Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Post Antarctica Marathon Tuesday 27th

I am sorry for the large gap in the blog entries but hopefully these pictures will help you understand the conditions I encountered when trying to get a satellite signal from the pitching deck of a ship in the Southern Oceans!

The following blog entries are in reverse chronological order and should bring you all up-to-date. Check back tomorrow to see how we got on in the Fin del Mundo (End of the World) marathon!

Monday 5th March

A day of leisure spent exploring Ushuaia, a town that has loosely interpreted building regulations (if indeed there are any) and whose taxi drivers challenge all known driving conventions.

It is late summer here and the average temperature is usually around 15 degrees celsius however the snow has been falling heavily all day and is now lying a good 8 centimetres deep. So much for a running tomorrow’s marathon in shorts! Oh, and we were told at dinner that the course is ‘extremely hilly’. I am beginning to wonder if there is any such thing as an Easy Marathon.

Dinner brought a further surprise, the local Tierra del Fuego television station was doing an hour special on the marathon live from the hotel and the Argentinian Minister of Sport and Minister of Education have flown down for the programme. The organiser of the Antarctica Marathon asked my brother, Matt and another of the top finishers to take part in the broadcast. The main contender for the event from Kenya was also interviewed and with a marathon time of 2.13 he looks unbeatable (he is trained by Paul Tergat’s coach!). I think I’m going to need four Weetabix at breakfast!

Sunday 4th March
Whilst I had an incredible adventure I am very, very happy to be back in Ushuaia and for the ground to remain stationary.

Over 100 of the 200 runners who took part in the Antarctica Marathon have elected to stay on for the Fin del Mundo Marathon. What a crazy bunch of people (myself included). Other than this snippet of information I’m afraid there is little else to report as I have spent most of the day sleeping in an incredible hotel high above the town and overlooking the Beagle Channel.

Saturday 3rd March

A horrendous day and night spent crossing the Drake Passage. Enough said.

Friday 2nd March

We spent the final day in the Antarctic before the dreaded journey back to South America in an absolutely stunning spot, Andvord Bay. We were even blessed with sunshine.

This was by far the most enjoyable of all of our visits and a complete Antarctic experience rolled into one, unforgettable day.

We watched penguins try and leap onto icebergs which was comical especially when they would fail and fall back into the water.

An added twist to this voyeurism was the appearance of a leopard seal who (you guessed right) caught a penguin and proceeded to toy with it for 20 minutes before it started the brutal business of killing it.

Interestingly this excerpt of nature at its most cruel was what seemed to appeal most to my fellow travellers and the shutter clicks reached fever pitch. Quite a few shots worthy of National Geographic were taken!

Thursday 1st March

Our excursion today enabled us to gain an insight into mans’ interaction with this crazy continent. We first visited Wordie House, an abandoned British base left pretty much untouched since the 1950s. It now acts as a museum to those early exploratory days – with old tins of Bovril and copies of Great Expectations still adorning the shelves. A wall chart detailing the strict monthly allowance of coal is a stark reminder of just how tough living conditions would have been.

One of our Argentine guides Gustavo had spent a year on an Antarctic research base. His description of the perpetual winter wind lifting rocks and hurling them against the walls of his base and being trapped inside for days at a time is not something I’d want to experience myself. It’s hard to understand or appreciate how those early scientists coped without the modern luxuries of satellite communication, hi-tech clothing and fresh food.

A short Zodiac ride away lies a Ukranian base which had formerly belonged to the British Antarctic Survey. Although a lot more modern than Wordie House it was sold to the Ukraine for just a single pound in exchange for a share of any future research findings. One of the scientists kindly gave up his time to take us on a tour of the base and explain a little of their work. I can’t profess to have understood the science but they’re at the cutting edge of research into Global Warming – a graph on the wall of a lab worryingly showed an unbroken increase in the local temperature over the last 50 years.
These researchers spend years away from their homes and families, dedicating themselves to discovering the truth behind climate change. Hopefully the world will listen to these pioneers and evaluate their results with the care and attention they deserve.

Wednesday 28th February

Oh dear! I’m afraid my kayaking skills aren’t quite what I had hoped and I will definitely be sticking to the running. I finished a glorious last in the first heat of the championship (although in my defence I should say that only a tiny percentage of the running contingent had entered and they had incredible kayaking CVs!). My brother on the other hand, not content with first place in the marathon, managed to win the first heat of the doubles with his girlfriend, Tanya and then go on to claim third place in the finals. Is there no stopping him?

Tuesday 27th February

After a night of limited sleep everyone hobbled to breakfast to swap marathon stories. Strangely enough, there were few takers for the daily recreational kayaking session however, the forthcoming Kayaking Championships didn’t seem to concern some of the more competitive types. For my part, I was wondering what excuse I could use to wheedle my way out of the competition.

Marathon aside, the daily program of shore excursions went ahead as normal and we visited the stunning Wilhommena Bay. The surface of the sea was already starting to form small hexagonal ice sheets which will gradually knit together. Our guide told us the winter pack-ice will become impassable in the next few weeks and the ships will have to wait until December before being able to return.

The arrival of the ice doesn’t bode well for the thousands of juvenile penguins that have yet to moult and are still covered in a fluffy down.

Whilst to us tourists they looked cute and provided great photo opportunities, the reality is the penguins are unable to swim until they get their adult plumage. There is strong possibility that the late starters we saw will perish.

The afternoon also gave us our first good look at the leopard seals. Sunning themselves atop of the ice they were nonplussed by the approaching zodiacs and the whirr of camera shutters.

Having previously caught only the odd glimpse of them their huge size was surprising. At 14 feet long and nearly 600 kilos they looked formidable, but in a cuddly sort of way…

In the evening we were invited to join our sister ship, the Ioffe, for a post-race celebration. Being British we’re used to BBQs in all weathers but al fresco dining in the heavy snow with two frisky humpback whales circling the ship was a whole new experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Again Nathan great pics and commentry on your epic voyage. Too bad about the kyaking. You can't win them all (unless your Matt that is). Look forward to reading your next marathon report. Take care,