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To Antarctica by boat

I just got back from the best trip of my entire life – a 10 day voyage to Antarctica.

Words cannot describe how amazing it was, but I’m going to try. Here are some of my journal entries from the voyage.

Entry 1 – First night on the boat

It’s about midnight and I’m tucked up in the small cabin I’m sharing with Arnold, a computer programmer from China, and Sen, an artist from Japan. We have just had a great starting night to the expedition, and I’m as excited as kid on the night before Christmas.

I’m so glad to have caught this last minute trip. If I hadn’t, I would have had to wait around in Ushuaia for another 7 days. I ended up on the faithful Russian vessel Orlova (which holds 100 passengers), run by Quark Expeditions, and as I write we are gently cruising through the calm waters that make up the Beagle Channel (named after Darwin’s voyage).

Both the crew and the expedition staff are made up of a lively bunch from around the globe. Our Captain and crew are all Russian (including one officer that has already hit on two of the women passengers), our manager is from Holland, and our bartender, who already hates me, is from Canada. The expedition staff is made up of scientists, biologists, glaciologists, ornithologists and historians, and they’ve already hit it off with all of of the passengers.

The energy on this boat is electric. There are a lot of unique and interesting people from all over the world. The number of passengers over the age of 65 is significant (more incredibly, there seems to be probably a dozen people over 80 on the trip) however I have already found a great crew to hang with. At dinner tonight I also realized that this expedition would be much more like a cruise than I originally thought. The food is abundant and delicious, the passengers like to have a good time, and the drinks are strong.

Entry 2 – the Drake Passage

9am

It’s about 9am on the second day of our trip. We hit the Drake Passage around two and a half hours ago. I know this because three of the drawers flew out of our cabin’s nightstand onto the floor and my head slammed into the bottom of the bunk above me. Arnold just projectile vomited all over the middle of our room. My other roommate, Sen from Japan, and I can only sit and watch in sympathy.

The Drake Passage (named after the British captain/pirate Drake who first discovered the waterway) is about as notorious as the captain it is named after.  This strong ocean current lies between the respective tips of Tierra Del Fuego and the Antarctica Penisula. The Drake Passage is one of the roughest batches of water on planet earth. It’s roughness has to do with the warm waters of the Atlantic hitting the cold waters of the Southern Ocean. With a little luck, it takes 36 hours to navigate through the passage to calmer waters.

Breakfast was not well attended this morning – I think passengers are dropping like flies. One of our senior citizen passengers threw up on one of the zodiac drivers on the way back to their room. Apparently about half the passengers have called for the staff doctors already this morning, and are currently laying in their cabins under the fog of heavy medication.

It is difficult to walk around the ship. Every few seconds it rocks to 45 degree perpendicular angles.

Either by the stroke of pure luck, or by the fact that I have been inhaling Dramamine from the second I got on the boat, I am feeling completely fine. There are actually about ten or so of us that haven’t felt the effects yet at all.

4pm

It’s about 4pm in the afternoon now. As the day has progressed it seems like the travel sickness medication has begun to kick in. Passengers are beginning to rise from the dead.

We are getting regular whale siting reports over the intercom. The staff will say something like “We have a fin whale siting at 3 o’clock on the port side!”. Lemming like, we all scramble at top speed hoping to catch the glimpse of a tail. 20% of the time we are greeted by a massive majestic creature. Some of the whales even came extremely close to the boat. The other 80% of the time we don’t see a damn thing.

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We have also had some hour long lectures by the Expedition Staff. The staff are extremely well informed and entertaining. Apparently they will continue doing these lectures throughout the evening and tomorrow morning so that before our first landing we will be well-equipped with the knowledge of the history of Antarctica,  the flying birds of the Antarctic, penguins, dog sledding, Antarctic rocks and glaciers, and the river of krill (krill makes up the bottom of the food chain that sustains almost all Antarctic life). The latest lecture I just attended was an extensive briefing on the different shapes and colors of penguin poo we would see. They really cover it all.

Meanwhile, I’ve hit my head on something at least 12 times since last night. I am clearly too large for life at sea.

Entry 3 – First Landings


photo: Osama Muhammed 

It is around 7pm on the third day of the voyage. Today we did our first three landings: Danco Island, Neko Harbor on the Antarctic mainland, and Paradise Bay.

To do an actual landing, you have to wear rubber boots, a waterproof coat, and waterproof pants. Passengers line up and disembark down a 20 step gangway to get onto a zodiac boat.

When we arrived on Danko Island we were greeted by thousands of Gentoo penguin chicks. For the most part, their mothers and fathers were out at sea trying to eat enough krill to sustain them.

Penguins are agile and smooth in the water. They move through the water like little torpedoes. Penguins on land are a completely different story. They waddle like little footballs waiting to be punted.

There are many, many rules as to how you must behave in Antarctica with regards to wildlife. For example, you are not supposed to get closer than five meters to a penguin.  However, if you are sitting on a rock minding your own business and they decide to come up and start biting your boots that is OK, as long as you are not the instigator.

On the first landing this morning, while walking up a sizable hill through a penguin colony, we stumbled across a Brown Skua nest. The Skua’s role in the Antarctic is to pick off and eat the sick and dead baby penguins. They are pretty big and look like a cross between a hawk and a sea gull. As we were walking up the hill, a little old American lady made straight for the Skua nest and started shooing them away…

Here is how it went down:

Little Old Lady: “Go away Birds!!! Go away!!!!”

Skuas proceed to dive bomb the little old lady in a dramatic fashion ala Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.

Little Old Lady starts to panic and run, I try to help her away from them.

Little Old Lady: “I did not want them to eat the baby Penguin”

I look over and see that there is a baby chick behind at the base of the rocks

Dave: “Lady, thats not a baby penguin, thats a baby skua” (The baby penguins were easily 10 times the size of the skua chick in question)

Little Old Lady: (Pauses, then looks up at me with her eyes wide open) “Oh, well that explains everything”.

We landed at Neko Harbor after lunch. Neko Harbor was one of our only stops on mainland Antarctica. Most of the stops were on surrounding islands. The harbor was basically a giant lake at the base of a 100 meter glacier. The glacier was not as big as Perito Moreno in Argentina, but close.

We had the pleasure of having a real live Antarctic wedding on our boat. Katie and Jason of San Diego, California had the most non-traditional wedding I have ever experienced. They married on a giant cliff, half a mile up a mountain overlooking Neko Harbor. They looked like specs from our viewpoint below. I really admire their style.

Another amazing thing happened about 20 seconds after the ceremony. Immediately facing us, a piece of the glacier the size of the U.S. White House crumbled off and crashed into the lake. The penguins all began to scream and head for higher ground. They formed a tight knit circle together. It was stunning how even baby penguin chicks have way more natural instincts than we do. We just stared blankly ahead, mesmerized by the once in a lifetime experience. It’s hard to describe in words how big, thunderous, and amazing this was. Between the crew and the expedition staff, nobody had ever seen a glacial calving that big and that magnificent.

An older Greek man, who apparently did not hear the part of the shore briefing that instructed us to stay off the beach, enjoyed the sight from the waters edge. The first wave that was created from the calving came up to about his knees. The second wave completely took him out. I did not see it firsthand, but from what others said it broke completely over his head. He was unhurt, but very lucky he did not get sucked out and finished off by the mini tsunami. It must have been pretty cold. 

The award for the worst job on the boat must go to the Russian crew member whose job it is to clean the penguin poo off everyone’s boots as they return from shore. Surprisingly, this guy does not seem to mind his job. He has to ask each person to raise their right foot, then he says “OK”, then left foot, “OK”. The trouble is that it is not always “OK”. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of penguin poo to contend with in Antarctica. He has to check over 200 boots after every landing.

Entry 4 – Seal attacks, the Antarctic Circle and Smooth Sailing

I’ve decided that I love seals.  They are pretty much my favorite animal. Maybe it is because seals are so much like dogs. Although, they smell quite a bit worse than dogs. Like penguins, they spend much of their time at sea eating.  Sitting on the decks of the ship we would occasionally see a seal stick his head up, look around, take a quick breath, and then head back down into the depths.

I’ve seen fur seals, crab eater seals, leopard seals, and weddle seals on this trip. On one of the islands I was charged by a fur seal. Given my big and sluggish stature I am lucky that seals are even bigger and slower. The picture below is the little guy who charged me. I think I woke him up trying to take his picture.

The leopard seals are the really scary bastards. Most of the seals eat krill and fish. Leopard seals eat other seals and penguins. They weigh in at 1200 pounds and have extremely sharp teeth.

This morning we made a typical landing. It was snowing hard and I was hoping to chill with a new type of penguin that we had not yet seen, the Adelie.  As we were on our zodiac boat ride in, I thought I saw a batch of Adelie penguins. I felt like being by myself that morning, so I broke from the pack to chill with the new penguins. It took a bit of athleticism to get to the batch of rocks that I thought they were on. I was the only around, the rest of the people hiked up a hill to a different part of the island.

This is where dumb luck kicked in.

There was not a single Adelie Penguin anywhere around. I was surrounded by Gentoo penguins (the same kind that we had seen for days). So, I was a little pissed off with my miscalculation.

Then, out of nowhere I saw a swarm of birds hovering and dive bombing an area right in front of me. When I looked again closer, I saw a leopard seal ripping a penguin to shreds. He was right in front of me in the water, chowing down on a fresh kill. Thank god I am so skillful in misidentifying penguins.


Entry 5 – The Antarctic Circle

Out of the limited weeks that you can actually travel in Antarctica, late February and early March is when it is possible to get as far south as the Antarctic Circle. Last night our expedition leader Jan bravely made the call to go for it. Out of the 8 expeditions that were in Antarctica at the same time as us, we were the only ones that went.

As we crossed into this mystical place early this morning, we saw hundreds of icebergs around us in every direction. As I am writing this it feels like I am sitting among a city of icebergs. Some look like castles, others like skyscrapers. The shear size of these hunks of ice is daunting. Now I understand what happened to the Titanic. Polar skuas are flanking the right and left side of the ship, and humpback whale sightings have been frequent.

The expedition staff is buzzing with raw energy, as only one of them has been this far south. It’s almost noon and the sun is not even close to reaching the halfway point in the sky. We are getting 18 hours plus of light per day. I just saw a 60 year old couple run past me with  the energy of a pair of five year olds. Even the Russian crew seems excited.

Our goal was to make a landing at Detail Island, the site of an abandoned British naval outpost from 1953. Landings at Detail Island are extremely tough due to surrounding pack ice and deep waters. We were the first to make the attempt out of any of the expeditions in 2007.

Luckily, after three attempts at anchoring, we were able to dock. Then, the expedition team made a successful scout landing and let us know that we would be able to land. The rush of adrenaline hit us all at the same time, and we scrambled downstairs to get our gear on.

When we got to the shore, we saw that Detail Island was flourishing with wildlife. A colony of Fur seals were sleeping on the rocks to our right, with Weddle seals intermittently mixed in. We were able to get right next to the seals. Some grunted and barked at us, most did not even blink an eye to acknowledge our presence.

Then, we got to experience another crown jewel. We were able to tour the abandoned British base. It was preserved like a time capsule. There was food in the cabinets, magazines on the table, and pots on the stove. We walked into a time warp. For the most part, it was unspoiled since their hurried evacuation almost 54 years ago. They had skis by the door, and maps and charts laid out in the workspace. The bedding was still on the bunks.


Entry 5 – The Polar Plunge 

Last night we were informed that we were going to have the opportunity to swim in the water of Antarctica, from the shores of the volcanic Deception Island. Over many beers, the crew and I discussed how we could make an Antarctic Polar Plunge on a volcanic island even more ridiculous. We came to the conclusion that I should wear Brazilian Carol’s tini bikini in the water.

Needless to say, it was the most cold I have ever been in my life.

We have just seen the most beautiful Antarctic sunset. I’m so sad to leave this place. I’ll definitely be back at some point in my life.

Concluding thoughts on the best trip ever

The trip home was fantastic. We got the “Drake Lake” (a very calm Drake Passage) and no one became seasick. Furthermore, the nightlife erupted as no one had to get up for landings. The expedition staff performed the zodiac dance for the first time. The passengers were all beaming from the post Antarctic high.

We experienced so much amazing stuff in our ten days. I have not even come close to documenting all of it. I do not know if it’s possible. All I know that this was the best 10 days of traveling that I have ever been a part of.

To whoever is reading this, if you get a chance, spend the money to go to Antarctica and discover the last untouched place on this planet.

 

 

 

 

 

UNEDITED:

Part 1 – Rough Seas and Roommates

After leaving Ushuaia the Orlova– our faithful vessel–gently cruised through the calm waters that make up the Beagle Channel (named after Darwin’s voyage). The energy of the other passengers on board was electric. I was especially excited to have caught this last minute trip. If I had not, I would have had to wait around in Ushuaia for another 7 days.

Note: I have decided that Ushuaia sucks since my Ushuaia post

Right off the bat, the scientists and biologists on the boat hit it off with the passengers.  After our first meal we realized that this 100 person expedition would be much more like a cruise than we originally thought. The food was abundant and delicious, the passengers liked to have a good time, and the drinks were strong–when the asshole bartender felt like pouring them.

All was glorious until we hit the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage –named after the British captain/pirate Drake who first discovered the waterway– is about as notorious as the captain it is named after.  This strong ocean current lies between the respective tips of Tierra Del Fuego and the Antarctica Penisula. The Drake Passage is one of the roughest batches of water on planet earth. Its roughness  has to do with the warm waters of the Atlantic hitting the cold waters of the Southern Ocean. With a little luck, it takes 36 hours to navigate through the passage to calmer waters. We hit the Drake at 5:30 in the morning,  and I knew it when three of the drawers flew out of our cabin’s nightstand onto the floor. Simultaneously, my head slammed into the bottom of the bunk above me .

I think it was around 8am when Arnold from China (profiled below) projectile vomited all over the middle of our room. My other roommate, Sen from Japan(profile below) and I could only sit and watch. Breakfast was not well attended. Passengers dropped like flies. One of our senior citizen passengers –30 percent of the passengers were over 65–threw up on one of the zodiac drivers. Over the course of the first 24 hours on the Drake, 60 of the 100 passengers had called for the staff doctors, and lay in their cabins under the fog of heavy medication. At points we would find ourselves walking at a 45 degree perpendicular angles.

Either by the stroke of pure luck, or by the fact that I inhaled Dramamine from the second I got on the boat, I was completely fine. There were 15 of us that did not feel the effects of the Drake at all.

At 1pm, I realized that Arnold from China had never called anyone to clean the beautiful green present he left on the carpet. Now, I realize the guy was sick and I felt really bad for him. But seriously, he could have picked up the phone and called someone, right? At that point, I would have taken it as a nice gesture if he would have thrown a towel over it.

An interesting Juxtoposition between roommates:

Arnold from China- Arnold is a software programmer that lives in Beijing. Not only was he irresponsible with his vomit, but he would not listen to the doctors. They would tell him to lay down, and he would instead sit up. Then, like clockwork, he would throw up. This pattern then repeated itself over and over again.

Sen from Japan- Sen is a craftsman that makes Japanese pottery. He is a very enlightened, 65 years old widower from Kyoto. His travels have taken him all over the world. On this trip he is working his way from the South Pole to the North Pole via the Americas by himself. At every landing, he would sketch whatever we encountered. Some days it would be ice bergs, some days penguins, other days he would sketch the albatross that followed the boat. He has a very passionate, intrinsic procedure to produce his art. It seemed to be a three or four step process between his original sketch and his final version. Sen is soft spoken, and very kind. He spent afternoons giving art lessons to two of girls (age 9 and 11) on board. Right from the start, I realized that Sen was the “Roommate from Heaven”. He did not vomit on the floor at anytime and he made his bed every morning. Sen the Japanese artist, was hands down the most popular person on the trip amongst all of the passengers.

As the first day progressed the medication began to kick in. Passengers began to arise from the dead –a select few did not come out of their cabins for three days. After the initial shock we began to get regular whale siting reports over the intercom. Someone on the staff would say, “We have a fin whale siting at 3 o’clock on the port side!”. Lemming like, we would scramble at top speed hoping to catch the glimpse of a tail.  20% of the time we would be greeted by a multi ton majestic creature. Some of the whales even came extremely close to the boat. The other 80% of the time you would not see a damn thing. This process repeated itself consistently throughout the trip. Somewhere around this time I became completely obsessed with seeing a Blue Whale–the largest animal in the world at 150 tons.

Both the crew and the expedition staff were made up of a lively bunch from around the globe.

The Crew

The Russian Captain- Clearly the best job on the ship, he spent 90% of the time in his cabin watching reruns of Baywatch.OK, I made that part up.  But he was definitely in his cabin a lot and I am sure if anyone on board had reruns of Baywatch he would have gladly watched them. Germans love David Hasselhoff more than life. I wonder if it is the same way in Russia?

4 Russian officers – One of whom really wanted to get laid

53 person Russian staff – sailors, housekeeping, wait staff

1 German headwaiter – Phillip lead the Happy Birthday efforts at dinner every night.

1 Canadian bartender that hated my guts

1 hotel manager– Analise from Holland was a very sweet lady that announced dinner in different languages every night

1 Assistant Hotel Manager– Krista from Vancouver Island . She had the pleasure of informing me that my bar tab was much lower than I anticipated.

The Expedition Staff
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Expedition Leader- Jan from Germany ran the show. He works the North Pole as well.

Expedition Assistant- Tyler captains killer whale zodiac cruises every summer at home in Vancouver Island, Canada

Marine Biologist- Jamie Watts from England (Profiled later)

Ornithologist- Akos Hivekovics

Historian- John Killenbeck lived in Antarctica from 1961-1964 (profiled later -This guy was amazing)

Glaciologist- Jill from Vancouver Island, Canada

Zodiac Driver- Vladimir from Russia

Zodiac Driver- Tim from Connecticut, U.S.A. He did not have the best relationship with the bartender either. Maybe its a US thing.

Videographer- Paul Bell from Broom Australia (Profiled Below)

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Profile- Paul Bell, age 33, Broom Austraila

Paul has one of those jobs we all dream of. He specializes in travel and adventure videography. He was on the expedition to get footage for the Lonely Planet travel guide series. There is a good chance that some of his footage might end up on the Discovery channel. He freelances often for the Lonely Planet, ABC in Australia, Eurosport Channel, and Discovery. He has done a lot of work in remote parts of Australia living among the Aboriginals. At the end of the trip, he confessed to me that the highlight of his career was filming me run into the frigid Antarctic waters. I nearly shed a tear.

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Notes:

> By the end of the trip 99% of the passengers said they would have done the trip again even if the sea sickness was much worse.

> By the end of the first day I hit my head on something at least 12 times. I am clearly too large for life at sea.

> Currently celebrating the big 29 in Buenos Aires with some new Aussie friends. The late 20´s continue to treat me well.

 

Part 2- The Penguin Poo Express


photo: Osama Muhammed 
Where did we leave off. Oh yes, we just got through the infamous Drake Passage. When we finally hit gentle waters everyone began to feel much, much better. We began to discover passengers that we had never seen before.

Throughout our trip through the Drake we had 6 or 7 (1)hour long lectures by the Expedition Staff. The staff was extremely well informed and entertaining. So, by the time we made our first landing we were well equipped with the knowledge of the history of Antarctica,  the flying birds of the Antarctic, penguins, dog sledding, Antarctic rocks and glaciers, and the river of krill (krill makes up the bottom of the food chain that sustains almost all Antarctic life). We even had an extensive briefing on the different shapes and colors of penguin poo we would see.

Sidenote: Penguins can shoot poo farther than any other animal in the world. It is quite astonishing to witness and one of their finest qualities.

The first day we did three landings: Danco Island, Neko Harbor on the Antarctic mainland, and Paradise Bay.

To do an actual landing, you have to wear rubber boots, a waterproof coat,and waterproof pants. Passengers line up and disembark down a 20 step gangway to get onto a zodiac boat.

When we arrived on Danko Island we were greeted by thousands of Gentoo penguin chicks. For the most part, their mothers and fathers were out at sea trying to eat enough krill to sustain them.  Late in the season–when we were there The chicks are almost double the size of the parents.

Penguins are agile and smooth in the water. They move through the water like little torpedoes. Penguins on land are a completely different story. They waddle like little footballs waiting to be punted. Did I really just write that? That’s a horrible thought. Its just that if you wanted to punt them,  it would be a really easy thing to do. Anyway, I better stop talking this way now before they ban me from Antarctica. For the record, I never actually considered punting a penguin chick and the idea to me is appalling.

Although I can not help but wonder how far they would go?

The number passengers over the age of 65 plus is significant. More incredibly, there were probably a dozen people over 80 on the trip. There are many, many rules as to how you must behave in Antarctica with regards to wildlife. For example, you are not supposed to get closer then five meters to a penguin.  However, if you are sitting on a rock minding your own business and they decide to come up and start biting your boots that is OK– as long as you are not the instigator. I guess when you are over eighty years old you stop caring so much about the rules.

On the first landing, while walking up a sizable hill through a penguin colony. We stumbled across a Brown Skua nest. The Skuas role in the Antarctic is to pick off the sick baby penguins and to eat the dead ones. They are pretty big and look like a cross between a hawk and a sea gull. So, as we are walking up the hill, a little American old lady made straight for the Skua nest and started shooing them away…

Here is how it went down:
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Little Old Lady: “Go away Birds!!! Go away!!!!”

Skuas proceed to Dive Bomb the little old lady in a dramatic fashion ala Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.

Little Old Lady starts to panic and run, I try to help her away from them.

Little Old Lady: “I did not want them to eat the baby Penguin”

I look over and see that there is a baby chick behind at the base of the rocks

Dave: “Lady, thats not a baby penguin, thats a baby skua” (The baby penguins were easily 10 times the size of the skua chick in question)

Little Old Lady: (Pauses, then looks up at me with her eyes wide open) “Oh, well that explains everything”

Neko Harbor

We landed at Neko Harbor after lunch. I was sort of grouchy on this landing. Probably due to the late night escapades with the staff and new friends the night before. Neko Harbor was one of our only stops on the mainland of Antarctica. Most of the stops were on surrounding islands. The harbor was basically a giant lake at the base of a 100 meter glacier. The glacier was not as big as Perito Moreno in Argentina, but close.

We had the pleasure of having a real live Antarctic wedding on our boat. Katie and Jason of San Diego California had the most non traditional wedding I have ever experienced. They married on a giant cliff, half a mile up a mountain overlooking Neko Harbor. They looked like specs from our viewpoint below. I really admire their style. The total attendance was 8 people.

As I mentioned before, I was pissy and miserable at this point. So I decided to sit down on a rock and write in my journal to work through whatever it was going on in my head. As I was sitting, a mother and baby Gentoo penguin approached. The baby started chasing its mothers around vigorously demanding a feeding. They almost ran into me and I had my own personal penguin show.

I started feeling even better when we heard the screams from above indicating that Katie and Jason were officially married by their friend Jackie. She had obtained an online ministry certificate. I pulled out my camcorder to record them from below when the unthinkable happened.

Immediately facing us, a piece of the glacier the size of the U.S. White House crumbled off and crashed into the lake. The penguins all began to scream and head for higher ground. They formed a tight knit circle together. It was stunning how even baby penguin chicks have such natural instincts. We just stared blankly ahead, mesmerized by the once in a lifetime experience. Its hard to describe in words how big, thunderous, and amazing this was. Fortunately, I caught the whole thing on video. Between the crew and the expedition staff, nobody had ever seen a glacial calving that big and that magnificent.

An older Greek man, who apparently did not hear the part of the shore briefing that instructed us to stay off the beach, enjoyed the sight from the waters edge. The first wave that was created from the calving came up to about his knees. Conversely, the second wave completely took him out. I did not see it first hand, but from what others said it broke completely over his head. He was unhurt, but very lucky he did not get sucked out and finished off by the mini tsunami–this might be a good time to reference the instinct of the penguin chicks again.

Without question, my overtly shitty mood had vanished, never to be seen again on this trip. It was twenty minutes before I heard a word uttered by any of the 40 people immediately around me. The first thing my Australian bar mate Brandy said to me was, “Mate, I am absolutely speechless”.

This all happened right after Jason and Katie tied the knot, less than 20 seconds after the kiss that sealed the deal. Now, I really like a good old fashioned hour long Catholic mass. The chicken dance and the electric slide can be quite a good time after a couple of glasses of white zinfindel. That being said, what happened that day in Antarctica will go down in the wedding history books–if such a thing exists.

After hanging for a few days I fell in with an international group of like minded individuals. We ate lunch together, rushed to the decks for whale watching false alarms together,and stepped in Penguin poo together. I find that it is easy to form extremely tight bonds after spending so much time with people placed in similar situations.

My established crew:

Regis(35) and Carol(30)- A delightful Brazilian couple on their honeymoon. Regis is a commodity trader in the beef business. If you need 7500 pounds of ribs, he is your guy. Carol is a green engineer. Together they make up the happiest couple I have ever had the pleasure of being around. They are putting me up in Florianapolis in a few weeks in their island beach house paradise. You will hear much more in the coming weeks about Regis´ Brazilian barbecued ribs.

Osama(31) and Noha(29)- A very cool Egyptian couple from Cairo. Osama runs his own computer consulting firm and Noha works with Egyptian nomads helping to bring their goods to the world markets. They both took great photos throughout the trip and ate lunch with us every day. I am using a lot of Osama´s photos (because I have decided my camera sucks).

> Ray(76) and Dean (PHOTO BELOW LEFT)(45)- Father and Son from Sydney Australia. Together they are in a family business supplying uniforms to all of Australia. Ray was the one of the most popular older gentleman on the boat–along with Sen from Japan. He and I talked much about our disdain for the bartender. Dean and I hung out quite a bit on the landings. Once, we got in trouble by the staff for wandering off course. This is where the old women and the baby penguin story came in handy.

Allison (Right) (29) (Scotland) and Anika (middle)(25)(German and lives in Ireland)- We hung out quite a bit over cold Beagle Stouts. These two also just came from Torres Del Paine which they found “quite easy”. They did the 9 day circuit–twice the amount of time I spent there–and encountered none of the problems that I did.  I guess this means that they were in better shape then me.  The bruise on my ego has still not fully recovered. Allison, was one of the first targets of the Russian Officer in search for female companionship. She declined his invitation to join him for a tour of the Bridge.

Bill and Suzanne (late 30ish) from San Diego- Bill delivers babies for the Navy, Suzanne makes maps. She GPSed our entire trip. Hopefully, I will be able to upload it.

Expedition Staff Profile: Jamie Watts from England (35) Marine Biologist
PHOTO Below with Jackie (below left) the Internet Minister

Before joining the Quark Expedition Team, Jamie spent two years on the remote wildlife enriched island of South Georgia working for the British Government. He was there studying the fisheries of the coast, which included the krill and fish at the bottom of the Antarctic food chain. His most memorable moment involves a time when he was snorkeling off the coast of South Georgia. He was taking in some wildlife when a Leopard Seal suddenly appeared and darted right for him, turning off a few feet from his face.

The previous year a Leopard Seal had taken a British female scientist 100 meters below the surface and drowned her while she was snorkeling. This is the only second death by Leopard Seal in recorded history.


The Award for the “Worst job on the boat goes to”…..

“The guy that cleans the Penguin shit off of everyones boots”!

One of the Russian sailors has the delightful job of scrubbing and wiping all of the excess penguin shit off of the boots of the passengers as they return from shore. Surprisingly, this guy did not seem to like his job. He would ask each person to raise their right foot, then he would say “OK”, then left foot,  “OK”. The trouble is that it was not always “OK”. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of penguin poo to contend with in Antarctica. He had to check over 200 boots after every landing.


Note to self: Never be a Russian sailor

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Notes:

> I realize that I am writing a small miniseries here. But, I have to get all of this down while its fresh in my mind.


John Wynn–my friend from home just took the bar exam. The results will determine the future of his life as lawyer. We are crossing our fingers John arrives in Buenos Aires tomorrow at 10am. ´He will be traveling with me for 3 weeks. He is doubling as my own personal pack mule and is easily bringing me 30 pounds of crap that I need. He does not know it yet but I am sending a bunch of stuff home with him as well.

> I met and hung out with a million other amazing people on the expedition. I can not possibly profile them all. So, if you are reading this from the Antarctica trip, and I did not write anything about you. Its because I love you and I would not be able to do so without being instantly reduced to tears.

Part 3 – Seal attacks, the Antarctic Circle and Smooth Sailing

I love seals.  They are pretty much my favorite animal. Maybe it is because seals are so much like dogs. Although, they smell quite a bit worse than dogs. Like penguins, they spend much of their time at sea eating.  Sitting on the decks of the ship we would occasionally see a seal stick his head up, look around, take a quick breath, and then head back down into the depths.

We saw fur seals, crab eater seals, leopard seals, and weddle seals on this trip. On one of the islands I was charged by a fur seal. Given my big and slugish stature on land I am lucky that seals are even  bigger and slower. The picture below is the little guy who charged me. I think I woke him up trying to take his picture.

Leopard Seals

The leopard seals are the really scary bastards. Most of the seals eat krill and fish. Leopard seals eat other seals and penguins. They weigh in at 1200 pounds and have extremely sharp teeth.

One morning, we were making a typical landing. It was snowing hard and I was hoping to chill with a new type of penguin that we had not yet seen, the Adelie.  As we were on our zodiac boat ride in, I thought I saw a batch of Adelie Penguins. I felt like being by myself that morning, so I broke from the pack to chill with the new penguins. It took a bit of athleticism to get to the batch of rocks that I thought they were on. I was the only around, the rest of the people hiked up a hill to a different part of the island.

This is where dumb luck kicked in.

There was not a single Adelie Penguin anywhere around. I was surrounded by Gentoo penguins. The same kind that we had seen for days. So, I am a little pissed off with the repetition.

Then, out of nowhere I see a swarm of birds hovering and dive bombing an area right in front of me. When, I looked again closer, I saw (and caught on video) a leopard seal ripping a Penguin to shreds. He was right in front of me in the water, chowing down on a fresh kill. I showed the video to the entire staff, and none of them had ever seen such a thing. Thank god I am so skillful in misidentifying penguins. I am planning on uploading the video as soon as I can figure out how.


The Antarctic Circle

Out of the limited weeks that you can actually travel in Antarctic, late February and early March is when it is possible to get as far south as the Antarctic circle. Our expedition leader Jan –with extremely large cohones–made the call to go for the Antarctic Circle. Out of the 8 expeditions that were in Antarctica at the same time as us, we were the only ones that went.

As we crossed into this mystical place, we saw hundreds of Icebergs around us in every direction. This is an entry that I wrote from my journal on the deck that day:

Inside the Antarctic Circle
11:11 am February 26th

Not many expeditions find themselves inside the Antarctic Circle. We are lucky enough to be one of the chosen few. I am sitting among a city of Icebergs. Some look like castles, others like skyscrapers. The shear size of these hunks of ice is daunting. Now I understand what happened to the Titanic. Polar skuas (birds) are flanking the right and left side of the ship, and humpback whale sitings have been frequent. The expedition staff is buzzing with raw energy, only one of them has been this far south. Its almost noon and the sun is not even close to reaching the halfway point in the sky. We are getting 18 hours plus of light per day. I just saw a 60 year old couple run past me  with the energy of five year olds–with the energy of a pair of five year olds. Even the Russian crew seems excited.

Our goal was to make a landing at Detail Island, the site of an abandoned British naval outpost from 1953. Landings at Detail Island are extremely tough due to surrounding pack ice and deep waters. We were the first to make the attempt out of any of the expeditions in 2007.

Luckily, after three attempts at anchoring, we were able to dock. Then, the expedition team made a successful scout landing and let us know that we would be able to land. The rush of adrenaline hit us all at the same time, and we scrambled downstairs to get our gear on.

When we got to the shore, we saw that Detail Island was flourishing with wild life. A colony of fur seals were sleeping on the rocks to our right, with Weddle seals intermittently mixed in. We were able to get right next to the seals. Some grunted and barked at us, most did not even blink an eye to acknowledge our presence.

Then, we got to experience another crown jewel. We were able to tour the abandoned British base. It was preserved like a time capsule. There was food in the cabinets, magazines on the table, and pots on the stove. We walked into a time warp. For the most part, it was unspoiled since their hurried evacuation almost 54 years ago. They had skis by the door, and maps and charts laid out in the workspace. The bedding was still on the bunks.


Inside the abandoned British Base
Expedition Staff Profile

John Killinbeck, Age 70, English

John lived in Antarctica from 1960-1963. He spent his first year at Deception Island as base commander. He spent these three years completely void of women. On Deception island, the men taught themselves how to dog sled. Johns mission was to survey the Adelai Islands on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

John spent months at a time dog sledding the Antarctic to properly survey the continent and its islands. At that time  their only means of communicating was through Morse Code.

One of their main food sources at the time was seal. According to John, they would use almost every part of the seals that they shot. The dogs would get raw seal meat every other day. I can not even imagine living at such a time. John was a really fascinating guy. Reaching Detail Island was a highlight for him as one of his very good friends in England had lived there for some time.

Polar Plunge
I am going to end the Antarctic series on a high note. The polar plunge of all polar plunges occurred on volcanic deception island in Antarctica. We were informed the night before that we were going to have the opportunity to swim in the water of Antarctic. The following question came up the night before,  “How can you make an Antarctic Polar Plunge on a volcanic island even more ridiculous?”.  This discussion took place over many beers. That night, we figured it out. I was to wear Brazilian Carol’s tini bikini in the water. Unfortunately, I needed to wear my boxers under the bottoms. There were children on board. I must admit, I am dead sexy!!!


Shrinkage? One of the older Greek ladies seemed to enjoy this a little too much.
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The trip home was fantastic. We got the “Drake Lake” (a very calm Drake Passage). No one became seasick. Furthermore, the nightlife erupted as no one had to get up for landings. The expedition staff performed the zodiac dance for the first time. The passengers were all beaming from the post Antarctic high.

We experienced so much amazing stuff in our ten days. I have not even come close to documenting all of it. I do not know if its possible. All I know that this was the best 10 days of traveling that I have ever been a part of. I am making arrangements as we speak to see more wildlife on my trip.

To whoever is reading this, if you get a chance, spend the money and go to Antarctica. I can not promise anything resembling my experience. Nonetheless, Antarctica is the last untouched place on this planet. The human population is officially zero. I would give this trip 5 stars, and highly recommend Quark Expeditions as your company.

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Notes:

> Out of nowhere, as I am walking to the Internet cafe to take a shot at knocking out Antarctica part 3, I run into Brandy and Kim from the Antarctica trip. I did not even know they were going to be here. There are 15 million people in Buenos Aires. What are the chances??? Coincidence, I think not! Anyway, over a few beers we relived the trip and the post-Antarctic high rushed back.

> Hugo Chavez (Venezuleas President) gave a two hour anti-American speech in Buenos Aires yesterday.  President Bush is touring South America right now. I think he is Uruguay right now. Lets just say I do not think he is getting his message across to the masses. For those of you that do not know this, Hugo Chavez is the socialist nut case attempting to make himself dictator for life of Venezuela.

 

Here is a quick preview of my Antarctica experience:

> 1 Historian that lived in Antarctica in the early 1960s dog sledding for the British government to survey parts of Antarctica.

> 1 leopard seal ripping a penguin to shreds. (caught on video)

> 1 tremendous glacier calving that caused a tsunami effect on an Antarctic beach (caught on video)

> 1 old weird Greek guy that got wiped out by the tsunami. He was unhurt. (unfortunately not caught on video)

> 20,000 penguins

> 2000 football fields full of penguin shit (Penguins poop a lot)

> 10 nights of cocktails on an expedition ship with marine biologists, a glaciologist, and zodiac drivers from around the world.

> 1 amazing Brazilian couple, Regis and Carol that are putting me and my friend John Wynn up in their house on the tropical island of Florianapolis in a few weeks. (profile coming)

> 1 Antarctic gorgeous Sunset

> 1 Chinese roommate that projectile vomited on my floor

> 1 Russian Ship Officer that unsuccessfully tried to sleep with 5 different women on the boat within the first 4 hours of the voyage.

> (1) 80 year old lady that tried to attack birds of prey that eat baby penguins

> 1 Antarctic Wedding

> 25 whales of 4 different species

> 25 times where there were whale sitings and we raced to the deck and did not see a damn thing

> 12,000 Icebergs

> 1000 Wandering Albatross

> 1 Hungarian ornithologist with a porn star mustache that has been to 108 countries and 7 continents.

> 150 seals of 5 different species

> 1 time where I was charged by a fur seal.

> 53 people on the Russian Crew

> 1 miserable Cruise ship Bartender

> 4 days on the roughest seas in the world

> 60 passengers that needed to visit the ship doctors

> 1 day where we crossed the Antarctic Circle

> 1 abandoned British naval base from 1953

> 15 compelling hour long lectures

> 1 Extreme Polar Plunge

> 1 million things I am never going to get the time to write about

> 4 posts in the next few days to get this experience properly blogged.

> Number 1 ranking. This 10 days made up the best trip of my entire life.

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your writing is just fine as is. No changes necessary. It keeps us looking forward to “logging on” just to catch up with you.

  2. Dave Ford says:

    I guess Im going to have to include Columbia Maryland on my itinerary now…. I hear you need to check out Nottinghams….

  3. Jackie The Internet Minister says:

    Dave – this is FANTASTIC! You have done a wonderful job of trying to capture the indescribable. And I, too, have a very sexy shot of you in your bikini….hee hee.

  4. Jodi says:

    My friend VB was on your trip and she sent me the link to your blog.. I think i have a bit of a crush on you! oh, and i’ve seen the bikini photos… brave man! Enjoy your adventures & keep up the blogging!

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