When you're in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America, a lot of things are said to be at the end of the world! The Mayhem Consultant and I have wanted to see Antarctica for decades, and now we have.
Why Antarctica? Because there's something compelling and romantic about far distant places. Luckily, these days such places can be visited in comfort, which means a cruise ship rather than sled dogs and massive layers of protective clothing.
The lighthouse above isn't actually at the end of the world–there are a couple more farther south, including on Antarctica itself. (I saw that one in the distance, too far for a good picture.) Though it isn't very clear, there are cormorants and sea lions lounging on the rock at the foot of the lighthouse, catching the summer sunshine in the Southern Hemisphere!
The image below is of the Beagle Channel as we sailed into Ushaia, Argentina, in Tierra del Fuego, "the land of fires," early in the morning.
It's boggling to think of small wooden sailing ships braving these turbulent seas. While I generally prefer small ship cruises, for the notoriously dicey polar seas a larger ship made sense, and it was a wise choice.
The monument shown on the left is at Cape Horn, Chile, and it's a memorial to all the sailors lost when "rounding the Horn." The two pieces of the sculpture form the image of an albatross, a symbol of the spirits of those lost sailors. (Picture from Wikimeda by Remi Jouan.)
Antarctica is a fragile environment so access is tightly controlled. Visitors on small expedition style cruise ships may go ashore in zodiacs, but larger ships like the one we were on (the Celebrity Eclipse) sail by close enough for good views. (I was told the ship had two fuel tanks, one for an eco-friendly lighter weight fuel.)
The Antarctic Peninsula flings northward toward the tip of South America, making it the most accessible part of the southernmost continent. We spent a day cruising the Schollaert Channel with amazing ice views on both sides of the ship. Antarctica is the dryest place on earth, so I assumed that it was typical to see brilliant blue skies and seas setting off the brilliant whiteness of the ice and snow.
Wrong! In fact, usually the skies are gray and overcast. But we lucked out with a full day of brilliant, sunny weather as you can see above. All the shipboard Antarctic experts were RAVING about how rare and beautiful conditions were! (The Mayhem Consultant has a sideline in weather magery. <G>)
More typical were conditions the next day when we visited Elephant Island, famous for being the place where Earnest Shackleton and his crew took refuge after their ship was destroyed by ice.
As you can see, it's a barren, unwelcoming landscape. Shackleton's story is a great tale of an ill-conceived expedition and amazing courage on the part of Shackleton, which saved the lives of everyone in the crew.
The beauty of polar regions is stark and forbidding, but there is also wonderful wildlife: Great seabirds like albatrosses, petrels, and skuas. Whales flipped us off with their tails as they dived, and there are sea lions and of course penguins. One really can't come home from an Antarctic cruise without pictures of penguins: what would our friends think?
Luckily, we saw these cute little Gentoo penguins in the Falklands. They were pretty indifferent to humans. We'd been given strict orders not to encroach on their space, though some penguins were perfectly willing to amble outside their area to look at us. Fun!
I could say more about this cruise, including our visit to the Falklands, the beauty of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay and perhaps later I will. But now I'm running out of time so so I'll stop here, and we can bid adieu to the penguins and their pals. <G>