The White Continent
Trip Start Nov 30, 2008
10Trip End Jan 28, 2009
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So back on the 9th of December the 97 passengers of the Lyubov Orlovamet at theAlbatross Hotel in Ushaia for a pre-disembarkation meeting. We were all a little nervous because rumours had been floating around that the trip might be cancelled. The ship's first two trips of the season had been cancelled due to the ship's registry expiration, whatever the hell that means. Anyways we were all happy when they showed up and informed us nothing to worry about and that we would be sailing as scheduled the next day. Later that evening I met Rainer, a 30 year old German from Munich, who would be my cabin mate for the next 9 nights on the ship. As I introduced myself I gave him a set of ear plugs and told him to put them in at night to help drown out my snoring. He told me not to worry as he would probably be getting drunk at the ship's bar every night and end up sleeping like a baby.
We disembarked the next day around 5 P.M. and after the obligatory lifeboat safety drill on deck we met down in the briefing room for some welcoming champagne cocktails and were told we would be earning our way to Antarctica by sailing the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage, a.k.a. "The Drake" is considered the roughest waters to sail with the highest average waves (around 20 meters) in the world. Like most others I came prepared with an abundance of seasickness pills --- 2 at a time every eight hours. The good thing about the pills they make you very drowsy so I ended up sleeping more than half the time, which was pretty impressive since it never really gets dark in the summer. Fortunately I never got sick, even when Angus who was sitting across from me at lunch on day 2 puked up his cream soup and when everyone had to gather on day 3 for the mandatory Zodiak landing briefing, which was constantly being interupted by the sounds of many passengers puking in their sickness bags.
Land! And better yet calm waters! At sometime during the night the boat stopped rocking and when we woke up we were reading to make our first landing in the South Shetland Islands (Half Moon Island). The island is a popular breeding ground for Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Macaroni Penguins. Personally I am not one who is impressed with the penguins, maybe because I've seen them before in Austrailia and South Africa, but I wass just impressed with the surrounding landscape and the icebergs floating in the water, and yeah the Weddell seals lying on the beach were pretty cool too.
Later in the afternoon after lunch and a well deserved shower --- first one since we left Ushuaia and virtually impossible to do when in "The Drake" we landed on the volcanic Deception Island. While on the island we hiked up to Neptune's Window for some awesome views of the island and the caldera of the volcano. Before heading back to the ship afew of thepassengers decided to take part in the crazy ritual of the "polar plunge". Since I consider myself to be a sane person I kept my clothes on and easily resisted the temptation to jump into freezing waters.
Everyone was excited today as in the afternoon we would be making our first landing on the continent. For about one third of the passengers, myself included, this would be the 7th continent. I must say the biggest reason I took this trip was to step foot on the continent of Antarctica and complete what few people in this world can actually say "I've stepped on every continent in the world!" But before we were to land on the continent we had a morning landing on Danco Island. The objective when landing was to hike up a mountain to see the fantastic views of the ¬¬¬Errera Channel. I made it about 50 meters up the mountain when I realized it was pointless as I kept sinking in the snow with every step I took. I turned around, looked out at the Channel and said "The view is pretty good from here" so I plunked down and started to make snow angels and build a snowman.
After lunch we sailed for Neko Harbour and our continental landing. As we got closer we were informed that due to weather conditions it would be impossible to land and that we would be doing a Zodiak cruise through the icebergs instead. The next question was of course, "When is our next planned continental landing?" --- "You'll have another chance in 2 days". Uh oh, 2 days would be the last day and only 1 more opportunity. Geez and I had already gotten ahead of myself to write out postcards to people saying that I have landed on the continent already. Apparently on some past voyages weather conditions didn't allow for landings anywhere; the passengers had to stay aboard the ship the entire time. Anyways, the day did end on a high note as while we were enjoying our BBQ on deck a pod of Killer Whales decided to follow along the ship to entertain us!
Day 6 started out with the most interesting landing so far --- the British Scientific Research Base at Port Lockroy. The Base had a little museum, a gift shop, and a post office where I sent off a few postcards that I had prepared a few days before. As I dropped them in the box I took a deep breath and said "Hopefully we land tomorrow so as not to be made a liar of".
Later in the day we sailed to our most southernly position near Peterman Island. Once again weather conditions didn't permit a landing but the voyage down there was well worth it since getting there required the ship to sail through sheets of ice that just crumbled as it went through. Since we weren't able to land we once againtook a Zodiak Cruise through the ice to get a closer look at the icebergs and search out other forms of wildlife. During the cruise we came upon Leopard, Crabeatter, and Weddell Seals all laying on sheets of ice waiting for our arrival so we could snap away on our cameras.
The weather was perfect for a landing at Paradise Bay and the deserted Almirante Brown Argentinian Scientific Base. I felt a huge sense of excitement and relief getting into the Zodiak for the landing on the continent. As others wandered around and went on hikes through the snow I spent my time sitting in the snow by the base enjoying the views and just being by myself. When I was back in Ushuaia I went to the supermarket and bought a jar of jam just to empty it out so when I landed I could bring back some Antarctic dirt. The problem with this is that Antarctica is 90% glaciated and when I was there 3 feet of snow covered the ground. Oh well, so much for that plan, I guess a jar full of Antarctic ice, which is now melted water would have to suffice.
Later in the day as we sailed to the Melchiors, which was to be our last stop, we encountered a group of Humpback Whales. Since this was our first encounter with the Humpback the ship's captain kept circleing around so we could stand out on the windy, rainy, snowy deck to observe. This would be our last great moment before I started popping the seasickness pills once again before sailing back into "The Drake" and heading for Argentina.
While some of the passengers attended lectures in the briefing room I stuck with my plan of sleep as much as you can for the next 2 days. While the voyage back was a little smoother it was still like a ghost ship heading back. Like one of the passengers commented on day 7 "The Drake, at least the dining room will be empty". On the evening of Day 9 just before dinner we spotted Cape Horn and entered the Beagle Channel for a calm farewell dinner, smooth sail, and peaceful final night of sleep before waking up on Day 10 to have a nice shower before arriving back in Ushuaia.
Like I said I have been back for a week now and when other travellers I have met since ask me about Antarctica One word sums it up --- Amazing. The 100 or so pictures I have uploaded don't do it justice as the experience of being there can't becaptured on some digital images. As I travel more and more many things tend to blur into one and I am rarely in awe anymore. This trip however is one that I will never forget as I am left with a feeling and a rememberance of why I travel --- to seek out those places, things, and experiencs that leave you with a feeling of awe.