Friday, February 29, 2008

Thanks + Forks and Butter

Well folks, I want to thank all of you for reading the Antarctica posts. My site statistics show over a 200% jump in site visits per day during our vacation. It's nice to see so many new readers and I hope that you will continue to visit my blog to see what's going on. I like to think I can be entertaining and perhaps even insightful even if I'm not in Antarctica......
I'm planning to do some modifications to the blog to hopefully make commenting a little easier. Stayed tuned for that. Dena and I are also working on a slide show of pictures which we'll post to flickr or somewhere for all to view.

Now on to Forks and Butter
I decided to make pancakes for breakfast the other day. Something I don't do very often because of all the carbs, but once in awhile I just get a craving. I make them out of a box though I wish they were as good as my mom's who makes them from scratch. In this day and age doesn't that sound so far out there. Making pancakes from scratch. Like, how do you even do that? But my mom assured me that it was quite simple; just flour, water, an egg and a little salt and sugar. Sugar?! What? There's sugar in pancakes? Watching my mom put sugar in the pancake batter certainly raised my awareness of sugar in pancakes in general. Of course, there would be sugar in the syrup, but the batter? You and I both know that those big conglomerates making our processed pancake batter put a lot more sugar in them than my mom does!

So the pancakes are done and I'm ready to put butter on the tops. Yummmm, spreading butter on a hot pancake. Doesn't the thought of that butter melting and dripping down the sides make your mouth water? So I'm standing there, knife in hand, and this thought hits me upside the head. "Use a fork, you're an adult now, use a fork to spread the butter." Huh? Where did that come from? When I was a kid living at Gram's house we'd have homemade pancakes all the time. My uncles would use their fork (yes, clean....) to slash into the butter and then use it to spread the butter on the pancake. When I tried this at Gram's once I was yelled at. It's not proper form and it's bad manners. So I'm standing there, knife poised and I think, "why not?" Dammit, I am an adult now and if I want to use a fork to spread butter on my damn pancake I will! Besides I thought, it's more efficient. I'm all about efficiency. I will only dirty one utensil instead of two, thus saving time and resources. Yes, using a fork would save the planet. Believe it or not, that's the actual conversation that happened in my head I did.......

And you know what? It's terribly inefficient. The butter wouldn't come out of the tine spaces. It spread in clumps and generally pissed me off. Apparently, my Gramma was right. Imagine that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last Antarctica Post

I'm asked constantly how my trip was, was it fantastic? What are the stories? Was it cold? Did you see polar bears? And on and on are the questions. To be honest, the 7th continent defies description. My mind goes blank when I'm asked, how was your trip? To say that it was fantastic, awesome, breathtaking and beautiful is to insult this last bastion of wilderness. It's a landscape and seascape that all at once is colorless but yet so full of vibrant hues of blue and white as to cause you to shield your eyes. A place so devoid of life that it could be called barren, yet so full of life that I could sit for hours on her shores and just observe. To write and think about it swells my heart with joy but yet my eyes tear up.

Humankind's spirit is to explore and conquer. Even as children we need to know what is around the next bend and over the next hill. I suffer greatly from this genetic affliction. Had I been born centuries ago surely I would have been with Columbus, Cook, Magellan and Amundsen. Perhaps, if you believe in that sort of thing, I was one of them. On the National Geographic Endeavor I spent much time on the bridge quizzing the Officer of the Watch of our course, what latitude we were at and how far could we go. I wanted to go further. I needed to know what was behind that island and around that iceberg. The desire burned hot in a place so cold.

There's a saying among the people who live and work on the Ice: The first season you go for the adventure, the second season for the money, and the third because you no longer fit in anywhere else. That seems very apropos. I'll steal this comment from Lucy Jane Bledsoe (writer) that going to Antarctica is like have a love affair with an inappropriate lover. Well, actually, let me improve on her analogy. It's like having a love affair with an exotic woman. A woman who will thrill you one minute and crush you the next. It's an unpredictable place that humankind has yet to conquer but can't help but to keep trying. Perhaps it is my job now to become a steward of this amazing woman and try to help her stay wild and free.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

One Dirty Birdy

And Then Reality Slaps You Right in the Face

We survived bizarre airline food on the way down, homemade right out of the goat's teet cheese from Andean farmers, salmon and other fish ceviche in Santiago, Cruise ship food prepared on a ship registered in the Bahamas by a Swedish chef and captained by a German living in St. Louis, locally brewed Ushaihian beer; but we were done in by a sandwich from Starbucks in the Santiago airport. How benign. Dena and I are suffering horribly from food poisoning. We're pretty sure it was the avocado/chicken sandwich we picked up at the airport. The good news is that we made it through the entire trip very healthy. The bad news is that we are unable to fully enjoy our jet lag at home.

Some people poo poo the whole jet lag thing. I can tell you that jet lag is real and it affects you whether the trip was 1 hour or 20 hours long and the length of the effect is directly proportional to the length of the trip. That my friends is reality. My digestive tract has never been the same since our trip in 1997 (god that seems like a long time ago) to Jordan. It was some buffet fish or chicken or god knows what that gave me campylobacter. That was the end of my cast iron stomache. Ever since then any time we travel I get some sort of stomache thing. In East Africa we carried antibiotics with us and that saved me on the 2nd night. Never underestimate the importance of a personal stash of prescription drugs while travelling in 3rd world countries.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Final Days in South America

The Beagle channel lies before us and we are being boarded by our Argentian Pilot who will take us in to port, Ushuaia. We cruised slowly through the channel, Dusky Dolphins and Peale's Dolphins riding our bow waves, Magellanic Penguins swimming about (the 5th species we've seen this trip) and of course, the majestic Albatross seeing us in. Docking in Ushuaia was a little nerve racking, all of us hanging over the gunwales watching the captain back in and parallel park this big ship. We docked in the evening and were allowed to exit the ship for a night of pub crawling. We ventured into the small, active little town and I bought some of the crew drinks. Arlene was the last to stagger home down the dock in the wee hours. That shouldn't surprise any of us.

The next morning we were awakened bright and early by our expedition leader's voice for the last time. We were supposed to have been awake earlier but our alarm didn't go off. After boarding our buses we toured the Ushuaia prison, shopped in town for "end of the world" chocolate (which is very yummy and I didn't bring any home for any of you, just us), and then went up in the slopes of the Andes for a nice lunch (our last in Argentina). As we headed to the airport for our trip to Santiago I could see our ship in the distance. I was saddened to leave her and jealous of whomever was going to get our cabin. That was my cabin and I wasn't all that keen on giving it up.

The next 36 hours are somewhat of a haze. Dinner in Santiago at Azul Profundo (Deep Blue in spanish), overnighting at this crappy airport hotel Diego de Almagro, then two tortuous, long Copa Airline flights ending at 1:30 Monday morning. It's a shame the trip ended on such a low note with a surly flight crew and a two hour wait for the baggage.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cabo de Hornos - Cape Horn

We actually touched the Antarctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean today. The Captain took us within 4 miles of the Cape. Cape Horn is significant in marine history as it was extremely difficult to round this dangerous craggy piece of continent. The weather is always unpredicatable with waves in excess of 50´developing within minutes. Many sailors have perished trying to round the Horn and they are said to soar above on the silent wings of the Albatross. We were fortunate and had wonderful weather. Sometimes it is a challenge to get this close due to the fact that the Chileans don't like the ships that depart from Ushaiha (Argentina) to enter their territorial waters. Quite political the whole situation. On the point or Cape Horn there is a weather station, the Chilean flag and a monument. On the monument there is a poem:

I am the Albatross that awaits you
At the end of the earth
I am the forgotten soul of dead mariners
Who rounded Cape horn
But they did not perish
In the furious waves
Today they fly on my wings for all eternity
In the ultimate embrace
of the Antarctic wings

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Heading North

We have left our last landing point in Antarctica and have began the journey across the Drake Passage to the Horn of South America (cape Horn). Tears well up in my eyes as I look out from the stern of the ship at this land that has touched my heart and soothed my soul. So barren a place, so alive a place I have never seen. Every iceberg holds a new wonder, every landing a new adventure, I can certainly see the draw that kept Shackleton and the rest coming back no matter the hardships. The Drake Passage was just the beginning for their arduous journey, for us, it is the end. They say you can get the polar bug and I believe I have it. I think not of home and the comforts that holds but think only of how I can come back here and when.
Every turn of the propeller sends us further north and Smith Island is off the starboard side of the ship. This is the last land we will see for ~ 2 days. Everything we do is the "last" of our trip. It's the last island we will see in Antarctica, the last whale, the last iceberg, the last sunset, the last........

I´m beginning to get seasick again. I have put on the patch behind my ear and am preparing myself for the side affects it gives me, dry mouth, sleepiness and blurry vision. Lovely, eh

"How hard it will be to become ordinary citizens again"cinemaphotographer, March of the Penguins

Life is not ordinary here, thus having experienced it, we are no longer ordinary citizens.

Dena's Birthday

Dena's birthday was very special for her for a large number of reasons. The morning started out with three humpback whales (which she adores) off the bow of the ship. They surface fed for quite a while allowing us to get some great photos. They were so close at one point that using the zoom was too close. It´s a very neat experience watching such a huge animal. They are quite graceful. It´s a little depressing to think that they were mercilessly slaughtered in the early 1900´s. After our whale watch stop we boogied over to the Enterprise Islands. We had a zodiac ride in the rain/snow and saw an old whaler wrecked on the rocks and the most spectacular iceberg ever. David (our naturalist and zodiac driver du jour) hung over the edge of the zodiac and grabbed a little bergie bit. He let all of us hold it and do our kodak moments. It was quite heavy. A silly thrill but it was fun.

Then off to Hydrurus Rock Island which is a seldom stopped at location as it is not well sheltered and the landing and swells can be quite challenging. The place was spectacular with many fur seals including a blond one which is quite rare. There were multitudes of chinstrap penguins all very close to us and blue eyed shags. Everyone on the island had babies. It´s so much fun just to watch all the drama in these penguin colonies. Our zodiac ride was adventurous both out and in. On the way to shore we had the Captain driving our zodiac. He´d never landed before on Hydrurus Rock so wanted to go check it out. He broke every rule in the book, driving us right up inside a U shaped berg that was partially submerged so we were litterally sitting on top of the iceberg. We then all got to touch it and have another kodak moment. Lots of those as you can imagine. Then he ran us up real close to the fur seals, another no no. But we appreciated all the fun for sure.
The way back to the boat the captain and the expedition leader got into a race and we roared back to the ship in 5 ´ swells with the bow of the zodiac flying all over the place. What a riot!

Dena´s day was topped off in fine fashion as the crew made tonight special. I had reserved a table for 8 and invited some of our newfound friends to join us for the celebration. (Henry and Nancy Geyer Philadelphia, Kathleen and Rachel McIntire Atlanta, Shannon Horner from Montreal, etc) The wine flowed and when it was time for dessert the stewards broke out the guitar and tamborine and sang 3 songs for her, one being Elvis's song, Fool´s Rush In

Friday, February 15, 2008

Verdansky Station

This afternoon we stopped by an old British research facility that has been turned over to the Ukrainians called Verdansky Station. It is quite a large facility and they spend 12 months straight there and then rotate home. Their primary goal is ozone level monitoring and this station was the discoverer of the hole in the ozone. They send ozone reports in every 3 hours. One of their claims to fame is the best bar in the Antarctic and the NG Endeavor often has requests to bring them 50 KG sacks of sugar (used to make vodka). There is quite an attitude of assistance down here as you might imagine. Ships pick up, deliver and drop off all sorts of goods and people. Anyways, back to the bar, awhile back when it was in British hands they had a load of wood that was meant to make a dock of sorts but winter came early and they were unable to complete the task. So, they decided to use the wood to build a bar. It's a fantastic bar, beautifully carved and I'm sure they use it every single night.

Tradition says that guests partake in a shot of vodka followed by a dip of an orange slice in coffee grounds and sugar. It was actually quite tasty. They have a tiny gift shop and a post office as well. If you had your passport (which we didn't) they would stamp it with an Ukranian stamp. Pretty cool. We partook, had a tour of the station and met the scientists and their support people and of course, the bartender. After our tour we took a Zodiac over to the kayak platform and kayaked for a second time. What a blast. A big brown Skua came swooping out of the air and just missed Dena and I's head, then he proceeded to hover over the front of our kayak for a little bit, about 6 inches off the bow. It was really something as these are huge birds. We had a nice time, saw a Weddel Seal and got some much needed exercise. Another lovely afternoon. This evening we will be heading North up the Lemaire Strait for a second pass.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A day in life aboard Endeavor

7am wakeup call this morning. Our expedition leader Matt says in his soothing and calm voice, "Good Morning everyone. There are three humpback whales just off the bow and they are quite active. You may want to join us up on deck for a look". Scramble into clothes and then my parka, change lenses on the camera and run up 4 flights of stairs to the bow. There they are, breaching and blowing. It was a wonderful sight and we stayed on deck for quite awhile. Oh my, it's breakfast time, quick, run down four flights of stairs, deposit parka and then run up three flights of stairs for breakfast. Snarf down breakfast as the Zodiacs are being launched for a landing. Quick, run down four flights of stairs, put on fleece pants and top, waterproof pants, parka, life vest, waterproof boots, touques, hats, waterproof gloves, etc., move all camera gear to waterproof bags, change lenses, again. Run back up a couple flights of stairs and jump into a Zodiac for the ride ashore.

Ashore we marvel at all the penguin goings on and the other wildlife ashore, often attending a walk with a Naturalist. Oops, it's our turn to kayak, get back on the Zodiac for the trip over to the kayak launching platform. Leisurely paddle around looking at icebergs and watching the penguins jumping in and out of the water all around you. I've worked up an appetite, quick it's time to get back to the ship for lunch. Back to the room, remove all the stuff then dash upstairs. Lunch, quick, then a lecture by a naturalist which ends at 2 o'clock. Lisa comes on the ships intercome, we've arrived at our next stop and we'll be boarding in 15 minutes. Quick, run down four flights of stairs and put on fleece pants and top, waterproof pants, parka, life vest, waterproof boots, move all camera gear to waterproof bags, change lenses, again. Run back up a couple flights of stairs and jump into a Zodiac for the ride ashore. Are you tired just reading this. I am. Ashore more marvels and much walking and scrambling over rocks await us. Such a magical place.

Uhoh last boat to the ship is leaving. Quick, jump in. We were quite often the last boatload to leave the landing as we didn't want to miss a thing. Back onboard the Endeavor we'd quickly shower and get all prettied up for tea/cocktails then dinner. We'd often collapse in bed around 11 or midnight from exhaustion. If it wasn't for the morning wakeup call we'd probably sleep right through breakfast. Remember to scroll down as there may be more posts you haven't read for the day......Unfortunately, no pix until perhaps Santiago Chile.....

Petermann Island

We had the opportunity to land at Petermann Island the morning of the 12th. This is the island that we picked up the Oceanites researchers yesterday? Or the day before, I don't know. All the days run into one another, I have no idea what day of the week it is either. The weather had cleared some and the ocean swells were minor so off we went in the Zodiacs. This island is overrun by Adelie penguins. There is also a couple nesting areas for Blue Eyed Shags. These long necked black and white birds look a little like penguins. We walked around the island which was covered in mud, rocks, penguin guano and snow that had red and green algae bloom on it. The island was colorful and smelly. I walked around for several hours, rock hopping and mud slogging. It was great exercise. We ran into a couple fur seals who you have to keep your distance from as they get quite cranky. When they make a whining sound they are agitated. I got a couple great pictures of birds basically flying right over my head, but mostly I just plopped down on a rock and watched penguin colony drama. There is so much drama and it's rather amusing. Adelie's build a rock or pebble nest, carrying many, many rocks from all over to create themselves a nest. This is to keep the wet and cold from their eggs. Adelie's normally have 2 eggs. They will also steal the rocks from one anothers nests. At one point researchers put some painted neon colored rocks out and took a photograph of what nest they ended up in, then they took a picture the next day and they were all in different nests. I guess the phenomen of "the grass is always greener" is not isolated to humans.

This was a very busy island, the Oceanites people were here and now there is a small 25' yacht (they must have a rough time crossing the Drake Passage) that held 3 frenchmen. They were documenting the 100th anniversary of Charcot (French explorer), they were beaming their notes and video to public schools all around France.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lemaire Channel + more

Feb 11th morning
Our bottom level cabin has some advantages and disadvantages, one advantage is the drone of the engines makes sleeping glorious and deep. We were awakened several times during the night by small icebergs (very small) banging against the hull. Can be a little unsettling to be sure but we are getting used to it. The morning started with a quick run up to the bridge for our passage through the infamous Lemaire Channel. This is a narrow channel with towering dark mountains looming overhead and glaciers flowing down their steep slopes tumbling into the sea. A breathtaking sight.

After we were through the channel we stopped at Petermann Island (well one zodiac did) to pick up 3 Oceanites researchers who had been working on the island for ~ 2 months. I'm sure they were thrilled to see us. We were unable to land and visit the penguin colony due to the severe weather the night before (rain, sleet and snow) which had turned the island into a penguin guano skating rink. So I stayed on the bridge monitoring the sea and witnessed a leopard seal thrashing about a penguin (lunch no doubt), spotted a few humpback whales off the bow and of course, the normal penguin activity in the water. We are now steaming at full speed south to get out of the weather and getting closer to the Antarctic Circle. What an experience that will be if we are able to make it. Keep your fingers crossed.

Arlene's Workout Tip of the Day
On a small cruise ship in rolling seas taking a wide mouth water bottle with you is a bad idea. Doing the treadmill during rolling seas is not only a cardio workout but also an excellent core muscle workout as you struggle to keep yourself on that skinny tread.

Antarctic Circle

We all had gathered on the bridge for the big event after dinner. We have steamed due south all day (weather precluded us from doing much of anything else) heading for the Antarctic Circle. Few cruise ships get to come down this far so this was very exciting to all of us and me especially. The Antarctic Circle is @ 66 degrees and 33 minutes latitude. This area differs much from the Arctic circle as quite a number of people live @ or above the Arctic Circle, in areas like Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Scandanvia, etc. Down at the Antarctic Circle, perhaps only a handful of people live. As we were waiting for that magical yellow line to appear in the water (ok, not an actual line but the GPS tick away the seconds) we were marvelling at the number of icebergs around us, how close they all were and especially admiring this really big one off our port side. I ran down the bow stairs to get a picture of it and all of a sudden a big thunderous cracking could be heard. And BAM, it calved right in front of us all. It was an amazing moment in time as in slow motion this huge hunk of ice tumbled into the water and broke up. The wave it created came racing toward the ship but it was not big enough to cause the Captain any concern.

As luck would have it this was the Antarctic Circle as well so we basically just did a U turn around this huge iceberg and began heading back north. The ice debris from the calving was floating all around us and the Captain and his bridge crew were very vigilant in watching all the bergs around us. By the way, small icebergs or iceberg pieces are called "bergie bits". The kitchen crew served us mulled wine and a small celebration was had on the bow. It was great fun and a moment in the small history of our lives.

We were headed back North to Petermann Island, the Lemaire channel again and then points unknown. I can see the draw of Antarctica as I just want to go further south. I want to know what's around the next island, the next majestic mountain, the next iceberg. Alas, I'm not driving.....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dinner With Jay Dickman

Feb 10th Evening
We came back to our cabin to an invitation to dinner with Jay Dickman the National Geographic Photographer. We were certainly looking forward to this event and went back to the cabin to put on our best duds. We don't really have much in the fancy cruise ship dinner wear as our clothing choices focused mainly on warmth. But we found something. Dinner was wonderful with Dena being escorted to the table arm in arm with the first officer. We had a nice meal and more importantly some excellent conversation. Jay is a story teller and he certainly has many to tell. From Denengue Fever in Papau New Guinea to a war correspondent in Central America he's been through a lot and we enjoyed them all. The conversation eventually turned to good natured ribbing about how I broke my camera and how Canada is the 51st state, etc, etc. That's ok, Jay had spent months in the Yukon and couldn't say enough about what a beautiful country Canada is. We may be liberal in politics and be known as the country that is the party loft above a more serious USA but we are good people, we know how to have fun and enjoy life.

Port Lockroy

We moved from Cuverville Island to Port Lockroy. A nice sheltered bay with a British station on a tiny little island. The Brits have turned this old winter station into a museum, post office and shopping mall. Finally, we could shop! The Brits abandoned the island about 30 years ago and only recently re-established it. In the meantime the Gentoo penguins had moved in. The island is now inhabited by 3 British station agents and ~ 4,000 Gentoo penguins and their chicks.

We made landfall in a light snow and were the first boat ashore for a change. This proved to our advantage as by the time we came out of the station the snow had turned horizontal from the wind. I had wanted more time to explore the island and hang out with the chicks but the weather was deteriorating and it wasn't good for the camera. We jumped on board and went back to the ship with our treasures in hand and hopefully some postcards with Antarctic stamps and cancellations going out to some of you. Scroll down for more pictures

Dena's shot of the day - Deception Island through Neptunes Window

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cuverville Island

Sunday Feb. 10th, 2008

We arrived first thing this morning after a run south down the Antarctic Penisula to a small island called Cuverville. The bay we entered was calm as glass with glaciers calving into the sea, penguins porpoising all around us and a large Gentoo breeding colony on shore. Today, we kayaked. Dena has been excited about this moment from day 1. Dena and I cruised lazily around the bay stopping off shore of some rocks with many Gentoos jumping in and out of the water. They swam around us and we laughed at their antics. The water is so clear that we can see them swimming beside us. Truly magical. Dena then decided she wanted to go thru this thin ice with the Kayak. I didn't really like the idea as the water looked shallow. You could see the eddys around the rocks. But, we headed that way anyways. You know you're about to get into trouble when your paddle will not pierce the ice and rocks loom ahead. But we made it through (not withstanding a little panic on my part) and are richer for the experience.
After kayaking we went ashore to spend some quality time with the penguins up close and personal. I have a picture of Dena (which probably doesn't do it justice) sitting on a whale vertebra (sp?) looking at a Gentoo penguin who is laying on a whale rib about 3 feet in front of her. She probably sat there for 20 minutes, her looking at the Gentoo and it looking at her. We all sat on these large stones that make up the "beach" and just watched the drama of all these penguins coming and going. They look so clumsy as they make their way down this rocky beach to the water, then they literally dip their toe in the water as if to test it, back up, think about it and then wade in. I won't go on and on about the penguins and their babies and the molters so I don't bore you so I just get on to the end of the morning.

I was the last guest on the island. I don't know why this thrills me, but it does..... Dena and Arlene's boat was already in the water, they yelled to me that they hoped I had lots of protein bars because they were leaving me. The last boat (full of staff naturalists) had to wait for me (hehe) and we actually ended up having to tow Dena and Arlene's boat to the Endeavor. The motor had ice in the gas line. Well, it's off to lunch then Port Lockroy which is the only shopping opportunity in Antarctica. Who knew there would be a shopping opportunity.

Arlene and Dena make landfall in blizzard at Port Lockroy

Dena Communes with Penguin

Dena is sitting on a whale bone vertebrae (from circa 1920's) chatting and communing with a molting Gentoo penguin. This 3 week affair where they molt or change all their feathers is very energy intensive. They cannot go into the water or feed during this time. They basically just stand there while it occurs. Dena sat there for about 20 minutes, her watching him and him watching her. They definitely bonded.

Arlene's shot of Lone Gentoo Penguin with Kayak in background

Sunday, February 10, 2008

February 9th continued

Dena wanted me to mention to all of you this poor lone penguin that she spotted high up upon the skree slopes of this volcano. Penguins don't normally hang out at Deception Island because there is not much food and there are no rocky outcroppings. They like to lay and nest on rocks. They build their nests out of small rocks and pebbles. They even steal each others rocks. It's very humorous, anyways, this poor penguin must have been lost. He was about 1000' up on the escarpment, all alone on this very steep hill. How in the world he got up there I don't know but we've seen penguins climb up some pretty gnarly rocks since we've been here. The trick I think in this penguins world is how he's going to get down. Dena is worried and wanted him rescued but you cannot touch or interfere with anything.....

Also, on the subject of temperature, it is quite warm here in general. At Deception Island I was walking around with no hat, no gloves, took my scarf off and unzipped my jacket. I'm not sure the temperature but it was gorgeous! We've had wonderful weather since we hit the South Shetland Islands. We are very fortunate.

I believe I'm going to have to start lagging these blogs as there is so much going on that I don't want to overwhelm you. I know I'm overwhelmed. The pace is almost frantic from early morning til usually 7 or 8 o'clock and then it quiets down. Our daily program this morning said that today is February 10th and it's a Sunday. I had no idea it was Sunday. But forget Feb 10th, I still have more to tell you about yesterday evening.

We were sitting in the lounge after dinner decompressing, drinking our cocktails when I decided to take a quick run up to the bridge for a course plot. I like to keep track on my map the exact course the ship takes. When I was up there a whale was spotted. It became evident quickly (by the fact that they woke the captain) that they were going to stop and watch this humpback mother and calf so I ran to get Dena and Arlene. We were not prepared for going on deck for an extended period of time. It was quite warm so walking on deck with just a fleecy is quite comfortable for about 5 minutes but any longer than that you need a jacket. We spent an hour on deck watching with awe as the mother surface fed, breached and her calf followed her around. Dena, who has blisters on her heels was wearing flip flops. After an hour Dena's feet were frozen, Arlene's fingers were blue but we were giddy with glee at how close they were. We certainly didn't need binoculars.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Deception Island

Every day here is filled with so many experiences that it would fill volumes. It's hard to contain myself sometimes on the blog and not bore you too much, but there is much to tell.
Finally we got some sleep after our long day yesterday. 7am wake up call - we were at the mouth of Deception Island. I was thrilled. I had been looking forward to this since we planned the trip. Deception Island is a huge, still active volcano that last erupted in 1970. Think of it as a circle with a small entrance to the inside. A picture is worth a thousand words. The best way to describe the look is to click on this link. The entrance to this massive bay is called Neptune's Bellows as it is a narrow channel that swirls with eddys on most days and a ship must watch closely not to be run up on the rocks. Today, the sea was calm and we sailed easily in. We parked just off of Whaler's Bay and lowered the zodiacs. There are many bays within this large bay, and whaler's bay is where whaling operations ran from ~ 1905 to 1928. It's like a ghost town with whale bones, large blubber oil storage tanks, old whaling skiffs and all sorts of wonderful relics to entertain us. We spent hours here running up and down miles of black lava sand beaches taking pictures of everything.

As I made my way back in the zodiac I was feeling a little bummed as I had a spot on my camera. I had to get back to the ship and clean it as we were due to disembark an hour later. Today was to be a busy day and I certainly didn't want to miss a thing. In the room I went to clean the mirror inside the camera (a task I've done before on my Nikon film camera) and all of a sudden out popped 3 pieces (the focusing assembly). I was horrified. What was I going to do? I dropped to my knees and started to cry. Here's my $ 1,000 camera, my $ 10,000 trip and there will be no pictures. Then an idea ocurred to me. We have a National Geographic photographer (pulitzer prize winner) on board and he is sponsored by Olympus, my camera's brand. Perhaps he can help. I was nauseous. I waited like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs by the zodiac disembarkation hatch for Jay Dickman to arrive. Each boat that came raised my anxiousness. He said he would try to help later in the evening as he only had time to change for the next trip but in the meantime he had a spare camera body for me. Wow, imagine my luck. Well, I'll make a long story short, this evening he popped the pieces in and all seems to be running fine. Tomorrow we shall see if it holds up. Wish me luck.
Speaking of award winning photographers.......tonight Jay did a photo critique of photos that we were allowed to submit from yesterday. Both Arlene and I received kudos for some of our photos. Arlene received great praise for her shots of "inside the life of a ship" and I got one for the sunset shot (as well as a few others). There were many awesome pictures and much was learned. Scroll down for photos.....

Gentoo's calling - one of Arlene's winners from tonight

Dena licks a glacier

Friday, February 08, 2008

The end of February 8th

What a busy, long day. We landed on the actual continent of Antarctica at a place appropriately named, Brown Bluff. We made landfall about 3:30 pm and I thought, ah shit, more penguins, I'm bored with them already. But as I relaxed and let the moments take me away I realized how much there is to this barren place. The colors in the huge, skyscraper high bluffs was more vibrant than any artist could imagine. The glacier to the left radiated blue and white so colorful that a rainbow paled in comparison. Such beauty in such a remote place.

Many, many Adelie penguins were fledging when we arrived. They were trying to go for their first swim. It was hilarious as they were all sitting on a variety of outcroppings that were exposed due to the extremely low tide. These youngsters vascillated and stalled and generally put off their first swim, however, as the tide started to come in their hand was forced. At the last moment as their low outcroppings disappeared below the rising tide they jumped in. Clumsily they learned to swim and porpoise and just as quickly they jumped up on land again, happy to be ashore. The parents of these Adeliele chicks teach their children nothing - one day the parents just don't come home and the chicks need to fend for themselves. Survival of the fittest.

Many wonders showed themselves today, a 6 week old snow petrel in its nest, jelly fish in the shallows and Killer Whales off the starboard side during dinner. As we steam through the Bransfield Strait on our way to the infamous Deception Island wonders abound everywhere. Icebergs that are a mile square and 60 feet high loom over the ship, a lone penguin floating on a tabular iceberg, seals in the distance, there is just no describing to you the surrealness of the seascape nor the barren beauty of it all. It is incredible how close they get to us red coated intruders. As long as we don't block their path they proceed by us, often within inches. Arlene and I got to golf on Antarctica, her idea. She bought a fold up putter and neon green ball. We putted and logged an official hole on the 7th continent. By the way, she missed her putt, I made mine.......Scroll down for pictures

The Endeavor floats off Paulet Island awaiting her charges to return

Gentoo Penguin with chick

chinstrap Penguin? which one is the chinstrap?

A Chinstrap penguin, if the chinstrap wasn't wearing white you wouldn't be able to tell us from the way, Dena is the one wearing the goofy hat

Sunrise on the Endeavor

Sunrise on the Endeavor - icebergs loom ahead

A long morning

February 8
We were awakened at ~ 4 this morning for the sunrise and a view of the Antartica Sound, aka Iceberg Alley. We were not disappointed. Words cannot describe the view we received upon arriving on the bridge. Orange hues of the sun rising over the iceberg dotted horizon mixed with the irridescent blues of the glacier ice floating about. Breathtaking and awe inspiring are two words that pale in comparison to the sight.
It's been a long day already as you can imagine. At 9am we headed out on the Zodiacs amidst floating pack ice to Paulette Island where we were greeted by 100,000 breeding pairs of Adele penguins. So that's 100,000 pairs (100k *2 = 200k) and those pairs each have 2 chicks = 400,000 penguins. WOW! That's a lot of penguins. They covered every square meter of this volcanic, rocky beach. The beach was long and they nested on the hills, on the beach and everywhere in between. I felt so sorry for the ones on the hills as they had about a 1/3 of a mile walk each way to get food for their young. There were signs of nature's survival of the fittest here. The carnage was vast. Bodies of dead penguins everywhere and their predators, the birds named Skua, were feasting. We watched as parents fed their young (both mom and dad rear the chicks). Penguins are habitual creatures with 99% of males returning year after year to the exact nest they left the year prior. Females about 60%. They probably find a better more macho mate the other 40%. We had to be careful where we stopped as they have penguins highways. If you're standing on the highway they get very confused and have no clue how to get around you. They literally have worn paths into the rocks and mud, from their nest to the sea.

It's lunch now, time to eat and then prepare to go out again to Brown's Bluff. We are so busy and today, tired. I have found someone with a laptop that will shrink a few pix for you guys so I can post them. Sorry about the spelling

Thursday, February 07, 2008

First Landing, First Iceberg

Retraction - I've been requested to retract the report that the swells were only 8 - 10'. After speaking with the first mate, the swells at the height of the Drake Passage were ~ 24'. That's a little higher......Arlene wanted to redeem herself for puking all over the entrance to the dining room and continue to exude her tuff stuff......
This afternoon was spectacular and breathtaking. Our iceberg sighting as well as our first zodiac landing. On Aitcho island we landed to a cachaphony of penguins. We finally set foot on a landmass in the Antarctic circle, not the continent itself yet....but we are getting there. This island is in the South Shetland chain. We walked slowing around in penguin guano, sometimes kneeling or laying in it to the get "money" shot. I'd love to upload a couple shots for you guys but the satellite connection is quite slow and I'm having trouble. They have the computers locked down so I cannot shrink the image.
Tonight was the Captain's welcome cocktail hour followed by dinner. We were not invited to the Captain's table, probably because of her puking in the dining room......
By the way, whoever left the comment of who won what in the primaries, thank you. I won't bother publishing the comment but everyone on the ship made me print them out a copy. So thank you very much.

We are off to bed now as we expect to be awakened at ~ 4:30am to the sites of the Antarctic Sound, aka iceberg alley.

Southern Convergence and our first bergs

Feb 7, 2008
I have no idea what day of the week it is. Arlene and I have finally gotten our sea legs. Dena had them the moment she stepped on board. Somewhere in the middle of the night we crossed the biological/oceanic southern convergence. I'll describe the convergence and it's meaning below. We are currently at ~ 61 degrees latitude. I was upstairs early this morning and just sat, quietly gazing over the grand expanse of ocean sprawled in every direction. To describe it I might use the word infinity. Yes, infinite wide open space and ocean in every single direction. Certainly humbles you.

We've been very busy today. Whale spouts were spotted off in the distance, fur seals porpoising along side the ship and we've just spotted our first icebergs. We couldn't be more amped up! We've spent quite a bit of time on the bridge this afternoon checking out the charts, the petrels, skuas and occasional albatross that flies by. A large grouping of cape petrels (click link for picture) has been riding with us all day, skimming over the bow waves back and forth. The above birds never touch land for 8-9 months of the year. They only land to mate.

@ 2:30pm local time we spotted our first icebergs. These are ~ 16 miles away, that being so large that they extend over our horizon. Usually 80% or more of the iceberg extends below the surface. We are nearing the Shetland Island chain and the crew is planning (wind and weather permitting) our first zodiac landing on some little island between Greenwich Island and Robert Island.
Just as an added note, you may see > 1 post from me in a day and/or pictures, so don't forget to scroll down.

The southern Converenge in case you're interested:
The Southern Ocean is the area south of the Southern Convergence, where a sudden change in ocean temperatures separates Antarctic marine ecosystems from warmer, northern marine ecosystems. The Southern Convergence runs through the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans; the southern portions of these three oceans are known collectively as the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean maintains large populations of phytoplankton and krill, a shrimp-like crustacean now harvested for food by fishing fleets from several countries. Many seals, whales, penguins, and other seabirds also live in this area.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Update - First real day at sea

February 7th 1:30p local time
First, happy anniversary to Dena's parents, Barb and Mel. 48 years of wedded bliss.

We awoke sometime in the wee hours to a rocking and rolling ship. Dena, the curious soul she is got up, dressed and went up to the lounge to peek outside at 4:00 am. She saw nothing but black, but going up 3 decks was a challenge in these seas so she headed back down to her bunk. We struggled up to the dining area for breakfast and were treated with waves 10' - 15' high although, frankly, that's debatable. They seem much higher and the number of broken glassware attests to that. All the chairs are chained to the dining room floor, there are "lead" ropes strung about to hang onto and the ship's doctor has been busy with falls. I have a little motion sickness but Dena and Arlene seemed to be perfectly fine. Arlene quashed that perception when on her way to the cabin after breakfast she blew chunks. So much so that she blew a hole right through the barf bag. They keep barf bags all over the ship. Fortunately I was not there to see the event.

The seas are not slacking but we are seeing some sunshine in the distance. Arlene is still in bed, hours after the incident and I'm sure she is hoping for calm seas. I'm drinking ginger tea, ginger and carrot soup (a staple at every meal) and sucking back ginger ale like it was going out of style. Today's drink of the day in the bar is the "Horse's Neck"; brandy and ginger ale. Don't ever let anyone tell you that ginger doesn't work on motion sickness.

Ushuaia Day 5 I think

Wanted to drop all of you faithful readers about how the trip is going today. Today it is Feb. 5 at 11:00pm Argentina time, basically we are 2 hours less than GMT or 3 hours more than EST. I also wanted to thank all of you for your comments, they are always appreciated. Your good wishes and thoughts are welcome.

As we landed in Ushuaia the wind was buffeting the plane, so much it felt as if we were on a ship. This did not bode well for our catamaran trip. We sailed thru customs and boarded buses for Tierra del Fuego National Park and a wonderful tour guide Lauren. We took pictures of us standing at the end of the PanAmerican Highway. This is a 17,000 km road running thru all North and South America, starting in Alaska. It ends here, in Argentina on a patch of dirt called the National Route 3. The trip was definitely windy, we saw alot of cormorants and a few seals, had some lunch and a few drinks. Life is again, very hard.

Our adrenaline started pumping as the catamaran came into Ushuaia harbor. Seeing the National Georgraphic Endeavor moored there awaiting us sent ripples of excitement through us. The trip that was a dream 3 years ago, a distant thought 18 months ago was now a reality. We boarded the ship and moved into our room then had to rush upstairs for the lifeboat drill. What a busy day we've had. We are currently sailing through the Beagle channel and they expect us to hit the open sea after 3am. They have tied all the chairs down, run heavy lines everywhere for people to hang onto. This should be raucous and I look forward to living until the morning. I bid you all adieu.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Transition Day -- Ushuaia, Argentina

Today was an early day. A 500am wakeup call (sorry, I do not know where the colon is on these keyboards). We left the hotel @ 6am and on to the Santiago airport. We will fly ona charter flight to Punta Arenas (the southern most part of Chile), clear customs, then continue the flight to Ushuaia. Ushuaia(pronounced [u'swaja]) is the capital of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego, and claims to be the world's southernmost city (see discussion below). It is located on the southern coast of the island of Tierra del Fuego in a wide bay, guarded on the north by the Martial mountain range and on the south by the Beagle Channel. Its population in 1999 was estimated at 57,300. In my opinion it has grown up around the lucrative tourist trade that caters to the cruises that depart to Antarctica from here. That means, of course, that it is a short working season for some people.

After all this travelling we are supposed to board a catamaran to explore the Straits of Magellan throughout Tierra del Fuego. Wish us luck. Thus far we have met many nice people on the trip. There are of course, the usual people, the bitch, the whiner, the person that hogs the guide, you know, the usual tour takers. But all in all, we are happy thus far.

Funny story, going thru the agricultural inspection station here in Chile our bags were scanned and of course, we were stopped. Dena and I had a significant amount of snackies some being dried fruits, and trail mix. The fruit was definitely confiscated but I lobbyed hard for keeping the nuts. I convinced them by encouraging them to taste them. They took several nuts out of the bag and because there was salt on them they were approved for entry. whew! Snacks were saved.

On another note, no one wants US Dollars. They want their own currency because the US Dollar is in the shitter. This is such a change from past years when the dollar was strong. It´s odd being in that position that no one wants your money.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dinner in Santiago

Last night´s dinner in Santiago. Bottles of wine were drunk to be sure. Today we are checking in for the official National Geographic tour.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Santiago Day 2 - Exploring the city

I came downstairs today from our room and was pleasantly surprised to see Panteras, our guide from yesterday. He was out front gossiping with the male staff. And some say men don´t gossip, bah. After some chatting he offered to take us to our first subway stop. Panteras is a very friendly guy and loves to talk. We ended up with a tour of Santiago courtesy of him. He showed us Nerudu´s house (famous Chilean poet) and basically everywhere we were going to go. This got us off to a great start as now I had my bearings. Dena and Arlene have no sense of direction so wandering a city like this is basically all on me. The stress! But now I was fine.

Our first stop the Mercado Central (central market) that is famous in Chile and some say, a tourist trap. The art nouveau building is designed by the same guy that designed the eiffel tower in Paris. (Gustav Eiffel) This central market is famous for the fishmongers and we had fun looking at all the bizarre fish, wandering around and snapping photos. Someone warned us to keep our backpack in front as it was dangerous but since it was not busy on sunday I did not heed the advice. Besides, there was nothing valuable in it. From there it was on to the National Cathedral (built in 1571) in Plaza de Aramas, then a short walk across the river to La Vega, another truely local market that I had read about on the web.

I knew it would be different as no tourists or white people were anywhere to be seen. The area was definitely local and poor- We made our way to the market which was very colorful, everything sold in bins and certainly not much actually refrigerated on this 90 degree F day. The smell was atrocious, rotting fruit and veggies, so we moved on to the area known as Bella Vista. I liked the local market. I like seeing how local people live and not just how it is portrayed to tourists. Seeing the world, opening our eyes and minds and experiencing life throughout this great big planet, that´s what it is all about.

Now, I have to sing my praises here as I was doing perfectly fine, not complaining about the heat, Dena and Arlene on the other hand looked as if death warmed over. I found this amusing. Imagine, me being full of piss and vinegar and these two, in great shape, having so much trouble with the heat and humidy. hehe. So I guided these two to a park bench while I found an open restaurant. We had a lovely lunch of ceviche and camrones (shrimp) with pisco sours of course, then worked on getting a cab back to the hotel. These two were done in.

I got a cab and the cabbie and I had an enlightening conversation in spanish about the city, volcanoes and the like. Dena and Arzie were quite amused since I speak so little spanish, but i was surprised at how much I could figure out. The afternoon was spent lounging by the pool. Sometimes on vacation you just have to chill. We went to the market this evening and a bottle of chilean wine and the superbowl game are calling my name, so I must run. It´s 9pm and the game is just starting. by the way, look for pictures below.

Andean Mountain Farmers

They made our goat cheese, fresh as fresh can be, the goats are off to the right.....and that´s my man Panteras talking to Dena. He´s wearing the green bandana. By the way, what you see, is there entire household. That´s it.

Maipo Canyon with the snowcapped Andes in back

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Santiago Day 1 - The road less travelled

Today was our adventure up into Maipo Canyon (pronounced my poo). We hired a private tour company to take us up there, where Dena got to drive a 4WD vehicle. We were picked up at the hotel at 8pm and didn´t get back until 730. Long day. What a beautiful country it is though. We drove up the canyon from start to its end, about 50 miles of dirt road, some rough near the end. During the trip we stopped at this Andean indian mountain farm house where we purchased some goat cheese, freshly made. We had lunch by a lake where we kayaked, drank Chilean wine and beer, and had the goat cheese. Wonderful. After lunch we continued on our trek, bracketed by 15´000 foot Andes peaks covered in snow even in this South American summer. We drove beside the glacier fed river that had that wonderful bluish white hue that all glacial fed rivers do. The end of the canyon found us at a thermal hot springs pool where we jumped in a relaxed for a bit finishing off with a dip in the cold waterfall and a pisco sour. Life is hard here in Chile.

Pictures will have to wait until tomorrow. Some things to note, there is a 5 hour time difference from Los Angeles to here. It is 2 time zones east of New York. Also, I left all my postcard addresses on the plane in a magazine I forgot in the seat pocket. So very few of you will get postcards, my apologies. One last thing, I need your help on this, our room has a bidee (spelling?). How do you use it? You obviously do not urinate it in then wash, what do you do? Thanks all, until tomorrow. We´re going to go wait in the bar for Arlene to arrive.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Santiago - Day Zero Travel Day

The flight from LAX through Panama City via Copa Airlines (a Continental Partner) was incredibly long and arduous. I hate to sound like an ugly American but pretty much everything was spoken in spanish. Occasionally there will be an english translation following by the pilot or stewardess, however, they spoke for 3 minutes in spanish and we get about 20 seconds. Not sure what we are missing but it is definitely something.

The Grand Hyatt Santiago is marvelous. The hotel is situated close to the Andes and thus is farther away from downtown than I would like. However, it is beautiful and due to it's proximity to the mountains, is where all the rich people live. Figures. Today we start our adventures by taking a 12 hour off road trip up into Maipo Canyon. This tour is offered by Hislandes and we're certainly looking forward to it. We arrived completely exhausted, having been up for around 48 hours. The hotel exceeded my expectations in everyway with a sunken living room and a very gracious staff. Room service is coming with my pisco sour then it is off to bed. I am having trouble finding the aprostphe so there will be no contractions on this blog.....hehe. And apparently no spell checking. Spanish keyboard. Took me 5 minutes to get the @ sign.