Antarctica – the white wilderness!

“If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart.
Art, and it would be Michelangelo.
Literature, and it would be Shakespeare.
And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.”
~ Andrew Denton

I started writing this blog post a few times and kept deleting what I had… I’m not sure I have the appropriate words to describe this last part of my trip… an 11 day expedition cruise to Antarctica… the white wilderness! I think the saying ‘save the best to last’ is very fitting in this case. To say it was a truly amazing experience is an understatement… it was completely out of this world… better than anything I had imagined and definitely the trip of a lifetime!

MV Ushuaia out in Antarctica

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I think it only really hit home on about day 7 of the trip… when I was out in the freezing cold all alone on the outer deck of the ship, surrounded by snow covered mountains, glaciers and icebergs as far as the eye could see… and I suddenly was overcome with excitement… I was in Antarctica!! I couldn’t stop smiling and shivering at the same time… I was listening to my music at the time and started dancing around on the deck all by myself… hope they don’t have CCTV footage of that!

The whole 11 days weren’t all pleasant… the days on the Drake passage were a little challenging… according to the crew we had amazing sea conditions and they referred to it as Lake Drake… but it didn’t stop me feeling sick every time the ship swayed! It was all totally worth it for the amazing wilderness that awaited me on the other side… our first sight of land was really exciting… the South Shetland Islands and small icebergs floating around… the best bit was that the views only got better as the days went by!

We were lucky to be able to make 10 landings/outings across the South Shetland Islands and the Western Antarctic Peninsula, including 2 continental landings and visiting the old British base at Port Lockroy, where I sent a postcard to myself from Antarctica with advice for future me!

Port Lockroy in the snow

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Zodiac cruise

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During our days in Antarctica, we saw huge icebergs and the most amazing glaciers, some with huge crevasses in them… we had sunshine, wind and snow… sometimes all three in the same day… and we saw some breathtaking sunsets. We also had the chance to see some amazing wildlife… Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie penguins, a variety of different seals, orcas and humpback whales and birds galore! We even managed to have a BBQ out in vast wilderness of Antarctica!

Landscape of Antarctica – mountains, glaciers, icebergs and snow

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Gentoo penguin climbing and sliding in the snow

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Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins diving and swimming

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Baby Elephant seal

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Antarctic sunsets

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The highlight for me was the final day at Deception Island, where I got to swim in Antarctic waters in the caldera of an active volcano… it was surreal!

Deception Island

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This trip has been one of the most amazing 11 days of my life. I also made some really great new friends from around the world that inspire me to continue to travel and have more adventures.

Oh and you’re probably all going to ask me whether I figured out how to greet a penguin 🙂 Well… I wanted to go and hug a Chinstrap penguin because they are the cutest… but I kinda wasn’t allowed (they have rules in Antarctica too!)… so instead I just admired them from afar… sat and watched the cute little creatures and their habits and every so often one of the curious ones just waddled over to see what the humans were up to! I know I’ve said it before… but I’ll say it again… it was just out of this world!

The end of the world!

So here I am, at the end of the world, in the gorgeous port town of Ushuaia and it goes to show that dreams can come true! A few years ago coming to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia was just a dream for me, it was a place I had researched and whose pictures I had looked at longingly on the Internet, a destination with some of the most stunning scenery, mountains and wildlife I’d ever seen! Now finally, here I am!

Ushuaia is a beautiful town, surrounded by high mountain peaks on one side and the vast southern ocean on the other. It’s referred to as ‘the End of the World’ as it’s the southernmost city in the world. The only place south from here is the vast and icy wilderness that is Antarctica!

Port at Ushuaia Bay – where all the cruises depart from

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Ushuaia town surrounded by snow-capped mountains

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I’ve had some great active days here hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park, riding the End of the World Train (although I expected it to be a bit more spectacular!) and taking a short cruise along the Beagle channel to see some amazing wildlife… I even managed to see my first King and Gentoo penguins, albeit through binoculars as they were quite far away!

End of the World Train

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Tierra del Fuego National Park

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Beagle Channel cruise

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Penguins and seals seen on the Beagle Channel cruise

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Estancia Harberton – a stop along the Beagle Channel cruise

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After saying farewell to my tour group, I’ve been taking a few days to relax in this beautiful town and stock up on warm clothing in eager anticipation of tomorrow, when I begin my voyage to the seventh continent, the land of snow and ice, Antarctica! I’m extremely excited and can’t wait to see the expedition ship (MV Ushuaia) arrive at the port, although I’m not looking forward to days of potentially throwing up as we navigate along the infamous Drake Passage!

Although my South American adventure is nearly over… hopefully the best is yet to come!

The journey south – Patagonia and the Lake District

I’ve spent the last three weeks on an overland tour through the Argentinian and Chilean Lake District and Patagonia, taking me from Santiago all the way south to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.

It’s been one of the most breathtaking trips in South America in terms of natural beauty and landscape. Even after being surrounded by mountains for the last 3 months, I’m still not sick of them! The views became more and more spectacular the further south we went.

I had a great time for the most part of the trip with an inspiring, fun and really diverse group of people… we hiked, camped, rafted and spent long days on our truck (Rosita) together. It wasn’t all fun and games… camping was pretty tough mainly because of the harsh cold weather and biting Patagonian winds, especially during the night. I was really grateful to have a warm bed and shower after that was over!

Rosita (the overland truck) on the open road – Ruta 40

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We started our travel to Pucón and Bariloche in the Lake District of Chile and Argentina. Pucón was particularly fun because I managed to go white water rafting (in the freezing cold!) and also because of the majestic and still active volcano Villarrica in the background. I was lucky enough to be in both Chile and Argentina on my birthday and spent the evening in Bariloche, the Switzerland of Argentina.

Volcano Villarrica

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White water rafting on the Trancura river in Pucón

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As we went further south into Patagonia, we entered El Chaltén for some great hiking in Los Glaciares National park with amazing (and windy!) views, followed by El Calafate to see the spectacle that is the Perito Moreno glacier. It’s difficult to find the words to adequately describe the sight of this huge body of ice and the sounds of icebergs calving off the glacier and splashing into Lake Argentino below… it was definitely one of my highlights!

Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park

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Piedras Blancas glacier – Los Glaciares National Park

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Mount Fitz Roy amongst the clouds – Los Glaciares National Park

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El Chaltén town

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Perito Moreno glacier and icebergs – Los Glaciares National Park

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Leaving behind El Calafate, we began our three days camping in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile… I thought I had already seen amazing sights but those were nothing compared to the views on the hikes/walks we saw there. To top that off I got to see the Grey Glacier with the spectacular blue/purple hues of the ice and with an elephant head emerging from one of the ice caves… … see if you can spot it in the pics!

Torres del Paine National Park

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Grey Glacier – Torres del Paine National Park

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Guanacos getting friendly

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The icing on the cake was being able to see Magellanic penguins after leaving the National Park and arriving at the Seno Otway penguin colony near Punta Arenas. Although I didn’t get up close to them, they are such adorable creatures, waddling around and flapping their wings. It was a lot of fun just watching them go about their every day business, in particular listening to the sound of them braying and watching them splash about in the water.

Magellanic Penguins at Seno Otway

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Shipwreck on route from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia

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Tango, spanish and steak in beautiful Buenos Aires

I’m a little behind on my blog because I’ve been having so much fun (and also because of the lack of good internet in a lot of places)!

Leaving Iguazu Falls behind I arrived in Buenos Aires ready for steak, more wine, Tango and Spanish! I spent a couple of weeks in this beautiful city, taking classes in both Tango and Spanish, meeting some really cool people from around the globe and generally having the time of my life!

The classes were so much fun, a little addictive even (especially Tango), and I really didn’t want them to end… I even got to go a long to a few Milongas and try out my Tango dancing 🙂

Dancing at the Milonga

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By the end of my stay, I really fell in love with Buenos Aires… if I have to chose another city to live in, I think this would be it. It has a very European feel to the place and is a very vibrant and bustling city. I enjoyed numerous cafes and restaurants with amazing food and wine, nightclubs, shopping in Palermo and the artisan markets of Recoleta and San Telmo. I also managed to fit in a couple of trips outside the city to the Tigre delta and for a fiesta with the gauchos at Estancia Santa Susana.

Delicious steak and flan

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Musicians at the San Telmo market

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Colourful streets of La Boca

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Streets of Buenos Aires

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Puerto Madero at Sunset – view from a catamaran

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Gauchos and asado at Estancia Santa Susana

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After a while I got used to being greeted with an ‘hola’ and a kiss on the cheek, saying ‘chau’ as I left a place and the cute pronunciation of Argentinian Spanish. I also figured out the best way to change my money… I remember how strange it was walking along Florida street seeing guys in t-shirts wearing suit jackets and silver chains shouting ‘cambio, cambio’ trying to exchange pesos for US dollars.

After my two weeks were up, I really didn’t want to leave… but it was time to start my trip to the south of Chile and Argentina… one steps closer to Antarctica!

The Mighty Iguazu Falls

Visiting the Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s seven natural wonders, was a truly incredible experience! Seeing the water gushing down with great speed, hearing the roaring sounds and feeling the fierce spray of water against me, I was able to experience the falls from several different perspectives… walking through the jungle trails (with guatis and creepy spiders!), taking a boat ride right up to the falls on the Argentinian side and a helicopter ride over the entire falls from the Brazilian side.

I don’t think any description I give will do it justice so I’ll just share some photos instead 🙂

Views from the Argentinian Side of the FallsIguazu3

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Two Sister Falls – seen from the Argentinian sideIguazu7

Views from the Brazilian side of the FallsIguazu11

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La Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat) – seen from the Brazilian sideIguazu10

Aerial views of the Falls from a helicopterIguazu8

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‘Gran Aventura’ boat ride to the Falls – on the Argentinian sideIguazu6-3

A guati taking a nap under the treesIguazu5

The Beautiful Northwest of Argentina

Leaving the city of wine behind, I travelled up north on overnight buses stopping over in Córdoba for a few days and then heading up to the northwest town of Salta. I’m really impressed with the standard of buses in the country… the seats recline back and are pretty comfortable, you get meals and it’s a lot cheaper and less hassle than trying to take a flight anywhere… although I’m still always paranoid about being mugged and continue to hide money in my socks!

I made some great new friends in Córdoba… we wandered the streets of the student town, sampled a lot of local dishes (and ice cream!) and frequented the local markets together.

Local dish of Humita (corn) with cheese

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Delicious ice-cream in Córdoba: fruits of the forest and  peaches & cream

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Arriving in Salta after a 14hr bus ride, I was welcomed by a freak thunderstorm with hailstones the size of ice cubes! Apart from this, I had an amazing time in this city. It’s a beautiful city with old colonial buildings still preserved. The cable car ride up to the top of San Bernado hill was a lot of fun … but the best part was enjoying a cold beer in a café on top of the hill, while looking down over the whole city with the afternoon sun shining! It’s really small moments like that which still make me think ‘I can’t believe I’m here’!

Views of Salta from on top of San Bernado hill

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Although I prefer being outdoors and seeing natural attractions, I was particularly fascinated by one of the museums in Salta… the MAAM (Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña). It’s all about Inca culture and the child sacrifices that were discovered at the peak of mount Llullaillaco in 1999. They have one of the three mummified children on display in the museum… this was quite eerie to see but also really interesting to learn about the Inca traditions.

Travelling outside of Salta, I visited the province of Jujuy and the stunning mountain scenery in Pumamarca and along the Quebrada (gorge) de Humahuaca. The Hill of Seven Colours was particularly spectacular …  it has all these different colours due to the different minerals in them (and their different levels of oxidation).

Hill of Seven Colours and Quebrada de Humahuaca

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View from Pucara de Tilcara in Jujuy

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I also managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the wine-producing town of Cafayate to try Malbec and Torrontés ice cream… although it’s not as delicious as you might originally think!

Malbec, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon?

After the beautiful and scenic bus ride through the Andes from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza, the main question I found myself faced with on a daily basis was ‘Malbec, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon?’… what a tough life!

The 8-hour bus ride to Mendoza brought me face to face with the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Aside from the hour spent trying to cross the border… and nearly forgetting to get my Argentina entry stamp… the journey was spectacular! With my love of mountains, it was definitely the best bus journey of my life so far!

Views from the bus journey through the Andes

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When in Mendoza, it would be rude not to drink wine. With that in mind, I went along to visit a few vineyards/bodegas to learn how they produced their different wines… and of course to partake in the wine tasting that followed… not a bad way to spend a day 🙂

Bodega and vineyard tours and wine tasting

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I also decided to try my hand at a bit of horse riding. Although a beginner, I made friends with my horse, Rosagio, and managed not to fall off… quite an accomplishment! Riding through the hills of Mendoza, overlooking the vineyards and with the Argentine Precordillera in the far distance, was breathtaking… once I got the hang of riding, it was a lot of fun 🙂 I went slightly pale in the face when our host told me tales of how he had been bitten by a black widow spider on more than one occasion while riding there… thankfully I was nearly at the end of my ride at the time and I didn’t fall off my horse! Telling me that they’re not as poisonous as those in the amazon (apparently!) was of no consolation to me… those of you that know me will understand how freaked out this whole discussion made me!

Horse riding with Rosagio

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Arriving back at the ranch after riding, we were welcomed with an amazing asado (BBQ) dinner… meat kept on coming out until we could eat no more and the vino tinto (Malbec) kept on flowing. Our hosts entertained us with guitar music and singing… I enjoyed making a lot of new friends and Gaucho-style karaoke singing along to ‘La Bamba’.

Music and singing after the asado

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Where Heaven Meets Earth

After leaving Peru, the last couple of weeks have taken me through Bolivia and into the Atacama desert in Chile… and I’ve had the time of my life with an amazing group of people!

We started off in La Paz, a very unique city with hustle and bustle, people everywhere, car horns constantly beeping and dead llama foetuses hanging outside stores in the Witches’ Market. I haven’t seen another place like it… a few days there were enough for me but it was definitely a place I had to experience (together with all its roast chicken)! We then moved on to Sucre for dinosaur footprints, salsa dancing and partying Bolivian style!

La Paz

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Llama foetus hanging in Witches’ Market

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The highlight of my trip was the three day  journey in 4 wheel drives starting from Uyuni and ending up at the Chilean border. Visiting the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) was an incredible experience… with the clouds so low it sometimes felt like they were touching the ground… an absolutely breathtaking place! Taking funny photos in the Salar was quite entertaining!

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Funny photos in the Salar de UyuniSaltFlatsElephants

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It’s difficult to describe the sheer amount of natural beauty I’ve seen over the past few weeks. Natural wonders such as volcanoes, lagunas and geysers were mesmerizing as was the wildlife along the way. Some of the memories I’ll take away with me forever are watching the sunset in the freezing cold with volcanoes, lakes and flamingoes in the foreground, walking through Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) in the Atacama desert, and above all, sitting in a natural hot springs looking out at the horizon with volcanoes and natural geysers in the distance.

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Laguna Colarada

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Hot Springs in the Bolivian AltiplanoHotSprings

It wasn’t always fun and games… it was painfully cold during the night, no light in the ‘hotels’ in the Salar… no hot showers in some places… stale bread at times for breakfast… and altitude sickness… but all that was worth it for the amazing places I got to see!

Having arrived in Santiago and saying goodbye to my tour group, my next stop is Argentina and the vineyards of Mendoza! This is the one country in South America I most wanted to visit… I can’t wait!

The Lost City of the Incas

So far I’m loving life on the road… once you get used to cold showers, paper thin pillows and bread/butter (sometimes cheese!) for breakfast on an almost daily basis.

Over the past week I’ve seen so many breathtaking mountain vistas and Inca ruins across Peru. From Pachacamac (in Lima), to Pisaq (in the Sacred Valley) and the town of Ollantaytambo, the highlight for me was definitely Machu Picchu… sometimes referred to as the lost city of the Incas. The view of these mysterious Inca ruins and the Huayna Picchu mountain towering over them was truly spectacular and took my breath away… I don’t think any photos can really do it justice! Visiting Machu Picchu has always been a dream of mine (and on my bucket list!) so I’m glad I finally made it there… the short hike up to sun gate while the sun was rising, although challenging, definitely made it all that more special!

Machu Picchu an Huayna Picchu

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View of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu from Sun GateSunGateView

Pisaq Ruins

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Woman Dyeing Alpaca Wool at Planeterra Women’s Weaving Project

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It hasn’t been all history lessons, ruins and photography though… there has been a lot of fun and adventure too. Travelling with a group for the past week has been a blast and it’s been interesting meeting people from all around the world. Together we’ve had a lot of fun… from walking for hours along railway tracks and through dark tunnels in search of waterfalls, chilling out in thermal hot springs, quad biking along dirt roads surrounded by wild animals and snow capped mountain peaks, drinking pisco sours and sometimes simply playing cards over a cold Cusqueña beer. I’m just soaking it up and enjoying every moment of it!

Quad Biking

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Salineras (Salt Mines) de Maras

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Next stop… Puno and Lake Titicaca. Then it’s time to say adiós to Peru and hola to Bolivia.

Sand Dunes, Sunsets and Seals

Following the volcanoes of Arequipa and Colca, I took off on a trip to Ica and the desert oasis Huacachina. My journey to Ica was my first bus trip in Peru, in fact my first in South America, so I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I received a lot of advice from friends and family: ‘hold on to your luggage as tightly as possible for the entire trip‘, ‘sleep with one eye open‘, ‘hide some money in your socks in case you get mugged or the bus is hijacked!‘, etc etc… it’s no wonder I was a little apprehensive. I still don’t fully comprehend the bus system in Peru but I managed to get  to the right destination and made it there with all my luggage intact and without being robbed… I’d consider that a successful trip!

Huacachina was a very serene and beautiful place… a small oasis surrounded by desert sand dunes as far as the eye can see. I spent a relaxing and fun couple of days there, riding up the sand dunes and sandboarding down (with a few minor mishaps!). Watching the sun set behind the dunes was a breathtaking experience!

Sunset in the Desert

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Huacachina Oasis

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I also managed to squeeze in a little visit to the town of Paracas with a boat trip around the Ballestas Islands, where I spotted my first penguins (from afar) as well as Peruvian boobies, pelicans and seals. After the boat broke down near the Islands, we were lucky enough to even see dolphins!

Wildlife on the Ballestas Islands

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