• Date: 2011.11.23. - 2011.12.12.
  • Number of days: 20
Well, 5 months ago right on this day I set my foot on the South Pole - shall be it, the Argentina and Antarctica journey diary is finished. Enjoy.

Main page links Direct links
Google Maps route
Those who read the lengthy introduction page of the European Tour may notice some similarities between that and this page; although this one will be much shorter because this current journey requested much less preparations and planning from me.

Primarily the transportation was given. By the very first plans - after all this is why I brought the PDA with its GPS - I would rent a car and drive the country through from north to south; but on a second thought this would have been a huge adventure especially with not deep enough Spanish. The other option was the bus, but somehow I wasn't fascinated enough to do the 40-hours ride; especially not on the way down. The second reason was the accommodation, which was already prepared in 99%.

Thus this introduction page is shorter. At some point the diary pages as well.

The end of the prologue is, the idea of the miniDiary born right before the travel to Argentina: with more or less success. Anyway, for me this journey was definitely something to record. So if you read the miniDiary page, then you'll see many thoughts and sentences again on the pages of this diary. I apologize for such grammatical discrepancies like mixing the past and present times - one day I'll correct them. :)

A small service announcement for those who visit the page now for the first time: here's a small note about the website usage; probably it worth to read it for the full experience.

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Photo camera
The equipment was 100% the one I took to the European Tour. The only extension since was a spare GPS cable and two extra batteries. The story has already been told, after all I ordered it from the US. The less enjoyable aspect of such maneuver is that due to the Argentine customs, whatever you order into the country, you must pay 50% tax after it (including the shipping fee to the tax).

Finally I didn't use the spare GPS cable, but during some landings I drained 3 batteries, so finally all the 5 batteries was a good idea.

And the most tragical and saddest happening of the journey. One day on the ship during climbing the stairs the f2.8/14-24 mm lens decided to fall out from my pocket and landed with a huge bang. Turning back immediately and a serious heart attack, because this lens is that one which costs about 1400USD among friends and about 1900USD in general. Plus since it's a wide lens, the front lens is bulging out == so the chances that this breaks is above all human calculations. Not to mention the lens has a pretty noticeable weight, so this added into the fall.

But Lady Fortune was with me and it came out, the lens arrive with its butt, so "only" the CPU-ring was bashed in a bit.

The lenses survived the crash without any damage - but the rear lens was extremely lucky with a few millimeters, the frame protected it:


Although I got into a questionably "funny" situation. Because the damage of the CPU-ring brought two things:
  • I cannot rotate the focal ring; which is not as bad because the lens was right at 14 mm and most of the times I use this length
  • the autofocus cannot move the lens - but with manual focusing everything is fine
So after all from the f2.8/14-24 mm lens with autofocus now I have an f2.8/14 mm with manual focus. Fortunately only an inconvenient but not deadly situation. When this is going to be repaired? Haha. The three Nikon shops in Buenos Aires proved multiple times that their possibilities are quite limited. Anyway, I'll give a try. If no success, then waiting until summer when I let the repair to be done in Budapest.

I did some movies on this journey too - sailing, traversing ice field, etc. - can be seen on the given pages. The videos aren't stored on the Ezustkep.hu servers, thus should anybody notice any problem (video doesn't load, etc.), please drop me a mail.

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Photography and weather
Taking photos in and of the snowy-icy-winter-cloudy-overcast environments is always a challenge; this time wasn't an exception. While in Ushuaia I already realized the thought that to shoot unique and special pictures:
  • you must have a huge luck with the weather (see 4-seasons in one day)
  • you must spend a longer time in the place
If the Sun doesn't shine over your head, only gray clouds surround you - if the landscape is only a monochrome white/gray field of snow and for composition only some dark gray...black piece of rock is given...then you won't have too much chances to shoot striking pictures, should you play with the camera settings back and forth. Nonetheless the seventh day was the best when we visited the Port Lockroy, or the eighth when sailed out from Deception Island.

I miss the sunshine on many pictures. Not really because of the colours - there weren't that many anyway - but missing the natural contrasts and the shapes. I left some pictures as-it-was, especially landscape pictures. Lack of sunshine, underexposed pictures and everything, but standing in that gray landscape disappearing into the distant had this actual mood and atmosphere.

Possibly the weather was predefined because of the early timing of the journey: the beginning of December is still an early autumn there; so a trip in late February or early March possibly could offer more sunshine.

Ultimately I'm satisfied. Further the panorama is one of my favourites and I could shoot some nice compositions, in an average of 50-100 megapixel. I used to have the luck to work with a Manfrotto 303SPH 3D panorama head, which is a very-very nice gadget. But I couldn't use such here anyway. Primarily because you need time to use a tripod, secondly only this head weighs about 2.5kgs so you need a sherpa to carry it. :) I didn't take any tripod at all, but it was a lucky coincidence. Even if I had wanted to walk more during the nights, yet there weren't that much sights to shoot (maybe the port in Ushuaia, but it would have been an overkill to carry a tripod only for this). To take photos one time of the ship in dark I improvised, and could put down the camera. The camping was cancelled, but I'm sure I could improvise there as well.

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Technology, gadgets
  • BlackBerry: the BlackBerry was a huge help on the journey because I happily noted the fact in my "redundant" systems that even if I cannot get the Internet from my laptop directly, yet I can get information through the BB...or send a miniDiary entry.

    I say if you sit in a hotel where you can put on charge, then it's fine. Otherwise skip it because a simple 3G Internet drains the battery very quickly. The spare D600 battery was a huge help when sitting in the coffee shop I could recharge the BB with it.

    I brought the Mitac Mio 169 PDA as well, but honestly I don't even remember if I ever used it at all. During the walks I didn't listen to any music, on the ship I used the BlackBerry (will charge in the cabin) so it was with me but in an unused state.

  • Laptop: The European Tour gave the idea, the only difference was that I already had to prepare the theater of my technology by the time I arrive to Argentina. The final result was the Dell D600 with me along with the external WD 1TB disk and an another 250GB again external disk. I immediately knew that the builtin harddisk of the laptop won't be enough, so the "redundant" strategy of the external disks gave me mental peace.

  • GPS and Google Maps: as known, the GPS logger was lost. Generally I didn't miss it in the cities because the GPS of the camera was enough, besides the locations could be determined easily with the houses, cars, ships and other objects well on Google Maps.

    Antarctica is a bit more complicated, because there's rarely any unique point which you could use as landmark; further in the moment (2012. end of March) the Google Maps satellite maps have only more and less better quality photos of the regions of the South Pole. Nonetheless the positions are accurate.

    Unfortunately I noticed only later that right on the first day's Drake Passage the GPS didn't record any signal (it was turned on and lighted in green), so I had to manually set the GPS data. The same is with the third day's first landing; I didn't forget to turn it on even after the wake up at 5am. :) So after all the duct-taped GPS cable wasn't smooth as sunshine.

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Other equipment
The packing and equipment grew together well: what I brought here to Buenos Aires, it worked perfectly here as well. Lowepro backpack and the grey case. The size of the case was a blind luck as well, because I usually totally filled it up yet I always fit into the airport 15kg limits.

The clothing was a different question as finally I bought everything on the last two weeks in various trekking shops. Long story.

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Expenses and preparations
To go to the South Pole is expensive. Very expensive. And even more. Should it be a last-minute price or not.

You have two options at the first start:
  • standard price: you book in about three months advance. The disadvantage of such action is you very possibly pay even the 3x price of a last-minute price. Financially this isn't a good option. But. If you're really after Antarctica (like I do) - and arrive from about 12k kilometers (like I did)...then you cannot lay your head into the anyway much beloved Lady Fortune's warm lap, assuming that "with a last-minute choice and best price you'll get to Antarctica for sure." Walking in Ushuaia and speaking with people there were some who failed the journey in the last minutes. Since I wanted to go for sure, I booked in the height of about June.

  • last-minute price: generally it's advertised one month before the voyage; most of the times you get to know this on the websites of the companies, but sometimes you get the hint only walking in Ushuaia and watch the advertisements on the walls of the hotels, travel agencies and other places.
I wrote an extensive entry on the miniDiary about the preparations, it's merged into the Eighth day too.

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Patagonian conclusion
A few thoughts about this Extreme South Tour. The tour is a very good opportunity for those who visit Patagonia for the first time and wish to see the two - probably most famous - sights: Perito Moreno and Ushuaia. But. You have the be prepared because it'll be intensive: the flight - visit - flight - visit is busy. Or on the other hand maybe this is the reason why they call it extreme tour. :) Further you very probably will not have time for the other sights, only some time to see the towns more or less in a somewhat fast pace. Probably I feel this only because I had the "reasonably priced", aka afternoon flights - or not because actually you have the same amount of time but in different frames: with the afternoon flight you have a free afternoon and a free morning - with the morning plane you have two free afternoons.

Los Cañelos vs. Hostería Mirabeagle
The primary advantage of the Los Cañelos is the closeness to the major/Downtown street of the town. The place is nice, clean, the staff is helpful, the rooms are comfortable and so on. The failure is the financial standard. See, already mentioned story with the cold meats: if you want 4 slices, it will cost you and extra 8ARS. Further one the first evening I asked a tea. Upon leaving the hotel I got the bill, saying:
  • tea: 12ARS
  • hot water: 14ARS
  • lunch pack: 55ARS
So, one tea filter, 2.75USD, approximately two teacup of hot water 3.21USD. I have ideas why is the town expensive (relative distance from the more frequented northern regions + the number of tourists), but this hotel with this pricing looks very questionable for me.

The greatest disadvantage of the Hostería Mirabeagle is its distance from the town - although this isn't a problem if you have or rent a car. In other cases you can ride a cab because the Downtown is a bit far by foot. Especially because there aren't streets out of Downtown, but about this in a later Ushuaia entry. The hotel is very good, a quality 3-stars hotel, and my room looked directly to the harbour and the airport (it was far enough so didn't bother a second; on the contrary I could even spy planes). The breakfast is much better than in Los Cañelos: fresh ham-cheese toast, extra toasts, butter, bread, jam and some homemade chocolate cake.

El Calafate vs. Ushuaia
Ushuaia is the winner. While I was walking in the town I thought possibly it would worth to spend one-two months here. But after all I had to realize that the thin veil of miscomprehension fell before my eyes because by that time the Antarctica tour was still upon arrival. I grant it, the exact feeling to walk in the southernmost city in the world is pretty good. Likewise, there are sights in the city. But after all you can watch everything in Ushuaia in one week (if you hike, then maybe some extra week). And after if you don't arrive because of the reason to reach the Antarctica, then you're out of the possibilities (there aren't any going-out places except the pubs and restaurants). Okay if you're a die-hard fan of hiking or sailing then you definitely will have any longer happy time.

Returning to the tour, the final conclusion is positive, because the mentioned reason as it's a good start in Patagonia. From this point you can decide if you prefer El Calafate: the other glaciers (Upsala, Spegazzini, Mayo, maybe the miniTrekking on and in the glaciers, in the ice caves), the Cristina Residency, El Chaltén (an another town but you can get there from the same El Calafate airport: one sight is the Fitz Roy Peak) and of course the hiking. Ushuaia and its sights are slightly different but naturally including the hiking too: see the National Park, train ride, sailing, the ocean and museums.

Ultimately, if I had to choose then Ushuaia would be the confident winner, and comparing the hotels the Hostería Mirabeagle would win without any question.

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I had many correspondence with many companies directly and travel agencies as well - many of the were closer in the race, but why I ultimately chose Antarctic Dream was that ominous camping.

The camping said to be three days on the Continent, first day setting up the camp, second day to hike the close mountain...hill, the third day getting back to the ship with 8 km skiing. This means without any brainstorming that you miss 3 days of the ship's route. But does anybody know a better pick-up line?

- How many people do you know who have been on the South Pole?
- Hmm... nobody?
- And how many person, who had camped?
... silence ...
(I realized this only in sheer moments of boredom, this wasn't the motivation. :) )

So this was a huge positive extra and with exaggeration I could say I put the extra 990USD "without thinking" to the final price.

Finally and unfortunately the camping was cancelled - but after all it was an unexpected option, so why I went - to be there - it happened anyway.

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Antarctic Dream and the passengers
As noted I had many contacts because of this journey and I have to say the Antarctic Dream closed the voyage with positive outcome. Primarily because of these reasons:
  • The ship: walking in the port of Ushuaia and watching the other ships - further the other offers and reading fathoms of passenger reviews - if I wanted to go a voyage again with this itinerary, the possibly I'd choose M/V Antarctic Dream again or something similar like M/V Ushuaia.

    One reason is the ship. I really don't find the thought of the cruise ships unbearable. Yet I really don't need or want two onboard swimming pools, six cinemas, eight casinos and hundreds of meters long swimming 5-star hotels; not to mention the greater number of passengers.

    I really liked the ship and the lesser nature of the team, for me it was closer and more important than two sauna and a solarium for others.

    The other side are the yachts (we saw two, on the specific pages). I think if I had voted for this on my first Drake Passage experience, well probably I would have shaky memories of the first traversal.

  • The team: from the Captain through the expedition professionals to the crew and staff of the ship, everybody showed great knowledge and skills. So I definitely recommend to meet them.

I had a sudden burst into the miniDiary after the return concerning the Spanish learning. Of course before that I already motivated myself by self-learning, but after all why I wanted to put everything in more formal manners, that came from the ship as well: speaking two languages, that's a minimum. But there was even a very significant percentage who spoke at least three languages: Spanish, English - then German, French, etc. I like to learn languages and I'm always polishing the four I know, but this was quite a jumping motivation.

By the way on the contrary to the French and Italian occupation of El Calafate and Ushuaia, the ship had a mix of nationalities: Argentine, Chilean, Australian, Spanish, German, Austrian, English, Swiss, Russian, Japanese and three Hungarians.

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Meals and drinks
The breakfast in the hotels were the standard menu: coffee, milk, tea, cold meats (where there were any...) cheese, toast cakes, juices. Since I ate heartily in the morning and the sightseeing finished by afternoon I had only some dinner.

The menu on the ship was more fascinating:
  • breakfast from 7:30am: tea, coffee, milk, toast, cold meats, scrambled eggs, bacon, muesli, yoghurts, etc.
  • lunch about 12:30pm and dinner from 7:30pm: generally three-course meals, I think with positive results. After a quick look back to the past I'd say fish were the 65% of the meals, but sometimes chicken, beef and pork appeared too; maybe lamb too one time. The desserts seemed too much for many people from the second half of the voyage - too much sweets - but the kitchen was prepared and you could ask fresh fruits.
And yeah, there was the Chilean waitress who always asked "¿Vino tinto?" from the people at table with so big smile, that the Spanish version of "red wine" stuck in my mind quickly.

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  • The accomplished itinerary
  • Day (date)  
    01. (1123) Buenos Aires - El Calafate
    02. (1124) El Calafate
    03. (1125) El Calafate - Ushuaia
    03-09. (1125-1201) Ushuaia
    09. (1201) Ushuaia - Beagle Channel
    10. (1202) Drake Passage
    11. (1203) Drake Passage, Barrientos Island in the evening
    12. (1204) Barrientos Island, Half Moon Island
    13. (1205) Cuverville Island
    14. (1206) Petermann Island, the Continent itself in the evening
    15. (1207) Port Lockroy and Neumayer Channel
    16. (1208) Deception Island
    17. (1209) Back in the Drake Passage
    18. (1210) Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel
    19. (1211) Beagle Channel - Ushuaia
    20. (1212) Ushuaia - Buenos Aires

  • Technical stats
  • Day Number of Nikon pictures Size of Nikon pictures Number of Canon pictures Size of Canon pictures Number of Canon movies Size of Canon movies
    01. 33 120,977 KB 94 174,443 KB 0 0 KB
    02. 652 2,733,141 KB 6 13,615 KB 17 640,030 KB
    03. 89 341,457 KB 133 311,737 KB 17 907,489 KB
    04. 544 2,664,132 KB 34 79,911 KB 9 971,349 KB
    05. 200 940,327 KB 11 25,810 KB 0 0 KB
    06. 1 010 4,239,648 KB 7 19,585 KB 9 310,746 KB
    07. 191 825,904 KB 3 6,739 KB 2 47,879 KB
    08. 229 1,030,610 KB 79 138,304 KB 4 199,661 KB
    09. 332 1,456,167 KB 9 26,406 KB 2 71,902 KB
    10. 92 346,535 KB 2 3,260 KB 6 304,320 KB
    11. 264 944,695 KB 0 0 KB 1 119,120 KB
    12. 497 1,826,338 KB 21 42,981 KB 20 1,018,251 KB
    13. 527 1,790,664 KB 0 0 KB 9 869,227 KB
    14. 1,055 3,887,699 KB 13 28,971 KB 27 1,514,320 KB
    15. 1,340 6,153,633 KB 16 33,800 KB 11 985,793 KB
    16. 337 1,445,665 KB 6 13,418 KB 4 151,583 KB
    17. 0 0 KB 0 0 KB 0 0 KB
    18. 663 2,363,442 KB 7 10,836 KB 5 204,505 KB
    19. 43 147,166 KB 126 291,992 KB 3 170,466 KB
    20. 0 0 KB 120 237,254 KB 2 246,492 KB
    Sum: 8,098 33,258,200 KB
    (~31.7 GB)
    687 1,459,062 KB
    (~1.39 GB)
    148 8,733,133 KB
    (~8.32 GB)
    • don't be scared, naturally there aren't this many pictures and videos on the website. ;)

  • The Book of Records
  • Lowest point: ~0 m (in the port of Ushuaia; 6. day, Picture 244)
    Highest point: technically it would be ~12 km (the plane, right), but practically ~285 m (at Perito Moreno lookout; 2. day, Picture 65)
    Highest point on the journey in the Antarctic Peninsula: ~94 m (the Continent and Graham Land; 14. day, Picture 122)
    Southernmost point: 65° 10.55′ S, 64° 8.18′ W (14. day, Petermann Island)

    So this journey wasn't about the altitudes with its ~0-300 meters. :)

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    Looking back, the experience is a real one; even if financially this amount of money (should it be already expensive) show only the small fraction of the South Pole. This doesn't apply directly to my voyage, only a general price (of course the cruises are even more expensive) for an itinerary which navigates at the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula and a bit more south. If somebody really wants the Continent, he/she must reach the deepest part of the pocket, because the price can go easily to an inhuman 50000USD value.

    Regardless to the above, with a bit luck but we could land at least one time onto the Continent: when on Day 6 we went ashore from 9pm to 10pm and could walk in the snow and on the hillside.

    What were the greatest experiences? I am definitely interested toward the life of the animals and plants in the region and the flora and fauna of the peninsula is very colorful and wide. Besides why I went was primarily the landscape and the history. It's interesting to think about that all those explorers sailed on these waters. How they did it (equipment, ship, psychology, etc), in what circumstances and how much determination they must had and efforts had to make. No central heating, three-course meals with china utensils and welcome drinks. And this is only the question of the navigation, the discovery of the Continent is a further matter.

    The final word is quite simple: if somebody said "You'll fly to Ushuaia with the next plane and then to the South Pole." - anybody can bet that my luggage and equipment would be ready in 1 hour.

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