Friday, January 23, 2015

Antarctica….Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015

Lori’s email to family and friends

Last we wrote, we were just preparing for an “exciting” ride across the open seas to Antarctica.  The captain delivered, as promised!!!  The ship rolled back and forth and up and down.  Apparently the seas were only about 15-40 foot waves, which you wouldn’t think would affect a larger ship.  Well, no, that’s not the case!!  The front desk handed out free sea-sickness medication, and placed barf bags at the elevators!  We were actually okay, and just enjoyed the challenges of trying to stay upright.  Many did not leave their cabins, so it was pretty quiet. It was really quite amazing that we didn’t see anyone actually fall, but there were a lot of pale faces.  The swimming pool sloshed so much that they finally had to empty it out after half of it was already on the deck.

We awoke at 5:00 the first morning to get out on deck to see the amazing landscape and hear the narration that was happening on the outer decks.  We put on our winter-iest clothes, but it was just biting cold outside from the wind, and we couldn’t stay out very long at one time.  We saw penguins sitting on little icebergs, and the first whales.  Lots of penguins were swimming alongside the boat, and looked so funny moving along and breaking the surface in packs.  It wasn’t too long before we spotted the first gigantic iceberg, which the captain took us around in a circle.  It was over a kilometre long, and taller than our ship…..and completely flat along the top, like a shelf.  Many photos were snapped!

Our first iceberg

Our first penguins!

We continued along the Antarctic Peninsula for the day, just taking in all the scenery, and listening to the commentary.  Lots of whales…..Minke and Humpbacks mainly, which was apparently many more than is usually sighted….and penguins, penguins, penguins.  I was not expecting to see as much “rock” as we could see, as I thought it would be all ice.  But, it IS Summer, so I guess this is the time that there would be the least amount of ice.
The second day, we continued South, and we were in pretty calm water, sheltered by some of the islands.  We had checked the night before, and it was still (very) light out at 11:30 pm, with dusk at about 12:30 or 1.  The sun was brightly shining and up over the mountains by 3 am!  On this morning, we continued to navigate around the larger icebergs, and just plowed through the “brash ice.”  We got extremely close to a penguin rookery on shore, that was inhabited by more than 40,000 pairs of penguins.  Apparently they were still in the nesting phase, as there was very little movement.    We could hear them, but we could also SMELL them…..whew!!!!  They were all along the rocky shore with nothing but ice mountains behind.  There were a few seals around here as well. 

Penguin rookery...they are all sitting on eggs!

Brash Ice

We passed by a few of the research stations that are along the peninsula.  The first one was Chilean, then Brazilian (under reconstruction) and finally, Almirante Brown, which belongs to Argentina.  This one was important to Pam and me, in that there was a cache there…of course.  Although we could not get off the ship, the cache owner agreed to let us log the cache with a photo of us and the station in the background and answer a few questions about the area.. These stations were pretty rustic, and I couldn’t imagine staying in one for 6 months (or longer!)  It was perfect timing for us, as just after we took the photos, the fog rolled in.  Within an hour, we were completely socked in, and would never have been able to get a picture.  We next went through the Neumeyer Channel……also called “Kodak Moments” channel.  But unfortunately for us, we could not see a single thing!!  THEN….it started snowing!!

While we were not seeing the Antarctic scenery, we were able to witness the magical scene of the Indonesian and Filipino crew members experiencing the joy of being in snow for the first time.  It was just so cool!  There was about 3 inches of snow accumulating, and they were all out there on the deck shrieking and laughing.  They made a snowman, and posed with it for photos.  They made snowballs, and gently threw them at each other.  Even some of the higher ranking officers were out there in their uniforms.  They were just having so much fun, and our cabin steward (from Ubud) told us that he never thought he would ever be able to play in snow.  A pretty special experience, for sure.
We went past the US research station at Palmer Island, and out to sea for the night……we had to dump some water, and the ships are not allowed to do that within certain boundaries. 

We awoke this morning to bright sunshine and blue skies.  We bolted out of our beds and got ready for the day……this was the day that we were to park outside Palmer Station and the resident researchers would come aboard and give lectures.  (Coincidentally, we had arranged to meet up with the head researcher to sign a cache….) Just as we finished getting on all our winter clothes again, an announcement came on that it was so windy that the rendezvous had to be cancelled!!!  We always try to find the good side of everything, but I would be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed!  But again, we just had to stare out the window and realize the beauty and luck of the experience we were having, which was amazing.  The captain said that our trip down the Lemaire Channel (the other/better “Kodak” route) would also be cancelled due to the high winds and narrow access.  He said it would be “irresponsible” to attempt it, due to current and forecast weather. 

Instead, we headed back up the channel we couldn’t see yesterday.  Now THAT was amazing!!!  The water was calm and an icy, deep blue, the mountains were just sparkling white and so majestic with light clouds swirling around the steep and jagged peaks, and the sky was a bright blue.  Like Iguazu, it just couldn’t be captured on film (well, not on my crappy camera!!) I was not expecting to see the mountains rising so sharply and being so tall and high.  If not for the water in the foreground, you would think you were high in the Rockies.  Icebergs floated by, and more wildlife appeared.  It is definitely a desolate place……water, rock, ice, and not much more.  In fact, only two “plants” are found (rarely) in all of Antarctica:  one type of grass and one type of flower, neither of which we saw.  Apparently there was a small bit of the grass on one rocky area, but we couldn’t discern it!

After we passed through this overwhelming beauty along the channel, we were in open water again, and began our path homeward.  The weather is supposed to be much the same as when we crossed downwards…..rough and bumpy.  The fog has returned, along with the angry sea conditions.  We will be crossing the open water all night tonight, all day tomorrow, and tomorrow night… stop is Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina.  We still have the Drake Passage and Cape Horn ahead of us….more adventure!
We’ve been pretty busy, of course.  The entertainment has been terrific, and we have come to know quite a few people very well.  I had some really good days at the BlackJack table, but then a bad one today……but had a ton of laughs anyways.  We have had our fair share of Sun-sicles, but I  have discovered a new drink:  a ChocoMintBuzz.  The casino girl made one for us…..but I won’t have another.  It was a little TOO good, and way too rich for even me.  Now, as I’m writing this, we’re having a glass of wine before bed.  Do you think I have a problem??:?

Hope everything is going well at home….I’m sure it’s a lot warmer there than it is here.  I definitely overpacked in the “summer” department and underpacked in the “winter” department.

Pam is going to post some photos on the blog, so you can check them out there.
Nice to hear from you….thanks so much!

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