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The main purpose of this blog is as a permanent record of my adventures throughout the Americas by motorcycle. Feel free to comment or ask me any questions - I'm an open book.

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Tuesday, 12 February 2013


I posted this on facebook a while ago (when I reached Ushuaia), but for everyone else who didn't see it...

I would like to take this opportunity to say thanks to those who made this possible.
Firstly, although she'll never see this, I must thank my motorcycle Izzy. I put you through hell almost every day, and yet you continued to carry me and our gear through some of the most unforgiving terrain on this planet. You constantly surprised me with your tenacity and plain stubborness, and never failed me when I really needed you. I really hope I can find you a good home down here.

To my Canadian second family and friends, without your support I would not have been able to do this. You welcomed me into your homes and lives, and allowed me to get a stable footing from which to springboard on to this adventure. Without you I would have never really been able to start, nor be so sure that I had somewhere to go back to, should it all fail.

To the many friends I made along the way - you made this solo journey anything but. By sharing stories, experiences and beers you have made my story part of yours, and vice versa. Thankyou for taking this weary traveler in.

To those of you who stopped and helped me when in need, you made the world and open road a far less daunting place. Whenever I was in need, you jumped at the chance to help and get Izzy and I back on the road. You always extended a helping hand when I needed it most, and made this journey a pleasure. I only hope to be able to repay this debt, whenever I see a fellow traveler in need.

To my fellow long distance travelers - whether by motorcycle, bicycle, bus or car, the enduring spirit of adventure shown by each and every one of you truly inspired me to keep going, and go further, higher, faster and with more confidence. The tips, tricks and guides you provided saved me from disaster more times than I'd like to count, and I only hope that the information I then passed on to others was nearly as helpful. Meeting you, whether on the side of the road, at the end of a long day or in those rare moments when on foot, were some of my favourite moments on this journey. You made me feel less alone, and more a part of a chaotic and memorable migration.

To the man who got me hooked on motorcycle travel, I owe you a lot. Mat - I would have never have considered a trip like this if it wasn't for you. This journey was your brainchild, and I really hope to one day to put rubber to the wide open road with you.

To my family, I thank you for your support, and for showing only mild apprehension when I announced that I plan to ride a motorcycle through some of the most dangerous places on the planet. To know that you guys were always behind me meant more than words can express. I always looked forward to talking to you guys, and can't wait to physically be with you all again.

Finally, to all of you out there reading the blog - knowing that you have taken an interest in the trip kept me motivated to keep posting, despite the time and effort it took. The end result is a record that I can be proud of, and one I will be sure to reminisce on in later years. I hope you were entertained and informed, and I look forward to your own blogs, or further posts (on that note, the Patagonia post is almost finished). It will soon be my time to live vicariously through you, so make your adventures good ones!

I'll finish with one of my favourite quotes: "The world is a book, and those who don't travel read only a page". I encourage you all to get out and read this great book of ours - there's some great stories out there!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a man about a boat..

Christmas, Farewells and the Return Home

Well, after 7months and over 33,000km, I have finished my trip and have returned home. I am now writing this from my desk back at home in Perth, Western Australia. First observations - not as exotic as a beach in Mexico or the snow capped Andes, but comforting in its own way. I've actually been putting off writing this last entry for a while now. Partly because sitting down and writing is not my favourite thing, but mainly I think because it marks the end of such an incredible journey, one that I really didn't want to end. 

After stepping off the M/V Ushuaia, I headed up to the hostel, and was relieved to see Izzy in the same spot as I had left her. After so long apart, I was feeling like a part of me was missing - not in an emotional sense, more in an anatomical sense. I felt like I had my legs reattached or something, it was kinda weird. But there was no time for sentiment - a couple of my fellow Antarcticans had invited me to join them for a walk through the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The park was very beautiful, but the weather didn't match. Amazingly, it was actually colder in Ushuaia than in Antarctica - the good luck that we had experienced weatherise came back to bite us in the ass, with freezing rain and wind.

The next few days was spent searching for a buyer for Izzy. Although the sentimental value is high, to ship her back to Oz is prohibitively expensive (in fact I bought Izzy in the US, as it was cheaper than shipping the bike I have in Oz). I had originally hoped to find a local charity willing to take her off my hands, and then sell her. Unfortunately, I couldn't find an appropriate local group so I started to advertise everywhere - I found the local classifieds, and advertised online. A few nerve racking days later, and an man from Buenos Aires man had committed to buy her. It was time to go out and celebrate, so I met up with Mark and a few other riders, and we hit the most southern Irish bar in the world for a few pints of local beer. A few turned into a few too many, which then turned into far too many. The hangover the next day was truly epic - I only started to properly function again around 4pm! Highlights of the night - making great new friends, and successfully distracting a cop for long enough to allow Claude (a rider and native Quebecer, living in Miami) and others to get in a taxi and avoid a drinking in public charge. Good times. 

I had resolved to spend Christmas in Ushuaia, not because Ushuaia struck me as a magical location for such a time (although snow in the southern hemisphere is a rarity), but because travelling around any kind of religious holiday is just not smart in Latin America. Basically, if Christmas or Easter (known as semana santa - holy week) is around the corner, you bunker down and wait it out. Transport companies and border controls are out of control, and tickets can sell out months in advance. This feeling was justified by the rumours of long delays and cancelled flights at Ushuaia airport, that unfortunately meant that many travellers ended up stuck in transit during Christmas, instead of making it home. 

However, Christmas eve at the hostel turned out to be an absolute blast. The owners spent most of the day preparing a lovely meal of steak and empanadas, which we all devoured. Sitting at one long table, eating and drinking the local delicacies with people from all corners of the globe, I felt strangely at home. I guess I am truly a traveller at heart. We finished off the night with copious amounts of champagne, dancing, and a visit from Santa Claus, delivering chocolates as gifts from the hostel. 

The next day I headed over to the house rented by a few other riders for a end-of-the-world Christmas lunch. After posting on ADVRider about a possible meetup, we were inundated - for riders, Ushuaia represents a significant milestone in a journey, and for many of us represented either the beginning or end of an epic adventure. It was fantastic to see so many people there - I've never seen to many long distance riders in one spot at one time (got some great photos)! I met Nick again, who I'd first seen near Bariloche, and we caught up. Maps were brought out (of course) and war stories were shared by all.

Boxing day was one hell of a day. The original plan was to ride into Rio Gallegos, and leave the bike there for the buyer to pick up (avoiding the need to import and export Izzy through Chile). I was then going to catch a bus from Rio Gallegos to Punta Arenas, and fly to Santiago before flying to Oz. However, I was unable to get in contact with the us companies (Christmas and all), and was nervous about whether or not I'd get a seat. As it turns out, I didn't need one. As I was approaching Rio Grande, a fairly nondescript city built on the oil industry, Nick caught up to me (I was crawling by this stage, as I just wanted to make it and avoid the bone chilling wind). We pulled over for a brief chat, but had to get going, as I had a long ways to go that day. Pulling off the shoulder back on to the road, I almost came off as Izzy slid all over the place. I stopped, looked behind me, and cursed loudly. I had ridden nearly 30,000 km without a single flat tyre, and now this was puncture #5. I pulled out the can of fix-a-flat, and got into town. Pulling into the service station in Rio Grande, I met up with Nick again. I explained the situation, and together we tried to find a solution - would I make it? what would become of Izzy? after inflating the tire (by hand, as the air pump at the station had predictably died) and plenty of CPR/"Don't you die on me" jokes, I decided to wait and see how the tire would hold up after riding to a B&B recommended to me by Nick. The plan - if the tire was fine, I'd head for the border, if not then Rio Grande would be the end. After filling up, I headed out for Ruta 40 B&B. We made it a dozen blocks before I knew this was the end of the trip. Flat as a pancake hit by a steamroller. 

I walked to the B&B, and talked with the owner Willie who agreed to make room for me (they were full, but he gave his room and slept outside). After I got settled in, I emailed the buyer in BA, and told him the bad news - I needed to be in Punta Arenas the next day, so would have to leave her in Chile, or Rio Grande. Willie then went out of his way to help me - we picked up Izzy in his van, dropped her off at a nearby motorbike mechanic, and bought a new tube. By the afternoon, we were set - I was going to ride into PA, and leave her there & hope to find a buyer when back in Australia. I got food for dinner, but was invited to join my fellow travellers (all riding bicycles or motorbikes) for a communal meal. It was my last true traveller meal, and I loved it - I will really miss having dinner with complete strangers with fantastic stories and a combined sense of adventure.

The next morning was chaos. I woke to have an early breakfast, and prepare for the last ride. Then I checked my inbox - the buyer had replied that he could get the bike from Rio Grande, but not from Chile. Panic mode engaged, we were off to the bus station as soon as it opened (after doing some preliminary packing) to get a ticket to PA. The clerk said they were all sold out, but that people sometimes don't show, so we should return in an hour when the bus arrives to see if we could get a spot. Back to the B&B, I packed as though the bus was guaranteed - the new(est) plan was try for the bus, and if that fails repack onto Izzy and head for PA under my own steam. Heavy stuff was dumped or given away and the rest was packed.

It is probably worth mentioning that permanently importing bikes into Argentina is prohibited. The ridiculous import duties (80% up to 400% of the value of the vehicle) when vehicles are able to be imported mean that foreign vehicles are in high demand on the black market however, and Argentinians are resourceful people. I didn't particularly want to break the law, but with little other options available and a populace desperate for decent (foreign) vehicles, the black market is a common and reasonable resting place for motorbikes in Tierra del Fuego. To protect those within reach of the Argentinian legal system, I won't talk about the particulars of selling Izzy, or mention the buyer by name. I will say that the money I received from selling Izzy has now created a pool of funds to finance microcredit in perpetuity to disadvantaged people, through an organisation called Kiva. I have focused on transport projects in countries we visited, such as El Salvador and Bolivia. It is a good feeling to know that even though she isn't mine anymore, Izzy is still going to have a positive impact in the communities that were so welcoming and helpful to us. 

After packing, I said a hurried goodbye to Izzy, and raced to the bus station. There was a small line of people who were also waiting for last minute seats, which led to a very nervous wait. 9 months away and 103 days on the road, and it all came down to 10 minutes - unbelievable. Thankfully they space for all of us, so I hugged Willie goodbye, and jumped onboard. 1 obstacle down, a few to go. I had packed my motorbike gear deep in my bags, and made sure that everyone on board knew my cover story - I was going to PA to get a new sprocket, before returning for the bike. I had taken my old rear sprocket as a souvenir, and anyone with knowledge of vehicles in Tierra del Fuego would know that PA is the best place for parts, so it made sense. I didn't like lying to my fellow travellers, but I disliked the thought of being stopped at the border far less. It was a tiny border, so I was a bit worried - was someone going to recognise me (unlikely), or would they check all the bags, and wonder why I had a helmet with me (possible)? I was packing it big time. Then I looked at my passport.

It was already stamped. The bus station had an Argentinian immigration rep who had stamped us all out of Argentina. We ended up stopping at the border only so someone could use the bathroom (and give me a mild heart attack). Getting into Chile was a simple affair - as none of us were importing vehicles, customs didn't care. Immigration was easy, and Quarantine had the dogs sniff the bags, but no x-rays of checked baggage. Total time: 15mins, tops. Into Chile, I was smiling from ear to ear. The bus was running behind schedule, but my first flight wasn't until the next day, and they were all spaced out, in case of such delays (post christmas period, and all). I had made it, and it was around then that the reality started to hit - I had left Izzy, without really saying goodbye. In the end, it was probably for the best as it was so rushed I was unemotional.  We crossed the Magellan straight at the main ferry (as opposed to the unpopular one I took last time), and made it into PA. I checked into another B&B (carrying your own luggage makes shopping around for accommodation difficult, and I was getting lazy), and went out for dinner. 

I met an Irish man in a burger joint, when he asked if I knew how much fuel costs in Chile/Argentina. I must have been a bit enthusiastic with the info, because he caught on pretty quickly that I must have done a long trip. After I explained where I have been/ what I've done, he explained his situation: he was trying to get north past Santiago by driving someone else's car for them. It's a popular and reasonable option in North America - if a rental company or individual wants a car moved interstate, they advertise online for people who are headed in the same direction. Not so popular in TdelF, so he was having trouble getting a vehicle. He decided to advertise in the local paper, and ended up making it onto the local news! He said they were desperate for information, and ate his story up. I kicked myself - how many local TV segments could I have been on? There were many of us doing similar trips, but how many think to talk to the local news about it? Next time.

The next day I wandered around the town, and got a taxi to the airport. When I tried to check in my two bags, I was told that my ticket limited me to one bag. I had foreseen this however, and unfolded a giant storage bag I had bought earlier. 2 bags became 1, and I handed it over with a giant shit-eating grin that just screamed "checkmate". it all came under weight, and I walked through the security checkpoint without security personnel (all probably on break). In the departures lounge I scared the bejesus out of some kids when I approached them and asked if I could charge my iPod from their laptop. They nodded, and I bent down to plug it in, when they freaked out. It turns out they didn't speak Spanish, and had nodded out of confusion (I sympathise). I tried English, and got the same response. Then I listened to the movie they were watching, and realised that they spoke French. 3rd time round I just asked where their parents were. Asking the father turned out to be far more productive, and I had a fully charged iPod for the flight. Which couldn't distract me from the unnerving noise that the plane started to make as we taxied to takeoff. Anyone familiar with the topography of southern Chile knows it is not the area to attempt an emergency landing, and as I looked out onto the Andes mountain range colliding with the Pacific Ocean, I pondered the peculiar possibility that I might cross the globe by motorcycle, only to crash on the flight home. Obviously we made it to Santiago (after stopping to drop off and pick up passengers along the way!), and I got a minibus to the hostel.

I had booked a private room, but when I got there I was told they had no record of a booking, and only had the dorm available. I didn't really mind, as I had booked the room so as to not wake others. As it turns out, all but one of the fellow dorm residents didn't make it back - their beds were empty when I fell asleep, and when I awoke. Santiago must be a hell of a party town. I repacked, and got to the airport. Obligatory airport stuff dealt with, I went duty free shopping. I got Alfajores, and my favourite Caribbean rum (Flor de Caña, which then broke in Sydney). I ran into Jen and George, two Queenslanders who I had met in Antarctica. Stepping onto the plane (after surrendering my deodorant and saying a prayer for my fellow passengers), I felt home already. QANTAS is just awesome like that. I may fly cheap domestically, but international flights for me are always with the kangaroo if possible. Aussie beer (James Squire Golden Ale, thank you very much) and entertainment, not to mention I could understand the crew. Bonus: I was wearing my Boca Juniors Soccer shirt, and was told by a (obviously Argentinian) steward that "you can get whatever you want wearing that shirt". "Another Golden Ale then thanks". The trip was about 15hrs, but it just flew by. The saddest realisation while flying is almost a tossup: from Punta Arenas to Santiago I covered in 4 hrs what had taken a month of desert and mountain riding through gravel, rocks and mud. Santiago to Sydney, we ventured further south (>70 Deg) than we had when visiting Antarctica. But the saddest realisation was that it was all officially over - I was returning home.

Getting through Sydney airport was surprisingly easy. Interestingly, because I couldn't say for sure if I'd still be in Oz in a year, I was stamped in as a visitor. It seems I am a traveller in my own country. Got through quarantine pretty easily also, as I was pretty in tune with what they wanted to know. 30 seconds of questions, and I was out the door to my last flight, arriving in Perth on time. 283 days away, and I was finally home.

I have been back in Perth for over a month now, and only recently feel settled in. It is a unique feeling to walk around your hometown and recognise buildings, but still feel a certain alienation. I could only liken it to visiting a city like New York or Paris. Everyone knows what the Empire State Building or Eiffel Tower looks like, but it still feels different seeing it in real life. Of course, I have a stronger connection to Perth than your average tourist, but I still felt like I didn't really belong. I have definitely changed - and not just in my enjoyment of siestas. Politics matters far more to me now (it was pretty important previously), and it would take a lot of effort to stress me out now. I now appreciate aspects of Perth (beaches, weather, the beautiful people) more than ever, and scoff when people bag it for a variety of reasons (if you think Perth is boring, I have bad news for you: the problem is in the mirror. Perth has a lot going on, you've just got to look). 

I'm also truly addicted to travel, and have started to plan my next trip - anyone keen to learn Russian and ride a motorbike with me?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013



The White Continent. The driest, coldest, most isolated and purest place on the earth. The definition of wilderness. A place that remained virtually unknown and impenetrable to man until recently, Antarctica is a land that inspires fear, elicits wonder, and encourages adventure. Volcanoes and mountains of ice, rising out of the frigid sea both forbid entry and coaxes the foolhardy. Just over a century ago, the continent's propensity for savage and unpredictable weather meant death for the few brave enough to attempt to penetrate the coast for the pole. Modern technology and knowledge has managed to reduce this disadvantage, but visitors remain largely at the whim of capricious and ferocious weather patterns. It remains largely untrodden by humans, and is probably the last true frontier on our planet. What adventure trip would be complete without a visit to such a land?

I admit that Antarctica wasn't the first destination I thought of when planning this trip. But having come so far, it would be silly to forgo such an opportunity. About a year ago I had booked a November departure, but back in May was told that a large group had essentially booked out the whole cruise. I was told that I would enjoy a different cruise more. And so on the 9th of December, I walked from the hostel down to the port of Ushuaia, bag full of the limited clothes that I have, and heart full of hope. I cleared the customs/ security point, and laid eyes on the M/V Ushuaia - the vessel that would take me to Antarctica, and home for the next 12 days.

But it wouldn't be just my home - I would be travelling with about 120 other passengers and crew. When I got on board to find my room and get settled in, I had a pleasant surprise. I had feared that I would be the youngest passenger by 30 years (mainly due to the cost - Antarctica isn't cheap), but the lounge was filled with people of all ages. All in all, 14 countries were represented, from Slovenia and Israel to the obligatory contingent of Aussies, Americans and Brits. Although we came from every corner of the globe (and walk of life), we were united in our shared sense of adventure - this was not going to be a luxury Caribbean cruise.

We got settled in, and congregated in the lounge/bar for the welcome address and safety drill. The safety drill was quick, but is extremely important - more than a few ships have sunk in these waters, and simply jumping overboard is not an option. In Antarctic waters, survival time is measured in minutes - hypothermia and unconsciousness are real dangers in subzero waters. Thankfully, the lifeboats on board are completely enclosed and equipped with a motor, EPIRB and enough food and water to last a week, along with seasickness meds. Which would be vital if you're lost on the Drake Passage.

The Drake Passage lies between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula and is notorious - it's likely the roughest sea in the world. For confirmation (and a bit of a queasy feeling), check the videos below. Seriously -  watch them, and ask yourself whether you'd go on a trip like this. 14m swells are not unheard of here, and ships bound for Antarctica face 2 days each way of this, abeam of (at right angles to) the ship. Some companies offer an option to fly by helicopter to the ship once in the sheltered waters, but this option is beyond the budget of mere mortals. I had mentally prepped for days of rolling around, and was hesitantly looking forward to rough seas.


Nothing. It was as flat as a pond (on the rare occasion it's like this, it's jokingly called the drake lake) - I've taken baths with bigger waves. I felt like a soldier who climbs out of the trenches to charge the enemy, only to find out they had packed up and gone hours ago. It was by no means a river cruise, but sailing from Panama to Colombia was far rougher. Over the next few days, I entertained myself by reading a book on the race to the pole, and went to some of the lectures given by the staff.

The first real sight was a giant tabular iceberg, floating further north than any other that the staff could remember. The colours were amazing, and like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was around this time that a pod of Fin whales surfaced near the boat. At over 27m long, Fin whales are the second largest creature on the planet, and one of the fastest - capable of short bursts of up to 48km/hr (or faster than Usain Bolt)!  A truly impressive creature, and only a taste of what was to come.

The next day we sighted land, and a second group of whales, this time a pod of humpbacks, breaching the ocean's surface and spectacularly splashing down. But that would not be the highlight of the day - that would belong to the penguins at Robert Point, our first landing.

Penguins are funny creatures - they're undoubtedly cute, and the main animal attraction of any Antarctic visit. But they're not particularly clever birds, nor are they graceful on land. It is a remarkable contrast watching these creatures swim effortlessly through the water, only to struggle on land with obstacles such as pebbles or holes in the snow. Their lack of intelligence or terrestrial ability only makes them more endearing - I defy anyone not to smile when watching a video of a penguin falling over in the snow. For wild animals, they are remarkably tame and comfortable with human interaction. Tour operators to the Antarctic impose a 5 metre distance rule, which the penguins themselves break. For example, I sat down on a rock, only to be joined later by an inquisitive Gentoo. The same can't be said for the Elephant seal - not that they were fleeing from us, but that they don't really do much at all. An open eye, or a raised head is about all a non predator could reasonably expect from a napping seal. Another creature with far greater abilities while underwater.

The next day we made land at Brown Bluff, the first of several continental landings. I had brought my helmet along (jokingly for the Drake Passage), and Izzy's plate - I'm counting it as a landing for Izzy. Photos duly taken, glacier climbed, and more wildlife spotted, we headed east for the Weddell sea.

The Weddell sea is famous for icebergs, and a swift circular current - dangerous conditions to say the least. When we got to the entrance of the sea, our hearts fell - it was nothing but ice, as far as the eye could see. Nevertheless, we got into the Zodiacs, and went for a brief trip through the floes. We were looking for a floe strong enough to walk around on, when the call came back on the radio to get back to the ship, and fast - the current was bringing the ice together, essentially trapping us in the ice. We hurried back, only to see that one Zodiac had gotten stuck in the ice, and was rapidly disappearing into the Weddell sea. It was rescue time.

We all got on board (grabbing a hot chocolate from the bar!) and watched the captain expertly navigate the ice strengthened Ushuaia towards the zodiac, cutting a path through the ice (and scaring a seal and a few penguins in the process). To navigate a 3000 tonne ship to within a metre of an inflatable boat requires a level of skill that is well and truly beyond me. Once the rescued were on board we could all laugh about it, but it must have been a bit scary out there, drifting away from the ship. A truly sobering reminder of the power of the weather and ice out here.

The next few landings all went smoothly, with some fun and games in the ample snow (my igloo and snowball building skills need a bit of work...). Far more interesting were the channels we navigated through in between landings - the Gerlache strait, and Neumayer channel, both awe inspiring places.

The next morning we visited Port Lockroy station, an old British research station that has subsequently been retrofitted and turned into a museum on life in the Antarctic. It was compelling stuff - from the recipe for seal brain, to the photos of the visit by HMS Britannia (the vessel of the Royal family!). There was even a small gift shop full of one of a kind souvenirs. The funds raised supported preservation efforts both there and at the historical Scott hut in NZ territory (not to be confused with the US base at the south pole). I bought some xmas presents for the family, and unbelievably  was able to pay with a credit card - I dare someone to get a more impressive credit card charge! I posted a few postcards there as well - due to be delivered in about 3 months!

After yet another landing, everyone assembled at the bow, dressed in our best (in my case, clean) and warmest clothes for an Antarctic wedding. I think Jesse and Erin were onto something - a wedding without the hassle, in a mystical land. Although I've never seen a wedding with quite so many cameras! Everything went fantastically, both groom and bride said yes, and then it was time for the reception - Argentine asado followed by a massive party. The drinking (rum with 200 yr old glacial ice!) and dancing went on well into the night. Probably too long into the night, judging by my headache in the morning.

The next morning we visited another research station, this time the Ukrainian run Vernadsky base. Formerly the British base responsible for the discovery of the hole in the Ozone layer, Vernadsky was bought by the government of Ukraine, who were eager to conduct research in the Antarctic. The research (mainly concerning fluctuations in the level of ozone present in the atmosphere) is critical, but Vernadsky is famous for less academic reasons - they make their own vodka, and sell it at the southernmost bar in the world! I had a shot or two - vodka isn't my favourite drink, but they serve a fine drop at the Vernadsky bar. The wait for a taxi can be a bit long though... I also sent a few more postcards, but these will probably take a while - the staff take them to Ukraine when their stint is over, and post them from there. Expected time of arrival? Christmas... 2013.

The next day will simply be referred to as whale day. We saw some penguins and other wildlife/ sights, but the highlight was definitely the playful Minke whales. After determining we weren't going to hunt them, they became very friendly, and got very close. Like rocking the Zodiacs close. Unbelievable.

The last day of landings included one of the big ticket items, as far as I was concerned: Deception island. An active volcano in the South Shetland islands, Deception island was once home to a large whaling operation due to it's protected waters. As we passed through Neptune's Bellows (where the rim of the volcanic crater had eroded, flooding the volcano with water), the remnants of the whalers shacks stood out on the black ash that passed for a frigid beach. We walked around the buildings, including an abandoned airstrip that was used by the British for surveillance flights. But the main attraction was definitely the beach - we were here to swim.

When the water is at low tide, the volcanic rocks warm the water to the point where it is quite comfortable to bathe. The critical point there was "low tide". We had arrived at high tide - the water was 0 +/-1 degree Celsius - not comfortable. But screw it, we were going in anyway. The expressions of those who went in first didn't fill me with confidence - the artwork "The Scream" come to mind. But I hadn't come all this way to back out now, and in I went. The first few steps were cold, then my legs went numb, then I dove under and received the most painful headache I've ever experienced. A few more seconds, and I was trying to run to shore. I say trying because my legs, like everything else, had gone completely numb and wasn't working properly.

I don't claim to be the brightest individual, but even by my standards going in for a second time was stupid. I took my camera in (waterproof and freeze proof) and recorded a video, but as soon as I touched the water I forgot about the film, and concentrated on surviving. Exiting the water on the second time, the expedition leaders pointed out that they had found a small pool of warm water 2 metres from where we had swam. Talk about bad timing. But I ran in and defrosted my toes - Pure bliss.

We got back on board (one unlucky group got a dodgy Zodiac whose engine died on the way to the ship - not what you want after an Antarctic swim!) and chewed through the hot water supply on board with showers all round. My feet were so numb that when I stubbed my toe taking off my boots, I didn't even feel it. Antarctic swim - been there, done that, never doing it again.

After our last landing, we turned back towards Ushuaia. Again the crossing was pretty smooth, although there were a few waves which claimed a few casualties (less than half of the passengers came for lunch one day)! Once back in the sheltered waters of the Beagle channel, we had the captains dinner and another party, although everybody was a little too tired to really do anything. The morning after, we pulled into port and disembarked into Ushuaia, lives changed forever.

To anyone even remotely thinking about doing this trip - DO IT. The whole trip was amazing, the crew and staff were awesome, and my fellow passengers about the best people you could hope to travel with. Some tips - make sure the boat you're on is small, as rules only allow 100 people at a time on land (on the Ushuaia, it meant all 84 passengers and up to 16 staff could land at once). A big ship means less landings, less wildlife and less fun. Also, make sure the company is IAATO affiliated - you can then be sure of  an environmentally responsible trip. And finally, try to get a trip with experienced staff - the Ushuaia's staff were able to answer all my questions, and able to go places others couldn't (Vernadsky doesn't sell their vodka to just anybody).