Antarctica 21(5 stars)

This is a subsection of our larger blog “OutsideGo-Awasi Patagonia-Antarctica 21” that comments specifically on the Antarctica portion of our trip.  If you just want to see our pictures from Antarctica, click here.

Visiting Antarctica has always been on my bucket list and my 7th continent.  It is not top of the list to escape the long, cold Chicago winters, but rumors suggested a visit would be a remarkable experience.  We had received an email from OutsideGo about Antarctica 21 and given this was on my bucket list, we began exploring the possibility.  We always pay attention to OutsideGo emails! 

General considerations: (5 stars) 

There were two very significant reasons to visit Antarctica through Antarctica 21.  Instead of sailing the Drake Passage (a 2 day trip), we would fly from Punta Arenas to Teniente R. Marsh Airport at Frei Station on King George Island.  This saved two days of travel and avoided the potentially very rough Drake Passage trip.  The second reason was the small size of the tour group (maximum 71).  This allowed everyone to leave the boat (Ocean Nova for us) at each activity, multiple times daily.

They also offered kayak and snowshoe outings.  We did not participate in those activities, but the individuals who did really enjoyed them.

Pre-tour communications and arrangements: (5 stars)

Once we decided to use Antarctica 21, we received a web link that provided a tremendous amount of information in the form of videos and pdf files including clothing requirements, sunglasses recommendations, accessories, guidelines for zodiac and land visits, contingency plans (weather can cause delays), photography tips, access to the internet and many other useful things. 

When we arrived at Hotel Cabo de Hornos, we had our boot fitting (heavy rubber boots for wet landings), a detailed orientation of the trip and then a pleasant cocktail hour and dinner with the people going on the trip with us.  

Cocktail Hour-Antarctica 21

Cocktail hour at Hotel José Nogueira the night before departure to Antarctica

It is very important that your boots fit correctly as walking on the snowy continent can be challenging, otherwise.

This is perhaps the best pre-tour communication we have ever experienced.

Communications during the tour: (5 stars)

There were two to three briefings a day between the two daily outings and meals.  These briefings included plans for the next day, recaps of the day’s activity and a number of presentations about Antarctia that greatly enriched the experience, such as knowledgeable discussion of the role of phytoplankton in the life cycle in the Antarctica, the origin of Antarctica as a continent, or thoughts and data on current global warming issues.  There were also public announcements of activities planned or beginning.

The expedition guides and crew were very knowledgeable, worked hard to insure the safety of the passengers and to educate us about Antarctica.  Several of them stand out: Alcibíades Ulises Barrios Herrera, Captain; Karen Parada, Cruise Manager; Hadleigh Measham, Expedition Leader; André Belem, Education and Science Coordinator; Ashley Cooper, Expedition Guide-Photographer; Rodrigo Moraga, Marine Biologist-Photographer; Allison Lee, Polar Specialist-Oceanographer; Jamie Watts, Expedition Leader-Marine Ecologist.  All the other guides/crew were equally outstanding.  Captain Herrera safely guided our ship through iceberg filled waters and did an incredible job in the Icebird rescue.  Both Ashley Cooper and Rodrigo Moraga gave the whole cruise some of their spectacular images, including breaching whales and Ashley gave a wonderful pictorial presentation on the consequences of global warming.  Hadleigh Measham did an excellent job communicating ever changing plans for the day, pleasant wakeup music and messages and selecting the best possible sites for us to disembark from the Ocean Nova.  Finally, Allison Lee led several fascinating discussions on phytoplankton and her citizen science project sampling phytoplankton.  André Belem lead the education and science team that provided a variety of wonderful discussions that greatly enriched the Antarctica 21 experience.  We have remained in contact with André via email and he has been extremely helpful refreshing my memory of different parts of the cruise.  For this we are deeply grateful.  

Accommodations: (It’s an icebreaker ship cabin!)

We have not provided any stars for this category.  Our cabin had a small desk, two beds, a bathroom/shower of about 10-12 square feet with a very tiny shower and a small closet.  The total cabin was about 100 square feet with a number of hooks to hang clothes.  Over the desk were several electrical

Ocean Nova Room

Ocean Nova Sleeping quarters

outlets (standard European round two pin plugs) and USB charging outlets.  We adapted to the space quite well, but we have not rated it as we have no basis of comparison.  Given that we were on a boat, we suspect these were pretty good accommodations.  There was also a physician onboard that proved very useful: gave us some great sea sickness medicine (dramamine was insufficient) and counseled/reassured me on a nasty pulled hamstring.

What was seen/experienced: (5 stars)

It is important to appreciate the fact that this experience is highly planned and yet unplanned.  As we set out, the expedition manager, Hadleigh, enlightened us by telling us about the highly variable weather and how they would try to find interesting places to visit that had reasonably acceptable weather conditions.  At the end of the day, there was a rough sketch (or to be determined-TBD) as to where we might visit the next day, but that depended on how the weather was the following morning.  When we arose for breakfast and morning briefing, we knew more or less what we would be experiencing that day.

This planned/unplanned character was highlighted our first evening, before departure, in Punta Arenas.  If and when we would depart to King George Island was announced during our pre-departure dinner, roughly 12 hours prior to our actual departure.  We had to be fully dressed for Antarctica                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           prior to boarding the plane, including our Antarctica boots and water proof pants.  This made for a toasty ride to airport, but once on the plane, heavy coats were removed.  This seemed a bit crazy as we were from Chicago and quite used to blustery winter weather.

The flight from Punta Arenas to Frei Station was about 2 hours.  Our approach was heavily overcast, but we could see some land and ‘rocks’ in the water.  Upon exiting the plane, we were greeted with a blizzard, horizontal snow and biting cold.  We knew we had a 40 minute walk, single file on a muddy, puddle filled make shift road to the zodiac boarding location.  First impression: ‘Oh my god, how bad is this going to be’ and ‘how strikingly barren the landscape really is’.

Blizzard on landing

In front of our plane.  Smiling, but see those white streaks, giant snow flakes at 1/320 of a second, they were moving that fast.  Very cold.

God Forsaken Place

First impression of Antarctica: a god forsaken place

We were given a life jacket at the zodiac landing (we kept this for the rest of the trip) and refreshed on how to get into the zodiac.  In all of the training videos, the zodiac was calmly resting on the shore.  Not now.  The zodiac bounced and lurched from wave action and made entry considerably more challenging than anticipated.  The ride to Ocean Nova and transition from the zodiac to the boat was a rolling adventure.  The seaman grip proved to be very useful!

Once on board, we explored a bit and settled into our room.  Once everyone was on board, we had our first briefing in the Observation Lounge and set sail from Frei Station out of Maxwell Bay into Bansfield Strait.  We passed a large tabular iceberg, A57A (12.7 by 5.8 miles in size), and many ‘smaller’ ones as

Small iceberg with a57a behind

A ‘small' iceberg in front of A57A. The bright mid portion of the sky is caused by light reflected off of A57A.

we had a training drill for using the two life boats.  The sheer beauty rapidly changed our first impression.  Sea sickness set in as we went further out into the Bansfield Strait, effectively treated with Marezine from the onboard physician. To see all of Day 0-2 pictures, click here.

Sometime overnight, we entered the Gerlache Strait, the waters calmed and we were joined by a family of Humpback Whales.  They swam with us for quite a while, affording an opportunity to get some nice photographs.  Our

Humpback Whale-Gerlache Strait

Humpback Whale in Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

first zodiac excursion was at Portal Point, a true Antarctica continent landing.  The rocks were slippery with a steep drop off.  The sailor grip and our walking sticks were very helpful on this landing.  We climbed up a hill along a

Portal Point Landing

Hiking back to Portal Point with zodiacs waiting to return us to the ship

Ocean Nova-Iceberg

A matter of perspective: Ocean Nova vs. iceberg on our way back to the ship

red flag marked path to experience a snow filled view.  It was important not to stray from the path, as one or two steps off the path could result in sinking to your hips in snow!

As we headed further into the Gerlache Stait toward Useful Island, we were joined by a pod of Orca Whales.  We were able to get some nice pictures from

Orca Whales

Orca Whales in Gerlache Strait

the observation deck, but it was very cold.  Two layers on the bottom, 5 layers on top, a Columbia Titanium Omni Heat Hat with hood and two layers of glove was sufficient.  The inner fleece glove worked well with the camera and kept the hands warm enough for a short period of time. 

Useful Island: Gentoo Penguins were everywhere at the lower level and Chinstrap were higher up.  We were very lucky to see young penguins as they typically bred earlier, but in the case of first chic loss, they will lay more eggs.

Useful Island Penguin

Gentoo Penguins with young chicks on Useful Island

Both parents care for the young and feed by regurgitating food into their beak while the chick gathers the food by inserting their head into the parent’s mouth.  The other quite remarkable experience is the overwhelming pungent odor that can be smelled a distance away and adhers to your clothing on return to the ship.  To see all the pictures from Day 2, click here.

Lemaire Channel: The decision was taken the evening before to try to make passage through the Lemaire Channel.  This attempt was going to be the first for the season by any Antarctica cruise.  The channel is ice filled, approximately 7 miles long and only a half mile wide at the narrowest point.

Lemaire Channel Entrance

Icy and narrow entrance of Lemaire Channel 

The waters are very still, reflecting the mountains and glaciers on the side for incredible sites.  Our zodiac trip in the morning was to cruise through the icebergs, photographing seals, penguins and birds.  Weddell, Leopard and

Crabeater Seal

Crabeater Seal in Lemaire Channel

Crabeater seals were seen.  At one point, we hopped out of the zodiac onto a 50 foot around flat (pancake) iceberg.  While we were taking pictures on the iceberg, a few penguins jumped on, quite surprised we were there and quickly jumped back off. 

As we enjoyed the icebergs and seals, the bridge received a state of urgency call (pan-pan) from a small 61 foot yacht, Icebird, requesting assistance.  Our boat captain agreed to come to their aid.  Our initial thought was to wonder why such a small boat would be in these perilous waters, but Icebird is specifically designed to operate in these conditions and the crew is highly experienced.  They suffered a most unfortunate motor failure.  We arrived,

Icebird trapped in ice

Icebird trapped in ice field after motor failure

place a tow line, and then pulled them through considerable ice to the Vernadsky Station, a Ukrainian research base.  The station was to send zodiacs out to the boat, bring the crew on shore, so they could use the machine shop to effect repairs on the motor.  That was a solid plan with the exception that the ice was so thick, the Ukrainian zodiacs could not make it to the Icebird.  We reattached Icebird and proceeded to tow it back through Lemaire Channel to Base President Gabriel González Videla (Chile).  To see all of our pictures from Day 3, click here.

Neko Harbour:  This was our second continental landing.  The harbour was discovered by Adrien de Gerlache during his Belgian Antarctic expedition (1897-99). It is named after the Norwegian whaling ship, Neko, which often used this bay.  A prominent feature is a large glacier which sometimes can be seen calving that caused very substantial waves at the landing beach.  Because of this we were warned to not stay near the beach area.  We heard, but did not see, some calving.  The large glacier and the approximate 250 breeding pairs of Gentoo penguins made for some great photography.

Neko Harbour

Gentoo Penguins at Neko Harbour

Whilhelmina Bay: Our second zodiac excursion on this day was to join, up close and personal, a group of Humpback Whales.  We saw many tail flips and a few actually had whales come up by the zodiac!  The water level 

Humpback in Wilhelmina Bay

Humpback Whale in Wilhelmina Bay

Humpback in Wilhelmina Bay#2

Humpback Whale in Wilhelmina Bay

perspective of whale tails flipping out of the water with glaciers and snow-covered mountains in the background etched a permanent memory as to how vibrant, magnificent, and yet isolated Antarctica truly is.  To see all of our pictures from Day 4, click here.

On our next to last day, we visited Deception Island, landing at Whalers Bay and Half Moon Island.  Deception Island is an active volcano, last erupting in 1969.  The caldera is filled with sea water to form Port Foster.  The entrance is called Neptune Bellows, a narrow, 755 foot wide passage into the sea filled caldera, and just past this point is Whalers Bay.  The Whalers Bay community was established in the early 19th century to serve the whale oil industry, where the blubber was converted primarily to whale oil for lamp burning.  Large rusty tanks that held processed whale oil still stand, highlighting how

Whaler Bay with tanks

Whaler Bay and whale oil storage tanks in disrepair

aggressively whales were hunted in Antarctica in the earlier part of the 19th century.  Kerosene eventually displaced whale oil and international protections in 1966 prevented the hunting of whales.  These have helped stabilize and encouraged recovery of the whale population.  We also saw a wonderful example of a Fur Seal.

Fur Seal on Deception Island

Fur Seal at Whalers Bay

Our last stop was Half Moon Island, a beautiful island with lots of wild life, in particular Chinstrap penguins.  The general rule is to not get closer than 15 feet, but the Chinstraps did not know this rule and would frequently waddle

Chinstrap Penguins

Chinstrap Penguins on Half Moon Island walking right past us

within a few feet of us standing perfectly still.  This created some great opportunities for very close photographs.  There is a photogenic wrecked whaling boat on the beach.  To see all the pictures from Day 5, click here.

Whaler Boat-Half Moon Island

Wrecked whaler boat on Half Moon Island

We returned to Frei Station overnight where we could get an Antarctica immigration stamp for our passports.  Once everyone had disembarked the Ocean Nova we hiked back to the landing field and waited for our flight back to Punta Arenas.

Leaving Antarctica

Leaving Antarctica from Frei Station

With this description and accompanying pictures, we hope the 5 star rating is understandable.  Antarctica is extraordinarily beautiful and sharply different than anywhere else in the world.  The magnitude of the sheer raw forces of nature are difficult to explain.  To see all the pictures from our last day in Antarctica, click here.

Food: (5 star)

The good food on Ocean Nova greatly exceeded my expectations.  The breakfast and lunch were buffets with diversity of choice and always something good to eat.  For dinner, salads/cheese/crackers were buffet, but the dinner was ordered off a menu and served to you.  A variety of beverages, including wine/beer, were available.  The dinner meal was consistently good quality and again exceed our expectations.

Ocean Nova Menu

Example of Ocean Nova Menu

Awasi Patagonia (5 stars)

This is a subsection of our larger blog “OutsideGo-Awasi Patagonia-Antarctica 21” that comments specifically on the Awasi Patagonia portion of our trip.  If you just want to see our pictures from Awasi Patagonia, click here.

General considerations, pre-tour communication and arrangements (4 star)

We knew very little about Awasi Patagonia before we left except for a small brochure describing different outings and activities and the information on their website.  We also knew that we would have a private guide that would tailor the experience to our interests and needs.  Shortly before the trip, we received a brief email questionnaire about diet, medical issues and our interests.

We were relying on the recommendation of OutsideGo and that it is a Relais & Chateaux  facility.

We stayed for four nights and then returned to Punta Arenas to join our Antarctic 21 portion of the trip.  This was an excellent recommendation from OutsideGo as it created a bit of a buffer in case there were travel delays getting to Chile that would interfere with the Antarctica portion of the trip.

Communications during the tour (5 stars)

A driver hired by Awasi Patagonia met us at our hotel, Hotel Cabo de Hornos, and drove us north along Route 9 from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales.  We were very comfortable with the driver, Gustavo, who stopped along the way so we could take some pictures.  Sadly, he spoke very little English and our Spanish is extremely weak (Note to self: learn Spanish).  In Puerto Natales, we were met by our Awasi guide, Eduardo, who drove us the last couple of hours to the Awasi Lodge. Eduardo was our guide for the remainder of our time at Awasi.  Much of the second part of our ride was on unpaved rocky ‘roads’ in a modified Hilux DX (a vehicle designed to travel over very rough roads and through rocky rivers!)  We suspect that this change in road quality was a major reason for the change in driver and it was a great opportunity for us to learn about Eduardo.

Gated Gravel Road on our way to Awasi Patagonia

 Gate on gravel road near entrance to Awasi Patagonia
(The black thing in lower right corner is an air vent for driving through rivers)

We had a warm welcome from the assistant manager, Catalina Bacells, and staff; and served refreshments while we checked in.  Afterwards, Eduardo brought out a huge map and we discussed various activitiy options for the next three days.  Eduardo was excellent and helped us formulate a good and doable plan that allowed us to experience much of what Torres del Paine National Park has to offer.  He was able to teach us a tremendous amount about the different things we saw and he made sure we stopped at the most iconic sights in Torres del Paine.

As a side note, being in our 60s-70, we are not expert hikers, but love to walk and see things.  Torres del Paine has many wonderful and world-famous hiking trails that exceed our abilities, but Eduardo guided us to see the best of the best.  Everything (what, when and where) were always perfectly clear throughout our stay.

What was seen or experienced (5 stars)

The experience begins on arrival. You sit in the main lodge sipping a glass of delicious wine and nibbling on snacks while registration is completed.  Your view of the Cordillera Paine rising above a valley, the absolute quiet except for the blowing of the wind, begins to make you understand the powerful enormity of the place.

View from Awasi Main Lounge

View from Awasi Patagonia main lounge
Snacks and wine are always available

There are 14 villas with considerable distance between them.  The villas are very comfortable with gorgeous panoramic views.  There is nothing better than waking to dawn appearing just outside your room bringing the landscape to life, cattle and rabbits foraging for food.  

Pano from our Awasi Patagonia room

Sunrise as seen from our Villa
(Other villas can be seen on far left and right--lots of distance between them
)

Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, we had a relatively short uphill walk to the main lodge, nothing better to start a day then a bit of cool fresh air and a walk.  

Every day, Eduardo took us to a different part of Torres del Paine.  Our first day, we drove past a small group of Guanacos backdropped by the Torres del 

Guanacos with Torres del Paine

Guanacos backdropped by Torres del Paine as we are leaving Awasi Patagonia

Paine through a small river into Zone C to see Laguna Amarga, Cascade Paine, a gorgeous waterfall and Laguna Azul.

Laguna Amarga

Laguna Amarga in Zone C in Torres del Paine National Park

Cascade Paine

Cascade Paine in Zone C in Torres del Paine National Park

This trip provided several different wonderful views of Cleopatra’s Needles.  At Laguna Amarga, the white shore is caused by living stromatolites.  This is one of the few places in the world where this can be seen.  The Rio Paine originates from Dickson Glacier terminal lake, Dickson Lake, so it is predominately a glacier river.  This explains the magical milky blue green color.   This is just one of the many glaciers of the world’s third largest icefield, Southern Patagonian Ice Field.  In our travels, we saw Guanacos, a Southern Crested Caracara and a Buff-Neck Ibis.  Click here if you just want to see all Zone C pictures.

On our second day we drove to the end of Route 9 along the Rio Baguales to hike a bit further to a marine fossil field in La Cumbre-Baguales Geological and Paleontological Park, known as Estancia 25 de Mayo that contains numerous remains of marine fauna.  These fossils belong to the Miocene Age in which the Atlantic Ocean came to the Sierra Baquales as the Patagoniano Sea about 18-23 million years ago.  The fossils were plentiful and easy to find as were Guanacos skeletons, a reminder of Puma activity in the area.

Fossils in Baguales

Fossils from La Cumbre-Baguales Geological and Paleontological Park

Sadly we did not see a Puma, but the Baguales with their dark, sharp peaks rising out of the gold-brown valley create a forboding feeling.

Sierra Baguales

Sierra Baguales with an estancia

We passed through several estancia and saw several gaucho homes and considerable cattle and horses along the way.  On our return to Awasi, we gave a ride to a gaucho’s wife, her son and cousin to Estancia Cerro Guido where they caught a bus to Puerto Natales on their way home.  Gaucho’s live a very solitary life so it was unusual we actually met one’s family. 

Gaucho with home in background

Sierra Baguales gaucho and his home

If you want to see all of the pictures from Sierra Baguales, click here.

On our third day, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise.  After breakfast we traveled west and a bit south through Zones B and A to Grey Glacier                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                This took us to the other side of Cordillera Paine along the north shore of Samiento Lago.  We stopped to enjoy many wonderful sites: Almirante Nieto Mountain looking over Los Cisner Lagoon, the west portion of Samiento Lago   

Almirante Nieto Mountain

Almirante Nieto Mountain of the Cordillera Mountain Range of Torres del Paine National Park

and the two Horns overlooking Nordernskjöld Lake.  It was fascinating to view the bicolor nature of the two Horns.  This unique pattern was caused by a Miocene-aged laccolith (5-23 million years ago) lifting cretaceous sedimentary rocks (black-dark-formed 65-145 million years ago) and underlying granite (light grey) with subsequent glacial erosion of the sedimentary rock leaving behind the underlying more resistant granite.

The Two Horns

The Two Horns of Cordillera Mountain Range

The landscape is littered with skeletons of trees, the result of several fires started by park visitors.

Between two large glacier lakes, Nordernskjöld Lake and Pehoe Lake, is the Salto Grande Water Fall.  This is a spectacular view, but perhaps the most

Salto Grande Water Fall

Salto Grande Water Falls

surprising aspect was the very high wind that made walking to the falls an adventure.  There is a hand written warning visitors: “Wind gusts 80-90 km/h Be Really careful!”  That is between 50-55 mph wind gusts.  This is true, enough so that I decided that I could not use a tripod safely!  There was a beautiful rainbow formed by the mist of the falls.  A wonderful site to see.  We then drove south along the Rio Paine stopping to take a picture of Pehoe Hosteria on Pehoe Lake.  We crossed over the beautiful blue Rio Paine nestled

Rio Paine

Rio Paine near Lake Togo Lookout

between golden brown hills and looked back toward the Horns and Paine Grande Hill on our way to Lago Grey, the terminal lake of Grey Glacier.  Eduardo went to the main lodge to pick up our tickets for the catamaran while we took in the view of Lago Grey.  We crossed the Rio Grey on a suspension type bridge (limit 6 people at a time) vigorously swaying in the wind and proceeded along a tree lined path that ended in a wide expanse of rounded pebble gravel formed by the water of melting Grey Glacier to the landing of the catamaran.  The high, gusty winds enhanced the sense of barren desolation of the landscape.

Once on board the catamaran and sailing on Lago Grey, we had to stay inside due to the high winds and rough waters.  As we approached the glacier, the winds settled but got colder.  We were then allowed to stand on the upper deck, while we picked up a group of hikers from a very small rocky beach.  

Grey Glacier-first look

One terminus of Grey Glacier

The water was milky green-white, typical of glacier lakes.  Grey Glacier is 3.7 miles wide, and divides into three termini, all three of which we visited.  The glowing blue between the rugged ‘crystalline-like’ spikes of ice on the glacier

Grey Glacier

Another terminus of Grey Glacier highlight the blue colors

front is an image we will remember forever.  The blue color was far more visible than in the Tasman Glacier in New Zealand, although that glacier also had some lovely blues.  We returned to the main lodge via a bumpy, wet zodiac ride with wind howling around us.

We returned to Awasi for another lovely dinner and prepared for our departure to Punta Arenas to join our Antarctica 21 tour.  

If you want to see all of the pictures from Zones A and B, click here.

Food: (5 stars)

Breakfast was pretty standard buffet, but you could also order off a menu as well.  Dinners were spectacular.  Below is an example of the menu and a few pictures of the food.  While not huge servings, the quality and diversity are

Awasi Example Menu

Example of Awasi Patagonia Menu

Eggplant Dumpling

Eggplant dumplings, tomato, olives and zucchini

Silverside fish boqueron

Silverside fish boquerón, rhubarb confit, pickled radish and celery

Main course and wine

Main Course and lots of fantastic wine and beautiful views

excellent.  In our travels, there are only three other places in the world that are better than Awasi Patagonia: The Test Kitchen in Cape Town; Camp Jabulani Restaurant, South Africa; and Astrid & Gaston in Lima, Peru.

To read about our Antarctica adventure, click here.


OutsideGo-Awasi Patagonia-Antarctica 21

This is our blog about our recent trip to Awasi Patagonia, Chile and Western Peninsula of Antarctica through Antarctica 21.  The trip was arranged through OutsideGo who put the whole thing together for us. This is the third time we have used OutsideGo (previously Unchartered Outposts) to arrange a trip for us.  We keep using OutsideGo for many reasons, but the main reason is we have absolute confidence that our experience will be world class in terms of accommodations, food and things seen and experienced.  We generally find reviews “It was absolutely perfect or horrible” to be worthless, so we have developed a more thoughtful approach to review our experiences to include thoughts on the following categories as they apply to different aspects of the trip:

   1. Generation Considerations
   2. Pre-tour communications and arrangements
   3. What was seen or experienced
   4. Communications during the tour
   5. Accommodations
   6. Food
   7. Other stuff like clothing and camera gear

OutsideGo (5 stars)

As mentioned above, this is the third time we have used OutsideGo (previously Unchartered Outposts) to arrange our travels, primarily because they arrange a world class trip with fantastic accommodations, great food and present a great collection of experiences.  One of our trips was to South Africa and the other to Peru.  Equally important is the pre-tour and during tour experience that has always been excellent. 

 Pre-tour communication and arrangements: (5 stars)

Laura Gerwin at OutsideGo did a tremendous job offering different trip options and costs in the initial phases of the process. To help understand, the original menu included three locations: Patagonia, Acatama and Antarctica with two options each for a total of six choices in various combinations.  We chose Awasi Patagonia and the Ocean Nova with Antarctica 21.  Once the trip design was settled based mostly on duration of the trip and cost, the more detailed planning began.  Laura must have answered 100-200 emails concerning issues from camera gear, insurance, clothing and everything else.  She was prompt and clear in her answers.  She supplied several ways to view our itinerary that could be shared with family and friends.  She arranged travel insurance through Berkshire Hathaway and helped with our air travel though AirTrek.  All we had to do was pack.

What was seen and experienced: (5 stars)

As has been our experience with OutsideGo in the past, they really know how to arrange for an extraordinary trip.   We will go into more detail below for Awasi Patagonia and Antarctica 21 separately, as the experiences were vastly different.  Once you see the details, we believe you can understand the 5-star rating.

Airtrek (5 star)

At OutsideGo’s recommendation we used AirTrek to arrange for our flights to and from Chile.  They used American for our Chicago-Miami connections and Latam for our Miami-Punta Arenas flights.  AirTrek’s service was excellent in arranging our flights, getting us assigned seats nearly 10 months prior to our departure and affordable tickets.  They provided us with email updates as flight schedules changed. 

As travel goes, it is not uncommon for problems to arise.  Our first problem was our Miami to Santiago flight; delayed for ‘mechanical issues’ for 4 hours.  We were able to reach out to AirTrek during the delay to investigate alternatives very quickly, although our best bet was to hope the delayed flight would eventually fly (AirTrek’s recommendation).  It did leave 4 hours late, but as a result we missed our flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas.  We reached out to AirTrek, OutsideGO and the in-country representative of OutsideGo, but they were not really able to help as they could not see/change our tickets as our ticketswere under control of the airlines.  After a 2-hour high anxiety period, we finally got to the rebooking counter in Santiago where they told we were already booked on the 4:30 PM flight by ‘someone in Miami’.  Knowing this tidbit of information would have saved us a lot of stress.  We are not sure where the failure in communication occurred, but our educated guess is Latam.

On our return, our flight from Miami to Chicago was cancelled by American.  Complicating factors was our connection time was only 2 ½ hours for arriving internationally.  American rebooked our flight again with a short connection, but downgraded our seating; and I had pulled my hamstring (freak accident) in Antarctica that restricted my mobility considerably.  Trying to make adjustments to what was happening was complicated by the fact that our American Miami-Chicago segment was booked through Latam.   AirTrek is trying to get us a refund for the downgraded seats, but thus far Latam is giving them the run around.  And Laura from OutsideGo arranged for a wheel chair in Miami and Chicago that was a life-saver.

Conclusions:

1. AirTrek did an excellent job arranging our flights with the possible exception of the short connection on our return through Miami customs.  We should have also noticed the short connection before finalization.  They did everything they could during the delayed and cancelled flights to assist us, but once the airlines assume control of your ticket, it is difficult to get travel arrangements adjusted by anyone but the airlines.

2. The concept of partnered airlines seems nice, but the sure fact there is not complete transparency between the partners creates opportunities to cause travelers problems.  In future travels, we will be looking for single carrier, no partner solutions whenever possible.

3. We enjoyed our flights on Latam.  The cabin was clean and well maintained (Miami to Santiago was better than Santiago to Miami, the food was quite good and the staff was pleasant.  We flew first/business class with laydown seats.  While expensive, you do not waste your first day or two recovering from your travels that is also an expensive waste of time.

Communications during the tour:

We were able to connect quickly with Laura at OutsideGo either by phone or Whatsapp as well as AirTrek at any time during the trip.  The only real need was related to airline issues or connections between the different aspects of the trip as everything else was very smooth.

 If one thinks about the trip, it can be divided into different segments or pieces with junctions between the segments.  Everything was quite clear in the arrangements with a couple of exceptions: Connecting to our ride from Punta Arenas Hotel Cabo de Hornos to Awasi Patagonia, and our ride from Awasi Patagonia back to the Hotel Cabo de Hornos, as planned, would have made us late to our boot fitting for Antarctica 21.  The Awasi group quickly made adjustments to get us back in time, once we told them when the boot fitting activity was scheduled.  Antarctica 21 had signs at the hotel about the schedule when we arrived to go the Awasi Patagonia.  I had taken a picture of those signs to help us remember the Antarctica 21 schedule.

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas served as an intermediate location on our way to Awasi Patagonia and Antarctica.  It is a small community of about 130,000 people on the Straits of Magellan.  We stayed the Hotel Cabo de Hornos, a hotel in the center of town on the city square.  This was an ideal location as there are many restaurants, coffee and gift shops and the Straits of Magellan in close proximity.  Be warned that it can be very windy and a wind advisory was on one of the days we were there.  It was difficult to even walk!

Punta Arenas-Staits of Magellan

City sign on the Straits of Magellan (5 minute walk from our hotel)

We had dinner at dinner at two places: Sotito’s and Damiana Elena.  We also enjoy breakfast at Wake Up and lunch at Tapiz Cafe.  Damiana Elena, Wake Up and Tapiz Cafe were all 5 star places: great food, service and atmosphere.

Awasi Patagonia (5 Stars)

I have created a separate subsection for our Awasi Patagonia experience.  Click here to go to the Awasi Patagonia subsection.  Click here if you only want to see our pictures from Awasi.

Torres del Paine

View of Torres Del Paine at Awasi Lodge on our arrival

Antarctica 21 (5 Stars)

I have created a separate subsection for our Antarctic 21 experience.  Click here to go to the Antarctica 21 subsection.  Click here if you only want to see our Antarctica pictures.

Iceberg in Gerlache Strait

Iceberg against mountain background in Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

Photography Gear

This was a trip of a lifetime and we wanted to make sure we captured as much of it as possible.

Photography Related Gear:

1. Two Sony a7RII
2.
 Sony 16-35mm, Sony 24-105, and Sony 70-200mm all f4 lenses
3. Sony RX100M6
4. GoPro Hero 5 Black
5. 12 cards- Sandisk 64 GB 300MB/sec
6. Pelican 12 card case
7. Lots of batteries (cold weather really kills battery life) 5 NP-BX1 for Sony RX100M6 and 8 NP-FW50 or equivalent (RavPower RP-PB056 Savior Series) for the a7RII.
8. Battery chargers: GoPro charger (Mibote-GP-BCG-503), Sony RX100M6 (Newmowa CHG-NPBX1-NMW, Sony a7RII (RAVPower RP-PC056 Savior Series).  All of these chargers were micro USB based and would charge 2-3 batteries at a time.
9. A 6 and 10 stop neutral density filter, and a 72 to 77 step up ring from Breakthrough Photography.
10. Two SDXC USB 3.1 USB C card readers from Cable Matters (Model 201058)
11. USB C to B adapter from Aukey
12. iPhone shutter release from Camkix.com
13. Vello ShutterBoss II RC-S2II from www.vellogear.com
14. VisibleDust Zeeion blower for sensor cleaning from www.visibledust.com
15. Western Digital 2 TB My Passport SSD (USB C)
16. Various cables
17. A BUBM case to carry items 4-16 above from www.bubmcase.com
18. 15 inch 2018 MacBook Pro with 2 TB internal SSD drive
19. GoPro Triple Selfie stick
20. Water proof bags from REI
21. Ceptic Ultra Compact Dual USB Power Plug-for European Type C
22. MindShift UltraLight 36L Dual Backpack

Workflow: At the end of each day, the images from the day were transferred from the SDXC cards to the MacBook Pro internal drive.  They were index by a 10 digit number YYMMDDxxxx, where YY is the two digit year, MM is the two digit month and DD is the two digit day and xxxx is a sequential number from 1 to 9999, as they were imported into LR CC.  Following import, the MacBook Pro was backed up to the WD 2 TB My Passport SSD using Carbon Copy Cloner and if the SDXC cards were full or nearly so, they were locked and stored in the Pelican case.  With this approach I had three copies of each picture at the end of the day.

Metrics for cameras:

Approximately 6770 digital assets were taken during the trip.  794 (12%) were video and the remainder were still pictures.  Of the still pictures, 33% were taken with the Sony RX100M6, 75% were taken with the Sony a7RII and 2% taken with an iPhone X.  The full set of images were reviewed and rated using criteria, such as story telling, image quality and interest, without knowledge of camera source. 

Only 709 (~12%) remained after the rating process and were considered ‘good’.  67% of the good pictures came from the a7RII body, 31% came from the RX100M6 and 2% from the iPhone X; however, when examined relative to how many pictures were taken by each camera type, 15% of the RX100M6 pictures, 11% of the a7RII pictures and 12.4% of the iPhone survived.

Based on this type of analysis the RX100M6 did a great job at creating high quality images, although some of the a7RII discount was related to high frame shooting (looking for 1 in 10-30 shots) or HDR shooting.

For the a7RII bodies, I left the 16-35mm f4 lens on one body the whole time.  In Chile, the second body had the 24-105mm f4 lens and I elected to have the RX100M6 provide for the up to 200mm range. In Antarctica, I put the 70-200 lens f4 lens on the second body.  For the a7RII bodies, the ‘keeper’ pictures were equally distributed across the three lens.  

The large majority of the video clips came from the RX100M6 and GoPro cameras.   

Clothing:

Think layers.  The weather in Chile is warmer than Antarctica so we had to have clothing for a wide range of conditions.  Antarctica 21, through their website, encouraged the use of Musto products for that part of the trip, but we chose Columbia for our mid and outer gear mostly because of cost considerations.  We were extremely happy with our choices and would add the inner fleece glove was an excellent solution for taking pictures and the walking sticks were critical.

1.     For socks we had regular REI hiking socks for Chile and Smartwool socks for Antarctica.  These were perfect.
2.
     Base layer: We used silk base layers (don’t remember the brand) both for the legs and upper body
3.
     Mid layer: our regular clothes (pants and shirts)
4.
     Mid layer 2: Columbia fleece
5.
     Mid layer 3: A zip-in puffer liner interchange jacket with Omni heat
6.
     Mid layer 4 option: Arc’Teryx Jacket with hood and built in balaclava
7.
     Outer layer: Columbia waterproof ski pants
8.
     Outer Layer: Interchange (Columbia Men’s and woman’s Bugaboo Waterproof Interchange Jacket with hood)
9.
     Gloves: Columbia waterproof ski gloves with Omni heat liner with an inner fleece glove
10.
  Hat: Columbia Titanium Omni Heat Hat
11.
  Walking sticks from REI that disassembled into three pieces with snow baskets

Miscellaneous comments:

1. Mindshift UltraLight 36L backpack: When traveling, I carried my two a7RII and all three lenses in the bottom compartment, two of which were attached.  The top compartment carried all my medicines, the full BUBM case, small case with electrical outlet adaptors and USB charging cables, GoPro 3-way grip, glasses case and the Sony RX100M6.  When out and about, I would empty the top compartment and put extra layers of clothes and other items or just take the lower compartment with the camera gear.  This made the backpack very versatile.  However, the rotation concept of the backpack to get a camera was awkward at best and really did not work very well.  But the removable camera case in the bottom of the bag worked as a perfect solution.  I have noticed a new 180° rotational backpack from MindShift and that concept seems like it would work better.

2. Our gloves had an inner fleece glove with an outer water proof glove.  This was an ideal combination for taking pictures and staying warm, particularly on the Antarctica portion of the trip.

3. The BUBM case is a great little organizer of the many widgets.

4. The Breakthrough neutral density filters and step up ring are fantastic.

5. I had no widget failures (listed in camera gear) with the one exception when the camera card prematurely ‘ejected’ from the Cable Matters card reader once.  Continued use of the specific card reader resulted in no additional failures.  

6. Finally, if you really want a great adventure nearly anywhere in the world, contact OutsideGo.  We are in our 60-70’s, but this would have been great, no even better, if we had been in our 30's.  Stay at Awasi Patagonia if you want luxury while experiencing the splendor and adventure of Torres del Paine.  And last, Antarctica 21 is a world class way to experience the rugged Antarctica.

    


A© 2011-2018 by Steven Seelig, Chicago Photographer                          630-561-6581                                      e2photo@e2photo.net