Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 12th – It Ain’t Antarctica!

It's hard to over-state how excited I was this morning. I was to be taking a three hour flight on a 7-seater plane to a whole new continent for me – to the frozen wonderland of Antarctica.

But could you believe it? The weather in Antarctica was too bad for us to fly there! It wasn't the 40mph winds blowing in Punta Arenas, the pilots are used to that – apparently there was a thick bank of fog hanging over the airstrip on King George Island where we were due to fly in, and without a visual of the landing strip, they won't fly in.

When our guide met us off the ship and told us we only had a 20% chance of getting there, we initially thought she was joking – trying to raise the sense of anticipation. At the airport, it became increasingly obvious that this was not going to happen – somehow, no-one in our deflated party burst into tears (I must have been close).

So, we turned to Plan B. And it turned out that Plan B was pretty special.

Our pilot took us north on a bumpy flight to the spectacular Torres del Paine (pronounced Pine-ay), a breathtaking National Park of jagged mountains covered in glaciers, shimmering lakes, wild winds, and lots of wildlife. The succession of fabulous vistas was almost too much for the eye to take in.

We saw hundreds of Guanacos (llama-like creatures) undertaking various activities from feeding, to running aimlessly, to mating vigorously; enormous condors soaring effortlessly overhead; rheas (the South American version of the Ostrich); and various other birds pointed out by our enthusiastic guide who wasn't prepared to let us get miserable about missing out on Antarctica.

Perhaps the most amazing thing was the array of colours of the lakes in the shadow of the mountains, which ranged from bright navy blue, to milky turquoise, to green – it was a breathtaking session of vistas.

It wasn't Antarctica, but it wasn't a bad consolation prize.