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An Argentinian village on the Antarctic Peninsula

Posted: 2015-07-24 23:36:00, Categories: Travel, Argentina, Antarctica, Sailing, 638 words (permalink)

Visiting the Argentinian base Esperanza.
Visiting the Argentinian base Esperanza.
From Deception Island our trip continued first slightly north to Livingston Island and then south towards the Antarctic mainland. There we visited the Argentinian base Esperanza, which was a small village of red houses including a school for children.

Moulting elephant seals at Hannah Point.
Moulting elephant seals at Hannah Point.
Hannah Point on the Livingston Island was our last landing on the South Shetland Islands. There, in addition to our daily dose of penguins and seabirds, we got to observe elephant seals, big, fat and cool creatures lying on the beach. They were moulting, which means renewing their skin, and during this period the seals simply lie several weeks on the shore waiting for the old skin to peel and the new one to grow. They don't move much, except throwing some sand over themselves and socializing with each other. The view, smell and sounds of a group of twenty elephant seals, each weighing up to four tons, was impressive.

Ship helm in the morning after snowfall.
Ship helm in the morning after snowfall.
From the South Shetlands we headed South-East, and after half a day and a night of sailing we arrived to the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of the Antarctic mainland. Our next destination was Esperanza, an Argentinian research and military base located at Hope Bay, close to the tip of the peninsula. The visit was organized so that we had a chance to see the base and the people at the base got a tour at the ship — both parties were excited about the opportunity.

View from Esperanza towards the sea.
View from Esperanza towards the sea.
Esperanza is one of the very few places in Antarctica which is not only occupied by scientists but whole families, who even bring their kids along. They spend generally one year at the base, including the Antarctic winter. Then almost the whole staff changes and new group of families comes for the next year. The site is led by the Argentinian military, but the atmosphere was friendly and informal, more like a village than a military base.

Inside the school, nice wall decorations.
Inside the school, nice wall decorations.
When we landed with our zodiacs at the shore, there were already many eager locals, including probably all the children living at the base, waiting for a ride to the ship. We helped them to put on life vests and board the zodiacs, and then followed our guide towards the group of about twenty red buildings. On the way we saw the remains of an old stone hut built in 1902 by the members of the Nordenskjöld expedition, nowadays inhabited by Gentoo penguins.

Sending a post card home.
Sending a post card home.
We visited the local museum, which presented the history of both the base and the Nordenskjöld expedition, and the school which was very cute and cozy. The tour ended at the village hall, a larger space used for all bigger gatherings, also functioning as a post office and a bar. We met some people living at the base, had a cup of tea and sent post cards to our relatives and friends. The communication possibilities included a mobile phone network, allowing us to surprise a few people with sms messages from Antarctica. Some even succeeded in checking emails using the wireless Internet.

Anchor watch at the wheelhouse.
Anchor watch at the wheelhouse.
We spent one night anchored at Hope Bay, and I volunteered for one of the two hour shifts of anchor watch. The tasks were to observe that the ship won't start drifting (it does happen sometimes!) and that no icebergs will be blown towards us by the wind. This time there was only a slight wind and the sea was calm, no need to wake up the captain. Outside on the deck I looked at the lights of the base and thought of how it would be to live there, whereas the inhabitants were probably watching our ship out of their windows and wondering about sailing across the ocean.

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