It is nothing short of spectacular to watch as a twelve foot wave crashes the bow of the Akademik Ioffe while crossing the Drake Passage.
Although it is late at night, I feel my company is immediately welcomed on the bridge of the Ioffe.
Sailing north across the Drake to Ushuaia, the First Mate and I engage in light hearted chatter about the current sea conditions.
The wind is blowing about 40-50 miles an hour with the seas ranging from nine to twelve feet high. We both have a laugh that these are probably not the best conditions for some of the Ioffe passengers.
It is exciting to watch as a huge wave crest over the bow of the Ioffe. I am sure this is just one of many that we will encounter tonight.
As the frigid sea water escapes overboard, it is hard to imagine it is the same deck we stood on just a few hours ago.
While most if not all of the Ioffe passengers have retired for the evening, I am wide awake and head for the bridge. The seas and weather conditions are not conducive for an outside stroll so I make my way there through the inside halls and stairwells.
How difficult can this be? I am black and white and very popular. Being in Antarctica the first thing that comes to mind is a penguin but I am wrong.
What else can be black and white, real or imagined and very popular. Michael Jackson? Wrong, again!
How do I find myself in this guessing predicament? Well it started with a beer and then volunteering to have a piece of paper taped to my forehead.
Along with a few others, I am playing a head guessing game put together by members of the expedition staff. Another part of tonight’s entertainment.
I am not feeling to bad being unable to guess my the person or thing as I watch Carlton, a British passenger struggle with his clues. “A British politician in the last 50 years that everybody would know”.
Don't say the answer if you know it, he is still trying to guess it.
After about fifteen or so, yes or no answers, I finally smelled a rat, well more like a mouse and got a clue who was stuck on the tip of my forehead. Ironically, I should not have thrown stones at Carlton. Can you guess?
With our sailing to Ushuaia well on the way a few of us gather in the Ioffe bar for an evening of staff inspired entertainment.
The fun begins with a reading of questions asked by former passengers.
Although we have a few laughs at their expense, I have a feeling given the opportunity a few of us might come up with some gems of our own.
I sense this by the pause in laughter and the deep thought given when we ponder one question that was asked about leaving the ship in Ushuaia.
“Should I put out my luggage before or after I go to sleep?”
Ironically, the worst weather we encounter on our expedition happens as we set sail back to Ushuaia, Argentina.
I adventure just outside my room to a passage way at the forward part of the ship for a small taste of true Antarctic ocean weather.
Here the wind is so fierce from the right to left side of the passage way that it forces me to remain in the protected shelter of an inside hall.
Occasionally, a huge spray of ocean water blasts its way from the starboard to port side of the ship. The temperature is now so cold that this causes sheets of ice to form on the deck of the Ioffe.
Continuing my somewhat research exposure to the weather, I move along the inside to the exterior stern. As the Ioffe pitches and rolls on the high seas, I am on it's starboard side when I get an exhilarating surprise.
A huge wave breaks over the bow and I get drenched!
With our final zodiac cruise completed we are gathered on the bow of the Ioffe for a photo op along with an appropriate send off from one of the coldest and of course, coolest places on the planet.
Champagne is poured and toasts are made as we celebrate a successful expedition. It is a heart warming experience as I am reminded of pleasant and fun international group of passengers and crew on board the Akademik Ioffe.
Cheers to Brazil, Bolivia, England, India, Australia, Holland, The United States, Taiwan and a host of other countries well represented on The Blue Continent.
Of course, it is part my own doing having made arrangements the previous evening with www.prodownhill.com.
We have just arrived here after about an hour's drive from La Paz. In the distance, snow capped mountains reach for the almost cloudless skies as I inhale the crisp oxygen deprived air.
Joining the downhill pavement my shortness of breath and being cold is quickly replaced with excitement and adrenaline. The laws of physics are working nicely in my favor as this ton of mass begins to accelerate and accelerate rapidly.
Freeing myself from the captivating scenery, I test another law of physics and I am not to sure I like the results. My rear brakes did not pay attention in class or is not happy about carrying all this extra mass.
I have to make a pit stop as others race by me on a descending steep and curving hill. I watch them from above, looking like ants on wheels as my rear brakes is repaired.
Before long my tires are madly humming at over 300 miles an hour. Well, it seemed like that as the wind is ferociously whistling through my helmet. A stop at a military checkpoint and fluid is added to my brakes before I begin another downhill stretch.
BO$25 about US$3.60, a bargain.
Here, I have a fried chicken sandwich with fresh corn on the cob. I am teased that it will have me going to the bathroom more often than usual. A small price I think to pay for a taste of some local cuisine.
Recharged, we are now ready for the real challenge ahead of us. In about twenty minutes we will be where the Andes meet the Amazon. This is beginning point of “The Old Death Road”.
As our new descent begins a short distance from our briefing point I can see the road winding below us in between the breaks of the valley fog. We are now told to stay on the right side of the road although this is against Bolivian law.
However, in a strange way this and the gorgeous landscape adds to the excitement of the ride.
Coming on roadside waterfalls, I occasionally stop to relax a moment as others leave me behind in the dust.
It is tons of fun to race down the mountain but for me stopping to “smell the roses” is always a worthwhile part of any adventure.
A few hours into our ride and we have a lunch break where chips, sandwiches and a refreshing old fashioned Coca-Cola in the bottle is provided. Still full from my tasty chicken sandwich, I just quench my thirst with “The Real Thing”.
Besides a history of it's own, a sad part of world history can also be found along “The Death Road”.
Saving the best for last, we reach an area of “The Death Road” that promises to be the most challenging. Here, I take the “low road” so to speak and I am one of the last ones headed down. I will let the others “blaze” the trail for me.
In our final descent I can see “The New Death Road” that will take us back to La Paz. I am not looking forward to the four hour drive. This portion of the ride does turn out to be challenging, fun, enjoyable and ends with a cold reward.
$70 well spent!
A fitting farewell to one of the most remote and coldest region on the planet.
It is not unusual that again I am on the last zodiac to leave the Ioffe. There are just a few of us on board with Dr. Timor.
For me, the zodiac ride is fun as we maneuver over rolling waves and the cold ocean water sprays off the rubber bow. Even after several days down here the scenery that includes a landscape covered with pure white snow, occasionally highlighted with areas of aqua blue still fascinates me.
While waiting our turn to reboard the ship a few of us share some of the memorable moments of our adventure. It seems like only yesterday I was sinking up to my knees in snow on Half Moon Bay. Only one of the many memories I will take from my visit to The Blue Continent.