04
Jan

Grave of the Icebergs

By: muttler
lonely penguin

lonely penguin

26/12/2014

Boxing Day greeted us nice and early. Typical breakfast time has been 7:30-8:00, but this morning we were entering the Lemaire Channel at about 7:00am and we were advised that if we wanted to see some spectacular fjords, it would be wise to be up by then.

there's only one team in antarctica

there’s only one team in antarctica

So at about 6:45am Kate and I headed to the front deck to soak it in. As expected we were greeted with an incredible view. Not only was it that the sheer steepness of the sides of the channel were a wonder to behold, but also that looking up ahead toward the end of the 11km long passage, it looked like a VERY narrow exit.

We were actually advised the night before in our daily briefing that while the intention was to pass through the whole Lemaire Channel, it was a strong possibility that we would get some of the way in and find ice blocking our path and have to literally turn around and go another route. Looking down at the exit all I could see was ice. Hhhmmm.

At about 8:15 we arrived at the narrowest passage, and what would you know… we could make it through. In fact it was the first time this boat had made it through this season, so we were quite fortunate. It was touch and go there for a bit. But the ice made for spectacular drama.

Just the other side of the channel we made it to Pleneau Island. The weather was a bit grey and the snow had settled in well and truly. Rather than be a dampener, it made for quite a dramatic landscape. We had the option to kayak here, which I took on, but Kate decided to give a miss. But I didn’t want to miss this one, as we would be kayaking in what is known as the Iceberg Cemetary… an area where due to waters and currents, many many icebergs end up drifting. So we would have the chance to kayak amongst these. “More icebergs?” you ask. Yep, no two icebergs are the same.

So very quickly our Kayak Master Mark had us down in the mud room getting ready. We were told this would be a bit more of an epic session, being out for about 2.5 hours. Woo hoo! I got my gear on, paired up with someone new (Wucai) and got out on the water.

Oh. My.

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As we got out amongst the icebergs I just couldn’t believe it. It was possibly the most stunning landscape I had ever seen and been in. The grey skies and snows made for an incredible sight. It was haunting to see all the icebergs floating about, like they had come and could not escape, seemingly now trapped forever.

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We then proceeded to kayak for the next couple of hours. I gasped every minute at some amazing iceberg, whether it was the colours or the shapes. The light snow falling started to collect on them, giving them an extra dimension. But it was the many different blues that took the breath away.

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The other highlights of this kayak were the chance to kayak amongst a lot of ice and try to negotiate lots of tiny gaps, putting our skills to the test. It was nice to just plow through some ice, and also work out what bits you just didn’t want to mess with.

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During our time we saw lots more penguins, but this time we got up close and personal with the king of the seals, the Leopard Seal. These dudes are BIG. We didn’t get too close as if he wanted to come and check us out who knows what would have happened, but we got close enough to see his huge jaws. So awesome.

The time disappeared in the blink of an eye and we were back at the ship all covered in snow. You may think I was disappointed the weather was lousy, but in reality it was lousy only in forecast. In actuality it was incredible and gave the graveyard an added sense of melancholy. As I said, quite possibly the most amazing place I have ever been in my life.

Lunch was lots of tales of the others riding in zodiacs, some who came across the leopard seal and others who missed out. In no time at all the boat arrived at its next destination, Petermann Island, and again the kayakers were called to another briefing. Petermann Island is quite small, so this time the plan was to circumnavigate the island and then make it back to the ship to get to spend a brief bit of tie ashore. Oh yeah, double header!

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Kate was giving this one a miss as well, so I was back in with Wucai, and in the water. The sights to see here were the usual… penguins, maybe seals, lots of icebergs. But a bit like earlier, the main thing here was to get to kayak in even more ice. The weather was still snowy, so icebergs were covered in 6 inches of snow and the water was almost thick, adding a new dimension to the kayaking. Without wasting much time we were all off and heading around the island.

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Highlights of this session were the constant navigation through the ice which was great fun. At first you worry about tipping your kayak but soon realise that it would take quite a big chunk of ice hit very rapidly to do it, so we all had confidence.

This was probably the most difficult session yet, as we had not only weather but currents to deal with as well. The water was calm for the most part, but we had to expend a bit more energy.

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Along with all the penguins swimming amongst us, and the glorious icebergs, we came across a Weddell Seal hanging out on a small iceberg, which our guides let us get nice and close to. I don’t think you can get tired to seeing those dudes lying there all relaxed.

Again, over 2 hours went by without realising and we could sight the boat. So we headed straight back in, took 5 minutes to get out of our gear, and jumped on the next zodiac to the shore of Petermann Island. We wouldn’t have much time, but at least we could set foot on shore again.

IMG_1218Petermann is known for colonies of both Gentoo and Adelie penguins who were happy to wander all about us. The island also housed an old Argentinian ht as well as a British memorial to 3 folks lost undertaking research in the area. Sadly we couldn’t get close to that as the penguins had made it a new home base, but the solitary cross on the coast surrounded by penguins made for a fitting tribute.

 

 

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With only that much time I legged it to the Adelie penguins as they were looking after a large number of chicks. Every now and then a mum or dad would stand up offering a glimpse of the fluff balls underneath. We weren’t getting to see much though… maybe the cold was setting in.

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The rest of the time I literally spent following penguins close to their little penguin highways. Sometimes they would stop and be wary of us humans, other times they would simply wander across our paths. One thing I will NEVER get tired of is watching a little penguin fall on its face in the snow. It’s totally not cruel! They do it more often than not and just get straight back up. Awesome little fellas.

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And with that I was done with Petermann Island. Covered in snow again, it was into some warm clothes and a brief break before going to the nightly debrief. During this time, John the main leader gave us the news that due to the ice there was no way we were going to make it to the Antarctic Circle. The tour we are on is actually called Quest for the Antarctic Circle, and it is its intention to reach the Antarctic Circle. But they make it clear in the literature that it does not always happen and that is why it is called the “quest”. So because it had been a huge ice season, it was just too dangerous to try.

All we were missing out on really was a day to get below the circle, one on shore activity, and then a day to get back. So it many respects I was not worried. A new plan had been devised that had the potential to be a bit more exciting anyway, but unfortunately we effectively turned around and started heading back north. Not to worry… I don’t know many people who have gone quite this far south.

04
Jan

Just Popping By The Local Post Office for Christmas

By: muttler
popping in for christmas

popping in for christmas

25/12/2014

When I left you we had just spent an amazing and surreal night camping out on the ice. As mentioned, I got about as much sleep as anyone during the night, snug as a bug in a rug. Kate not so much.

time to head back to the boat

time to head back to the boat

yeah, we nearly got stuck

yeah, we nearly got stuck

But we were quick to depart our snowy hotel and head back to the ship at about 6am, as bad, snowy weather had set in quite quickly. By the time we got back to the ship the snow was falling quite heavily. So it was officially a white Christmas!

On getting back to the ship, Kate was straight to sleep given she had next to none over the night. With about 4.5 hour under my belt I was good as gold,so spent the morning out on deck. It was a quiet morning, with no formal activities planned due to the tiring nature of last nights camping. The plan was to cruise through Paradise Bay to do a spot of whale watching as we headed toward Port Lockroy.

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Our good fortune had to run out. Normally whales can be found getting curious with the boat, but alas only one disinterested humpback was all we came across in a couple of hours. We did encounter a cool Leopard Seal though, just hanging out. No matter, the views were absolutely stunning (like everyday, I know). The huge mountain range we cruised along is actually an extension of the Andes from South America, and as such was dramatic along the water. Every turn produced some new breathtaking view.

chilean base

chilean base

argentina is not to be outdone

argentina is not to be outdone

We also passed by a couple of Antarctic bases, one Chilean and one Argentinian. It seems both nations are keen to set up shop down here in case a land grab comes up.

port lockroy

port lockroy

By lunchtime we reached our main destination, Port Lockroy. Port Lockroy is actually the most popular tourist destination in Antarctica. “There is a tourist destination?” I hear you ask? “What makes Port Lockroy so special? Penguins? Seals?”. Nope, it is the Post Office and the Gift Shop.

penguins make port lockroy home too

penguins make port lockroy home too

stopping by the post office

stopping by the post office

Yep, Port Lockroy is the southern most public Post Office on the planet, and for just $1, you can send a post card to anywhere in the world. And even scheduled to be delivered in 1-2 months!

local cook book

local cook book

what happens to a flag after a winter or two

what happens to a flag after a winter or two

But Port Lockroy has a bigger history than just being a post office. It was a primary British research centre from around 1944 until the late 1960’s, and in the building are the rooms as they were set up back in the day. A great deal of pride has been taken to keep this as a historic place, and the museum is really quite fascinating.

Today 4 people man the centre, mostly being postmasters, but also performing maintenance on the buildings to keep them in tip top shape. Not a bad place to come and work for a season! No running water or heating, but there is internet 🙂

hope these make it home!

hope these make it home!

There is also a very popular gift shop, selling all kinds of Port Lockroy merchandise. Given money was going toward maintaining the buildings on the peninsula and the museum, it was hard not to pick up a souvenir.

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The other drawcard is that it is another penguin colony, this time for Gentoo penguins. What makes this colony interesting and dfferent is how they just wander around the buildings and interact a little more with the visitors. We still kept our distance, but they were less worried about wandering around our feet. There was also one lonely looking Adelie penguin just hanging out too. Poor little fella must have lost his way.

But the great part about the visit to these penguins were that they had just started hatching new chicks. There were two new additions to the family in the colony, and we were eagerly waiting for the new mums to proudly show their chicks. Alas after waiting for a bit, it seemed they were determined to keep them warm in the nest.

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So alas as we gave up hope of seeing a new chick and began wandering to the awaiting zodiac, a miracle happened. Our guide Phil called out “a chick has just hatched!”. Unbelievably a chick hatched from an egg right before our eyes, and I was there to see it. Even now it is just mind blowing that I got to see such a thing in the wild. The half dozen of us that saw it were just beaming. While we got some not too bad photos, that memory is now indelibly etched in the memory.

Right next to Port Lockroy was another haven for wildlife, Jougla Point. Like Lockroy there were many penguins hanging about.

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But here there was also an amazingly well preserved whale skeleton (well parts anyway). The age wasn’t known, or the exact whale, but to see a skull and part of the spine and ribs so well in tact was quite something.

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Here we also came across a random Weddell Seal, just hanging about on the beach by themselves. This fella was having a great old time lying there and having a scratch. At times they would make almost whale-like sounds. It was hard to believe such alien sounding noises were coming from the happy old seal just in front of us.

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The penguins here were quite funny. We saw a couple going and pinching rocks from another nest and running off with them. “All penguins have criminal tendencies” was a line I heard in a penguin doco we watched on the ship and it certainly seemed true in this case.

hangin' out with the penguins

hangin’ out with the penguins

6pm was approaching and the weather was coming in again. It was certainly colder and snowier than it had been since we arrived, so we were whisked back. After our regular nightly debriefing we were treated to a great Christmas dinner, complete with lobster. Mmmmm…. I could get used to this good living.

It was then it dawned on me that it was indeed Christmas Day. I had one white Christmas before in Switzerland, but this was something else. This will forever be an impossible one to beat.

Merry Christmas everyone!

04
Jan

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

By: muttler
simply glorious

simply glorious

24/12/2014

Whatever I write in this blog entry will not do today any justice. Nor will any photos… but I shall give it a go.

Today was Christmas Eve, and we had officially arrived in Antarctica late yesterday afternoon. We had the exhilaration of seeing land after 2 days on sea, as well as whales as we approached. Today was something else though. The clouds had disappeared to reveal an AMAZING snowy, mountainous landscape. As we headed to our first destination, we passed many many icebergs of all sizes. Best of all were the many penguins hopping about on them and swimming dolphin like in the waters about us.

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It is funny how you get so excited by seeing the fringes of Antarctica, and then things only get better.

Bright blue skies greeted us at our first stop, Cuverville Island. My Antarctic geography is not great (I will have to provide an Antarctic Peninsula map at some point), but this island was home to a few penguin colonies. It would be the first cruise on the zodiacs for most, and the first kayak opportunity for us.

So with that we had a kayak briefing early on to let us know the plans. We would be getting ready for the kayaks as early as we could so we could spend a few hours out there in the waters surrounding the island. So with that, Kate and I got ourselves sorted and waiting for the call up.

kate is pumped

kate is pumped

 

home base disappears

home base disappears

When we got it, it was all systems go. For the first time the group had it down pretty well. We all suited up and got the kayaks out on the water quite quickly. It took about 15 minutes to get everyone out on the water (there were 10 double kayaks to manage), and we had the original plan to circumnavigate the island. That quickly changed when one of our kayak guides Phil spotted whales around the island. Executive decision! We would go whale spotting.

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So off we went, chasing whales of sorts. We didn’t get too close, but we drifted around for about an hour, observing the whales as they surfaced. They were humpbacks, clear from the hump on their huge backs.

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As the whales started to disappear we kayaked closer to the shore of the island to observe the penguins. They were hilarious, hopping around the rocky shores and the ice. Total clowns. We knew we would have a chance to get up close and personal with them later on, so we enjoyed the view from the water.

In no time about 2.5 hours disappeared and we headed back to the boat, all sweaty. We had all rugged up but the weather was amazing. Next time it would be just base layers and a hat I think.

It was time for a quick lunch as the boat moved to a different location, this time Neko Harbour. It didn’t take long to get there and for the boat to settle in. We also got word that camping was looking very likely for tonight on the land off the harbour as the weather was so good. Penguins, whales, kayaking amongst icebergs, and camping? Not a bad Christmas Eve!

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The weather was amazing. Bright sunny skies, and while it was brisk, when you were in the sun it was actually quite warming. Because of this, there was an impromptu barbecue on the back deck that was incredible. Burgers, sausages, ribs, chicken, salads… such an amazing spread. I also took the time to get some sunbathing in before our next stop. I kid you not, it wasn’t particularly cold at all.

In no time at all the announcement went over for the kayakers to meet again. Given the spectacular conditions, we had the chance to get out again. Kate and I jumped at the chance. So within 10 minutes we were back in the mud room suiting up and getting out on the water.

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This was a different kind of kayaking experience. Rather than an island it was a big harbour with lots of ice about the shore. Our guides Mark and Phil did not seem too concerned with the small ice, and took us right into it. That way we could see the shore line with the penguins and seals, but also get to kayak through the ice. Woo!

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So we made our way in there, and also right across the harbour to check out some bigger icebergs and the glacier on the other side. The kayaking was certainly the way to go, as while the others got to sit with penguins for a bit and do some hiking, we got to explore other things they would not see.

Like before, about 2 hours flew by and it was time to get back in the boat. That amount of time was OK by me, as almost 5 hours of kayaking and I was feeling it a little!

We got back in, with just enough time for a quick shower and a briefing of the days events and tomorrows plans. Then it was announced that 100% camping would be tonight. Yes! We would be going on to the shores of the harbour, to play with the penguins, do some hiking and sing some Christmas carols. Christmas Eve was looking even better.

tent city

tent city

kate checks out our new pad

kate checks out our new pad

So once we had all our camping gear we waited for the call up to head onto shore. Into the zodiacs we went, and were whisked to our camping spot. Kate and I secured a patch of snow nearby the penguins and dug out a nice flat piece of real estate. Tent went up, sleeping bags were laid out, and we were ready for the night!

But it was still early, so while Kate went off to snap pics of the penguins, I went hiking up a ridge to over look the bay.

Holy moly.

looking out over camp

looking out over camp

top of the world

top of the world

The sunset was incredible. The colours, the ice, the harbour, the boat, the penguins. It was perfect. The guides were all beside themselves at the weather we were having and were snapping pics themselves. From the top we could see out over everything and it was simply breathtaking.

the ice starts carving

the ice starts carving

While up there, we got to witness some ice falls from the sides of the mountains and glaciers. The fierce cracks would herald the huge ice falls. One was so large it caused some significant waves on the shore and caused the nearby ship to rock considerably. Ah… so that was the reason we were up the shore a bit!

Rather than walk back down the ridge, I opted for the easy way… sliding down. There were a few worn sliding paths, and a number of us opted to head down them. What I didn’t really quite realise was just how steep it was. Once I got some momentum, I flew down! It was quite the drop, but aside from a little catching of the snow with my feet, I got down unscathed and pretty dry. Win! It was quite the rush.

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I slid in just in time to join the Christmas carolers. Kate had been snapping away at the penguins, so we went and joined them to see in the Antarctic Christas Day. You would not have known it was midnight, as the sun just dipped a little. Sunrise would be in two hours, so it was never really going to get dark.

getting ready for a good nights sleep

getting ready for a good nights sleep

As our curfew hit, and the weather was still good, a few of us opted to sleep out in the elements… just a mat to protect from the ice, and a sleeping bag. Kate prefered the comfort of the tent, but me, I had to be out in it.

It must have served me well, as I was one of the very few who dozed off and woke up hours later. Wake up call was 5:30am and I was dead to the world when Kate shook my foot. “Get up! Everyone else has packed up their tents!”. As it turned out, it was starting to snow quite a bit. I was totally oblivious there in my sleeping bag. What an amazing nights sleep to cap an unbelievable day.

04
Jan

We Are Officially In Antarctica

By: muttler
looking a bit more antarctic

looking a bit more antarctic

23/12/2014

OK, so that is what Drake’s Passage is like.

a little rougher

a little rougher

Last entry I was remarking how it had all been quite calm with only the odd bumpy part. Well, last night was a bit more what I expected. Not crazy, but enough to make a few more people on the boat (including Kate) feel a little queesy.

The best part was during breakfast when the captain let us know we were in for a more sever bumpy patch. He wasn’t wrong. For about 30 seconds, things were quite hilarious/chaotic in the dining room, with food going every which way. Not quite everything everywhere… most things stayed on plates, but indeed there was quite a bit of food and drink spillage, including things off counters and tables. Good times! My stomach held fast though and still without the aid of medication. high five me! I am sure the passage will have something to say on the way home.

out at sea

out at sea

Today was another predominant sea day, with expected arrival to Antarctica formally scheduled top happen late afternoon. So the plan for the day was more formalities, more lectures, and more kayak preparation. We started with the formalities… protecting Antarctica from any possible nasties we had with us. So everything that was going on to the ice and outer layers of clothes had to be checked out. Checked out meant disinfectant for shoes, walking poles, etc, vacuuming of the insides of backpacks, and inspection of garments.

Kate and I didn’t have too much, as new things didn’t need to go through the rigamarole, so our new parkas and fairly new waterproof pants were a-ok. Only backpacks and camera gear really needed the eye. And all was good! We then proceeded to sign that we were going to respect everything and not jeopardise the Antarctic continent.

Kate was a bit under the weather, so I went along solo to the lecture on seals. Actually, many of them are pretty ugly when you get down to it. Awesome, but when you see the pics of the Elephant Seals, they are not the most attractive thing you have ever seen. But the smaller Weddell Seals, along with the vicious Leopards, both of which we should hopefully see, looked cool, ramping up the excitement of the group. We even saw some graphic pics of leopard seals eating penguins. Hhhmmm… maybe I won’t film that if I see it.

visiting the bridge

visiting the bridge

 

guiding the ship

guiding the ship

I also decided to explore the ship a little more. One thing we were able to do that many other ships don’t allow is to visit the bridge. The crew were very casual and nonchalant with visitors and let us wander around. We were even encouraged to get some photos taken… not that I needed much encouragement.

our steed

our steed

Lunch was upon us, but after than Kate and I were straight back to the mud room for more kayak briefings. This time we were assigned our own kayak (named Minke), and had it all fitted out for us. There was also a bit of a run through of best practice, but it seemed more geared toward the real novices, which scarily there seemed to be a few. Kate and I got increasingly confident as we went on.

When we were done there, Kate and I raced to catch the lecture on the penguins we were likely to see. It was super exciting to find out we were likely to see maybe half a dozen different types. Nope, no Emperor Penguins (they are further south), but lots of others. We were expecting to visit a few penguin colonies which had Kate all giddy with excitement.

We were originally scheduled to arrive to Antarctica by about 3:30pm, but it seemed the bad weather we had encountered must have slowed us down, as it was not until about dinner time that we saw land. In fact it was during dinner that the official announcement was made that we were in Antarctica! Woooooo! But back to this in a little bit.

the big man

the big man

Before dinner we had the official Captain’s Greeting and celebration, where our Russian skipper introduced himself and main crew. He does not mix at all with the passengers which I guess is fair, as it is the G Adventures crews job to do that. But we all had a champagne toast to the trip and then off to our celebration dinner. It was just a little into dinner that the cries of “land!” were heard as we could start to see some land through the dense mist we found ourselves in.

I couldn’t wait to get out there, but after dinner was yet another briefing (there is A LOT to cover!), but they are all exciting, as this was for our camping expedition. Yep, Kate and I (and about 60 others) would be camping on the ice one night, at an as yet undetermined time. But as they aim to do it as soon as they can, there is a chance it will be tomorrow night (Christmas Eve!!!) so they filled us in on everything. Basically we tent and sleeping bag it out there, with nothing but our warm clothes and each others company and the potential of wandering penguins and seals. How can you not opt in for that?! It all sounded straight forward, so from now it was just the waiting game.

definitely getting to be antarctic weather

definitely getting to be antarctic weather

NOW it was time to get out on deck and soak up our formal introduction to Antarctica. It was awesome, as just as we went out the mist was lifting and the views of the nearby snow and ice covered mountains was becoming crystal clear. It is a bit cloudy, but views were getting better.

the views are getting better

the views are getting better

We thought they were spectacular now, but we knew we hadn’t seen anything yet.

humpback!

humpback!

But that wasn’t the most exciting part. For the (sadly) only about 15 of us out on the back deck of the boat we were treated to the first official whale sighting of the trip. Not one, but three whales made their way past our boat. A bit of a distance, but close enough to easily see the spouts and their backs and tails come above water. We all got chills with the constant screams of “there they are!”. The excitement was so infectious.

An announcement came over the PA letting people know but it was strange that in the end only about 30 of the 120 on board came out. They were obviously comfy inside and not too worried. Me I was buzzing.

whale tail

whale tail

Over the next hour I saw about 9 different whales, apparently humpbacks and minkes. It was hard to get photos with my small camera, so instead I snapped a few but really just soaked it all up.

I was in Antarctica alright.

04
Jan

Sailing the Drake Lake

By: muttler
our guiding spirit

our guiding spirit

22/12/2014

We were told the previous night that our journey on Drake’s Passage was looking relatively calm. Woo hoo! I say relatively, as for an unseasoned sea traveller like me, there was still a lot of up and down. But it must have been soothing, as I had my best night sleep yet since leaving home. It was about 8 hours of almost unbroken sleep. Ahh! I needed that.

a calm drake

a calm drake

We got up and mobile for our brekky, which again was quite extravagant. I could see myself settling in for muesli and toast within a couple of days of all this eating!

Given today was a “sea day”, meaning we just had a whole day of open water ahead of us, the day was scheduled with lectures, zodiac briefings, and kayak setup. First up was a lecture on the sea birds we would be seeing in the next day or two. While this side of the wildlife doesn’t interest me nearly as much as what’s coming, it was good to be a bit more informed. And lo and behold just after the lecture, we were greeted with some wandering albatrosses flying along side the boat. The largest of the sea birds they have a 12 foot wing span. So graceful too. Hopefully I could get a good photo later on.

At 11:30 was another lecture, this time by the ships resident photographer. She gave a great seminar, using her own spectacular photos to demonstrate both some key photographic principles, and also some tips for shooting in the Antarctic. Being photographer in resident on trips to Antarctica… not a bad job if you can get it hey?

After lunch (looks like I am going to be eating a LOT on this trip), it was time to get suited up for our kayaks. no, not heading out yet, but getting all our gear together so when it arrives we would be good to go. A bit of Kate’s fear became alleviated as we got comfortable, and also as some of our kayak group asked some pretty fundamental questions that even we knew. Looks like we won’t be the least experienced!

bring it on!

bring it on!

It was fun getting all suited up and got us super excited. Although getting in the gear is a bit of a chore, we totally knew why we had it all. The hot mud room where we would gear up made us sweat though… so much we would be looking forward to getting out into the Antarctic cold 🙂

With no time to rest our brains, it was straight into another briefing, this time to understand our responsibilities in heading on to the Antarctic continent. Given it is such a pristine environment, everyone takes it very seriously in keeping it that way. While a lot of it was common sense, I guess in today’s day and age it needs to sadly be said.

During this we also learned all about the zodiacs that would be taking most people out and about (and us just sometimes when we are not kayaking). Given we would be VERY close to almost freezing water, again it was all taken very seriously by the crew.

There was only one more thing to sort out during the afternoon, and that was to get our boots to be wearing out and about on the ice. A quick second visit to the mud room had us all sorted. Phew! What a day of getting ready for our arrival, looking likely tomorrow given our smooth trip on the passage so far.

Speaking of Drake, by all accounts our sailing has been very smooth thus far, and to me as a novice it certainly seemed so. Yeah, we had been bouncing round a bit, but no one really seemed to be getting too upset by it all. It was only around dinner time that we hit a rougher patch. Even then it seemed to only last an hour and we were back to normal. The staff were even calling it the “Drake Lake”.

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There was a bit of a collective on the back deck doing some bird spotting so Kate and I joined them to check it all out. We were getting a little wet, but the collection of sea birds following us made getting a little damp worth it. We got to see a few different types of albatross which was most exciting, including one that is a bit more rarely seen. While not much of a bird guy, to see the albatross circling gracefully was a kick.

After some pre-dinner G&T’s, and a bit of dinner, I headed out to the back of the ship to do some more bird watching. The rain had disappeared and it was all blue sky, so it was much more pleasant, and we still had the great bird life hanging about. I could have stayed out there for ages, but it was a bit on the chilly side, and it was time to settle into the bar and soak up some tunes by the ship musician (yep, the ship musician). How could I not when my red beanie prompted a Steve Zissou / David Bowie song in my honour?

With the sun still up, but 10pm hitting, it was time for some rest. I could have stayed up a bit longer, but given things are only going to get more hectic from here on in, it was best to grab some rest while I could.

04
Jan

The Adventure Begins

By: muttler
my ticket to the antarctic

my ticket to the antarctic

21/12/2014

Before kicking off our big adventure, we had a free half day in Ushuaia. Being a Sunday, we were told that not much would be open, so rather than just kick around the town, we opted to explore the nearby national park, Tierra del Fuego.

We joined the guided tour early in the morning and headed into the national park. This is in interesting place, as they say it is the only park that has the ocean meeting the mountains and meeting the woodlands. It certainly is dramatic, as we had the still snowcapped mountains meeting the water.

public transport in ushuaia

public transport in ushuaia

Our first stop in the park was the start of an old railroad, that was originally built by convicts in the late 1800’s. Apparently the Argentinian government thought it best to send prisoners down to the southern tip of the country to establish it and hold on to it. Part of what they set up was a railroad to help with the foresting of the area, and while the railroad is not used anymore, the last 7km still exists as a tourist steam train into the national park. Kate was keen to ride, so we grabbed tickets and jumped on board.

kate loves a steam train

kate loves a steam train

It was a slow ride as we made our way into the park. The scene was quite lovely with the mountains in the background. The evidence of the foresting was clear for all to see though, and it was remarked that it was a tree graveyard, with remnants still scattered about.

We made a brief stop at a station along the way La Macarena, so we obviously couldn’t resist some appropriate action photos.

i'm not the only one who does cheesy things

i’m not the only one who does cheesy things

 

say hi to my new friend

say hi to my new friend

 

our steam driven chariot

our steam driven chariot

 

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After an hour we made the end. It was a fun ride, and a nice way to spend the morning in a relaxed fashion.

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From there we continued deeper into the park, stopping every now and then for short walks and photo opportunities. The park was quite lovely, and as mentioned the mountains made for an amazing backdrop. However, the foresting of the area meant that it wasn’t as picturesque in parts as I thought it may have been.

blame the beavers

blame the beavers

But nonetheless, it was a great way to spend the morning. One thing I didn’t expect was to find out that there was a significant beaver population in the area, making dams in many of the rivers and streams about the park. They were an introduced species, brought in for their fur, however they weren’t really used for that back in the day and apparently they number in the millions. Sadly we didn’t see any beavers, but did see several of their homes, one large one in particular in one of the rivers.

a long way from anywhere pt 1

a long way from anywhere pt 1

 

a long way from anywhere pt 2

a long way from anywhere pt 2

The visit took us until early afternoon, dropping us back in town for a quick bite to eat before needing to meet up with the G Adventures group to get our passenger cards that would be our most important item on the boat. The card that makes the Antarctica trip most official!

our sturdy vessel

our sturdy vessel

 

i'm a pirate!

i’m a pirate!

 

home for the next 15 days

home for the next 15 days

After another hour of anticipation it was finally time to get on the boat and prepare for departure. It was getting super real by now and amazingly exciting. Just after 4pm Kate and I were on and settling into our cabin. I’m not sure why but the amenities on the boat were a bit fancier than I expected. I was expecting to rough it a little, but no, our cabin was nice and cozy, and the lounge and bar areas were super comfy. Even seeing the restaurant menu I saw I was going to be well looked after!

say goodbye to ushuaia

say goodbye to ushuaia

On 5pm, we departed Ushuaia, with everyone out on deck to say goodbye to the mainland and begin our 2 week expedition. It would be about 6 hours in the Beagle Channel, before reaching Drake’s Passage proper, so some time with calm waters to get to know everything we needed to know about our boat and trip.

be prepared

be prepared

 

aaaahhhhh!!!!

aaaahhhhh!!!!

First up was a safety briefing and drill. Armed with our lifejackets we ran through all the formalities, including being introduced to our meeting points and our lifeboat. We even got to go it which was very cool! Some didn’t want to jinx things, but Kate and I rushed in to get a feel for it. Touch wood it would be the only time we ever see the inside!

After that was an introduction to all the crew and guides. I guess you would have to be an outgoing type to do this job, but everyone was so lovely and enthusiastic it made it impossible not to be beaming from ear to ear and what lay ahead.

Suddenly it was time for dinner, with a delicious 3 course meal. Man, I’m not sure I will be able to handle eating so much food! Again, I wasn’t expecting such a fancy experience, but I guess when you are paying a significant amount for such a trip maybe that is what many people expect.

ready for action

ready for action

It was an action packed night, as as soon as dinner was done, Kate and I went to grab our expedition parkas. Everyone was being given the same bright red heavy duty parka as part of the trip, so within half an hour the boat was a sea of red. A nice perk, although how to get it home?!

Things were not done yet, with an initial briefing scheduled for the two dozen of us that had chosen to go on the optional kayaking adventures. Rather than take zodiacs out exploring each time, we have the option to jump in a sea kayak and explore. Everything we had read and who we had spoken to said it was a must, so we were super excited (if a little daunted) by the idea. The initial briefing was just to meet everyone and for Mark the kayak master (that’s what his badge said) to reiterate that while it would not be super challenging, it was to be taken seriously. Kate was getting a a little nervous, but I was sure a first trip out would quell those worries.

the good ship g expedition

the good ship g expedition

Phew! What a crazy, busy, overwhelming day! We were now all done and could settle in for the evening. While Kate took the opportunity to wind down, I was still buzzed so wandered the ship some more. It seemed many had decided to head to their cabins to try and get some rest, but some of us wandered about.

i'm on my way!

i’m on my way!

I was keen to see the end of the earth (well, Argentina) and the official entrance to Drake’s Passage. At about 11pm we saw our last land and only open water to the south. It has begun!

03
Jan

Internet Fail

By: muttler
the fail penguin

the fail penguin

Hello again everyone!

I was hoping to have a bunch of posts going up, but alas, who would have thought that Internet in the jungles at Iguazu Falls is not awesome?

As you have worked out, we are back from Antarctica, and now at Iguazu Falls for a few days of relaxing and getting soaked before heading home. I had some great internet in Buenos Aires last night and I got a bunch of blog things done, but thought I would easily be able to finish it off here (as I stare out at Iguazu Falls themselves, yep), but alas it is not happening.

So I will try! But maybe the posts will just have to be finished off when I get back home.

Cross your fingers and stay tuned!

02
Jan

An Avalanche of Posts Coming

By: muttler
you meet the coolest dudes here

you meet the coolest dudes here

Happy New Year everyone!!!

Hope you are all doing well my dear readers. Well, Kate and I are back in Ushuaia after our EPIC/AMAZING/PERFECT trip to Antarctica. Our minds are truly blown.

I am currently battling poor wi-fi, but I have been preparing all my daily posts to get up as soon as I can. Depending on how I go this arvo, I will try and get some up, but I promise I will get them up as soon as I can.

Apologies in advance for a LOT of pictures 🙂