Leica Explorer: Saulius Damulevicius in the Footsteps of Roald Amundsen

Leica Explorer Saulius Damulevicius ventured to the end of the world, otherwise known as Ushuaia, Argentina. Flying from Lithuania by way of London and Sao Paulo, Saulius set out to follow in the footsteps of the great Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen. Saulius documented his journey on his Leica Explorer blog and shares with us the best and worst of his journey which included of 30000 km of air travel, hitchhiking 1200 km and three weeks of trekking.

Q: How did you hear about the Leica “In the Footsteps of the Great Explorers” contest? Why did you decide to apply for the contest?

A: Prior to this trip I’ve been an enthusiastic DSLR user, shooting primarily on my climbing expeditions in Europe and Central Asia, everywhere from sheer Alpine walls to snowy tops of 7000 meter giants. However, carrying bulky photo equipment above the abyss made me compromise safety to some extent. Hence I’ve started looking for a superior solution and came across Leica, which in turn led me to participating in the “Great Explorers” contest.

Q: How did you prepare for your journey?

A: As I was going to a continent I’ve never been to before, initially I spent a fair amount of time surfing the web for information. I decided not to plan my trip in detail, but rather pick out key locations that I could connect like a jigsaw puzzle on the way. Afterwards, I had to select proper clothing and camping gear for the unpredictable Patagonian weather. Given my mountaineering experience this wasn’t a big hassle, but I made some annoying mistakes nonetheless. For example, the tent that I borrowed from a friend was too short for me so I ended up sleeping diagonally in it for 20 nights during my trip.

Q: What was the highlight of the trip for you?

A: I believe the major highlight was the dynamics of the trip itself. All in all, I traveled over 30000 km by air (roundtrip from Lithuania), hitchhiked 1200 km and spent three weeks trekking in the most spectacular wilderness parks of Southern Patagonia. I also saw both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and climbed up to 4600 meters on El Plomo peak near Santiago, Chile. What’s more, I’ve done all of this in five weeks and with a pack of 20 kilos on my back for most of the time!

Q: Your trip in particular was filled with lots of obstacles (visa issues, head injuries, fires) and also lots of serendipitous moments. How did you manage to stay in good spirits throughout the trip?

A: Traveling alone is not easy. Certainly, I had some gloomy moments of mental weariness and physical discomfort, but despite being alone I did not feel lonely. My trip presented a genuine opportunity to learn more about myself and enjoy freedom of traveling. Besides, I wasn’t alone for all of the time. By pure accident I met a handful of very remarkable people that accompanied me on some parts of my journey.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the trip?

A: The biggest challenge was to find any signs of polar explorer Roald Amundsen in South America. Eventually I gave up struggling and switched to exploring Patagonia instead of chasing his legend right to the South Pole. However, I learned that the route of my trip roughly resembled a part of another world-famous expedition, the second voyage of the HMS Beagle in 1831-1836. This expedition, under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy with naturalist Charles Darwin onboard, circumnavigated the globe and conducted extensive research in South America. Among many destinations, the party visited Ushuaia in Terra el Fuego, sailed through the Strait of Magellan and explored mountainous areas close to Santiago while their ship was moored in Valparaiso!

Q: How did the V-Lux 2 perform during your travels?

A: The Leica V-Lux 2 proved itself a marvelous camera. Despite its diminutive size and weight, it is tough and reliable. On my trip it survived severe abuse, including an unfortunate four-foot drop with an open LCD screen on snow and rock, subzero temperatures, quite some rain and dust, but it still functions flawlessly. I hugely enjoyed the enormous zoom range of this camera that allows shooting anything from wide panoramas to vigilant wildlife with a single lens. Although I shoot in aperture priority mode most of the time, I found the single frame HDR feature to be very handy in dim light and high-contrast sites. Such situations are usually a nightmare for me, but with the HDR feature turned on I managed to get magazine-cover-style images straight from my camera without any post-processing! Despite some minor hitches, I believe V-Lux 2 is the perfect camera for demanding adventurers.

Q: What was your favorite site from the trip and your favorite photo?

A: Perhaps the most stunning view on this trip was the sunrise over Mount Fitz Roy. Notorious for its terrible weather and extremely steep routes, this granite spire is a symbol of extreme alpinism.

Q: Your non-existent Spanish, as you say, led to a comedy of errors during your trip (literally). How did you manage to get around without speaking the language? Did you pick up any Spanish during the trip?

A: I had a small Spanish dictionary that my mom gave me just before I left for the trip, but it did not help me a lot. So I just learned a few phrases to start conversation and then switched either to English or body language. When I was staying with a host family in Puerto Natales that only spoke Spanish, I also used an online translator on my computer to communicate. Later I became fluent in phrases commonly used by hitchhikers, so I had no problem asking for a ride and getting directions. However, a couple of times this led to hilarious situations. Once the driver talked to me in Spanish for 20 minutes until he understood that all I knew in his language were the words I said before I got into the car! Nevertheless, I am really willing to learn Spanish. It is a very charismatic language and an indivisible part of South American culture.

Q: Now that you’ve gone to the end of the world, what’s next?

A: “End of the world, beginning of everything” claim the natives of Ushuaia. For me it’s the beginning of new adventures. Currently I am training for another climbing trip in the Alps. Afterwards, I would like to explore greater ranges of Asia or go for a cycling trip. Traveling is addictive; I cannot help it.

-Leica Internet Team

You can read all about Saulius’s adventure on his Leica Explorer blog, http://leica-explorer.com/amundsen.