Antarctica Part 13: When 150,000 = 600,000 or something like that [very pic intensive]

31 January…Cruising Day 9…Brown Bluff, Antarctic Sound; Paulet Island, Weddell Sea

We crested the top of the Antarctica peninsula and have come down on the north-eastern side to Brown Bluff for our first adventure of the day and landing.

We did a landing on Brown Bluff…which was a fantastic visual of browns, reds and white.

Primary penguin inhabitants of this location were Adelie with some Gentoo in the mix.

Home with a view
A Gentoo photobombing the Adelie ‘march of the penguins’ tryout.
Ooomph! | Reminds me of a cat…’you didn’t see me do that’.
Adelie with a really bad hair day.  Actually, it’s just the process of molting.
Expedition staffer hanging with the Gentoo chicks.  I think this is Tara Mulvany/NZ who has an incredible story.

Tara Mulvany, of New Zealand, was an expedition staffer assigned to work with the kayakers.  You can read why here and here.  But first, you have to finish looking at my pretty pictures.  *grin*

These little guys were probably my most favorite of all the chicks that I photographed…so because of that, you have to suffer through a few more pics than usual.

Bad boy of the block.
‘I’m comin’ through.’
‘I captured the flag!’  |  These little guys were right at my feet.  So close that I couldn’t use my Pentax (a lens change thing) and had to resort to my phone camera, a Lumia 925.

I could have spent more time here with the chicks but I didn’t relish swimming to the next stop so I participated in the process.  After loading up, we headed to Paulet Island…

On the way, blocky icebergs commanded a few pictures…

The black patterning is caused by accumulated sediment and minerals acquired during formation.  Now exposed as the ice melts.

These little guys….

…were hitching a ride on this…

The penguins were riding on the portion that extends out on the lower left of the berg.

Arriving at Paulet Island we were greeted by approximately 150,000 mating pairs of Adelie = 300,000 penguins + two eggs each* = the potential of 600,000 penguins.   *Even though a majority of may eggs hatch, the mortality of the chicks to predators and other acts-of-nature will reduce the numbers.

The beige/light brown portions in this picture (center and lower right) are covered with penguins.
A slightly enlarged area from the above picture in which you can see the individual penguins.
As this was a zodiac cruise, the only people going ashore was Cheli and the researchers.

This zodiac group actually got stuck for a little bit.  The ice closed in around them faster than was anticipated.  A lot of maneuvering was required to exit without damaging the zodiac and motor.

Looking out from the island, we saw some beautiful ice….

Looking at the front side….
…this little guy was hiding out on the back side.

All of these greens and blues were real.
Tabular ice

 

And so the excursion to Paulet comes to an end.

After the cruise-out as dusk was falling, we passed by some dramatic blocky icebergs….

Fast forward to after dinner….and I’ve just shut the door to my cabin getting ready to call it a day, Susan of RusSus Duo comes knocking on the door, telling me to grab my camera and head outside.  It was around 10:00pm.

This was the cherry on top….the sky was on fire! Thank you Susan for the heads-up….

So ended another great day.  We have one more full day of excursion before we head back across the Drake.

Antarctica Part 12: The Wild Wild South

 ‘Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.’  ~ Bette Davis, All About Eve ~modified

30 January…Cruising Day 8…Spert Island, Mikkelsen Harbour and D’Hainaut Island

Wheeee! Talk about a ride!! Adrenalin, amazing rugged beauty, what’s not to love!!!

The Spert Island stop was only a zodiac excursion but what an excursion. It was like a ride at a waterpark made of amazing geologic formations, ice obstacle course and really, really cold water.  This was the sort of trip where ‘waterproof’ was the word of the day.  Franny, an expedition team member and our zodiac driver for this jaunt was excellent.

Franny Bergschneider | Canada

The other word or words of the day… ‘camera strap’. Can you guess? It was during this excursion that some form of marine life became a lucky and proud owner of an Apple phone. Considering the demographics of the passengers on this trip, I’m guessing it was the latest,  greatest version. Oops!  And to make the story even sadder, the same passenger’s big camera went on the fritz the day before.  One forum I followed in prep for this trip had a few passengers saying that they were carrying three cameras.  Me…I carry my main, a point-n-shoot, and my Lumia/Microsoft phone.  The point-n-shoot is strictly a backup as it is a little wonky (the LCD screen) but it still takes pictures.

FYI timeout: So this is what I do to ease the paranoia of dropping my phone in an irretrievable situation and to shield against everyday dropsies.   It seems that phone designers/manufactures stopped adding a hole for a lanyard about the time smartphones came into being. I think it’s all a conspiracy to create replacement sales from dropped phones while taking pictures. Anyway, I got the brilliant idea of adding what I call a ‘finger lanyard’ to the case itself as there are enough cut-outs to support adding one somewhere on the case. The only thing, one needs to make sure that it doesn’t block the camera lens or a control button. In my case, the perfect spot on my Microsoft 950XL was near the charging port and the microphone input. So what if my phone and me looks a little nerdy. I still have my phone. An alternative but one that is fiddly and not useful for all day, every day is a waterproof pouch. This alternative though is particularly good for splashy situations like kayaking, etc. cause we all know that you’ll want to take some pics….and why take chances.

Water splash created less than optimal photography conditions in addition to bodies blocking shots (as we were unable to standup). It’s not like I was the sole, Very-Important-Photographer on the boat so that’s my excuse and I’m stickin’ with it. So decent, usable pics were few. And to out my extremely rookie mistake, looking through the viewfinder, I didn’t have a clue that my front lens was foggy. Hadn’t had the problem before so it never crossed my mind to check this time.  No excuses. *sigh*

~ Back to our regular programming….

First we headed this direction….playing follow the leader!  Ice straight ahead…..

We cruised through small-ish ice formations…

And encountered some local residents….

Fur Seals
Southern Giant Petrel
Imminent calving event.  Part has already taken place.

Saw a little more amazing ice…

But then…..little did we know that we were in for a great ride!

Waiting our turn and timing the surge.

Wheeee!

Out the other side and looking back.

We headed back to the boat shortly thereafter, loaded up and headed to our next stop where we did a landing.

D’Hainaut Island on Mickkelsen Harbour was not the prettiest of landings on this trip but it is a facet showing the diversity of Antarctica.  Going ashore had us negotiating some interesting ice…

I’m speculating that this ice is from a calving event that landed on terra firma rather than the water much like what happened in the picture I took at Neko Harbour.

A stark reminder of a not-to-distant bygone era were evident at our landing site…

Remnants of whale bones.

On the other side from the whale remnants was an Argentinian refuge hut that had its own small cadre of Gentoo penguins.

Gentoo with a Weddell seal hanging out in the background.  I think that this was my only pic of a Weddell seal.
Calling for its mate.
A Skua being warded off by the Gentoos.
Skuas checking out our boot cleaning equipment.
One of our very fun-loving staff.  This landing had enough of a drop-off from the shoreline that we used a step-stool getting off and on the zodiacs so we (the passengers) wouldn’t be above our knees in water.
Not in focus:  Cheli cannot walk on water…but I wanted to illustrate her standing on the stool we used.

Loading up, we head out to our next location with a great closing to the day….

Orca sighting! I think this was a mom with baby.
Not sure how many orcas were in this pod but you can look at the dorsal fin, the white dorsal strip, and white patch near the eye and see the various differences.

Antarctica Part 11: The stars aligned…

Where do you go from here?

29 January…Cruising Day 7…Neko Harbour, a Continental landing and Cuverville Island

After having done three major Fantastic Firsts…where does one go from here?  You view a wedding!  Yes, that happiest of occasions.  Most guys (and the occasional gal) strive for a memorable, over the top pop-the-big-question moment.  I think this couple wins it all based on the location of the wedding.  But that moment is later on in the day.

First we saw a calving glacier…which I almost missed, humpback whales slowly undulating through the water…where I only got the hump, and an island with very messy Gentoos…and their attendant aroma.  But it’s a glass half-full sorta thing and I’m happy I can say, saw that and have the pictures to prove it.

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Very close to the ship.  Mom and baby humpback whales. No dramatic movement, just slow undulating moves.  Not sure how many were in this pod…but one would have been enough for me.
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The ever present beautiful scenery.
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Neko Harbour…our second continental landing of the trip.

And then this happened during the first round of passengers going ashore….

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The bride wore red, the groom wore a suit and both wore arctic Muck boots.  They were pronounced husband and wife by Captain Alexey Zakalashnyu while Gentoo penguins and passengers provided witness and celebrated.  The stars aligned and the heavens smiled.

This couple was from China and was traveling with another six or eight friends.  It was a large enough group that Quark provided a translator for them.  The ship’s crew and the expedition staff did a great job pulling off this event.

After the excitement of the wedding, as we were hanging out on deck waiting for the rest of the passengers to re-board….we heard a crack of noise.  Trying to figure out what it was and where it came from, I spotted what looked like a waterfall.  As it turned out, it was a glacier calving.  I only managed to catch what I call the dribble but I did get to see a great portion of the ‘gush’ of ice and snow.

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Moving on to Cuverville Island, more Gentoos were our entertainment for the afternoon.

But we were treated to a humpback fluke in the distance….

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Heading to the island.
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Being a little later in the season for this location, the snow is really worn with penguin paths discolored with their poo.
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Looking for that special stone…
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….to build a nest like this….but then there are those who prefer a more sleek condo and less work.
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Sibling love.
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Cold reality.
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I just liked this picture.

And this one just because of the water movement.

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And in closing this day on Cuverville Island….

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It’s bad enough that I waddle, at least I don’t have alligator arms*.

* Alligator arms

Antarctica Part 10b: One small step, one big milestone

Goals are like breadcrumbs, they keep you moving forward.  ~Me

8 January…Cruising Day 6:  Lemaire Channel and Paradise Harbour, Brown Station

64°.54’S, 062°.52’W is located in a spot called Paradise Harbour.  For me and ~199 of my closest fellow passengers, it was where we stepped onto The Continent.   Yes, I use capital letters….it is that special.  Many people tell you that they’ve been to Antarctica when in reality, they only sailed by the upper peninsula.  The next best thing they might have been able to do is make a landing on one of the islands that could accessed by tenders.  But to actually step foot on The Continent is aspirational.  And not everyone on every Antarctic expedition gets to do this.  Remember those pesky wind and water conditions?  Yeah, they can bite at any time.

So we’ve crossed The Circle, taken The Plunge, and now stepped onto The Continent.  This was a trip of Fantastic Firsts!

Today’s activities in addition to the Polar Plunge:  A scenic cruise through Lemaire Channel:

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Ice sculpture, Lamaire Channel
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Up close view of the same ice formation
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Glacier getting ready to calve….one of many we saw.

There was a brief glimpse of this…

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Humpback whale

If the humpback wasn’t enough excitement, around lunchtime we spotted a frenzy….

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Southern Giant Petrels battling over what is probably seal remains.

…which means there is a good chance of these being in the vicinity….and they were.

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Orca!

After the Lemaire  Channel, Paradise Harbour was next with a zodiac cruise and a landing at the Argentinian research station.  ‘Argentinian’ as this is the slice of the pie that Argentina lays claim to even though no single country ‘owns’ any part of The White Continent.  One can read more about this non-ownership here (not that Wikipedia is the end all be all of all knowledge but it’s just easiest for this conversation.)

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Brown Station, Argentinian research station
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When Expedition Leader Cheli said ‘land here’ to the zodiac drivers, she means it!

Once ashore, passengers could stay near the water and view a few stray penguins or….

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Climb to the middle, or the top, or not climb at all.
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Looking back down to the Ocean Endeavour

The water was so incredibly still, kayakers and the stand-up paddle boarders got to do their thing…

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SUPs taking a break.

While the kayakers were busy, we did a zodiac cruise…

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Nesting cormorants
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Cormorant (blue-eyed shag) in flight carrying a drop of water.
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Lichen, moss, fungi and other organisms create this vivid color.
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A close-up of the geologic formation.

We had company….

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Unless a spaceship or a beam transported this boat here, they had to sail across the Drake.  Hopefully they had the calmer version of the Drake.

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From the zodiac, we saw this as close as safely possible….

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Imminent calving event.

And this….

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A sleeping Leopard Seal.

Back on the boat….looking out, I saw other passengers having their photographic moment with the same seal.

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And looking down…. saw barrels being filled with fresh water.  As it turns out, we were helping to top off the water supply for the residents of Brown Station.

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Time to get ready for dinner followed by a good sleep.  It was a nicely long day.

~*~
~Thank you to my sis and SallyB for playing the game of ‘A or B’.

Antarctica Part 9: Dynamic and Serene [pic intensive]

In the evening every man looks the same. Like penguins. ~Roberto Cavalli

27 January…Cruising Day 5  Petermann Island, Pleneau Bay and Island

Busy, busy, busy….today we stepped on a mini-terra firma but first…we did a zodiac cruise in the bay around Petermann Island and the kayaking group got to do their thing.  The sky and lighting was very dynamic….flat when we started out and then fantastically beautiful in the afternoon.

View from the zodiac….

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The kayak group having fun!

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We saw some seals up close….

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Crabeater Seals

….and closer.

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And Gentoo penguins!

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What!?!  I can’t fly?

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And then we went ashore…our first landing of the day:

Moody lighting when we landed….

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Twenty minutes later….blue sky…brighter sun.

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The flags were a boundary for us invading but caring humans.  Penguins could go where ever they wanted of course; we had delineated boundaries which some in their enthusiasm and/or idiocy managed to cross.  Generally a passenger would only get one warning.  The second incident had the person heading back to the boat…rightfully so.  If one can’t play by the rules (especially in this case), game over.  Paint inside the lines…you had fun.  Rules are taken very seriously everywhere, all the time.
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Wheeee!

We were able to get really close to Adelie and Gentoos:

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Gentoo chicks.  Penguins generally lay two eggs with both hatching.  This ensures there is at least one chick surviving through the early stages.
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Older Adelie chicks.  ‘What! You wanted pizza?’
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Adelie and Gentoo adults warding off an Adelie chick that didn’t belong in that spot.

And the researchers aka the penguin-counters got to do their thing…

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Cameras are used to help count and monitor the colony.

After Petermann Island, we loaded up and headed to Pleneau Bay and Island…home to Gentoo penguins. This stop was nice because of its mix of terrain…snow, rocks, water and incredible ice formations.  And it was the place of choice…if the weather permitted….for overnight camping on the island.  I didn’t get pics of my own of the camping as Mr. TxP and I did not participate.  I was game but Mr. TxP did not relish having to crawl out of his sleeping bag to go to the loo especially when he had a nice warm, much more comfortable cabin in which to sleep.  Also, there was an extra fee to self-inflict this torture so there was that.  If you would like to read more about this camping experience, you can read here and here.

So another zodiac cruise was in order….with ahh..mazing ice forms….

First though…rocks!

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Antarctic Cormorant

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I called this iceberg ‘the brain’.
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These ice elements were pretty large.  I think the smallest piece was the size of a standard refrigerator.

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A ‘melt pond’ formed in sea ice.
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This was a very odd sight.  A rock sitting (or embedded) on a piece of sea ice.  Probably deposited there from an earlier time in history, now seeing the light of day.  Waxing philosophical, this little blob of ice will probably melt, the rock will fall to the bottom, to maybe start its millennium-long journey once again.  Or, it might have a shorter ride if its little ice skateboard gets stuck to a bigger piece of ice, which gets trapped by fast ice, which…..

And wildlife viewing….

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Gentoos not synchronized swimming.  No Olympics for them!

 

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Doing what seals do….sleep and eat.
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‘Joe, it’s the yellow paparazzi!’  ‘Uh, Frank, I think it’s more an orange color.’

After a nice zodiac cruise, it was time for a shore excursion.

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At the end of the day….
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…in this calm, serene setting, the crazy humans made camp and sleep beneath the stars.

Antarctica Part 10a: A very crazy day…or 1.4°C

“At the end of the day, let there be no excuses, no explanations, no regrets.”
― Steve Maraboli

28 January…Cruising Day 6…with a break in our regularly scheduled programming that deserves its own post.

Taking the Plunge or Insanity Rules the Day!

No, not the marriage plunge; I did that a few years back. I’m talking 1.4°C water located at 65°07.42’S, 064°02.73’W Polar Plunge. We were hoping to jump below the Circle but for whatever reason, we were unable. While that would have been the icing on the cake, no need to be greedy.

This is how the conversation went:
Early on during travel prep…..
Me: Are you going to do the polar plunge?
Mr.TxP Son: Yeah pops….are you jumping in?
Mr.TxP: Sure, why not.

Packing day….in goes a swimsuit for Mr. TxP…aaand one for me. Ya never know…best to be prepared.

Day of the plunge…well before 7:00am–announcement made that it’s happening!:
Me…still in bed: Well, are you going to do it?
Mr.TxP: Nah, no reason. *goes off to have breakfast*
Me: Hmmm, okay.

Just a little bit later on, I’m showered, dressed for a day of being outside, and heading to breakfast. But just then an announcement was made for those wanting to participate in the plunge — it was time to queue up.  So it was up on the deck to watch and hopefully take a few pics especially of Russell of the RusSus duo. He was about quarter way down in the queue so I didn’t have to wait long. I got a few good shots and then headed to breakfast.

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Russell of the RusSus Duo being a manly man…with style!

So I’m sitting there staring at my scrambled eggs, battling with myself….yes, no, stay or go, live a little or be a boring lump.  I saw a few passengers come in wearing their terry robes, asked them if there was still a queue and if I would have time to join the madness.

Call me The TxFlash! I was the second-from-the-last passenger with a handful of expedition staff eventually queued up behind.

The Drill: Show up in a swimsuit and bath robe. Doff bath robe. Don safety belt connected to a retrieval line being held by two safety staff additionally supported by two safety zodiacs. (Safety is always paramount.) Strike a pose. Venture out past the point of no return.  Have no regrets.

O.M.G. The water was so cold that it didn’t feel cold. It was only after you’re out of the water and your skin started prickling that you realize just how cold the water was. My only vocabulary was, “Oh my, oh my….” ad infinitum. Accompanied by the rhythmic percussion of chattering teeth.

Once out of the water, there were spirits (for a price) and a heated pool in which to relax and relive the moment.

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After the plunge, I made a mad dash to take a hot shower to warm up. After taking a shower for the second time in just as many hours, I headed out to find Mr. TxP.  Not too difficult considering there are less than 200 passengers on a 137 meter long boat.  I located him in very short order with the first thing out of his mouth being, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to take the plunge? I would have done it also”.   Hey, there are some things in life where one has to make their own mind up.  Since this was a totally optional exhibition of human frivolity sprinkled with a touch a crazy, it wasn’t up to me to make another person’s decision. Well, maybe this was that type of situation where peer pressure and ‘daring’ should be the action word of the day.

Me….no regrets!  Plus I have a nice, personalized certificate that reinforces a very vivid, happy memory.

~*~

Woops!  I posted this out of order.  I guess I got excited reliving the moment.  Part 9 tomorrow.

Followed by….pics from the rest of the Polar Plunge day.

Antarctica Part 8: 66°33.460’S, 067°21.318’W [pic intensive]

Dotted line ho! ~ Not said by any sailor anywhere, any time

26 January…Cruising Day 4

I can certify that you don’t feel a bump when you cross the Antarctic Circle.

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On 26-1-2016 at 07:41 local time we crossed the Antarctic Circle and the King Neptune celebration commenced shortly thereafter.

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Making the proclamation | The Expedition Staff as King Neptune and his court.

We had much to celebrate as earlier ‘Crossing the Circle’ Quark expeditions were unable to venture this far south for various reasons; we were the first for the season.  Yes!

Group pictures were taken, libations were toasted, we were soooo fortunate.

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Circle Celebration UL-LR: Photo time stamp of my photo same as ships display! | Libations all around | Group pic | Indian travel group selfie

An example of how fortunate we were for the whole expedition, at one point we intersected the Quark Diamond. Even being on a very similar itinerary –less the Circle–, the Diamond was unable to make a few of the same landings even by a day that we were able to make. No zodiac cruises, no shore landings, sad passengers.

After the ceremonial crossing, we headed to Andresen Island where we made our first zodiac excursion and saw this along the way:

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The zodiacs were lowered and boarding commenced.

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Lower zodiacs. Raise zodiacs. Rinse and repeat twice daily.

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We couldn’t get too close as one never knew when ice would shear off and cause mini-tidal waves….possibly capsizing a zodiac.

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Surfs up?

And then we cruised toward the island (no landing) to see Adelie penguins…our first large grouping.

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The pink coloration on the rock is from penguin poo; their diet of krill creating the coloring.

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From Andresen Island, we head out through sea ice to see what we could see….

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Crabeater seals scattered on the sea ice.
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Adelie penguins that didn’t ask for directions.

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Arctic Tern
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Pack and sea ice trapping ice bergs.

And then we sail into this……

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Going boldly through the ice!

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And then I saw and managed to grab a pic of this very hard to spot white-against-white….

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Snow Petrel

Going forward from this point, the posts will be primarily pictures…as our days did not vary much as far as daily routine with the exception of a couple of scheduled special events….that only took place if conditions permitted.  Of course.

 

Antarctica Part 7: Mother Nature’s Ice Cubes

I’m thirsty. ~Samuel T. Coleridge, paraphrased

25 January…Cruising Day 3…second sea day.

I’m happy to report the Drake was more a lake rather than a shaken-not-stirred martini. Mr. TxP was ecstatic; I was relieved. (Now…we just had to get back across uneventfully.)  Eating, lectures, equipment orientation for the kayakers/stand-up paddle boarders, and more eating was the order of the day.

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Russell of the RusSus Duo being fitted to their kayak.

But then we spotted this:

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First sighting

Which eventually led to seeing a whole lot of this:

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Tabular Ice

We were able to get pretty close….

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The quirkiness of water and wind erosion.

There was rejoicing all around. The humans were placated.

That evening, Captain Alexey Zakalashnyuk hosted a formal reception welcoming us onboard.  The crew exhibited great haberdashery making an appearance in a tartan plaid custom designed for Quark.

Captains Reception

It was a very good day…and we were only at the beginning.

Antarctica Part 6: Crossing the Drake, Life Onboard

Where’s the berg!?!  ~Not said by Clara

24 January…Cruising Day 2..first full sea day

Life onboard followed a certain routine once the Drake was traversed: Breakfast, zodiac cruising or shore excursion, lunch, another round of zodiac or shore, maybe a presentation, cocktail hour, daily debrief, dinner, evening activity of a lecture or movie or some partyish type of activity.   Me, I was either tired and sacked out in the cabin or out on deck taking in the scenery, looking to spot wildlife, or working on my action photography. There was never a lack of something to do.

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Typical at-sea activity schedule.

One of the places to hang out was The Bridge. As with a lot of the smaller expedition-style cruise ships, the bridge is open 24-hours for access by the passengers. The only time access is restricted is during port procedures or a particularly hair-raising navigational issue.

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Open-access bridge | Quark Ocean Endeavour

There was always a crew member on the lookout for rogue ice (as no one wants a repeat of that ‘T’ experience) and for marine life. As we cruised along, it was not uncommon for an announcement to be made: “Minke/Orca/Humpback whales located on the ______ side.” For a diehard group of us, we always had camera and hat/jacket with us even during meals and would drop fork and run out on deck at an announcement. Depending on the situation, the boat would slow or even turn around to give us a better watching opportunity.PNTX2037

Two you-must-do-this events took place. As with every cruise, a safety drill is performed. This cruise was no different. It was a little less formal than most but pertinent info was disseminated, everyone seemed to pay attention, the crew was happy.

The other event was specific to cruising the Antarctic and going ashore. We had an IAATO briefing on Sea Day 2.  IAATO, a governing body that oversees visitors to the continent has as one of its recommendations/strong requirements…Protect Antarctic Wildlife…among others.  This means no cross contamination of plant/bug life onto the shores. Even shore to shore…but that’s for a later discussion. So anything that we were going to take ashore….backpack, jackets, anything that wasn’t freshly laundered for the trip had to be inspected and vacuumed for debris. The rules are taken very seriously….we even had to sign an acknowledgment.  I guess this is a good time to mention that if a person needed to go to the loo while on shore…it was back on the zodiac for a trip to the boat. No dropping trou while on shore….which was a little difficult when dressed like the Michelin Man. So if you weren’t good for at least two hours…or have a teeny tiny bladder…you would need to find something to ‘depend’ on or waste time heading back to the boat.   Leaving no human foot-print or otherwise is taken very seriously.

A couple of organizational happenings took place on this second sea-day, meetings for the kayakers and the stand-up paddle boarders. These two activities were available but for an additional fee. Once a person committed for the activity, that slot remained theirs for the duration. No trading out, no rotations. So if there was any thought that you were not up for the activity, you needed to think twice about taking a slot because there was a waitlist for participants and there was no second round of orientation to sub a newcomer if you were to bug-out.  Once we hit appropriate water, conditions were evaluated and if good, in went the equipment.

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Debriefs were often conducted by our fearless expedition leader Cheli Larsen of New Zealand. She was positively terrific. I could go on and on but suffice it to say, I would cruise again with her in a heartbeat. As leader…because the buck stops with her, she had the happy or tough job informing us if we would make a certain landing, etc…or not. Well, right off the bat during the crossing (I think it was actually the 2nd sea day) she announced that due to wind, waves, solar flares, a butterfly flapping its wings in Madagascar spreading the scent of vanilla, whatever….and after having stayed up all-night reworking the logistics, we wouldn’t be doing our regularly scheduled programming of stopping first at the top of the peninsula.  *HUGE groan from the passengers*  We were heading straight down to the Circle instead! Wheee!!! Flexibility is the word of the day.

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Cheli Larsen, Expedition Leader Extraordinaire | New Zealand

So this is what our newly revised and always a work-in-progress chart looked like:

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Peninsula site-specific stops.

In addition to a few lectures that took place, there was a lot of this:PNTX2044

…looking at various species of this…and for those creatures that start with the letter W:

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Albatross, one of four species spotted this day.

Our wildlife-spotted list indicated that one species of dolphin was seen but nothing else other than birds of a feather. No whales, no bergs. Just water and birds.

So…where are the bergs!?!

~~Oops! I forgot to tag my Antarctica Part 5: Ushuaia so if you’ve been informally following my trip reports, you may want to backtrack to catchup on this one.  Thanks!

Antarctica Part 5: Ushuaia or Back To The Beginning!

2nd verse, not quite the same as the first.  ~Herman Hermits, modified

Up and at ’em! It’s time the get The Really Big Trip up in the air….or on the water. Okay….on the bus…to the airport.

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An overview of The Really Big Trip.

 

But first, we had to show up ready or not with our luggage promptly at 5:00am. Luggage was weighed, tagged, and we were measured to see if we were worthy of this grand adventure. Kidding about the last part but when face-to-face with the grandeur that is Antarctica, one can feel very insignificant and under the right (or wrong) circumstances get swatted like a gnat. Those manly men who were the first to explore this most beautiful unforgiving land (with really, really crappy equipment compared to modern standards) were made of sterner stuff not often found today. I tip my hat to them.

So breakfast is over, everyone is checked out from the hotel, buses are loaded….and at 6:00am we are on our way for our 9:00am charter flight operated by Andes Airline out of EZE. If everything went according to plan, we would be in Ushuaia around Noon-30-ish….and we were!

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Brunch snack aboard Andes Airline | January 2016

Ushuaia…one of two locations that was the genesis of The Really Big Trip…we’re back for round two.  Love that name….along with Ulaanbaatar…but that is another story for way later on.

Going from close to 100°F in BA to 49°F  with rain sprinkles in Ushuaia, added to the dynamics of the trip. Most of us were prepared for the extreme change in weather with the exception of a few fellow travelers (out of a group of seventeen) from India. A few of them were operating under the not-reading-the-briefing induced misconception that they would have immediate access to their luggage after landing. Wrong! The luggage went straight to the boat so no jackets or rain gear.  Mr. TxP had chatted with one of the men back in BA, so meeting up with him on the street and seeing his not-correct-clothing choice, Mr. TxP loaned him one of his many layers.

It’s past Noon…the first priority was to eat lunch. Of course.  After walking in and out of a few cafes, we settled on Andino Gourmet. I wouldn’t call it ‘gourmet’ by any stretch of the word but it served the need.  Andino has a crazy setup, two restaurant concepts sharing the same space, same entryway with only a step dividing them.  One was a little pricier and a bit more wanna-be-upscale than the other. We were seated in the upscale portion unbeknownst to us but when I saw that the menu did not match what I had seen through the window, I questioned a waiter and learned of the difference. Absolutely no menu crossover so we switched to the other section without too much fuss and waiting. The menu looked right this time…basic but exactly what we wanted. We happened to have a pleasant enough server but observing other diners having to flag down a waiter (or do the neck crane thing), we knew we needed to initiate a course of action every time our waiter walked by. Following that strategy, service was okay: Bring the water > place food order. Bring food > ask for check. Bring check > ask for any refills, etc. I have to say, the onion soup was delish! Stars? Service 3.5. Food 3.75. Location/Vibe 4.0.  Pretty mediocre overall but knowing what to order, I would eat there again for a lite meal.

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Andino Gourmet | Ushuaia | A rather dry chicken cutlet, good fries, terrific onion soup.  Not really into fizzy drinks but this was yummy as I like citrus.

After lunch it was time to walk off a few calories, shop for souvenirs we didn’t need and then head to the shuttle bus for a 4:00pm departure that would take us down the restricted-access pier to the boat.  The pier is smack in the middle of town and all of about two blocks from pier entry to the boat but rules are rules.

Once onboard and duly logged in, we headed to our home for the next thirteen days. Cabin 5067.  Cabin selection was another thing I did to make the trip a little more palatable for Mr. TxP.  In looking at cabin categories –something less than a suite– I spotted what was called a Twin Window Plus 2. The ‘Plus 2’ turned out to be two bathrooms. Why not! It was the same price as a Twin Window with only one bathroom.  Wow! I surprised myself. I knew there would be a chair or small sofa but it turned out we had a partitioned sitting room…our cabin was more like a mini-suite.  And there were two televisions!  Not that there was much programming but it was impressive. Terry robes were nice and fluffy….nicer than what I’ve had in many hotels. Towels were thick and absorbent. Plenty of hot water. There was built-in bath gel and shampoo dispensers. There was a small boo-boo in that the wrong length shower curtains were shipped and being about two inches too short, allowed water to splash on the floors. No big deal but I heard a few passengers complaining. Sheesh.

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Ocean Endeavour | Cabin 5067

A few hours prior to boarding, we had darkish clouds and a light sprinkle. Not a great portent for crossing the Drake Passage. But just as everyone was gathering on deck for the sail away, we saw this:

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Sailing out of Ushuaia | We actually had a triple rainbow at one point.

And then the skies turned to this.

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Cruising through the Beagle Channel | Ushuaia

Both were a good portents.  Our Really Big Trip is officially underway.

So if it’s evening time, what happens next? Dinner! Dinnertime was a seated/menu affair. One open seating…if you didn’t eat then, you were out of luck. Tables ranged from two-tops to a few tables for six. The two-tops were close enough to the four-tops that one felt that six were dining together. Expedition Staff made it a point to mingle with the passengers and often shared table space. Wine was served with dinner as was a non-alcohol beverage-of-the-day.  Executive Chef Manfred Umfahrer was genius. Being able to take on provisions only once for a fourteen-day trip challenged his planning and culinary skills.  It’s not like one can pull to the nearest iceberg for milk and eggs.  He passed with flying colors. The vegans/gluten-free/lactose intolerants/carnivores were all taken care of.  The only thing….desserts especially the cookies were a little on the weak side.  But ice cream with sprinkles and toppings was available lunch and dinner to help make up. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style with an imaginative selection. The kitchen even made Indian cuisine on a regular basis as there was a group of seventeen on board. Fifteen were vegetarians, two ate meat. They were happy.

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Typical salad bar options at lunch | Veg option at dinner.

After dinner it was time to get suited up against the cold. Besides being fond of saying….’depending on the wind and ice’….the word ‘waterproof’ is also heavily used. Making life much easier for the passengers, Quark supplies waterproof parkas to keep and arctic-rated Muck boots on loan. The original parkas have a nice zip out fleece liner, the newer updated style has a zip-out quilted liner. The only thing, the large outer patch pockets are not waterproof so you have to watch what you store in them.  Ask me how I know.  The Muck boots were terrific and comfortable.  I have a tendency to be cold-natured but one pair of thick wool socks kept my feet plenty warm.

No picture to illustrate, but by groups we headed to the Nautilus lounge to try on parkas for sizing and then went to another area to pick up our jacket. Afterwards, we moved to the Mud Room to try on boots. Unless one has weirdly sub-human feet, there will be a pair of boots to fit. I did read on a forum somewhere that one lady had really massive calves and smallish feet which made for an impossible fit, so she sourced her own boots and traveled with them. So unless you are 2000% out of the norm, these boots should fit. ~Let me interject that not all expedition cruises loan boots. For the others, one has to either rent them, or purchase and take up precious luggage space. I guess the boots could always be worn as your primary travel shoe. Hmmm. Stylish!~  We were assigned lockers where our gear lived when not being out on an adventure.

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Mud Room | Trying on Muck Boots

Previous to this Project Runway moment, we queued up to be assigned to zodiac groups which in a very egalitarian manner allowed us to rotate being first on shore.   ~200 peeps (or less), divided into four groups, each group broken down to ten to a zodiac plus a Expedition guide/driver. And that is how we would roll daily after the Drake Passage crossing.

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Dave Merron | Canada | Expedition Coordinator and zodiac driver extraordinaire!

Oh…and remember my toe issue that kept being put on ignore? Well, it turns out that I had bruised the nail during the 7+ mile walk. I finally examined more closely why my toe hurt while trying on my boots and discovered a nice lovely purple-colored nail. The Merrells let me down and the walking in Ushuaia was the last straw. Because of the tender toe, I had to go up a size for my boots which made for a sloppy fit and doesn’t facilitate scrambling around the rocks you’ll see in upcoming pics.  I was very careful.  No way was I going to wipe out on this trip like I did in Mongolia…another story for another time.  ~ No need to honor the bruised toe with a pic.

Side note about our cabin: Only two issues…as we got closer to the peninsula, our cabin  become really, really cold.  We thought it was just a proximity thing…to be expected…it was the Antarctic after all.  But when the hallways were warm but our cabin was freezing, we decided it wasn’t a whole ship temp thing.  It was a vent-stuck-open issue and was promptly repaired.  Further into the cruise, I started smelling exhaust fumes which eventually drove us out of the cabin and to the Passengers Services Desk.  By the time Maintenance came –which was pretty darn quick– other passengers were stepping out of their cabin complaining of the same issue.   The problem was discovered, rectified and life continued.  Great crew!

After a really long, amped up day…it was good to hit the sack. Instead of good night wishes of sweet dreams, the final words of wisdom from our Expedition Crew was to anchor down anything that could break because one never knows when the Drake would go from being a calm lake to feeling like we were in a martini shaker.

The Southern Ocean was straight ahead!