"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Five

Triumph, Tragedy, and Try Again

Ernest Shackleton, now Sir Shackleton, hopes to reap riches upon his return to England after the Nimrod Expedition, during which he and three of his team reach the farthest south point yet for man, a mere 112 (or perhaps 93—estimates differ)  miles from his goal.  Things don’t work out that way for Shackleton, whose successes lie on the ocean and not on land.

Now, while he tries various business ventures which all fail to some degree, he waits to hear the results of his rival Robert Falcon Scott’s latest expedition in quest of the South Pole.  Unknown to many until it is well underway, a Norwegian explorer named Roald Amundsen has pulled a fast one on his financial backers and on Scott as well.

Roald Amundsen

Amundsen raises funds for an expedition to the North Pole, during which he hope to drift across the northern pole in the ship Fram.   (Remember that name? Fram? This is the quiz I promised in Chapter One.)

While still in the fund-raising and planning stages, Amundsen gets word that American explorers Frederick Cook and Robert E. Peary each claim to have reached the North Pole.  Amundsen secretly changes his plans and sets his aim at the South Pole during the northern summer of 1910. 

He doesn’t tell his crew until they are out to sea.

He doesn’t tell Scott, either, and Scott, thinking the two were heading in opposite directions, sent instruments to Amundsen that would enable the two parties to make comparative readings at each pole.

Instead, Amundsen heads for Antarctica, to the Bay of Whales on he Ross Ice Shelf.  The Norwegians’ skill with skis and sledge dogs, as well as their fur clothing and specially designed equipment of all types, makes the difference.  They spend the rest of the austral summer laying depots of supplies inland, in advance of the push to the pole.  Then, they settle in to wait out the winter.

The Antarctic continent with the Ross Ice Shelf in red where the Bay of Whales was located until a 99 mile chunk of the ice shelf broke off in 1989.

Three weeks after Amundsen’s Fram anchored to the ice shelf, Scott also arrives.  He also sets up chaches of supplies inland, and then waits for spring.

Scott's group, after reaching the South Pole and finding Amundsen's Norwegian flag planted there.

On Oct. 20, 1911, Amundesen makes his push, starting from his base camp which is 60 miles closer to the pole.  He replies mostly on sled dogs.

On Nov. 1, Scott’s party begins its trek, using ponies and dogs.

Amundsen, with meticulous and successful planning and execution, arrives at the South Pole on Dec. 14, 1911 after 55 days.  He returns to base camp in 41 days with no casualties.

Scott, after many mistakes in planning and execution, arrives at the pole on Jan. 17, 1913, and finds the Norwegian flag planted by Amundsen 34 days previously.  Scott is devastated, writing in his diary, “The worst has happened"; "All the day dreams must go"; "Great God!  This is an awful place". 

Scott and his party perish during the return trek to the base camp.

This map is inverse to those previous.  You are at the South Pole looking north.  Amundsen's party began at the Bay of Whales, his path marked in red.  Scott's group was on Ross Island, his path shown in green.

Back in England, word of Scott reaching the pole and then dying reaches England first.   Later comes news of Amundsen’s triumph.  Shackleton devises yet another plan to visit the pole, this time intending to transverse the entire continent from the Weddell Sea below South America to the Ross Sea south of Australia.

And thus begins one of the most famous adventure stories ever lived.  


(While Shackleton gets his third act together in England, we’ll wait for him in Buenos Aires.   Maybe.)

Vantage Travel has organized everything.  The problem is that none of us new arrivals are aware of their organizational plans.  Therefore, when we exit the controlled immigration and customs area of the Buenos Aires airport, we are shuttled right into chaos.

Everywhere there are people holding signs with the names of the people they are awaiting.  I see at least four Vantage signs, each a different color and I don’t know what the colors mean.   I trudge from one Vantage sign to another, finally finding a spot where baggage handlers are gathering suitcases for Vantage clients.

This is 9 de Julio Avenida (Ninth of July Avenue), billed as the widest avenue in the world at 110 meters, or something like 330 feet.  That might not be correct anymore, but they still call it that.  It honors Argentina's independence from Spain.

Then I join the nearest Vantage guide and wait with others.   We are escorted outside onto a narrow sidewalk and walk towards a bus in the distance.  Then we turn around and walk back in the direction from which we came, pursuing the same bus.  The sidewalk is crowded and blocked by structural pillars in sequence that greatly interfere with passage.  However, I suppose the airport terminal would fall down were it not for those pillars.

The 9th of July Avenue
The front of the group (which used to be the back of the group when we were chasing the bus in the other direction) has trapped the bus and carry-ons are handed off to a crush of men surrounding the baggage bay of the bus.  

Soon, it’s my turn.  A hand reaches out for my wheeled bag at the same time his other hand reaches out for a tip.  I give him a couple dollars and as I board the bus a man behind me says to his wife, “I asked him how much and he said 'twenty.' ”
“You didn’t give it to him, did you?” she asks.

“No, I gave him five.”  I wonder if tips are the only income those handlers receive.  There were far too many of them to be employees of the bus line Vantage has chartered for our local transportation.

And then we’re off, into the city-wide traffic jam that is Buenos Aires.  We are headed for the Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel and Convention Center in the Recoleta area, on the northern side of the city where the richer residents live.  

 This is a little hold over (actually a massive hold-over) from long ago when the wealthy lived on the south side and had summer homes (read ‘mansions’) on the north side.  When yellow fever struck, the rich moved into their summer homes up north and stayed.

This is not what makes the Recoleta famous though.  That is for its graveyard, which holds the remains of many Argentine rulers and military.

Oh, but let's not forget its most famous crypt--for tourists anyway--the mausoleum that holds the mortal remains of a woman called Evita.

Front of the Duarte family mausoleum.
Some tourist in front of Eva Peron's mausoleum.
Wall surrounding the Recoleta Cemetery

This is where I usually sit in all tour buses--in the back row.  This time, however, the rear row was raised, so I still couldn't see.

For a great read about the Recoleta cemetery: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/argentina/travel-tips-and-articles/75881


  1. I just giggle at all of this .. having myself done 'some' bit of international travel in my 76 years here .. too bad we did not pull of the trip-to-india we talked about the three of us .. smiles and gratitude for your phenomenal web site .. Cap and Patti ..

  2. I'm somewhat ashamed to be half Norwegian after reading about the Amundsen fellows shenanigans. So naughty!!

    While many travelers would tire of the inconveniences, you just shake your head and go with the flow. Good for you, Gully!

  3. Superb photo of 9 de Julio Avenida (anchored in the bottom left hand corner by that dark red building). Am very much enjoying the way your are weaving the exciting history of voyages into your narrative.