Argentina, Antarctica, and Brazil 2020
Written by Chet Yarbrough
Landing in Argentina’ sunshine with 70 to 80-degree weather is not unusual in February, but in that same month Antarctica’s temperature reaches its record high. On February 6, 2020 , where we were, Antarctica reaches 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit; the highest in recorded history. (In 2015, Antarctica reached 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Some would argue Antarctica’s rise in temperature is a harbinger; others deny the science–like President Trump who suggests science is wrong.
Sailing to Antarctica is not for the feint of heart. You begin from “The World’s End” in an Argentine town called Ushuaia (pronounced U-swy-ahhh).
Ushuaia is beautiful in February.
To its residents, Ushuaia is beautiful all year round. Residents have grown from 5,000, forty years ago, to an estimated 150,000 today.
However, you must enjoy the cold, its remoteness; winter snow, spectacular scenery, and ski slopes to die for (or from).
If seasickness plagues you, taking the Drake Passage will test your resolve. If you begin in Ushuaia, there is no other sea passage to Antarctica.
In your crossing of the Drake Passage, the grandeur of ice caps, ice bergs, landscapes, and sea creatures are a welcome consolation to wobbly walks on the deck.
Our group reaches the Arctic Circle and is rewarded with an excursion to the top of a lower peak with a spectacular view of an ocean inlet. A research vessel is anchored in the harbor. Several crew members set up the first (to our knowledge) soccer game to be played within the Arctic Circle.
Because our vessel carries less than 500 people, landing is permitted. We landed on this frigid land several times on our journey.
February temperatures in the high 60 s is typical for Los Angeles or Las Vegas, but not at the bottom of the world.
Not that the world will end in a foreseeable future, but catastrophic change is here. Kolbert’s “…Sixth Extinction” seems eminently possible.
A 24-day excursion to Antarctica convinces most people that global warming is real and present.
Seabirds, shorebirds, whales, seals, sea-lions, penguins, and landscapes will entertain and astound you. Stories of others’ tortuous journeys to the south pole make you realize how easy a tourist’s passage to this vast wilderness is today.
At every excursion from your boat, you are confronted with the hardship earlier travelers must have endured. At times of the year, Antarctica’s temperature can fall to -70.6 degrees F with an average temperature of 14.0 degrees F. As predicate of the future, our trip averaged 30 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit.
No humans permanently live on Antarctica. There are no polar bears. Only penguins, seals, nematodes, tardigrades, and mites can handle the extreme cold. However, 1,000 to 5,000 people live on science stations from various nations around the globe.
Antarctica is not a nation-state and is not officially owned by any country. However, over twelve countries claim rights to a portion of the land.
A 1961 Antarctic Treaty between governments recognizes there is no indigenous population. The Treaty formed a pact that allows intellectual and scientific exchange, while banning military activity or mineral prospecting.
Russia, according to recent newspaper reports, is significantly increasing their exploration of natural resources in Antarctica. Its days of exclusive scientific exploration may be limited. Though America and Russia are thousands of miles from the Antarctic continent, distance and harsh winter conditions are no longer an impediment to economic exploitation.
Interestingly, 11 children were born on Antarctica between 1978 and 1983. Their parents were from either Argentina or Chili. The idea was for parents of respective countries to perfect their nation’s right to portions of Antarctica.
The Antarctic Treaty holds such claims in abeyance. Medical facilities are virtually non-existent in the remote camps of the Arctic Circle. With added recognition of environmental danger to an unborn child, no further births occurred after 1983.
Upon returning to South America, we tour the Iguazu Falls. It is the highest average water flow fall in the world. It is taller than Niagara Falls and is twice as wide. To us, it rivals the beauty and grandeur of Victoria Falls in Africa (between Zambia and Zimbabwe; on the Zambezi River).
The fun at Iguazu Falls is taking a river boat on Iguazu River that takes you under the falls. It is thrilling and moisturizing (actually, drenching). You are given a dry bag for your camera and anything you do not want to get wet.
And finally, there is a trip through the rain forest in Argentina’s Iguazu jungle. Birds, caiman, catfish, trees, and spiders, oh my.
A little mosquito spray is a must at certain times of the year, but February is not a bad month because of cooler weather. Our guide explains the importance of the rain forest and its protection of the environment.
The Argentina rain forest not only absorbs carbon dioxide from the air we breathe, but it is a river of water above the ground. It nourishes the earth and replenishes underground aquifers.
As the rain forest disappears, the lungs and water filtration system of the world diminishes. At the end of our trip, we wonder if the “…Sixth Extinction” is not only possible but probable.
Seven continents — what a thrill it is to see how different and interconnected nature is and how fragile and insignificant we human beings are in the world.