Monday, December 30, 2019

Antarctica - Day 16

December 13

Well, it started off a very bittersweet day as the trip has officially come to an end.  I woke up and got the last of my stuff packed and put my bag in the hallway for pick up, and then headed upstairs to watch as we docked and got ready to leave the ship.  As people slowly started to fill the lounge, many of us began exchanging contact information and saying our goodbyes.  There were some great people on this trip and some I really hope to stay in touch with and maybe even meet up with and shoot together again.  We watched as the ship docked and had to wait onboard until customs had come on and cleared the crew and ship.

There were three busses waiting to take everyone to the airport.  Two were for those people on the first flight out which seemed to be about 2/3 of the group.  It sounded like they actually would be the vast majority of passengers on the first flight out too which was kind of funny.  I was on the third bus with the last 1/3 of the group, most of which were flying out later in the day.  I think there were a handful staying over in Ushuaia at least 1 more day which sounded like a great plan right about then.  We were driven to the parking lot at the end of the pier were we were then able to leave our bags on the bus and get out and wander the town for a few hours until heading back to the bus at 12:30 for the short ride to the airport.  My flight out was at 3:10... and was pretty uneventful. 

After landing back in Buenos Aires, I was really wishing I had picked a hotel closer to the airport there to stay at for the night.  Not knowing the city well, I thought the smart think would be to cross town and stay at a hotel closer to the International airport where I had to fly out the next night.  That turned out to be a mistake as traffic was horrible getting across town and took well over 90 minutes to get to my hotel.  I was already tired before sitting in traffic all that time, and then discovered that there really isn't much at this end of town to see.  All the best stuff was much closer to the other end of town where I'd landed.  I'm pretty disappointed that I'm going to miss out seeing a lot of the sights on this trip now, but I guess that just means I'll have to find another reason to come back down and explore Buenos Aires a lot more.

The hotel was nice and quiet when I checked in .... other than an issue with 3 of the four cards for the door not working, check in was smooth and I pretty much collapsed into bed after settling in. Travel days can really just take it out of you, even when all you're doing for most of the day is sitting around in lines waiting to get on the plane, where you just sit some more wishing you had a few more inches of space.  Tomorrow is the long leg of the trip home, so I'm hoping to get as much sleep as possible, knowing I won't get to sleep much for the next 24 hours.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Antarctica - Day 14 & 15

Well, it was time to head back home... and to cross the Drake again.  A few people sounded a bit worried about the crossing but luckily we got even luckier for our trip north than we did on our way south.  The seas were even calmer for the trip, and the winds not nearly as bad.  The ship still rocked and rolled, but nothing like we experienced on the way down.

That didn't mean there wasn't some drama to the trip, but it's nothing I can really write about here.  I have shared the story with a few of you and maybe I can write a lot more about it soon, but for now, I'll just leave this entry kind of short, and say that the 2 days we had to sail back to Ushuaia was smooth, but took much longer than expected and we barely got back to port in time to disembark as scheduled instead of spending the night before in the Beagle Channel having a nice dinner and good bye party with the crew.

It's time to get some sleep, and say our goodbyes in the morning and head back to our respective homes.  The trip was amazing, and there will be great memories and hopefully long lasting friendships that came out of this adventure.

There will be one or two more posts still I think and then I may take a break and work on the rest of the photos and maybe even post a few follow up stories about the trip, some of the photos I got, some of the things I saw, and maybe just a recap and some info in case anyone else out there would really like to do this trip themselves one day. :)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Antarctica - Day 13 - Part 2


With everyone back on the ship, we sailed off to the next and last excursion of the trip. This landing was at Hannah Point in Walker Bay on Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands.  The point was named after a sealer named Hanna who wrecked his ship there on Dec 25 1820. I kept watching for signs of the shipwreck, but if we were supposed to be able to see it here, I totally missed where it was. This landing might have been the least exciting of all the landings we'd had so far but it was our first really good chance to see more than a random Elephant Seal on the beach.  This beach had a pretty good number of them laying around, some in pretty good sized groups and then as you wandered the beach you would run across a random seal here and there laying off on it's own, tucked up in rocks to help cut the wind I guess.  Can I just mention that seals are pretty boring to watch though? They really don't do much of anything and it started to become a running joke among everyone. Heck, we started to comment that there was some huge excitement happening when one would open it's eyes! LOL

Okay, maybe that's exaggerating things a little bit as there was actually some more excitement than that. We saw a couple of adolescent males do battle a few times. It was fun to watch even if their hearts didn't seem to be totally into it.  It was mostly just a bunch of posturing for the cameras if you ask me. LOL

There were some that kept trying to climb on top of others to get warm which was usually just met with bellows of what I can only assume meant "hey, get OFF me!".

The most exciting seal of all though, was one that was doing something that had to be the equivalent of running the 100 yard dash on the beach. This seal was actually great fun to watch as it would get up on it's front flippers and then do something that appeared to be related to the dance known as "The Worm"... only instead of going backwards this guy was moving forward at a really good pace. I was very impressed!  He would "sprint" about 100 feet and then collapse into a heap with a big deep grunt.  After about 30 seconds of rest though, he was ready for his next "sprint" and would get up and go again.  Another 100 feet, another huge collapse in a heap.  He did this about 5 or 6 times and then the couple of us enjoying the show started to notice he was beginning to cheat now.  He wasn't going that full 100 feet any longer and his breaks seemed to be getting longer with each rest.  Hmmmmm... something's up with that.

I stopped watching when he finally reach a smallish puddle about 200 yards or so down the beach, where he collapsed one last time in what looked like his finally resting spot for the night.  I heard later that he made some pretty funny faces when he reached the pond and that it really did look like he was wiped out. Turns out he did continue on, but by that time I had started to make my way back to the Zodiac as our landing was coming to a close and it was time to head back to the ship.

More Penguins... well, just because :)

The final landing of the trip was over now... I really am not ready to head home.  I could easily spend another month down here continuing on as far as the ship could take us.  Heck, if we could circle the entire continent, I'd be up for that trip!

Antarctica - Day 13 - Part 1


This morning the first stop of the day is at a collapsed volcano that harbors a bay that was once used for Whaling until the late 60's. We were told that we should try to get up and be outside around 7:00am to watch as the captain maneuvers the ship into the bay. We'd heard that the entrance into the bay can be a hairy experience and I think most everyone wanted to watch and see what the fuss was all about. The ship needs to pass through a 1300 ft wide gap in the wall of a Caldera known as "Neptune's Bellows" because of the violent winds that sometimes blow across the mouth of the entrance. Those winds have pushed ships up onto the rocks more than a few times from what I understand, so I decided this would be a great time to set up my GoPro to shoot another time-lapse and capture what it looked like putting the ship into the mouth of a collapsed volcano. It was a pretty morning out there but the winds were kicking up a bit and if you watch the video, you'll be able to see how much the ship rocked back and forth on the way toward the caldera.  It wasn't as exciting to watch as I expected it to be, but was very interesting to feel the ship really being blown around until we entered the mouth of the caldera, where the winds and waves really seemed to calm down ... until we moved a little deeper into the opening and then we were hit with very high and super cold blasts of wind as the winds rushed up and over the wall and glacier slamming into the ship. This seemed to be an "easy" sail into the bay, but did make you realize how the area got it's name and made you wonder what that had to be like back in the day without all the sophisticated navigation today's ships have, or even more, if there was a storm brewing while a captain tried to navigate his way in there.

The wind was really whipping and cold and I think most everyone including me headed back inside. Breakfast was going to be served before we climbed onto the Zodiacs to head to shore, and since I wasn't hungry I just spent the time getting bundled up and looking out the windows to see what I could see.  I was actually kind of excited to see something other than penguins to shoot today. I already saw a number of things to shoot that would be perfect for some abstract type photography this morning. That's much more in my wheelhouse than wildlife has proven to be for sure! LOL

Wandering around through much of the old Whaler's equipment really made you think about what used to go on here, and to think about how many whales much have been fished here. It was sad to think about, especially after seeing so many of those great animals out in the waters around Antarctica and knowing there would probably have been so many more to see if not for the massive hunting of them over the years. Even with all that in mind I really enjoyed shooting abstracts of the old machinery that was scattered around the bay and even found what looked like a tractor of some kind buried deep in the sands near the beach.

There were constant reminders that this is a volcano and that there is still activity somewhere deep below us. The smell of sulfur was pretty strong in the air and then all along the beach, there was a constant flow of steam coming up out of the sands. I walked down to the water's edge and twisted my boots back and forth until they were buried in the sand and after a few minutes you could actually feel the warmth work it's way through the thick rubber and warm your feet. It was a very cool experience to feel how warm your feet got even though you were surrounded by all that ice cold water.

Speaking of ice cold water, there were a handful of people that decided they really wanted to do a polar plunge here before heading back to the ship. I couldn't decide if they were brave or crazy LOL  I didn't stick around to watch as they were all going to be put on the last Zodiac back to the ship, but did later watch the video of all the craziness and was happy I decided against joining in! LOL  My cabin mate and one of the guys I'd been hanging out with for most of the trip did take the plunge and both said that the water was crazy cold!  They did really seem to be happy they did it though.  I mean how many people can say that took a quick swim in Antarctic waters right?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Antarctica - Day 12 - Part 2


We safely got out of the harbor and made our way to our next landing of the day at Paulet Island. While we were underway, lunch was served and it felt really good to be back in the warmth of the ship. I even had a couple of cups of hot chocolate to help warm me up.

Paulet is a circular island, about 1.0 mile in diameter, lying 3 miles SE of Dundee  Island, off
the NE end of the Antarctic Peninsula. Paulet is the site of an enormous Adélie penguin
colony. Paulet consists of a distinct volcanic cone, 1,158 feet high.

In February 1903  a stone hut was built in  by shipwreck  survivors from the Swedish Antarctic
Expedition led by Otto Nordenskiöld, together with the grave of an expedition member, and the cairn
built on the highest point of the island to draw the attention of rescuers, thankfully this story
ended well with the rescue of the totality of the crew by the  Argentinean  Corbeta  Uruguay.  In 
1972  this  hut  was  declared  Historic  Site  and Monument # 41 by the Antarctic Treaty System

This island has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports a large
breeding colony of about 100,000 pairs of Adelié penguins.

Here are photos from the day, including a few that show just how many penguins there were here. They stretched on for as far as the eye could see. 

One funny story from the afternoon is that I was trapped on the beach for close to 20 minutes, I walked up on a group of penguins that were waiting to go into the water and stopped the 10 feet away as required and while I was there waiting for them to decide what to do, another group of penguins came out of the water directly behind me, and then they basically just stood around me preening and shaking the water off, and one even decided to lay down and take a bit of a nap.  Since I couldn't really move without breaking the rule on approaching them, I just took a knee on the beach and enjoyed watching them up close like that.  Other people seemed to get a kick out of me being stuck there as a few later told me they took photos of me trapped there.  LOL

Here is another collection of Penguin photos and a few Blue-Eyed Shags which also nested here and mixed in with the 100,000 penguins nicely.

We stayed on the island and watched the Penguins for a couple of hours and then it was time to start to head back to the ship.  Dinner tonight was at 19:00.

At 20:30 Monika, the expedition leader, gave an introduction on the “History of Whaling in Antarctica” in preparation at tomorrow´s landing at Deception Island.  The weather tonight didn't look like it was going to break enough for there to be any kind of beautiful sunset so I decided i would do my best to get some good sleep tonight for the first time in a week. 

Watching the ship pull into Deception Island tomorrow is supposed to be something to not miss, so I plan on being up early to set up the GoPro and film the whole thing is possible.

Weather Conditions
Wind (direction & force): South East | Light Breeze (4-6 Knots)
Weather & Sea: Clouded | Smooth

LAT. 63˚ 34.9’ S, LONG. 55˚ 46.3’ W

Antarctica - Day 12 - Part 1


Breakfast was served at 07:30 again this morning, and once again I decided to skip it because I still can't adjust to eating when my body think's it's 2:30am. LOL

Our first landing today was at 9:00am at a location called Brown Bluff.  When you see the photo, the name will make perfect sense. :)  Brown  Bluff  is  an  ice-capped,  flat  topped,  745m  high  mountain with a prominent cliff of reddish-brown volcanic rocks. It is part of the northernmost continental extension of the Antarctic Peninsula, and home to thousands of Adelie Penguins, a few hundred Gentoo Penguins  and  a  mix  of  Kelp  Gulls,  Skuas,  Snow  Petrels,  and Pintado Petrels. It is located by the Antarctic Sound to the east of Hope  Bay.

Today was the first day where the weather finally looked and felt like what I had always Antarctica to be like.  The sky was grey, the wind was blowing pretty hard, and it was cold out there.  In fact, before we headed to the land, we were told that our stay may have to be short because the ice was already beginning to move back in.  The captain said he would stay as long as he could, but if the conditions got much worse, he would blow the ships horn twice and we all needed to get back to the ship ASAP.  

As we headed to land, things didn't look too bad out in the bay even though you could see a few huge icebergs way off in the distance.  We were met on the shoreline by lots of Adelie Penguins and right away you could see how different their behavior was compared to the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins we had been seeing up until now.  For one thing, these Penguins were so much faster on land than the others, and they behaved differently as well which became so very entertaining to watch. The first thing I noticed is that ran up and down the beach in single file, and you couldn't help but kind of laugh as the would go running past you or up close to you where they would stop and check you out.

The other thing that was very different was the way these guys would all gather together at the shoreline. While the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins would go into the water a few at a time or even by themselves, the Adelie seemed to only work under the assumption that there was safety in numbers.  A few of them might actually go up to the water's edge and appear ready to go in, but they weren't going anywhere any time soon.... as they insisted on waiting for much larger numbers to come join them before even attempting to jump in.  It was so funny...  to see the way they would bunch up and then seem to wait for one brave, or extra hungry member of the group to be the first to jump in, after which the rest would suddenly dive in behind him until yet another penguin in the group would freeze up, causing the penguins behind him to stop as well, and even run away from the water for a second until they realized they should have gone because this one dummy only got cold feet and now they were all stuck again, waiting for the whole process to start over.  LOL

You can't really see all of that in action  in the photos, but this gives you a little idea what it looked like.  LOL

As we were all sitting there enjoying watching these silly penguins run up and down the beach, and watch them struggle to decide if they wanted to risk diving in to the water to eat, it started to snow and the wind began to pick up.  We suddenly got the call that we had to get back to the ship right now, and everyone was good and rushed back to the Zodiacs.  I think it might have been the fastest they have ever gotten everybody back on board and as soon as I got up on the ship, I could see why the captain made the call that we had to get moving, and now!

Where the bay had been fairly free of ice when we first left the ship, this is what it looked like as we got back on board.

The ice had seriously moved in on us, and the last thing we wanted was to get stuck here in all that ice for who knows how long if it froze up all around the ship. 

So, the visit to Brown Bluff was cut short, but we finally experienced just how fast the weather and conditions here can change, and we got to feel what the weather in Antarctica probably feels like more often than not.  Up until now we've had spring like temperatures... this was more like it!  :)

LAT. 63° 32’ 00” S, LONG. 56° 52’ 00” W

Weather Conditions
Wind (direction & force): South | Fresh Breeze (17-21 Knots)
Weather & Sea: Clouded | Smooth
Temperature: -2ºC | 28.4 ºF

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Antarctica - Day 11


This morning's first landing was our official first Continental landing, in Neko Harbor.  Neko   Harbor   is   an   inlet   of   the   Antarctic Peninsula  on  Andvord  Bay,  situated  on  the west coast of Graham Land. Was discovered by Belgian  explorer  Adrien  de  Gerlache  during the  early  20th  century.  It  was  named  for  a Scottish   whaling   boat,   the   Neko,   which operated in the area between 1911 and 1924.

Above the bay there is a is very active, deeply cracked and tilted glacier that frequently fills the bay with ice and produces huge waves that can wash up onto the beach. There is also a Gentoo rookery on the steep slope above the landing site that may total 1000 pair at the peak of the season

Up until now all of our landings have been on islands just off the Antarctica Peninsula so we've been in Antarctica, but today we officially stepped onto the Continent itself and and I stepped onto my 5th continent.  All I have left is Africa and Australia.

There were a lot of Penguins around and I took a lot of photos yet again. The biggest things that happened on this stop that are memorable, is I saw my first pair of mating Penguins.

I saw and photographed a gull stealing a penguin egg to feast on.

And there was a small avalanche across the bay from where we were all standing that put on a very cool show. I captured most of it in photos, and then was given an actual video clip that captured the whole thing as well.  Here are just a few of the images I shot of that.

All in all, it was a very fun and memorable stop and fun way to start the day. After a couple of hours here though, it was time to get back on the ship.

The rest of the day was going to be spent watching the landscape, icebergs, and glaciers pass by as we speed up the Gerlache Strait and through the Errera Channel so we can round the top of the peninsula and make a landing on Brown Bluff tomorrow.  We are going to be visiting a colony of Adelie penguins that has over 100,000 mating pairs, and is a location that many people usually don't get to see as it's usually blocked in by ice.

The views today were amazing, and the ride east was punctuated with some great whale sightings during the day, including my first real chance to watch a humpback whale breaching over and over again out in the bay.  I was actually lucky enough to get one really good shot of it as it breached as well, which was one of those photos I'd always hoped I'd get a chance to take!

As the day and evening went on, we saw even more whales, some far away, others so close to the ship it felt like you could have just reached out to touch them if you were at water level.  Since most of the whale shots are just the backs of them coming out of the water a little, and not really all that exciting, I'll share more Penguin photos instead.  I mean, you can't really ever get enough cute penguin photos right?  :)

And just to finish off the days's photos... here is a photo of one of the many "Penguin Highways" in use:

And yes, I know this isn't a penguin, but this seal looked right in the camera so I just know he was hoping for a showing on the internet as well.  :)

Today's Weather Conditions
Wind (direction & force): South East | Gentle breeze (7-10Knots)
Weather & Sea: Partly Clouded | Smooth
Temperature: 5ºC | 41 ºF