Amazing Antarctica

Jun 2 2014
Amazing Antarctica

Antarctica 4

Punta Arenas is a thriving and prosperous port town. We got a taxi into town and wandered around the square where we bought some gifts to bring home. That was fun. Had a look at a museum and ate some just out of the sea salmon on a bed of mashed potatoes. They have to bring in every vegetable they eat here as the mountains are so cold and arid so consequently they don’t serve many greens. Apparently spuds grow anywhere.
The next day we were up early to cruise through the Valley of the Glaciers. We have to keep pinching ourselves to ask if this is real as is all so awesome and amazing. When the sun shines the ice of the glaciers reflects this unusual blue blue like you have never seen before. They are valleys of ice down to the sea. A little after midday we arrived at the end of the earth, the most southerly town in the world, Ushuaia. It is in Argentina and is cradled by snow covered mountains even though it is the height of summer. We took a steam train through the National Forest to the end of the world, so we have been there and back. There are amazing horses that graze everywhere in the paddocks. Argentina is the home of cowboys and they are indeed well mounted. It was great.
The port is the busiest we have been in, many cruise ships of all shapes and sizes, large fishing boats from as far away as Russia and many backpackers excited about canoeing in Antarctica. Some shops have permission to off load their passengers on Antarctic ice but we are only permitted to cruise which is good as I fear the wheel chairs may come to grief. It’s amazing that these little cities survive and prosper in amongst the fjords, everyone happily going about their lives oblivious to anything but the world cup soccer.
Today we rounded the horn and that gives us the right to wear an earing in our right ear and to put one foot on the table at any bar. To put two feet up we have to go around the coast of South Africa.
Luckily the gods were kind to us and the water was like a pond so that spared us the thrashing that we may otherwise have got. We are now in the open sea on the way to Antarctica. The captain is just telling us that we are 56 degrees south. The water is blue black and although it is brisk but the sun is out. We have been sitting on the balcony reading with a rug around our legs.
Antarctica! Amazing! We are flabbergasted by the sheer majesty of it all. We arrived in the Palmer Straits and it was snowing, gentle flakes floating down to join all the rest that have fallen on the continent over thousands, perhaps millions of years. The must have thing at millionaires cocktail parties is Antarctic ice because the carbon that is trapped in it is thousands of years old and if you put your nose over the glass you breathe in air that has not been breathed by another human for eons. At our age there are very few breath gasping moments but seeing Antarctica is surely one of them. We can’t believe our luck.
We cruised amongst the mountains and glaciers all day yesterday and today. The sun sets after 11pm and then rises again at 3am so it’s all there for the looking. Our enquiries for James about ants in Antarctica have led us to the conclusion that the only thing that comes close is a little insect – the only animal on Antarctica other than marine life – called the “wingless fly”. Its pupa takes three years to develop and then when it metamorphizises into a fly, it mates and dies. It only lives about six hours. But if it don’t have wings then that makes it an ant in my book. How can a fly fly if it is wingless?
It’s pretty cold but not unbearably so. The temp is about zero but then the wind chill factor comes into play and out on the open water it can be pretty fierce. In the channels amongst the fjords both the water and the air are still. Breathtakingly beautiful. We are learning more about Antarctica than we ever cared to know, all of it interesting. What the scientists do agree on is that the ice layer is peeling back rapidly and that much of it is caused by human activity that puts more carbon in the atmosphere.