Mark Ames’s XXL Tour of the Southern Hemisphere Part 2: Antarctica to the Amazon

Following last week’s Part 1, which covered the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Chile, XXL owner Mark Ames recounts the final part of his travels, which takes him from Antarctica to the Amazon via the Falklands and Rio de Janeiro.

“My money is on Mother Nature, not the human race. We need to learn to respect her and live in harmony with her. That’s where we will find true happiness.”

Words can’t describe Antartica. It’s not for the fainthearted. We have seen both life and death in this majestic wilderness. From a pod of eight killer whales hunting down and ripping apart a minke whale in Paradise Bay, to leopard seals, fur seals and elephant seals all having their fair share of penguins for breakfast, dinner and tea. There is an eerie silence here with great roars of glaciers falling into the sea – it was a humbling experience.

We went on shore to visit a penguin colony and this lovely old lady called Mary was walking along asking if anyone had dropped a glove. I pointed out that it wasn’t a glove she had picked up but the remains of a penguin. I think it might have been the first penguin that flew as she chucked it into the air and ran!

On a serious note global warming is having a devastating impact here. Ice fields are retreating and there’s not enough space for the seals to have their pups and look after them safely. Consequently the pups do not have enough time to reach maturity before the ice breaks up and they drown.

Krill thrives under the ice sheets, but with the depletion of the ice sheets there’s less krill for penguins and whales to live on. Antarctica may be one of the furthest places away from man but it is where you will see firsthand the effects modern day living is having on our planet – the whole chain is being broken. As much as this place inspires it depresses too, for its future is ours.

In the Falklands, we paid our respects to all that were lost and politicians’ failures to prevent it. Later, a highlight of Buenos Aires was the city tour. The city is beautiful and earns its name as the Paris of South America – the architecture and city parks are breathtaking. And we finished a two-night stay with the most amazing tango show at the Faena Hotel. We’ve made a great group of friends of Dorothy from the ship and we all went to experience this show by recommendation of the captain. Filled with drama and sexuality, it was fantastic. Visiting Montevideo and Punta del Este was like going back in time to the 1950s – full of old world charm. And then onto Rio where we were so lucky; we sailed into Rio at 5.30am while the sun was breaking and it lit up the mountains beautifully, and it reminded us of San Francisco and Lisbon fused together. Sugarloaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer are the best places to take in this amazing city, although the friends of Dorothy group decided we would hire a helicopter and do a 20-minute flight round Rio. We finished off with lunch and cocktails at the Copacabana Palace hotel, all the while showing off my Gucci floral tops to full effect!

One thing we need to point out with Brazil is the poverty – the favelas, or low-income urban areas, are sprawling. People are begging yet churches and cathedrals are in abundance. Beautiful architecture juxtaposed with starving people makes for a very sobering experience and really makes you question the role of religion in today’s society.

Salvador was a perfect example of this: it offers amazing architecture but the city is crumbling. We were told that 80% of the money generated in Brazil goes to Europe, the USA and Asia, so very little of it goes to inward investment.

Also, Brazil’s Olympic Village is a travesty – it is literally in ruins and decaying only seven months since the closing ceremony. No wonder its people were up in arms about the amount of money being spent on it when you see the state of the nation. Brazil’s LBGT community experienced a downside while we were there too, when a transgender woman was filmed as she was horrifically beaten and murdered, and no one helped her as she begged for mercy. To us it appeared that the nation cares little for humans and has little time or no concern for wildlife or how its industry and growth effects all that surrounds them. It was such a sad part to what was an amazing trip.

In the Amazon we came expecting wildlife and wonder but left seeing a lack of it, except for birds and bugs. It’s here, but it shies from man, and wisely so! It’s not fair to blame the Brazilians for this, however; this is a worldwide travesty. Industry of every nature is pillaging both the water and the land of its riches, and polluting it with their wastes. In short it’s a disaster.

At last, in Machu Picchu, life and flora abounds, as does our souls and spirituality. This is an overwhelming and wondrous place that humbles and restores my belief that nature claims back what we foolish humans regard as ours. My money is on Mother Nature, not the human race. We need to learn to respect her and live in harmony with her. That’s where we will find true happiness.

You can read Part 1 of Mark’s travels here:

XXL Construction is this Saturday 25 March, 10pm – 7am.

XXL is at Pulse, 1 Invicta Plaza, Blackfriars Bridge Road, London, SE1 9UF.

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