Pillaton WI Report - April 2012

Holiday in Antarctica

Following the usual business section of our monthly WI meeting, we were given a talk and slide show on a wonderful holiday in Antarctica had by Alison, Liz, Trish and Ronnie (a friend of Alison’s from afar.)

Before I go on to give you some details of their trip, I would like to ask you to picture a penguin and to think how it stands and how it walks. Hopefully in your minds eye you are now conjuring up thoughts of a penguin with its wings sticking slightly out from it’s sides, walking quite stiffly and wobbling from side to side. Hang onto this image until later.

Our four ladies story started right here in Pillaton when they received a list of required clothing needed to face the Antarctic weather where temperatures were way below zero. The list included thermal underwear, lots of socks, wellies and red very warm jackets. As they were also planning to visit Buenos Aires and Santiago, where the temperature would be considerably higher, 30 degrees plus, they also needed summer clothes. This meant skilful packing as the airlines baggage restriction was 20 Kg.

Those of you who know Alison will know that she freely admits to taking everything for all eventualities when traveling “just in case”. A very useful person to have around when you need something slightly unusual, but of course this all added to the difficulty of confining herself to 20 Kgs of luggage. The answer to this dilemma was to wear several layers to travel in – they didn’t have a picture showing us the result of this decision but I am sure we can all make a good guess at what they might have looked like!

After an overnight flight they landed in Buenos Aires and went to their hotel. Once there they overcame their lack of sleep and signed up to go immediately on a city tour followed by dinner and the opportunity to see people dancing the Argentinian tango. They also signed up to visit a Gaucho ranch the next day.

The city tour was interesting where amongst other things they saw brightly painted houses, an English clock tower with a Royal coat of arms and the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. They also saw a giant Ombu tree where it is said that people used to sit and play chess. However on that day, only one man was there dancing the Argentinian tango by himself. This was the forerunner to watching more of this dance during dinner. Liz’s description was “Sex on legs, very raunchy and not a bit like Strictly Come Dancing!”

The next day heralded the visit to the Gaucho ranch where there was a choice of transport to go around the ranch. The choice was by buggy or on horseback. Three of the four chose to go by buggy and the fourth, Alison, good old Alison, decided to give the horse a go and very good she looked too. However when dismounting she caught her foot in the stirrup and had to be helped off by a very good looking Gaucho. Ulterior motive here do you think?

On the following day they had a four-hour flight which took them alongside the Andes to Ushwaya at the tip of Argentina. Their first impressions were how strong the wind was and would Trish be blown away.

Once on board the ship the first announcement was that seasick pills were available to all. The intrepid four decided to be safe and not sorry and took these. This turned out to be advisable as it was a very rough journey through Drake's passage.

Their first view of the Antarctic they described as “stunning” and their pictures certainly demonstrated this. There were huge icebergs, smaller ones and even some that appeared to be forming cliffs.

The first island visited was Deception Island, a collapsed volcanic cone. The passengers were divided into small groups in order to go by zodiac around the island. Our four were in one of the last groups to go at which time the good weather ceased and the sea became grey and choppy resulting in them having to return sooner than had been hoped to the ship.

The next outing was to Paradise Harbour where again they went in small groups. Here they came face to face with actual penguins and soon learnt the “rules of the road”. These were very simple - penguins can do anything and always have the right of way. Paradise Harbour itself they described as being a bit desolate with only a little bit of grass and lichens. Apparently the biggest predators were the mossies living on the penguins.

Getting ready for these trips was a bit of a task. Two pairs of socks, thermal undies, trousers, waterproofs, wellies, coats, hats and gloves were the order of the day. Now, just think back to the image you had of penguins waddling and wobbling as they walked along and transfer this image to that of the ladies well wrapped in their multi layers. Can you see any similarities? If I had their photo to show you, you would!

So, back to the real penguins and their rights of way. There were areas roped off with notices saying “penguins only”. Can they read I wonder? Apparently they were Gentoo penguins and are very friendly. They sit and “chatter” and there were a number of babies who were just balls of fluff. However as they regularly steal each other’s nest building materials, Alison described them as “thieving little blighters”. There was also one poor lonely Chinstrap penguin looking very sad. No one was sure where he had come from.

Back on board they were able to view part of a range of mountains nicknamed “Una’s Tits” after a Falklands office secretary!. They also had a demonstration of ice carving resulting in a beautiful ice swan. By this time the sun was shining so it was drinks all round whilst sitting on deck and generally enjoying the ambience.

A later stop enabled them to see Megallanic penguins. These didn’t seem to have much of a brain as they took the most difficult path to the beach, which entailed climbing in and out of a ditch and struggling over a tree trunk. However once there they did seem to be more organized. The babies were left in the nursery whilst the mum’s and dad’s frolicked in the water. What a wonderful sight this must have been.

Liz, Alison and Trish gave us many more stories of their adventures and certainly made me wish that I had been with them. Their pictures were beautiful and the maps and books that they had with them very interesting. The WI audience enjoyed the presentation very much. So thank you Liz, Alison and Trish.

Pam Lowther

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