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Day Nine Part Two: Neko Harbor at Andvord Bay

Posted on December 8th, 2017

Dave!And lo did the weather gods smile upon us, for today's second excursion to the actual continent of Antarctica exceeded my dreams.

When the ship pulled into the harbor, you immediately knew something special was going to happen because the water was so calm. It was like a massive mirror reflecting everything you see...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

It kind of messes with your head because you're seeing double across the entire horizon...

Neko Harbor Pano
Click to embiggen the photo in a new window.

As we headed out in a Zodiac to our landing site, the ice in the water started out pretty small...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

But kept getting bigger and thicker the closer we got...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

By the time we made it to shore, it was all ice...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Everywhere you looked, there was gorgeous scenery begging to be photographed. And if this were the only day I had in Antarctica, I would have been perfectly fine with that...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Yes, those are penguins laying there if you zoom in...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

There's a couple rookeries nearby where penguins hangs out...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

They're building nests by hauling pebbles around...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Except pebbles are lacking, so they're pretty much just stealing them from each other's nests. Which results in arguments, as you'd imagine...

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

And so... yeah... Neko Harbor. A pretty great end to a pretty great day...

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Everything I see after this is gravy.

Neko Harbor is a backtrack through Andvord Bay from yesterday, so our progress is a little backwards...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

The weather seems to be clouding up again, so I'm guessing tomorrow won't be as nice as today. Which is totally okay... if every day were this perfect, my head might explode.

   

Day Nine Part One: Cuverville Island

Posted on December 8th, 2017

Dave!Despite the fact that we're in the Antarctica summer months, it's still feels very much like winter here. Snow is everywhere and the skies are overcast and gray. It's also fairly chilly, but ultimately warm enough that I find myself stripping out of my winter coat. A fleece with my thermal underwear is more than enough.

Today's first excursion was at Cuverville Island, which is prime breeding ground for the gentoo penguin. We're told that 5,000 pairs of them breed here annually, which is a lot of penguins...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

The penguin eggs are a delicacy for many predators. Skua birds just love to swoop down and make a quick meal out of an unattended egg...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguins

Global warming is endangering breeding beaches, forcing the penguins to seek higher and higher ground. This is unfortunate, because they move quite poorly on land. In the water they are graceful and fast, on land they are awkward and clumsy. They're constantly falling over as they try to make their way from one spot to another...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Fall

To make things easier, penguins navigate the landscape via "penguin highways" that are created from endless birds walking the same paths over and over again...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Highway

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Highway

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Highway

Penguins are curious creatures with odd behaviors that are fun to speculate over. This penguin, for example, just stood in one spot for the longest time with his flipper out like he was directing traffic or something...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Traffic Cop

Which might have come in handy for these penguins that ended up "stranded" on an iceberg...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Iceberg

My favorite thing to to do is watch dirty penguins head to the water...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

Where they swim around, get cleaned up, and have a bite to eat...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

Then return as clean penguins, drying themselves in the breeze...

Cuverville Island Gentoo Penguin Bath

And... that's all she wrote for Cuverville Island. Time to navigate the icy waters back to the ship...

Leaving Cuverville Island

And... here's where we are now, very close to our last landing...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

Later today we're making our first landing on the actual continent of Antarctica instead of the surrounding islands as we have been. More than a little excited for that!

   

Day Eight Part Two: Andvord Bay

Posted on December 7th, 2017

Dave!Since it's summer here at the bottom of the globe, the sun never truly "sets"... it just kinda dips below the horizon for a while. If we were closer to the Antarctic Circle, we wouldn't even see that, because the sun pretty much hangs around all day long in December.

Tonight we took the zodiacs out for a spin so we could see some icebergs in the evening sun. Which usually doesn't feel much like "evening"... except this time it did. The clouds that rolled in this afternoon just kept piling up, blotting out much of the sunlight. Add a misty fog across the water and this is about as "nighttime" as you're going to get right now.

And it's sublimely beautiful.

The atmosphere coupled with the buttery light of the sun peaking through the clouds was a photographer's paradise, and I shot hundreds of photos of glacier ice... all of them amazing. Picking favorites to post here was no easy chore. But I whittled it down to a dozen shots just to keep this entry a reasonable length...

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

   
Amazingly enough, we found some wayward gentoo penguins hanging out on the ice...

Glacier Icebergs

Glacier Icebergs

And... here's where we ended up today...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

Here's hoping the weather improves a bit for tomorrow's landings.

   

Day Eight Part One: Hydrurga Rocks

Posted on December 7th, 2017

Dave!Yesterday's excursion had to be canceled in lieu of the medical evacuation, so this morning's landing at Hydrurga Rocks is my official first time stepping foot on Antarctica soil. So far as landfalls go, we couldn't have asked for nicer weather. The skies are a stunning blue-on-blue color that, I'm guessing, comes from having pristine, pollution-free air. As if that weren't enough, temperatures were above freezing, so I stripped off my jacket the minute I stepped off the Zodiac Raft.

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

This place is famous as a breeding ground for chinstrap penguins, and they are everywhere...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

   
It's breeding season, so rocky "nests" are being built pebble by pebble in order to create a safe space until the eggs hatch...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

   
The penguins are accustomed to humans, and will walk right up to you if you're not moving around too much. This guy wandered up next to where I was sitting and just stared at me for a good ten minutes...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

   
In the water, penguins are graceful swimmers who can move with precision and skill. On land they are clumsy creatures that seem to fall over a lot. Watching them walk is adorable and high entertainment...

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Penguins at Hydrurga Rocks

Bonus... there were also seals!

Seals at Hydrurga Rocks

Seals at Hydrurga Rocks

Seals at Hydrurga Rocks

Not a bad first landing, that's for sure!

After we got back the the ship, the beautiful blue skies we had enjoyed all morning started to turn...

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

Weather at Hydrurga Rocks

Guess the weather was good while it lasted.

And... today's progress...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

   

Day Seven: King George Island

Posted on December 6th, 2017

Dave!Today the ship arrived at our detour to King George Island so the passenger who was thrown down the stairs yesterday could be air-lifted to Chile for surgery. The hope is that his circulation wasn't badly damaged by his compound leg fractures. If it was, he could lose his leg. The ship's doctor thinks he's going to come through fine despite the serious damage, so fingers crossed.

I can't fathom how much a med-evac for something like this costs. Tens of thousands of dollars, certainly. The flight-time alone out of Puente Arenas is 5-1/2 hours each way. Fortunately, the expedition group requires that you have comprehensive insurance for just such an emergency, so at least the poor guy won't have to mortgage his house after he gets out of the hospital.

But I'm ahead of myself...

Today was the day that we officially crossed into Antarctic waters. I think people were more excited about being in calm waters than they were about becoming "Antarcticans." Being able to walk without being thrown around is kinda a big deal.

King George Island has bases from countries around the world. According to Wikipedia, there are research stations here from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, South Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia, Uruguay, and The United States. Chile's base "Frei" has the landing strip where the med-evac will happen. I snapped some photos of buildings and a helicopter, but have no idea which country they belong to...

King George Island

King George Island

I am told that there is an annual marathon that is run here. Cannot fathom trying to run in the heavy winds that blow through this area of the world, but I guess it's bucket-list accomplishment if you/re a runner.

And... today's progress...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

After we've confirmed that the med-evac plane has reached "the point of no return" and will definitely be coming to pick up our passenger, we're headed into the Gerlache Strait and further down the Antarctic Peninsula.

   

Day Six: The Drake Passage

Posted on December 5th, 2017

Dave!And so... not the smooth sailing I was hoping for.

The open sea has proven so treacherous that the ship seems to be floating on its side from time to time. You look out your portal and you can see your own wake. Naturally, this has caused a lot of discomfort for a lot of people onboard. As for me? I don't get seasick, but I put one of those patch things behind my ear just in case.

Unfortunately the patch can't prevent a door from slamming on my finger.

I went to leave the cabin just as a big wave struck the side of the ship. This swung the door back with my hand still attached. Ouch. My right ring finger now has a pretty big chunk of skin ripped off of it.

It's surprising how simple things like sleeping, opening a door, brushing your teeth, and going to the bathroom become a major ordeal when attempted on rough seas. During breakfast this morning, a wave struck the ship and rolled it pretty hard. All the breakfast plates, glasses, mugs, and utensils went flying. It was then I learned that each season over half of the dishes on this ship have to be replaced. The cost of doing business in the Antarctic, I suppose.

And it's not just the dishes that are breaking... regardless of how careful you are, the potential for injury on a trip like this is huge.

Yesterday a guy tripped on a busted sidewalk in Ushuaia and couldn't board the ship because his ankle was jacked up. Then this morning during some particularly turbulent seas I heard a man screaming in the hallway. I went out to see if I could help and ran into somebody who told me that a man had just fallen down the stairs and broke his leg. Turns out he has a very bad compound fracture and has to be air-lifted to a hospital. We were going to head back to Ushuaia to drop him, but there's a hurricane-force storm to the north which means we can't. So... we are making a detour to the only nearby place a plane can land... King George Island.

Considering the seas are as violent as they are, I would not be surprised if there end up being more such accidents.

In better news... we saw our first iceberg today. It was kinda tough to get good photos when the ship was rocking and rolling, but I did my best...

M/V Ushuaia in The Drake Passage

M/V Ushuaia in The Drake Passage

M/V Ushuaia in The Drake Passage

And Antarctica is still a day away...

Antarctica Map
©2017 Google Maps

More rough seas ahead, I'm sure.

   

Day Five: The M/V Ushuaia

Posted on December 4th, 2017

Dave!We were kicked out of our hotel room at 10am, but couldn't board the ship until 4pm. This resulted in a lot of sitting around, but also lunch.

The M/V Ushuaia was formerly a research ship (and is still registered that way if you look it up on a marine tracker), so luxury accommodations aren't really what you're getting when you sign up. Welcome to my new home in Cabin #210...

M/V Ushuaia Stateroom

M/V Ushuaia Stateroom

Still, it's a nice ship and she'll be on her way in mere hours...

M/V Ushuaia Ship

M/V Ushuaia Ship

The M/V Ushuaia has internet via satellite. It's slow and unreliable, but available if you want to pay for it. I've decided that, for this trip at least, I really don't. I want to completely unplug from events back home. I don't want to know what stupid shit President Trump said... I certainly don't want to know if he started a nuclear war with North Korea. I just want to forget all the bullshit for a week and be at peace.

Here's hoping for smooth sailing over the most violent waters on earth.

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Bullet Sunday 389

Posted on July 13th, 2014

Dave!Smoke is in the air and so are bullets... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Spoilers! Since I have no desire to see yet another flaming pile of shit Transformers movie that's not about Transformers, I jumped right on io9's "Spoiler FAQ" for Transformers 4. Sounds just as heinous as I knew it would be. Even if you have no interest in this turd of a film franchise, Rob Bricken's comments are pretty epic. If you want an entertaining read that encapsulates everything that's wrong with modern movies, it's an article absolutely work reading.

   
• Don't Come! But... but... I've already been to Belgium!

Antarctica has been at the top of my travel destination list for years. Now I just don't know. Tourist crowds? In freakin' Antarctica? Blargh.

   
• Murder! I would like to add my outrage to all those people condemning dinosaur hunters for murdering these magnificent creatures...

Steven Spielberg, Dinosaur Hunter
Photo © Universal Pictures

What a bastard! NOT COOL, STEVEN SPIELBERG!

   
• Shawn! Started out my day listening to Jay-Z and found myself Googling him to see what he's up to (besides Beyonce). Ended up watching about 20 Jay-Z interviews on YouTube. He is awesome in all of them. This is probably my favorite. Not many people can out-Letterman Dave Letterman...

It's nice how Jay-Z feels the need to keep reminding us that he's cooler than 99% of the people on earth.

   
• Pepe! Click here for some wisdom from a true leader... President José "Pepe" Mujica....

President José
Photo © The Associated Press

They saved the most telling quote for last on the secret to happiness...
"To live in accordance with how one thinks. Be yourself and don't try to impose your criteria on the rest. I don't expect others to live like me. I want to respect people's freedom, but I defend my freedom. And that comes with the courage to say what you think, even if sometimes others don't share those views."

Sounds oddly familiar... a pity politicians in this country aren't so forward (er, backwards?) thinking when it comes to imposing their criteria (or, more likely, the criteria of the lobbyists who have bought them off) on the people they claim to represent.

   
• Thanks! Have you thanked your parents today?

And, to the woman hosting this video... marry me?

   
Now I suppose I should try to get some rest before The Week From Hell rears its ugly head. Blargh.

   

Antarctic

Posted on May 12th, 2014

Dave!As I've repeated many, many times... visiting Antarctica has been a dream trip of mine for decades.

So I'd really like to know why it is that any news that comes from there is bad news? And today it was the worst news of all.

Yeah, NASA is saying that it could be centuries before massive chunks start breaking off fast enough to cause sea level to rise significantly, but massive chunks always seem to be breaking off the seventh continent. And who knows... the news coming from Antarctica could be even worse tomorrow.

So I guess it really is time to shit or get off the pot.

Either I make it to Antarctica in the next year or two, or I risk having to remove it from my list completely.

Guess I'll be robbing a bank or selling a kidney one day soon.

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Antarctic

Posted on July 10th, 2013

Dave!Thanks to yet another massive chunk of ice breaking off the continent, Antarctica just moved past India to take the top spot on my travel bucket list. I just have to see it before it's gone.

The problem is that it's SO expensive to do it right.

Even if I start saving immediately after I get back from this year's vacation in October, I still won't have enough money to afford the trip by the time Winter 2014 rolls around. Which means I'll have to go into credit card debt. Unless I wait until winter 2015, which I'd really rather not do.

And, yes... I know exactly what this sounds like.

"Oh boo hoo! People in Africa are starving and you can't afford to vacation in Antarctica! Poor little you!"

And I totally agree. This is the cream of First World Problems right here.

But... Antarctica.

And so I've got to buckle down and get serious over the next couple months so I can make this happen.

Why can't I have millions of dollars so stuff like "budgeting for a vacation" doesn't have to occupy my time?

Okay, okay... that's the cream of First World Problems.

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