Antarctica: Retracing Shackleton's Journey travel blog

We spent the next two days at sea, entertained by Rod Ledingham’s stories of accidental overwintering in the Antarctic, replete with anecdotes of sledge dog care and a pathetic ice plane rescue crash; “Fruhschoppen,” i.e., sausages and beer on deck at 10 am: Santiago’s presentation of Falkland Island wildlife; photo workshops and ugly chick photo competition; and Shackleton movies. Tim Soper prepared us last night for mkweather reports of high winds, so we dutifully stowed computers and cameras in safe corners. After dinner, Barry and I went to bridge and caught sight of some big waves, with winds at 40 knots. So we tucked ourselves in for the night.

Around 1 am, we had a scene out of The Exorcist, with cushions flying around, suitcases tumbling down, a glass hit the wall, and numerous drawers started banging around. It took us a while before we were able to get out of bed and secure what we could, and then we just rode it out. The ship pitched sideways and lurched forward, landing with a big thud every now and then. A lot of passengers had already suffered sea sickness in more moderate rocking and rolling, and we could only imagine what was going on in their cabins tonight. It was, after all, Friday the thirteenth.

Barry and I skipped breakfast the next morning, though I did make it to the lounge for coffee and a viewing of Around Cape Horn with Captain Irvin Johnson, a home movie made in 1929 by Irvin Johnson who practiced for his tall ship cargo passage by doing acrobatics on top of the telephone polls on his parents’ farm. Really amazing footage, as he seemed to have a vantage point from the mizzen mast and showed lots of men hoisting and repairing yards, or miles, of canvas sail. The burly captain had a pit bull who helped speed the men by constantly biting and barking, according to Johnson’s narration, though he did wag his tail pretty often, I thought.

The sailing continued to be rocky but not as violent, and we made it to Stanley on East Falkland by late morning on Friday. Barry and I took a shuttle bus into town and then walked about a quarter mile to a simple restaurant at Malvina House. There was a huge, Holland America ship also at port across the bay, which had already docked the night before. Although we feared that the restaurants might be crowded with tourists, in fact we saw very few wandering about the town. There wasn’t a lot to see in Stanley, other than a number of war memorials, in particular to Margaret Thatcher for her leadership against the Argentinians invasion in 1982. According to our guides, the Argentinians started that war as a distraction to thwart inquiry about the “disappeared.” Starting in the late 1970’s, the Peronistas were being purged by the military of those thought to be communist sympathizers. Entire families were taken away, the parents sent to prison or death and their children placed with families sympathetic to the military junta. While these questions remained unanswered (though kept alive by grandmothers who protested as recently as 2009 who wanted to find the “disappeared”), the defeat at the Falklands did lead to end of the military dictatorships.

In the afternoon, I went with a group from the ship to see Gypsy Cove a short distance out of town. We could see only a few Magellanic penguins burrowing into their nests, but the beach was beautiful. Signs cautioned us to stay on the gravel walk and away from “suspect” areas where land mines might still be found. The wind picked up and made a lot of us cold enough to return to the ship before it started raining.

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