Saturday, December 11, 2010


After visiting the Shetland Islands our ship, the Ushuaia  seems committed to search for the world’s end, as it sails south. Is there anything below the Shetlands? For years humanity thought of the archipelago as the southernmost land on the map. The fascinating thing about Antarctica’s golden age of discovery is that intrepid expeditions such as Palmer’s and Wedell’s pushed south and hit record after record while looking for priced seals and whales ignoring the presence of the neighbouring continent. Now that we intentionally move south I understand Antarctica could only be discovered by someone driven by a precise and motivated search. Cook himself sailed around Antarctica for over two years without ever laying his eyes on the continent.

Today the ship is relatively still and we are awakened by our expedition leader in the intercom saying: “Good Morning Antarcticans!” with the back of Indiana Jones soundtrack. The captain announces in an optimistic tone that we are navigating the mirrored waters of Gerlache Strait, protected from wild open seas by Anvers and Brabant Islands. Between the Antarctic Peninsula and them there’s a stream of floating icebergs of odd size and contours, seemingly brought forward by a loony’s imagination.

We haste to the outer deck to attend the show, favoured by an unusual clean pale blue sky. The continent’s rocky nature only flourishes on the shore; the rest of the surface is well deep under meters of compact ice.

Out of the sudden, from behind an iceberg, we catch a memorable view. As if still striving to retain its course, the Norwegian whaler “Governoren”, sunk in 1916, appears ghostly ahead. Half of the ship lies underwater; the other half provides an excellent nestling spot for skuas and gulls…

We in an area called Wilhelmina Bay in a place known as Port Foyn, a whalers’ natural anchoring place baptized after Sven Foyn, the Norwegian inventor of the explosive harpoon. Back in the beginning of 20th century whale hunting was as a profitable activity as today is oil. Whale’s oil was the ideal lubricant for the industrial era that was in its heyday, aside from being a key ingredient in the perfume industry. Without sustainable plans British, American and Norwegian fleets patrolled the Antarctic Ocean and hunted as much as 5,000 whales in a single season.


As dark as it gets during the Antarctic summer...

Gentoo penguins gathered in the sorroundings of Argentinean Base Brown. It's curious to watch these antropomorphic animal to chase each other over the white carpeted pitch. Enough penguins for us, we go back to the ship to open a bottle of whiskey and toast with Antarctic ice. Sure the times of waiting for a ride by Patagonian roadside will come back, but now Laura, let's enjoy this brief lightning of luxury amid our uncertain journey.

Above, Argentinean Base Brown. It's not opened to tourists, but it should. Our country is proud of its Antarctic presence. Argentina has continous presence in the white continent since 1904 when it started running the Orcadas Base, the oldest settlement in Antarctica to be still inhabited. However it wouldn't harm to use Base Brown as an Ambassador of this long tradition as British do in Port Lockroy.

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