Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Antarctica, February to March 2009From 2008 to 2009, I spent over nine months traveling in Central America and South America with side trips to Antarctica and Easter island. What follows are my journal entries from Antarctica. Central America, South America, and Easter Island are listed separately. The comments in square brackets were comments from my emails rather than entries in my journal.
February and March
[Date: Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:25 am
Well, internet access has proved potentially unreliable here in Ushuaia so I'll send out what I can now. I've also been unsuccessful in getting the program from my trip off the DVD they gave me to also post so that will have to wait until I find some better computers.
Anyway, the wildlife and scenery was amazing. Lots of penguins, whales, seals, and more.
I've already been out on a three day backpack since getting back to Ushuaia. I may not be online much in the next few weeks as I'm heading into prime backpacking territory. I may be hiking in Torres del Paine within a couple of days and that could easily be seven days of backpacking with no internet access. We'll see...
Monday, February 16, 2009: Ushuaia to Scotia Sea (Sea Day)
Up early. I couldn't sleep past 6am. Our room was hot and I was tossing and turning so I grabbed a quick shower hoping I didn't wake Sarah, my roommate just for the night and got on the computer for a while. Breakfast didn't start until 7:00. Breakfast included a nice selection of cereal, fruit, sweet baked goods, breads, ham, cheese, and a bunch of spreads including dulce de leche. There was more but that's what came to mind.
The laundromat wouldn't be open until 10am which was just as well as it was raining. We watched the hotel staff expertly stack our bags for transfer to the ship at least six layers high and well over my head. My pack, with all the gear attached to the outside including pointy poles went on the edge rather than in the middle where the poles could puncture something else. Normal, I fit everything inside but with my extra gear for the cruise and the munchies and sodas I put inside, it was only going to work with some gear stashed on the outside.
Finally, the rain let up a bit and I brought my laundry to the laundromat. Even though they were coin-op machines, they still do it for you. I left the laundry with a few instructions, did some more soda shopping at the supermarket which was right next door, and then went back. I intended to put my rain jacket in the dryer with my clean clothes in the hopes that the heat would reactivate a bit of the coating on the jacket but my clothes weren't ready yet. The lady there was a bit unclear on the concept and just put my jacket in alone for 5 minutes. I was hoping that would be enough as I didn't want the jacket to melt.
Since my wash wasn't yet in the dryer, I took off and stopped by the museums but just couldn't wrap my head around a visit today so I went back to the hotel and hung out with the crowd there. I picked up my wash shortly after noon and brought it back to the hotel. Then, Cory (39th birthday), Carmen, Sanjay and I went for lunch at a parilla, a place with a big open fire and meat roasting on the fire. Sanjay, a vegetarian, and I, not that much of a meat eater (I had already had my steak in Argentina) both ordered pasta. My cheese/veggie ravioli with both tomato and cream sauce was delicious. I also sampled Sanjay's gnocchi and it was good too, though very heavy as gnocchi tends to be.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was nearly time to walk to the buses across the street for the short ride to our ship, the Russian vessel, Akademik Ioffe. It's a research vessel that along with its sister ship the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, does long distance underwater acoustic research during the off season. The off season ends up being quite short these days as both these ships work the both the Arctic and Antarctic tourist expedition routes. These ships were originally commissioned for the Soviet Union and after the break up, turned to the tourist industry as a way of making money. That's why the tourist industry to the polar regions took off in 1991.
My roommate, Keetie (Katie), a zookeeper in the Netherlands, got to the room before me and claimed the bottom bunk but is willing to switch every few days when housekeeping changes the sheets. Until then, I may try to sleep on the sofa. I don't like climbing up to top bunks, I really don't like climbing down from them, and I'm not crazy about sleeping in them, especially on a moving ship when the bunk has nothing to keep you from rolling out. Even at hostels these days, I've chosen hostels because they had bottom bunks available. Is it age or can I still blame my knees? I think it's still the bad knees. :-)
Shortly after embarking, we met in the dining room for a buffet. This was not dinner, but just something to hold us over. It included shrimp salad, Asian noodles with pork medallions, smoked salmon platter, crudites, and more. Quite a nice start to the trip.
Our meals are when we got a lot of information and we were told during the buffet about the surprise lifeboat drill that would happen in the first 24 hours "that would be nice if it were over before dinner" which would be at 7:30, just two hours away. So, after our buffet, we all went out to watch the ship pull away from the pier in Ushuaia. Once we were well underway, I looked at my watch and estimated to Elaine that the drill would be in 10-20 minutes. 15 minutes later, the horns sounded and we made our way back to our rooms to collect our cold weather gear and then to the lifeboat stations. After the drill, we had a chance to look inside the lifeboats. They are self-righting vessels, small, and each hold 60+ people in a very claustrophobic and tight environment. I would not want to spend any time in one of them.
Dinner at 7:30 included soup, salad bar, bread, and choice of three entrees, one of which will always be vegetarian. I chose the fish dish. Seems like the food on board will be plentiful and delicious so all the munchies I brought may well go back on shore with me. We'll see...
I met Colin, a birder who brought binoculars and his scope who was happy to share. Straight away in the Beagle Channel, we saw Black-browed Albatross, Magellanic Penguins, and more. A nice way to start the cruise.
At 10:00, a few of us went outside to watch the channel pilot depart the ship down a ladder to another faster boat to be taken back to the pilot station nearby. In less than two hours, we would be out of the channel and into the open seas. An hour later, some of us went out to watch as we passed our sister ship, the Vavilov which was heading into port.
Not knowing what to expect overnight and knowing that Dramamine would knock me out, I took a quarter of a pill just to get some into my system if the seas got bad. Then it was time to go to sleep.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009: Scotia Sea (Sea Day)
I woke up feeling great at 5:00 for a trip to the bathroom. Then back to bed after looking at the large choppy swells outside. Then back to bed until the wake up call at 7:30.
It was stuffy and warm in the ship and I wasn't feeling normal when I got up so I took another quarter of a Dramamine and went up on deck hoping the fresh air would solve the problem. Many others were very seasick this morning but I wasn't feeling all that bad. Then it was time for breakfast and the dining room was very hot. That didn't help the way I felt so after breakfast, I took the other half of the Dramamine I had started the night before. I went on deck again for a few minutes before our morning program on the first deck, two floors down, in a room with no windows. That didn't help matters but by now, the Dramamine had kicked in and I could barely stay awake and couldn't keep my eyes open. So I just listened and opened my eyes to see each new slide. This presentation was about proper behavior while on shore near the animals of the Antarctic. It was mandatory but there were quite a handful of passengers, my roommate included, who were too sick to make it.
After this presentation, we went back to the third deck, the primary deck where you can get outside, the dining hall, the bar and lounge, and most shipboard passenger activities are located. The dining room had cooled off a bit but I was glad the next presentation about Zodiac trips, also mandatory with quite a few missing passengers, was a short presentation. Afterwards, I went back to my room to lie down for a bit. I was just very glad I wasn't dealing with seasickness the way my roommate was. She hadn't made it to breakfast or either mandatory presentation.
I got up to attend the kayak briefing. I hadn't signed up in advance as I wasn't sure if I was "experienced" enough nor if it were worth the added expense. There were a few slots left over and I decided to go to the briefing and see if I wanted to join up. It sounded great, and based on the experience of the others, I knew I would be OK, and I was a bit concerned that I would regret not joining the kayak group, but between the expense and the gear issues, I decided not to sign up for the kayak option. You have to dress for immersion but then with a couple of hours of paddling, I was concerned about overheating or not staying warm enough since I'm horrible at regulating body temperature.
In the kayaks, you can't peel layers off like you can when on land.
At lunch, I enjoyed pasta in cream sauce with lobster, crab, scallops, and shrimp. Then I took another nap - the Dramamine really knocked me out (I hope I don't have to take much more on this trip) - and then went to the presentation on birds of the Falklands. Then a while later, it was a presentation on the Thrill of Krill.
In the lounge, I talked with one of the Estonian woman, part of a group of 11 Estonian's on board, and realized many don't speak English well, including two women, a mother and daughter I think, who make me look short. This ship has about 13 from the US, a bunch of Canadians, another large group of Dutch, some Brits, and a smattering of South Africans, Chinese, Swedish, and a total of 94 passengers.
More fish for dinner with soup, salad, etc. Watched a BBC Planet Earth video about oceans. Journaled in the lounge. Other than the two brief stints in the morning, I didn't make it outside.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009: Scotia Sea to Falkland Islands (aka Malvinas) (West Point/Carcass Islands)
The showers here are nice. They even have shower gel for hair and body. I was up early enough to then go to the bow to watch Peale's dolphins playing under and around the bow. It's amazing. They look like they are putting out no effort whatsoever and yet they not only keep up with the ship, they can accelerate away from the ship at the blink of an eye.
Breakfast always includes cereal, toast and spreads, yogurts, fruits, and hot stuff. Today they had pancakes also with breakfast meats, eggs, potatoes. They served the pancakes from a jug that says real maple syrup, not just pancake syrup, but I'm not sure I believe what I read.
The Falklands are divided into the East and West. Today, we'll be staying in the west. We had two outings. In the morning, we went to West Point Island. Our weather today was uncharacteristically beautiful. It was sunny and warm with temperatures maybe around 60. There was a light breeze. Most of us over dressed for the conditions but thankfully, I could peel layers and stay relatively comfortable. For our first landing, we were greeted by the very bold caracaras at the jetty. The 5m distance we're supposed to leave between us and wildlife doesn't count when they come close to you. Upland Geese were also plentiful at our landing site.
After landing, we walked about a mile, up and over a hill that reminded me once again, of Highlands. it was open, grassy, mossy, rocky, and brushy. Our destination for the morning was a Rockhopper penguin and Black-browed albatross rookery. Both types of birds share open rocky areas leading down to the beach and water. It's surprisingly far from the water and high above it. These penguins are climbers.
Both types of birds built nests of mud. They look like columns up to a foot or more high with a bowl shaped top for the young to sit in.
Both the young of the Albatross and Rockhoppers are old enough to be molting. They are shedding their downy coats as their sleek feathers come in. There were very few adult Rockhoppers around as they tend to abandon their young at this stage. When finished molting, the young will head out into the water and feed themselves. There were plenty of both young and adult albatross in the nesting area. The young stay in their nests but the adults move around. With their huge feet, they look like human scuba divers trying to walk forward with flippers on. They are ungainly and seem to trip over their own feet. They soar just feet overhead and seem to circle endlessly before landing. We watched for a long time and while I saw many adults on the ground, and many soaring in the air, I only witnessed one landing and it wasn't pretty. The albatross chose a large flat rock to land on, touched down at the backside, and then almost slid off the front. I wasn't they only one who couldn't help but laugh. The feet on the young albatross seem oversized. I have to wonder if they grow into their feet much the same as puppies often seem to have huge feet.
The penguins also live and burrow in the tussock grass. There were a few Macaroni penguins there, too.
After walking back to the Jetty, we took the Zodiacs back to the ship for lunch. I split a quiche with someone who ordered the smoked salmon.
As we ate, the ship moved to Carcass Island for our afternoon outing.
After a wet landing on the beach, we walked across the island to see the Magellanic Penguins gathering there in large groups. If disturbed by humans or caracaras, they would move en mass either into a tighter group, or away from the disturbance.
Also seen in the grasses were tussock birds, finches, wrens, and snipes. After walked back across the island, we walked along the beach with a disturbing array of garbage and along the headlands. On the beach, we saw Gentoo penguins, Magellanic oystercatchers, and more Magellanic penguins. Walking over the headlands, we had to be careful not to step into any of the penguin burrows. It would be easy to break a leg there.
Before boarding the Zodiacs to return to the ship, we stopped for tea at the farmhouse there. They put on quite the spread for our large group. Tea, scones, cookies, cakes, etc. They also operate a guesthouse there.
Back on board the Ioffe, they had beer waiting for us. Or for those of us who don't drink, soft drinks and juice. The afternoon freshly baked cookies for tea seems to be a regular occurrence. Then there's happy hour where they serve some sort of food, too. Oy!
There are a couple of Macs on board which I can use to copy my SD cards to my hard drive. So I took some time to do that before dinner.
Then dinner of Boursin chicken.
Michael Gatehouse then gave a presentation of his experiences 20 years earlier restoring Mawson's huts. His ship had dropped them off with supplies for a long stay and then went to resupply another group. But it got stuck in the ice and sank so they had to get rescued from another ship.
The expedition staff are friendly and mix with the passengers so I ended up having quite a nice conversation with Rupert, our expedition leader.
Thursday, February 19, 2009: Stanley, Falkland Islands (Stanley/Gypsy Point)
Wonderful pre-breakfast display by all sorts of marine mammals. We had as many as seven Peale's Dolphins playing under our bow. They are amazing, not only keeping up with the ship, but jumping around, accelerating away from the ship as if we were standing still and all with such small effortless movements. We would watch them and then get distracted by a pod of whales in the distance, all spouting fish-breath (known from previous experience). We could also see some seals playing closer to the beach. We also had the usual complement of birds including various petrels, albatross, penguins, etc. (We'll be getting a DVD with a complete bird/animal sightings list at the end of our trip.)
After breakfast, we went ashore to Stanley, the capitol of the Falklands with a population of about 2000. We got boxed lunches once ashore. Mine was prawn and egg with potato chips, chocolate muffin, and chicken pastry.
We soon boarded a bus for Gypsy Cove and wandered the point for a couple of hours. Saw lots of Magellanic Penguins. Couldn't get close to them as they were all on a beach known to have landmines. Once again, I find myself in landmine territory. The big difference here is that the land mine areas are well known and since the war in 1982, nobody has been killed or injured by the mines. As a matter of fact, even though the Falklands are signatories in the landmine clearing treaty and are supposed to clear their mines by next year, they are asking for a ten year extension. They recognize that while it would be nice to reclaim their beautiful beaches, there are other parts of the world where people are still regularly dying as a result of landmines buried there from conflicts that ended long the before the Falklands even started.
There's one gun left on the promontory. We all took pictures of it, with it, etc. Our ship was in the harbor getting refueled by a tanker there and I got picture of the gun seemingly pointed straight at it.
On the bus ride to and from town, our driver gave us running commentary on items of interest we were passing. We saw the garden gnomes, the whale guy's house with a backyard full of whale bones, a sheep, there's a reindeer in town but we missed it. We saw houses with piles of peat, the traditional fuel still used by some but largely supplanted by fossil fuels. We saw peat fields. The airport used by the fish patrols and air taxi service but not the international flights., Elizabeth, a shipwreck, and on the way back, were finally let off at the museum. There were whaling products such as Sperm Candles there, items from daily life going back to the 1800s, and a room devoted to the Falklands war.
We walked back to the center of town, through part of the scale model of the solar system, war memorials, the Governor's House and more. I stopped into the Supermarket and saw some items I hadn't seen in a while, especially simmer sauces... I was tempted to buy some for after the trip but already have too much stuff to carry. I'm going to have to figure out what to do with it all as I continue to travel after this cruise.
I stopped into the gift shop and resisted the urge to buy a Penguin of Death.
I got back on the 3:00 shuttle back to the boat for the long ride to the outer harbor by Zodiac. We had a great sighting of a very cute sea lion floating on his back with its flippers across his chest. He then scratched his ear a couple of times. When I got up to take a pictures though, it dived and that was the end of our sighting. The ship was supposed to be back in the inner harbor for the later trips but a problem with the refueling speed meant even the later returnees got the long ride to the ship. We never did reenter the inner harbor.
We were supposed to finish refueling before 4pm but it took until after 6pm, I think.
More delicious hot freshly baked chocolate chip cookies for tea. Salami, cream cheese, and pine nuts for happy hour, and then I had the lamb option for dinner.
We got under way and then at dinner, we were informed of a problem one of the other ships in the Quark fleet had just had. They had run aground on the Antarctic Peninsula and had to evacuate all of the passengers to a different Quark ship also in the area when the winds proved too much for the ship to get off under her own steam. Then other boats came to her aid and she was set afloat again with no apparent damage. Both the Quark vessels then headed back to Ushuaia. Rupert told us he didn't want to tell us about it until he had more details, but unfortunately, that meant our opportunity to send a quick email to reassure family and friends who might have heard about the grounding that we weren't anywhere near it had passed. I just hope that anyone I know who hears about it is able to figure out that trip wasn't at the peninsula yet.
Of course, I could have sent a short email from the ship, but I've found in almost every other case where I've sent a reassuring note after an earthquake or other "situation", nobody had known about the situation to begin with.
Short evening program by Scottie about both Ross and Weddell who discover seas now named eponymously for them as well as breeds of seals. Spent time burning a DVD today. So far, I think I'm the only person making use of the PCs they have on board. Many people have their own computers with them but not all so I'm not sure how long this area will remain my little secret.
Friday, February 20, 2009: Scotia Sea (Sea Day)
I was up early and had some solo time on the bow. Went in before most others came out. Journaled in the lounge. This morning's lecture was on the birds of the area followed by another about seals. In the afternoon, we had two more lectures on photography in the Antarctic and Shackleton, part 1.
Interesting conversation with Todd and his 13 year old daughter Sarah at dinner tonight. Todd's a philosopher and he's brought up his daughter to think. Tonight's topic ended up having us talk about souls. Interesting take by Sarah. Then Todd led the evening program discussion in the lounge about why we as passengers come on trips like this and what it might mean to us and anyone or anything else. Lots of spiritual aspects. Some completely not spiritual. Some angst over the conflict that we as environmentalists have over the resources it takes to get down here, etc.
We see less wildlife in the open ocean but we've seen Wandering Albatross, Great Southern Petrels, Sei whales, Prions, and more.
Saturday, February 21, 2009: Scotia Sea (Sea Day)
Great start to the day on the aft deck and then lox, eggs, and onions for breakfast. The toast and butter were a poor substitute for bagels and cream cheese though. Today is another sea day. We had presentations on Whales, Photo composition, South Georgia Island, and Shackleton 2. Jumbo shrimp on the salad at lunch were good but the Monte Christo Sherri shared with me was weird. The chocolate cream pie dessert was best when supplemented with the raspberry sauce that was supposed to accompany the Monte Christos. Excedrin held off my budding migraine and the Benadryl before bed assured me a good night's sleep. We changed time zones today for South Georgia Island. And now we must keep our portholes covered at night to prevent birds from getting confused. The entire ship is at minimal external lighting for the duration of our stay in South Georgian waters.
Sunday, February 22, 2009: South Georgia Island (Elsehul/Salisbyury Plain)
Pre-breakfast cruise. Saw many birds and lots of seals, both southern fur seals and elephant seals.. A couple of blond fur seals in the mix as well. We were surrounded by beautiful snow and glacier covered mountains. Back on the boat, after breakfast, we watched a BBC Planet Earth video on ICE in the morning. Lots of time on deck watching penguins and seals on shore and playing around the boat.
Lunch of taco salad was OK but the Apple Betty dessert served with ice cream was delicious. We spent the afternoon wandering amongst King Penguins and fur seals. There are lots of penguin chicks still - from ones small enough to hide under the folds of their parents feet to those as large as their parents. The large chicks are big, brown, and fuzzy. they are molting and often look hairy rather than feathery. Some of the adults are molting as well. Those that are molting, adults or chicks, cannot go into the water. The number of penguins here is amazing. We estimated 200,000 or so in this area alone. The penguins do an amazing job climbing the hills into the tussock grass. We had to be careful as we did the same to gain a high vantage point over the beach. I saw lots of surprisingly large penguin egg shells in the tussock grass.
There are icebergs in the area including at least one rather large one that the ship would not want to mess with.
Dinner of fish or chicken was uninspired. Watched happy Feet after dinner. No surprise that Savion Glover was credited. Not sure of his title but as a master of tap dance, it was probably choreography.
Monday, February 23, 2009: South Georgia Island (Grytviken)
Woke up at 5:30 to our wake up call for a hike that was canceled. Oh well. Conditions were too windy and rough for a Zodiac landing on shore. Back to sleep until 7:00. I spent some time on the bridge in the morning and then at our second potential landing sight, we were also blown out. Oh well. Such is the nature of travel in these waters.
This second harbor was Stromness where Shackleton finally made contact with the whaling station after crossing the island in 36 hours from his tenuous landing sight on the other side of the Island. We weren't able to land there but the researchers who were working there were able to come aboard and give us an impromptu presentation about the work they were doing with radio tracking the elephant seals.
After lunch we finally made a landing at Grytviken, where Shackleton is buried. I visited the museum, the church, and what's left of the Whaling station. I got a very cute picture of a seal pup with a rainbow overhead. Lots of other photo opportunities here, too. When wandering around on land with the penguins, I feel like I'm in the middle of a cartoon.
Very tired after dinner and computer session to find photos to share and took the time to delete some of the bad and extra pictures.
February 24, 2009: South Georgia Island (Gold Harbour)
We spent a long morning at Gold Harbor, many of the staff's favorite stop in South Georgia. Once again, we had great weather. The beach landing was adjacent to a large raft of molting elephant seals. There are penguins and fur seals all over the place, too. I still feel like I'm in the middle of a cartoon as I wander amongst the wildlife here that has no sense of fear of humans. We were told to keep at least five meters between us and the wildlife, but when the wildlife haven't read the same manual, all bets are off. I'll be taking a picture of one pair of penguins and will turn around to find another standing right behind me. Here, it's the King penguins with a smattering of Gentoos mixed in. The fur seals, often just pups, chase us but if you stand your ground, or give a point and a quick "stop" to show who's boss, they will stop, even if a bit too close for comfort. Apparently earlier in the season, the groups that go ashore must stay together with a staff member wielding a paddle to keep the pups at bay. They have sharp teeth and a bite could lead to a very nasty infection.
I climbed amongst the tussock grass and had to watch out for hidden seal pups as well as hidden elephant seals. How something as large as an elephant seal can be hidden is hard to imagine, but they really don't show much until you get almost too close for comfort at times. When returning to the beach after climbing to a high vantage point, I stopped to take some video of a snoring elephant seal (nothing you would want in your AT shelter or hostel, believe me). While watching, an elephant seal, very far behind me, gave a snort, and the one I was watching reacted. It was up and lumbering after that snort amazingly quickly. It wasn't after me, but it was coming straight at me. I got one quick view of the seal lumbering along in my viewfinder before I gave up my spot and ran to get out of its way. They can really move. Yikes!
Back on board, the weather deteriorated so we did a ships cruise up a fjord and I missed the dramatic turning of the vessel just meters from the foot of a glacier. But I was on the bridge for our return to the open ocean and lots of icebergs.
The seas immediately got rough upon our return to the open ocean. My attending the afternoon session in the deck one presentation room was a mistake and I took to bed just after dinner. My roommate had been in bed since afternoon when we left the protection of the fjord.
Wednesday, February 25 and Thursday, February 26, 2009: Great Southern Ocean (Sea Day)
Well, I may not get nauseous, but I do seem to feel other affects of sea sickness. I have general malaise, my digestive system works overtime and sends me to the bathroom much too frequently, profound sleepiness, and I get hot a lot. If it was menopause, it would be hot flashes, but it's almost only in the dining room during meals when the room really does got hot with over 100 people eating in it. Plus it doesn't happen during calm seas. I've found I'm much more comfortable lying down. Given all the paddling, sailing, and mountain road driving I've done without any motion sickness, I'm a bit disappointed to find I'm affected by seasickness. Argh!
Friday, February 27, 2009: Elephant Island (Point Wild)
The seas calmed down overnight as we approached Elephant Island and after two days of almost non-stop bed rest, I was up and on the bridge by 0530 in the morning. Louise, one of the kayak staff, was there and only later realized that she had forgotten to change her watch back to Ushuaia time and had gotten there an hour early. That early, we didn't see any birds, but an hour later, we started to see some and got eight different species by 0800 when we went down for breakfast.
After breakfast, most of us went out on deck to watch our approach to Elephant Island. There were a lot of whales along our path. We passed Cornwallis Island and pulled into the bay by Point Wild in time for lunch. There we were told that the seas were too rough for a Zodiac cruise but that would have been cancelled anyway. Colin, one of the expedition staff photography experts had come down with appendicitis and needed to get to King George Island for a medical evacuation flight the next morning. So, after a last look at the spit of land where 22 men spent 4.5 months waiting for an evacuation they had no idea was coming, our ship made way for King George island. Tomorrow, Colin and his girlfriend will be flown from the Chilean base there to Punta Arenas for emergency surgery. There's a chance we may be able to visit the research station. While the seas have calmed considerably, I'm still skipping the presentation room presentations.
Saturday, February 28, 2009: King George and Deception Islands (King George/Deception Island)
The Chilean Base was busy this morning. In addition to Colin's evacuation, they had a supply ship there unloading supplies. Not sure if it would be their last supply shipment before winter sets in. We saw a lot of random boxes and even some mattresses being delivered. But, while they did give us permission to visit the base, there was nobody on hand to give any sort of tour so our expedition staff stepped in and gave us the best tour they could of the outside of the buildings. We couldn't go inside any of them. We saw a variety of statues and monuments including the tallest post I've ever seen with distances to a variety of places around the world.
I was on the fist Zodiac onto the base and therefore was on the first off. We had no idea until later that the base had opened its shop and some were able to buy souvenirs including a great t-shirt. Oh well. I had hoped to mail postcards from the base but was unable to.
The Chilean base is immediately next to the Russian base. We were told not to go there but there no real line delineating the two so some others wandered over to no ill effect.
Back on board the boat, I could see the medevac plane land and then less than an hour later, take off with Colin on board. In two hours, he would be in Punta Arenas, Chile while we continued our trip south to the Antarctic Peninsula.
All afternoon we steamed south, then had an early dinner and finally arrived at Deception Island, an "active" but submerged caldera that last erupted in the 50s or 60s. It's large enough that our boat sailed right into the caldera and anchored there while we went ashore.
During low tide, the beach itself is hot and it's possible to dig a hole and soak in hot waters. We were there during somewhat higher tide so were limited to exploring the area. After landing, I started for one end up the beach, trying not to let the penguins distract me too much but I did take note of the one Chinstrap Penguin on the entire beach. All the others were Gentoos. At one end of the beach, I visited the first airplane hanger in the Antarctic then I hoofed it to the other end to peer through Neptune's Window where the Antarctic Continent was first seen.
Sunday, February 29 (err, March 1), 2009: Portal Point/Enterprise Island
Since I can never keep our destinations straight, I'll have to fill in the blanks when I get our schedule from the DVD at the end of the journey.
This morning, we did a Zodiac cruise. We visited a lot of icebergs, ice walls, an island with a lot of Chinstrap Penguins and Blue Eyed Shags (cormorants), and then got called over to watch three whales sleeping. Hmm. Yes, they were sleeping. They just float there like logs on water and occasionally breath through their blowholes and then go back to lying there with just their backs and dorsal fins exposed. It was testament that our presence in the handful of Zodiacs weren't bothering them because they didn't bother to move away at all. But, to be perfectly honest, watching whales when they're awake and curious is much more interesting. Give me a Humpback whales spy hopping, breaching, forming bubble nets to feed, or leaving footprints with their tails any day over watching three whales sleeping.
Scottie was our Zodiac driver for this cruise and he was fantastic, staying out of our way by sitting on the engine rather than standing in the boat. Plus, everyone in the boat was also very conscientious about the others and would, without being asked, kneel or crouch down when the action was on their side so the other side could stand and also get a good view. Then everyone would automatically switch when the action switched to the other side. With such calm waters, it really is nice to be able to have a bunch of people standing in these really stable boats. Apparently this area is frequently quiet with outlying island protecting the area from the worst of the Antarctic seas.
Then since the weather was so good, and you never really know when in the Antarctica what will happen, we all did a short landing over at Portal Point, our first option for a true continental landing. We hope there will be others but you never know. For many, this was their Seventh Continent. For me, it was number six. I WILL get to Africa one of these years.
Our afternoon cruise features both Weddell and Leopard Seals. But, the people weren't so great at getting out of each other's way and it was more than a bit frustrating to sit behind Diane, our driver who wasn't one to sit on the engine and therefore stood right in front on me. It made it impossible to see across the boat and very difficult to stand up. Plus, she almost always drove straight at our next destination so sitting in the back of the boat made it impossible to see anything until we were almost on top of it. I tried to say something a couple of times but it didn't work so I'll just try not to sit behind her on any other cruises.
I had fun playing Trivial Pursuit IV that night even though it seemed very Australia-centric.
Monday, March 2, 2009: Wilhelmina Bay/Cuverville Island
More Zodiac cruises on and amongst brash ice, black ice, blue ice, icebergs, ice cliffs, and ice caves, not to mention whales, penguins, and seals. The shapes and colors in this land that would otherwise seem black and white are beautiful.
Our afternoon landing with Gentoo penguins was great. We saw a lot of parents feeding chicks, chicks chasing parents, pairs bowing to each other with beaks open in a beautiful greeting, heads thrown back with load braying that would seem more appropriate for mules. These however, are not Jackass penguins. There's lots of flapping as it's rather warm for the penguins.
Our time on the beach was followed by a Zodiac cruise that netted two skuas eating a sheathbill. We also saw a lot of small birds congregating near one small berg and went to investigate and found a leopard seal eating a penguin there. Wilson's Storm Petrels were "dancing" on the water there eating whatever little morsels the seal left behind. Other Kelp gulls and skuas were also at the remains.
The weather is once again, amazing, necessitating the use of sunscreen and sunglasses. Of course, mine sunglasses went missing but later turned up at the lost and found on the boat. Better there than left behind on the beach.
A late, post-dinner Zodiac cruise yielded six leopard seals sleeping on ice flows, and a large crack yielding a bit of a snow fall down a cliff face. With perfectly clear skies, Venus and Jupiter were clearly visible above. Later, back on the bow of the Ioffe, the darkest part of the vessel, John, a still working but retired scientist from the Midwest and I went out to find Orion, the Southern Cross, and the Milky Way emblazoned across the skies. In half an hour, we also saw five satellites streaking across the skies.
I wish I had brought a start chart. I had looked on board and couldn't find one.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009: Neco Harbor and Paradise (Neko/Paradise Harbour)
Our last day in Antarctica turned into yet another day with fantastic weather. I've gotten so lucky. In the morning, we landed at Neco harbor, an Argentinean beach where a Refugio, standing just two weeks ago, has been reduced to rubble. The Gentoos don't seem to mind and have already taken over. I just wonder if the Argentineans will do anything about it before the ravages of winter scatter the remains beyond the local area. We were able to climb to a great vantage point to see the ship and the surrounding area. Neco harbor is known for its great calving glaciers so we were hoping for a show. But the only crack was just a small bit of snow falling from high up above the cliff and didn't even reach the water. The penguins were as curious or more so than ever. As I was taking a picture of a skua pulling at one woman's lace, a penguin started tugging at my pants. Don't know if anyone took pictures but we always laugh at each other when "attacked" and I knew there were witnesses. I would have left it to continue its attack, but I really didn't want holes poked into my wind/rain pants so I moved just enough to discourage further explorations.
Check YouTube. There might be a great video of a penguin that keeps ducking into the crotch of one of the other passengers who was sitting on the ground. Just couldn't imagine what was so interesting except perhaps he was melting water that the penguin wanted to drink.
Another penguin saw a jacket on the ground that someone decided they didn't need to wear while on shore in the warm weather so pulled at it until it made a good bed and then laid down on it. We're not supposed to disturb the wildlife but then again, we're not supposed to leave anything behind so we had to urge that penguin to give up its comfy bed and relinquish it to its rightful human owner.
We also watched nest building behavior which involves small stones being piles into a nest. They do it this time of year for next year or just to practice. We watched on rearrange stones in its next and then go steal stones from other nearby nests.
Also figured out the red penguin guano from the white. the white are from penguins that eat fish. The rest from krill eaters.
We are continually amused by the shape the moltings take. There are penguins with Mohawks, ones with Elizabethan collars, and others with fur coats. One things for sure, they all seem miserable. Some just stand stoically. Other actively try to pull out their molting fur.
By afternoon, we had moved to Paradise Bay. We were supposed to visit the Argentine station there but found out as we arrived that the station had already been evacuated for the season and nobody would be back until the following November. So we landed anyway to just climb the hill behind the station. By the top, I was down t6o wearing a t-shirt and was perfectly comfortable. It was HOT. Are we really in Antarctica? It's a question I keep asking myself. What am I doing here? I can't believe I'm really here, etc.
We had one last Zodiac cruise after leaving the station and before heading back to the ship. Mostly we were looking at pretty icebergs and one incredibly patient blue-eyed shag that let us drift right up to its little berg.
On the way back to the boat, I caught sight of a whale and after confirming the sighting, our Zodiac driver, Michael, got permission for a short extension to our cruise to visit with them It was three Minke whales, unusual in that they don't often travel together. It was a great way to end out last excursion from the Ioffe before setting sail across the Drake Passage and pack to South America.
The forecast unfortunately is not so good so we may have a rough time of it going across. Ugh!
My roommate has already packed as she doubts she'll be out of bed at all for the passage. I backed up the last of my pictures after dinner and by then, the rocking and rolling had me going straight to bed.
Note Based on their action in the water, I've taken to calling penguins, micro whales.
[Date: Fri Mar 13, 2009 11:33 am
Bird notes to update previous list: I found more identifying information at the visitor's center in Ushuaia so was able to ID more of the birds I had seen in Tierra del Fuego.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009: Drake Passage (Sea Day)
I made it through breakfast and lunch before the Drake Passage sent me to bed. This area, known to have some of the worst seas in the world, was treating us to a gentle reminder of the potential it holds. Other than one 30 minute stint at tea time, I spent the rest of the day in bed, skipping dinner, and sleeping almost the entire time.
In the morning, I did make it to Michael Gatehouse's talk about his Greenland crossing and mountain climbing and then Scotty's talk about another ill-fated Antarctic trip with a happy ending. (See the first 1902 entry at: http://www.south-pole.com/p0000052.htm.)
Thursday, March 5, 2009: Drake Passage to Cape Horn (Sea Day)
The seas had calmed a bit by breakfast so I got up and managed to eat a small breakfast before going back to bed. I tried to make it to lunch but never even sat down. I asked Dave, one of my more frequent meal companions to bring my lunch to me. I might be bothered by the waves but I still had an appetite. Lunch was delicious seafood cakes that were followed by the fruit plate. They always have a dessert with each meal but either a cheese plate or a fruit plate are both options for those that would prefer otherwise.
Dave's last name is Jones and believe it or not, he's a sailor. Don't know if he brought a locker on board, but I hope not.
With sketchy weather, the captain determined that we would not be able to safely round the Horn so we sail northeast but caught sight of it far off our port side. At that point, the seas calmed and after a short nap, pushed myself to attend both of the afternoon's events: a tour of the ship's bridge, engine room, rudder controls, and more; as well as the wrap-up slide shows featuring Rupert's slide show that included some of our shared pictures and then another with just pictures that the guests on board had contributed to a shared folder. With Colin, the staff photographer evacuated for appendicitis, other staff members stepped in and created quite the show. They included a couple of my pictures as well, both of which got a few admiring murmurs from the audience.
One of the things that came out during my ship's tour was about the research the ship was doing. This ship first set sail in 1989 and was therefore commissioned before that. Along with it's sister ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, it conducted research into how sound travels underwater. It occurred to me that at the time, I was working for BBN an acoustics research company. When I first started with the company in 1987, I was given an overview of the company that told me that the company had one group working on detecting silent submarines, and another group on creating silent submarines. I never found out if they ever worked together. I have to wonder if any of the research that this ship was doing might have been doing similar research but for the other side of the iron curtain.
Dinner was good but not great tenderloin followed by deliciously dense and not too sweet flourless chocolate cake. Yum! With calm waters and nothing pressing for the next day, I joined those staying up relatively late in the lounge. I think I got to sleep at or after 1:00am.
Last updated, June 26, 2010.
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