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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Anti-Antarctica



Ready to depart Tampa!

NOTE: Click on all photos if you want to see more or better. Some of them are spectacular when enlarged.

I don't really remember what started me on my quest to see Antarctica. I think I began looking into it seriously about five years ago, but there were many obstacles. One was money. It's expensive, and we weren't sure we wanted to use our savings for that. Another was Joyce. She hates cold weather, and you can't visit Antarctica without being in a cold climate. It's cold. Even in austral summer, it's cold. A third was just the enormous logistics of such an operation.


It's such a long trip, and neither of us likes extended flying, or ANY flying. Flying has deteriorated from an exotic luxury to total abuse in our lifetimes. Another caution: this isn't a cruise, or a trip, or a vacation as you might normally think of them. This is a strenuous expedition that takes place during your time off. You are not relaxing. You are sleeping or you are participating in a landing, or a lecture. Or you are eating. Or you are laying around in two layers of clothing, waiting to see if you have to put the other two on to get off the ship. So don't think for a minute that you will get any rest, or that stress will be relieved on such a trip. It will not, and I'm here to tell you why.

On the other hand, there's the wildlife, and both of us love seeing animals in their natural habitats. Our focus in travel has shifted in recent years to eco-tourism from indolence and city and typical tourist destinations. We are still indolent at home, but as we age, we have more of a desire to see things while we can. Speaking of age, senior citizens need a clean bill of health from their doctors for this trip, as well as additional insurance (which everyone needs). So that was another hurdle, but we cleared it. Finally, it's melting, or so we're told. You wouldn't have known it to see the continent as we did. Nothing was melting. But we don't see the changes, and we're not the experts. So we took their word for it. If Antarctica is melting, and we're not getting any younger, the time was ripe. So we signed up.

Now, how do you decide with whom to go? Well, same as you decide anything else these days: a lot of internet research. There are actually MORE strenuous trips than the one we chose. We had several criteria that would have been deal-breakers, so those had to be met. First, the dates. The trip had to be in early December during my semester break. Second, we couldn't spend more money than we had. Third, we had to have private bathroom facilities and two lower bunks. Finally, we had to have maximum landing opportunities, which meant fewer than 100 passengers. Any more and they split landings, or they don't land at all because the ship is too big.

Ultimately we chose the "expedition ship" style, with a large but cheap outside cabin on the lowest passenger deck. We passed up ships with elevators and more amenities, in favor of one that met our important requirements.

We made this decision eleven months in advance so we could get into better shape, and learn all we could, and gather our many travel items. It's not easy to find long underwear in plus sizes. Then there was the delicate issue of long landings and small bladders. There is no urinating on Antarctica. Strictly forbidden. The answer: Depends, of course. Joyce found this humiliating but I couldn't have cared less. In any event, we stuffed all our luggage (which is designed for trekking and not luxury travel), with an astounding variety of must-have things, many of which were ultimately little-used, some of which proved essential, such as the collapsible walking-stick/monopods.


So although I didn't blog or even keep a journal on the trip, I'm going to try to re-create it as well as I can before the memories start fading. And I have my pictures and the daily schedule to help me, too. You may want an atlas and dictionary handy, or be prepared to google stuff. A lot of this may not make sense without reference material.

Day One: Tampa to Miami.

After sleeping really badly, if at all, we flew 40 minutes and collected our luggage, moving into the airport hotel overnight. We arrived so early they didn't have our room, so we camped in the lobby. As soon as we got into the room, we took a nap. For whatever reason, every soda machine in the hotel was broken or empty. I wouldn't stay there again unless it was an emergency.






Lucky and Trip relax in Miami.



Got up later and wandered the concourses and ate at Chili's. Watched football and went back to bed. It was a 30 hour layover we couldn't avoid because when one changes planes on the way to Antarctica, one MUST collect luggage or allow time to get it if it's lost. You spend so much money getting outfitted, and have so much stuff you don't dare take any chances. We had five pieces (including carry-ons) with a variety of goodies from Pampers to collapsible monopods to trail mix.



Some luggage, along with our mascots, Lucky and Trip.



Sometimes we had one luggage cart, or sometimes two, or sometimes we hauled it by main force ourselves. I don't know how or why, but American didn't charge us at all for the three checked bags.


Day Two: Miami to Buenos Aires. We got a late check-out because our plane to Buenos Aires didn't leave until 7 PM. The line for the airbus flight was like a mile long behind us. Seemed like most of Argentina was going home for the holidays. Miami was where we first saw the phenomenon of luggage swathed in yards of shrink-wrap: clear, yellow and green. Seems there's a lot of baggage theft on flights to South America. We were tempted, but didn't indulge. Amazingly, Aerolineas didn't charge us for baggage, either, and they fed us twice! This was a red-eye flight that got us in around 6 AM on


Day Three: Buenos Aires. This city of 12 million was taking the day off for a feast of the Virgin Mary. We arrived (along with our luggage) too early to go to our hotel room. It was HOT, but the spa pool and rooftop pool were closed because of the holiday. Joyce drank beer and I threw up because of the cab ride in terrible pollution. We finally got into our room around noon and went to bed. I didn't eat the whole day. I didn't leave the room, either. Joyce ate lunch and dinner alone. I have no pictures of Buenos Aires, primarily because it was just a stopover by necessity and we didn't enjoy it. We had a massage scheduled for

Day Four: Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. But we canceled because I still didn't feel good and didn't want to get up early enough to make it. A driver collected us and took us to the domestic airport. Buenos Aires has three airports: one is domestic, one is for flights within South America and one is for all other continents. As to what Buenos Aires looks like, it looks like every city you ever saw anywhere all rolled into one. It's random, noisy, crowded, dirty, old, new, rich, poor, ugly, beautiful, haphazard and has many ancient Ford Falcons. The pollution is unbearable. I wore my motion sickness bracelets to get from the hotel to the airport so I wouldn't repeat the previous day's disaster.







Ushuaia is very cute and not as cold as you'd expect at that latitude. The streets go straight up and are really just a collection of long staircases.






The Orlova, out the hotel window.

They call it "Fin del Mundo" but obviously with Antarctica 700 miles south, it isn't. The Andes come straight down into the water. It's very beautiful and the people are totally friendly. We really enjoyed it. All we did the first day was transfer (with our luggage) to the hotel, take a short walk and eat in some crazy restaurant devoted to sheep ranching, although they also had the Argentinean beef we were after.



Oh, and one other thing. Our battery charger exploded and we had to buy a South American one. SEVENTY US DOLLARS!!! But it works great and that, along with my five-dollar universal plug adapter, ensured our photographic success, anyway. Note: always look down while walking in Ushuaia. They haven't repaired a sidewalk since before any of us were born. Also, don't miss the monuments to Evita and the Malvinas' War. Both are very . . . demonstrative.






Lucky and Trip enjoy the amenities of the Albatros Hotel in Ushuaia


Day Five: Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. The weather was terrific again, and we wore only jeans and t-shirts, dragging sweatshirts we didn't put on. First order of business, even before breakfast, was check-out, which was really silly because the ship was parked across the street! So the luggage sat someplace for eight hours while we went about our other business. After breakfast the big issue was collecting our rental gear. We hiked straight up four blocks to where we had made reservations, and they had NOTHING to fit us! I ranted and hauled out my copies of correspondence and they located the woman we had been dealing with, who had hidden all the plus size stuff for us and told no one, because if she had, it would have been gone. So off we went with parkas, enormous rubber pants and waterproof backpacks. Took a taxi back to the hotel where they agreed to keep an eye on it while we continued our day ashore. We didn't have to meet for the ride (across the street!) to the ship until 3:30 PM. So we went souvenir shopping and exploring along the waterfront, where climbing the streets wasn't an issue. We wandered in and out of stores and cafes until it was time to meet for embarkation.






Somewhere along the way, Joyce adopted Plucky. See photos below.

Aboard the MS Lyubov Orlova: Beagle Channel. First things first. We met in a parking lot on the waterfront for the two-block bus ride to the port (security, of course) they checked our documents as we boarded the bus and Joyce spotted a kid, whom she hoped was the bus-driver's daughter. There aren't supposed to be any kids under 12 on this trip, but there she was, all eight years of her (as we found out later). This kid, Emily, never shut up and really annoyed the crap out of us and the Expedition Leader, with stupid stupid questions until we disembarked on the last day. You can avoid them and refuse to interact with them, but you can still hear them SHRIEK, and that's not what we paid for. Anyway, all 98 of us got on a couple of buses and were driven inside the port gates. We got out dragging our rented gear and went through the checkpoint which consisted of two young women with guns apparently discussing their boyfriends. There was a knife in my belly bag and they never even saw it. We found this hilarious and reassuring after the hoopla we've seen and been through in US airports.

Orlova is a very small, Yugoslavian-built, Russian-crewed ship originally intended to do Baltic summer cruises. She was built in 1976 and refurbished twice, most recently in 2002, including ice-hardening of her structure, which is needed both due to the rough seas and the ice through which she sails. She goes to the northern polar regions in northern summer. Although she carries 199 passengers, she had only 98 aboard because you can't land more than 100 people in Antarctica at one location. Our cabin was originally a quadruple and so was very large, which was handy for all the extra garbage we had to haul. The bathroom was enormous for a ship of that age and type. I chose the bottom passenger deck both for the price and the location, because the further down you are in a ship, the less movement you will feel. More on this later. It's not meant to be a luxury cruise; it's an expedition vessel with fewer amenities than usual, but still comfortable. More than adequate, really, except the towels were like sandpaper, the pillows were like sacks of raw potatoes, and the water pressure in the shower wasn't enough to brush your teeth! As it turns out, we didn't bathe much. More on that later, too.

In Ushuaia this time of year, there are barely five hours of darkness, so when we sailed at 5 PM, there were still many hours until sunset and we got to see a lot of the Beagle Channel. It's lots of beautiful mountains coming down to the sea, islands and birds. If you've been to the San Juans in Washington State, you can kind of get the picture, except for all the glaciers on the mountains.





Anyway, there was the usual Captain's welcome cocktail party, during which I managed to spill orange juice on an anaemic British engineer. I offered to pay for cleaning but she wouldn't hear of it. She looked really gaunt and her husband was nearly as unhealthy-looking. I almost wondered if she was a Make-A-Wish kid or something. There were a lot of totally weird-looking people on this trip, with me, Joyce and a very big young woman from Baltimore at the large end of the scale. Several men were alone, and roomed with strangers or had a private cabin. There were several lesbigay couples aboard, including one female pair who pretended to be cousins (I am NOT making that up) for no reason whatsoever because if you go on this sort of expedition (NOT a cruise as we were repeatedly told) you are not a narrow-minded person. We were totally up front about who we were and no one even blinked. Same for the male couples, one of which was a May-December and December was REALLY creepy in a PDA sort of a way.

Dinner followed cocktails, and Joyce got some more Argentinean beef. However, she claimed it wasn't as good as we'd had the night before, and she complained about almost every meal thereafter, especially the coffee. I think a lot of this was a result of her reluctance to go on the trip in the first place (more on this later) because I am an incredibly fussy eater and I loved almost everything they served. We had three choices per meal and there was always a vegetarian option, which a lot of people, including me, really enjoyed, because it usually meant pasta. There may have been a movie, or a lecture, or something after dinner, but what impressed me most was, they said we were going to hit the Drake Passage late that night, and it would be too rough for showers for at least two days. So I went below and took a shower and read before bed while my hair dried. Joyce was too tired and went right to sleep. We're not used to getting up at the butt-crack of dawn and we'd been on the move for several days by this point, and knew we would be at sea for two whole days where we could catch up on our rest.

Day Six: At sea. Aboard the MS Lyubov Orlova: The Drake Passage. This is where I began having serious misgivings, and where Joyce began to consider murder. Oh, sure, they told us it would be rough. They said it was the worst navigable water in the world, because all the water in the Southern Hemisphere is trying to squeeze itself through a tiny little gap between the continents. But you don't know what that really means until you're in it. I disagree that it is "navigable." This was filmed in 2006, but could easily have been last week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jld5pIUKhCE

We started feeling this around midnight and just stayed in bed unless to crawl to the bathroom. You didn't dare stand up. Luckily there were plenty of those grip bars like in nursing homes so you could haul yourself onto the toilet and them, ride 'em, cowgirl! until you were done. We had those motion sickness wristbands and while they worked pretty well, eating was out of the question. I didn't eat for two days. Joyce attempted tea and crackers, but when we had to crawl up two decks for mandatory briefings, she lost it all. She threw up five times in one day, all at the Zodiac briefing which we absolutely could not miss or we couldn't go ashore. We kept bottled water secured in our nightstand because there was no way you could stand up at the sink and get a drink. They held "boot camp" and we had to crawl up and try on the rubber boots we had to wear to go ashore. People were just puking every which way. All the public spaces were on the fifth deck: dining room, bar, library and lounge. People were laying down on all the furniture and the floor. You couldn't walk in a straight line; you had to lean one way, come upright, then lean the other. I got the hang of it but couldn't see any point to staying up there, because it was like an endless game of crack the whip. We bought bar snacks and soda went back to bed.



Lucky, Trip and Plucky secure in their hammock for Drake Passage. Note barf bag. We did find out there were free knockout pills from the doc, so we haunted her cabin until we got some. But we still didn't eat, and stayed in bed.It was the same on

Day Seven: At sea. Aboard the MS Lyubov Orlova: The Drake Passage. All day long we read, slept and played "slug." Here's how you play. You choose a covering all one color, cover yourself completely, and lay on your side. The ship does the rest. Your body inches up and down the bed while the ship pitches and yaws. You look exactly like a garden slug going back and forth. You can't help it. And we discovered we could sleep through anything: each other's snoring, the bow crashing down every few seconds, doors slamming in the passageways, public address announcements in Russian and Nut. Nut lived in our overhead and jumped and clattered sporadically but constantly. When Nut wasn't around, we knew we were in calmer waters. Of course, ear plugs, a sleep machine and an eye mask, along with knockout drugs, helped a lot. Anyway, you would read a page and nod off, or talk for a few minutes and nod off. Whenever Joyce roused enough to speak, it was to tell me she was only keeping me alive until we got home so she didn't have to carry all the luggage herself. We found out other passengers couldn't stay awake either, and just slept wherever they were. Many of us didn't come out for two days except for mandatory briefings.



Cabin in typical disarray. Note still packed and never worn sweaters still in luggage. Note trusty sleep machine. Note green "slug" costume on bed.

ATTENTION! IF YOU ARE IN ENC 1101 or 1102, congratulations! You have earned an extra credit point. Just go tell Dr. Z. where you found this note.

Lectures and discussions and presentations of all kinds went on, mostly unattended. The historian was an idiot and took this very personally. He would make announcements whining that he was all alone in the library, or something. He was so bad, though, if we'd been sailing the Aegean in August, he STILL would have been all alone.

In addition to playing "slug," we played "fishbowl." The ship also does this for you. As it pitches, it also yaws, and the waterline bisected our cabin. This meant we were either looking straight up at the sky, or we were under water. Sky, water, sky, water. Often on "sky" we would be levitated right up out of our bunks, momentarily weightless.The bluer the light, the longer under, or further down, we were. Luckily our porthole didn't open. You feel so bad while this is going on, you aren't as scared as you are resigned. Two days of this is a very long time, and we knew we'd be doing it again on the way back. But by now we also had access to drugs to supplement our wristbands.

Late that afternoon, we finally reached the South Shetland Islands, where the wave action really calmed down and they hoped for a landing but the water was still too rough for that. Some of us crawled on deck and looked, some didn't, but since we were anchoring there overnight, it didn't matter. We knew we'd be going ashore on

Day Eight. At sea and South Shetland Islands. And before I go further, this is a good time to talk about our Expedition Leader, Cheli ("Shelly") Larsen, a big, brawny Kiwi with a staff of eight men. Twenty years ago I'd have been head over heels had Joyce not been in the picture. She was larger than life, smart, funny and very expert. She made the whole trip go like clockwork, as much as one can in such a rapidly-changing environment.


Cheli. Standing upright. Not in Drake Passage.

The Kiwi accent is such that a short "e" as in "Shetland" comes out a short "i" so it sounds like "Shitland" and "deck" is always "dick." A long "a" becomes a long "e" so "air fair" comes out "ear fear." We had a lot of laughs in private about this. Anyway, we made two landings that day, one on Half Moon Island and the other at Whaler's Bay on Deception Island. These were my first Zodiac excursions and while they are okay, not too tough or too scary, Joyce was very hesitant. She found the equipment extremely cumbersome (and it is!) and the ladder is steep (it's actually a metal staircase, but it has steps you can climb, and two rails), and so although she dressed for the second landing, she backed out.

To go ashore, you must have on: long underwear, a second layer of "street clothes" and then an impermeable outer layer of parka and dry pants. Also two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, hat, scarf, rubber boots, life preserver and a backpack for gear such as extra, dry items, cameras and trekking poles. The ground is rough and/or icy/snowy, and the poles really are a must. So all this was a bit much for Joyce and she decided not to disembark that day. She also said she wouldn't disembark any other day, either, but more on that later.

So the first landing was to a snowy beach with a lot of penguins. Penguin poop is pink, and it smells a lot and penguins are dirty unless they're swimming. These were Chinstrap Penguins and they were gestating eggs. However, they are friendly, happy creatures and human beings don't bother them a bit. You can't touch them, or pick up anything, not a pebble or a feather: nothing. So you look at them, photograph them and talk to them.




The island was very small and I walked across most of it, staying out of the rookeries. You wouldn't want to go into these anyway, as they stink. But the birds are fun to watch, doing all their little social activities. They will walk right up to you and examine your gear, even peck and pull on it, and are very sweet. This was also the first place I saw icebergs, since I didn't get up to see the earlier landfall we made, the one where we couldn't get off the ship.



Weird landscape at Half Moon Island.














Icebergs at Half Moon Island.






Next stop was Deception Island, site of the Polar Plunge. Originally I had planned to do this but when I learned the water was NOT warm (although the brochures and site said it was) I decided not to. I would guess two dozen people went in. Later on I learned there was a really warm spot where you could actually get in the water and stay there, but it was a long hike from where we landed. Whaler's Bay is the site of a lot of whale carnage that I really don't want to talk about. Suffice it to say, the practice was gruesome and we are all still paying for it. It's a cinder beach and a very easy landing but an ugly place. You can hike up to Neptune's Bellows to see the Peninsula on a clear day, but it was too steep for me, and anyway, we were going there right away.







Chilean Navy ship in front of Neptune's Bellows, Whaler's Bay, Deception Island.

There are lots of whaling artifacts on the beach, but you can only photograph them.






A few penguins and other birds were hanging around.

The last thing was the Polar Plunge. Deception Island is a collapsed volcanic caldera, like Santorini, and there's still an active volcano under there which creates pockets of warm water and melts the snow. But it is NOT a warm place. I was afraid of getting hypothermia so I didn't undress. This was one of the places ruined by Emily, who had to have attention, prizes, certificates and constant recognition. We complained about this on our questionnaires, and I won't mention her again, because it would make her happy. After the plunge, we went back aboard, and remained anchored for a Russian musical presentation and dinner.

The whole crew is Russian, from the Captain to the last boiler stoker. There are LOTS of women aboard, mostly doing housekeeping, but several are professionals. They had their own doctor, we had ours, both women. Women were in charge of housekeeping, information and dining. So the point of all this is, there were plenty of attractive young women to sing and dance in the show. And they made wonderful bread and salt (Russian symbols of hospitality) to eat while watching. Also vodka. Then the Russian meal, Stroganoff and many other delicacies. All their desserts are made with wonderful sculptures of crystallized sugar. I ate them all! That night we headed out into the open sea of the Bransfield Strait between the South Shetlands and the Peninsula, which is just like the Drake Passage, but shorter. Luckily, Joyce showered first! And she wasn't the only one, either. There was lots of not bathing and no shaving AT ALL (And no makeup. Are you kidding? You'd poke your eye out.) while we went through open water. And lots of wearing the same clothes, and lots of not caring what you or anyone else looked like. Pretty sure we all smelled the same, too.

Day Nine: The Antarctic Peninsula. Danco Island and Neko Harbour. Having done two landings the previous day, I decided to skip Danco Island because it wasn't a continental landing,and Neko Harbour was, so I thought I should save my strength for that. Getting into all the gear is very wearing, and you really want it to be FOR something. At least by staying in sheltered water, we could move around the ship and on deck and eat meals. As it turned out, though, we couldn't land at Neko Harbour, but they did a Zodiac cruise there instead. Joyce stayed aboard and walked around on deck and took pictures from there.




Neko Harbour from the ship.



I took the cruise.


Champaign was served.












We drove through a U-shaped iceberg. And inside an iceberg.
Don't tell! These violate the insurance regulations!!!!!!










And here's my most fantastic iceberg shot.


On the occasions I didn't take a cruise,I asked people what they saw and it was the usual "penguins and icebergs" so I didn't feel I missed much. Besides, I figured anything wonderful would be captured by others and would turn up on the DVD of the trip we all got at the end. Honestly, I wouldn't have been able to tell one location from the next except I made video notes in the camera so I know which is which. This was one of the problems with the trip: everything looks alike: penguins, rocks and icebergs. It was like Groundhog Day after a while. So, that afternoon, we couldn't land at Neko Harbour anyway due to rough seas, or maybe it was ice. Or both! So they backed off to clear water and did the Zodiac cruise.

At this point I'll tell you about our traveling companions. Most were incredibly well-traveled, quite a few doing their seventh continent. Joyce and I still have one to go after this, Australia and Asia respectively. Among the 98 of us, we represented 26 nations. We had a very good time with people from Denmark, South Africa, Australia, Brazil and the US, because we could actually hold extended conversations with them. There were some groups and couples where one didn't speak conversational English so the other would translate for them. There was a family which was either Russian, Greek or Israeli in which the father was very angry all the time. On the last continental landing, he and his daughter were in my Zodiac and he kept shouting. "We go continent NOW! No more cruise! Land now!" Some landing sites were too small for all 98 of us to be ashore at once so half would cruise while half went ashore, then we'd switch. He didn't get it.

There were also the male "lone wolves," such as the former Navy guy with the birth control glasses who always had to be right and never shut up. There was another one who came fully dressed in outer gear to EVERY meal and never spoke to anyone. And on and on. The doctor's son and husband were aboard and the kid was a surly SOB. On the other hand, there was a collection of teenagers from other nations and they were all kinds of fun to have around. Even with only 98 passengers aboard, we didn't get to know everyone, but we shared a lot of meals and good times with the ones we sort of fell in with.


To Joyce, this was a highlight of the trip, because we never meet people to whom we can relate or with whom we get along, with a few obvious exceptions, some of whom are reading this journal. She so fell in love with these people that she is seriously considering the Galapagos this summer, if we can afford it. She figures on expeditions and eco-trips, the intelligence level will be very high, and she's right. There were many educators, doctors, and other highly-educated people on this trip. We didn't have to explain the places we'd been, and everyone cared about the environment. The passengers not from the US were as appalled as we are with our current political situation. Everyone is sure Obama is the answer. We wouldn't go that far, but with these folks, we could agree on what the problems were. They were relieved to meet Americans who aren't religious fanatics, prudes and bigots. We were relieved not to be those kinds of Americans, either. In fact, it creeps us out that the "average American" would probably not be welcome or comfortable in the more socially advanced nations of the world. Every other adult had a master's degree, quite a few taught college, and of course all the kids were in school and very motivated. The expedition staff set a wonderful example for them of what they can do with their lives.

Overnight between Day Nine and . . .

Day Ten. Port Lockroy, Lemaire Channel, Peterman Island. . . . it snowed and someone built a snowperson on the afterdeck. And yes, that IS a pool. They keep the deck chairs in it.






It snowed quite heavily from this point on, but the sun always came out and melted it all, and gave us wonderful photo opportunities. Port Lockroy was where Joyce got off the ship for the only time until we arrived back in Ushuaia. And guess why. Yes. There was a gift shop! Port Lockroy is a British scientific base with a shop, post office and museum. They LIVE in the museum! Anyway, it was the most difficult landing, just our luck, but the staff pushed us up the rock outcropping that served as a "dock."





Joyce comes ashore at last!




Museum living space at Port Lockroy.


Filthy penguins live in harmony with humans at Port Lockroy.























Lucky, Plucky and Trip enjoy penguin poop at Port Lockroy







After our time ashore, we took a Zodiac cruise. I left my camera in my pack because if you've seen one iceberg, you've seen them all. Well, not really, but mostly. We encountered a very slutty leopard seal who played with our Zodiac and showed us all her attributes up close and personal. I don't have photos of my own but they are in the DVD. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to export a shot from there to here. So I located this YouTube of a leopard seal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq-qjITROa8

This is a good video but our seal was much sluttier. If I can ever figure out how to capture a shot, I'll add it. But look at YouTube some more. They have dozens of leopard seal videos.

I think right after Port Lockroy we had our barbecue on deck. They just do it to say they did it. They also tried to get us all in one picture at the southernmost point of the cruise, near Peterman Island, 65 Degrees S latitude.







At Peterman Island, we also said goodbye to our friend Lew, a gentleman we never met, but who wanted his ashes scattered in Antarctica, among other places. We said Kaddish for him and scattered his ashes here:




His wife wanted a peaceful place. We felt this was it.






Then we cruised back through Lemaire Channel and on

Day Eleven: We arrived in Paradise Harbour. There is an Argentinean Science Station there, crewed only in summer. A lot of people climbed up a high peak. We didn't. In fact, Joyce stayed on the ship while I went ashore. But there were some photo ops and a Zodiac cruise.








There were blue eyed shags. Click on the photo and look very closely for the blue ring.




Icebergs.




Glaciers.






The usual suspects.



Me.








High peak not climbed by me.

This was our last landing, although there was a Zodiac cruise in the Melchiors in which I declined to participate. Later that day we came upon a pod of humpbacks and stayed with them for quite a while, but since they didn't breach, I don't have a decent shot of them. I do, however, have this lousy shot of two of them blowing:




But you can see some here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EluLLMm1koQ. Then late that night it was back across the Drake Passage again.

Day Twelve: At sea. Drake Passage. See Day Seven.

Day Thirteen. See Day Twelve, except we had a lot of paperwork and packing to do, and there was a farewell dinner.




Fortunately, we reached the Beagle Channel early enough so we could pack without being flung all around the cabin.

Day Fourteen: Ushuaia and Buenos Aires. This wasn't according to plan at all. It was supposed to be Ushuaia to Buenos Aires to Miami to Tampa all in a row, traveling overnight. But when we got to the international airport, we were informed there would be no flight to Miami. We were supposed to leave at midnight, but were postponed till noon. Here's another point at which we had regrets, and they got even worse when it cost us almost SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS to rearrange our flight from Miami to Tampa. We'll be protesting that but have little hope of success. However, we will NOT travel American again. Years ago we had a rough time with America West, and after an unsatisfactory ending to that, we have managed to totally avoid them as well. So stay off American AND America West, and avoid Aerolineas Argentinas, too, because it was their "no airplane" that set the whole chain of events in motion.

So back downtown we went to Hotel Presidente, and the ride, meals, room and an international phone call were all covered by them. It's a good hotel. Probably an excellent location, but all we did there was eat and sleep to get ready for

Day Fifteen. Buenos Aires to Tampa. Yes, we should have been home. But first, a nine hour flight full of screaming brats. I swear, there was one toddler or infant for every adult on that plane. I have never seen such a miserable situation. I have never liked children, and now I like them even less. The noise they create is unbearable. I believe it's he same decibel numbber as a chainsaw. I wore earplugs and my eye mask, because making eye contact is asking for trouble. Of course when we got to Miami, our new connecting flight to Tampa was delayed an hour, then another, then another. By the time we reached Tampa, we were another six hours late and it was


Day Sixteen. Tampa. And no previously-arranged shuttle in sight. Of course, it was 2 AM but even so, we saw FOUR of the same company's shuttles after we called for ours. Up over 24 hours at this point, Joyce unloaded on three out of four drivers, two of whom went away again, while the last one stayed and whined. It was five AM by the time we got home. We know Dora the fairy dogmother is an early riser, so we went to Waffle House, ate, got her breakfast to go, and parked outside her house at 6 AM, when we called and woke her up. about an hour later, we were home, three dogs and two dead-tired dog mothers.




Okay, so what if it IS last year's picture? We did have the tree and the creche up before we left, and what a relief that was when we got home!






We do not recommend a trip to Antarctica. Whatever you see on the National Geographic Channel is more than enough. It's too far away, takes too long to get there, is excruciatingly uncomfortable, it's repetitive in the extreme, it's expensive, and very hard to get around in because of the tons of clothing and equipment. And honestly, it's dangerous. You need an extra insurance policy, and with good reason. The penguins and seals and whales are happy and don't need us, and whenever we saw black diesel smoke coming out of the Orlova's smokestack, we felt sick. We are polluting it and killing it. Yeah, we're not completely unhappy we did it. Antarctica is extraordinary: severe, beautiful, pristine, remote, and full of life, however monochromatic. We met some wonderful people and had the adventure of a lifetime, but then, so did the people who crashed in the Andes and ate the dead to survive. Unless your heart is set on it, spend your travel money somewhere else. If you HAVE to go, you will go. That's why I went. But if you're ambivalent, like Joyce, Fiji sounds like a nice, relaxing alternative.

Epilogue: As soon as we got home, we collapsed. We took turns being sick. I spent one afternoon hooked up to monitors in the hospital. They always seem to think I'm having a heart attack, but it was just bronchitis, probably from flying. It's all better now. Other than that, we mostly slept a lot and had a very quiet Christmas, although our travels added somewhat to the pre-purchased presents under the tree, and Joyce made us a lovely Christmas dinner. But fatigue and apathy made Christmas cards just impossible before Wild Card Weekend. I will be sending them out so our family and friends can find their way here!

And our trip insurance AND American took care of the absurd prices we had to pay to get home, so many thanks to them.

Anyone else that stumbles across this is welcome, too, and please feel free to add comments. I understand some people will disagree with me, and that's okay.