16
May

A Wedding Gift From Canada

By: muttler
I'm a Pirate!

I’m a Pirate!

Hi everyone!

Here is a post for you all a bit out of left field, and quite a few months since I last wrote. When I left you, Kate and I had returned from Antarctica with a crazy amount of stories of penguins and seals and ice and swims and whales and kayaking and things that you only dream about. A massive part of our experience was thanks to G Adventures and the amazing crew of the MS Expedition and how much they looked after us and helped us have such an incredible time. I thought it was appropriate to write a short epilogue to let you know a little bit more about G Adventures and how they have helped make it the best honeymoon ever.

The MS Expedition, our ship that we travelled on, had two flags flying proudly during the trip. One, the ships flag, and the other a G Adventures pirate flag that Kate and I both fell in love with. Instantly we thought something like that would be an awesome memento of our trip, but put it to the back of our minds as we headed south. It was towards the end of our journey that an out of the blue opportunity to get our hands on said pirate flag emerged. During a charity auction on the boat, the pirate flag was up for grabs! We were super excited and bid hard with gusto, deciding it was meant to be. Sadly, we were continually being outbid by another passenger, and when the price went quite a bit beyond what we really wanted to pay, we called it quits. A bit of asking about the crew to try and source another flag came up empty handed. Alas, it seemed it wasn’t meant to be after all.

On our return home, I decided to drop G Adventures a quick message, just to see if there was a chance of getting my hands on a flag. It was going to be a long shot, but I thought, hey why not give it a crack. So I sent a message through their website, telling my story of our trip and honeymoon, and hoping that it would get through to someone who may be able to help. But you know how it is… web contact forms don’t typically fill one with confidence.

Lo and behold, a day or so later I got an email from Lyndon from G. What was I thinking when I sent my message? Of course, being G Adventures, I should have expected a reply and something amazing, and that is what I got. Lyndon loved my story and instantly sent me a photo of the EXACT right pirate flag, letting me know that he would be more than happy to send one my way. And not only that, some t-shirts for both Kate and I would be in the package as well. The email was classic G Adventures… funny, caring, and eager to help all at once. Lyndon got our tee sizes and popped his generous gift into the mail.

With both Valentine’s Day and Kate’s birthday only a few weeks away, I was looking forward to the big surprise. I was going to score major brownie points!

Unfortunately it didn’t arrive my mid-Feb. Or March. Or April. Oh man… the package had gone missing. I kept Lyndon up to date and all the time he offered to resend another one whenever I thought it was officially lost. Then, one day a week or so ago, about 3.5 months later, I get a call from Kate, who had ducked home to see our new puppy at lunch time. I couldn’t quite follow what she was saying, but she seemed a bit overwhelmed. What I got out of her was that a package from G Adventures had arrived for me, and that on the declaration it said it contained a flag. She couldn’t help but open it! And she was blown away by the surprises that were inside…

We are now officially G Adventures Pirates

We are now officially G Adventures Pirates

Inside was 4 tees and the best honeymoon memento we could imagine… our very own G Adventures Pirate Flag. Needless to say it is going to take pride of place in our house. We are now officially G Adventures pirates!

So apologies everyone if this reads like a bit of an advertisement, but Kate and I have had nothing but the best times with G Adventures, and this bit of customer service just exemplifies them for us. It might be a relatively little thing, but to us it meant a lot, and means that our already perfect honeymoon became even more so. Thanks Lyndon and everyone at G for your generosity and contributing to yet another amazing travel memory. See you all again soon 🙂

24
Jan

The Map of Our Antarctic Adventure

By: muttler
Our Expedition

Our Expedition

Hi Everyone.

One last post! A few people have reminded me that I said I would post a map of where we went in Antarctica. Here it is! We got it in a bundle of documents from G Adventures a week or so after the trip. They are awesome, as the docs give us all the exact details of where we went, what we did, latitudes and longitudes, water temperatures when I swam (minus 1.1 degrees celcius!)… everything we would want to know.

So here you go. Hope everything makes a bit more sense now!

09
Jan

Back to Buenos Aires

By: muttler
last morning in Ushuaia

last morning in Ushuaia

02/01/2015

The day kicked off with the familiar wake up call from Jonathan but nice and early. 6am to be precise. Bags were outside the cabin, and there was little left to do but have breakfast, say goodbyes, and disembark. It was strange saying goodbye to everyone, and there were hugs all round with all the staff. It does legitimately seem to mean a lot to them that they have this job and do make a connection with many of the passengers.

the morning view is not nearly as exhilirating

the morning view is not nearly as exhilirating

Our flight was not until 3pm, so we had the morning in Ushuaia. There was not much to see or do that we hadn’t already, so the day was simply going from one cafe to the next to chill out. We kept bumping into both crew and other passengers which made for a strange, and almost anti-climactic end to the trip.

ushuaia bakery treats

ushuaia bakery treats

It came time to get on our shuttle to the airport, where we were greeted with the Argentine efficiency were were seeing a bit. For a small airport, it sure was a loooooong queue. We got to the airport about 2.5 hours ahead of time, and it seemed that some of our group only just made the flight. Oh well, we were now all Buenos Aires bound. Antarctica was officially all done.

Kate and I originally had dinner reservations for the night, yes another big steak dinner, but alas our flight was rescheduled while we were on the boat and pushed back a couple of hours, so sadly we couldn’t make it. Booo. Seems they are happy to change the times of flights happily enough over here. Makes planning a difficulty.

So we went straight to our hotel near the airport where we were both exhausted anyway. Try to get a good nights sleep before our morning flight tomorrow to our final Argentine destination.

09
Jan

Land Ahoy!

By: muttler
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reaching cape horn

01/01/2015

“Good morning everyone. It’s 7:30am and the weather is a balmy 8 degrees celcius. We have approached Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America.”

So spoke Jonathan in an impromptu wake up call. Since we had such a smooth passage over the Drake, our Captain chose a sailing path that took us much close to Cape Horn that we would ever had gone, another small reminder of the amazing captain and crew we have.

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It was a buzz to see the southern most continental tip, being in Chile. We actually needed Chilean permission to enter we ended up that close. All this before breakfast on a quiet sailing day, and a very distinct reminder that we were going to be back in Ushuaia later today.

Today was another day of some lectures and formalities, with some farewells thrown in. First up was Scott introducing a short doco on the sailing around Cape Horn, and the life of a sailor in the 1920’s. They were all hard men.

The second lecture was by Gerard, who gave us a talk on his winter in Antarctica as resident chef in one of the British Antarctic Survey stations. This was probably my favourite talk of the entire trip, as he told his story that was equal parts about the history of food in Antarctic expeditions, but also his experiences and how he went about feeding 14 men during an 18 month stay.

It was quite incredible as he talked about the challenges of not just feeding them, but finding ways to keep their spirits up and how you stop everyone from going mad. It was an amazing insight to life on these stations, and from the chefs perspective made for a riveting tale.

Up next John ran a trivia session that was actually 40 pretty tough questions. We amassed a solid group, and thanks to our handy reference books (which were allowed!) we managed to answer many an obscure question about explorers and bases and the odd easy one about penguins and whales. We ended up with 32 out of 40… a bit of a ways off the winners at 38, but we were quite proud of the achievement.

the captain says goodbye

the captain says goodbye

The night started to get more and more sad as we had a series of formal and informal farewells. First was the formal Captains farewell, where our amazing captain visited us all to wish us Bon Voyage. He had done a stellar job navigating the ice, sending us to other places, chasing whales that I can’t imagine it would have been better.

the awesome boat staff

the awesome boat staff

There was also a series of farewells to all the crew, including engine room, deck hands, cabin staff, cooks and everyone. They had all done an amazing job, and got a deserved ovation. Farewells to the crew happened in a less formal way, with everyone doing the rounds during dinner.

the whole kayak team

the whole kayak team

sad farewell number 7412

sad farewell number 7412

Mark also called a final Kayak meeting for us all to run through photos and say a formal goodbye. We were a tight knit crew, and it was pretty sad but everyone was still buzzing from our kayaking experiences. Mark and Phil were the absolute best.

with the INCREDIBLE jonathan, our tour leader

with the INCREDIBLE jonathan, our tour leader

All the informal farewells started happening in the Polar Bear bar, where Blaise was busting out a final set. About a third of the passengers were there and quite a few of the staff, having a final drink together. Again there were plenty of hand shakes and hugs to finish off the evening.

Well, the evening finished with some bag packing for the early morning disembarkation that awaited.

09
Jan

Leaving Antarctica (and Happy New Year!)

By: muttler
bringing in the new year

bringing in the new year

31/12/2014

I woke after a solid 9 hours sleep, happy to have caught up on some hours, but still a little tired. But that was OK, as 2 days of Drake’s Passage awaited, with not much but some lectures, movies, and going through photos to pass the time.

another calm drake

another calm drake

At breakfast it seemed half the boat had decided that rest and sleep was the order of the day, with the dining room only half full. But those that were up were very happy with the current state of the Drake, with calm seas outside our dining room windows. All the horror stories of rough waters were still just that… stories.

The rest of the day was always going to be quiet with not much to report. A few great lectures entertained much of the boat. One on whales by John, glaciers and ice by Gerard, and a fascinating one about the race to the pole by Scotty. They all really knew their stuff, but Scott’s on Scott and Edmunson’s battle was amazing. It really stirred the need to read more about it.

Wedged in there was also a screening of March of the Penguins. It had been a while since I had seen it and it is nice, if a bit cliche and populist. But a nice way to spend an hour and half (although a bit of an odd choice in way since we were never going to see Emperor penguins).

Kind of anti-climactic huh? In a way it is the only disappointing part of the trip. Totally unavoidable, but two days of Drake after the sheer wonder of the past 8 days meant that it was difficult to not be a bit flat. But thankfully, being New Years Eve, we had that to keep us going.

After dinner, the water started to get a bit rougher. Hardly Drake Passage rough though, just a bit more of a wobble and enough for Kate to feel a bit uneasy. She rested while I caught up with photos and chilled out until we got called for an impromptu kayak meeting.

our AMAZING kayak masters

our AMAZING kayak masters

the stats (well, mostly factual)

the stats (well, mostly factual)

Mark called the meeting just to thank us for the good times and let us know about some feedback they were after and that we would all receive a certificate of accomplishment for our hard work. We also took the opportunity to share email addresses and start the process of getting some photo swap happening.

11pm arrived and it was time to visit the Polar Bear bar for some New Years shenanigans. Most the boat had made their way there and as we got closer to midnight the ships crew begin to prepare some festivities. On midnight a countdown came from the bridge. On the stroke of midnight a number of crew lit flares and shot them into the air. Happy New Year!

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IMG_0033Everyone was celebrating joyously, most of us still trying to wrap our head around the surreal nature of our new year. How do you top being in the Antarctic, on the back of an expedition ship, drinking champagne?

The celebrations went on long into the night. I pulled the pin at about 1am, content to finally take a breather and call it a night. Happy New Year everyone… hope yours was as memorable in its own special way. See you in 2015!

09
Jan

Neptune’s Bellows

By: muttler
new friends

new friends sizing each other up

30/12/2014

6am, the familiar voice come over the speaker in our room. It’s Jonathan with his morning wake up call. “Good morning everybody” he starts and lets us know that we have an early day today as waters are calm and we can tackle some landings that are usually off limits due to touch conditions.

Deception Island is our destination, but lucky for us, given the conditions, we are aiming to land on a black sandy pebble beach that is home to thousands of Chinstraps. But this was very dependent on conditions as we have to do beach landings which given the waves can be tricky. But it all looked promising.

Given the different landing conditions, kayaking was off this morning due to all hands needing to help out. That was OK, as everyone I spoke with was intending to head on to the beach anyway. Fingers crossed for the afternoon.

making the landing

making the landing

At 7:30am we were getting the call up to get on to a zodiac. With seas pretty calm, we headed on to shore and had an easy time getting on to shore. I was getting to the point where I didn’t think we would see much different, but here we were greeted with a black volcanic beach and thousands of Chinstraps heading in and out of the water. Definitely a different sight to the usual icy landings.

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Deception Island is actually an active volcano that last erupted in 1970, so not that long ago. As such the beach is actually very similar to that of Iceland, and it had much the same feel. Except for the penguins of course. Our landing point was actually Bailey’s Head, and Jonathan, who drove us on shore, said it was only the second time he had seen it so calm and sunny. Our blessed run continued.

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The next couple of hours were spent wandering the island and amongst the thousands of Chinstraps. These little fellas seemed to be more curious than the other penguins. We found that if we just sat there, then the odds were good that you would have a penguin at your feet. Indeed one of the other passengers had a penguin pop up on his lap!

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The whole beach and area we explored was a buzz of penguin activity. There were penguin highways, but not of the clear snowy kind we were used to. Rather there were clear lines of penguins wandering, although a little more haphazardly. All we had to do was try not to get in the way.

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In our exploring we saw quite a few chicks as well, which is always a kick to see.

There also seemed to be quite a few adult penguin skeletons about which was very different to other areas we had visited. Lyn, our resident bird expert, could not explain it definitively, but told us it was unlikely due to attacks from other penguins or birds.

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We spent the last 20 minutes just sitting on the beach watching the penguins only a couple of feet away. Everyone was content.

It was then time to get back to the ship and like the way in we had calm conditions. Once on board an announcement came over the PA that given the exceptional conditions, our captain wanted to take us on a small cruise into the volcano. Woo!

old whaling stations

old whaling stations

So in we entered through Neptune’s Bellows inside the volcano. As you can guess Deception Island is the top ring of the volcano and there is a fairly narrow entry was that can be difficult to enter, but today all was fine. Once inside it was quite spectacular, with snowy peaks surrounding us all around. Inside there was also a couple of bases, and the remains of whaling ships of a couple of centuries ago.

out on deck with our resident botanist, the awe inspiring Gerard

out on deck with our resident botanist, the awe inspiring Gerard

As well the rock formations were very different, again due to the volcanic nature of the area.

We enjoyed a fairly leisurely cruise inside and then headed back out toward our next, and final, stop of the tour. It was hard to believe we had almost spent our 8 days in Antarctica already.

Final destination was Elephant Point, where we would be seeing yet another new animal believe it or not. This time it was the big papa of seals, the Elephant Seal. These bad boys can weigh a few tonne, and are also not the prettiest of seals, but it was exciting nonetheless.

There was a feeling of melancholy in the air though, as it was to be the last shore landing for the trip and also when the kayak meeting was called and we had the go ahead, our last kayak session. This was going to make session number 9, which was the equal record for number of outings on this trip. Another indicator of the good fortune we had had.

This kayak session was to paddle across the fair body of open water from the ship to the shore, and along the coast as much as the swells and rocks would allow, to get close to the seals. I was super up for it, especially as it was our last outing. Kate was not sure, as she really wanted to get close to the new seals. She managed to secure a spot on a photo zodiac, so decided to head to shore.

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So we parted ways and I was paired up with Wucai again for the final paddle. In we went and the group headed toward the shore. As we approached we could see the big blubbering sausages on shore that were the Elephant seals. They looked so slovenly, just lying about, occasionally making some noise, or having a scratch. But they were mesmerising… and very smelly.

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my amazing kayak guide, Mark

our amazing kayak guide, Mark

We continued to kayak around the coast, encountering many more seals (and Gentoos) as we went. It was tough as given the rocks and swells we had to be extra careful, but it was good fun.

In no time at all a couple of hours had passed and we had gone quite a ways, much past the zodiac landings and all the other passengers. Between us and the ship was a lot of swelling open sea, but all we could do was put our heads down and start paddling.

It wasn’t too bad in the end. We made it fairly comfortably, and I actually made it back into the mud room before Kate. It was a bit sad finishing up, and all us kayakers (the ones who did today were the ones who did the vast majority of outings) were a bit down that we were all done. But we had shared some pretty special experiences, so were buzzed about that.

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Kate’s trip was super eventful. Being in the photo zodiac, she was fortunate to come across another whale in her travels, one that only her zodiac encountered. Our good fortune continued!

the ever enigmatic Bismark

kate’s zodiac driver… the ever enigmatic Bismark

 

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She also got the best pics of the numerous, pretty ugly, elephant seals hanging about. There were some cute pups though, so kind of the opposite of the ugly duckling story hey?

The timetable seemed to be slipping a bit, and a bit later than scheduled, Jonathan did a quick talk on geology, starting universe, and getting to Antarctica. Man, does he know his stuff. What is most impressive is that he had been so amazing to this point with running the expedition, but he has an amazing knowledge of geology. The man is a marvel.

the final iceberg

the final iceberg

From there it was straight into the final briefing, where again it was all a bit melancholy as the talk turned to wrap ups and talking about the end of the trip. With only Drakes Passage ahead of us, in many respects the trip is about done. There is two days left, but it would be some lectures and things to pass the time and keep people’s minds off the Drake. Kudos was given to all the crew and it was well deserved.

The theme for the evening was black and white, and we were all encouraged to wear what we could. During dinner it seemed everyone had really settled into some smaller groups, Kate and I with some lovely folks from England, and some from Sydney.

After dinner was a bit of fun, a fancy dress competition. It was great to see those that had put some effort into costumes. Sure, most were penguin themed, but everyone, especially the crew, was in the spirit. The winner was a rather crazy British lady dressed as quite an outlandish penguin. The whole boat was accustomed to her by this point and we expected nothing less. To see her win the comp was justice.

The night wound up back in the Polar Bear bar, where a number of the Filipino crew had formed a makeshift band, the Monkey Eating Eagles. They banged out some enthusiastic classic cover songs and it was great to see the vast majority of the boat in there having a drink and some fun. We had to soak up the good vibes, as two days on the Drake awaited us.

09
Jan

65 degrees 11 minutes

By: muttler
happy chinstrap

happy chinstrap

29/12/2014

The next morning greeted us with a little bit of travel during breakfast before arriving at Kinnes Cove. Like a lot of what we were seeing, brash ice was all about, as were the usual icebergs and penguins. The overcast day was performing some magic on the icebergs, accentuating the magnificent blues in them which was a treat as we dropped anchor.

Kinnes Cove was home to the usual Gentoo and Adelie penguins, although there seemed to be the chance we would see some Chinstraps as well. Given I had only seen a couple of rogue ones about, it was a bit exciting.

The morning kayak briefing was business as usual… conditions were good, there would be ice to battle, and we had a good 3 hours to spend on the water. So in no time it was back in the mud room and suited up.

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As we headed out the conditions were a little windier than we had had to that point. Not too bad, but a touch more challenging. The kayaking was mostly getting about the ice and small icebergs that were in the cove. I tried popping the GoPro underwater to try and capture the amazing iceberg bottoms (and hopefully spot the odd penguin swimming about).

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As we navigated about the ice, we came across penguins on icebergs, but also a Weddell seal with a young pup. The pup was on the iceberg when we saw the mother pop up out of the water and on to the iceberg. They were a bit hidden so we couldn’t seem them too clearly, but it was nice to see a seal in action rather than just lounging on a beach.

penguin bingo! (one of each type in there)

penguin bingo! (one of each type in there)

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darting penguins

The rest of the kayaking time was pretty leisurely as we darted as close to the coast as we could get. We got close to some penguin colonies, but alas we found only one Chinstrap surrounded by Gentoos and Adelies. Our collective of Chinstraps was still alluding us.

We hit about two and half hours of kayaking when the wind turned around and found us a long way downwind of the ship. Mark made the call that we wouldn’t be able to get back to the ship in any reasonable time, so the zodiacs were called in to help.

So excitingly we had to pull up alongside our zodiac, unpop the skirt, and clamber into the zodiac over the freezing waters. It was a pretty easy process in the end.

guiding the kayaks back

guiding the kayaks back

With that we attached four kayaks to the back and zoomed to the ship. It was a bit precarious, as the ice caused havoc trying to keep the kayaks right way up. In fact our kayak (named Minke) overturned a couple of times but we were able to right it, get most the water out, and make it back.

Lunch was ready for us (as always) and yet another big lunch led to a couple of hours of cruising to our next stop, Gourdin Island. This was apparently one of the most difficult places to land in Antarctica, due to it being right near the entrance to Drake’s Passage and being notoriously horrible weather. But as we continued to ride our good luck we had great, albeit choppy, conditions meaning we could land.

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The attraction of Gourdin Island is that three types of penguin happily coexist: the Gentoos, Adelies, and also lots of Chinstraps. Woo hoo! We did have the option to kayak, however they were just going to be going on a short kayak around the island, and given the Chinstraps and the choppy waters, we decided to and on shore.

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We were so glad we did. On the zodiac ride there we got to come face to face with a large Fur seal, happily showing off on a rock near the landing point. He was happy just to sit there and pose for photos. He did look majestic up there, that’s for sure.

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We then landed on shore and our decision was vindicated again. We immediately met thousands of Chinstraps, waiting for us on shore and up the side of the hill. These little guys all have the distinctive thin black stripe at the chin and are very striking.

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One little one was very curious of me and decided to come up close. I guess he was just saying hello.

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We made the trek up the hill and were surrounded by lots of Adelies and some Gentoos as well. It seemed lots of chicks were out in the Adelies, and Kate managed to get heaps of great photos of the little ones.

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Jonathan gave the challenge to try and get one of each penguin in a photo, and on the way back to the shore, Kate spotted all three there together, like they had been set up. While they didn’t pose for the best photo, mission accomplished!

With that we were back in the choppy waters to the boat. During the briefing we found out our southern most point, being 65 degrees 11 minutes latitude. The Antarctic Circle is at 66 degrees 33 minutes, so we were about 150 miles off. Not that far, but given the ice we had seen, it really wasn’t going to happen. But as you can tell from our revised plans of the last couple of days, not a bad substitute hey?

08
Jan

A Killer Day

By: muttler
just a friendly killer whale

just a friendly killer whale

28/12/2014

As mentioned yesterday, the plans for the day had changed. The goal was the Antarctic Circle, however ice had put the kibosh on that. Instead the new plan was to head to an area on the continent called Brown Bluff for the morning, and then move on to Paulet Island in the afternoon.

that's a big iceberg

that’s a big iceberg

At breakfast time we were starting to see the huge Tableau icebergs that characterise the area. They can be miles and miles long, and while we hadn’t seen any of that size, they were already starting to dwarf the ones we had seen to that point.

During breakfast the call went over the PA for people to sign up for the days Photographic Zodiacs. These are one or two boats that go out with the intent to just cruise around, looking or interesting things, to allow people to get some unique photos that everyone doing shore landings (or kayaking) wouldn’t. I bolted and managed to get Kate and I on the list, so we decided to forgo kayaking for the morning and do this for a change. While kayaking would have been my preference in a way, I thought it would be good to get on one photo zodiac for a change of experience.

So after all the zodiacs had gone out, we jumped in one with John our driver and Cherie, the resident photographer, and out we went. The great thing about this was that John would simply ask “so, where are we going?”. It seemed the area would be best for penguins on icebergs, possibly seals, and reflections in the water. So first we chased penguins.

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Immediately we were able to spot some penguins just hanging about, so we got up close and personal for some amazing photos. The little Adelie’s were happy to just stand there and pose.

There was talk of a Leopard seal in the area, but then John got on his walkie talkie to base, asking “permission for an IW”. Permission was granted for whatever the IW was and pretty much straight away, John simply said “hang on… and I mean it” and he sped forward heading toward the ice. I expected it to give, but nope, up we went, getting half the zodiac up on a massive piece of sea ice.

parking the zodiac

parking the zodiac on some sea ice

John jumped out, holding the rope for the zodiac, and gave us the go ahead to jump out of the boat. We were standing on a piece of ice floating off the coast of mainland Antarctica.

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Not many visitors get the chance to do that, but we were super lucky today. Not only did we get on the photo zodiac, but we were the first group on the ice. Given we had no time constraints, we got to hang out. Why did we hang out for so long? Well, a group of Adelie penguins decided they would join us on the ice. Within 10 minutes we had almost a dozen on our big chunk of ice, happy to get close and entertain us.

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Imagine it. We are on a sheet of ice in Antarctica. Penguins are jumping up on to the ice around us. You can’t imagine you will ever experience this EVER.

They kept us entertained for so long, the Leopard seal was long out of our memories. It was sadly time to head on to shore and explore Brown Bluff a bit.

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The bluff is home to thousands of Adelies, many more than we had seen anywhere. It was quite the sight, but most exciting was that there were many chicks there, all about a week old, so there were lots of little grey fluff balls hiding under their mothers and fathers. But given they were 7-10 days old, they were being shown a lot more and being exposed to the elements.

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There was also the odd pair of frisky penguins doing there thing. Just like in the Attenborough documentaries!

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Also on shore were quite a few bones, including an almost full skeleton of an Emperor penguin. It is unclear how it would have made it here, but I can now say I have seen an Emperor.

We only had a quick shore visit and then it was time to head back to the boat (via another ice landing). It had been a full 3 hours out and about.

As mentioned, the plan was to head to Paulet Island, but a little way into the journey a message came from the bridge that we were not going to make it. In our path was huge amounts of ice that we were told would be almost impossible with an ice breaker, let along our ship. It was incredible to just see the impenetrable ice in our way.

So yep, we simply had to turn around and chart a course to a new place. We were told it would be a few hours of sailing to get to our next destination, Hope Bay, so many folks went for a nap. But those of us in the lounge were about to leap to attention.

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Word got out of a whale, so a few of us wandered out for a look. To our excitement, it was not just a whale in the distance, but a large group of Orcas (i.e Killer Whales) in front of the boat. And they were not scared of us. In fact they wanted to show off.

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What happened for the next hour or so was euphoric. The whole ship was a buzz with the appearance of these gorgeous whales, coming right up to the ship, showing off, and causing us all to run in all kinds of directions up and down, left and right.

People were yelling out and screaming everywhere. A few of us were even starting to get a bit emotional at it. Seeing a dozen killer whales only meters away in the wild will do that.

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What we saw was most likely a group of female orcas with one male. The male was clear to see as it had a huge top fin that was easy to spot.

A word here must go to the Captain of our boat and Jonathan, our G Adventures leader. Rather than keep going for our destination, the captain kept the boat circling, allowing the whales to play with us and the boat. Damn Hope Bay, it could wait.

After an hour we had to keep moving to our destination, so off we went, leaving the whales in our wake. It was sad to see them drift off in the distance, but that could simply have been the absolute joy slowly dissipating. Wow.

On the way to our next stop, given everyone was up and about, Scott gave a lecture on Shakleton and his exploits. Man he was a hard ass in every sense. Such a courageous man and hard to fathom what he did given what we were experiencing.

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We arrived at Hope Bay relatively late, but the intention was to still land. This was especially so, as the nearby Argentinian base had invited everyone to come and visit their facility which was very cool. This base was a bit different to others in that it was scientific research but with a large number of families on the base. Seven in fact, including 15 children. Because of this there was a school with dedicated teacher, a chapel, and many accommodation huts. The families actually stay a whole year, not just the summer. That is a helluva experience for those kids.

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So we went ashore and got to explore some of the buildings. The folk were lovely, and even had a stamp for our passports which was very cool. They also had a makeshift store, meaning that I got another patch to signify my trip. It was here I got my first proper sighting of a lone Chinstrap penguin. These little dudes have been hard to find, but I finally got one on camera.

It was well past dinner time when everyone got back to boat. Another great thing about everyone in the G Adventures crew was that a dinner an hour or two late was no problems. Mmmm…. delicious Japanese food tonight.

Kate and I decided on a night cap in the Polar Bear bar, with the boat musician Blaise playing some tunes. Another Bowie song dedicated to us was nice and were the Blue Whale cocktails of the day. They went down easy.

And before we knew it, it was midnight.

08
Jan

What You’ve Been Waiting For… the Polar Plunge

By: muttler
pixelated for your benefit

pixelated for your benefit

27/12/2014

This morning was a somewhat relaxed start, as we got our way out of bed at about 7:30am, just for the start of breakfast. But like all mornings, the bacon, toast and coffee had only just been consumed when we kayakers were called to the library for our morning meeting.

It seemed today was a different one to the past few, where no landings were taking place today, just zodiac cruises. To get the whole boatload out, it was being done in two lots and would consume about 4 hours. That meant as kayakers we had almost 4 hours to explore.

the view from the dining room

the view from the dining room

We were parked in Cierva Cove, an area that was stunning, if a little less populated with interesting things. We would be exploring icebergs, and seeing some penguins and seals and whales if we were lucky, but it was mostly a chance to explore the cove at a leisurely pace, and get some hard work making our way through the brash ice that had settled in amongst the icebergs. Phew!

To cap it all off though, rather than a dramatic snowy day, it was all about the glorious sunshine again. It was just as stunning as our first main day. And 3 hours in that amongst the ice and penguins and seals? life is not too bad.

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So off we went. It is hard to describe the 3 hours without doing it a diservice. In some ways it was not nearly as exciting as getting close to the penguins or being in the iceberg graveyard, but it was just simply an amazing morning of kayaking full stop. It was leisurely and calm at times, and hard work at others trying to navigate through the ice. Every now and then an iceberg would take your breath away, or a cheeky penguin would pop up next to the boat, or a seal would be lounging on an iceberg.

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The support zodiac also had our photographer in residence on board so it was also a good opportunity to get some in action shots snapped. We also came across the odd seal soaking up the rays.

All in all it was just a great morning of being out on the water. Speaking with people at lunch it seemed the zodiacs were a mixed bag. Some did not see too much out there, while another couple got to see a Minke whale up close and personal. But that is always going to happen… wildlife plays by its own rules.

We then spent a few hours cruising toward our next stop, Mikkelsen Harbour. The weather stayed beautiful and it was a pretty smooth passage, with bright blue skies and blindingly white mountains. The conditions were still magic when we arrived, but sadly the wind had picked up and since it was over the maximum 20 knots, we were not able to go out in the kayaks. That was OK as we had an epic morning, but also as there was an experience planned for the arvo that we could not miss.

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So we hopped on board a zodiac and headed on shore at Mikkelsen. On land was an old Argentinian base, colonies of Gentoo penguins, seals, and also the odd whale skeleton.

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On arriving on shore we were also greeted by 4 big Weddell seals, just happily hanging out. They did not seem worried by everyone and were happy just to lay there having a snooze in the sun. When there were more people ashore, we did the short hike over the hill to the other side of the island to check out more penguins.

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It seemed there were a lot of chicks as many of the penguins were sitting there protecting something from the hovering squers. Their colonies were a bit stinky too… they sure do make a mess those Gentoos.

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After an hour or so of pottering about the island, Jonathan called everyone in. It was now time for the opportunity to polar plunge. YES!!!

Earlier in the day he had indicated we should be ready to go if the conditions permitted, and the sky was blue and although the water was a bit choppy we would not be going out to deep, so they were happy to allow us the chance. It was great chatting to people… they were either “yes I’m in!”, “I have my swimmers on just in case I decided to”, or “no way!”. You know what camp I was in. And thankfully Kate was in the polar opposite (ha, see what I did there) so I had an official record keeper.

So when Jonathan gave the go ahead many of us stripped right down. I had a brief red speedo that Kate had bought for the occasion, and down I went to the briefest of clothes. It was cold.

Without wasting too much time, I strapped the Go Pro to the head, and off I ran.

We had a rocky beach on which to do it. No jumping in, rather we needed will power to run out about 20 meters to be able to submerge. Off I went!

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I ran in to the water and out the 20 meters. Probably because of the adrenaline, I didn’t feel the cold that much to be honest. Don’t get me wrong… it was COLD. but not chest constricting cold like you get back home in the cold of the bay. Rather the sensation on my skin al over my body told me it was damn freezing.

I got in and dunked my head. Some elected not to go right in. Me, I don’t see the point. I went all under and popped out in a split second and ran to shore.

job done!

job done!

One of the guides was waiting with a towel and I got dry pretty quick smart, although I did stop to pause for photos.

Once out, to be honest I did not feel that cold. One of the guides asked me to get changed quickly as I was shivering, but it was really just my feet that were feeling it. Or not as it were, as feeling in my toes had long gone.

So with that I got as dry as I could and into all my gear. The zodiacs were waiting to ferry just the swimmers back to the boat, so I said goodbye to Kate and headed back to the boat. As we got off the zodiac and into the mud room, one of the dining staff was waiting with shots of rum. What a top bloke! In fact I must tip my hat here to all the G Adventures folk, as it is these little things they do REALLY well.

I downed that nice and quick, and then disrobed and got straight into the sauna. It was obviously in high demand, so I got the feeling back in my toes and went back to the room. By the time Kate got back I was well and truly back to normal. In some ways it was almost an anti-climax. But then I looked at the Go Pro footage and Kate’s pics and the awesome horror of it call came back. Polar plunge… DONE!

evening iceberg

evening iceberg

The rest of the evening was quiet. The usual briefing and dinner, and then Kate and I decided to rest up for the evening. There is still a week to go so we need all our energy.