Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I regarded volcanic islands to be a privilege Polynesian or Central American tropics. I used to envision them covered with a fern tapestry up to the flat peaks crowning them. Well, that was before our ship arrived to mysterious Deception Island, on the Shetand Archipelago. The island is what is left of a volcano that erupted 10,000 years ago, blowing the entire cone off and leaving a almost-circular shaped island. The narrow passage to this natural inlet is just 220 meters wide, and there navigates the brave MV Ushuaia. What is below is, therefore, is not just water, but an active volcano that in 1967 sneezed lightly forcing Argentina, Chile and the UK to evacuate their bases.

It was impressive to step on the island and discover the ground was made of sizzling volcanic clay. As a consequence, when the freezing waters of Antarctica meet the warm shores the water evaporates into fumaroles that give the whole island a ghostly setting. But we didn’t come here to see fumaroles. Along the beach there’s a row of large timber houses, abandoned by men, their painting undone by the elements, collapsed by time. They’re the remaining of Whaler’s Bay.

Deception Island was an ideal base for whaling activity flourishing those days. It provided a natural harbour protected by the island’s circular cliff walls. Behind this refuge Norwegian fleets rested after a tiring day of hunting. It’s funny how Norway is a nation that has left an imprint in the world only beyond 60 degrees of latitude, either in the Arctic or the Antarctic.The rest of the world has deserved the Norwegians less attention than a carrot. I bid only after making sure that in Antarctica they could also die in the middle of a blizzard did Norwegians lit their pipes and bother to exploit the business.

Surfing this wave of history was that Adolfus Amandus Andersen, a Norwegian immigrated to Chile, arrived to Deception Island in 1906. He was an entrepreneur, head of the Magallanic Whaling Society, and established the small village whose ruins we see today. In 1912-3 season, just to exemplified, they hunted 5,000 whales, and visitors to the area reported how smelly the blood-tainted bay had become. Walking along the Beach we find old crumbling wooden boats from which seamen would launch their harpoon to secure a prey. We are also impressed by giant tanks and hatches where whale’s bones were melted to extract oil. Now they are half swallowed by the volcanic clay. There is something wicked about the whole place.


The funniest of all was taking the chance and swimming in the narrow warm strip of water next to the shore. Less than a meter wide, at some point we were brave enough to go beyond, just to meet the freezing stream and run back to the beach yelling and praying for a towel.

With the T-shirt of the People's Health Movement

Laura and I with the People’s Health Movement T-Shirt. PHM has donated us a pocket projector we use for the nomadic educational project we carry on as we hitch-hike around the world. Visiting Antarctica was far off our plans. We just stumbled upon the continent when in Ushuaia we learned it was possible to travel there. We didn’t have the money for the trip, so wishing it became our main strategy. And it happened, just as it happens whatever you request from the universe in a trip. We were soon again setting foot in Ushuaia, disoriented and happy, having achieved that blissful stupid state of sanctity travelling confers the soul.

1 comment:

Sibbe The Hitcher said...

Amazing! Never even heard of Deception Island before.
Btw I ran into an American in Uganda that had been travelling nonstop the last 6 years all over the world, and he told me that the most amazing trip had been a boattrip to Antartica :) Was quite expensive though..