Patagonia – in many ways it feels like home…


Flew from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires and stayed the night before flying to get to Esquel the next morning. Arranged to have dinner w John & Donna Green from Pittsburgh, a nice couple who we met and spent time with on the ship. They were at the Alvear Palace Hotel and we met them there for drinks and then a short walk to Fervor, a popular and elegant steakhouse that was recommended by the concierge. First, a note on the Alvear – a stately hotel with a great French restaurant downstairs. We were told to have lunch, dinner or tea there while visiting BA. We had tea there while in town before the Antarctica trip. It was like a four course meal! Very elegant and tremendous selections of tea, sandwiches, pastries and desserts. Champagne included. A good find, if you’re into that sort of thing. The Fervor steakhouse was a great find as well. Filled with local families and Argentine business folks, it would be the go to place for a fine dinner with an outstanding wine list and great atmosphere. Topping it off was our waiter who could have been the finest in all of Buenos Aires – handsome, knowledgeable and willing to make food and wine recommendations.  He scored big on suggesting an excellent 2012 Malbec: Susana Balbo Signature. We all loved it. I would go back to this place again…. But beware, the steaks are large and appetizers are filling, dessert was apple pancakes (not what you think – it was delicious).

Got off to Esquel on Thursday, a 3 hour flight into a small Patagonia city (44,000 popn) that has been growing rapidly, mostly from Argentinians relocating for quality of life and tourism. A short drive to nearby Trevelin and we arrive at Patagonia River Guides home base. Greeted by Travis Smith and some of his staff. They have a great spot here that has seen significant renovation, with much care and details to make it a functioning fishing lodge. After brief introduction, a small plate and libations and we are off to Rio Pico with John Roberts, our guide for the next 3+ days. We choose the scenic route which involves a 3 hour drive and goes through some of Patagonia’s finest ranching country, scenic Andes views and crossing some great rivers on our way to Tres Valles Lodge where we are to stay for 3 nights. Tres Valles is a guest lodge and large cattle ranch (6,000 hectares – – that’s 15,000 acres for those back home). It is a phenomenally beautiful setting with the lodge setting above a large lake with spectacular peaks in background. There is a significant spring creek down near the ranch house but the water was low (despite that it did produce 14 large trout one afternoon). The ranch and lodge are owned by a French couple who visit perhaps only a month a year. The managers Simon and Guillermina are a very nice couple who have been there for 7 years. More on Tres Valles and our stay there later – we have to get to Trevelin to see the Boys…

It’s about a 2 hour drive south and east to Trevelin. Best way to break that up is stop and fish somewhere. We pulled to Lago Torres – a 100 or so acre lake in the middle of nowhere that has a large population of rainbow trout. We fished the edge of reeds and weed beds on the upwind side and caught many 18-24″ rainbows on damsel fly and other nymphs, scuds and dries. Headed into Trevelin Sunday evening and caught a rowdy crowd of Seahawks fans around the tv rooting for Seattle in their exciting 4th quarter rally and overtime win over Green Bay. Super Bowl: Seattle vs New England (Go Seahawks!). Sorry we missed the party this year Mike Gardiner….

More later – gotta get coffee, breakfast and off to catch fish…. ( 88 degrees in town today, sunny and warm…)

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Back to Ushuaia

Tues evening…..Back to Ushuaia

Sailed into Ushuaia after a smooth ride up the Beagle Channel (named after HMS Beagle that Darwin was aboard) from Drake Passage, arriving 7pm – good timing for walking up to town and having a nice dinner and decent wine. We met with The gang at Dublin, an Irish/Argentine bar that served local beer and color (that would be Beagle beer and lots of Argentine warships, tango pictures and various posters, pics and art for the maritime/fishing history of the place. No Guinness on site, but it is the end of the world after all… Beagle beer is quite good, esp on draught.
We later met up with Derek and Jenny Clayton of Melbourne and several others from the ship at a fine restaurant up town – Kaupuay, which specialized in crab & seafood. Excellent wine and really fine food here with a very cozy, intimate atmosphere. The wine on the ship was generally pretty poor, esp the red, so we all really enjoyed good bottles of Argentine wine along with the great meal.
Overnight on board and finished packing, up early tomorrow for bkfst, checkout and tour of the local national park. Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego is a relatively small park, maybe 40,000 hectares, but contains some incredible waterfront and Montaigne communities. We saw plenty of scenic peaks, lakes and small rivers, birds and forested areas – mostly beech trees, which are not huge and are related to the trees of Australia and New Zealand, not the N American beech species. We hiked a bit, viewed some birds and had tea/coffee & snacks at the visitor center where they had some interesting interpretive panels and displays on the aboriginal natives that used to inhabit the whole of Tierra del Fuego. The Manname people were seafarers who lived along these cold coastal areas with little or no clothing. The early Europeans were both amazed and appalled at this and simultaneously attempted to convert and clothe the natives. Apparently this lead to sanitary problems and the Manname people secumed to various diseases brought in by the Dutch, Spanish and English explorers and missionaries.
Driving through Ushuaia and along the waterfront (Avenos de Los Heros Malvenas… Or roughly: Avenue of the Heros of the Malvenas War with Britain). There is a memorial park with perpetual flame and wall with names of over 600 Argentine sailors and military personnel who were lost in that war, over 300 of which were killed in the sinking of one ship by a British destroyer. Many will recall the Argentinians trying to wrest control of the Falkland Islands (Malvenas) from British rule and thrust themselves into a full blown naval confrontation with the British. Then PM Margaret Thatcher deployed naval ships to the Falkland Islands and pretty much destroyed the Argentine navy and took back the islands. It is still an emotional subject for many here and claims for the islands remain a strain between the two countries. One positive outcome for Argentina was this disastrous over reach by the military brought to an end the decades long rule of the country by the military and their corrupt strongmen.


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Drake Passage – heading north…

Drake Passage – heading north…

Crossing the Drake Passage north on our way back to Argentina. Weather has been phenomenal so far and unusual for Antarctica voyaging. It is a 2 day passage and forecasts are for clear, smooth sailing. We arrive in Ushuaia on Tuesday evening and head out for a National Park tour Wednesday morning, flying back to Buenos Aires that afternoon. Have plans for dinner and tango bar in BA with friends from the ship. Probably go to seafood place that has great reputation in Ushuaia tonite.

The A&K expedition staff have filled in the days in ocean transit with lectures and programs in the auditorium – typically on natural history and ecology, geology and glacial studies, early history of Antarctic exploration, whaling, sealing and various human endeavors south of the 60th parallel. Interesting and very informative for most part. Bob Burton is crew historian and is a great story teller. Had dinner with him the other night. A very capable historian with a great sense of humor and many years of experience in the high latitudes of the Antarctic. Several ornithologists and bird experts along as well as a whale/seal specialist – Larry Hobbs, whom I just realized in visiting with him last nite on the ship that he is good friends with Hugh & Karen Zackhiem and the Meloys in Helena. Larry has old school ties to both and comes to Montana most years to float the Smith River. Small world…

More later, including some pics…

Many humpback whales encountered on our way out from the peninsula – good pics from the ship and zodiacs!

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Antarctica – Fire and Ice (and birds and whales)….

Antarctica – Fire and Ice (and birds and whales)….

Jan 8, 2015: We anchored Le Boreal off Half Moon Island this morning, went ashore to visit a large colony of nesting chinstrap penguins. There are also nesting Antarctic terns, kelp gulls, snowy sheathbills and the brown skuas. The skuas are highly predacious and always on the lookout for an unguarded or sickly chick in the colonies. The terns take the brunt of it here and the Penguins seem almost indifferent about the skuas lethal intentions, unless they are right there with their own chicks. Waddell seals were laying on the ice here and there. They are large and docile seals with few predators. They winter in the pack ice, keeping their breathing holes open with their teeth.

There is an Argentine research station at Half Moon and it looks as though someone recently showed up, based on the tracks in the snow and the flag flying. This is a remote outpost (62*36’S 59*55′ W) but incredibly scenic. Livingston Island in just across the water with some significant peaks and glaciers. The sealers and whalers were in here early and took many, many seals skins and later whales from these islands and rich waters. We visit an historic whaling station later today.

The weather has been outrageously beautiful here – sunny, low winds and moderate temperatures of 26-32 degrees. We are told this is an unusually pleasant run of weather and the wind and cold often make for difficult passage and even thwarting any landings. We lucked out on the weather as forecasts is for more of the same. Daylight is crazy long and if you don’t keep the shades pulled tight you’ll be wakened by the bright light anytime after 2 am (3am for me this morning) or sometimes the rough seas in rocking the ship.

This afternoon we sailed to Deception Island – one of the most famous islands in the South Shetland archipelago- with an interesting history and geologic origin. Deception Island is a recently active volcano and discovered in 1820s by British and American sealers. The name refers to the deceiving donut like shape – the donut having a very small bite out of it, which forms a narrow entrance to the flooded caldera of the original volcano. The entrance is named “Neptune’s Bellows” for the strong winds and steep cliffs on either side. It was years before the entrance was discovered and realized what a great harbor it presented, with geothermal waters and protection from storms and winds. A Norwegian whaling company built a station in whalers cove where they dragged 6-7,000 whales that had been fletched of their blubber and rendered for oil. The Brits were put off by the mess that remained- all the rotting whale carcasses and waste of resource. They forced the Norwegians to process the meat and bones and generally clean up the place (Britts held control by issuing requirements in the lease or permit for operation of the station). Several volcanic eruptions in late 1960s caused catastrophic slides and ash fallout, damaging the buildings and nearly taking all those at the station. The station was abandoned as were 2 other research or military stations on the island. Most of the island is currently protected for its natural, historic and other values.

We encountered 2 sailboats while in the caldera – one French, one Aussie. The French were relatives of 2 crew from LeBoreal and eye waiting for our arrival to meet. The crew took over some libations and sad news of the Paris terror attacks that had occurred earlier in the week. We are flying under French flag and it is lowered to half mast for the next 3 days.

Will try to get some photos posted. It is incredibly beautiful here – beyond description.

Postscript:  this sent from south end of Drake Passage and is first sat Internet possible over past 4days.   Still terribly slow so will wait til we get to BA to post photos and more text.

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Plenty ‘o Penguins…..

Plenty ‘o Penguins….

Went ashore on the mainland of Antarctica this afternoon. Walked among Adelie and Gentoo penguins. Very large colony of Adelies – covering over a mile of rocky beach and hillside at Brown Bluff. The bluff is a sedimentary feature a couple of thousand feet high that is all volcanic imageash, deposited when the area was much more volcanically active. Visiting a large penguin colony is nearly indescribable and our ability to post photos from the ship’s Internet/wifi is limited. We’ll post the pics and videos later.

This morning we toured Gourdin Island by water in zodiac boats, viewing Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, along with Waddell seal and various sea birds. Lots of penguins coming and going as they are in the midst of their breeding and chick-rearing at this time. No leopard seals spotted (famously vicious predators of penguins) nor orcas seen in the Antarctic Sound. We are approaching 65 degrees south latitude and the day length is nearly 22 hours.

Internet on ship is by very limited satellite connection. Will add pictures later.

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Land Ho!

First encountered land at 10am Tuesday, arriving at the South Shetland Islands. Coming south thru Nelson Strait between Nelson and Robert Islands where will cross into Bransfield Strait to Antarctic Sound. Winds from the se, blowing hard and gusting with 12-16 foot seas, low overcast and occasional snow. Many seabirds (albatrosses, petrels, prions and skuas) have come out along the boat, including schools of penguins – probably Adelines – swimming by on their way to feeding grounds. We had an uneventful crossing of Drake Passage, which often serves up some horrific weather and seas, making for unpleasant passage. By lunch time we are in and out of foggy conditions, seeing more frequent ice bergs and entering this narrow passage. Fog horn (wimpy ) on the ship is weakly blaring our presence as we roll along at 14 knots. Hope to make it to area near Esperenza (Argentinian base) and go ashore at Brown Bluff.

Internet on ship is by very limited satellite connection. Will add pictures later.

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Happy New Year!

We rang – or rather danced – in the new year at the Sofitel Hotel in BA.  Very nice dinner with lots of great Argentinian wines and then joined some other Americans and Argentines for late nite dancing.   Long time since we stayed out past 2 am…  Seems to be a theme here – late and hours long dinners, with lots of wine and whatever may follow.   We had Tango lessons on Thursday evening followed by an outstanding dinner, wine and Tango show.  Tango shows and the dance itself is part of BA identity,  with many formal clubs offering shows and even the open air parks in the city have dancers during the day.   Yesterday (Friday) we walked all over and found a couple of great shops and neighborhoods.  Silvia y Mario is a fine leather store near our hotel.   Tried on a capybara skin jacket….  ended up w a fine fitting calf skin jacket at a great price.   Late in the afternoon we landed at the Alvear Hotel for tea.  This palatial old hotel was highly recommended for dining or afternoon tea.  We were not disappointed – best tea I can remember,  ever.  Cakes, treats and desserts were way over the top.  Could have used a wheelchair to leave that place.

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