We land in Antarctica!!!

January 1, 2020. After the days of exploring the Falklands and South Georgia and the few intervening days totally at sea, I could hardly wait to touch down in Antarctica. This was the day! 

Antarctic Petrels at sea
Orcadas Station
Crew members on the island stay here year-round

Laurie Island, South Orkneys, Antarctica
Our first stop, by zodiac, was to explore some of Laurie Island in the South Orkneys. It was originally the site of a hut known as Omond House. It’s now the site of Orcadas Station, occupied year-round by Argentine personnel primarily as a bird hide and field refuge. We were warmly welcomed—they don’t get a lot of visitors! 

Then we had some time to explore and view penguins by zodiac…

Zodiac cruising to view penguins–with rough seas!

Chinstrap penguin watching us too!

and finally, an incredible sunset. 

Sunsets extraordinaire!

Some history: The Voyage of the Scotia
“Omond House was a building erected in 1903 on Laurie Island in the South Orkney Islands. It was built to house shore-based members of the 1902-1904 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, led by William Bruce.” 

“The house was named after Scottish meteorologist Robert T Omond, a strong supporter of the idea of making meteorological observations in Antarctica. It was built with over 100 tonnes of stone manually quarried then hauled on sledges from an adjacent glacial moraine.

“Its main purposes were to serve as a base for meteorological observations made at the nearby weather station, and as living quarters for small parties left behind both when the Scotia returned to Buenos Aires for repairs and supplies, and when she finally returned to Scotland.” Link here

“In January 1904, Bruce offered control of Omond House to Argentina and which was later renamed the Orcadas Station. Link here

Jumping off spot for Antarctica–Ushuaia

It was becoming real!
Though our recent trip to the Antarctic officially began in Buenos Aires,it was when our travel company, Quark, flew us to Ushuaia, Argentina, that we could really believe that we were on our way to the 7th continent. After arriving in the town of 150,000, our group was allotted a couple of hours to explore.

Though Wikipedia calls this windy and chilly town on the tip of South American a resort, to me it felt more like a frontier town in Alaska. With its colorfully painted wooden buildings that appear to have had little in the way of city inspector’s approvals—to my delight—it felt like a stepping off point to a great adventure. It was an amazing setting—surrounded as it was by the bay of Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel, and the backdrop of the Martial Mountain range. 

Exploring the town
There were numerous small buildings on the waterfront that offered tours of points south. I wondered how many people would come all the way to Ushuaia before making the big leap of signing up for a week’s (or more)  cruise through the Beagle Channel and down to Antarctica. Going to Antarctica is generally a major expense—I wondered who would do it on a whim.

As we walked along the main drag and up a few steep hills in town, we noticed several hotels and restaurants. I speculated that they were kept busy with people enjoying the natural setting at the end of the world, or with tourists waiting to head further south, or to take a ferry over to tour nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park—a gem featuring towering forest, waterfalls, lakes, and glaciers. 

A long way from home!

Ushuaia, “End of the World,” Argentina

After our brief walkabout, we boarded our ship, “The Endeavor,” which would be our home for the next 20 days. I was excited about what lay ahead, but also a bit nervous because I had read enough books to know that many early sailors and adventurers lost their lives sailing through the Drake Passage—and I also had heard from friends of their Antarctic vacation—which ended when their ship hit an iceberg and sank!

To be continued…