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December 2001

Antarctica, the adventure of a lifetime!

Saturday December 1st - I was reading my email with my cafe and media lunas when I read a message from Colleen about something going on with the banks, she said there were huge lines in front of the banks yesterday but she wasn't sure what was going on.  I jumped on www.lanacion.com.ar and www.nytimes.com to try and find out what was going on with the banks.  Seemed there were some rumors that the government was going to lock bank account withdrawals, then break the one-to-one peg of the peso to the USA dollar, devalue the peso, then people's bank accounts would be worth whatever the value of the peso floated to, which would only be less then what it was worth at that moment.  On these rumors, individuals withdrew over $1 billion dollars from their personal savings accounts on Friday.  Domingo Cavallo, the economic finance minister (without the president's permission) put a limit on withdrawals of $250 dollars a week.  Cavallo said he did this to stop people from acting irrationally and pulling all of their savings out of the banks which if left untouched would bankrupt the banks.  He said this restriction would only be in place for the next 90 days while the confidence of the people were restored and would also give Cavallo's economic policies a chance to show that they were working.  I was reading this with some wonder, I didn't think it would affect us because we don't have our money in the local banks, our money is still in the USA and I wouldn't imagine that it would apply to foreign bank accounts.  We had been reading about the possibility (or more likely, the inevitability) of Argentina defaulting on it's International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans.  In the past month the government had changed the terms of all government issued bonds, with no recourse to the bond owners, to be for a longer period at a lower interest rate.  This action was called by many international economists as already a default on their loans, not a "restructuring" as Cavallo called it.

Ron was quite concerned, as I was, but when we got to the gym he started talking to friends of ours.  Ron was getting a little freaked out hearing some of the "rumors" of what was really going on.  I told him to take 10 long breaths as we really don't know what is going on and from what I read in the papers all of these policies had just been put into place on Friday and TODAY!  I told him not to worry about something we have no control over and I'm sure we'd know more on Mondays when the newspapers came out.

Colleen invited us to a holiday dinner party at Andrea's and Felix's.  They are expatriates I hadn't met yet.  We showed up at their apartment and it was quite elegant overlooking the beautiful Alemania Parque, plus they had decorated it very nicely with Christmas decorations.  It was a very interesting mix of about 25 people and one woman was very good at playing the piano and another woman had brought a flute.  It was wonderful singing Christmas carols.  Since it's summer time in Buenos Aires for Christmas, it's very hard for us to get in the spirit of things when it's hot and humid outside.  Luckily this was a very pleasant and cool night so it almost felt like the holidays as we sung all the old classics.

Sunday December 2nd - Ron went to the supermarket to buy some groceries and he was also going to pick up some wine and gin for our gin and Toros on the balcony.  He said that the liquor isle was all wrapped in black plastic so he asked someone what it was about.  Seems that it was a general election day and they aren't allowed to sell liquor on the day of elections.  I guess it keeps the election crowed from getting too rowdy.

Monday December 3rd - We headed off to our Spanish class at the usual 9:52am and as we passed the bank there is already a line of about 25 people waiting for the bank to open.  Not a great sign. 

After class Ron tried 3 different banks before he was able to find one that had USA dollars.  He was at least able to withdraw some money so that made him feel better that the $250 weekly withdrawal limit wouldn't apply to foreign accounts.

Thursday December 6th - I was talking with a new friend, Claudio, at the gym about the current economic situation and how it was impacting him.  He was saying that he is really fed up with the way things are here and would like to move to London.  You hear such things often from young people.  He said that he had gone to the Italian embassy to apply for a residence visa and he was given an appointment in April of 2003.  After talking to other people I've heard a 2 year wait is common at most European embassies.

Saturday December 8th - Alberto came over again to speak conversationally in English and Spanish.  He mentioned that it was a holiday and that the gym was closed for the day.  Something called the "Immaculate Conception" day.  Huh?  (Someone email me on this.)  The "Immaculate Conception" was supposed to be on the 8th and the birth of Christ was on the 25th?  I'll bet most women wished their pregnancies only lasted 17 days!

Alberto usually bikes over to the gym, leaves his bike parked there and then walks over to our apartment.  We started talking about his work, he works at a bank and with the current economic situation he has been swamped.  One of his jobs at the bank is to qualify people for credit cards.  If they qualify, he then has a driver who takes him around to deliver the credit cards to people's houses in person.  This sounded really labor intensive for an employee of a bank to hand deliver credit cards.  He explained that he takes a digital camera with him and when a person accepts a credit card, he takes a photo of the credit card next to the completed and signed application form.  He then takes a picture of the person and then after he leaves he takes a picture of the outside of their house.  I was pretty surprised by all this and told him in the USA you get Visa and MasterCards sent to you in the mail totally unsolicited, without you ever even requesting one.  He asked how the credit card companies protect themselves from fraud, and I just shrugged.  I told him you do have to activate the card using your home phone number so I guess this gives them a certain amount of security.  I told him what I really didn't like was that your credit card bill would always come with several blank checks with your name, address and account number on them.  I always thought that was very risky to have these blank checks going out with every credit card bill.  Alberto said that his bank wanted to be sure whoever was applying for the card was really the person they said they were.  I talked about "credit checks" in the USA and it seems that Argentina has several versions of doing electronic credit checks, but there are several competing systems and they don't share information amongst themselves so there is no one central data base to verify and check a persons information.

As we talked and practiced our English and Spanish I thought it was funny that Alberto had problems pronouncing some words.  He was having a real problem with "stewardess" and "introduced".  Made me feel a little better about my terrible Spanish pronunciation.

He then asked me to try and explain the word "even" to him.  The example in his English book was, "No one was at the front desk, not EVEN a porter."  This got me really thinking, "How DO you explain that??"  I looked in the Spanish / English dictionary and there were over 2 whole columns in the dictionary explaining "even".  This made me feel a little better that it isn't so easy to explain.  Alberto read all the suggested Spanish translations for "even" and afterwards looked at me and said, "We don't use this word!"  He then had me to try to explain "already", as in, "Mary showed up at the house and Billy was ALREADY there."  I sighed, it was time for a break.  Alberto asked me if we had any mate and I said, "Of course!"  Mate is a non-alcoholic (non-narcotic) tea like drink that is very much a part of Argentina's cultural heritage.  Ron had bought a decorative gourd and bombilla straw for drinking mate when we first moved here, but we hadn't used it for awhile.  I gave Alberto the gourd and said that I would just use a tea cup because my gourd had dried out and split.  Alberto kept saying (all in Spanish of course!), "No, No, No, we have mate together!  You mean you've never had mate with another Argentine?"  I knew of the custom but had never actually had mate together.  You're supposed to have mate with another person or group of people by filling the gourd almost to the top with the mate leaves, you then fill the gourd with hot water, and maybe stir in a little sugar.  The bombilla straw filters out the mate leaves as you drink the tea.  You drink the gourd down to the bottom and then fill it with more hot water and then hand it to the next person, who then drinks it down, fills it and then hands it to the next person.  I've read that a whole family will have mate together, always drinking the mate down, refilling the gourd and then passing it onto the next person.

Alberto slowly filled the gourd with mate as he heated the water, he looked a little doubtful as he asked how old the mate was.  I thought maybe it goes stale after awhile but he assured me it should be fine.  He tested the water and said it was to hot, so he added cold water to the kettle, he continued this almost ritualistic ceremony and then finally filled the gourd and tasted it.  He proclaimed everything in order and we took the mate gourd, sugar and hot kettle out to the balcony for us to enjoy our mate.  We continued looking over his English book as he would ask me questions and I'd lamely try to explain certain aspects of English grammar use, all the time drinking the mate together.  I can see why this custom became popular in their culture, it's a very nice tradition to share a hot drink together and a great way to build friendship.

Sunday December 9th - Our friend Tomas through a holiday party.  The people were almost entirely Argentine, but it was kind of hard to converse because it was pretty noisy, with music playing.  Not very conducive to our poor Spanish, but we muddled through and had a great time.

Wednesday December 12th - There were 2 strikes scheduled for this week (I think it's weird that they "schedule" strikes) to protest what is going on in the economy.  The other night everyone was supposed to take a pot lid outside at 9pm and bang it like a drum as part of the protest.  It was weird to hear the clanking sounds echoing between the buildings.  I know someone who teaches English here and she said the school she works at is laying off teachers because when times are tough, the businesses are cutting back and don't send their employees to learn English.  But.............. she's still working, so there are jobs out there. 

Friday December 14th - I wanted to give our porteros (doormen) a Christmas card with a few dollars in it and also the guy at the gym who takes care of our bags while we're working out.  I asked Ron to buy a few XMas cards to put the money in.  I then composed something in Spanish to put in the cards, I came up with the following, "¡Feliz Navidad! Buena salud y felicidad para usted y su familia, buenos deseos por el Año Nuevo que viene! (su yankee amigos)" I'm not sure if it's totally correct, but I'm sure they'd get the idea.  Since we were busy getting ready for our Antarctic cruise, we probably weren't going to make it to the gym before we went, so Ron went to run a few errands and stopped by the gym and gave Rua his card.

The weather had been really nice and the summer heat hadn't started yet.  Our apartment doesn't have air conditioning so it's hard to have a dinner party in the summer months, unless of course we all want to sit around in our underwear in front of the fan.  I decided to have a dinner party before we left on the cruise because I figured when we returned on December 28th the summer heat will have kicked in full force.  I invited Diego, Ricardo, Jorge, Thomas, and Felipe.  Luckily it was a nice cool evening and we had a wonderful time.  My friend Alberto, who I practice Spanish with, called to wish us happy holidays and a good time on our trip.  I thought that was really nice of him.  Ron also surprised me by making a German Chocolate Cake to serve for dessert.

Saturday December 15th - I worked on the website to get it updated with my mom's visit before leaving for Antarctica the following morning.  Being a typical procrastinator, I waited packing until about 11pm at night.  Ron had done most of the real packing, rubber boots, wool socks, sweaters, etc.  I just needed to pack the clothes I was going to wear.  We both got to bed after 1am.

Our Antarctica Adventure!!
I’m sorry that there are so many photos,
I started out with over 1,200 digital photos and could only whittle it down to 275, I groaned in agony over every picture I deleted, I loved them all!

Sunday December 16th - Ron got up very early for our trip, he always does that, he's a real nervous Nelly whenever we're going on a trip.  We showered and gave the cats a big belly rub and scratch behind the ears.  I thought, "Aw, this will be our first XMas that we won't be with our pussy cats!", Scarlett and Lorretta did not seem that sentimental about it.  Our flight down to Ushuaia was only 3 hours 20 minutes.  Ushuaia is at Tierra del Fuego, translated as "End of the Earth".  For being at the bottom of the world, I was impressed with the large and modern airport.  We waited for our luggage and 2 pieces came out very quickly, but then we were waiting for the last largest suitcase.  This is the suitcase that had all of our large warm clothing, sweaters and rubber boots.  All pieces of luggage are important, but this one was especially so.  We waited and everyone else received all their luggage, I was getting a little worried when it finally came through.  As we were leaving the customs official wanted us to open the suitcase, Ushuaia is still Argentina but I gather they only have one airport, not a domestic and international one, so we took our bags over to the customs area and opened it up.  Of course, like everyone in the world when they travel, the bag was packed extremely tight and the official started digging around in it.  He first pulls out several plastic sectioned containers of vitamins and asked what they were.  Ron had also brought several bags of peanuts for us to munch on while playing cards, the peanuts were wrapped in foil wrappers and when the customs official pulled it out it looked like a big brick of contraband.  Ron thinks they must have X-Rayed the bag and wanted to have a look at what that big mass of foil was holding.  The official left us pass while the guard was saying, "Gracias, muy amable!"  (Thank you, very nice!)  We grabbed a taxi to our hotel and checked in.  The hotel was on the outskirts of town and was beautiful.  We walked around the grounds of the hotel to check out the scenery and damn if Priscilla didn't say, "Hey, I know you guys!"  What a small world, we had met Priscilla at Agueda's birthday party a few months before.  We caught up on things and then we remembered that the concierge said that they have a free shuttle that goes into town every two hours so we said, "See you later!" and grabbed the shuttle into town.  I've never been to Alaska, but that's what it felt like in Ushuaia.  The town was actually a pretty good size, nestled between Beagle Canal, a large channel that runs to the ocean, and the mountains.  We walked up and down the main drag then stopped in a cafe to have a chopp and a sandwich to tide us over till dinner.  We went back to the hotel and had a little nap before dinner.  We had been running on fumes most of the day.  When we got up at 8:30pm for dinner it still looked like it was noon.  The sun was very bright and still high in the sky.

                                   This was 11:30 pm

Monday December 17th - Had a wonderful sleep in our hotel room, but I awoke at about 4am and it was fully daylight.  With being so far south it's strange to have the long daylight hours.  We had breakfast in the hotel and then headed into town on the free shuttle.  The little shuttle van was filled with 14 people, the maximum it could carry.  One couple had a young 1.5 year old and as we were chatting away the child gave a little burp and spit up a little.  Next came another louder burp with a more substantial up spit.  We all gave our own silent secret prayer when the kid turned in the Exorcist and started projectile vomiting.  The young couple spoke perfect Spanish and asked the driver to pull over as the kid continued to upchuck a constant stream of goo.  How much could fit into such a little tummy?  We thought it would be a good idea to walk the rest of the way into town.  As we all got out of the van, Ron went over to the kid and gave him the thumbs up and said, "Way to go kid, you cleared out the whole van!"  The mother gave a relieved laugh.  What more can you do?  We got into town and bought a few more essentials we didn't have time to buy in Bs.As.  Who would have thought to pack long underwear when we moved to Bs.As.?  We stopped in a sporting goods store and bought some thermal underwear, not the thick and warm stuff we used to put on when we went sledding as kids, but new high tech stuff.  It was very thin but a fellow customer who could speak very good English said it was just what we needed.  I'm a big sissy when it comes to cold weather and I was worried that I wouldn't have proper long johns so I thought it was a good investment.

As we were walking around town I was thinking of things we should have and zip lock bags sprung to the top of my list.  We asked around to where the local supermarket was but they didn't have zip lock bags, what they did have, however, and probably more importantly, was "Tres Plumas Cognac".  A very reasonable, VERY GOOD cognac.  Ron bought 2 bottles for the trip.

We still had a few hours before boarding the Russian Icebreaker, the Kapitan Dranitsyn, so I thought it a good idea to stop for lunch.  I had heard that the crab was very good in Ushuaia so I wanted to have a crab lunch.  There was a real tiny restaurant called "La Casa de los Mariscos" or "House of Shellfish".  It was very small and very quaint and looked very good.  We sat down and I asked the waiter for a recommendation on his favorite crab dish, I was not disappointed.  Ron ordered a shellfish stew and I ordered crab with parmesan.  It was in a light wine sauce with parmesan cheese broiled on top.  I thought the cheese a little overpowering at first, but after a few bites the flavors melted into a symphony of perfection.  I was a very happy boy!

We walked down to the pier and waited for our time to board the ship, 15 minutes before we were supposed to be able to get on it started to rain.  This wasn't a great sign to start off a trip through Drake's Passage.  Luckily it didn't rain hard and stopped after a few minutes.

                             We saw the boat at the pier!

Boarding the boat we waited in a corridor to check in, all the name plates on doors, panels and controls were in Russian.  Very interesting.  I asked Ron about it and he said it was the Cyrillic alphabet.  "How many characters are in the Cyrillic alphabet", I asked.  "Twenty three!", Ron responded.  That didn't seem like many since very few of the characters were recognizable.  I really liked the double backwards K, "Ж", what a cool character.  I threw our day packs in the room and rushed to go outside and see the deck of the ship. 


We noticed the chairs were all strapped to the floor, not a good sign knowing we
had to cross through Drake's Passage, one of the worst bodies of water in the world!

We saw Priscilla and her beau Peter on deck and talked with them awhile.  She was a little apprehensive about crossing Drake's Passage but we tried to put her mind at ease, when she asked about boats capsizing, she said, "They always right themselves, right??", Ron hesitated and I said, "Just say YES Ron!", to which he goes, "Oh YEA, the ship always rights itself if it flips over in a storm!"

They did a little orientation in the auditorium and we had the mandatory lifeboat drills.  The lifeboats looked like self contained plastic tubes, VERY claustrophobic, but I'm sure better then the alternative.

 During the orientation the ships doctor said that you should be taking some kind of motion sickness pill if you're susceptible to motion sickness.  I've never been sea sick, but then again I've never passed Drake's Passage so we went back to talk to him later.  He said it's cheap insurance to take something, so take something we did.


Our first sunset, this was at 12:30 am

That night I slept with the window open in the cabin but I kept dreaming of big waves coming crashing threw the window.  The had also told us that we would be leaving Beagle Channel for the open seas around 2 am, so be sure to have everything secured before you went to bed.  Sure enough I awoke to good rolling around 2:30am, not too bad, I actually like the rolling of the seas but I kept having dreams of water crashing through the open window.

Tuesday December 18th - Woke up relieved to find that water hadn't come crashing through the window.  Had breakfast and then headed off for the first lecture "Seabirds of the Southern Ocean" followed by "South Light - Photography in Antarctica", then lunch, then another lecture "Birth of a new Ocean - Plate-tectonic origin of the Scotia Sea and Scotia Ridge", next came afternoon tea then a National Geographic video of "Life in the Freezer".  Because we're crossing Drake's passage there wasn't much to see or do on the sea so they had the day filled with lectures.  I wanted to get some fresh air so we walked to the bow of the boat, one of the really cool things about this boat is that they say it's pretty open, you can go just about anywhere you like.  The bridge is the widest part of the boat and it's also open for us to walk around in.  We walked to the bow when we were in Beagle's Channel but this was something else entirely as we were now in open waters.  The bow has channel barricades that channel the water off the bow during heavy seas, I noticed that the "access" areas where the water would be channeled off the deck were big enough for either of us to fit through if we slipped on the deck and plunge into the sea.  We got to the very front of the boat and leaned over, WOW!  How magnificent!  The seas weren't rough, but neither were they calm.  Every minute we'd hit a good wave and a huge wave of water would be redirected outwards in front of the boat.  The color was incredible.  I told Ron, "I've NEVER seen an ocean that color!", and he said, "No, that's the color of the Pacific ocean."  Another big, BOOOOOM, and another wave of water would be directed outwards towards the front, and I would repeat, "I've never seen water that color, that is the color you see when you look at pictures of icebergs."  It's VERY dark blue, but with an internal luminescence.

We returned in time to enjoy happy hour at the bar, then dinner.  It's fun to eat with someone different with each meal and find out how we all came to be in Antarctica at the same time.

Wednesday December 19th - There was a presentation on how to get in and out of the Zodiacs and how the helicopter rides would be organized.  This was to be our first landing today, however, when we got to Penguin Island the wind conditions were almost 35 miles an hour so we continued on to the next destination.  Ron and I donned our parkas and went up on the observation deck to look at the waves and be pummeled by the high winds.  When we got up to the deck there was one of the crew with a hand held wind gauge, basically a stick about a meter long with the wind cups spinning around in a big blur.  He was watching a stop watch intently and after a minute he swooped the stick down and grabbed the cups to stop them from rotating.  It was then that I saw the stick had a counter on it that counted the rotations.  It's strange, you would think that with all the instrumentation on board that they wouldn't rely on a hand held wind gauge, maybe it's to double check their electronic instruments, maybe it's to give the crew experience doing things the "old" way, or maybe it's just meant to keep the crew busy doing something.  This ship was commissioned in 1980 so it's only 21 years old, but looking at the instrumentation it looks surprisingly ancient.  I guess it's the "stereotypical" Russian design of the controls, not meant to please the eye but practical and functional, they all look they had been designed and built 50 years ago.



More bridge photos

Because they cancelled our first landing, they had another lecture on the Nordenskjold Expedition of 1901 - 1902 that visited the area we are now in.  It was very fascinating and really gave an interesting expectation for what we were about to see.  I took my laptop with us on this trip so that I could try and keep my journal up to date so that I can capture lots of what we're experiencing and also have it already for then we get back home on December 28th.  Right now the seas are rocking the boat pretty good and every once in awhile I have to grab the laptop and my chair as it all slides from one end of the desk to the other.

We entered the "Antarctic Sound", an area between the Trinity Peninsula of Antarctica and Joinville Island.  During the winter the bay is locked in ice, but during summer the huge ice flows break apart and huge chunks of the the surrounding glaciers break off and send HUGE icebergs floating in the channel.  The icebergs were just amazing as everyone rushed up to the observation deck area to see them.  The huge icebergs were unbelievably majestic and beautiful and the blue coloring in the bergs is just fantastic.



More Antarctic Sound photos

Thursday December 20th - Today we made a landing at Snow Hill Island, the same place that we learned about yesterday in the Nordenskjold expedition lecture.  It was overcast and snowing but there was very little wind so it was a great landing.  Since it was our first landing, I was worried if I had dressed warmly enough but it turned out to be perfect.  We hiked around and explored the original cabin that Nordenskjold and 5 other men lived in for 22 months.  They were supposed to have been there for only one winter and then picked up by a boat the following year, the problem was the following year was a bad winter combined with a weak summer that didn't allow the pickup ship to reach them, hence the reason that Nordenskjold  was trapped there another year.  Ron returned early to the boat but I wanted to spend as much times as I could on shore.  As our time was running out I started heading for the Zodiac boats.  I saw a few people looking at 2 penguins, the first ones we got to see up close.  I just stopped and enjoyed watching their funny gate and curious actions.  I had friends who took a similar cruise in the past and they had told me, "Don't freak out when you see your first penguins, soon enough they'll be surrounding you!"  There were only 2 of them, but it was still exciting to see them, they did seem quite interested in us so I sat down on the snow to watch them.  One of the penguins actually came quite close to me but I didn't want to scare him or her off by reaching for my camera so I just enjoyed watching them.  After they waddled off I could just imagine them saying to each other, "I saw my first human, oh boy, oh boy, I say my first human!"



More Snow Hill Island photos

We then had lunch, this is a cruise after all and the food has been outstanding.  I thought that since this was an "adventure" cruise that the food would be simple or buffet style.  Instead it's turned out to be very good, we're all putting on lots of extra pounds.

We had another lecture from our geologist Art on what we thought was titled "Ice is Nice".  Turns out during the lecture we discovered that ice sheets are actually considered a mineral so the title of the lecture is really, "Ice is Gneiss".  Gneiss (pronounced Nice) is a mineral, geologist humour, you never heard so many groans when Art did a belly laugh on that one.

On the way to our next landing we again passed through the "Antarctic Sound" where the big tabular ice bergs are.  You are going to get sick of me saying this, but you just can't believe how magnificent this is.  It is just beyond words.  The bergs can be SO HUGE, and the colors are outstanding.  I just stood on the observation deck and stared, I had no idea what I was thinking about, but I was content to just stand and soak it all in, it was just fantastic!

Our next landing was Paulet Island where there is the largest rookery known, over 600,000 coupled penguins that are nesting and rearing their young.  Before getting on the Zodiac both Ron and I headed to the cabin to don 3 pairs of socks, thermal underwear we bought in Ushuaia, then cotton sweats, then our blue jeans, then water resistant pants.  I put on an under shirt, long sleeve cotton shirt, sweater, fleece jacket and then our Arctic parkas.  With all this stuff on you feel like the Michelin Man and you can't even bend your legs to put on  your rubber boots.  We got on the Zodiacs and headed for shore.  The amount of penguins was unbelievable.  They are everywhere, covering the hills of this area of the island.  Our guides told us they were good climbers and it shows in how they were far up in the hills.  At first you want to stop and watch each penguin, but that's like trying to watch every person in a crowded subway station.  The penguins are hilarious and not frightened at all of you, they're actually quite curious of you.  Of course if you move quickly they shy away but if you just sit on the rocks they come right up to you.  We walked along the shore and you could see their rookeries.  They like to build their nests out of small pebbles and you could see many penguins with chicks nestled between their legs, some of the chicks were quite large and barely fit under their parent, others looked like they were born yesterday.  The guides cautioned us not to get to close to the nests because if the parent was scared off it could leave the chick open and defenseless and scawl birds would swoop down and grab the chick for a meal.  As we walked among the penguins you could see the scawl birds swooping overhead.  We even walked by one of the large scawl birds that was munching on the contents of a penguin egg.  As you can imagine, 1,200,000 penguins do leave a distinct odor, something you don't get when you see them on the Discovery channel.  As we ventured back away from the ocean it became rather pungent.  We walked past the constructed house from the party that was shipwrecked when trying to pick up the Nordenskjold expedition, this small house held 22 men over a winter.



More Paulet Island photos

We sat on the beach and watched the penguins for a 1/2 hour, it was truly amusing to watch them jump out of the water so gracefully onto ice flows, but when they came to shore they'd stumble, trip and do face plants in the rocks, trying to walk and jump back up to their nests on the hills and bluffs.

We got back to the ship, had another nice dinner and then Ron and I headed for the bar for an after dinner martini.  We were banging through some pretty thick ice chunks so after the drink I ran up to the observation deck and watched the ship break through big chunks of ice. 



More Big Ice photos

Something about the ship breaking through ice reminds me of being a kid going to school and stepping in all the frozen mud puddles and breaking the ice.  It's truly amazing.  When I was on shore I tried to pickup a block of ice that was only 2 feet long and it easily weighed over 100 lbs.  Here was this ship breaking through ice flows that were at least 8 feet thick with barely a noticeable nudge in the ship as it sent these big sheets of ice skating out of our way.

I got back to the cabin, grabbed a drink of cognac and typed up our days adventure.  It's now almost midnight and as I look out the window of our cabin it still looks very light with beautiful violet in the clouds.  Being so close to the Arctic circle it's only dark for a few hours each night.

Friday December 21st - Summer solstice!  We were supposed to do a landing at Devil Island but they decided instead to do helicopter rides, I guess the weather was better for doing that.  It was clear and there was not a lot of wind.  They had us divided into groups for the rides and we were one of the first groups to go up.  Ron and I were to get in the back, and 3 other guys were to get in the front.  The helicopter was Russian made (of course) and the smell of diesel and exhaust as we entered the helicopter was kind of strong.  We quickly buckled in and put on ear protectors as the helicopter swooshed off the platform.  The pilot made a buzz around the ship and then headed out over some pack ice.  After  a minute or so the helicopter was losing altitude and getting very close to the water, I could hear the noise of the motors changing pitch and I suddenly looked at the door to see if I could open it if I had to.  I wasn't worried about ditching the helicopter, but my dad taught me to be prepared and to be aware of my surroundings.  All of the directions on the door and inside the aircraft were written in Russian and the door handle did not look intuitively obvious on how to open it.  I looked out the window and realized why the pilot was flying so low, he was going to set down on one of the ice flows.  We gently touched down for a few seconds and then took off again, I don't think he actually rested the full weight of the aircraft on the ice as it may have cracked it.  At the completion of the flight, coming off the helicopter we were all grins, giving thumbs up to those waiting for their turn.  It was very fun.  After the first visions of the huge icebergs in Antarctic Sound 2 days previous I said then that if I went home after that I would have thought the trip was worth it.  As the days go on it just keeps getting better and better.



More Helicopter Ride photos

We tried for a landing at Brown Bluff but there were strong winds, at first, our guide Jonas thought we could get ashore safely but the winds quickly picked up to 40 knots or 50 miles per hour making the Zodiac boats a little unsafe (in his words).

They have afternoon tea, with desserts of course, everyday at 4pm.  I've purposely skipped the last 2 days because the last thing I need is to eat more, but today I decided to go.  We had heard rumors that the Argentine president had resigned but it all seemed like 3rd party removed rumors, however, this morning we heard there had been rioting.  We checked out the daily news articles posted on the bulletin board and sure enough it appears that the president, Fernando de La Rua, had resigned and there had been rioting where 20 people were killed.  We received this information from a small one paragraph news update column, I wish I had more information.

We headed out to the west part of the Antarctic peninsula.  We again passed through the Antarctica Sound where the huge tabular icebergs are, I again went up to the observation deck to just watch in awe as they passed by the ship.  The winds were very strong, but there is just something about standing there with the wind whipping about you and the huge city block sized icebergs passing by, WOW!  ¡Qué Bueno!

We had a "recap" meeting where Jonas, our team leader, told us what we hoped to accomplish tomorrow.  Some ass started talking about why were we wasting time when we should be headed for the Arctic circle.  It's obvious to me that Jonas is there as our team guide to be sure that we get maximum enjoyment from the trip, nobody can control weather conditions, so Jonas is constantly adjusting schedules for our benefit.  This idiot was basically arguing with him in front of the entire cruise party about reaching some "point" on a map just to say we've been there at the expense of missing many landings at interesting points.  After a period of time of Jonas trying to nicely explain the choices he was making, a woman raised her hand to say that she was in favor of Jonas' decision to possibly forgo reaching the Arctic circle in favor of doing more landings per day, instead of being at sea for 2 days straight to try and reach the circle.  This brought a round of applause.

Jonas did mention that tomorrow we were going to have a 4:30 am wake up call for our first landing.  Someone almost immediately asked WHY??  He explained that this is an unprotected beach and the only good time to approach it was very early before the wind picked up.  He also said that if the wind was bad he wouldn't wake us up and we would continue onto our next landing.  Jonas is a fun, likeable, attractive guy in his mid 30's, he is no cruise director but a seasoned naturalist who knows his stuff.  However, when he comes on the P.A. intercom he puts on his Don Purdue radio voice to tell us of our next scheduled event, (put on your best Don Purdue radio voice here) "Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed that wonderful lunch of Chilean Sea Bass and exotic pastries, please show up for Art's lecture on 'Why don't Continents just stay Put Instead of Wandering All About' lecture in the lecture hall in 10 minutes, Thank YOU!"  When he asked if there were any more questions, someone asked him if he could possibly be less enthusiastic when he gave us our 4:30am wake up call the next morning.

Dinner tonight was a special Russian dinner menu.  We were met at the entrance of the dining area with a shot of very good, ice cold vodka and a chance to clink our glass with our Kapitan.  We then had Borscht soup and a choice of pink salmon, "Vladivostok", beef stroganoff (no cool Russian name) or the vegetarian white cabbage roll "Moscow" (yuck!).  We sat in the wrong section again and had the Russian ice princess, Lucia, for our waitress.  This is a very pretty woman who has a really bad disposition.  Most of the servers are very pleasant but Lucia won't crack a smile and shoves the menu at you saying ZOOP??  DAYZERT??  This might be Russian efficiency, or it might just be from being a bad waitress.  I hope it's the latter.  Ron did comment on her festive vest she was wearing for Russian night and that seemed to get a smile out of her.  I hope it wasn't a strain on her pained, permanently frowned facial muscles.

Saturday December 22nd - The 4:30 am wake up call never came, at 6:30am Jonas came on the PA system and said that when they got to Baily Head on Deception Island, it was too windy even at 4:30 am for safe landings on the beach.  I had set my alarm for 4:30 am just so I would be ready before Jonas' enthusiastic voice came over the PA system, but when he didn't announce anything, I happily snuggled down in my bed for more sleep.  Of course if he had called us at 4:30 I would have gotten up, it isn't worth sleeping in to miss a landing, but just the same Jonas said it would be a wet landing because the beach is facing the ocean and is unprotected.  I was happy for Jonas to make the call and for me to not get freezing wet at 5am.

During the 6:30 am PA briefing, Jonas mentioned to come up deck for entering Deception Island through Neptune's Bellows, a narrow straight into the protected bay.  It is a little tricky navigating the entry point to the island so if you were to go to the bridge area you were requested to remain silent and out of the way of the Kapitan and his crew as they navigated through the narrow channel.  I preferred to be on top of the bridge in the open outdoor observation area.  I just love to have the cold wind whipping around me and to have an unobstructed view of the beautiful sites. 

Once inside the bay we all went down for breakfast before our landing.  The Zodiacs then started shuttling people to shore.  This is a volcanic island that was previously used as a whaling processing plant, over the years it changed to a scientific base but was semi-destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 1967 and 1969.  The ground still produces hot water in it so the crew dug some holes in the sand and it filled with hot water.  Jonas told us ahead of time that if we wanted to, we could put on a suit under our all weather gear and take a dip in the hot pool.  Ron and I put on our suits just in case we wanted to do it, but we were going to wait till we got there before we committed to jumping in.

We got onto shore and first followed our cute French guide, Delphine, to a point called Neptune's Window.  This is a natural break in the mountains that we hiked up to get a view of the open ocean on the other side.  We then walked back towards some buildings that were part of the whale processing plant.  As we passed by Jonas and another crew member where digging the hot tubs and one hearty soul was already enjoying the water.  We continued on and saw some abandoned buildings and an airplane hanger. 

I was then ready to take the plunge.  People were taking their clothes off everywhere you looked!  Most folks were first running into the arctic water in the bay and diving under, then heading for the warm tubs.  I really didn't want to dive in Arctic water, but since everyone else was doing it I felt kind of group pressured.  Our Russian Kapitan jumped in the water and actually swam back to shore.  Gasps could be heard all around!  Crazy Russians!  Ron dived in first and quickly jumped into the dug pits. 



More Deception Island and Arctic Hot Tub photos

Then it was my turn.  You feel a little silly taking off all your clothes while others are still bundled up in their Arctic parkas.  I knew if I thought about it I'd chicken out so I just ran into the bay without feeling how cold it was.  As I dove under the water, it was kind of like having razor blades all over your body, I then rushed into the hot tub.  There wasn't a lot of room but I slid in as best I could, by then the sides of the pools were starting to sink back in towards the middle so the pools weren't very deep.  You had to kind of lay low and splash warm water over your body.  Several guys left another pool next to mine and they said it was really hot so I slid over into the other pool.  It was weird but if you dug down with your foot just 6 inches into the sand, it was really hot!  Getting out, dried off and redressed was the hardest part.  Putting on several layers of clothes was hard enough while you're in your own cabin, but on a beach where you're trying not to get ground lava rock in everything you're wearing it's even tougher.  As I was trying to get the black lava sand off my feet you could feel the cold start setting in.  We soon got back to the boat and took a hot shower to clean off the sulfur smell and black lava sand from between our toes.

We had a nice lunch then off again for Hannah Point on Livingston Island.  Our clothes barely had time to dry.  We took a long Zodiac ride to shore and Ron asked Jonas if he got paid by the mile for taking us out there.  Jonas said that the ship couldn't go in any closer because they were in unchartered waters, there used to be a glacier here!  The ride was long but enjoyable (insert ominous music here).  We got to shore just as it started to snow pretty heavily.  There were penguins everywhere and they directed us at some Macoroni penguins that were nesting.  The Macoroni are hard to find in this area and you could tell that Jonas was proud that he has observed the numbers have been increasing. 

                       The Macoroni penguin is the one                                    See the chicks under the parents?
                 on the right with the yellow crown feathers.                        Some are small and others are a lot larger.

More Hanna Point on Livingston Island photos


We headed down the beach to see more rookeries and also go on a mile walk with our guide Melanie to see some elephant seals and some fossils at the end of the hike.  Walking along was great because the wind was at our back; big, wet snow flakes swirled by as we walked.  I felt nice and cozy in my warm clothes as the snow blizzard around me.  However, I was thinking the walk back wasn't going to be much fun as the snow would then be right in our faces.  We passed some enormous elephant seals snoozing on the beach, they would occasionally let out huge disgusting burping noises, I'm not sure if they were really burping, or if that was some kind of warning bark.  You could see them open their mouth as they let this low rumble emanate from somewhere deep within them and you could see a vapor trail that had the diameter of a dinner plate come out of them as they did this.  Every once in awhile 2 of them would start rearing up and trying to bite one another, this looked like some kind of male aggression thing. 

We got to the end of the walk and Melanie was describing the fossils there.  Our resident geologist, Art, arrived and was talking about the geological formations around us.  Someone asked him where the huge boulders came that were surrounding us, and he pointed up to the top of the hill in front of us and said, "They rolled down from that cliff."  Ron just thought this was hilarious.  Sometimes things have really easy answers.  We walked back and enjoy more penguins.  By the time we were ready to go back the seas and wind had picked up.  This was the ominous music I was talking about on the trip out there, now things were much different.  Somehow, as these things often happen, I ended up on the front of the boat on the high wind side, the waves were quite large and the pilot of the Zodiac told us to prepare to get wet.  Spray was coming over the front of the boat and I was getting pretty wet, but I was really having a great time.  With all my layers on I was still warm but luckily the trip was only about 20 minutes as everyone was getting wetter by the second.  As you enter the ship there is something they call the "Mudroom".  They have a place on deck to wash and spray the penguin doodoo off your boots, but then in the MudRoom you can hang-up your wet things to dry because it's heated.  There were lots of clothes hanging up in the mudroom this afternoon.  We went back to the room and hung socks, gloves, hats, underwear, etc. from every available hook.  We then headed straight for the bar.  The drink of the day was a banana margarita, sounded great, but the execution of the recipe had something to be desired.  The next drink we ordered was a regular margarita which was much nicer.  We headed up to the lecture hall for a "recap" of the day and Jonas got a big applause when he asked how our day went.  He then said we'd have a 5:30 am wake up call the following morning.  We're going to have 3 landings, all in protected bays.  So the good news is we probably won't get wet and we'll probably go on all 3 landings.  The bad news is that we'll probably go on all 3 landings and we're going to be more exhausted at this time tomorrow then we are right now. 

Off for another feeding.  The seas have been getting rough again.  When the seas are rough and there's lots of rolling they wet the table clothes down in the dining room so things don't slide back and forth.  It actually works quite well.  Since it was calm all day, when we sat down for dinner the table clothes were dry, a real luxury, eating on a wet table cloth is kinda weird.  We were eating dinner and Ron asked for a wine bucket to hold our wine from tipping over even though we were drinking red wine.  Right in the middle of cutting a piece of food the ship took a good roll and my glass of wine started tipping.  I grabbed it but not before splashing the table cloth with a good splash of red wine.  I apologized to our Russian waitress and she just smiled and said, "This is normal for me, things spill all the time!"

Since we have another early morning tomorrow we headed back to the cabin.  I grabbed another cognac and am now typing this up as the seas are rolling pretty good.  I actually like the feeling of the ship pitching back and forth, I just have to grab the laptop and my drink every few minutes when we hit a good swell.

Sunday December 23rd - We had our 5:30 am wake up call, showered and then headed for breakfast.  After breakfast Jonas came on the PA again and said that there was a lot of pack ice around the Argentine scientific station Almirante Brown in Paradise Bay and he wasn't sure if we'd be able to get to the station to visit it and make our first continent landing.  The night before at the recap meeting Jonas said that we were almost guaranteed a landing as they haven't been shut out of the station because of weather conditions for the last 3 years.  I guess you shouldn't give guarantees in Antarctica.  He asked us to wait while he went out in a Zodiac to check out the ice pack and see if the Zodiacs could get through it.  After a brief visit to the observation deck on top of the ship, the wind picked up and it got pretty cold so we decided to go up to the enclosed bridge to observe from there.  We all watched Jonas head out alone in a Zodiac, then try and find a way through the pack ice.  He got about 30 feet into it and it looked pretty thick, he radioed back that he didn't think they could get through, or worse, if we did get through to the station, the wind might pick up which would tighten the ice even more making a return hazardous.  After deciding we weren't going to make a landing, it took him a little while to get back through the pack ice to return to the ship.  Although we had problems with the pack ice, the weather was pretty clear and the wind was still so Jonas announced that there would be helicopter rides, but within 10 minutes some dark clouds came out of nowhere and it started snowing like crazy killing visibility and our helicopter ride.  Next Jonas said we would just do glacier tours on the Zodiacs.  Sounds a little erratic, but you have to do what you can while you can.  We were on the second group of 4 Zodiacs to go out.  The glaciers are incredible when you get close to them and you can see chasms in the ice with the beautiful blue color apparently emanating from within, it's so beautiful!  There was an Italian man on our boat and he started whistling and Jonas told him to stop because whistling brings the wind.  He said it's an old myth, but he believes it.  There was also a Greek photographer on our boat so Jonas was being very kind by positioning the boat wherever he requested.  He even radioed another passenger boat to get into position for us in front of an iceberg to act as "props".



More Glacier Zodiac Tour Photos

We came back on board and we were to have a little time before lunch while we sailed to our next destination.  There was a PA announcement that they had spotted some killer whales in front of the ship so I raced up on deck to see them.  By the time I got there I only saw some whale fins and blow spray a few hundred yards off our stern.  I went back to take a 30 minute nap before lunch when Ron woke me after 15 minutes to tell me we were passing through Neumayer Channel, a spectacular site.  I reluctantly gave up my nap for the sake of another gorgeous Antarctic panorama and headed up to the open top observation deck, my favorite place.

The kitchen vents are near the observation deck so we could all smell lunch being prepared.  When you're on a cruise you get used to eating every few hours and since we had an early breakfast that day we were all ready to munch something.

After lunch, we barely had time to get on all of our layered clothing for our next stop at Port Lockroy.  Port Lockroy is comprised of Jougla Point and Goidier Island, both of which are home to numerous nesting gentoo penguins. 



More Jougla Point and Goidier Island photos

There is a gift shop and post office on Goudier Island where stamps and souvenirs can be purchased and mail sent through British mail with an Antarctic stamp.  We first landed at Port Lockroy and one of our guides, Kim, was heading off to start a trail through the loosely packed snow over a frozen ice sheet.  The snow was still soft and sometimes your foot would push through the snow till you were thigh deep in snow.  This looked like great fun so I followed behind Kim.  I purposely stepped in the snow between his footsteps to widen the walking path area for others to follow.  It was great to be breaking fresh snow like that.  After awhile we took the Zodiac over to the British base at Goidier Island.  We went into the little base that 3 people live in during the summer months and bought some stamps for postcards to have them postmarked "Antarctica".  The little letterbox had a British royal crown on top of it, we also bought some penguin T-Shirts.  Funny, but a postcard only costs $1 to be delivered to the USA, cheaper then when we mail things from Buenos Aires.

We got back to the Kapitan Dranitsyn and headed to the bar to have a drink and play some cards. 

We were returning back through the Neumayer Channel and the weather had cleared so it was fantastic.  Jonas came in twice to tell people sitting in the bar to get the hell outside (in a nice way) and see the fantastic view.  I grabbed my camera, made a quick run around the deck and snapped some pics.  Then back to the bar to sip my rum and Coke and finish our card game of 500.

Another recap meeting before dinner, these are meetings where everyone gets together in the lecture hall to ask questions about what happened during the day and to tell us what the "planned" schedule is for the following day.  Melanie got up to give us some facts about Antarctica.  It is the coldest (recorded temperatures being -129 degrees F.), highest (taking the average of all low points and high points, the USA is 2,000 feet, Antarctica is 7,000 feet), driest (deserts are areas with 10 inches of annual precipitation, Antarctica has less then 2" annual precipitation), windiest (measured wind speeds of 186 MPH) and the loneliest continent (most residents are scientists who are not permanent year long residents).

We had a nice dinner and then off for our last landing of the day at Neko Harbor for our FIRST landing on the actual continent of Antarctica.  This site is named for the floating whale factory ship Neko, which operated in the south Shetlands and Antarctic Peninsula from 1911 to 1924, and was often used in this bay.  There is also an unmanned Argentine refuge on site.  We walked up the mountain a bit for a spectacular view.  This is a great place to watch for glacier calvings, or when parts of glaciers break off into the water.  We sat in the snow and watched for quite awhile and heard several rumblings and saw some actual pieces falling off.  We were only there 1.5 hours but probably heard 6 or 8 rumblings and I witnessed 3 areas of activity, nothing spectacular like you may have seen in nature shows, but still wonderful.  Delphine said that even a small amount of movement can sound quite impressive, but I guess when you're dealing with such huge masses of weight that even a little movement is actually a lot of energy released.  After about 20 minutes of being reclined seated in the snow, my butt began to feel majorly numbed so I thought it wise to get up and walk around.  Can you get frostbite on your butt??



More Neko Harbour Photos

We returned to the boat and we again hung up our wet clothes all over the room.  It's now 11:46 pm but it is still very light outside, however, it's overcast or it would be even lighter.  Tomorrow we get to sleep in till 7am, Yipppeee!!!!!

Monday December 24th - We awake to very snowy and blistery weather.  We enter Lemaire Channel, a 7-mile long and one-mile wide passage running northeast to southwest.  It separates Booth Island from the Antarctic Peninsula.  It was discovered by Dallmann's German Expedition of 1873-4 and was first navigated by Gerlache in 1898.  Gerlache named the channel for Charles Lemaire who was a Belgian explorer of the Congo.

The morning weather wasn't cooperating so we missed our first excursion.  As we headed through the channel we came across another Quark Expeditions boat that had spotted an umpire penguin, usually not seen in this area.  We motored over and watched this lonely umpire penguin on the ice, bidding our time waiting for the weather to break.  The Kapitan broke a channel through some ice for the other ship (which wasn't an ice breaker) and we were going to Zodiac through the opened channel but the wind picked up and started to fill the channel to where they thought it might block the Zodiacs from returning.  Unlike the previous day where the weather changed every 10 minutes, this was staying consistently windy and overcast.



More Breaking Ice Photos

We started breaking more ice headed for Petermann Island.  Usually this time of year the ice is open to Petermann Island but this seems to be an unusual year for the ice pack and it's still quite thick. 

        This is looking forward breaking through a             This is looking aft, after we broke through
             channel they broke the week before,                           the ice, it was slow going.
              it had refrozen and was very hard!

The ship basically "stopped" and then we were able to get off the ship and walk to the island.  The going was quite rough though, one step would be solid, the next you would sink into the slushy snow with water coming dangerously near the top of your boot.  To top it off there was a driving horizontal, very wet snow almost causing a white out situation. 



More Petermann Island Hike Photos

We trudged over to the island and had a look around, then headed back to the ship.  As we neared the boat I slipped into a hole and sunk up to my thigh.  I quickly pulled up hoping not to get too much water in my boot, a few more minutes and I did the same thing with my other leg.  I'm glad this didn't happen on the way out there or I would probably have turned around and gone back.  As it was I was still pretty warm from the exertion of the hike even though I was pretty well soaked all the way through.  We got back to the ship and stripped off all our layers of clothes, I left most of my clothes in the mudroom to dry.  We went up to take a warm shower and then Ron headed for the library for afternoon tea.  I went up to look at the bridge to watch us crunch through the ice, my head soon became heavier then I could stand and I went back to the cabin for a nap.

We had just enough time to go to the bar and have a manhattan and play a few hands of cards before it was time for our daily "recap" meeting.  Jonas told us that 42 persons had made it ashore, more then they thought considering the conditions.

Europeans celebrate XMas on XMas eve so they had a special XMas dinner, 3 hours long with smoked salmon and caviar appetizer, clear consume, 1/2 lobster tail, then a champagne and sorbet palate cleanser, then beef wellington followed by a chocolate mouse with a thin cookie shaped like a falling star stuck in the top, all accompanied by free wine.  We were sitting near the Kapitan's table and someone had brought a special bottle of Vodka to celebrate with, after that was gone the Kapitan had another bottle of Vodka brought out.  Our dining room captain, Sepp, brought out the chefs and introduced us to them and they got a thunderous standing ovation.  One of the guests took the opportunity to thank our expedition team, Jonas and the Kapitan of the ship.  It was an awesome XMas dinner. 

The bar was really rocking afterwards and Bill, one of the guests, volunteered to be DJ and had the music blaring.  The chairs were cleared and lots of dancing and continued drinking.  We got back to the room at 2:30 am and it was still daylight out.

Tuesday December 25th - After going to bed so late, we woke up a little bleary eyed at the 6:30 am wake up call.  Jonas said Merry Christmas to everyone and told Katie she could now open her gifts.  Kate is 14 and is on this trip with her brother and grandparents and her grandmother had brought gifts for her to open, the other day you could tell she was anxious to open them as she was telling everyone she had gifts to open this morning.  After breakfast we headed off by helicopter to the Ukrainian Antarctic station Akademik Vernadsky at 65 degrees 15 minutes south, 64 degrees 16 minutes west. 

We first visited the original building which was gradually added onto over the years, you just can't help but wonder how it must have been to live there.  I looked at the well stocked bookcase and there was everything from physics textbooks to "The intimate and personal life of Queen Elizabeth" and "Suspenseful Spy Stories".



More Ukrainian Antarctic station Photos

We then walked over to the large and modern Ukrainian Antarctic station that replaced the original structure.  This was quite a large facility and included a recreation room, bar and pool table on the 2nd floor.  One of the smiling Ukrainians gave us a free shot of home made vodka.  It tasted pretty good and sent a nice warm feeling down to my tummy.  They also gave us a 1/2 slice of homemade bread with some kind of meat pate on it.  One of the guys who had been drinking vodka with the Kapitan last night wanted to buy him a bottle, but it was $30.  As soon as he said that we kind of went "Awwwww" and then he said, "OK, $25!"  Ron asked them how they made it and from what we could understand they made the vodka not from potatoes but from bread.  They seemed to be very happy to see people and Joe played a game of pool with them.  Jonas didn't tell us that they would have a little gift shop so not many people had money on them.  One guy traded his wrist watch for a wooden Ukranian sculpted penguin.

We took a tour through the ships engine room, quite impressive.  They showed us the desalination plant which looked pretty small, but generates enough water for the ship through reverse osmosis.  You just never realize what all the support systems, wires, valves, etc. do in a ship of this size.  They carry spare propeller blades that can be welded on by divers while at sea if necessary.



More Engine Room Photos

The pack ice was too thick for us to break through to the Antarctic Circle, with all 6 engines going, a total of 24,000 horse power, we were only making about 2 to 3 knots and we just wouldn't have time to get there before we had to turn around and return to Ushuaia.

Jonas decided to make one last continent landing at the Argentine scientific station Almirante Brown in Paradise Bay.  This is the landing we tried to do the other day but the pack ice was too thick to reach it by Zodiac.  This time we were able to get through and we all trudged up the side of a mountain. 



More Paradise Bay Photos

After our wet hike the day before, nobody was too thrilled about trudging through thigh deep snow again but once we got going everyone was enjoying it.  We made it to the top of the peak and it started snowing with huge flakes, it was a great XMas day.  Some of the younger kids started skidding down the mountain on their jackets.  As more people did it, it packed the snow down and started forming a good run.  Both Ron and I sailed down the mountain on the backs of our coats.  It was still snowing heavily, picture perfect, when snowballs started flying.  Waiting for the Zodiacs the snowballs were getting pretty thick.

We headed back to the ship where they had a BBQ on the back helicopter deck.  We had a very fancy dinner the night before but this time they had setup tables in the helicopter bay for us to eat our dinner.  I guess they thought Americans BBQ on XMas day.  It was great with lots of roasted meats, soups, sausages, hot mulled wine and cookies and cakes.  Some of the passengers created a song using the 12 days of XMas and stood up and serenaded all of us, "On the first day of XMas Jonas gave to me, an ice breaker in the Weddell Sea!"  It was quite clever and very XMassy as big wet flakes fell on all of us and we all sang through the 12 verses.  They had 12 people holding up cards with the different phrases for all of us to sing along.



More Chrismas BBQ Dinner Photos

They had a final champagne toast to Antarctica in the bar and the Kapitan gave a final toast.  Someone else spoke and said we weren't leaving till we heard a joke from Art, the geologist.  He's been telling bad jokes throughout the whole expedition.  Art came out of the library and said he wasn't sure if he could, but then he said, "You know?  That reminds me of a story....."  This is the beginning he has used on all his jokes and this brought a big roaring laugh from everyone.  He went on, "There was a geologist, a lawyer and a politician having a drink together in a bar and discussing whether it's better to have a mistress or a wife.  The lawyer said it's better to have a mistress because when you get tired of her you just leave her and find another without any strings attached.  The politician said it's better to have a wife to show stability and commitment to your voters.  The geologist said it's better to have both, that way the wife will think you're with the mistress and the mistress will think you're with the wife, and you can really be at the office doing research!"

Wednesday December 26th - We wake up to quite a bit of rolling, very common for the return to Ushuaia through Drake's passage.  I took a shower wedged in the corner of the stall, hoping not to get thrown about.  Breakfast was quite a balancing act as we tried to eat as things were tipping about.  During the passage through ocean, they have lectures scheduled throughout the day, first we heard Melanie on "Krill - The Foundation of the Southern Ocean", then Delphine on "Seals of the South".  The Kapitan had closed access to the bridge because of the rougher water and asked that we not go out on deck, so we were kind of limited to the lectures and peering out our cabin window.

As I'm writing the journal, I counted up the number of pictures I've taken and so far I have snapped 1216 digital pics of the trip.  I hope I can trim that down to the best 10% but I'm such a terrible editor and all the pictures look so great to me.  I'll have to get ruthless not to bore you with my zillion pictures.

Lunch consisted of soup and sandwiches as we're still being pitched about the ship.  The waves don't look that big but I think that because this is an icebreaker, it has a rounded bottom and small draft so the ship rolls quite a bit.



More Drake's Passage Photos

Kim gave a lecture on the Shackleton Endurance expedition that was riveting, then a National Geographic video of "Life in the Freezer, Part II".  Ron and I went down to the bar to have a gin and tonic (they didn't have Toro) and play some 500.  We had red wine with dinner and with the Dramamine I took I was totally tired so we went back to the cabin for an early turn in.

Thursday December 27th - With the Dramamine I had a nice long sleep.  The seas seem to be a bit calmer so breakfast was a little easier.  Off we head for Melanie's "Ozone - The "Hole" Story".  I swore off the Dramamine today because it made me so drowsy the day before and Melanie's talk on Ozone was very interesting. 

Since the seas were a little better this morning, the Kapitan reopened the bridge so we went up to the enclosed bridge and took some snaps of the waves breaking over the bow of the ship.  Shannon told me of a book she read called "The Center of the Seas" that has an account of the true tale of a whaling ship being sunk by an enraged sperm whale in the early 1800s and was the inspiration for "Moby Dick".

Art then gave a lecture on "Art of the Antarctic - Travels across Antarctica after the IGY (International Geophysical Year)"  Art has been visiting Antarctica since 1960 and told some stories of his experiences along with slides, very interesting.

We were hitting some pretty big rolling during lunch.  I felt sorry for our lunch companions Peter and Priscilla because they were both feeling pretty queasy, I on the other hand was quite enjoying the rolling action.  Unfortunately we had a really big roll and what sounded like a huge stack of plates fell over and shattered.  We joked that dinner was going to be on paper plates.

Next up was another episode of the National Geographic series "Life in the Freezer, Part III".  After the video we went up to the bridge and saw our first view of Cape Horn, the southern most island of South America.  The ship was rocking and I saw the degrees of tilt go up to 22 degrees.  Melanie said that they had recorded a tilt of 43 degrees earlier but all in all I thought the crossing was pretty easy, I think we lucked out.

Next there was a disembarkation briefing.  One of the couples we made friends with was Tom and Shannon.  Tom wanted to do a spoof on the crew as a kind of “going away” gift.  I thought this was hilarious but I couldn’t agree to be in it, I’m just very spontaneous with those kinds of things.  He enlisted the help of some of the other passengers and they had us howling at our last “recap” meeting.  I think the crew also enjoyed it as most of them were in tears as Tom spoofed Jonas and how he would draw maps on the white board.

For our last night they had a Kapitan’s cocktail party before dinner.  Ron and I had previously packed all of our things so we could go the bar after dinner and have a few last drinks with all the new friends we met.

It was an awesome trip!  After seeing the huge tabular icebergs in Antarctic Sound at the beginning of the trip I told Ron, “If we went home now, I’d feel the trip was worth the expense!”  But every day just brought new and exciting things to see, each topping the day before!  Friends who have done this trip before had told us, “You just can’t imagine how beautiful and magnificent it is until you’ve been there.”  Well, now I know what they mean!

Monday December 31st Jason and Michelle hosted another wonderful New Year’s Eve party at their spacious apartment just a few blocks from our house.  There weren’t as many guests as last year because a lot of people were worried about traveling because of the recent political demonstrations.  The party was wonderful and it was great to catch up with people we’ve met before and meet a few new people.  Just after midnight we walked over to a local park to shoot off some fireworks that Jason had bought, this park is small and only about 40 yards across and created by the junction of 3 intersecting residential streets.  Jason is just a big kid at heart and you could tell he was having a great time as he ran about lighting off fireworks while his wife called (from a safe distance away), “Jason, YOU be careful!!”  This is Argentina after all, so some of the fireworks he bought were truly amazing, almost the quality of a small town in rural USA.  Last year at this time there was a huge amount of people lighting off fireworks, but this year it was much different.  Whether it was the economy, people didn’t have the money to spend on fireworks, or just that with the changing of the presidents and the imminent collapse of their currency, it appeared that people didn’t feel like celebrating.  Jason on the other hand appeared to have spent quite a bit of money on his arsenal of fireworks.  He had some rockets that were about 10 inches long attached to wooden stakes that were 4 feet long.  When you lit them and they took off you could feel the force of the rocket against your chest as it tried to break orbit.  Then exploding with a huge BANG of noise and colored sparks!  I thought for sure someone was going to call the cops on us, but people started coming out of their apartments to watch.  Some courageous souls were even coming out on their balconies as the fireworks were exploding 20 feet over their heads.  The surrounding buildings were only about 7 stories high and the fireworks appeared to be going off just as they cleared the buildings.  My face hurt from laughing and cheering so much.  The finale was a box about 2 feet x 2 feet square that had about 100 tubes all next to each other.  I had no idea what to expect.  Jason lit the fuse and we all took a few steps further back, the instructions were, after all, written in Spanish.  I just hoped that we set the box down pointing the right way so we wouldn’t have rockets firing off towards the ground.  Each tube would eject a rocket, sending a stream of sparks into the sky and then explode, each one different.  Some were just loud KAPOWWWS, others were a dazzle of sparks, others were whistlers that seemed to go in a million different directions.  That one got a round of applause from the gathered crowd.