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Antarctica and Iguazu, 2013-14

by Harry R. Matthews

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On December 12, Lorraine and I flew from Auckland, New Zealand, to Iguazu Falls, Brazil, via Santiago, Chile, and a restful 2-night stop-over on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro. We greatly enjoyed our two nights at the Das Cataratas Hotel on the Brazilian side of the Falls especially the opportunity to walk at night (see my moonlight shot of the Falls). The Brazilian side has the best overall views of the Falls, which are mainly in Argentina, but we also went to the Argentinian side for a more close-up and personal view and a boat ride into the base of one of the Falls. The boat drove right up into the Falls which was wet and fun as well as providing a visceral understanding of the power and volume of the waterfall.

From the Falls we flew to Ushuaia via Buenos Aires. Ushuaia is a laid-back tourist town on the southern tip of Argentina; skiers in winter and hikers and Antarctica-bound cruise-ship passengers in summer. When the weather permits, the views of the rugged snow-covered mountains surrounding the town are spectacular. We boarded our ship, Sea Spirit, here in Ushuaia. The cruise was organised by Quark Expeditions, a Canadian company that specialises in helping tourists experience our planet's polar regions. Quark over-sold the luxury aspect of our cruise and there were significant maintenance problems with the ship, most importantly with the plumbing. However, Qark's expedition team and the captain and his crew were outstanding. At the beginning of the cruise Cheli, a larger-than-life team-leader (from New Zealand, like Lorraine), told us she would take care of all the expedition stuff except the weather, which was our responsibility. We were a little shaky with the weather the first two days, with some light snow, but then got into our stride and produced outstanding exploration conditions thereafter.

Our itinerary was affected by ice -- which no-one had been assigned to take care of. We got close to 65 degrees latitude but didn't reach the advertised goal of the Antarctic circle. Most of us were unfazed by this because we were having so much fun exploring the accessible parts of the Antarctic Peninsular. During our cruise, another passenger-carrying ship became entrapped in Antarctic ice, which quickly muted any attempts to persuade our captain to go further south. We visited the Falkland Islands (aka Malvinas) and South Georgia as well as various islands and the Antarctic mainland within Antarctica.

Cheli and her team were generally outstanding throughout, with plenty of varied on-ship activities and wonderful zodiac and shore excursions. I am wondering what adjective to use to describe the impact of the excursions; "stunning" has become far too banal; I want to say "life-changing" and I think that is not an exaggeration, at least for most of us. Please look at the pictures and use your own imagination to decide for yourself.

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