I usually greet the new year with my annual list of goals: finish my research; write the book; travel to a new place. Occasionally, ‘clean the house’ makes it in small print at the bottom of the list, right after ‘straighten out the file drawer.’ The last goal is more about the idea of a clean house more than doing any actual cleaning. I mean, at the end of the day, who really cares if the screens are dirty?
Anyway, as 2023 approached and travel opportunities reopened, my husband and I decided to go on a cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica that we had postponed for the last three years. This would finally be the year – No more excuses. We had to order a few clothing items we don’t wear in Hawai`i, like socks, long underwear, and thick leggings. We could rent things we wouldn’t need again like thick parkas and water proof pants.
And so, with the nagging feeling we must have forgotten something, we set out for the meeting point at Buenos Aires – a world away from Hawai`i – where we met our fellow travelers on the Abercrombie & Kent Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctic cruise aboard a Ponant vessel.
Our group of hardy adventurers flew down to the embarkation port of Ushuaia – about a 3 hour flight. Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego and located below the 54th parallel which makes it the world’s most southern city. The primary waterways in the area are the Beagle Channel, the Straits of Magellan, and the Drake Passage.
From the airport, we went on a quick drive through town and then to the Arakur Hotel where we were all swabbed for COVID, and had a nice buffet lunch. As it turns out Ushuaia is an agreeable destination on its own. There is the Tierra del Fuego National Park which can be reached by an “End of the World Train,” and the Beagle Channel is home to sea birds, seals, penguins, and orca whales. It is also a popular skiing destination in winter — Cerro Castor is the most southerly full-fledged ski resort in the world — where it’s possible to ski just 200 meters above sea level. Since I had never heard of Ushuaia before this trip, each nugget of information was like a small treasure to unwrap.
About 4:00, we arrived at the pier to board Le Lyrial, our home for the next two weeks. That evening we began our voyage into the South Atlantic to the Falkland Islands , about 673 kilometers away. There are two primary islands: West Falkland and East Falkland with over 700 smaller islands.
Our itinerary emphasized wildlife encounters, so our destination was West Falkland where we encountered a variety of marine mammals – southern elephant seal, South American fur seal, & penguins, plus some of the largest albatross colonies on the planet.
Our adventure began at West Point Island on the northwest corner of the Falklands with the highest west-facing cliffs in the Falklands. Cliff Mountain has an elevation of 1250 feet. There was lots to see, but the focus was a hike across the island to a cliff we could climb down to view an albatross colony. The distance could be traveled on foot, or via Land Rover [the only site with a Land Rover option.]
Foolishly I thought I could do the hike. I mean, everyone else seemed to be striding forward with ease. It turned out, that was them — but it wasn’t me. Basically, the route went straight up, and up, and up. At one point, I sat on a large rock to rest, and promptly rolled off it. Fortunately, the view was nice. The day began on the cool side, but by then it was sunny and warmish. Many folks abandoned their parkas, presumably to pick them up as they returned. I got back on the path and trudged on. I acquired a walking partner who tired of my puffing noises and flagged down a passing Land Rover. I was not too proud to accept a ride. Thus I learned my first cruise lesson: Humility aka Set Realistic Goals. Just because I think I should be able to finish the hike doesn’t mean it’s a realistic goal. reminded me of the adult in my long ago past who asked the famous parental question: if everyone jumped off the cliff, would you?
We drove to the top of a cliff., where a trail wound down to the shoreline and a large albatross colony. I knew I could get down, but didn’t think there would be a sea bird to fly me back up. So, I happily enjoyed long distance viewing of the avian scenery.
In the afternoon, Le Lyrial, repositioned near Grave Cove, so called for the sealers and whalers buried in remote graves at the bay. But we weren’t there for the graves. The bay is home to albatross and to gentoo penguins. Those choosing to take a hike across the island could view a large gentoo penguin colony. But there was a smaller colony near the landing point, and since I wasn’t in need of another hike, I made friends with a closer group of penguins. In the center picture below, the chick is visible at the feet of its parent.
It was an exciting and eventful day viewing experience. We would sail two days in the South Atlantic before our next stop: South Georgia
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Map Showing Ushuaia, Falkland Island, South George & Antarctica from Swoop Antarctica.
Map of Falkland Islands by Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting
Photos by Author.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.