Posted on November 6th, 2020
There's a feature in iOS 14 where you can have a "photo widget" on your home screen. It pulls photos from my phone that I see every time I wake it up. Most of the pictures displayed are of my cats because most of the photos on my phone are of my cats. But there are occasional photos of my travels... or my friends... or my mom and my family... or scenery I thought interesting enough to capture. Every once in a while it pops up with a photo I transferred from my "real" DSLR camera to my phone.
This morning when I woke up it was a penguin from my epedition to Antarctica...
I remember taking this shot with perfect clarity.
You are instructed not to approach within a certain distance of any wildlife... like six feet or something. But it's okay if wildlife approach you. It's not like if a penguin walks up that you have to turn tail and run away or anything like that. This happened to me a couple times. The first time was at Hydrurga Rocks where the above photo was taken. The penguin was bobbing along as penguins do when I dropped down to take a photo of him. He stopped, looked my way, then hopped over within a couple feet...
I would have offered him a fish if I had one on me, but I did not, so he gave me a once-over then wandered away...
And so I found myself thinking about this penguin for a good chunk of my morning. What's going on with him? Is he still around? Still healthy? Hasn't been eaten by a seal or something? How long does a penguin live anyway? What's the life of a chinstrap penguin?
Turns out the Chinstrap Penguin AKA Pygoscelis Antarcticus can live for up to 20 years.
So maybe he's still around. Swimming in ice-cold waters. Hunting for fish. Sunning himself on rocks. Doing whatever other penguin stuff that penguins do.
That would be nice.
I know thanks to climate change things are getting tough for arctic and antarctic wildlife, so it's nice to think that he's doing okay.
Or she's doing okay? Males and females look exactly the same and the only way I could ever tell was if they were next to each other since males are larger than females. Which is probably why they are the ones who end up fighting over pebbles to build nests? I should probably look into that one of these days. Maybe the next time a penguin pops up on my iPhone home screen.
Wouldn't want to misattribute penguin outrage.
In Washington State, so long as your ballot is postmarked by Election Day, it will still be counted even if it arrives at the polling station up to 20 days after Election Day. Obviously we are not a battleground state... WA is about as blue as blue can get thanks to the massive progressive voting block on the Seattle-side of the mountains... but, technically, our election is not over until November 23. So when I hear people in Washington going on a tirade because votes are still being counted in other states... it takes all my willpower to keep from telling them to take a seat. If we were a battleground state deciding the election and the vote was close, WE would be potentially delaying things for weeks. But it's all good. The Office of the President doesn't transfer until noon on January 20th.
Save your human outrage for something else.
Posted on April 25th, 2018
It's World Penguin Day! A holiday I never even knew existed until they started appearing everywhere I went on the internet.
I'm rather fond of penguins, and am thrilled that I have been able to get up-close-and-personal with them on my recent trip to Antarctica. Certainly interesting enough creatures to deserve a day of their own...
Until next year...
Posted on March 5th, 2018
I sent postcards on my Antarctica vacation knowing full well they may never show up. Just so I would know one way or the other if they arrived, I sent cards to myself as well. The first postcard was sent from Ushuaia and never made it. The second card was given to the crew of our ship to mail from Antarctica (since our landing to the post office station had to be canceled). That one finally arrived 10 weeks later...
Ironically, the postcard that got here cost me $1 to mail. The one that didn't get here cost over $4. Not that it matters. $4 is a tiny drop in a very large bucket.
As soon as my tax refund gets here, I plan on paying off the last remnants of vacation that have been lingering. Go me. Closure at last!
Posted on December 17th, 2017
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, icebergs, 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 BorrowLenses.com. 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 care about helping me out in any way, despite their promise to have the camera available on the date I requested.
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 crappy 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, BorrowLenses.com for being a total piece of shit.
UPDATE: I complained on Facebook. Borrow Lenses refunded my money and gave me a credit for future rentals. They were apologetic about the situation (this time) which has me wondering if I just got the wrong customer service agent... or if they only act this way when called out publicly?
• 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).
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 Ushuaia 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.
• Sun! The sun reflecting off the snow and ice is pretty harsh. Take good sunglasses (and, if you wear glasses, get good prescription sunglasses). And, oh yeah... TAKE SUN SCREEN! I had a friend tell me that he got sunburned pretty bad on his Antarctica trip. So I took Banana Boat SPF 30 and applied it liberally to my face. Wore it every landing we had. Still got burned. So... take a higher SPF than 30 if you want to avoid sunburn!
• 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...
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...
And... no more Antarctica for you. Or for me. See you next week.
Posted on December 12th, 2017
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...
Posted on December 11th, 2017
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...
©2017 Google Maps
Assuming I survive the rest of these crazy rough seas... holy cow.
Posted on December 10th, 2017
The weather outside continued to be dreary, so I was questioning whether or not I would even bother with the excursion to "Half Moon Island." Ultimately I decided I might as well go. It would be something to pass the time before two days on The Drake Passage.
What a pleasant surprise.
Unlike Whaler's Bay, which wasn't my thing... Half Moon Island has beautiful topography and an abundance of penguins to photograph. It was the perfect way to end my last day in Antarctica...
BONUS SEALS ON THE BEACH!
Our progress today...
©2017 Google Maps
And... the end. A treacherous trek across The Drake followed by three flights over three days, and my vacation is over.
Something tells me I'm going to need a vacation from my vacation.
Posted on December 10th, 2017
Last night we were provided a lecture about whaling in preparation for today's first excursion to Deception Island and "Whaler's Bay." It's home to an abandoned "whale processing center" where tens of thousands of whales were butchered for their parts (and oil, of course). Not a subject or a location that appeals to me, but I tried to make the best of it. There was a spooky fog out, which made things slightly more interesting than it would have otherwise been to me.
"Deception Island" is actually the caldera of an extinct volcano. You enter the caldera by passing through a narrow channel of high winds which sailors have named "Neptune's Bellows."
You can kinda see how insane it is to navigate inside the caldera by looking at this satellite image I grabbed from Bing Maps...
©2017 Bing Maps / Earthstar Geographics
But pass through we did, at which time we found ourselves approaching Whaler's Bay...
The ruins of this tragic site are still around...
It wasn't just the past, death was everywhere in the present too...
Far more interesting to me than the remnants of death was some penguins on the shore...
There was also a bird that was looking most perturbed...
And... our progress so far today...
©2017 Google Maps
One more stop today then a couple wake-ups across The Drake Passage until vacation is over.
Posted on December 10th, 2017
Up until today, we've seen whales a couple times... but, for me, it's always been at a distance. They've always been off in the distance, and the best shot's I'd get would be of a tail... or maybe some spray... but nothing terribly impressive.
Then today as we were (ironically) headed towards "Whaler's Bay," a pair of whales came right up to the ship to say hello...
And they were there playing around the ship for a long, long time. Over an hour. After I took the above photos, I went back to my cabin, took a shower, and uploaded my photos. After all that I saw they were still there, so I grabbed my iPhone to shoot some video. It goes on for eight minutes, so I trimmed it so as not to bore you to death...
An unexpected bonus for this trip, to be sure. We didn't even have to leave the ship!
Posted on December 9th, 2017
The gods of Antarctica giveth... and the gods of Antarctica taketh away.
Yesterday's excursion to Neko Harbor was everything I could have hoped for when it comes to photographing Antarctica... a non-stop parade of beautiful blue-blue skies, water so calm it was like a mirror, and a gorgeous location to shoot at.
Today? Not so much.
Our first excursion to Orne Harbour this morning was canceled because of nonstop sleet and zero visibility. Our second excursion to Bancroft Bay went ahead as scheduled, but even my best photos couldn't hold a candle to my worst photos yesterday. Especially with the snow coming down. I tried to photograph some birds as we left the ship, but it was tough to focus through all the white stuff in the air...
There was a bit of excitement because some whales were spotted while we were out. The krill they were eating must have been near the surface, because they didn't do much except show their tails...
After taking a lot of photos of water where wales used to be, we continued further into the harbor to look at glaciers and icebergs...
If there's one thing that Antarctica has, it's an abundance of icebergs.
And then... time to head back to the ship...
And... today's progress...
©2017 Google Maps
Tomorrow is our last day of exploring Antarctica before heading back across The Drake. Hoping for a great finale to the trip!