Iguazu Falls

When traveling in South America, considering to add Iguazu on the list of places is  just common sense. The falls at Iguazu are twice as large as the Niagara falls, and the parks surrounding them host a variety of animals.

Iguazu falls

The falls are located on the border between Argentina and Brazil. The border with Paraguay is in the same area. The passport stamp collectors amongst you will have a field day when going around the falls.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Getting there

I took an Aerolinas Argentinas (SkyTeam) flight from Buenos Aires (EZE) to Iguazu (IGR). The flight cost was about $260 all included. Flight time is about 2 hours. See the weather in Iguazu can be pretty bad, you might find this route having delays. On the day I flew there, it was pouring rain, so we left and arrived a bit later than announced.

Consider yourself warned

Quatis warning sign

Quatis warning sign

Quatis near Iguazu Falls

Quatis near Iguazu Falls

Wherever you go in the parks of Iguazu falls, on both sides of the border, you will meet Coati (Quatis). These little animals look uber cute. Many tourists found out the hard way that they can bite pretty hard when they’re seeking food. Keeping distance, despite their cuteness, is how to behave.

Tourists are constantly taking pictures of these guys. But they are pretty agressive, and do bite! Ignorance can ruin a visit to Iguazu Falls

Ignorance is bliss, this tourist thinks when approaching the Cuati in Iguazu Falls

Ignorance is bliss, this tourist thinks when approaching the Cuati

 

Visiting Iguazu Falls: the Argentina side and the Brazil Side

I went to both sides of the falls. I visited the Argentina side first, and the Brazil side another day. The Argentina side of the Iguazu falls has access to the top, middle and bottom of the falls. There are boats that bring you close. You will need the best of a day to see all the angles and falls at this side.

The Brazil side has way less walking paths, but it’s the best place to get an overall view of all the falls at once.

 

Stay in Iguazu Brazil or Iguazu Argentina?

The village on the Argentinean side is a rather small, and considerable safe town. The Brazilian place, Foz do Iguaçu, is a large city. The criminality in the Brazilian side turned out to be much more present than in the Argentian Puerto Iguazú. The border with Uruguay seems to attract a lot of (drugs) trafficking between Paraguay and Brazil. So, I choose to find me a hotel at the Argentian side, in Puerto Iguazu. You can view my review of Hotel Tupa in Puerto Iguazu.

 

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Puerto Iguazú is a frontier city in the province of Misiones, Argentina. The village of Puerto Iguazu is pretty small. The tourism industry, serving the demand for accomodation to see the falls, has taken over this town. When you enter from the Argentina side, you’ll notice several small super markets. Coming in from Buenos Aires, the prices are about the same.

When you stay in Puerto Iguazu, you can take the bus to the falls. There is a bus every 30 minutes. The bus stop in front of super market “eos”, across the street. The “collectivo” will get you to the falls for 50 pesos. At the bus station, you’ll be approached by taxi drivers, offering to bring you to the falls. At my first trip there, if found 3 other people willing to go there. We offered the cab driver 50 pesos each, and he agreed to bring us to the falls. That saved us some time, at the same cost if we would have been on the bus.

Iguazu Falls admission rates are not cheap. It’s ARS170 / $34 entrance and another ARS150 / US$30 to ride the boat that brings you to the falls, if you like going that close.

Iguazu Falls Walkway to the waterfalls

Iguazu Falls Walkway to the waterfalls

Foz do Iguaçu – State of Paraná, Brazil

The Brazilian side of the border is a different story. When talking to people here, it seemed this part of the border had way more crimes than the Argentina side. The city is many times bigger than the Argentina side (80,000 people on the Argentina side, compared to 260,000 at the Brazilian side), and its border with Paraguay attracts more criminality.

When you are traveling and in need of cash: There is a HSBC here, that seemed to be the only ATM in the three border cities that took my US Debet Card.

You’ll be out another $22 to enter the Brazilian side of the falls.

Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

If you heard the stories about the counterfeit business in China, you should see what happens in Ciudad del Este. Stores and shops, as well as mobile street vendors sell all types of counterfeit items, fire arms, etc… in the streets. Nothing hidden. The border with Brazil is 300 meter away from these shops, and there is close to no checks.

Three borders, eight stamps

I of courses wanted to see the Paraguay side, so went there one morning. When you are willing to do the same, make sure you have 2 pages in the passport free, and this will add 8 stamps:

passportLeave Argentina
passportEnter Brazil
passportLeave Brazil
passportEnter Paraguay
passportLeave Paraguay
passportEnter Brazil
passportLeave Brazil
passportEnter Argentina
Train in Iguazu Falls

Train in Iguazu Falls

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A first visit: Buenos Aires, Argentina

A visit to Buenos Aires is a step in another world. Ever since the first moments I came to Buenos Aires, the city got a special place in my heart. When you visit Buenos A?r??, you’re discovering an intoxicating city. it’s r?ddl?d w?th h??t?r?, ??l?t???, d?n?? ?nd ?ultur?.

Visit Buenos Aires

Th? r???d?nt? ?f Bu?n?? Aires, Portenos, ?r? known for their r?n?g?d? attitude and th??r l?v? ?f l?f?. Bu?n?? Aires is, just like that other place I love so much, a ??t? th?t n?v?r ?l????. Th?r? are so m?n? reasons for th?? city t? m?k? ??ur S?uth American Bu?k?t list and h?r? is my (current) l??t ?f th? t?? 7 Things to d? when v??t?ng Buenos A?r??, Argentina n?t t? miss.

A Visit T? The Palermo Ar?? In Bu?n?? A?r??

The colors of the Palermo neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

The colors of the Palermo neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

Th? P?l?rm? ???t??n ?f Bu?n?? Aires ?? th? tr?nd??r ??d? of t?wn with an eclectic m?x ?f r??t?ur?nt?, m?d?rn bu?ld?ng?, ?nd u????l? ?lub?. It ?? ??m????d of ?m?ll?r n??ghb?rh??d? ?u?h ?? P?l?rm? H?ll?w??d, L?? Canitas, P?l?rm? Ch???, ?nd Bosques d? Palermo. A gr?w?ng ?nfu???n ?f expatriate mu?????n?, ?rt??t?, entrepreneurs (?nd VIP’)  ??n b? f?und throughout these areas. When people ask me what it compares to, I call it the Brooklyn of Buenos Aires. Cool coffee spaces, startups  in coworking spavces, and trendy lofts and apartments.
P?l?rm? is the largest residential area ?n Buenos A?r??. It ?? r??ll? a gr?u??ng together ?f ??v?r?l ?r???:
• Palermo Viejo or Old P?l?rm? still h?? m?n? ??l?n??l S??n??h bu?ld?ng?. It is v?r? cosmopolitan, ?nd ??u will f?nd r??t?ur?nt? serving f??d? fr?m all over th? w?rld th?r?.
• Palermo Soho ?? h?ghl? f??h??n?bl? ?nd th? h?unt ?f l?v?l?, young m?ddl? ?l??? ????l?.
• P?l?rm? H?ll?w??d g?t ?t? n?m? when r?d?? ?nd tv ?r?du??r? ??t?bl??h?d th?m??lv?? ?n th? area. It is f?m?u? f?r its vibrant n?ghtl?f?.

T?k? The F?rr? T? Colones, Uruguay

When you visit Buenos Aires, you can go to Colones and rent a bike.

A bike tour in Colones, Uruguay, is within an hour of the city

If you ?r? ?n Bu?n?? A?r??, or plan t? v???t the ??t?, remember that th? ?m?ll h??t?r???l t?wn of C?l?n?? d?l Sacramento, on th? Urugu???n ??d? of th? R?? d? l? Plata, d???rv?? a day v???t or even ?n overnight ?t??. I found that g?tt?ng th?r? ?? very ????. As I like t? ?h?r? ??m? l?ttl? secrets fr?m t?m? t? t?m?, l?t ??? h?w t? tr?v?l fr?m Buenos A?r?? to C?l?n?? del Sacramento, Urugu??.
From the Arg?nt?n? capital you h?v? th? time consuming ??t??n t? drive, but th? easiest ?nd ?u??k??t w?? t? travel to C?l?n?? ?? b? f?rr?. Stay tuned here for the story of my first daytrip to Colonia.

V???t th? Recoleta C?m?t?r?

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Wh?th?r ??u’r? looking for a b??ut?ful ??tt?ng for ??ur ?ft?rn??n ?tr?ll, or ??u’r? ?ntr?gu?d b? Eva P?r?n’? gr?v? ??t?, th? m?gn?f???nt Recoleta Cemetery is a ?l??? not t? miss. Filled w?th ?ntr???t? m?u??l?um? w?th ??m? impressive ?t?n?w?rk, a w?lk through th?? cemetery ?? ?n? of th? top th?ng? t? do in Buenos Aires.

W?t?h a Performance In Th? B?rth?l??? of Arg?nt?n??n Tango

A n?ght of t?ng? might seem l?k? ?n? of th? most incredibly t?ur??t? things t? d? ?n Bu?n?? A?r??.
Argentina, but it ?? something that mu?t b? done. Now unl??? ??u hate ?ll f?rm? ?f expressive ?rt, ??u will b? m?v?d t? near t??r? wh?n ??u ?x??r??n?? the intricacy of th?? Arg?nt?n??n work ?f art. Th?r? ?r? ?? m?n? t?ng? h?u??? t? ?h???? fr?m but ?t ?? d?f?n?t?l? ?n? ?f th? m??t ?ultur?ll? ???r??r??t? things t? do in Bu?n?? A?r??.

V???t Cafe T?rt?n? In Bu?n?? A?r??

DSCF9341 Buenos Aires by Koen BlanquartIf Bu?n?? Aires is th? P?r?? ?f South America, then it is n? ?ur?r???d th?? city ?l?? h?? an ?ngr??n?d ??f? ?ultur?. If ??u’r? l??k?ng f?r th?ng? t? d? ?n Buenos A?r??, ??n??d?r a ?t?? ?t C?fe Tortoni, m?r? th?n a ??fe ?nd m?r? l?k? ?n institution ?f th?? ??t?. Th? ??fe h?? held gr??t esteem ?m?ng writers, politicians ?nd n?t?bl? figures ?f Argentina’s h??t?r? ?nd n?t ?nl? ??n you tr??t ??ur t??t?bud?, but ?l?? b? ?nt?rt??n?d b? th? d??l? ??rf?rm?n???.

Th? Barrio ?f S?n T?lm? And It? M?rk?t

N? w??k?nd trip t? Bu?n?? Aires ?? complete without h??d?ng t? th?? ???n-??r m?rk?t th?t h????n? ?v?r? Sund??. Y?u w?ll f?nd ?nt??u?? and ?n ????rtm?nt ?f goods ?n d???l?? ?t this f?bul?u? ?tr??t m?rk?t. But the r??l dr?w ?f th?? market ?n Bu?n?? A?r??, Arg?nt?n? ?? the ??rf?rm?n??? ?nd music ?n d???l?? ?n ?v?r? ??rn?r. Qu?nt????nt??l Buenos A?r?? ?t ?t? b??t.

Ex?l?r? Th? G?rd?n? Of Bu?n?? A?r??, Arg?nt?n?

Although the bu?ld?ng? of Bu?n?? A?r?? are w?rth ?dm?r?ng, ?? are th? ??t?’? gr??n ??????. L???t?d ?n the Palermo neighborhood, a v???t to the Buenos A?r?? B?t?n???l G?rd?n ?? a wonderful morning ??t?v?t?. N?t ?n?ugh n?tur? f?r ??u? H??d 1km closer t? th? ocean wh?r? ??u w?ll f?nd th? l?rg??t J???n??? inspired g?rd?n ?ut??d? ?f Japan. Still n?t enough? Then head furth?r w??t t? th? Plaza d? l?? N????n?? Unidades (P?rk ?f th? United N?t??n?) wh?r? you w?ll f?nd th? Fl?r?l?? G?n?r???. Th?? ?t??l fl?w?r ??ul?tur? ?? ?n undisputed ???n ?f Bu?n?? Aires Arg?nt?n?, ?l???ng ?v?r? n?ght ?t dusk ?nd opening ?v?r? m?rn?ng at ???r?x. 8?m.

I’ve been around these parks at every visit and still have to go back as I haven’t discovered all of it.

Feel history on the Plaza de Mayo

Casa Rosada, the palace on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina - by Koen Blanquart

Casa Rosada, the palace on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Casa Rosada stands central on the square. It hosts the president of Argentina. The square has been the scne of presidents and revolutions. One of the bloodiest moments was when over 360 people died during a bomb attach on this square against president Peron.

When you walk a bit further on the square, notice the white shawls (scarfs) that are painted on the floor. They are here to remember the fact that between 1976 and 1983, under he dictatorship in Argentina, many young people disappeared. The mothers of these victims of the regime came to the square wearing white shawls. It became a powerful protest.

The signs of the white shawls on the plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina (picture by Koen Blanquart))

The signs of the white shawls on the plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

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Visit Barcelona? A list for the first trip:

Barcelona is an amazing city to visit anytime in the year. It has been for the longest time my go-to-location for a city trip. Here’s what I think you should add to yours when you visit Barcelona for a first time:

Where to Stay in Barcelona?

The W Hotel in Barcelona

The W Hotel in Barcelona

In the years I came here, I’ve stayed in several hotels in Barcelona. Going from 2-star hotels on the main route towards the airport to some of the more luxury paces. The Meridien on the Ramblas was for the longest time my favorite, until the W Hotel in Barcelona on the beach opened.

Depending on the room choice here (SPG takes good care of their ambassadors and top status clients…) you can over see the ocean, or the beach and the city. Rooms have an unobstructed view with floor-to-ceiling windows. And if you get one of the nicer suites, you’ll appreciate the bathtub facing this amazing view for a relaxed moment after discovering Barcelona.

Getting there & around: Most European and international carriers fly into Barcelona (BCN). Be advised that some low cost carriers have renamed other airports so it sounds like Barcelona, but you find yourself way outside of the city.

As soon as you arrive at the airport, there are a couple of ways to get to the city of Barcelona. Tons of options in all budgets to get to the city from the airport: airport taxis, the Aerobus, TMB Airport Bus, Airport Night Bus and the RENFE train. When traveling inside Barcelona, I prefer the bike sharing system. The bike lanes all over the city make it a pleasure to enjoy getting around. The metro (subway, underground) is a valid alternative and the choice when you are going a bit further.

What to do in Barcelona?

Gaudi's Lizard in Parc Güell, Barcelona - Koen Blanquart

Gaudi’s Lizard in Parc Güell, Barcelona – Koen Blanquart

Park Guell is one of the public parks in Barcelona and it opened in 1926. The park has many gardens and architectural elements and is located on Carmel Hill. It is free to walk through the majority of the park. You’ll have to pay a fee to enter the Monumental Zone. This area includes the main entrance, terrace and the area where the mosaics are located. Photographers will find many spots within the park to take pictures of sunrises and sunsets as well as many unique architectural pieces.

The Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic Church that was designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. The construction of the church is still incomplete, but the hope is that it will be finished in 2026, which will be a century after Gaudi’s death. Anyone who visits the church is able to see the nave, crypt, museum, shop and the passion and nativity towers. As people are going through the church, they will need to focus on the many details in the architecture. Photographers will be amazed at how many different angles they can find to take a picture of the same area. If you’re here the first time, this is one thing you have to do in Barcelona!

Plaça Reial is one of the things to do in Barcelona

Plaça Reial is one of the things to do in Barcelona

The Ramblas is a mall that is popular for both the locals and tourists. Nice to stroll, but I haven’t had any decent food on the terraces here. Plaça Reial, a block away, has better choices, and the quiet(er) place to sit. Still touristy, but at least less crowded.

At the Harbor, I love to walk down the Moll de Barcelona (pier) towards the modern World Trade Center. Water has this calming effect on me, and this marina is no exception. When you come here, you’ll see the Aduana building with its winged sphinxes on the large towers. The Aduana building is an old customs building.

Barceloneta Beach is one of the oldest beaches in all of Barcelona. Many people go to enjoy the water, sand and the sun while others go to dine on the fresh seafood at the restaurants. After a fun filled day at the beach, most people will stop at one of the ice cream kiosks for a refreshing treat. The area next to the beach with the lower houses hosts some hidden gems of restaurants. Or you can go towards that big fish, and eat at Agua, one of my favorites.

The cemetery in Poble Nou is the perfect place for a photographer to discover when you visit Barcelona. There are many mausoleums and some of them are from the 18th century. The area is a wonderful place to get an original picture. Be a respectful photographer, please!

Just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean that the fun stops in Barcelona. There are many neighborhoods where the partying and fun continues long into the night. A couple of the more popular neighborhoods to go to are Las Ramblas, Port Olympic and Life’s A Beach. Don’t forget the camera, the city is awesome in the golden hour and after the sun sets.

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Ziplining in Costa Rica – Diamante Eco Park Guanacaste

During a visit in Costa Rica, it’s part of the tradition to go ziplining. So with the crew of Rich Coast Diving, where I’m doing my internship to become a divemaster, we headed for Diamante, an ecopark with a wide network of ziplines.

Getting there

Entering Diamante Eco Park in Guanacaste, Costa Rica for a day of ziplining!

Entering Diamante Eco Park in Guanacaste, Costa Rica for a day of ziplining!

The Diamante park is in Playa Matapalo, about 30 minutes away from Liberia, in the Guanacaste province. Follow the directions to Playas del Coco, till you see the signs leding you smoothly to Diamante. There is plenty of parking space. The team of Diamante also provides shuttles to hotels in the wide area.

Since I do my divemaster internship with Rich Coast Diving in Playas Del Coco, this was a very short ride for us.

The ziplining

For most tourists in Costa Rica, Ziplining is part of their program. So I was happy to see what all the hype is about. The park opens at 9am these months, so we had made our reservations to start at that time. After paying our fees and signing the waiver (on a tablet!), a harness was fitted on us. We received a helmet and a set of gloves. After a briefing about what waited us, and how to use the equipment, we were on our way to the first of the lines.

Lieke, one of the Divemaster interns of Rich Coast Diving, ziplining.

Lieke, one of the Divemaster interns at Rich Coast Diving, ziplining.

The first line is what they call a short one. Still pretty longer than the lines I used to ride as a boyscout, and over a way deeper valley than I imagined. But we take the crew’s word for it that this is just “to see how it feels”. Pretty smooth ride, over a nice valley. Confidence built in the system, and so when we arrived at the other side, the team was ready for the real deal!

The "Superman" zipline at Park Diamante, in Guanacaste Costa Rica

The “Superman” zipline

The longest line of the trajectory is a superman line. Over a mile long, with the valley really deep below. The crossing takes about a minute. Here you get strapped in into a kind of bag, that is hang under the line. That makes you go head first on this line.

Brenda, one of the owners at Rich Coast Diving on the zipline.

Brenda, one of the owners at Rich Coast Diving on the zipline.

When you arrive at the endpoint of the superman, you immidiately step onto the next line, that brings you further alongside the track. Two more lines and you reach a climbing tower, where a death drop awaits. Not as thrilling as it could be, but the park is building a higher tower to make sure in next season this becomes a sensation for the stomach as well.

At the end of the ziplines, there is a Tarzan Swing. Falling of the tower, and showing off how well one has learned from the monkeys here in Costa Rica.

We made a stroll in the Botanical Garden, and had a nice buffet lunch here. All in all a great day. I had however one major concern when I learned that with the building of the new tower, a kind of zoo would be built to host Costa Rica animals, inlcuding Pumas. I really don’t believe the world needs another place where we have animals in cages, so I hope the owners of this great park understand that we believe in something being “ECO” without having wild animals in small cages. The park is a great attraction without them.

Costa Rica Ziplining

Costa Rica Ziplining

Check them out on Tripadvisor.

ZipInCostaRica

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Divemaster in Costa Rica with Rich Coast Diving

A little update on the current travel. I’m in Costa Rica to become a divemaster.

A journey in South America

Since I came back from Antarctica via Argentina, I had the opportunity to visit places in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and in Brazil. So there’s some backlog in the pictures and stories for the blog. Working on my book The Fragility of Ecosystems, and on the articles I’m writing outside of the blog got a bit of a priority.

Costa Rica

These days I’m spending my time in Costa Rica, on the Pacific side. I’m starting my Divemaster training with Rich Coast Diving here. Over the next 3 months, the plan is to combine that with the finishing of the book about the “Fragility of Ecosystems” and with some consulting missions I’ve accepted in New York and other places. Being a digital nomad, as one could say.

What is a divemaster?

A SCUBA diver at a local dive site in Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica. The diver is guided by a Rich Coast Diving Divemaster

A SCUBA diver at a local dive site in Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica

A divemaster in the PADI curriculum is a diver who has reached the level of training where he/she can be in charge of a dive. When you dive in many places in the world, the person diving with you will be one of these PADI Divemasters. Becoming a dive master also helps in becoming a SCUBA instructor later. I’ll see how these 3 months go first, before I launch myself in that PADI IDC course.

Why a Divemaster internship in Costa Rica?

When I was researching where to do this, I had a couple of requirements:

  • Distance to NYC
    First, as I am figuring out how this location independent working style works for me, I needed to have a place where I can fly in an acceptable time (and budget) back to New York. Costa Rica has 2 airports that fly easy into the US. Being a loyal Delta Air Lines Customer, it was reassuring that from Liberia and San Jose, there are direct flights to Los Angeles LAX, Atlanta ATL, and New York JFK.
  • Reputation of the Dive Center
    When holding a Divemaster certificate, I wanted to make sure I was holding one from an institute that is highly recognized by PADI, and that had the highest level of Course Director. In Costa Rica, Rich Coast Diving is only one PADI Career Development Center (CDC) that has five stars. And on top, their course director (Martin Van Gestel) is one of only 70 PADI Platinum course directors in the world.
  • The Fun Factor
    Rich Coast Diving has an excellent reputation among the Divemasters and IDC-alumni. But they also make sure that the time you spend with them is not just carrying tanks and gear. Having an international crew shows that people actually WANT to be part of this group, and that in itself helps to create a nice atmosphere.

Of course, becoming a better diver will also give me an excuse and some extra skills to improve my underwater photography.

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The travel to Antarctica begins!

Before I made it onto Antarctica, there were 6 days underway in a small sailboat.

Travel to Antarctica

The crew on the Sarah Vorwerk was managed by skipper Henk. Mariel supported him as a right hand and as chief of the kitchen. Adding the 7 of us sailors, made our small crew complete. Argentina, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium represented, and with the expats New York and Hong Kong had pseudo-representation. The language on board was English, with the occasional take-over by “the Germans”. All ready to be part of this adventure…

Not in a country

When you travel by plane internationally, you emigrate from one country, and when you land you’re in the next. Traveling by boat is the same, but different. On the first day of the journey, the crew presented itself at the Argentina Coast Guard (“Prefectura Naval”) to emigrate Argentina.

Extra stamps in the passports to show that was done. So now I had technically left Argentina. It would be about a month before immigrating again (in Chile). The travel to Antarctica had not only disconnected me from the rat race, but also from things such as being in a state/country. For this whole month to come, I was in no country, a vast no mans land. I liked the thought of that. Especially since that no-country was the internationally respected zone of Antarctica.

Be warned when you do the customs declaration in Argentina: All of the crewmembers had to declare all the electronics they carried, so we wouldn’t have an issue when re-entering later. A certain photographer who travels with too much gear, hates this part of the journey! (guess who…) Better know how much of what you have with you when you start this process.

Baggage allowance

Gear on my bunk bed in the Sarah Vorwerk, on my travel to Antarctica

Some photographers have a bit more gear than others, when they travel to Antarctica

While you have of course not the strict limitations of an airplane when traveling on a small sailboat, there is the issue of the space to put your gear and stuff. Skippers can be the most friendly people you meet, but when you start loading their ships with tripods and small helicopters, you might meet someone who cares very much about the damage those can do to the boat. Fortunately our skipper found space for all the gear somewhere.

I ended up having some space in my bunk to sleep, and not to sacrifice the bed as storage. And it turned out that bringing this gear wasn’t only good for me, but that it came in useful for my new crew friends every once and a while. It allowed me to prepare the future travel to Antarctica, where I’ll take photographers on a workshop. Using different camera’s and types of equipment showed what will work, and what not…

Cast off!

The Sarah Vorwerk casts off for the Antarctica Travel (Ushuaia)

The Sarah Vorwerk casts off for the Antarctica Travel (Ushuaia)

The moment the boat left the harbor was one not too forget. I have been traveling before, but had no idea what was waiting for me on this journey. So when a friendly neighboring skipper disconnected the last mooring line, I felt the excitement. It was incredibly quiet on board for that moment.

Seeing the harbor of Ushuaia leaving in the distance, and meeting the first penguin in the water after less than 15 minutes of sailing, made it complete.

Sailing the Beagle Channel

HQ3A1098Beagle Channel, Lighting house, Sunrise by Koen Blanquart in Antarctica
Before really getting in the oceans, there is the Beagle Channel between Ushuaia and the Atlantic Ocean, near Cape Horn. The red sailing boat left Ushuaia to the east in the channel, remaining on the Argentina shore to avoid having to repeat the immigration and emigration kafka with the Chilean government. The channel is the home to several animals. After having left Ushuaia in the early afternoon, Henk decided to throw anchor near Puerto Eugenia and cook dinner. Since conserving chicken isn’t that easy, we had a nice chicken dish. It would be the last chicken I ate for several weeks.

Our anchor place was the spot where I lost contact with the cell towers, starting the disconnected experience.

The next day, I woke up early enough to grab the sunset, and Henk set sail to the open seas. The feared Drake passage awaited. A group of bowsurfing dolphins escorted the vessel out of the Beagle Channel.

Sailing the Drake Passage

When leaving in Argentina, and going on Antarctica travel, there is no way around the Drake Passage. Passengers on cruise ships, with stabilizers on board, get sea sick here. So for the crew of a small sailboat it’s something to take into account.

Sailing the Drake passage isn’t something you forget lightly.

The secret of Mr. Drake

When Francis Drake discovered this passage between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, it was of great importance to England. In those days (1578), GPS wasn’t what it is today. Even worse: sea maps where considered state secrets. That’s how it would take many years before other nations would discover this passage.

Crossing the Drake Passage

The Sarah Vorwerk sailing the Drake Passage

The Sarah Vorwerk sailing the Drake Passage

As soon as we had left the Beagle Channel, the water changed from a very flat water to what one expects an open sea to look like, but then better…

Sea sickness

Sailing the Drake Passage for many people includes being sea sick. Our ship with 9 experienced sailors was no difference:  The team of 9 was quickly reduced to 3, as sea sickness forced some to stay in their cabin for a short or long time.

Most were able to get out after a while, but the benjamin on the boat has spent most of the Drake Passage in her bunk.

Interesting to learn that the people who sail to Cape Horn from Ushuaia get seasick in the Beagle Channel, while some people who sail to the Drake Passage will not get sick on that same spot. Not because they are so much different people, but apparently since our mind has a strong influence on if we get sea sick or not, suggesting it’s stronger than what happens in the stomach and the equilibrium of the body.

Convergence

When passing the Drake Passage, around the 60th parallel South, the water dropped from 9ºC to 1º (thats from 50ºF to 33ºF), and goes then back up by 1 or 2 degrees. The water changes color. That’s when entering the Antarctica Convergence. The Antarctic Convergence is where the warm(er) water of the Oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian,…) meets the waters of Antarctica.

An iceberg in the Southern Ocean

An iceberg in the Southern Ocean

And so from here on, the crew was on the lookout for icebergs. Henk had divided us in teams of 2, who spend 2 hours on deck steering and searching for the big white blocks of ice, exchanged with 6 hours of time in the cockpit to enjoy the scenery or below deck. The days were getting noticeable longer than they were in Ushuaia. And I hoped that the crossing  of this convergence would soon result in touching land on Antarctica!

This article is part of a series, describing my travel to Antarctica in February 2016. Follow on http://blog.blanquart.be/antarctica to see where it goes from here…

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De Gerlache

Being a Belgian on the Antarctic waters can not go without thinking about Adrien De Gerlache at certain moments. I choose to take his book “15 months on Antarctica” with me on this trip. Refreshing my French and at the same time reading about one of the first people who came were we are now, is not a bad combination:

De gerlache, searching for unexplored territories in Antarctica

Adrien de Gerlache leaves Antwerp in August 1896 to explore some missing parts on the map of Antarctica. He reaches Ushuaia on New Years day 1897. Almost 120 years ago, he sailed the same waters we’re facing here. His ship was double the length of ours, and 1.5 times as wide. Still, it would be way smaller than most of cruise ships and ice breakers that go to Antarctica these days.

The Belgica stuck in the ice on Antarctica (

The Belgica stuck in the ice on Antarctica (Courtesy of wikimedia)

The Belgica, his expediton ship, got stuck in the ice in February 1897, and it would take him and his crew 13 months to get back out of there. He’s the first to have overwintered on Antarctica. He discovered many locations and updated the map of Antarctica as we know it today.

It feels as an honnor to be a Belgian and sailing in these waters that have been charted by a young citizen of our country. When reading de Gerlache’s book, one sees how much he saw it as his duty to discover this area and bringing some Belgian influence. It’s partially thanks to his work that Belgium was one of the first 12 signers of the Antarctic Treaty.

Many bays, mountains and islands in the Antarctic peninsula got their names by de Gerlache. The passage he called the Belgica Strait, was later renamed to the Gerlache Strait in his honnor. Anvers Island, Brabant Island, Flanders Bay are just a few of the places that got their names by mr. de Gerlache. and his crew. And even the Netherlands have de Gerlache to thank for the fact that the Wilhelmina bay on Antarctica caries its name.

De Gerlache is not just famous for his own expedition. He has had influence on several later discoveries in the Antarctic region. One of the crew members was Roald Amundsen, who would later be the first reach both poles. De Gerlache later also assisted Shackleton with his infamous expedition. It was de Gerlache who sold him his yacht. Ernest Shackleton renamed it to “Endurance”.

This crabeater in de Gerlache strait waking up his buddies when we sail across the floe where they are sleeping early in the morning.

This crabeater in de Gerlache strait waking up his buddies when we sail across the floe where they are sleeping early in the morning.

Statue of De Gerlache in Ushuaia

When you make it to Ushuaia: he’s statue is the first in a row of people who played a role in the discovery of Antarctica. He overlooks the harbor where every year ships like ours take of on expeditions that wouldn’t have been the same without what he did 120 years ago. De Gerlaches expedition is also featured in the scientific part of the Museo del fin del Mundo.

Sailing in the morning in the Gerlache strait, next to some smaller icebergs

Sailing in the morning in the Gerlache strait, next to some smaller icebergs

This article is part of a series, describing my trip to Antarctica. Follow on http://boarding.today/antarctica

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