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Bullet Sunday 534

Posted on Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Dave!It's time for a Very Special Antarctic edition of Bullet Sunday, which starts... now...

• Go! Antarctica is a pricey trip, but it's not the horrific monetary spectacle you might think. Not including airfare, you can take the same ship I did... have the same type of experiences I did... for as little as $5,000 in Antarpply's 2018 season. I went via Muench Photography Workshops, which was quite a bit more expensive... but it had world-class photography instruction with people like Will Burrard-Lucas, which made it worth the ridiculous cost. If you've always had a hankering to see the bottom of the world, it's worth saving your pennies to do, and doesn't necessarily have to cost $15,000 for a great experience... penguins and all.


• Darkness! The strangest part of being back to the Real World? That it gets dark. Something that barely happened when I was in Antarctica. The fact that it starts getting dark around 4:00 and is pitch-black by 5:00 just makes it all the stranger. I've gotten used to light at 10:00 at night!

• Photography! My most used lens was a 24mm-70mm. It worked for glaciers, ice bergs, and wildlife that was near me. My second most-used lens was a 70mm-200mm... which I really, really wish was a 70mm-400mm. Fortunately, my 200mm lens optical quality is excellent and I had massive 42.4 MP images I could easily crop into... but things would have been much easier if my telephoto had more reach. I also took a 10mm-18mm ultra-wide angle which I used occasionally. I didn't use any other lenses I took.

I highly recommend having two camera bodies on you. That way you can have both zooms handy and be sure to capture most anything at a moment's notice. You also have a backup body in case one fails, which is pretty much essential isn't it? You aren't going to go all that way and not have a camera!

I took a monopod because it was easier to pack than a tripod. I never once used it. I imagine that you could set up for taking shots, but there was plenty of light to go handheld 100% of the time, and the flexibility was critical towards getting my best shots.

I fretted over condensation accumulating when I came from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors ruining my cameras. Was never a problem (heck, my glasses never even fogged over). It was suggested that I take a plastic zipper-bag to put my camera in so that the condensation forms on the bag and not my camera. After spending weeks finding one big enough, I never had to use it.

I bought a massive dry-bag that I could put my whole camera bag into so my gear would be safe during a Zodiac landing. Thing was... I never took my entire camera bag. Just my two cameras and their lenses. Which meant my dry-bag was massive overkill. I should have bought a smaller one and just wrapped my cameras in towels or something.

I took circular polarizing filters. Never used them. They might have been handy to cut glare on the water when the whales turned up... but they were just a hassle every other minute of the day, so I ignored them.

• Un-Borrowed! I needed a backup camera body, but couldn't afford to buy a full-frame one to take with me. So I decided to rent one from I received an email telling me that I could pick it up at Kenmore Camera the day before I left. I went to pick it up and it wasn't there. I called and found out there was a mess-up of some kind with UPS, and it wouldn't be arriving until after I left for the airport. Their attitude was absolutely shitty. First of all, they would never give me a tracking number so I could find out if it was THEIR fault or UPS's fault (of course they blamed it on UPS). Second of all, they did nothing... NOTHING... to try and make the situation right. It was all "Oh well... stuff happens!" No offer to buy a body from Kenmore Camera and rent that to me. No offer to express ship to my hotel in Buenos Aires. No attempt to find an alternative. No offer to try and find a rental company in Argentina. Absolutely NOTHING. They didn't give a single fuck about helping me out in any way, despite their promise to have the camera available on the date I requested. And when I complained? They offered to refund my money and give me a $100 credit for future rentals. Which is fucking bullshit. Do NOT ever do business with this shitty, shitty company.

And so... I had to spend $1400 I did not have to buy a camera I did not want. Especially since I could have put that money (if I had it) towards a new Sony a7R mark III. Such a shitty situation. I mean, what choice did I have? What was I going to do? Go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica without a backup camera? Impossible. Thanks for absolutely nothing, for being a total piece of shit.

• SmartWool! There was a lot learned on my expedition to Antarctica. The most surprising? How fantastic SmartWool socks are. I have been wearing them ever since I got back and have had warm, comfy feet despite cold temperatures in my home town (and a history of cold feet).

SmartWool Sock!

Don't know how I'd get through winter without them now that I know about them.

• Warmth! As it turned out, I worried way too much about being too cold. As it's summer in Antarctica and global warming is actually a thing, it was never all that cold. Certainly not even close to how freezing cold it was on Cadillac Mountain when I was waiting for the sun to rise in Acadia last month! I usually ended up taking off my winter coat on land excursions and just wore my fleece, waterproof pants over jeans and long underwear. Only a couple of times when the sun was clouded over and it was snowing did I double up on long underwear and wear my coat. And, despite buying hand-warmers and spending two days in Ushaia finding Zippo lighter fluid to put in them, they went unused. So glad I didn't rent an arctic parka and snow pants. I would have never put them on. I guess what I'm trying to say is... prepare for the worst. Make sure you have enough clothes to stay warm if the weather is terrible. Have layers and layers available so you can build the outfit you need to be comfortable in cold weather. But... don't obsess over the idea that you need to buy Antarctic-winter-level expedition gear to stay warm. Unless something goes really sideways, you just won't need it (and if things go that sideways, your landing will probably be canceled anyway). I'd recommend following the advice you'll get from your ship if it conflicts with my experience... but it really shouldn't.

The only thing that ended up being a little cold was my feet because the rubber boots you get from the ship for the landing are not well-insulated. My SmartWool socks with liners made sure it never got that bad. On cold days where I'd be in snow for long periods, I doubled my SmartWool socks, and... problem solved (seriously, those socks are amazing).

One final tip... it was highly recommended that I get two or three pair of Merino Wool long underwear. The stuff is soft (not scratchy) and does a really good job of keeping you warm. Best of all? It doesn't trap odors, so you can wear a pair for several days and not smell like a locker room. Which is what I did... except... I bought some inexpensive disposable men's underwear (which seem very much like cotton panties... or "manties") as a fresh daily barrier to help keep my long undies clean. Worked great. Took up practically no space in my suitcase. In the end, Merino Wool is a bit pricey but so worth it. I bought two pair of the mid-weight tops/bottoms directly from Minus 33 and was very happy with it. I loved that it was so thin that I could double it up on colder days and be toasty warm.

• Expectations! I was warned many times to keep my expectations in check. Antarctica is wildly unpredictable on all fronts, and having lofty expectations is almost certainly setting yourself up for disappointment. All you can really do is get excited for the possibilities... then roll with whatever comes your way. I mean, just look at my trip! We had to cancel one of our landings so we could detour to have somebody airlifted to Chile for a medical emergency. We had to cancel another landing because of bad weather. And yet... everything worked out. I was just thrilled to see what I got to see and do what I got to do...

Antarctica Neko Harbor

And, seriously, it could have been worse. It can always be worse!

• Inflight Movies! With nearly thirty hours in planes that had a rather large film library, I was able to watch a few movies to occupy my time getting to Buenos Aires and back...

  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets — I went into this movie with such huge expectations... it was to be the spiritual sequel to The Fifth Element for heaven's sake. But it let me down in so many ways. Watching it again with zero expectations let me enjoy it for what it was, and I may actually kinda like it now.
  • Atomic Blonde — I loved this movie so hard. Between the Cold War spy plot, perfect 80's soundtrack, and Charlize Theron kicking abundant amounts of ass... it was too good to be true. It only improves on second viewing.
  • The Mummy — THIS is what was supposed to kick off the new, improved, and unified "Dark Universe?" So bad. So groan-inducing awful. Tried too hard to capture the fun of the Brendan Fraser version and failed miserably. Really hated it.
  • Logan Lucky — Smart. Funny. Surprisingly good entertainment.
  • Ghost in the Shell — As a huge fan of the original manga and animated series/film, I was let down by this ScarJo movie spectacle. On second viewing, the problems are still there... but the amazing visuals are too. I don't hate it. I just wish it could have lived up to its potential.
  • Power Rangers — It starts with a bull masturbation joke and just gets progressively worse from there. The TV show reveled in its cheesiness... the movie tries to take it seriously and failed utterly. Nothing makes sense. Everything is stupid to the point of being offensive. I'm embarrassed for everybody involved.
  • John Wick: Chapter Two — Really wish I saw this in the theater. The original completely surprised me with how good it was. This one was just as good despite my high expectations. The ending sets us up for a third installment that promises to up the stakes yet again... I'm ready.
  • Alien: Covenant — While not the disappointment that Prometheus was, it still falls way, way short of being Alien-worthy.

And... no more Antarctica for you. Or for me. See you next week.


Caturday 44

Posted on Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Dave!Having two cats complicates my travel a bit.

Having two cats I love more than just about anything complicates my travel to a terrifying degree. Despite having automated feeders, an automated water fountain, automated litter boxes, two camera monitoring systems, a home security system, and a catsitter to keep it all running while I'm away... I still spend a lot of time worrying about Jake and Jenny every waking hour of every day. Are they doing okay? Are they lonely? Are they safe? Will they forget me? Will they forgive me?

Yesterday when I got home, Jake came running to greet me. He couldn't get enough petting and cried every time I stopped. Jenny kept her distance, but eventually wanted in on the action. The rest of my day was spent making it up to them. Which wasn't difficult because they followed me everywhere, Probably trying to make sure I didn't abandon them again...

Kitty Return

Kitty Return

I turned Carl the RoboVac off while I was gone. Turning him back on resulted in exactly what you'd expect... a lot of cat hair and kitty litter filling up the bin...

Carl RoboVac Bin

I went to bed at 4:30 yesterday and stayed there until 7am this morning when it was the cat's breakfast time.

Today I was planning on unpacking, washing clothes, cleaning house, posting all my blog entires from my trip, and running into work. But my cats had other plans for me. It's rare that they both get this clingy at the same time... but it's been like this all day. Guess they really missed me?

Kitty Love

Kitty Love

Coming home to this makes it very hard to think about leaving them again. Especially to a place like Antarctica where I have no contact with the outside world and no way to check in on them.

Fortunately, I have three months before I have to worry about it.

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Day Sixteen: ATL -> SEA -> Home

Posted on Friday, December 15th, 2017

Dave!Naturally I was unable to sleep for the 9-1/2 hour flight from Buenos Aires to Atlanta, which meant I was beyond tired when I finally made it back to the USA. That I had to follow that with a 2-hour layover, a 5-1/2 hour flight to Seattle, and a 2-1/2 hour drive home... well, let's just say I've taken "exhausted" to a new level entirely.

The good news is that I get to see my cats at the end of it all.

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Day Fifteen: EZE -> ATL

Posted on Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Dave!If I were smart, I would have flown the 9:18pm flight out of Buenos Aires yesterday instead of today. Except... I really, really didn't want to go from the ship to a flight to another flight to another flight to a long drive home all one right after another. And so... a night in Buenos Aires... followed by a long day in Buenos Aires. Albeit a beautiful day to be sure. As I could see from the window of my hotel room...

Palacio Duhau Buenos Aires

Traffic to the airport was insane, taking almost two hours. Good thing I left five hours early for my nine-and-one-half hour flight!

EZE to ATL Flight

One. More. Flight. To. Go.

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Day Fourteen: USH -> AEP

Posted on Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Dave!And... survived The Drake Passage to arrive back at Ushuaia this morning. The ship was kind enough to feed us breakfast before kicking us off, but it was the same breakfast buffet from the past nine days, so eggs on toast with a bowl of corn flakes wasn't a very exciting way to start my day.

Most of my morning was spent being very concerned that we'd only have 90 minutes from the time we arrived at the airport until our flight left. I was assured... twice... that this would be plenty of time because "it's a small airport." Which was odd assurance since small airports are notoriously understaffed. Add to that the fact that Aerolineas Argentinas is flying several very large planes into this "small airport" and I was understandably concerned.

I should have trusted my instincts and taken a taxi to the airport rather than wait for the bus they had scheduled.

Huge lines. Precious little staff. A long wait to get through security. And a mad dash to find out where in the hell our plane was because it wasn't at the gate we were told. It was an awful, nerve-wracking, terrible way to end my vacation.

But we made it... and it was a good flight... so all is well and I'm back in Buenos Aires now.

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Day Thirteen: The Drake Passage

Posted on Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Dave!The captain took pity on us and tried to circumnavigate the storm rather than head straight into it. Still... a very rough night. The trick is to prop up the sides of your mattress so that you can wedge yourself in the middle. Not the most comfortable way to sleep... but better than being tossed around like a rag-doll all night.

We've been told that we'll reach calmer waters around 5:00pm, which would be a nice treat before I have to make the long journey home.

This morning I tried to organize my junk for packing. Which is easier said than done when the waves are crashing into the side of the ship. One minute you're reaching for a pair of socks... the next you're being tossed against a wall.

The hardest part of packing is seeing all the crap I brought but never used.

I was told that waterproof over-pants would be trashed and I should have at least two. I brought three. I used one. Same for heavy waterproof gloves. Told I needed two, brought three, used zero. It was never cold enough to wear them. When I used any gloves at all, it was just the thin liners. And then there's a pile of scarves, balaclavas, and fleeces that I never touched.

If I had this to do all over again, I would have a different packing strategy. Prepare for the worst weather possible... but not over-pack as I did this time. I could have easily left a third of this stuff at home and been fine. Live and learn. I'm just glad I didn't rent parka, pants, and gloves as originally planned. That would have been a ridiculous level of overkill.

And now... a good night to you, for tomorrow we make port...


Day Twelve: The Drake Passage

Posted on Monday, December 11th, 2017

Dave!Yesterday's afternoon excursion was the end of my Antarctic adventure. I've turned in my life vest, and there will be no more landings on the seventh continent. And yet... there's still two days on the Drake Passage until I can begin my journey home.

The ship's doctor passed out "seasick pills" with dinner last night, so we knew that it would be a rough ride for the crossing (projected 9 to 12 meter waves rather than the 6 meter waves we had heading out). Rather than test the limits of my immunity to seasickness, I went ahead and took a pill. There's not much to do onboard anyway, so I might as well be doped up so I can sleep...

Now my life is all about risk assessment until we reach Ushuaia. As in... "Do I risk dying on the toilet just now... or should I wait a half hour in the hope that the waves will ease up and I can pee safely?"

I couldn't hold my phone during the worst of it, but this is pretty much the entire day...

Thinking back on this trip as a whole... I wish it would have been two or three days longer. It takes such a huge amount of time and money to get to Antarctica, that the actual time spent there seems to fly by in a flash by comparison. We did lose a day for the emergency medical evacuation... and lost a half day due to bad weather... but, even so, I wish we went further south to see more than we did. To the Antarctic Circle at least. Something to keep in mind if you ever decide to book a trip to Antarctica of your own.

That being said... what an amazing adventure!

Even with the huge effort and expense it takes to visit, this is easily one of my most memorable, most unique, most special trips I've ever taken.

Will I ever visit Antarctica again? Probably not. Unless it's radically different itinerary, my afternoon at Neko Harbor was perfect in every way, and all the Antarctica I need for a lifetime. But I've learned to never say never, so perhaps there's another trip in me one day.

Heaven only knows there's plenty of Antarctica left to visit. But, alas, one step closer to home...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

Assuming I survive the rest of these crazy rough seas... holy cow.


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