capturing our senses, we also were on the look out for the numerous penguins and seals that were in nearby waters – lone seals where seen hugging the edges of the bergs and floes, a herd of fur or Weddell seals popped up out of nowhere and swam across our path, followed closely by a raft of penguins powering by in the opposite direction – we were left wondering where to look and point our kayaks!

Leopard seal heading over to J's kayak

Leopard seal at large

A particular leopard seal and his few friends came to the rescue. They came right at us before neatly turning and deftly sliding behind a berg. We started to turn our kayaks, trying to keep up with their high speed ballet in the water, only to find they, or one leopard seal in particular, returned to “play” with us, swimming beneath our kayaks in turn; nibbling at our rudders and gently knocking the underside on the way. Not forgetting they do have a set of very sharp (read flesh tearing teeth) Judd sensibly told us (Matt) to keep his hands out of the water.

Shadow of leopard seal under kayak

Shadow leopard seal …

Awkward on land they were so graceful and energetic in the water; twisting and turning beneath the kayaks, to pop their curious heads up our of the water, one within centimetres of Judd numerous times and all three staying within 5 metres of us for sometime.