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Antarctica - Small Ship Expedition

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LAND SHAPED BY ICE
Our Journey to the Bottom of the Globe
December 27, 2006 — January 20, 2007

“Ice is the beginning of Antarctica and ice is its end…This is earthscape transfigured into icescape. Here is a world informed by ice: Ice that welds together a continent: ice on such a scale that it shapes and defines itself: ice that is both substance and style; ice that is both landscape and allegory.”

Stephen Pyne
The Ice: A Journey to Antarctica

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“Good Morning; Good Morning, one and all! We presently find ourselves at 64˚53’ South by 62˚52’ West. We are five nautical miles from our anchorage position in Paradise Bay. The air temperature is 4C or about 40F. Already this morning, we have seen Adélie and gentoo penguins, southern giant petrels, Cape petrels, and south polar skuas. We have clear blue skies, calm waters, and excellent visibility. Conditions look optimum for our zodiac cruise to Petzval Glacier and our continental landing at Almirante Brown Station. So, don your gear and meet us at the bow. Zodiac operations will commence in approximately 20 minutes.”

We woke up to similar words almost every day of our Antarctic journey. Admittedly, this call was usually to wake us for breakfast. On a couple of occasions, however, feeding our tummies did take a back seat to a beach landing or a zodiac cruise.

When the call was for a zodiac cruise or a landing, we needed every second of those 20 minutes to don our gear and make our way to the bow. Not because we had a long distance to traverse across the ship to get to the gangway, but because it took us about that much time to put on all of the clothing layers, the life jacket, the boots, the gloves, and the hat.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

A few days ago, as we were reminiscing about our trip, hubby came up with the perfect description of our experience: SHOCK & AWE. With that in mind, and knowing that there are no words, pictures, or videos that can do justice to the reality of what we experienced, let me start at the beginning and try to give you a small glimpse into what turned out to be the most fabulous adventure of our lives.

I am writing this for two different audiences — those who are planning a trip to Antarctica and want a lot of the nitty-gritty in terms of clothing, etc., and those who just want to read about the trip. Hopefully, the way I have organized this document will allow you to skip through to the parts you are interested in.

Next: IN THE BEGINNING

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    Although the idea of a trip to Antarctica was not born suddenly, to some of our friends and family it came as a surprise. Almost without exception, the first question from everyone was: “Why?” I tried hard to find a suitable answer; but never quite succeeded. Eventually, I borrowed the name of an early Antarctic exploration ship as my tongue-in-cheek response: “Pourquoi-pas? … Why not?”

    After years of talking about it, we decided to make Antarctica a gift to ourselves for our 25th anniversary. We made the deposit on our cabin in early August 2005 — 17 months before our scheduled departure.

    We were looking for a specific type of Antarctic trip, so there was a lot of research involved in making our decision. We did not want a “wave as you sail by” experience; we wanted a real expedition. We wanted the landings; the zodiac cruises in iceberg alleys; the penguins waddling nearby; the elephant seals wallowing on the beaches; the fur seals chasing us. We even wanted the sounds of penguins braying and the smell of guano. We wanted it all — the pleasant and the not so pleasant. We wanted to be immersed in the full experience, the Drake Passage notwithstanding.

    A few factors played into our decision to travel with Quark Expeditions: (http://www.quarkexpeditions.com/)

    * the size of the ship: the smaller the better since landings in Antarctica are restricted to no more than 100 people per landing

    * the voyage itinerary and date: we wanted to include the Falkland Islands [or Islas Malvinas as the Argentineans prefer] and South Georgia, as well as the Peninsula, and we wanted to go during the height of the season to improve our chances for good weather and optimum wildlife sightings

    * Quark’s reputation and experience in Antarctic expeditions, and their membership in IAATO [International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators]: this was important to us, because we wanted to travel with an environmentally-responsible organization

    Some might think that our itinerary was not very sexy. After all, we visited places that have been visited by others who have journeyed south [25,167 people made landings during the 2005-2006 season]. We did consider an “Emperor Penguin Safari” aboard an ice breaker as well as a “Quest for the Antarctic Circle” itinerary. In the end, however, we felt that both those itineraries were too specific. In Antarctica’s infamously “fickle” weather, it was too much like putting all of our eggs in one basket; neither itinerary offered the variety we were looking for and the dates were much riskier as they were either very early or very late in the season.

    With the trip now behind us, we know that we made the right decision. Our adventure turned out to be everything we expected and more. The variety of places and wildlife we saw was incredible. At the end of our voyage, one of our fellow-passengers said, “We’ve had the best weather, most landings, and most wildlife sightings on this trip of all my trips.” She ought to now — this was her 10th trip back to Antarctica despite her tendency to become seasick in even the gentlest swells.

    NEXT: FLIGHTS & ACCOMMODATIONS

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    We booked the international flights ourselves using an internet consolidator. We were lucky and managed to get non-stop flights between Washington, DC and Buenos Aires (BsAs), Argentina. Although we were a little hesitant to purchase these tickets 10 months in advance, we ended up being thankful that we had done so. When I checked prices again a few months before our departure, the fares for coach-class tickets had gone up by about $2,000.

    Aerolineas Argentinas has a lock on domestic routes. Options to get from BsAs to Ushuaia — “fin del mundo,” or the end of the earth, as is often promoted — are limited. The flights also book up fast during the short Antarctic travel season. That we were traveling around the Christmas and New Year holidays was an added factor. My research had revealed that booking our own flights would be a costly mistake. Receiving several good recommendations for a local travel agent in BsAs, I worked with Mayra who booked our roundtrip flights for 1/3rd the price I would have paid. She also assisted us with our one-night hotel stay in BsAs. After consulting us about our interests and likes/dislikes, she recommended the Art Hotel in the Recoleta neighborhood and booked the room for a better rate than was available on the Internet.

    When embarking on a major trip, we always try to arrive at our trip departure point a few days ahead of time. This gives us time to do some exploring and sightseeing, with the added bonus of eliminating travel stress from any delays. This practice turned out to be a definite advantage on this trip — first one of our bags was “delayed,” and later, our flight to Ushuaia was impacted by a “work slow down.”

    For our additional nights in Ushuaia, we booked the same hotel where Quark was putting us up the night before the voyage. We asked Quark to make the booking for those additional nights as the Hotel Los Nires, like most of the hotels in the region, was showing no vacancies on the web — again, a result of the Christmas and New Year holidays.

    NEXT: THE SHIP

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    If there was one thing we knew for sure, it was that we wanted a small ship adventure. Although we considered a couple of 85-100 passenger ships, ultimately we picked the Professor Molchanov — maximum passenger capacity of 48. We did not consider ships that were any smaller — mostly because we wanted a “soft” adventure as we headed into areas about which early explorers warned: “Below 40 South there is no law, below 50 South there is no God.” True, the Professor looked a little worse for wear when we saw her in port for the first time, but considering the waters she plies, she looked pretty darn good.

    The ship was built in Finland in 1982-83 for polar and oceanographic research. Its ice strengthened hull allows it to break through ice up to 3 ft [1 m] thick — sufficient for summer cruises. Registered in Murmansk, Russia, the ship is crewed by Russians experienced in polar expeditions — they were not in the least fazed by any of the ocean and weather conditions we encountered.

    By our standards this was a very small ship indeed: 1,753 GRT [gross registered tons]; 263 ft [65 m] long; 42 ft [12.8 m] wide; 15 ft [4.5 m] draft. As a comparison, the last ship we were on was: 91,000 GRT; 965 ft [294 m] long; 105 ft [32 m] wide; 26 ft [8 m] draft.) To say that the Molchanov bobbed like a cork even in what the Russian crew considered to be “calm” conditions would not be an exaggeration. The only time we had little sense of movement was in protected channels where the water was flat calm. At no time, however, were we scared — not even when the ship rolled and all we could see from our Deck 5 porthole was either the sky or the ocean swells.

    Public spaces

    The Professor was built to be a workhorse, not a luxury vessel. We found the layout and furnishings, as expected, to be quite utilitarian.

    The two dining rooms, one on either side of the ship, are located on Deck 3. While the lower level did offer relative stability in rough waters, being close to the bow negated that to a certain degree. These rooms are furnished with bench tables and swivel chairs mounted to the floor. Early in the trip, we figured out that the starboard dining room offered the best table — located in the back of the room, the bench seats here afforded a more stable dining experience when the ship was rolling. The position of the galley between the two dining rooms made for efficient meal service.

    The bar/meeting room is to the aft on Deck 4. The seating is booth-style with low seatbacks. Though not ideal for lectures, it was the best available place on this small ship. It wasn’t unusual for people to be seated on the floor during the mandatory or popular briefings; sometimes just because it was the most stable part of the room in rough seas. The clinic — which we did not have to use — is on this deck as well.

    The bridge, open to us except when the pilot was onboard for our Beagle Channel transits, is on Deck 6. It is a surprisingly spacious area considering the size of the ship. The officers on duty were willing to chat, explain charts, and answer questions. I was happy to see, however, that when sea/weather conditions called for it, they were all business and passengers respected their need to attend to their duties. We found the small, covered deck just behind the bridge to be a good place to enjoy the passing scenery.

    We spent some time on the spacious flybridge, located just above the bridge, but preferred the stern on Deck 3 and the bow on Deck 4 — especially for photography. The only time these areas were off-limits to us were during zodiac operations and while the ship was dropping or weighing anchor. We found the stern deck to be ideal for photographing birds in flight; bracing ourselves against the slanting mast of a crane provided additional stability. I particularly appreciated the narrow platforms rimming the hull on the bow; they gave me a much needed step up to see over the side of the ship.

    Cabins

    All of the cabins on the Professor Molchanov are outside cabins. That is to say, they have a porthole — a working one at that. There are three suites, 12 twin cabins with private facilities, and several twin and triple cabins with shared facilities. Except for the suites and two of the twin cabins, all have bunk beds.

    We booked a twin with private facilities on Deck 5. Although we were a little concerned that we might feel more of the ship’s movement on this topmost passenger deck, our experience was that the movement was only a bit stronger here than it was on Deck 3. We’re glad the agent at Quark suggested Deck 5 over Deck 4, where there was considerably more foot traffic — both inside and outside.

    To say that our cabin was miniscule would not be an exaggeration. I really don’t think it was much more than 100 ft2 [9 m2]; about the size of my office at work. Despite its diminutive size, however, there was plenty of storage in the cabin for all of our gear. We were still finding unused drawer space even as we were getting ready to disembark! The size of the cabin actually worked to our advantage — especially when we encountered 30 ft [10 m] waves in the Drake Passage. There were plenty of handholds between the sofa at one end of the room and the facilities and the cabin door at the opposite end. We were able to safely make our way through the cabin even in the roughest seas; those in the suites were not so lucky!

    At first, we found it a bit odd that there was no lock on the cabin door, but we quickly became accustomed to the lockless system. To our knowledge, nobody had a problem with theft of personal items. The purser offered to store valuables in her safe; I’m not sure how many people used her services. I never travel with valuable jewelry and we had only a small amount of cash with us, so we did not take her up on the offer. Initially, we kept our camera equipment and laptop stored in drawers and cabinets, but that quickly proved to be a real hassle. Eventually, we just left everything out, except when sea conditions called for things to be stowed.

    Our cabin stewardess was a Russian lady with very limited English. She came twice a day. In the morning, she cleaned the cabin, replacing the bed linens every three days or so, refilled the soap and shampoo dispensers as necessary, etc. When she stopped by in the evenings, she replaced any additional towels as may be necessary, delivered the next day’s program, and left chocolates on the pillow. [Regarding towels; there were no washcloths in the bathrooms either in Ushuaia or on the ship. We bought a couple in Stanley; they’re now part of our adventure travel kit. I point this out so that you can bring your own if you use washcloths in your daily ablutions.]

    On a side note, we learned during the trip that this is the last season Quark will be operating the Molchanov; the owners apparently want the ship back. In its place, Quark has acquired a newer expedition ship — slightly bigger, but still under 100 passengers. Quark still has a couple of small ships in inventory, but whether those ships will be used on longer itineraries remains to be seen.

    NEXT: MEALS

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    All meals were open seating, allowing us to pick and choose our tables and tablemates. Inevitably, there were groups formed based on interests, but overall people did mix and mingle. The expedition staff joined us for our meals, providing a good opportunity to discuss their Antarctic experiences.

    Breakfast was a buffet affair; lunch and dinner were table service. Appetizers and salads would already be on the table when we sat down. A tureen of soup — always delicious — was delivered to the table soon after we were seated. Whoever was closest, played “mother,” and ladled out the soup.

    There were three main courses available for lunch and dinner. We made our selections the night before or at breakfast time, enabling the two chefs to cook the appropriate quantities and thus reduce waste. The choices were Ocean (seafood), Explorer (meat), and Antarctica (vegetarian). The waitress — one Russian lady was assigned to each dining room — verified our order during the soup course and served our preferred dish when everyone at the table was ready. The last course was dessert — more often than not, ice cream.

    Overall, the meals were well-prepared, although there were a couple of dishes that didn’t quite meet our expectations. The head chef, Marco, was an interesting character. He marched to the beat of his own drummer and didn’t much care about anyone else’s opinion. And woe to anyone who asked for a deviation; he thought nothing of biting your head off if you requested something different or if you arrived before the meal was announced. [By the way, meal portions were very generous.]

    Water and iced tea were always available during meals, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages could be ordered through the bartender who visited each table to take orders. A complimentary glass of the house wine, or alternative beverage, was included with dinner; extra drinks charged to the cabin. [The ship’s water was potable; bottled water was available for a price. We took a few bottles of water on board with us in Ushuaia, and later refilled them from the tap.]

    Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, saltine biscuits, and tinned cookies were always available in the portside dining room, as was fresh fruit. Official tea time was at 4:00p each day — cakes, assorted pastries, and chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies were added to the buffet for this occasion.

    For the duration of our trip, we enjoyed very crisp apples, juicy peaches and plums, perfectly ripened kiwis, and tons of bananas — although the latter were sometimes a little too ripe for my taste. One of the things that was a constant topic of conversation was the crispness of the greens used for salads. From the first to the last day, we enjoyed the crispiest greens and still wonder how the galley staff managed to maintain them for so long. After all, it’s not like we stopped at a grocery store every day! [The ship is provisioned in Ushuaia following each voyage.]

    NEXT: MONEY MATTERS & THE EXPEDITION STAFF

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    Money Matters

    The ship operated on a cashless system. A few days into the voyage, we provided a credit card imprint to the purser. All shipboard purchases, be they beverages, gift shop items, or laundry services, were put on a running tab, which we settled on the last day of the voyage. Cash was accepted to settle the charges at that time or you could leave the charges on the credit card.

    Tips for the ship’s crew were settled on the last day of the voyage as well. The recommended amount: $9/person/day. We charged our tips to the credit card.

    There were no tips for the expedition staff.

    The Expedition Staff

    An international cadre of specialists made up our expedition staff. In addition to Jonas, our leader and man-of-all-trades, we had a geologist/glaciologist (Robert), an ornithologist (Nigel), and a historian (Mariano). All were highly experienced in their respective topics and did a great job of furthering our Antarctic education. Robert and Nigel had worked at research stations in Antarctica and had colorful stories from those days to add to their repertoire of briefings. Quark’s medical director (Dr Dan) sailed with us as our onboard physician; he was kept busy dispensing seasickness meds and ministering to those who had accidents on rough sea days [cracked ribs, tumbles, and the like]. As well, we had a media artist (Hanne) on board to document our voyage.

    The staff’s continuing enthusiasm for Antarctica played a very important role in our enjoyment of the voyage. They weren’t jaded after years of traveling to the Antarctic, and it was refreshing to see them enjoying the voyage every bit as much as first timers like us.

    NEXT: WEATHER

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    I have nothing to compare to, but from what I read before the trip and from what I heard from both the expedition team and repeat visitors, we were exceptionally lucky with the weather and sea conditions.

    We had a few rough days at sea, but nothing like it could have been. The worst seas we encountered were during the transit from Ushuaia to the Falklands — force 8 gale; and during the crossing of the Drake Passage — 30 ft [10 m] waves one night. [A ship that returned to Ushuaia a few days after us experienced 50-80 ft (15-24 m) waves in the Drake.]

    The staff rated the initial hours of our Drake crossing a 4 out of 10, and later upped that to a 7.5 out of 10 when the waves were at their highest. After two days of rocking in the Drake Passage, everyone was looking forward to the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel. It wasn’t to be. The channel threw us an unexpected curve, causing us to arrive in Ushuaia around 7:00a on the 18th, rather than in the wee hours of the morning. The freak storm that made for a rocky transit through the channel surprised even the expedition staff and the ship’s crew; they rated the transit a 10 out of 10.

    Speaking of rough seas, Dr Dan dispensed seasickness meds of varying strengths [I believe the meds were free, but am not positive]; we took our own remedies with us and did not require his services. We used the Scopolamine patch when the seas were at their worst. On a few days, I used Dramamine instead, which worked fine, but I am sure that it would not have afforded the same protection as the patch when I needed it the most. We did not use any meds in coastal waters and around the Peninsula.
    The worst side-effect of the patch was dry mouth, which did not seem to be alleviated much by increasing our liquid intake. I may have had a slight case of blurry vision as well, or it might have just been that I need to change the prescription for my reading glasses . In any event, it was not a noticeable nuisance. We did not have the dizziness or other side effects that people have mentioned as being especially bothersome. [I have since heard that there is a pill version of the patch, called Scopace, which makes it easier to manipulate the dosage if the side effects are especially bad.]

    Yes; it was cold during the voyage, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Although we had a couple of “nippy” days, the temperatures were never as bad as we thought they were going to be. It was coldest when the wind was blowing. Even then, it wasn’t half bad if you bundled up. We had temperatures in the 50F [10C] range in the Falklands. The rest of the time, it was in the 40F [4.5C] range, with a few days in the low 30F [-1C] range.

    The fickle weather of the southerly latitudes was in evidence on several days. We’d wake up to overcast skies, which would be replaced by blue skies and puffy, white clouds in short order. Most of the time, the clear skies stayed with us for the remainder of the day, but on a few occasions the overcast moved back in.

    We experienced the worst of the winds on South Georgia Island, where a katabatic wind caused our plans for landing at St Andrews Bay to be canceled. On our last day in the Peninsula region, we were forced to cancel our last two zodiac operations due to high winds and big swells; later that day, we had enough snow for someone to make a miniature snowman. Aside from a few drizzles and some light flurries here and there, we had mostly dry weather throughout the voyage.

    By the way, we used high-SPF sunblock at all times — even when the sun was in hiding. The thinning ozone layer in these latitudes makes the protection even more important than usual. Since I am fair-skinned, I used SPF 50, which was probably overkill; most people were using lower SPF products. Still, I came back with a nice bronze coloring that prompted friends to ask if I went to the tropics instead of Antarctica. Also, we used balm with SPF protection for our lips; it served to protect our lips from the sun as well as from chapping in the dry air of the southerly latitudes. [The dryness of the air wreaks havoc on the skin; I used twice as much moisturizer and body lotion as I normally do. Even hubby resorted to using a facial moisturizer, which he never does at home.]

    NEXT: CLOTHING & GEAR

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    First, a few words about packing. Much as we would have liked to, we were not able to travel with just carry-on luggage — too much photography equipment to carry on. We each checked a large and a small duffel bag. We could have easily fit into three pieces, but there was a method to our madness. Essentially, the extra space in our bags allowed us to not only pack souvenirs, but also the very bulky — and by the end of the trip, stinky — parkas provided by Quark. We were especially happy not to have to wear or carry those parkas on the trip back to the US.

    We cross-packed the bags and made an inventory of the contents of each one in case we needed to file a claim or purchase replacement gear. Luckily, we were re-united with the one bag that went missing for a while and did not have to use our lists. We put our stuff for Ushuaia in one bag so that we would not have to unpack everything during our brief stay there.

    Quark’s website provided us with excellent guidance in terms of what we would require for a comfortable expedition voyage. We took a little more than we needed, but we probably would have used those items under different circumstances. As it turns out, we did not need the wool tops we took to wear around the ship — it was too warm inside — and wore fewer layers on the landings since the weather was so cooperative.

    Having two-to-three sets of everything was essential for laundry rotation. Laundry service was available on the ship [no self-serve washing machines], but they did not iron clothes. We did our own laundry in the sink in our cabin. We took a clothes line and some clothes pins with us and set up shop in the bathroom. We usually did our laundry just before going to bed and everything was dry by the next morning. So, despite the small size of the facilities, having clothes hanging on the line never became bothersome.

    Landings — layers & hotties - Part 1

    Innermost Layer: We each had two sets each of SmartWool and silk long johns. (https://www.smartwool.com/ & http://www.wintersilks.com). We loved the SmartWool sets — they kept us cozy and were lightweight enough to wear even around the ship (which was kept very, very warm). We wore the silk long johns under the SmartWool only on a couple of the coldest landings and were glad we had them with us. The silk long johns doubled as sleepwear and worked really well; except when the seas were particularly rough — no seatbelts in bed to keep you from slip-sliding around and the silk just increased the slippage factor by several magnitudes.

    Layer 2: The next layer consisted of fleece pants and top — we each had two sets. We bought expedition-weight fleece, which proved to be fine, but we probably could have worn lighter weight fleece since the temperatures were reasonably warm. Having a particularly high body thermostat, Hubby sometimes skipped this layer. Best buy in this category was Arc’teryx fleece tops, one of which was windproof as well (http://www.arcteryx.com/).

    Outer Pants: Next came the waterproof/windproof pants — absolutely essential. We each had two pairs; one lined and one unlined. We would have been fine with one pair each, but with multiple landings most days, it was great to have an extra pair to change into if the other one got really wet — as mine did when I kneeled down in the surf to get a picture of a particularly photogenic penguin. [Waterproof pants won’t protect you if your pants leg is facing out towards the incoming surf .] With the water often calm for zodiac operations, we didn’t have a big problem with spray from the waves [I have read that this is not the norm]. We did get drenched once when a wave broke on the back of our boat on the first zodiac cruise. The pants did their job; my first and second layers stayed dry.

    The waterproof pants go over the boots, so they must be the proper length. Best buy for me was the petite models available from REI.

    Outer Jacket: We had our own hooded rain jackets with us for the pre-cruise portion of our trip and wore these on deck sometimes. We did not have to bring a heavy, waterproof/windproof parka with us as Quark provided them as a gift [not all operators provide parkas]. The bright yellow parkas offered great protection from the elements, with a zip-in fleece liner for additional warmth. More often than not, we removed the liner and were comfortable with our own fleece layer underneath. The removable hood was also fleece-lined, and offered additional warmth in particularly cold/windy situations. I can vouch for the waterproof qualities of the parka; my inner layers remained dry when we were drenched on the Cape Rosa zodiac cruise. The many pockets of the parka were handy — especially the waterproof pockets — to store camera batteries, flashcards, etc.

    Socks: Having heard horror stories about wet feet on landings, we took way too many pairs of socks for each of us. Two or three pairs of relatively thick wool socks and a couple of thin liner socks would have been sufficient. I quickly found out that with the wool insole [see boot section for more info] tempering the effects of the cold, a pair of wool socks worn over thin liner socks was more comfortable than two pairs of thick socks. I especially liked the liner socks that have the separate toes [feet gloves, if you will]. Our preferred brand of wool socks was SmartWool.

    Little Hotties: (http://www.littlehottieswarmers.com/) We used toe warmers almost everyday of the trip. Could we have survived without them? Yes. Did they make us more comfortable standing around in cold temperatures? Absolutely. We placed the thin pad on the bottom of the liner sock before putting on the wool sock. My feet are always cold anyway, so these pads were a godsend for me, but even Hubby enjoyed the subtle warmth of the Hotties. I think the toe warmers were a better choice than full-size foot warmers. [We continued to use the Hotties after we returned from our trip and found ourselves in a deep freeze that lasted several weeks in the Washington, DC area. So, I’d say the Hotties were a great buy for us!]

    Waterproof Boots: Another absolute essential. Quark’s loaner program was excellent since it meant we did not have to lug heavy boots in our bags [not all operators provide boots]. We were asked to provide boot sizes in advance, so we went to Wal-Mart and tried on the gumboots sold there with two pairs of heavy socks.

    If your operator does provide boots, make sure you try them on well before the first landing. The boots left in the cabin for me were waaaayyyyyy too big. I was able to exchange them for another pair from the boot locker, but small sizes are hard to come by. If you do take your own boots, buy inexpensive ones. Trust me; you are not going to want to bring them back!

    The only landing where we wore our own shoes was in Stanley where the zodiac took us to the public jetty. With few exceptions, all of our landings were in ankle- to calf-deep water. Jonas told us to “trust” the knee-high boots when getting in and out of zodiacs. He was right; we never had wet feet on landings. We were especially happy to be wearing the boots when some of us found ourselves mired in almost knee-deep muck on one occasion. While I would not have wanted to do any really strenuous hikes wearing the boots, they were comfortable enough on one-to-two hour treks across grass covered terrain and hard-packed sand beaches.

    We took wool and gel insoles with us, putting first the wool insole and then the gel one in the boots. The wool helped insulate against the cold on ice and snow, and the gel insoles improved our comfort. [Wool insoles are readily available from Army/Navy Surplus stores and the like, and are very inexpensive. Gel insoles are available from most pharmacy and shoe stores.]

    Head Covering: On our 2001 trip to Alaska, we bough qiviut watchman’s caps from the Musk Ox Farm (http://www.qiviut.com/). Qiviut is made from the underwool of musk oxen and is eight times warmer than lambswool. It’s also extremely lightweight. The only drawback to these caps is that they are not windproof. We wore our qiviut on calm days, but when it was particularly windy, we wore our Mountain HardWear GoreStopper caps instead. Admittedly, these windproof fleece hats were not very “chic,” but they stopped the cold wind from penetrating and kept our heads quite toasty. In the Falklands, Hubby surprised me with a wool headband — could not resist the penguin pattern. I used the headband on treks; it often got too warm to wear a cap. In especially nasty weather — rain, heavy snow, heavy winds — we supplemented our head covering with the fleece-lined hood of the parka.

    Gloves: We each had bulky, waterproof gloves which were nice to wear when we were on the zodiac [we were asked to hold onto a rope along the pontoon for extra security; they did not have to ask us twice when the waters were choppy]. Unfortunately, it was a bear to put on the second glove once you had the first one on your hand. On landings and on deck, we wore fleece glo-mitts — gloves with the fingers cut off and a mitten-like cover that can be pulled over the fingers when necessary. Since these were not windproof, we supplemented them with thin liners that were excellent for both photography and dexterity. We had two sets of each glove for each of us. If I were to do it over again, I’d get a third set of these gloves and leave the bulky ones at home. [I’d carry an extra pair with me and switch them out on land if necessary.]

    We took hand warmers with us, but seldom used them. That said, we found an alternative use for them; more on that later.

    Life Jacket & Backpack: Other than the life jacket, which was provided by Quark, the last item we put on was a backpack. The life jackets were thin, inflatable ones; not as bulky as the standard life jackets that were assigned to us for use in a real emergency. Since we did not have anywhere to leave the life jackets once we landed and had to wear them for the duration of the activity, we appreciated having the light-weight ones. Although they looked flimsy, we had ample proof that they did work in an emergency — on two separate occasions, passengers who were hit full-on by a wave found themselves with inflated life jackets.

    Totally waterproof backpacks are few and far in between, and very expensive. Instead, we bought the mid-size dry-bags used by kayakers; very inexpensive and very waterproof (http://tinyurl.com/7vd9f). We lined the bottom of the bag with thick bubble wrap and placed our extra fleece tops, gloves, socks, etc., on top of it. Although it was nice to know that we had spare things in case we needed them, we never had to use them — others made use of their spares. In our case, this stuff worked as extra cushioning so that we could use the bag to carry our cameras and lenses.

    Sunglasses: We bought relatively inexpensive glasses from REI that provided excellent UV protection. The wraparound design reduced the glare from the snow and ice. Downside: the glasses fogged up quickly when we were all bundled up; de-fogging cloths would be a good addition to the eyeglass-care kit.

    What We Didn’t Use: Overall, we did not have much with us that we did not use. We took Seirus neofleece comfort masques to protect our faces against windchill. Didn’t need them. We each had a turtle fur [not really; they were fleece] neck gaiter and a wool scarf. Didn’t need them, either; although I did use my gaiter a few times in lieu of securing the high-collar of my parka.

    On the ship

    While there were a few passengers who had “nice” outfits to wear to dinner and the two cocktail parties that were held, the majority of people simply made sure they “cleaned up well” and wore very casual clothing. Having dumped “nice” clothes in deference to airline weight restrictions, Hubby and I were amongst the latter.

    They kept the public areas on the ship really, really warm. We had too many winter-weight tops and not enough summer-weight tops, having left them at home after we cut our time in BsAs from one week to one day. We solved our problem by buying some t-shirts from the ship’s gift shop. We had two pairs of pants each — jeans and khakis; they worked out very nicely.

    On sea days, we wore SmartWool or silk long johns under our clothes in order to stay warm when we ran out on deck for a wildlife sighting or spent any length of time outside enjoying the scenery. On landing days, especially if the landings were relatively close together, we just kept our fleece layer on, sometimes replacing the top if it got particularly warm inside.

    We took Croc footwear (http://www.crocs.com/) with us to wear around the ship. [I know; not the most elegant footwear available; but they worked for us.] This turned out to be an excellent idea as they were easy to slip on and off, gave us excellent traction on wet surfaces, and doubled as slippers and even shower clogs.

    When we felt like “dressing up” our footwear, we wore our North Face trail running shoes, which use the boa lacing-system (http://tinyurl.com/3a49ak). No tying laces. Just put the shoes on, push in the button on the back and dial it to the desired tightness. To take them off, pull on the button, lift the tongue a little, and off come the shoes. The shoes are so easy to put on and take off that they came in very handy on the long flights to and from the US [excellent for those quick trips to the restroom in the middle of the night]. Since they are also waterproof and provide excellent traction on wet surfaces, these shoes fall into the best buy category.

    NEXT: CAMERA & VIDEO EQUIPMENT

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    I won’t get into the detail of what camera/video equipment we took with us, since what you take will depend on your interests. I would, however, suggest a video camera in addition to a still camera to capture the grandeur of the scenery on a wider scale than can be done with a still camera.

    If you are an avid photographer, make sure you take back-up equipment, and I don’t mean just extra batteries and whatever medium you use [film/flashcards]. Having a second camera, same brand/model, was a godsend for me when my first one was accidentally drenched and went to “camera heaven.” Hubby could continue to tape after his video camera got drenched, but could not re-play the footage. In hindsight, we should have switched to the backup video camera immediately — his camera was not always recording even when all indications were that it was. We lost quite a bit of footage, including a big glacier calving on our continental landing. At least we have my pictures to replace most of the lost footage.

    Speaking of getting drenched, find a way to protect your equipment on zodiac cruises and in inclement weather both on and off the ship. Ziploc bags, even when zipped, will not suffice in a drenching. You might consider a waterproof casing [can be very expensive] or take a few disposable cameras designed for underwater photography. I had a professional rain cape, but it was too cumbersome to use with a telephoto lens — it would have been OK with a standard, non-zoom lens.

    I used a monopod on all of the landings; Hubby used a tripod. We did not use these around the ship as we were often running from one side of the ship to the other to capture the wonders around us. As well, with the ship rolling and pitching while underway, keeping a camera that was attached to a monopod/tripod focused on the subject was a challenge. These stabilizing elements were especially useful in high-wind areas, such as albatross rookeries, where gusts were strong enough to topple us over.

    Point of caution: if you want to go on some of the hikes that follow less-than-stable ground (such as scree slopes), make sure there is a place where you can leave any heavy, unwieldy equipment. In our case, there was no such place and we did not want to impose on fellow-passengers. We don’t feel cheated that we missed out on the two more strenuous walks, but it is a consideration if you have your heart set on doing them.

    The old photographers’ adage about taking twice as much film as you think you will need applies to digital medium as well. I had 10 one-gig and 1 four-gig flashcards with me [I shoot Raw with high-resolution JPEG]. Since I was diligent about downloading my cards after every landing, I definitely had more cards than I needed. Hubby had 25 tapes between his two video cameras; we came back with 15 full tapes.

    I took my ultra-light “travel” laptop with me for two reasons: to store my pictures so I could reuse the flashcards, and to write my journal. I did really well with the first reason, downloading the flashcards after every landing into a folder specific to that landing. I was lousy with the journaling since I did not want to spend time indoors to use the laptop. I ended up using small notepads to take notes, which will hopefully still make sense when I sit down to write my “Antarctica Tome.” [Here you thought this was the “tome!” ]

    I also used the laptop to review and delete the pictures that I knew I did not want to keep. Since screen colors differ from one monitor to another, I did not use the laptop to do any photo editing, except to quickly check to see if a photo could be saved by adding/removing exposure, etc.

    Being paranoid about losing my photographs, I took two portable hard drives with me. I know, overkill; but I felt better for taking them. The drives are ultra-light and powered by plugging into the laptop via a USB port; no need for a separate power source. A few people on the ship used iPods to back up photos.

    Speaking of power sources. If you have a lot of electronics that need to be recharged at about the same time, take a multi-outlet extension cord with you. We had several outlets in the cabin [not the norm when traveling], but they weren’t in the most convenient locations and the extension cord came in handy.

    If you have expensive photographic equipment, consider adding the items to your home insurance policy with a floater. In our case, insurance paid up for our camera losses. Another tip [for US citizens, although it might apply to other nationalities as well if the service is available in their countries]: get your electronics registered with US Customs. After hearing horror stories about people who could not prove origin of purchase being hassled when exiting some countries, we thought this was a prudent thing to do.

    On a final note. I mentioned earlier an alternate use for the hand warmers. Here’s where they came in handy — to extend the life of batteries. Admittedly, we didn’t have outrageously cold temperatures, and it turns out that our equipment has excellent battery life. I seldom had to recharge the camera battery for any longer than it took me to download my photos, and I never had to replace a battery while on a landing or zodiac cruise. Some people were not so lucky, however, and found their cameras dying on them much too quickly. We gave them hand warmers to place in a pocket or inside a glove. This provided a cozy cocoon for their batteries and helped revive them after a few minutes.

    NEXT: DAILY ROUTINE

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    There was a certain routine to our days. Actually two routines — sea days and landing days. Each night, a “proposed” agenda that outlined the activities for the next day was delivered to the cabin.

    Days at sea

    On sea days there was no wake up call. However, breakfast was still during set hours. All meals were usually served later than on landing days. As well, zodiac landings and cruises were replaced by lectures and documentary movies.

    If the weather was nice, we spent a great deal of time on deck. If the weather was bad, we spent a lot of time on the bridge [it was nice to have an open bridge policy], reading in the bar [there was a nice selection of books on polar topics], or in the cabin [good time to catch a couple of winks or work on photographs]. Those who were particularly susceptible to the rolling of the ship, spent most of these days in bed.

    Landing days / zodiac operations

    Landing days started with a wake up call approximately 30 minutes before breakfast. Being of the “early to bed, early to rise variety” — although this was made more difficult by the longer days as we proceeded south — we were usually up an hour before the official wake up call. Our earliest call was 4:30a — most of the others were between 5:30a and 6:30a. These calls were made over the PA. In his call, Jonas provided the ship’s position, weather conditions, wildlife sightings made by the early-birders [excuse the pun ], and outlined the plans for the day. The latter was subject to weather conditions, and he was always careful to say “we aim for a landing at … .” We were exceptionally lucky and missed only one landing in South Georgia and the two activities planned for the last day of our visit in the Peninsula region. Nor were many adjustments needed to alter course or activities from what had been announced at the previous day’s recap meeting.

    Meal times revolved around scheduled activities, which ranged from zodiac operations — either a beach landing or a zodiac cruise, or both — to ship’s cruises. In the latter case, the Russian crew was terrific about getting us close to glaciers and icebergs and navigating their way through brash ice.

    When the landing announcement came, we donned our gear and went to turn our tags. Each passenger was assigned a number. Before going to the bow to disembark, we turned the numbered tag to read “off;” when we returned to the ship, we turned the tag back to the numbered side. Before the ship departed the anchorage site, a member of the expedition staff checked the board and announced over the PA any tags still in the “off” position, waiting by the board to verify that the tag was indeed turned by the person it was assigned to.

    At the bow, we queued up on the leeward side. In groups of 10, we went down the gangway; a crewman and the zodiac driver assisted us into the zodiac. There was a specific method for boarding the zodiac. The crewman on the gangway would take our left elbow; we would then use the seaman’s grip [forearm to forearm; holding on to a gloved hand was not safe] to take hold of the zodiac driver’s arm, step on the pontoon, and then step down on the hard-bottom of the zodiac. [For the height-challenged, that last step might a light jump!] Jonas deemed us successful graduates of “zodiac boarding” class following the first two operations in the Falklands. After that, it was all a piece of cake.

    We docked at a jetty in Stanley, in the Falklands. That was our only really “dry” landing. Our continental landing and our visit to Port Lockroy were achieved by driving the bow of the zodiac onto boulders on a high-beach. I suppose those would be considered “semi-dry” landings — we didn’t get splashed by the surf. All of the other landings, however, were wet landings, with the zodiac coming ashore at a beach.

    Just as there was a process for embarking, there was a process for disembarking the zodiac. We slid along the pontoon to the bow, stopping just short of where the bow starts to rise; threw our leg over the pontoon, always out towards the water, not towards shore; stepped down — or in my case, hopped down — into the surf and walked ashore. The surf was ankle- to calf-high and the knee-high boots provided by Quark kept us dry. The expedition staff was always on hand to give us a helping hand in and out of the zodiac. Getting back in the zodiac was a bit more challenging for me — because of my short legs — but I managed each time without slipping or falling.

    To get back on the ship, we reversed the zodiac boarding process, making sure to time our steps to the swells. Except when we did a zodiac cruise, the first order of business after re-boarding the ship was to wash our boots. There were large tubs of water, brushes, and picks on the bow, and we each took our turn, thoroughly scrubbing our boots to reduce the chances of cross-contamination from one landing to another.

    Hubby and I took the added precaution of rinsing our boots and monopod/tripod in the cabin shower after scrubbing them in the tubs on deck. It didn’t take more than a couple of landings — especially after we trekked in the guano of penguin colonies — to appreciate not only the precautionary steps, but the loaner program as well. No way would I want to bring those boots back home after 20 days of visiting penguin colonies and seal haul-outs! After our first time walking in guano, Hubby and I took to swishing our feet around in the sea and scrubbing the soles of our boots against the rocks before re-boarding the zodiac. It made cleaning boots on deck a lot easier.

    NEXT: THE TRIP

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    When we went to Africa in 2004, I said it would be a “once in a lifetime trip.” Not true; we’ve been bitten by the Africa bug, and will go back again. When we started planning our Antarctic journey, I said it would be a “once in a lifetime trip.” I really believed that — the distances are great, and so is the cost if you do the trip on a small ship. Well, I can honestly say that the Antarctica bug is just as strong as the Africa bug; we will make every effort to go back to the white continent sooner rather than later. After all, Antarctica is a huge continent, and we merely saw the tip of the iceberg [sorry; could not resist the pun]!

    Despite my efforts to keep this brief, I know it’s going to be long — unfortunately, details have a way of getting the better of me. I’m not going to get into the particulars of all the wildlife we saw. Nor am I going to delve into the kind of historical data/trivia that turn my trip journals into encyclopedic endeavors. Instead, I’m going to try to give you a small glimpse into each sea day/landing/activity.

    Welcome to Argentina

    We flew out of Washington, DC on December 27. Our late-night flight was smooth as far as long flights go. Par for the course, I watched a movie, wrote in my journal, read my book, and squirmed in my seat for the duration of the 10-hour flight. I find it hard to sleep on airplanes anyway, and it didn’t help to have the only toddler on the flight squealing and kicking my seatback for almost the duration of the flight. I don’t blame the poor baby; but his parents — especially his dad — could have done more for the baby’s comfort, if not for the comfort of fellow-passengers. Hubby claims he did not sleep much, but being awake, I can prove otherwise.

    We had a five-hour layover in BsAs, giving us plenty of time to go through passport control, collect our luggage, and transfer from the international airport to Aeroparque Jorge Newberry (AEP), the domestic airport. The line at passport control was long, but moved steadily. Then we hit a snag. One of our bags was missing. Other passengers on our flight were missing bags as well, but at least they had connected to the DC flight from other flights with short connection times. What was United’s excuse for misplacing a bag on a non-stop flight? We’re still waiting for that answer.

    It took at least an hour before we were able to take our turn at the claim counter. We filled out the paperwork and were told we would have to pick up the bag from the Ushuaia airport ourselves. You see, United was not really responsible for getting the bag to us past BsAs since we were flying a different airline to Ushuaia — like we had a choice! “No problem,” we said after we were assured the bag would be on one of the many flights arriving in Ushuaia late on the 29th. We weren’t sailing until the 31st, so we were not too concerned. As it turns out, we did not get the bag until 9:00p on the 30th. Still, we were lucky since we had time for the bag to reach us. Many of the others with missing bags sailed out on the 29th and did not get their bags in time.

    Claim papers in hand and Argentinean pesos tucked into our wallets [the bank had slightly better rates than the currency exchange booth], we eventually made it into the lobby. Although we were two hours behind schedule, the driver we had booked in advance was waiting with a smile on her face. Ana Luna, a young lady who lived in Florida for a while, came highly recommended and she did not disappoint. In fact, we so enjoyed her company on the way to AEP that we arranged for her to give us a BsAs city tour in addition to the other car services we had pre-arranged.

    The drive to AEP was through heavy city traffic, but with the three hours we still had to spare, we were able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city relatively stress-free. An hour later, we were saying farewell to Ana and entering the hubbub of the domestic airport.

    Before we left home, we received an email reminder from United Airlines to check in online — a relatively new concept for international flights. At that point, realizing we had less than 24 hours before our Ushuaia departure, we were able to check-in for our Aerolineas Argentinas flight as well. This was a blessing in disguise as it enabled us to by-pass the long check-in queues and go directly to the web check-in counter. We were prepared to pay for our extra bags — we’d been told one bag per person could be checked on domestic flights. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were at the web check-in counter or what, but we were pleasantly surprised when our three bags were accepted without comment. Not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, we promptly thanked the agent and went on our way.

    We weren’t too concerned when we did not see our flight on the departures board at that point. Nothing past 3:00p was listed, and our flight was scheduled for 3:35p. To quell our hunger, we found a café in the food court and sat down for a quick snack. It was around that time that we got the first inkling that there was trouble ahead. People were congregating around the overhead displays, shaking their heads in disgust, and walking away. Since all announcements were made in a rapid-fire Spanish that we were not equipped to understand, we joined the crowd to check out the monitors for ourselves. What?! Our flight was delayed until 5:00p. In the next blink of the eye, that changed to 6:00p; then to 9:00p. Ours wasn’t the only flight with a problem, however; all of the others were showing long delays too.

    Finishing our meal in record time, we returned to the check-in counter to make inquiries. “The tower is on strike,” we were told. In the next breath, “Not to worry, the flight will definitely leave tonight, we’re just not sure when.” It turns out, it was more of a “work slow down” and not a total strike. Heaving a heavy-hearted sigh of relief, we collected our complimentary meal coupons and returned to the upper level of the terminal. There were several people from our United flight — all headed on Antarctic voyages the next day — who shared our pain, although in their case the stress level was much higher. Finding empty seats at the far end of the departures salon, we put a bit of distance between us and the protestors who were banging on counters and chanting slogans to display their displeasure with the delays, and settled down for a long wait. By then, having been on the go for about 24 hours, I was swaying in place and having a difficult time keeping my eyelids open. Taking advantage of the empty seats, I stretched out and took a catnap. Hubby, who had slept on the flight from DC and later enjoyed a couple of cappuccinos with lunch, stood guard over our bags.

    When it finally came time to board our flight, there was no announcement. Someone noticed that a gate assignment was posted and suddenly there was an exodus towards the other end of the departures salon. Following the crowd to the gate, we were the last to queue up. Our position at the end of the line worked to our advantage, however. When a gate change was posted shortly thereafter, all we had to do was turn around to be first in line at the new gate.

    We were transported to the plane by a shuttle bus and were amongst the first to board. Hubby was able to change his aisle seat with the gentleman who had the seat next to mine and we sat together on this leg of our long trip. If there was a silver lining to the nighttime departure, it was that it enabled us to see the twinkling lights of BsAs laid out beneath us when we took off for the nearly four-hour flight to Ushuaia. By the time we landed in Ushuaia it was almost 1:00a on December 29. The airport was far from empty; several other “delayed” flights had landed just minutes ahead of our plane. We managed to grab our bags and snag one of the few cabs relatively quickly.

    A wild ride, which we came to find out is the norm for taxi drivers in Argentina, put us at Hotel Los Nires, about 2 miles [3.2 km] or so from the airport. Check in was quick and painless, and by 2:00a we were tucked into bed in a room that was swelteringly warm. Little did we know then that we could have opened the windows to get some relief. Oh well; after 32 hours of being on the go, we were too tired to care. Besides, we were finally at “fin del mundo” and in a couple of days we’d be heading further south.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Two Days in Ushuaia

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    Two days in Ushuaia

    Most people would probably not have appreciated staying at Hotel Los Nires — 3+ miles [5 km] from downtown. We enjoyed it. It was wonderful to wake up to the grand view of the Beagle Channel and the Chilean Andes that first morning in town. It was even better the next morning when the sun was out in full glory.

    Although we had researched things to do in Ushuaia, we had left our plans fluid so as to pick and choose activities based on what the weather dictated. As it turns out, it wasn’t the weather, but the missing bag that determined the way we spent our two days before joining our Quark group.

    December 29: Knowing there was no chance the missing bag would show up until late in the day, we had breakfast at the hotel, donned our gear, and decided to stretch our legs. The sights and sounds of the area called out to us, and we took a meandering route that eventually deposited us on Avenida San Martin, the main street in downtown Ushuaia. On the way, we pretty much experienced every possible combination of weather from sunshine to hail, with a bit of rain and snow thrown in for variety. Dressed in layers that we could add or remove as necessary, we didn’t care one whit about what Mother Nature was throwing our way.

    No one should go to Argentina and return without eating empanadas [meat turnovers]. On the recommendation of the hotel clerk, we enjoyed a simple, but tasty lunch at El Turco. [Our basic Spanish was not sufficient to understand how this place, which has no connections to Turks, got its name.] Then, before returning to the hotel, we shopped for toiletries — doing so was part of our strategy to overcome airline weight restrictions.

    Not content with lazing around the hotel, however, we deposited the shopping bags in our room and returned downtown via the hotel shuttle. We window-shopped on Avenida San Martin — OK, we did some real shopping, too; checked out the ships in port — there were six or seven ships sailing for the Antarctic all in port that day; and enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate drink at Chocolate Artesanal — real chocolate melted in milk; none of this stuff made with cocoa. By the time we arrived at Museo Maritimo at the far end of town, we had only an hour left before our dinner reservations. So, we put off the museum until the next day and walked through the residential neighborhoods to arrive at Kaupé Restaurant just in time for our 8:00p reservation (http://www.kaupe.com.ar).

    I had made advance reservations at this restaurant on the recommendation of Mrs Adamidis [her husband captained the ship on our 2003 TransAtlantic crossing]. This guaranteed us a table by the window, with a view of the Beagle Channel and the port. Mrs Vivian, the owner’s wife, was our hostess and took excellent care of us. Our seafood meal, fresh from the channel, was one of the tastiest ever, concluding with dessert that was very light and fluffy; I’m sure the calories were still there!

    Unfortunately, our wonderful day did not conclude on a positive note — luggage-wise. There was no sign of any bags at the airport. “Probably tomorrow night,” was the response from the clerk at the counter.

    December 30: The day dawned bright and full of sunshine. Clouds moved in later in the day, but that was a blessing as the cover provided some level of protection from the sun’s rays. It was quite warm — if you can call 60F [15C] weather “warm” in the middle of summer.

    After making contact with United Airlines and learning that the bag would definitely be arriving that evening, we took another walk into town. I didn’t think it was possible, but we dallied even longer this time around, removing layer after layer of clothing as the morning progressed and the temperature rose. We spent a considerable amount of time visiting the municipal cemetery en route. I know; an odd place to spend time, but the above-ground crypts were interesting to see. Some were simple, white-washed structures; others were a bit more elaborate, like miniature houses with lace curtains in the windows and glass doors.

    Lunch was jamón y queso tostado [toasted ham and cheese sandwich] at Tante Sara, a café on Avenida San Martin. As we ate our simple meal, we were struck by the number of people who seemed to spend endless hours at these busy eateries with just a cup of coffee or a pastry order. Looking around, I was impressed to see people writing in journals — an effort that I was failing at dismally.

    We spent much of the afternoon on the water. After checking out the many Beagle Channel boat tours — on vessels ranging from small sailing boats to fairly big catamarans — we settled on the Barracuda, the first boat to start offering channel cruises. The sun was warm and the boat traveled slowly enough that it was comfortable sitting topside. Even though the clouds moved in shortly after we sailed from the dock, it worked to our advantage by cutting the glare on the water. We enjoyed our three-hour cruise, which took us to a sea lion and shag [cormorant] colony where we had our first experience of South American wildlife. A stop at the lighthouse, which is Ushuaia’s symbol, concluded the outbound leg of our boat trip. On the return journey, we made ourselves comfortable in the small dining salon, where Hubby enjoyed a café con leche [coffee with milk] and I had a terrific hot chocolate drink laced with cognac and crema.

    As we walked up the hill from the port to Museo Maritimo, the sun came out again, giving us beautiful blue skies under which to finish our sightseeing. Ushuaia started out as a penal colony, so I guess it’s no surprise that they have a museum in the old prison. A portion of the prison has been retained as is; it can be seen, but not toured. In another wing of the prison, each cell houses a different exhibit, with topics ranging from the history of Ushuaia to the early Antarctic explorers. In one courtyard, there is an old lighthouse and the remains of an old ship; in another courtyard, we found an engine and a train car dating back to the time when the old prisoner train was converted into tourist transport.

    Again, the day had flown by with little awareness on our part. Having the sun shining high on the horizon well into the late hours of the night skewed our internal clock. Scratching plans for a nice, relaxing dinner, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at another café before heading to the airport around 9:00p. We were smiling when we left. Hubby’s bag had arrived, and although the contents were in no way critical to our trip, it was nice to be reunited with it. There were several other bags lined up behind the counter; some of them we recognized as belonging to people who had already set sail for the Antarctic.

    In our room a short while later, we confirmed the contents of the bag, reorganized our luggage in preparation for the next day, and finally fell into a deep sleep. All that exercise and fresh air made for a good night’s rest.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Joining Quark

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    January 31 — joining Quark

    Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego: Our third and final day in Ushuaia was the first day of our Quark voyage. After taking one last walk along the shores of the Beagle Channel, we joined our fellow-passengers on a short bus tour of Tierra del Fuego [Land of Fire] National Park. Our guide was very knowledgeable and regaled us with tidbits of information throughout the tour.

    We had heard much about the beauty of the park before we arrived in Argentina. Unfortunately, the tour did little to whet our appetite for a return visit. I know we did the park a disservice by visiting it for the first time on a tour bus, but circumstances got in the way of doing anything more than that. I’m sure the gloomy, overcast morning played into our feelings as well. At least we had a chance to walk a couple of the shorter trails before we left the park.

    We concluded this portion of our day with an “asado” [barbecue] lunch at a restaurant on the shores of the Beagle Channel. While we were filling our salad plates at the buffet, the servers placed mini-grills of barbecued lamb, sausages, and chicken on the table — one grill for every four people or so. I’m probably not the best person to comment on the lunch; I am not much of a red meat eater. I enjoyed some of the barbecued chicken, but would have been better off ordering the vegetarian option. Hubby enjoyed the meal, so it wasn’t a total loss.

    Our tour concluded outside the port. We were given an hour or so in town and our first order of business was to turn towards the docks to look for our ship. There it was! Nestled in front of the Marco Polo, a 22,000 GRT ship capable of carrying 800 passengers [restricted to approx. 400 on this itinerary], our 1,753 GRT Professor Molchanov looked like a child seeking comfort in the shelter of its parent. Hubby and I looked at each other, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. After all, the last ship we had sailed on was 91,000 GRT. “We’re going to be bobbing like a cork when we get into choppy waters,” I said. We grinned and turned to walk up the hill to Avenida San Martin for one last hot chocolate drink before sailaway.

    Embarkation & Sailaway: Around 4:00 pm, we rejoined our group for the two-minute ride through the gates of the port. We could have walked faster, but since we were loaded down with camera gear, it was easier to ride the bus. First through the checkpoint, we made our way to the gangway under bright, sunny skies; Jonas, our expedition leader, was waiting to greet us. At the top of the gangway, Nigel, who turned out to be our ornithologist, collected our passports and handed us off to Robert, who we later learned was our geologist for the trip. Since we embarked on Deck 4, we had just the one short flight of stairs up to Deck 5 and an even shorter walk down the narrow hallway to our cabin. After Robert left us, we turned to each other, grinned and said, in unison, “Here we go!”

    It didn’t take long to get acquainted with our cabin — we pretty much took in all there was to see by first looking left: two bunks, a sofa, a porthole, a desk, and two narrow closets; and then looking right: the facilities in a little cubicle. No problem; that left us more time to check out the outside decks. Our cabin was the last one in the series of cabins on Deck 5. It was especially nice to have the door to the outside deck within a few steps of our cabin. For most of the trip, we kept both doors open — always good to get the fresh air off the ocean, and easy access for any wildlife calls. The little cubby-hole between the outer deck wall and the tender offered a protected area, which we used throughout the voyage to get a breath of fresh air without having to don our gear. This part of the deck was almost like a private veranda for us; an unexpected bonus.

    The first of many announcements that Jonas would be making during the voyage was at 4:30p, inviting us to the bar for introductions. The get-together was just long enough to fill the gap between embarkation and sailaway, and shortly we were all back on deck again.

    As I stood on the flybridge and watched the mooring lines being thrown off, I was reminded of a Mark Twain quote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Headed into parts of the world unknown to us, we would be doing just that — exploring … dreaming … and discovering.

    On the previous days, every ship we saw sailing out of port was blessed with sunshine. We were no exception. Under blue skies, we wished each other “bon voyage” as the ship moved down the Beagle Channel. In the flat calm waters, the movement of the ship went unnoticed; a circumstance that was to change shortly after midnight. Blissfully unaware of our future, however, we stayed on deck until it was time for the muster drill at 5:30p.

    The muster drill started with a PowerPoint presentation in the bar, which we were quickly coming to understand would be doubling as the lecture room. Jonas reviewed in detail all of the emergency procedures before releasing us to our cabins for the drill. A few moments later, seven short blasts of the ship’s horn, followed by one long blast, prodded everyone into action. Hoping to never hear the horn in response to a real emergency, we donned our life jackets and joined our fellow passengers at the portside tender. At least in a real emergency, we would not have far to travel as the tender was right outside the deck door across from our cabin. For the first time in our cruising experience, we actually boarded the lifeboat and sat ourselves down on one of the 40 “butt outlines” painted on the wooden benches rimming the boat. It didn’t take long to realize just how cozy it would be inside the boat in the event of a real emergency. The overriding question was: “Ahem! How do we go about taking care of business in the middle of the open ocean with no onboard facilities?” Suffice to say, men would have an easier time than women.

    With the muster drill concluded, we returned our life jackets to the cabin and went up to the flybridge to enjoy the sparkling sunshine as the ship continued to sail down the Beagle Channel. The air was crystal clear with just a hint of breeze to keep the Quark flag gently flapping in the wind. It was delightfully warm, prompting us to return our extra layers to the cabin in short order. The calm air meant few birds, although a snowy sheathbill, described by Nigel as an “ugly bird,” kept us company for a while. Unfazed by the humans around it, the sheathbill walked around the deck, peering into nooks and crannies, and pecking at shoelaces if anyone sat down long enough.

    The master of the ship, Captain Evgeny Baturkin, made a brief appearance during the Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, said a few words in English that was much better than our Russian, raised a toast to the ship and all who sail on her, and quickly made his exit. We were to find out that he was pretty much a ghost-like figure around the ship. We seldom encountered him unless we happened to be on the bridge when he was on duty.

    Dinner was eaten in the calm waters of the Beagle — with advance knowledge of what was awaiting us just outside the channel, Captain Baturkin anchored in calm waters until after midnight. We skipped the evening’s screening of March of the Penguins — we had watched it for the third time just before leaving home. Instead, we used the time until midnight to unpack and settle into the cabin. Shortly before midnight, we joined everyone in the bar; the party was already well underway! We stayed long enough past midnight to toast the new year and the beginning of our adventure before retiring for the evening. Yeah, I know — party poopers!

    Even as we were preparing for bed, we heard the anchor being raised. It was a reminder to take seasickness precautions as suggested in the daily program. One of us did! The other one decided to be “macho” and lived to regret that decision the next day; but only for a short while!

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Crossing to the Falkland Islands

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    January 1 — crossing the Scotia Sea to the Falkland Islands

    Whoa! What happened to the calm sailing conditions we went to bed with? When we headed to breakfast at 8:00a, it was to a mostly empty dining room that became less and less occupied as more passengers made hasty exits. Dr Dan was very popular throughout the day as the ocean conditions became choppier with each passing minute. On the bridge, Sasha, the officer on duty, told us that we were sailing into a force 8 gale that was worse than usual because of the way the waves were coming at us. “No problem,” he said in his heavily accented English, “we have no water on deck; yet!”

    Finding a good seat in the bar for Nigel’s lecture, Wildlife of the Falklands, was not too difficult at 9:00a; it was even easier to find a seat for Mariano’s lecture, A Historical Overview of the Falklands, two hours later. By the time Robert’s lecture, Geology of the Falklands, rolled around in the afternoon, there was more expedition staff in the room than passengers. I admit; we missed this lecture as well — the rolling ship lulled me into an unanticipated nap while I was keeping Hubby company as he waited for the seasickness patch to take effect. We were up and about in time for afternoon tea, joining a select few who were also on their feet. It wasn’t our fault that we did not go to the mandatory IAATO and zodiac briefing — with so few passengers able to attend, Jonas postponed it to the next morning.

    Perhaps Andre should have served the special drink of the day, Storm Warning, the night before!

    NEXT: THE TRIP - West Falklands

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    January 2 — West Falklands

    The day of our first landing dawned overcast, but didn’t stay that way for long. According to the crew and staff, the ocean conditions were calm. Many of the passengers disagreed with that assessment, but medications were working their magic and we had a full house for all meals.

    Before we could land, however, we had to receive the mandatory briefings that were postponed from the day before. This caused a “bit” of grumbling — not because the information was not important, but because the wake up call had to be pushed up to 5:30a to fit the briefings in before the landing.

    To quote Sir Francis Drake, we were certainly not “…in hast to end the day …” on this or any other day of our voyage. But we definitely wanted to hasten the start of this day — the day of our first landings. When Jonas ended his briefing with “Don your gear and meet us at the bow in 20 minutes,” the bar emptied out very quickly. Twenty minutes later, waddling in layers and boots, we were on the bow. In our yellow “Quark” parkas, we all looked alike and had to look for distinguishing features to recognize each other.

    New Island: Once used as a base for whaling, and later sheep farming, this island is now a nature reserve. It is privately owned; just one tiny settlement [Jonas said the owners recently established a trust to oversee the operations of the reserve]. Passing by the wreck of the Protector III, an old sealing vessel that was beached in South Harbor in 1969, we made a wet landing on a narrow beach. We were greeted by the two owners of the island, a small flock of upland geese, and a couple of dolphin gulls, and made to feel quite welcome before proceeding to hike across the island to a mixed rookery. I think we walked about a mile or so over gently sloping, grass covered land. In fact, vehicle tires had created a path that made the walk quite easy.

    On this landing we sat with black-browed albatrosses, rockhopper penguins, and blue-eyed shags. I use “sit with” figuratively as I saw very few people actually sitting — just a bit too much guano on the nearby rocks! When we arrived at the rookery, we were blown off our feet. And I don’t mean that just figuratively, although our first encounter with wildlife in such numbers was quite an experience in and of itself.

    Albatrosses are not known for being good flyers. An odd thing to say about birds that spend their lives flying around the Southern Ocean, returning to land only briefly to breed. But it is true; they are gliders. To glide, they need strong winds. The wind was definitely strong in the cliffs; quite a change from the calm conditions where we made land in South Harbor. It was all we could do to not fall flat on our butts when the wind gusted suddenly. We managed regardless and had a very enjoyable couple of hours with birds capable of flight and those that were not.

    I had heard two things about bird and penguin colonies. One: they would be noisy; and this one was no exception, although it did not seem exceptionally loud to me. Two: the guano — poop — smell would be overwhelming. Well, I was quite underwhelmed by the smell. I thought perhaps it was because we were at a particularly windy spot. Later, however, even at calm landing sites I wasn’t overly bothered by the smell; I would get a whiff of it every so often, but the smell would dissipate quickly. There were a couple of times when we could briefly smell the guano as the ship approached its anchorage off an island, but not once did I find the smell too obnoxious to tolerate. Maybe I was just smart enough to position myself upwind!

    True to their name, the rockhopper penguins hop to get around the rocky landscape where they nest. It was hilarious to watch them hopping their way up from the beach far below to nests high in the steep, rocky hillsides. At the same time, we all found ourselves respecting the penguins for their tenacity and ability to live under such conditions.

    All of the bird species here had chicks in the downy stage. The penguin chicks, huddled together in crèches, were the most visible. They were in constant motion, with the chicks on the outer edges of the crèche vying to make their way into the sheltered inner sanctum. One set of penguins were particularly funny. It seemed to me that there were two separate families, one with an adult and one chick, and another with an adult and two chicks. The chicks had their heads bent, as though in apology, while the adults looked like they had been meting out punishment. In another family group, one mischievous chick kept pecking at its sibling’s flipper; eventually, the parent bent down towards it, as though to tell the chick to stop picking on its sibling. Nearby, another penguin chick was disciplined with pecks from a nesting blue-eyed shag that was trying to protect its own chick.

    The albatross and shag chicks were more difficult to see as most of them were hidden beneath a parent on nest duty. We were granted a few peeks when the adults lifted themselves up to stretch their wings and feed the chicks. We also saw some albatrosses enhancing their nests and a couple displaying courtship rituals.

    We could have stayed on New Island all day, writing all kinds of stories about the animal behavior around us. After a couple of hours, however, it was time to head back to the ship to continue onto our next destination.

    Carcass Island: No; the site of our second landing wasn’t named for the remains of dead animals. It was actually named for HMS Carcass, which visited the island in the late 18th century. Why a ship would have such a name is still a mystery to me; I haven’t had time to research it.

    We landed on a beautiful white-sand beach in Dyke Bay that stretched quite a distance in a crescent shape. The tussock grasses rimming the beach swayed in the breeze, adding a sense of vibrancy to what seemed like a deserted island. [Tussock (or tussac) grass: compact tufts of grass or sedge that are tightly woven together; can grow as tall as 8 ft (2.5 m).] With blue skies and puffy white clouds above, it was a very scenic landing location and I could have stayed on the beach all afternoon. It wasn’t to be. As soon as we landed, we started walking to Leopard Beach on the other side of the island; about a mile or so away. It was a delightful trek over flat, grass-covered land dotted with tussock clumps in every direction. The “carrot” luring those who needed additional enticement was Magellanic penguins; the second species of our trip.

    We first encountered the penguins on the grassland as we neared Leopard Beach, but they dispersed as fast as their short legs could carry them. Disappointed, we turned to check out the scenery only to have smiles light up our faces; more penguins were on the beach. They were swimming and doing what penguins seem to do best — nothing. Unlike the colony on New Island, we saw no chicks here. Magellanic penguins burrow in the ground, so the chicks were probably in hiding. The penguins that were out and about, however, provided all the entertainment we needed.

    It was interesting to observe a sort of herd mentality as the penguins moved about. They would gather in large groups at the edge of the beach; look around; wait a bit; and look around some more. Then one penguin would make a dash for the water, and all the others would follow. After swimming a bit — this group did not venture too far from shore — one of them would head back to the beach and the others would follow, shaking flippers left and right as they walked to higher ground. Safety in numbers seemed to be their motto. Probably a good dictum to follow; some of our fellow-passengers said they saw a leopard seal catching a penguin a little further up the beach, but neither animal was anywhere to be seen by the time we arrived on the scene.

    “OK; I can stay here all afternoon,” I thought, as I enjoyed the Magellanics from my position kneeling on the beach. Nope; there were other plans. After landing us, the ship had repositioned to the opposite end of the island. If we wanted to get back on the ship, we had to trek. [Actually, they did operate zodiac shuttles, but we opted to walk.] Trekking over and around tussock grass and climbing over and under a couple of fences, we walked uphill and downhill, waded through a couple of shallow streams, and stopped frequently to take photographs of the landscape and the wildlife, which included penguins, a Falkland Island thrush, and a trio of striated caracara [prey birds belonging to the hawk family] to name a few.

    Enjoying the trek very much, we dallied along the way and were amongst the last to arrive at our final destination: “tea and scones” with the owners of the island, the McGills. Actually, it turned out to be more than just scones. The McGills had laid out a tremendous spread of freshly baked cookies, cakes, and scones for their guests. Alas, we did not have time to wet our whistle, but we made sure to partake of the delicious pastries before boarding the last zodiac.

    We were accompanied back to the ship by beautiful Commerson’s dolphins that stuck around to entertain us with their porpoising. Once we were on the ship, they had us running from port to starboard and back, as delighted as little kids in a toy shop. After riding our bow wave for a while, the dolphins finally disappeared from sight. This was our cue to return to the cabin, unload our gear, and head to the bar for the first of many daily recaps during which the expedition staff reviewed the day’s activities and briefed us on the plans for the next day.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - East Falkland Island

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    January 3 (morning) — East Falkland Island

    We spent the first half of this day in and around Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. This was the only landing where we wore our own shoes. We were also able to wander around without our zodiac life jackets — we left them lined up on the benches at the public jetty. Since the jetty is in front of the visitor center, we had time to shop for pins for my collection and use the facilities before our scheduled wildlife trip.

    Gypsy Cove: Although Hubby was excited at the prospect of shopping in the Falklands, the lure of penguins had him joining me for the bus trip to Gypsy Cove to see Magellanic penguins, blue-eyed shags, and night herons. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the herons and Nigel was at a loss to explain where they had disappeared to in the few weeks since his last visit when the rookery was alive and well. We did see plenty of blue eyed shags, some feeding their chicks, and plenty of Magellanic penguins.

    The ride to Gypsy Cove took maybe 15 minutes. The bus deposited us at the head of the trail leading to an overlook of Yorke Bay and the beach below. As we had noted the day before, the penguins seemed to have no fear of us, and stood calmly by the burrows on either side of the trail. We were not able to go down to the beautiful white-sand beach of Yorke Bay to see the penguins that were frolicking down there. The beach was apparently mined during the war with Argentina. Although the authorities believe it has been cleared of all land mines, they are not willing to risk allowing anyone on the beach. The restriction has worked in favor of the penguins. Being too light to set the mines off, they have apparently flourished over the years. Our big thrill at Gypsy Cove was the burrow alongside the trail where we saw an adult penguin standing guard over two chicks that were peering out at us with curiosity gleaming in their eyes.

    Stanley: Unfortunately, our time at Gypsy Cove was cut short by a group of passengers who were bored with wildlife and wanted to visit the museum and shops in tow. So, we boarded the bus and returned to Stanley. The bus driver was kind enough to drop us off at the museum, located a mile or so out of town. While museums are often very interesting places, we are not fond of spending too much time in them. We took a cursory look around the place and then started walking back into town. Knowing that he wanted to browse the stores, I encouraged Hubby to walk ahead; before long he was but a dot on the horizon.

    At a much more leisurely pace, stopping often to smell the flowers and photograph the seabirds dive bombing along the trail [they weren’t really; they were just gliding on the air currents], I eventually made my way to the two icons of Stanley — the cathedral and the whalebone arch. Meeting up with Hubby shortly thereafter was not difficult even though we had made no arrangements for a meeting spot — all of the downtown shops are near the public jetty. Heading to the Falkland Knitwear store (www.falklandknitwear.com), I looked at the woolen goods Hubby had pre-selected. As usual, he had done a good job and we bought what he had picked out. Bonus gifts for me: a wool headband and a pair of penguin earrings. I can’t complain!

    NEXT: THE TRIP - En Route to South Georgia Island

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    January 3 (afternoon) thru January 5 — en route to South Georgia Island

    Even as we sat down to lunch after our Stanley visit, Professor Molchanov was weighing anchor for the next leg of our journey — 870 miles [1,390 km] to South Georgia Island (SGI). The ship started to roll gently and several people waved goodbye as they abruptly left the dining room, emerging only after our 2½ days at sea were over. Not even sighting Shag Rocks on January 5 was enough to draw them out. They were only interested in rocks they could land on — unless you’re a bird, you can’t land on these steep, jagged rocks which reach up from the ocean floor to serve as a bird rookery in the middle of no man’s ocean.

    The ocean/weather conditions for the crossing weren’t too bad. We were often graced with blue skies. The winds were relatively strong, but this brought out the seabirds, so we did not mind. We forgot any weather related discomforts when we caught our first glimpse of the wandering albatrosses gliding on the updrafts.

    In 1912, Robert Cushman Murphy, an American ornithologist, traveled as a naturalist aboard one of the last Yankee whaling ships. He documented his voyage in Logbook for Grace, which he wrote so that he could share the trip with his new bride. His quote about the wanderers has been cited far and wide: “I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross.”

    Before seeing these great seabirds for myself, I had wondered what would move someone to make such a grandiose statement. Now, having been struck speechless by the majesty of the wanderers in flight, I’m surprised Murphy had the presence of mind to utter any words at all.

    Our time at sea flew by almost as fast as our landing days in the Falklands. We were kept busy with lectures, documentaries, and movies — when we could pull ourselves off the deck and go inside. We were entertained by penguins and seals porpoising near the ship; tantalized by whales blowing in the distance and diving before we could get more than a glimpse of a fin or a fluke; awed by the grace of wanderers with wing spans reaching 12 ft [3.5-4 m]. A couple of lucky people photographed whales surfacing alongside the ship; the rest of us stored the sight in our memory banks.

    The Molchanov Shop opened for business for a couple of hours one day, bringing passengers down in droves. Not even those passengers who had retreated to their cabins for the days at sea were immune to the siren call of shopping. The shop did a couple of hours of brisk business before closing — until the next segment at sea. We’re now the proud owners of a couple of fleece jackets and summer-weight tops that will remind us of this trip each time we wear them.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - A Day of Exciting Landings & Breaking Waves

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    January 6 — a day of exciting landings & breaking waves

    We arrived at SGI under overcast skies. The weather was pretty usual for the area; fickle, that is. We experienced everything from overcast and fog to bright blue skies and puffy white clouds — all within the span of a few hours. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see the tidewater glaciers that tumble down from the mountains to the ocean under better conditions. No complaints, however; it could have been worse, and we could have missed them in a complete white-out had a blizzard been blowing. [Besides, it’s not like we didn’t have opportunities to view glaciers in better weather later in our voyage.]

    King Haakon Bay: When we made our landing at King Haakon Bay, the sky was gray and it drizzled for the duration of our visit with elephant and fur seals. The “liquid sunshine,” to put a happy face on the weather, was not enough to make us uncomfortably wet; it was more of a nuisance factor.

    A lone king penguin on the beach garnered a lot of attention since it was our first sighting of the species. Later, we found a few more penguins molting on the other side of a small creek. Knowing we would have other opportunities to spend time with the king penguins, Hubby and I spent most of our time with the seals.

    There were no “beach masters” amongst the elephant seals as the mating season was long over and they had since gone to sea, along with many of the cows and younger bulls. Those seals that were still around were waiting to finish their molt. They were very placid and let us get quite close to them.
    There were very few adult fur seals on the beach — not necessarily a bad thing as these animals are very territorial and have a reputation for chasing visitors. This is obviously an inherited trait. Many of the immatures and pups — and there were a considerable number of them — were not averse to chasing anyone who ventured nearby. Hubby got a small taste of this experience, but was alert enough to move out of the way before things became too confrontational. I later heard that there were a few people who were not so lucky; they experienced the full brunt of the chase, but I don’t think anyone was bitten.

    Cape Rosa: Our day continued with a zodiac cruise to Cave Cove at nearby Cape Rosa later in the morning. Shackleton obviously survived the waters of Cape Rosa, the spit of land at the entrance to King Haakon Bay where he first landed after the grueling small-boat trip from Elephant Island some 800 miles [1,280 km] away. And so did we — survive the brief visit, that is, into the cove where we were tossed about in relatively turbulent waters. I wish I could say the same about our cameras! It wasn’t the tumultuous “Cape Rosa Washing Machine,” a strong eddy in the reefs that got us; it was a rogue wave that broke on the back of our zodiac. Even though the cameras were inside zippered bags, that didn’t stop them from getting drenched. Later, my camera functioned for a day before biting the bullet. Hubby’s video camera seemed to be recording, but the playback feature was kaput. After we returned home, we found out that the camera had not been recording consistently. I guess we’ll just have to go back to re-record the missing footage . At least we both had spare cameras, so it wasn’t a total disaster — except that I was pretty much restricted to a single lens at any given time.

    We saw our first giant icebergs shortly after the ship started to sail towards our next landing spot. They were some distance away, but bear mentioning since they were the first bergs of the trip.

    Elsehul: After rounding Bird Island, we arrived at Elsehul on the northwestern tip of SGI. Once bitten, twice shy — we did not take our cameras on the afternoon zodiac cruise in the bay. Wouldn’t you know it; the water was as flat as could be! Our mental visuals of albatrosses; king, macaroni, and gentoo penguins; blue-eyed shags; and elephant and fur seals will have to suffice.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Wildlife & History

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    January 7 — wildlife & history

    Salisbury Plain: Traveling past gigantic tidewater glaciers, we arrived at Salisbury Plain in the wee hours of the morning. The excitement level was very high for this visit to the second largest king penguin colony in the world. Even those who had groaned and mumbled about the 4:30a wake-up call were on deck for the 5:00a landing.

    Admittedly the estimate of 125,000 breeding pairs is just that — an estimate. The number Nigel gave us did not include the chicks that were running about, looking for a parent to feed them. Nor did it include the birds that were not of breeding age or those that had not “gotten lucky.” After seeing the colony, I would not challenge Nigel’s number, however. In fact, I would add another 100,000 to it and probably still fall short of the actual number of birds at Salisbury Plain.

    We landed into the company of king penguins and the ever-present fur seals. Carefully making our way around the fur seals, we walked about a mile across the grass-covered plain to the main colony and the guano muck. My only regret is that we were unable to walk up the hill to see the colony from the top down — the scree slope was too unstable, and more importantly, the majority of the nesting penguins were on the high slopes. As impressive as the scene was from our vantage point, with black and white and brown dots reaching all the way to the horizon, it must have been breathtaking from high up — just imagine: a sea of penguins flowing down to the ocean.

    We spent about three hours here in the company of adults and chicks. The Oakum Boys, chicks that were still wearing their full coats, were adorable fluff balls. As for those who were in the process of molting — well, let’s just say they were less than cute. In fact, they looked downright alien. [Oakum Boys: nickname given to king penguin chicks by early whalers because they resembled oakum, the material used to caulk ships. Oakum was made by shredding old rope and mixing it with tar.]

    The penguins were certainly not shy about coming up to us; especially the curious young who looked up at us with wonderment in their eyes. Some penguins just stood around being penguins. Others waddled around; a few with particularly funny gaits making us laugh outright. There were still others that were lying down on their tummies; some using the tussock grass for cushioning rather than lying in the guano-mud muck that was everywhere. We were privileged to see several penguins on the edge of the colony that were still incubating their eggs on their feet; we gave them space, not wanting to be the cause of an abandoned egg.

    This landing was a highlight on a trip full of highlights, and it was with truly heavy hearts that we heeded the calls to return to the ship.

    Prion Island: We were on the ship just long enough to grab a bite of breakfast while the ship re-positioned to Prion Island in the Bay of Isles. Since this island is the nesting place of wandering albatrosses, and very few ships are allowed to stop here, we were quite excited about this landing.

    This was the only landing on which we had to follow a designated path — a stream gully — and pretty much hike up single file, with birds and fur seals on either side of us. It’s a good thing there was plenty of tussock grass to aid us along the way. If not for being able to use the clumps of tussock to steady ourselves as we freed stuck boots, some of us might still be mired in knee-high muck. I’d just as soon put out of my mind what that muck consisted of. Suffice it to say; it wasn’t pleasant.

    Being able to spend time with the wanderers was worth the steep, mucky climb, however. The birds were sitting on their nests, their heads buried in their feathers. Every once in a while, one of them would get up to stretch, showing us the full span of its wings — wow! I sat with one wanderer for a while. Eventually, the bird lifted itself up, vigorously shook itself, looked at me, bowed its head toward the egg that was now visible, and then looked at me again. It was almost like the wanderer was making sure that I had seen the egg before it settled back down to nesting duties. A wonderful experience.

    Mixed in with the wanderers were also nesting southern giant petrels, which added color to an otherwise all-white colony of birds. On a hilltop quite a distance away, we glimpsed a gentoo penguin colony. I hope they had a relatively easy path to follow; the colony was quite a bit ways up from the beach.

    We regret neither the muck, nor the lightly falling snow that lasted for the duration of our visit. Nor do we regret having to dodge the fur seals that were hiding in the tussock grass on either side of the trail. We especially do not regret the two seals that did their best to dissuade us from leaving. With one positioned ahead of us, and one in the middle of our group, it certainly did seem like they wanted to continue to enjoy our company . In reality, they were trying to chase us away. Hubby, in his not-so-gleaming white boots, led the charge and was our savior, ably assisted by a fellow-passenger who found himself getting acquainted with a slippery boulder a little more closely than he would like to have.

    Since returning from our trip, I have learned that Prion Island will be closed to visitors at the end of this year’s season [probably March 2007]. The reason: to build a boardwalk and overlook platforms. I can appreciate that visitors throughout the years have probably done damage to the environment; especially if they did not travel with an eco-friendly operator. And, I applaud efforts to minimize the impact of tourism on the flora and fauna. Yet, I can’t help but feel saddened that such an “unnatural” solution is being put in place. Personally, I’d rather see the island made off limits to landings instead. In light of this news, I feel particularly privileged to have seen Prion Island in a fully-natural state.

    Fortuna Bay: Plans for our landing at Fortuna Bay had to be altered slightly when heavy fog rolled in to obscure the mountain tops from view. Much to the regret of the hikers, the trek that would have recreated the last part of Shackleton’s march across SGI had to be canceled due to poor visibility. Having planned to stay with the wildlife on the beach, the change in plans did not impact us.

    On a rocky beach trimmed with tussock grass just a few yards up from shore, we were greeted by elephant and fur seals, and king penguins. Some of the seals were amongst the tussock grass, looking like boulders rather than live beings until they shifted to a more comfortable position or snorted to get some of the salt water out of their systems.

    We spent a considerable amount of time at a small body of water located below a tussock-covered hill just beyond the reach of the surf. The area was dotted with fur seals as far up as the eye could see; just like on Prion Island. Seals don’t have a particularly easy time moving about on land, so I imagine the ones on the high slopes were those animals that had lost the fight for prime beach property. We were entertained for quite some time by the antics of the seal pups; they seemed to enjoy vigorously baiting each other. There was quite a bit of mock-fighting and practice-charging; the latter was perhaps to hone their skills for when the next unwary visitors come ashore.

    Further down the beach, we found king penguins and spent some time with them as well. There were penguins in the water, porpoising for what looked like the shear joy of the activity, but the majority of the colony seemed to be waiting for their molt to be completed. They did not move about much; perhaps because molting is a painful process — or so I’ve read.

    We glimpsed reindeer in the hills, but made no attempt to reach them. Reindeer are an introduced species and we preferred to spend our time with the natives, so to speak.

    Leith Harbour & Stromness Harbour: Our activity-filled day concluded with a zodiac cruise that took in two former whaling stations. More historical in nature, these cruises gave us a respite from the overwhelming numbers of animals we’d been seeing. Still, there were enough penguins, shags, and seals to add a bit of vivacity to the broken down, rusting remnants of the stations. The overcast skies and lightly falling snow gave the outing an appropriately somber feeling. Stromness, in particular, was a significant visit for us as it was here that Shackleton ended his trek, arriving at the station manager’s house after a harrowing voyage across the open ocean, followed by a strenuous hike over the then-unmapped interior of the island.

    Imagine this: you sail into Antarctic waters on a ship called Endurance, fully intending to make a cross-continent sledging journey; your ship becomes a prisoner in the pack ice and eight months later sinks, leaving you stranded on floes that are breaking up beneath your feet; you camp on the ice floes for about five months until Elephant Island is sighted, signaling a chance to make land; you put to sea in boats that are little more than lifeboats and land on Elephant Island; after a few days, you leave most of the ship’s crew behind and sail some 800 miles [1,280 km] across one of the roughest waters in the world to a speck of land called South Georgia Island; you realize you’re on the wrong side of the island and hike across uncharted, glacier-covered land without proper climbing equipment; finally, you arrive at the door of someone who should know you, but who faces you with such a blank look that you have to say: “Don’t you know me? My name is Shackleton.”

    That little synopsis lasted 21 months from the time Shackleton left London in 1914. And it didn’t end there; it took him another 4½ months to rescue the rest of the crew left behind on Elephant Island. Everyone survived!

    The story of the Endurance has got to be one of the most amazing stories of Antarctic Exploration. We were privileged to experience just a small portion of the story through our visits to various sites that are interwoven in that saga. [To read more about Shackleton’s Endurance Voyage, click here: http://www.south-pole.com/p0000098.htm]

    I am thrilled that the whaling operations are long over, but seeing the decaying stations in what is an otherwise beautiful and unblemished landscape was really heartrending. The whole scene was an odd juxtaposition against the grandeur of the landscape in which it was set. Apparently the dismantling and/or restoration of these stations is a political can of worms: SGI is British territory; the stations were built by the Norwegians and operated by an international crew that often worked for the Argentineans. Perhaps one day the problem will be resolved. In the meantime, we tried to maintain the 650-ft [200 m] approach restriction; the distance was a bit difficult to sustain when viewing the stations from the zodiacs. You see, in addition to all the decaying wood and jagged pieces of rusting iron, there’s a lot of asbestos in these stations!

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Winds & Swells; Glaciers & History

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    January 8 — winds & swells; glaciers & history

    This was the morning of our greatest disappointment of the entire voyage. We were aiming to land at St Andrews Bay, the site of the world’s largest king penguin colony with an estimated 500,000 animals. Even as we were donning our gear, a sudden katabatic wind off the nearby glaciers wreaked havoc with those plans. The incredibly strong wind lessened to a small degree by the time we arrived at an alternate location in Royal Bay, but it was still too dangerous for zodiac operations.

    Although we were disappointed, we looked for and found the silver lining — we’d been able to land at Salisbury Plain the day before and had spent time with hundreds of thousands of king penguins. Staying on deck, we allowed our sorrows to be drowned by the seabirds that were out in large numbers thanks to the high winds and the mind-bogglingly immense glaciers that we passed one after another. [Jonas did his best to get us into St Andrews the next day, but other ships were scheduled to be there; understandably, no one was willing to give up their time. C’est la vie!]

    Nordenskjöld Glacier: As we neared the glacier at the head of Cumberland East Bay, any disappointment that might have lingered from the morning gave way completely in the face of Mother Nature’s greatness. There was nothing to give us perspective during the ship’s cruise of the glacier and it was one of the few times when we wished there was another vessel nearby so that we could gain a better sense of the size of this river of ice. We stood speechless, looking at the glacier; it seemed to go on forever and ever. The beautiful weather that replaced the morning overcast was a blessing that added to our enjoyment of the indescribable scenery. The wind died down to nothing as the captain continued the approach to the face of the glacier. Although we heard the occasional snap, crackle, and pop of Nordenskjöld’s ice, it did not calve. As though taking pity on us, a hanging glacier to our starboard gave us a calving a bit later. It wasn’t the big one we were all thirsting to see, but not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, camera shutters clicked away until the last remnants of ice fell into the water and the captain turned the ship around for our next landing.

    Grytviken: We were not the only ship visiting Grytviken. A Royal Navy ship — part of the British Antarctic Survey, I believe — was already at anchor. Those on shore leave were returning to their ship, however, so we had the island to ourselves.

    We started our landing by congregating at the cemetery for a toast to the “Boss” — Shackleton. After a few words from Mariano, we gave a vodka toast — what else would you expect on a Russian flagged ship! We then scattered in various directions, each following the beat of his own drummer. After spending a few minutes with the natives — in this case, a small number of elephant seals, and king and gentoo penguins — Hubby and I headed into the restored whaling station of Grytviken that now serves as a museum and provides an opportunity for shopping. We wandered around the station, seeing up close the rusting hulls of the whaling ships and the giant tanks that used to be filled with oil rendered from the blubber of thousands of whales slaughtered here in the heyday of the whaling industry. Between 1904 and 1965, 175,000+ whales met their demise in and around the waters of SGI alone. [Number of whales killed in Antarctic waters between 1904-1978: 1,432,862.] After peeking into the small white church that stands in stark contrast to the bloody history of the whaling station, we browsed the museum and did a bit of shopping before returning to the ship.

    Bratwurst on Deck: Our day was not over, however. It is traditional to have a barbecue on deck while in Antarctic waters. Although we were not quite at the Peninsula yet, we were below the Convergence (http://tinyurl.com/2zqw64). Thus, we qualified.

    It wasn’t too cold when we went out on the stern deck and joined fellow passengers at one of the two available tables. Those who came down later, balanced plates and glasses and ate standing up. Mulled wine was served to warm us up and nearby was a tub of beer and other beverages on ice. Steaming hot soup was the first course and was much appreciated as the temperature continued to dip rapidly. At least there was no wind to add to the chill factor. The side dishes were served buffet-style, and a variety of meats were barbecued on charcoal grills set up on deck. I was surprised that the aroma of grilled meat wafting on the air did not attract skuas and other scavengers. Obviously, the birds of Grytviken have better manners than those in our neck of the woods!

    In an effort to stay warm, some of the passengers danced to the Russian music that was being played over the loudspeaker. After a while, however, not even energetic dancing could keep the cold at bay. Eventually everyone retired to their cabins or to the warmth of the bar, thus ending another excellent day of the voyage.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Farewell SGI

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    January 9 — farewell SGI

    Gold Harbour: There was no gold if you went looking for the mineral itself, but our first landing of the day yielded a goldmine of animals, including king penguins, elephant seals, and fur seals. We spent a bit of time with the animals that greeted us on the beach and then walked inland to get a closer view of the hanging glacier. We found not only the glacier, but a colony of king penguins rimming a large body of water as well. I realized then that we were in the same place depicted on a poster we have on the wall of our dining room at home.

    Several of our fellow-passengers hiked up to the glacier; the risk of breaking our necks on the steep scree slope was just a bit more than we were willing to take on. Instead, we found a couple of guano-free boulders not far from the colony and enjoyed spending time with the local royalty. With the brilliant sun warming us, we had shed our parkas and life jackets shortly after landing on the island. Sitting and enjoying the kings going about their business of feeding, molting, nesting, etc. against the spectacular backdrop of the glacier is one of our most treasured remembrances of this trip. That we were able to enjoy all that Gold Harbour had to offer while wearing little more than what we would on an early spring day in Washington, DC certainly added to our pleasure.

    Cooper Bay: Later in the morning, our zodiac cruise in Cooper Bay added to the wonderful memories we had already collected. But it was also a bitter sweet time since it was time to say goodbye to the macaroni penguins. En route to Cooper Bay, we saw more icebergs lazily traveling on the currents. Set against the brilliant blue sky and the darker blue of the ocean, the pale blue bergs were an added attraction that kept us on deck until we reached our anchorage site.

    The sea outside the protective rim of reefs was quite calm, but once inside, that changed. Having to squeeze in and out of the bay by way of narrow gaps in the reef, the water was a bit choppy when we approached the rocks that are home to macaroni penguins. It made composing pictures quite challenging, since keeping the camera focused on the subject was particularly difficult.

    In the same colony with the orange-plumed macaronis, which get their name from English dandies of the 19th century who dyed their hair in streaks, we were thrilled to see chinstrap penguins as well. These penguins get their name from the thin line of black feathers that run from ear to ear under the chin, making it look like they are wearing a black cap. Early explorers called them “ringed” penguins, but I like chinstrap better, and soon we were all calling them “chinnies,” a common nickname for the species. As well as the colony of penguins here, we saw blue-eyed shags, snowy sheathbills, and elephant and fur seals.

    Drygalski Fjord: Before we headed south towards the Peninsula, we did a ship’s cruise along Drygalski Fjord to Risting Glacier. This cruise simply made a terrific day even better. Passing closer to the icebergs we had seen earlier in the morning, we entered the fjord’s calm waters. With glorious blue skies above, we sailed close along jagged rocks rising to the sky like church spires. Mountains topped with glaciers that gleamed in the sun like so much icing on a cake made for an amazing spectacle and we felt like we were cruising inside nature’s own cathedral.

    The ship approached the terminus of Risting Glacier, which flows for miles and miles, and ends at the edge of the water at an approximate height of 196 ft [60 m]; that’s the portion that shows above the water. The sight of a giant wall of ice, topped with jagged pressure ridges and crevasses, was awe-inspiring. That we had already seen giant rivers of ice like this one in other parts of SGI [and in Alaska in 2001] did not diminish our pleasure in the experience. You can’t say, “Once you’ve seen one glacier; you’ve seen them all.” Each is unique in its own way; a creation of Mother Nature that is mind boggling in its size and beauty.

    The Molchanov stayed awhile near the face of the glacier. The water was littered with brash ice and bergy-bits of all sizes, evidence of recent calvings. We waited patiently for Risting Glacier, or even neighboring Jenkins Glacier, to calve for us. Despite the snaps and crackles, however, they remained inactive. One of the receding glaciers on a high slope of the fjord wall granted us our wish on our way back to the open seas.

    Icebergs: Captain Cook is said to be the first to set foot on SGI and is generally accepted as the explorer who discovered the island. At the time, he thought he was sighting the Antarctic Continent. It’s understandable, therefore, that he would name the point where he rounded the island and realized it was not the white continent in a manner that reflected his feelings at that moment: Cape Disappointment. It was with a sense of sadness and not disappointment that we watched that same spit of land recede into the horizon. We were sad because we were leaving SGI and its spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife. Our feelings were tempered, however, by the fact that we were heading down the Scotia Sea towards the Peninsula region where even more amazing things were awaiting us.

    As though joining us in our “departure blues,” the skies grew overcast as we moved farther and farther away from SGI. The outside decks emptied as the island disappeared from view and we went to the dining room for some hot beverages. We didn’t stay inside long, however. It didn’t matter that it was overcast and a bit breezy outside, giant tabular icebergs were appearing on the horizon. So, like moths drawn to a flame, we donned our warm jackets, grabbed our cameras, and went back on deck to enjoy the magnificent creations of Mother Nature. That these icebergs had originated in the Antarctic added to their appeal.

    We watched a line of bergs far on the horizon, the sun shining on them like a spotlight, until their nearby cousins redirected our attention. Our joy in sighting the bergs was increased when one of the bergs closer to the ship revealed penguins rafting on it; nothing like a free ride when you can get one! We enjoyed the sight of every iceberg until they became mere specks on the horizon.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - At Sea & Meeting the Adélies

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    January 10 — at sea

    Although we made no landings, the pace aboard the ship slowed down only a tiny bit. Off-ship activities were replaced by lectures. The icebergs of the day before were long behind us; our entertainment on deck consisted of birds in flight. We used the day to recover from our exhausting schedule on SGI and rest up for the activities ahead.

    January 11 — meeting the Adélies

    After a reasonably calm crossing, we arrived at the South Orkney Islands. Although there was only one mid-morning landing scheduled, we were on deck bright and early. The attraction: icebergs, icebergs and more icebergs in the Washington Strait.

    Some were dirty; some were pristine. Some were flat-topped, reminding us of gigantic aircraft carriers; some were not. Some were uninhabited; some were occupied by penguins hitching a ride. Some were white; some were blue; some were marbled like soft-serve ice cream — except that they were rock hard — and some were stained guano-pink. Some were far; some were close; some were closer still. Some were new; some were old and scarred by the battles they had fought with the waves and winds. They all had one thing in common — they were huge! So much so that our minds had trouble processing the sights around us. We had noticed this on SGI as well. Everything was bigger than life. And, it was about to get even bigger!

    Shingle Cove: This small cove on Coronation Island was the site of our only landing in the South Orkneys and our first encounter with the Adélie penguins, named by explorer Dumont D’Urville for his wife. The Adélies are one of two species of penguins that make their home only in the Antarctic. [We may have seen an immature emperor penguin, the other Antarctic-only penguin, swimming in the ocean, but there was considerable debate about it possibly being a king penguin.]

    Unlike the other penguins we had seen already, we found this species to be very active, waddling about from one place to another as fast as their short legs could carry them. Seeing them moving about at a smart pace, going to and fro between the sea and their nests, I was reminded of a description of these birds from Dr Edward Wilson’s journal: “They are extraordinarily like children, or like old men, full of their own importance and late for dinner, in their black tail-coats and white shirt-fronts — and rather portly withal.” [Dr Wilson was the zoologist on Scott’s ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole; Scott, Wilson, and three companions died on the trip back from the Pole.]

    It was a delight to perch on one of the rocks and just enjoy the activity all around me. There were chicks chasing parents for a bite to eat; adult penguins chasing scavenging skuas and vice-versa; sad looking chicks who had obviously had a close encounter with the guano-laced muck; penguins preening and showing off their brilliant white chests to guano-pink chested birds that were on nest duty. It was a thrilling site to enjoy; even on a mostly overcast day.

    Although we would like to have stayed the rest of the day on this island, we had miles to go if we were to make our “hoped-for” landing the next day at a historically-significant site. Detouring to a rock in the bay where a lone Weddell seal, the only one we were to see on the trip, was sunning itself, we returned to the ship and weighed anchor to resume our voyage south.

    We spent the rest of the day watching icebergs … icebergs … and more icebergs; they came in all shapes and sizes. Having calved off one of the ice shelves — most likely the Ronne Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea — these bergs were caught in the currents of the Southern Ocean. They were helplessly following a path that would some day lead to their demise as the ravages of wind and ocean took their toll. We were at times entertained by porpoising penguins, but there was no sign of the whales that had made a brief showing early that morning.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - An Elephant in the Antarctic

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    January 12 — an elephant in the Antarctic

    In seas that were slightly choppy at times and calm as a pond at other times, we arrived at Elephant and Clarence islands in the South Shetlands. The sunshine from the previous day had been replaced by clouds and the overcast remained with us for most of the day.

    The island got its name from the elephant seals that were spotted here by Captain George Powell in 1821. That said, it seems an odd coincidence that the shape of the island resembles the head of an elephant with the trunk extended.

    The big question of the day was whether we would be able to visit Elephant Island, a small speck of land surrounded by churning surf that often causes plans to be changed. The answer was — yes. In fact, not only were we able to do a zodiac cruise at Point Wild, we were able to land at Cape Lookout. From all I read before the trip, and what I subsequently heard from the expedition staff, it was an exceptionally lucky day for us. A very nice bonus.

    Point Wild: After months of living on ice floes, this narrow, inhospitable spit of land served as home to 22 of Shackleton’s men while he and five others went in search of rescue. That the men survived the four months until they were rescued has always seemed like a miracle to me; even more so now that I have seen Point Wild for myself. Worsley, Shackleton's captain, wrote in his book, Shackleton's Boat Journey, that the men pronounced the island with a silent 't' and an 'h' prefixed, making Elephant Island sound more like “Hell-of-an-Island.” From their point of view, it probably was just that!

    We cruised as close to shore as we could to see as much as we could; the surf was too rough to make an actual landing. Sasha, our zodiac driver, kept a wary eye on the reefs nearby, taking us close to the narrow beach where Shackleton’s men lived under two small, overturned boats — lifeboats, really. There’s nothing left of those boats now. In their place stands a statue honoring Luis Pardo, the captain of the Yelcho — the Chilean ship that eventually rescued the men. Point Wild was overrun by chinnies who seem to be flourishing despite the hardships of life on the island.

    Sasha then wanted to take us out to a tabular berg on the far side of Point Wild. Most of the people in our zodiac, however, wanted to cruise near the face of the tidewater glacier in the bay. We should have listened to Sasha! We slowly grinded our way through the brash ice, making noises like a blender full of ice cubes. By the time we arrived at the glacier, the fog had thickened. Never mind seeing the face of the glacier, we could barely make out the people sitting at the opposite end of the zodiac. When we were back in ice-free water, we asked Sasha what would have happened if the motor had broken down. “I only have you and a bunch of oars,” was his reply. He was joking, of course. Although it was sometimes impossible to see the all-white Molchanov hidden in the thick fog, we were never out of communications range. [By the way, there were no oars in the zodiac!]

    After a brief visit to a nearby Cape petrel rookery, we gave up. The fog was winning the sightseeing battle. We returned to the ship and were soon on our way to the unplanned second landing at Elephant Island.

    Cape Lookout: Shackleton and his men may not have considered Cape Lookout as a suitable spot for themselves, but our intrepid group was quite happy with our landing site. Arriving at a very narrow strip of sand beach, we were greeted by a few penguins and some elephant and fur seals. With an agility that would have put an acrobat to shame, we clambered over the boulder-strewn beach to reach the penguin colony a short distance away. Nesting skuas had us detouring along the way, but we all made it safely and no one was dive-bombed by the birds.

    The penguin colony started at the edge of the water and went all the way up a steep, rocky hillside. The swath of guano-pink land running up the hill made it easy to see how far up the colony reached. Opting to stay close to the gentoos and chinnies in the lower reaches of the colony, I found a boulder and sat down to enjoy my time with the penguins. There was a lot of activity as adults went to and from the beach and chicks chased newly-arrived parents for a drop of regurgitated krill. Giant bergs passing just off the coast of the island added a sense of freshness to the landscape and I often found my attention wandering from the activity onshore to the activity offshore as the scenery kept changing from one moment to another.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Another Day in the South Shetlands

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    January 13 — yet another day in the South Shetlands

    We had a relatively late wake-up call at 7:30a, but I was up long before then, enjoying a delightful Antarctic morning. I was entranced by the glacier- and snow-covered specks of land around us. It was the unmistakable smell of “guano in the morning” that alerted me to the presence of penguins. It was just a whiff, and the smell passed quickly, but now I turned my attention to searching the landmasses around me for penguins. Sure enough; there they were — tiny black and white dots against a pinkish background.

    Aitcho Islands: Our first landing of the day was at Aitcho Islands. It might sound like a foreign word, but in fact, Aitcho is English — sort of! It stands for the initials of the [British] Hydrographic Office. Say it: H — O.

    Chinnies greeted us on shore, but they did not stay to visit with us. Their pristine white feathers told us the story — they had just returned from feeding and were anxious to get to their nests to relieve their partners and feed their chicks. Some of the birds nesting on the high ground adorned the rim of a cliff like a necklace of black and white pearls. As we walked up closer to the penguins, we could make out chicks in their downy coats and adults caring for them.

    Although it was a mixed colony of chinnies and gentoo penguins, each species seemed to be keeping company with its own kind. It was quieter in the gentoo neighborhoods, whereas ecstatic displays filled the air around the chinnie nests. There was a great deal of chick feeding going on, although I did not see any chicks chasing after parents, begging for food. It was funny to see the gentoo chicks, which were about half the size of the adults, trying to nestle under a parent for warmth and protection from the wind. They were so adorable; it was hard not to reach out and run our hands through their downy coats.

    Deception Island: Back on the ship, we stayed on deck to enjoy the scenery of the Bransfield Strait. The blue skies continued for our onward journey to Deception Island, but there was considerably more wind. This was one of the few times when walking on deck was a real challenge, because the wind gusts were so strong. Most of the passengers were on the bridge as we approached Deception Island, and a few brave souls were on the flybridge. Tucked into a niche on Deck 3, I enjoyed the ship’s passage through Neptune’s Bellow into the sunken caldera of the volcano from a lower vantage point. It was amazing how quickly the howling wind dissipated once we rounded the entrance.

    The ship anchored in the calm waters of Whaler’s Bay and we made an easy landing onto a black-sand beach near the remains of a whaling station. I was grateful that for once there was little wildlife around; they would have distracted us from everything else this landing had to offer.

    At a leisurely pace, Hubby and I left the whaling station behind and trod across the black-sand beach, sometimes letting the gentle surf wash up over our boots. A lone chinnie was standing guard near the ramshackle remains of an old hut. As though greeting us, he bowed in our direction before hastening into the surf for an afternoon dip.

    The landscape was dotted with old whaling boats and buildings half submerged in the ashes of a volcanic eruption, the last of which was in 1970. It was a reminder that we were inside an active volcano. On the cliffs, the green shoots of newly developing vegetation proved that the land was healing itself. Every so often, we came across whale bones; a sad reminder of a not-so-great chapter in human history.

    Although the distance was not great — probably a mile or so — it took us a while to get to the trail leading up to Neptune’s Window; we were distracted by everything that caught our eye along the way. This worked to our advantage; by the time we got there, most people were already coming down. The walk up the scree slope to the Window was not particularly difficult or treacherous, but required careful attention to where we put our feet. The short hike up was definitely worth it. Through the Window, we had an excellent view of the scenery behind the island and a close view of a Cape petrel rookery. The sky was dotted with what I believe is one of the most beautiful birds in the Antarctic, and we enjoyed sitting on boulders and watching the comings and goings of the birds. When we turned around to look in the opposite direction, all of Whaler’s Bay was laid out to our gaze with the whaling station in the distance.

    Eventually, we walked back down and followed the surfline back to the whaling station, stopping en route to spend time with two polar skuas that were sitting on the beach just out of reach of the surf. Unlike other encounters with the species, these birds did not fly off when we approached and it was a nice opportunity to see the scavengers of the Antarctic up close and personal.

    Meanwhile, near the zodiac landing site, there was a flurry of activity. Brave Molchanovites were in different stages of undress; a couple of crewmen were digging a pit at the water’s edge. Since Deception Island is an active volcano, there is geo-thermally heated water trickling up to the surface. We had dipped our hands in the water inside a pit earlier to test the temperature against the temperature of the ocean and found it to be downright “toasty.” However, that’s where Hubby and I drew the line. I know; it wasn’t very adventuresome of us, but so be it! I don’t know if I can say that those who braved the cold waters of Whaler’s Bay enjoyed the experience, but they certainly appreciated their brief respite in the hot-water pit afterwards.

    Since we dawdled so long on our walk to and from Neptune’s Window, we had to forego an in-depth exploration of the whaling station. I did manage to wander around the tanks that were used in the heyday of whaling to store oil rendered from whale blubber. Thankfully, these rusted, hole-filled reminders of those days are now filled with just the echoing sounds of wildlife and the occasional conversations of visitors.

    On this night we went to sleep in sight of the Antarctic Continent.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Mother Nature's Amazing Wonders

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    January 14 — mother nature’s amazing wonders

    We had a very full day; not to mention, a very rewarding one. We were up bright and early for the ship’s transit through Gerlache Strait on our way to Errera Channel and the wonders beyond. The blue skies gave way to clouds for a very brief time, but they didn’t last long enough to dampen our enthusiasm. Before we knew it, we were sailing under blue skies again, with whales blowing near the ship, crabeater seals snoozing on the ice floes, and penguins surprising us as they rafted by on icebergs.

    Petzval Glacier: Once through Errera Channel, we anchored in Paradise Bay. Our first activity was a zodiac cruise to Petzval Glacier. “Who wants to be the first to touch Antarctica?” asked Mariano as he nosed the zodiac up against a bare rock sticking out of the water. Once everyone had a chance to stroke the rock for good luck, we continued a leisurely cruise under blue skies. The water could not have been calmer — or so I thought at the time. Making our way around “smallish” bergs in the bay, we closed in on the face of the glacier to view the different shades of blue running throughout the ice. The terminus was heavily crevassed and we could see deep into the ice where the bluest of blue colors were visible to the naked eye.

    Stepping on the Continent: On the way to our much-anticipated continental landing, we stopped in front of a rookery where Antarctic blue-eyed shags were nesting in the cracks and crevices of a cliff. Many of the birds were just sitting on the nests and probably had chicks hidden beneath them. In several of the nests, however, parents were feeding chicks and we enjoyed the spectacle for a while.

    Eventually, Mariano revved up the motor and we continued around a spit of land to the Almirante Brown Research Station, the site of our “continental landing.” With the bow of the zodiac nosed-up onto some high boulders, we made a dry landing as the waters of Paradise Bay splashed against the low-lying rocks. We followed a sign that pointed us to the “tourist way” and made our way behind the buildings of the Argentinean research station.

    I have to admit to some disappointment about this landing, although we did not let that dampen our enthusiasm for the occasion. In my mind’s eye, I had seen us making our continental landing in a very pristine environment. That wasn’t the case — and I am not talking about the guano from the small colony of gentoo penguins that tinted the snow pink.

    When we rounded the corner of the building, we were greeted by the sight of a multitude of crates, metal drums, etc., lying on the snow in complete disarray. A few of the crates had their lids off, as though someone had cracked them open to check the contents. We later learned that the station personnel had only just arrived and the equipment had been air-dropped the day before — that at least explained all the nets that I was concerned the gentoos could be trapped by. The expedition staff also explained that the station had experienced a fire, which resulted in the loss of the storage building — apparently the doctor did not want to overwinter in Antarctica and set the place on fire. If it’s the same fire I read about, that was back in 1984 and the ruins of the building should have been removed or replaced by now.

    The majority of the group climbed a nearby high point and was soon sliding down the snow-covered hill. While they were enjoying their activity, several others stayed with the penguin colony near the buildings. Hubby and I trekked over in a different direction where we were able to enjoy a bit of solitude. The bay that we came to was home to icebergs, pristine snow, and a blue-white tidewater glacier. This was the pristine Antarctica we were looking for. While we were enjoying the view to our right, a loud gunshot crack from the left alerted us to a big calving from the glacier. Hubby was able to capture the action on film — or so we thought. Although the camera was seemingly recording; it wasn’t. Oh well, we have a nice memory imprinted in our minds. The amazing thing about the calving was the speed at which the resulting waves moved across the bay, taking along pieces of ice of all shapes and sizes. In less than a minute after the calving, some of that ice was washing ashore near the huts that were just below us.

    We were enjoying the company of the small colony of gentoos when the call came to board the zodiacs for the journey to our southernmost point. We thought we’d had an amazing day already. More was to come!

    Lemaire Channel: Soon after lunch, we found ourselves at the entrance to Lemaire Channel — appropriately nicknamed “Kodak Gap”, “Fuji Funnel”, and “Agfa Alley.” I’m sure someone will come up with a suitable tribute to modern day photography at some point; until then, how about “Digital Ditch.”

    We enjoyed the ship’s cruise from the bow, rather than the flybridge. It was the right place to be as from this low-on-the-ship location, the grandeur of the scenery was multiplied several fold. Passing floes on which crabeater seals were resting, we slowly cruised the channel in the company of minke whales blowing not too far from the ship. I have to admit this was one time where the scenery had me so in awe that I did not even try to look for the whales.

    We had company as we slowly sailed closer to the mouth of the channel — the Whale Song, a small vessel, was just in front of us. With little effort on the part of the Molchanov, we left the yacht in our wake. When the water became clogged with brash ice, the Whale Song had to turn back. Not so our trusty ship; we slowly plowed through the brash ice. For the first time on our trip, we heard the sounds of ice gently banging up against the ice-reinforced hull as we nudged away the bergy bits and growlers that were blocking our way. With an incredible blue sky above, snow- and glacier-covered peaks on both sides, and blue-white ice of all sizes around us, it was a stunning passage through the channel.

    Petermann Island: Our spectacular afternoon continued with an extended landing on Petermann Island. [It was rumored that our sister ship had given up her time on the island as she was involved in a rescue.] Part of this island is used to research human impact on penguins [thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be any], so some of the colonies were off limits to us.

    Following Nigel, we trekked to a colony located against a beautiful backdrop that included the channel and the glaciers on the opposite side. The colony was a mix of Adélie and gentoo penguins. Chicks were everywhere, huddled against parents. Penguins were coming and going as they returned from feeding to take over nest duties. A pair of Adélies was attempting to mate — I think they were young adults that weren’t quite sure what to do! There was quite a bit of “stone thievery” going on as penguins selected stones from neighboring nests and used them to enhance their own. Seeing a few of the chicks stealing stones, we laughed and commented that the adults were not being good role models. [Actually, they were being good role models; nest-building is an essential activity.] We spent a considerable amount of time just sitting on the boulders near the penguins, enjoying them, the scenery, and our continued good luck with the weather.

    Eventually, we moved away from the colony and hiked up to a different part of the island to reach our southernmost point — 65˚10.7’S. The snow was slushy, crisscrossed with melt streams and streaked with green algae. Walking with us at times were gentoo penguins traveling back from the sea to some unseen colony. They seemed to be having an easier time on the snow than we were. The sights awaiting us at the end of our walk, however, made the trek well-worth the effort.

    As we crested the top of the hill and approached the rim, our breath was taken away by the sight of many giant icebergs filling a small bay below us. At first we thought they might be grounded, but they were bobbing on the water, so that wasn’t the case. Robert, who was passing by, explained that it was more of a “berg jam.” Driven into the bay by the currents, they will remain imprisoned until one of the bergs blocking the entrance moves out of the way.

    It really was hard to leave this spot, but the time was fast approaching for the last zodiac departure, and we did not want to find out the hard way whether the ship would actually weigh anchor and leave us stranded. So, we trudged back through the slushy snow, stopping often to enjoy the comings and goings of gentoo penguins along the way. Closer to shore, we found a pond full of polar skuas taking a late afternoon bath. From all the wing-flapping and squawking going on, it was obvious that they were into this activity. Dragging out our time on Petermann Island to the last possible second, we boarded the final zodiac back to the ship.

    Pleneau Bay: If we thought Lemaire Channel and Petermann Island could not be topped, we were dead wrong. During dinner, Jonas announced that we had one more activity before the ship started its return journey north — a zodiac cruise of Pleneau Bay and its countless icebergs.

    Shortly after dinner, we donned our gear and boarded the zodiacs. It was 9:30p by our watches [we stayed on Ushuaia time for the duration of the voyage]. The sun was still high on the horizon; we later saw for ourselves that it would not be setting until well after midnight, and then, only briefly. The patchy clouds filtered the rays of the sun and created a magical light. The water was so flat that it acted like a mirror, adding another dimension to the awesome ice creations of Mother Nature.

    The zodiacs spread out so that we neither heard nor saw the other boats, except on a few occasions when we welcomed their presence as they added perspective to the giant creations of ice all around us. Jonas frequently turned the motor off, allowing us to drift in complete silence and immerse ourselves in the peace and quiet around us.

    We traveled in and around icebergs of all colors, shapes, and sizes. It was amazing to see the underwater shelves of the icebergs changing the color of the water from dark navy to a Caribbean teal. The water was incredibly clear and we could see the swarming krill just beneath the surface. In fact, the krill were in such numbers that they were sometimes jumping on the surface — it reminded us of a still pond on which you might see mosquitoes flitting about.

    We explored the meandering channels between nature’s giant ice sculptures, coming close enough to touch them; but we abstained. No one wanted to leave behind a trace of our visit. Gentoo penguins porpoising in the water kept us company, as did some crabeater seals that were relaxing on a large berg. One of them slipped down the ice and disappeared into the water at the sound of our arrival, but the others remained on the berg, curiously checking us out. We also saw quite a few seals in the water, an environment that instantly transforms them from lumbering animals to graceful creatures.

    Not far from the berg, we came upon our one and only encounter with one of the two main predators of the Antarctic — the leopard seal. [The killer whale — Orca — is the other predator in these waters; no sightings on this trip.] I was surprised at how unskittish the seal was as the zodiac nosed right up to the ice floe. I was sitting on the floor of the zodiac at the bow and was at eye level with the seal when it opened its jaws wide in a big yawn. It was a bit unnerving to be so close as to be able to see down its throat, but it was an amazing experience as well. Of all the seals, I think the leopard seal, with its Machiavellian grin perpetually in place, has become my favorite — after the adorable fur seal pups, of course.

    The wildlife highlight of the evening happened towards the end of the cruise. We had just returned to the gangway and were tying up the zodiac when the call came from the ship that there were minke and humpback whales in the bay. Jonas threw off the bow line, rushed back to the motor, and off we went on an exhilarating ride with everyone holding on tight. We maneuvered in and around the bergs to get close to the whales as they fed in the bay. Turning a corner around an iceberg, we found our way blocked by two low-to-the-water bergs that were almost kissing. Undaunted, Jonas yelled, “duck,” and so we did. Barely slowing down, he passed between the bergs. In the next breath, we were in the clear, once again looking for signs of the whales.

    This was our closest encounter with the giants of the oceans. Sighting many blows, fins, semi submerged bodies, and flukes in close proximity was such a thrill that I simply forgot to put the camera up to my eye for much of the time. Nonetheless, I have a couple of good pictures, and even managed to capture the fluke of one whale, which signaled a deep dive. With that last image still vivid in our minds, we returned to the ship and tied up just as the motor sputtered to a stop — we were out of gas!

    Sunset: With the adrenaline still rushing through our blood, we weren’t ready to call it a night. It was after 11:00p and dusk was finally falling — albeit, slowly. Grabbing some hot chocolate from the dining room, we joined fellow passengers in a rehash of our exciting outing. As we chatted, the ship weighed anchor and started to make its way back through Lemaire Channel.

    Deciding to stay up until the sun bid us adieu, we went up to the bridge to while away the time. It was quiet on the bridge; three officers and the captain were on duty, navigating around nearby icebergs and the brash ice that was choking the channel. Hearing the ice gently banging against the ship as we slowly moved through the water was quite eerie in the deepening dusk. That sense of eeriness increased as the sky ahead and the clouds above turned blood red — the sun was slowly setting.

    A stunning end to a spectacular day.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Birthday in Antarctica

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    January 15 — birthday in Antarctica

    Happy Birthday, Hubby! Yes, Hubby got to celebrate the end of half-a-century on earth in Antarctica. Lucky guy!

    Port Lockroy: We woke up to shale-grey clouds, but by the time Jonas made the wake-up call at 6:30a, the skies had lightened up. We were anchored in a bay surrounded by glaciers flowing down to the water’s edge. In the middle of the bay stood our landing site for the morning — Goudier Island, home to British Base A, Port Lockroy.

    The clouds started moving back in even as we boarded the zodiacs and traveled the short distance to Port Lockroy. The wind picked up as well, and by the time our zodiac had nosed up onto the boulders for a semi-dry landing, it was snowing lightly.

    First things first, we headed inside the museum/gift shop. Richer by a pair of whale earrings and matching tail fluke pendant, and a couple of t-shirts, we finished our shopping and turned our attention to the other things Port Lockroy offered. While Hubby made a quick tour of the museum inside the building, I found a boulder to perch on amongst the gentoos that breed on the island. It was snowing hard, and the wind was blowing, but that just added to the experience rather than detracting from it. For the first time since arriving at the peninsula, we were seeing the continent’s more common weather-face.

    When Hubby joined me, we shifted to an area that offered slightly more protection from the strengthening wind. It was hard to stand up against the gusts, so we found a couple of boulders from which to watch the gentoos coming and going as they traveled from the sea to their nests where hungry chicks were waiting to be fed. We had been warned that these birds would be passing very close to us and to respect their right-of-way. Staying seated ensured that we did not stress them out unnecessarily and allowed us to take steadier pictures in the gusting wind.

    Most of the chicks were hunched under their parents, trying to get what protection they could from the wind and snow. Seeing them with their heads hidden and their butts sticking out in the air, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to ostriches hiding their heads in the sand.

    All too soon, the call came to board the zodiacs. Our time was cut a little short because of the ever-strengthening wind. The ride back to the ship was one of the more “interesting” ones thanks to the swells we encountered on the way. In fact, we had to find a relatively sheltered area for a few minutes while the ship weighed anchor and repositioned to give us a better lee from which to disembark the zodiacs. It was a bit disturbing to watch the ship moving away from us while we bobbed away in the zodiac, but knowing why she was moving certainly allayed any real anxiety.

    Heading North: Once everyone was back on board, the ship continued its northerly heading. We knew we were traveling through Neumayer Channel, another scenic passage, but the snow and fog was such that we could barely make out the walls of the channel, forget about seeing any distinguishing features.

    We skipped the landing at Orne Island due to the lack of visibility. I don’t think anyone really minded; certainly Hubby and I did not. Perhaps we were “zodiac’d” out, but I think it was just that the adrenaline that had kept us going through the long days of our voyage was starting to ebb now that we knew we were leaving Antarctica and approaching the end of our adventure.

    The weather abated slightly as we approached Dallman Bay. With the visibility increased, we were able to see lots of humpback whales as they passed us on their way south. They seemed to be all around us, and we could see blows, fins, and flukes. In a few instances, they surfaced next to the ship. Unfortunately, this seemed to always happen during an inopportune moment, like when I was going up or down the stairs on the outside decks. I deemed it more prudent to just watch the whales and record the visual memories in my brain than to let go of the handrail and risk joining the giants of the oceans in the freezing Antarctic waters. The more distant pictures I did manage to take turned out to be of poor quality — not just because of the poor light and the motion of the ship, but also because the camera tended to focus on the big, fat snowflakes that were falling pretty hard at that point.

    By the time we reached the Melchior Archipelago, the winds and swells had died down to a manageable level. When the call came to don our gear for a zodiac cruise, we did so with relish, knowing this was going to be our last activity. It wasn’t to be. By the time the first zodiac was brought around to the gangway, the wind had picked up dramatically. We switched to the portside gangway and a few people managed to get into the zodiac. But then things got worse again. Stuck halfway down the swaying gangway, I wasn’t afraid, but the queasiness I was starting to feel from the motion was worrisome [I stopped using the patch once we reached continental waters]. Just as I was about to pass on this outing, Jonas pulled the plug. It was the right decision.

    Most people would probably consider our last day to be a very disappointing one. I guess it was; in a way. But having had such fantastic luck with the weather throughout our voyage, it was honestly an interesting experience to see Antarctica showing us her “real face.” I have to say that I am glad the bad weather hit us on our last day in the Peninsula region. Having already experienced the sights and sounds of our landings up to that point, it would have been really disappointing had we missed one or more of those opportunities instead.

    So, as the Molchanov sailed north into heavier seas, we steeled ourselves against the voyage across the Drake Passage. It didn’t take long for the infamous waterway to make its presence known, and within minutes the Molchanov became a virtual ghost ship. By the time dinner was served, however, most people were up and about; at least long enough to eat a few bites and wish Hubby a happy birthday when Marco brought out a cake decorated with sparklers. Robert and Mariano, who joined us for dinner, rated the crossing as a 4 on a scale of 10. With no basis for comparison, we felt it was more like an 8. Little did we know that things were about to get worse.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Mild Drake Shake

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    January 16 — mild (?!) Drake shake

    Overnight, our crossing of the Drake went from bad to worse. By midnight the waves were much stronger. Trying to sleep was an impossible task; we were too busy bracing ourselves against slipping around too much in our bunks. Despite our efforts, we often found ourselves traveling towards the opposite end of our “private cradles;” at least we did not get thrown out of bed! At times, we could feel the ship rise on a swell and just hang in mid-air. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, she would start coming back down again, often at an angle that seemed impossible to sustain. I guess at some point we must have dozed off, but we didn’t feel quite “well-rested” when we woke up to greet another day of rock and roll on the high seas.

    Visiting the bridge before breakfast was a challenge; we made slow progress down the hallway and up the stairs, timing every step to the ship’s rolling motion. The officer on duty informed us that at the storm’s worst we had experienced waves in the neighborhood of 30 ft [10 m]. “Ahh, but that is nothing; there were no waves breaking over the bow,” he informed us in the next breath. When I asked Mariano at breakfast what he thought of the overnight crossing, he was quick to upgrade his estimation from a 4 to a 7.5 on a scale of 10. In the next breath, however, he too said the waves weren’t breaking over the bow. In the long run, I suppose the Drake Passage was relatively kind to us. Perhaps on a larger vessel, we would have considered the conditions to be a little stronger than the “Drake Lake” everyone hopes for, but few get to experience. On our small vessel, I think we had a medium-to-high “Drake Shake” to add to our memories of the trip.

    Despite the rock and roll motion, the day progressed with relatively well-attended lectures with topics ranging from penguins to the South Circumpolar Current. The opening of the Molchanov Shop brought everyone out, but many of the passengers retired to their cabins as soon as the shop closed. In between lectures, I spent my time tucked into a corner in the bar, deleting obviously bad pictures and duplicates from the 10,000+ that I had taken on the trip. I came away with a sore left arm — from getting squished against the door as the movement of the ship shifted me first in one direction and than in the other — but it was worth it. By the time I was done, I had a mere “5,000+” pictures remaining for the subsequent sorts I have been working on since we returned home.

    NEXT: THE TRIP - Rock & Roll is Here to Stay

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    January 17 — rock & roll is here to stay

    Plans don’t always work out as intended. Jonas had announced that we would be in the calm waters of the Beagle Channel relatively early in the day. With bated breath, we all waited for that moment when things would calm down. It’s a good thing we did not hold our breath for long; our vigil was to no avail. Although the rolling of the ship abated somewhat, we rocked throughout the day. Conditions on the outside decks were such that the watertight doors were locked down to prevent passengers from wandering outside. As poor visibility continued for most of the day, we didn’t get to see the famed Cape Horn.

    So, we entertained ourselves inside, resigned to more rocking and rolling when Jonas announced that a freak storm in the Beagle Channel meant we would continue to feel the motion for even longer than first predicted. As well, plans for docking early and enjoying a good night’s rest in port were out the window. In Jonas’s words, the Beagle Channel transit was a “10 on a scale of 10; we’ve never seen it like this before.”

    The day’s lectures were more personal in nature. First, Nigel spoke of living and working in Antarctica; mostly at bases operated by the British Antarctic survey. Fascinating! Then, at the end of his lecture about the natives of Tierra del Fuego, Mariano shared with us pictures that his father had taken when he was working in Grytviken. Fascinating!

    In the early evening, we attended our last briefing, which included a disembarkation Q&A and a slide show that Hanne had compiled from the photos she had taken of us throughout the voyage. We’re supposed to be getting a disk from Quark in the next few months that will include a voyage log as well as Hanne’s photos and videos. We’re anxious to get the disk to compare our memories of the trip with the official log. However, knowing how long it takes to do post-processing on digital media, we’re going to give Quark some time before we start bugging them.

    Dinner was preceded by a farewell cocktail; Captain Baturkin made an appearance and toasted the voyage before disappearing again like the proverbial ghost. After dinner, many people returned to their cabins to pack. Hubby had already completed that chore for us, so we were able to sit back, relax, and reminisce about the voyage until it was time to call it a night.

    My last thought, before I dozed off: “When are we going to get into smooth waters?”

    NEXT: THE TRIP - The Voyage Ends

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    January 18 — the voyage ends

    When I woke up at 5:00a to the ship’s movement, my first thought was, “Are we going to make our flight?” Granted, we were no longer rocking, but I had anticipated that the ship would be docked by the time we were up and about. Obviously, the conditions in the Beagle Channel had delayed us even more than anticipated.

    I rushed through getting dressed, anxious to find out just how far out we were. On deck, catching a glimpse of Ushuaia in the distance, I drew a breath of relief. Seeing that we were just past El Faro, the lighthouse we had sailed out to on our Beagle Channel cruise, I figured we had about two hours before we would be docking. That would put things back on track with the initial schedule for a 7:00a disembarkation. I didn’t linger long; it was far colder in the Beagle Channel than it had been when we left Ushuaia behind 20 days before; and there was a lot more snow on the mountain tops as well.

    Ever on cue, the PA came alive at 6:30a with Jonas greeting everyone with his typical, “Good morning, good morning one and all.” He then proceeded to give us our position: 54°49’S by 68°13’W — two nautical miles from our anchorage; the temperature: 4C/40F; and the wildlife sighted, which included the birds I had seen as well as blue eyed shags, Magellanic penguins, and South American sea lions.

    Putting our luggage outside the cabin door, we briefly stepped out on deck for one last peek at the scenery before heading down for breakfast. Marco, being his usual surly self, kept us all waiting until exactly 7:00a before he opened the doors to the dining room. Even as we began eating, the unmistakable sounds of activity dockside heralded that we were tying up to land.

    By 7:30a, we were finished with breakfast, the ship was cleared, and we had our passports in hand. Bidding the expedition staff farewell, we walked down the gangway, bringing our ocean voyage to an end. Identifying our luggage, we watched it go into the belly of the airport transfer bus. Taking a few final pictures of our home-away-from-home, we bid adieu to our co-adventurers who were either staying over in Ushuaia or taking later flights, and boarded the bus.

    Ushuaia to Buenos Aires (BsAs): The expedition staff did an amazing job of disembarking everyone and getting them onto the appropriate transport. At 07:45a, 15 minutes ahead of schedule, the driver closed the bus door and we were off to the airport. There was surprisingly little traffic for a weekday morning and before we knew it, we were getting off at the terminal.

    Inside the terminal there was not a soul to be seen. We queued up at the counter, first in line to check in for the flight. Fifteen minutes later, the Aerolineas Argentinas agent showed up. Our check-in was painless — they must have been going by the “two-pieces per passenger” rule, as we did not have to pay any overage charges. We later found out that Dr Dan and Henna were not so lucky.

    Next stop was the cashier’s cage to pay our departure tax. Five minutes later we were 26 pesos poorer — about $8 USD. The security entrance to the gates was not yet open. Joining a few of our shipmates, we made ourselves comfortable at the café. Noticing our flight listed on the monitor, I went to verify our departure. Already there was an hour’s delay posted. “Looks like we’re not leaving until 10:50a,” I reported. A few minutes later, another fellow passenger on the flight reported: “Looks like we’re here until 10:30a.” Like a bouncing ball, the monitor fluctuated our departure between these two times until boarding was called.

    At 9:30a, we went through security and found seats near our assigned gate. At about 10:00a, we saw a plane land. “Must be ours,” I said. No sooner were the words out of my mouth that people started queuing up. “You’d think we didn’t have seat assignments,” I commented. Already picking up her bag and moving towards the line, one of our shipmates said: “That’s not far from the truth; in many cases, the flights are overbooked and if someone else is already in your seat and has a valid boarding pass, you get bumped off.” So we joined the line as well, standing around for the next 20 minutes or so. By then Dr Dan and Henna had also joined our little group. With our recent adventure in common, we whiled away the time with shared memories.

    Our flight to BsAs, with a brief stop in Rio Gallegos, went smoothly. Much to our relief all four bags were on the carousel when we arrived at baggage claim. By 3:30p, we were outside the arrivals area where Ana’s smiling face briefly made us forget the humid 86F [32C] heat that blasted us outside the terminal.

    Getting the Lay of the Land: We made a quick stop at the Art Hotel to drop off our luggage before proceeding with our city tour. Although our room was small — cozy, I think, is the word used to describe it in the brochure — it was nicely furnished. The room was sparkling clean; had ample hot water; was quiet; and best of all, did not roll or pitch under our feet! Centrally located in the Recoleta neighborhood, this boutique hotel served us well for our one-night stay; I’d highly recommend it even for a longer stay. (http://www.arthotel.com.ar)

    Our arrangements with Ana Luna for a city tour worked out perfectly, especially for the La Boca portion. This neighborhood has recently come into its own again and it is now safe for tourists during the day time. “I wouldn’t go there after dark,” was Ana’s comment. We really enjoyed our brief time amongst the quaint, colorful buildings and the narrow, cobblestone streets.

    The rest of the tour was more or less in the car, with one stop where Hubby and I got out to take a few pictures. We didn’t mind the lack of walking this time as our intent was to get an overview of the neighborhoods. Thanks to this tour, Hubby was able to plan an excellent walking tour the next day to make the most of our brief time in BsAs.

    Some would find it sacrilegious that we did so, but we cancelled our plans for seeing a tango show that night. We were just too tired to do justice to anything other than a soft bed. Instead, we walked to a small sidewalk café on Avenida Santa Fe, about two blocks from the hotel, and grabbed a light dinner. By 10:00p, we were fast asleep.

    NEXT: BUENOS AIRES & RETURN TO THE US

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    January 19 — Buenos Aires & return to the US

    Although we could have slept in and taken it easy, we wanted to make the most of our one day in the city billed as the “Paris of the South.” We were up at 6:30a, and enjoying a very nice continental breakfast [included in the room rate] by 7:30a. Shortly thereafter, storing our bags with the front desk personnel, we checked out of our room and started walking. The weather was pleasant, with low humidity and a nice breeze; a welcome change from the previous day’s humid heat.

    Exploring BsAs on Foot: I don’t think there is any part of the city that we missed; at least it felt that way by the time we were seated on the airplane late that night. We started out by visiting Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried. [We did not do the guided tour, but did pay a few pesos to have someone take us directly to Evita’s crypt; the meandering paths are too complicated to navigate when you have a limited amount of time.] This cemetery has got to be seen to be believed! Some of the family vaults are more like mansions than crypts, elaborately decorated with statues and bas relief carvings. It was easy to tell which plots are owned by families who no longer have anyone to pay for the upkeep; they were in a state of disrepair that stood in stark contrast to the rest of the crypts.

    From the cemetery, we walked through the neighboring residential areas until we arrived at the pedestrian-only Avenida Florida. The street, lined with shops on both sides, was crowded with tourists and locals alike. About midway down the street, we sat at one of the outdoor cafés where I enjoyed an ice cold Coca Cola. Hubby decided to have a hot chocolate. He was brought a glass of hot milk and a bar of chocolate, which he stirred into the milk until the bar was completely melted. It wasn’t as creamy and delicious as the hot chocolate we enjoyed in Ushuaia, but it was a close second.

    We continued onto Puerto Madero, the old port area that is being modernized. The new, modern pedestrian bridge — Puente de la Mujer [Bridge of the Woman] — stood in stark contrast to an old sailing vessel, the President Sarmiante Frigate, which operated as a school ship from 1899 to 1961 when it was converted to a museum. On either side of the canal, old warehouses have been renovated as apartments, with shops and restaurants on the ground floor. On one side, high rise buildings are going up; more apartments. Cranes — no longer operational — stand guard along the canal walls, a reminder of the original purpose of the area. Some of these cranes were in the process of being painted in bright colors; a version of art deco statuary. We saw white egrets in the trees and black diving birds in the water. Occasionally, a canoeist rowed by, lazily gliding down the canal.

    Although the temperature was much higher by mid-day, a gentle breeze kept things from becoming uncomfortable. Enjoying our walk along the canal, we extended our time in Puerto Madero by dining at Donata, one of the many restaurants featuring an outside terrace. We had an excellent Italian lunch, topped off with a chocolate ice cream cake drizzled with strawberry sauce.

    We felt no guilt after our high-calorie meal, because we continued to walk the streets of the city from one end to the other. Sometimes we found ourselves in areas obviously not frequented by tourists — we were the only ones with cameras around our necks. Undaunted, we pressed on, finally arriving at Avenida 9 Julio, the world’s widest avenue — eight lanes of traffic in each direction. Taking a peek at Teatro Colón [now under renovation] and the Obelisco, which we found to be very similar to our own Washington Monument in DC, we finally arrived on a familiar street — Avenida Santa Fe. Feeling in need of refreshment, we first bought ourselves a couple of ice cream cones from Volta, and later, further down the street, we sat down to enjoy cold drinks at a sidewalk café. When we finally set off again, it was in the direction of our hotel, just a few short blocks away.

    Winging Our Way to the US: Ana was prompt as usual and picked us up at 6:00p to take us to Ezeiza, the International Airport. The drive, in the early evening traffic, took us about an hour. No problem; expecting the long ride, we had asked her to pick us up four hours before our scheduled departure.

    At the airport, the check-in queue was long, but moved steadily. An airline official was walking the line and handing out e-ticket vouchers to speed up the check-in process. When our turn came, we were able to snag two Economy Plus seats, one in an exit row; well worth the extra cost for the long flight home. After paying our departure taxes — $18/person, if I recall correctly — we proceeded to immigration. Security here was a joke. In fact, the lackadaisical attitude was scary enough for Hubby to consider registering a complaint with TSA [Transportation Security Administration] upon our return to the US. As it turns out, we did not have to do that — read on.

    Our gate was at the farthest point of the international terminal. Thanks to a cautionary word from the agent who checked us in for our flight, we proceeded directly there with just one small delay — Hubby wanted to buy a few things at the duty free shop to spend the last of our Argentinean pesos. [I know; he can always find an excuse to shop!] It took us at least 20 minutes to reach our destination. At the gate, we went through a secondary security check, negating the need to register a complaint with TSA. They checked each carry-on bag and did a “wand” search of each individual. Finally, if you had any drinks with you, you had to consume them at the table where the security personnel were stationed, or you had to turn them in; you didn’t even have the option of finishing your drink in the lounge area, in clear sight and within steps of the security table. There was quite a bit of grumbling about this, but everyone complied. Our two empty bottles passed the screening, and we filled them once we were on the plane.

    Boarding was on time and proceeded without incident. Hubby asked the young lady who was seated in the exit row with him if she would mind switching seats with me. Much to my surprise, she agreed — I really had not expected anyone to give up an exit row seat. Dinner was a little better than the food that was served on the flight down to BsAs, but not by much. When the lights were dimmed, Hubby settled down to snooze for the duration of the flight. Much to my surprise, I was able to catch a few winks too. I think I may have finally found the solution to my inability to sleep while traveling — an adventurous expedition trip followed by a day of non-stop walking!

    January 20 — welcome home

    We had our smoothest ever arrival in the US after this flight: wheels down at Dulles at 6:50a; through passport control and luggage in hand at 7:20a; through customs within a few minutes after that. By 7:30a, we were in the taxi that deposited us at our front door at 7:55a.

    It was far colder in DC than it had been in Antarctica; we were ready to turn tail and go right back to the white continent!

    --------------------------------------------

    If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them.

    Photos will be a while yet; I am just about through with the first half of the trip. I will post a link here when I have them all uploaded.

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    Eenusa

    You've really described an Antarctica trip so well and vividly brought back to life so much of our own trip back in 2004.

    Like you we wanted to maximise our time on shore and focus on wildlife/ scenery/ history rather than the normal cruise trappings. We opted for the Akademik Ioffe run by Peregrine which took 100 passengers. Like your boat, there were many cabins that were small (triples) with shared facilities. Then there were doubles where there was one bathroom shared between two cabins. Then the next category were the en-suite cabins with one permanent bunk and one sofa which was converted to and from sofa to bed by cabin staff each day. We splurged on the next level up which had two permanent single bunks (both at floor level), a sofa and an ensuite. Above that were two levels of suites. Like your ship ours was very utilitarian and the conversion from a vessel designed as a workhorse was clear to see. Ours was designed as a a marine research vessel with unusually quiet running, a special ballast thing to keep it steadier than normal for a ship that size and some clever underwater sonar tech. My husband kept muttering about submarine hunter rather than marine research but who knows?! The crew were also Russians and very experienced indeed. We loved the ship and at the end of our three weeks it was emotional to return to Ushaia and know that in a couple of hours after we left a new set of passengers would take over "our" ship and "our" expedition crew.

    Our ship had a few more public areas, perhaps, catering as she did for a larger number of passengers. We had one single dining room, large tables and free seating too. The food was incredible and as I got on particularly well (given my propensity to spend time in the bar late into the night) with the head chef, I had more influence than is proper for a passenger on the menu - he'd plan the menu for just a few days at a time and I'd often be chatting to him as he did and influence it - oh that lamb you did last Thursday was soooo gorgeous - any chance of something similar again? He'd grin, tell me that it might mean a bit of a limited choice for the last cruise of the season (we were the first) but what the heck. Starters were nearly always soup which was good and hearty and warming after three hours on shore. We also had the most incredible dessert chef on board so puddings were to die for! Meals were included but drinks were not. But I was surprised at how reasonably priced the wine and drinks lists were. Our bill after three weeks was very reasonable.

    Oh and no one dressed for dinner ever, that I saw. Which is a good thing. I'm not into dressing up on holiday so it suited me very well!

    There was also a bar which was split into two rooms, one with a TV and several Antarctica related videos. There was a beautiful library too with a great selection of non-fiction books on wildlife and history and all sorts plus a small fiction selection too, I think.

    And various little nooks and crannies here and there. Oh and we also spent time out on the decks as the weather was so wonderful for us. We did have one force 10 storm which was rough. A lot of sea-sick passengers (of which, I wasn't one). But our captain was fabulous and had anticipated the weather even in advance of the weather forecasts and was able to shelter us from the very worst of it by some island or the other. Our sister ship was unable to get to shelter and was hit by the worst - no safety issues but she did lose her gangway entirely! I never thought to ask what happened next as now I think about it, I'm wondering how they offloaded the passengers onto zodiacs after that!

    With one short exception (a few short hours of snowy blizzard) our weather was fantastic for the entire rest of the trip with blue skies, sunshine strong enough for us to be out on deck in just our T-shirts and perfect for photography too! We were so lucky!

    We too were welcome on the bridge and there was also a flat roof at the very top of the ship. These two places were fabulous for bird-watching as the birds loved to glide along with us.

    Like you everyone (except our parents who had done a similar trip a few years before us) kept asking why we were going. We tried to tell them about the wildlife - "polar bears?", they'd say excitedly before slumping again when I explained that it would be penguins, seals, birds.... We tried to tell them about the scenery and the history too. Few got it!

    Our trip was also for our wedding anniversary - our tenth - though we travelled in November/ December rather than in September, the month of the anniversary. Like you we truly thought it would be the trip of a lifetime. Surely, once seen, we'd be satiated in our wish to travel to this region of the world. Who would want to go again?

    Answer: we do!

    Here's hoping we can do just that sometime in the next few years!

    Our itinerary sounds similar to yours - we started in Ushuaia, went to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula before returning to Ushuaia. I have, since our trip, urged anyone considering a trip to this area to push their finances and holiday allowance and do the same. Some of the highlights of our trip were in the Falklands and South Georgia and we would not have missed them for the world.

    One of the highlights for us was indeed the excellent expedition crew. We had a birding expert, a seal expert (who'd spent a year at one of the Antarctic stations doing original behavioural research), a historian with a special fondness for Scott though with knowledge of all the explorers and history, a whale and ice expert, plus additional crew and we also had Jonathan and Angie Scott onboard, professional wildlife photographers. Oh yes and we even had a sea-shanty historian/ musician who gave lessons on the history and on writing them and even did a lighthearted competition with teams writing their own and performing them in turn one mealtime! So we all learned so much and had such fun with our crew! Basically on sea days there would be lots and lots of lectures arranged. On excursion days we learned from them during the excursions, on the zodiac crossings and there were sometimes lectures too.

    In terms of clothing we packed for layering too but Peregrine don't provide jackets, like Quark do, so we took along our own. They do have a boot-lending system but my husband (who is 2 metres tall) has large feet and we were worried they wouldn't have any big enough. They couldn't confirm they would either. And I have fatter calves than most women of my shoe size too. So we went out looking before leaving home. We were going to buy cheap wellington (rubber) boots and leave them onboard but couldn't find any to fit so in the end we paid more for some fantastic Canadian snow boots. Sorel I think. They came with a thick woollen inner sock and were so incredibly comfortable to walk in. A lot of wellie wearers said wellies were not great for comfort after three hours but we were great. So we did bring them home with us in the end but didn't have any space problems so it was fine. They had a strong hose on deck which we could use to wash them down and even with all the seal and penguin poo we were easily able to get them good and clean to bring home. I agree 100% about waterproof outerpants and the rest of the gear.

    My biggest problem was gloves as I couldn't find any with the removable fingers and couldn't operate my camera with the big waterproof ones so most of the time didn't wear gloves. Only time I did was for the fast speed zodiac crossings. Otherwise I didn't bother and was fine.

    We had invested in a waterproof camera backpack before the trip and were so pleased we did as it did protect our gear exceptionally well. It's bulky but we were encouraged to leave it near the landing site if we wanted to which we quite often did, popping back to it just to change a lens or the like. I also bought an inexpensive completely waterproof bag to put other items in from an outdoor store which I ended up lending to others as a lot of people thought supermarket plastic bags would be enough!

    Thank you so much for writing such a comprehensive report - really bought my own trip back to life and will be a fantastic resource for others wanting to take a similar trip!

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    PS I meant to add that Salisbury Plain was a highlight for us too as was Prion Island. The pre-designated paths were quite muddy and I had a hard time - almost lost a boot a couple of times, as did others. Each group of 10 had a short time with the magificent birds before running the gauntlet of the aggressive male fur seals guarding the beach. It is sad that future visitors will miss out on this island but I can well understand the reason to minimise disturbance to a species in such danger of extinction.

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    Kavey, great to read your summary. Your original short posting and your photos were one of the instigators for pushing up our visit to the Antarctic, and for including the Falklands, and especially South Georgia, in our itinerary. So I owe you a debt of gratitude.

    After we came back, I saw some photos from a trip on the Akademik Ioffe (Christmas in the Weddell Sea). I think that or a similar sailing on the Akademik is what we would like to do next.

    I'd go back again in the 2007-2008 season if not for the fact that these small-ship trips are so bloody expensive. But now, having been to the Antarctic this way, I can't imagine going any other way. So, I guess we'll just have to start saving again. Maybe we'll make it back for our 30th anniversary.

    Thanks again for posting on this thread.

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    Thank you so much for a delightful report!! I could not stop reading. I am intrigued with Antarctica and your report was exceptional!
    I have printed it [yes, all 50 pages!] knowing I will read it more than once.
    I will be watching for your photos. That will be the icing on the cake!
    Thank you once again!

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    I did check with a couple of online sites that specialize in expedition style trips first. I didn't get a price break from them, so I booked with Quark directly. My sense is that Quark has no problems filling the ships, hence no need to discount prices to agencies.

    That said, cruises earlier and later in the season are less expensive, but we did not consider them.

    There were quite a few people on the ship who had booked with Natural Habitat, which apparently has a "frequent booker" type program that kicks in after the first booking. You might check with them even though this would be your first booking with them (I am guessing).

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    Thanks!
    What is the best timeframe to go? I'm thinking the end of Dec. first part of Jan.
    We're are trying to decide what type of trip we want to take.I've been reseaching and have sent for several brochures..Lindblad, Quark, Discovery World Cruises, A&K, NCV...so much to think about and consider.

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    Katybird; you are right in thinking Dec-Jan are the best times; at least from what I have read. That said; you know Mother Nature sometimes likes to play tricks. We picked January as prime time for wildlife with chicks and pups.

    After all of our research, we were down to Lindblad and Quark. Ended up doing Quark because of smaller ship and the fact that Lindblad's Falklands-South Georgia-Peninsula itinerary was in March. Definitely did not want to go that late in the season. Another one to check out might be Zegrahm's (sp?).

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    eenusa - This is a phenomenal report. Thank you so much. I am still going through it but it is so in depth and provides such helpful tips. We are considering an Antarctica cruise in 2 years (I know it's quite far out to be planning but we are thinking about doing a round-the-world trip and are starting to think ahead), and this is great!

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    eenusa: thank you for all the time and effort - and talent! - that you've put into this fascinating report! After experiencing 12-15 foot seas last month, which were none too pleasant, I'm in awe of making it through 30-foot waves! My tummy pitched just reading your account of the ship hanging in mid-air...! On our transAtlantic voyage last month, we spoke with some folks who talked of a dodgey sail through the Drake Passage. Good I got to read of it, 'cause I doubt I'll ever experience it. Thank you!

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    bookmarking - This is one of the most refreshing and unique trip reports I've read on this forum. I'd never considered a cruise to Antarctica before, but this makes me want to research it some more. Thanks, eenusa!

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    Hi, eenusa!

    Great report!

    I read every word and really enjoyed a full session of "armchair cruising"!

    Despite the beauty and the wild life, I'm glad you made the trip and not I, so it's with double thanks for your generosity in sharing your great adventure and allowing those of us who will probably never go to the Antarctica to enjoy a brief "visit" there!

    Many Many Thanks! :)

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    By now, you’ve probably given up hope that I would ever post my photos from the Antarctica voyage. Fear not! It took me a while, but I am finally done.

    http://eenusa.smugmug.com/

    The albums are available under the “2007 Travels” category.

    Oh no! Did she say “albums?”

    Well, yes. I did. I organized the pictures that I decided to keep as daily photo journals. So, if you want to relive the trip, you’ll want to browse albums 01-15. There are a lot of pictures in these albums, including the good and the not-so-good ones since I was trying to tell the story of the trip.

    If you just want to get a sense of the voyage, you’ll want to browse Favorites – Quest for Antarctica. This album has a small selection of “my” favorite photos from throughout the trip.

    The "Endurance & Shackleton" album consists of a PowerPoint presentation converted to jpegs to provide a synopsis of the saga.

    How to View the Photos if you are not familiar with SmugMug: once you open the album, you can click a thumbnail to see a larger picture. If you put the cursor on the larger picture, you can change the size of the picture and view the pictures in the “lightbox” mode.

    I don’t recommend using the “slideshow” button at the top of the page since it automatically loads the pictures sized to your monitor (probably OK if you have a really fast internet connection, but keep in mind that the photos have been resized for the web).

    If you do want to look at the photos as a slideshow, you can change the default view from the “style” pulldown list at the top of the screen (default will read SmugMug – and you change back to this or another view when you’re finished with the slideshow). You can experiment with the other styles as well to find the one that really suits your personal viewing style.

    Feel free to leave comments on the website if you’d like – you do not need to be a member to do so.

    Happy travels!

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    eenusa, great report! I have been on the Professor Molchanov in the Arctic and we were on the sister ship for our trip to Antarctica (the Professor Multanovsky). I totally agree with you about taking a small ship on this voyage. We saw the large ships while there. We got to spend so much time at each site -- it was wonderful. I went with Joseph van Os Photo Safaris (photosafaris.com) and they are a great group to travel with if you are at all serious about photography. We have been on many of their trips and they always do their best to provide good sightings and lots of time. Highly recommended!

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    Patricia - how much time did the photographer spend with the group and with individuals. What did he do to help individuals with their photo taking? I've read a couple of reviews of other "specialist photo tours" where it sounded like the leader did very little in the field, going off on his own to take pictures. Those reviews have made me leery about going with such groups.

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    Wow..I have not read all your report (shame on me!!) but your packing list..wow! I have been referring to it for several days as I purchase (on the 'sale' sites) for our Jan. trip.

    I see no mention of hiking poles, and our literature mentions that we whould have these. I am trying to keep the cost down (ha ha) so all our purchases are discounted enormously but your comments have been so helpful.
    Please let me know about the poles!

    We are on a 10 day trip and I see you have said that one pair of waterproof pants would be okay. I purchased some insulated waterproof ski pants which have arrived and seem great. However, since I do not ski or snowboard, I would like to stick with one pair.
    Any comments?

    Got liners and gloves, toe warmers and today Walgreens had hand warmers on sale for 50 cents a pack of two so got some. Smartwool yet to come. I googled for coupons and got discounts for backcountry outlet and sierra trading post!!

    Thanks so much for a fabulous report..and I will read it aaaall!!!!!!

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    Am not eenusa but did similar trip in 2004. One pair waterproof ski-pants should be fine... it's not like you'll wear them inside really.

    We didn't have poles and nor did anyone on our ship that we witnessed. Even for the one or two (optional) steeper climbs up either snow-covered slopes or tussock-grass covered sand/mud no-one used poles.

    I am so jealous. If I won the lottery tomorrow the first trip I'd book is a repeat of our Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula trip!

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    Whoa Kavey....Antactica rather than a safari?!!??
    Thanks for the pole info..I would rather not bother if it is not necessary. I am jealous of you as we are just doing the Antarctic Peninsula part as there seemed to be a lot of sea days on the longer one. We will go to Carnival in Rio afterwards as the dates just happen to coincide (unplanned). We are wondering about whether to also go to Iguazu Falls (we just went to Vic Falls this summer) or to Salta??

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    PhilBill - sorry I wasn't around to respond sooner (was on a trip to Turkey). Kavey's response re: poles and waterproof pants is on track with what I would have said. Like her, Antarctica would be the first place I would go back to should I get a windfall. It is a fantastic place to visit and enjoy.

    Feel free to post back with any further questions. Now that I'm back home, I'll be back to reading the Fodor's board daily.

    Re: Iguazu Falls - from the pictures I saw of Iguazu and our experience of Victoria Falls, I'd say they are two very different experiences; I doubt you would be disappointed if you chose to go to the falls. We had to remove Iguazu from our itinerary due to time limitations, but hope to go back for a longer trip through Argentina at some point in the near future to see more of the country than we were able to this time around.

    Have a fantastic voyage and do post your impressions and your experience.

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    Just back from England today carting a pair of wellies with me!!!!
    We got some of our clothes we had ordered while I was gone, so will be looking at those later!
    Can't help but think we will have a heatwave seeing that we are getting all of these warm clothes lined up!!!

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    Know what you mean! I kept telling my husband the same thing; as it turned out, we used all the layers. Do remember to take some lightweight tops/shirts to wear around the ship. If your vessel is anything like ours, it will be very warm in the lounges and dining rooms.

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    Great trip report eenusa, with lots of useful information. We've just booked with Quark (which has taken over for Peregrine) on the Ioffe in February 2009 (this is the "Crossing the Circle" cruise, which has about 13 nights at sea). (It's amazing that these things book up so far in advance.) Anyway, it looks like you spent a couple of days in Ushuaia before your embarkation. We have one night included in Ushuaia as part of our Quark reservation/cruise. Did you feel that Ushuaia merited more than a day? I'm trying to figure out whether we should use that time to see other parts of Argentina. Thanks very much.

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    What interesting news to learn of the merging of Peregrine and Quark - are they still to operate as indepenent brands? I did a quick google and it seems both have been purchased by TUI (I used to work for Thomson Holidays before and after they were bought by TUI several years ago).

    I know you directed that question at eenusa but I'll throw in my response as well:

    We too had an overnight in Ushuaia and a local tour was included. We had a brief ride around the town itself (unexciting) and then visited the very pretty Tierra del Fuego National Park and had a little ride on the Tren del Fin del Mundo (End of the World Train) which is now a tourist attraction.

    If you're into hiking you could certainly spend an extra day in the park as it's certainly very beautiful but for us the short excursion there was plenty.

    It's also worth noting that Ushuaia has a LOT of shops selling outdoor clothing often at much lower prices than we'd found at home in the UK. If you were feeling brave you could leave some purchases until your stop in Ushuaia though I'd be worried about not finding what I needed and being stuck without. Certainly for generic items such as fleeces, hats and scarves, this might be a good plan IF you have enough time to do a bit of a shop.

    Oh and Ushuaia is known for large crabs and other seafood so try and find somewhere to sample it if you can.

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    Thanks very much for the advice Kavey. So, it sounds like you’re saying that one night is sufficient. That’s helpful to know, although I’m curious if others feel differently. (To be clear, I’m quite happy to limit my time in USH; I just don’t want to miss anything.) And thanks also for the advice about picking up gear on the cheap there. I tend to think we’re not spontaneous enough to leave that for the last minute, but it’s good to know, in case we forget anything.

    In terms of the Quark/Peregrine merger, it appears that Peregrine is still running the expedition for 2008, but Quark takes over in 2009. Right now, BOTH are taking bookings for the 2009 expeditions, even though Quark will be running it. What this means is that you’re better off booking it with Quark, because they can access what cabins are available on their computers while you’re on the phone with them, but Peregrine seems unable to do that (I think they have to call Quark and then call you back). In addition, the amount of the deposit was slightly different with Peregrine ($1,200 or $1,250) vs. Quark ($1,000). In any event, it looks like a great trip.

    Actually, I had one other question--we signed up for the kayaking option, but honestly I haven't kayaked in 15-20 years (and that was in a lake). Any idea if this is a worthwhile extra (it's kind of pricey), and how arduous it is? Thanks.

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    We didn't do the kayaking, though I'd kind of been interested in it originally, because the limited spaces were already gone. That said, I had never done it before and am absolutely not fit so knew it wasn't for me anyway.

    On our trip, I think there were about 10 to 15 people in the kayaking group plus the 2 crew leaders.

    Most kayakers enjoyed their experiences HUGELY, that was absolutely obvious. They seemed to get a huge thrill from each trip.

    One lady dropped out as she found it was too arduous for her. I don't think she had much kayaking experience or particularly good fitness levels.

    BUT one thing I would add. Of course, the kayakers did miss some of the shore excursions in order to do the kayaking. As a photographer, I would not have missed any of these so I was glad I hadn't signed up for the kayaking.

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    Thanks for the reply Kavey. It does seem like they only have a few spots, but I guess that's the benefit of booking a trip 15 months in advance (!). (We are right now holding two spots, although can cancel them if we let them know in the next month or so.) Someone else I spoke with about kayaking said that many of the runs were during times were there wasn't much to see on shore. Did you have a different experience? (Or maybe you felt there's always something interesting to see on shore.) Thanks a lot.

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    Interesting news about Quark and Peregrine. I'd been wondering what was going on when someone posted on CruiseCritic that they were looking at the Ioffe with Quark.

    I'll put in my two cents worth re: Ushuaia. The main reason we added the extra days was so that we'd have leeway in case there were any problems with getting to Ushuaia on time - weather, etc. That said, while we were planning for those days, we found a lot of things that were of interest to us. Unfortunately, we had to pass on most of the activities we had researched, because we were trying to work out the missing bag situation. Personally, we could have spent even more days there, hiking in Tierra del Fuego and exploring it in more depth, (the tour with Quark was very basic), visiting Estancia Harberton, doing the train ride, etc. We were certainly not bored during our stay, but I think a lot would depend on your interests.

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    Actually, it was attending a photographic slide show and talk on Antarctica by Jonathan and Angie Scott at the RGS on Tuesday night that did it - the trip leaflet was given out there but what they didn't mention was that it was pretty much full. When we asked after the talk they had only a few single spaces sharing!

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    kavey: What will be your itinerary and are you definitely going with only the single spaces available? Or were your hopes dashed when you went to confirm and found out about availability????????

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    Sorry, I didn't clarify. When we spoke to the rep just after the presentation that evening she said that as it stood they had only single spaces (in shared rooms) available BUT would see if she could juggle any of those pairings to free a cabin.

    She called the next day and had moved one of the single travellers into a different cabin type (I think upgraded to a level above what they had booked but I didn't ask the details) in order to free one cabin for us!

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    One more question......!!!!!!
    You talk about the dry bag which I went on line to order, but it has no 'backpack straps'.
    Did you put it inside a backpack or could you leave it somewhere close after landing? I would think it would be awkward to carry.
    Thanks!

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    Our bags had straps to put them on our bags. I wonder if they don't make them anymore. I'll check when I get home to see if I can find more specific information for you. (P.S. We carried everything we took ashore with us; nowhere to leave things.)

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    I'm guessing the bags we got have been discontinued; can't find them on the site anymore Check out this site instead.

    http://store.seattlesportsco.com/productcart/pc/viewCat.asp

    Our bags look more like the blue bag in the "Special Products" category, but when you click there, you only get the saddlebags. However, the drybag backpack at the following link looks like it might do the trick.

    http://store.seattlesportsco.com/productcart/pc/viewCat_P.asp?idCategory=8

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    Thanks for going the extra mile!!! The green bag is 35 inches in height so that seems a little large.
    I did find some Sealline bags with backpack straps on another web site about $59 to $79 depending on size. That beats the $450+ ones I also saw!! My concern of course is when would I use it again and storage of all these items. Of course as it seems to be really necessary then I will have to go ahead! We are not photographers so will just have our small digital cameras and no lenses etc..
    I figure we will dump the wellingtons (our boat does not provide them) but I imagine we will want to keep the parkas they provide for us. Have you ever worn your parka or is it just hanging in your closet?????
    Your packing list and the advice of Kavey and others has been so helpful.
    Going to Rio the day after we return to BA will be a huge temperature contrast. We are hoping to leave a bag of cold weather clothing in BA for the five days we will be in Rio for Carnival.

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    The only reason we bought the dry bags was because of the digital equipment (and we had lots of it). I think many of the outdoors stores sell backpack covers that might serve your purpose, especially if you don't anticipate getting in and out of your bag too frequently while you're on land.

    Here's a link to some I saw at REI http://www.rei.com/search?vcat=REI_SEARCH&query=backpack+covers

    We actually have used our parkas after returning home - several times. One such occasion was when we went to a wildlife refuge for a weekend visit. The weather forecast was for constant rain. We wore our rain pants (which we had bought for Antarctica as well), topped it with a light fleece, and wore the parka. We stayed completely dry and were able to walk a three-mile loop when others had to give up and return to their vehicles. We will likely use them again this year; especially when we go to Churchill to see the Polar Bears in November.

    EZE has luggage storage (we did not use). Have you looked into that for when you go to Rio? Here's a link to the airport website where there is an email address: http://www.aa2000.com.ar/index.php

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    Incase I didn't post this elsewhere (I forget) we took a Lowepro Dryzone (the smaller of the two sizes available though that's still pretty big).

    It's waterproof PLUS it will float, even when fully loaded, incase it falls overboard when speeding to shore in the zodiacs!

    The inner seal is hard to close and open but when you reach shore you leave it open and only open and close the regular outter zip.

    We felt better having it as it gave us the normal lowepro protection for our gear that we're used to PLUS waterproof protection. There WAS splashing into the zodiac on many of the short fast journeys.

    We did also buy an inexpensive large waterproof bag into which you could put other bags (incase we wanted to take more stuff ashore) but didn't need it so lent it to others. Not having handles was not a big problem as it was only needed for the trips between ship and shore and after that you could fold it up and store it inside the backpack it had protected.

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    We are back from a fabulous cruise to Antarctica and I hope to do a short trip report but no time right now! The clothing list was great. We had rain, wind, sleet, snow and sun and were fit for all weather. I will say that we hiked a lot and the poles were a necessity. We borrowed some from the ship. Without them we would have had a much harder time climbing the steep slopes of snow and rocks.
    Also, the prople who brought overshoes as opposed to rubber wellington boots had a much easier time getting in and out of their footwear. We wellie wearers were pulling and tugging and having to change shoes outside, whereas the overshoe wearers whipped them on and off and had 'inside shoes' already on their feet!!
    The Corinthian 2 was a luxury vessel and I would highly recommend it. For you cruisers, it is one of the old Renaissance ships!!!!
    Thanks for all of the advice once again. It was an incredible trip and highly recommended!

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    eenusa...thank you for your report. I love to travel but Antarctica has never been on my list. Now that I have read your report, I certainly do not need to go. I have experienced it thru you. I wonder if anyone on your boat did not understand what they were getting into. Your trip was for the experienced, healthy, fit traveler. We took a 5p passenger boat in the Golapogas. A few of the passengers could not even do the zodiac trips and the seas were quite calm.

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    Elainee - thanks for the kind words, but trust me, my words come nowhere near doing justice to Antarctica.

    I don't think there were any pax on our ship who didn't know what they were getting into. Everyone seemed quite fit and no one had mobility issues. To my knowledge, no one skipped landings due to physical restrictions (not even after taking a tumble and cracking a rib as happened to one gentleman during a particularly rough bit of sailing one night). Everyone seemed quite well prepared for the adventure and the expeditionary nature of the voyage - from appropriate clothing to background knowledge (history, wildlife, etc.)

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    eenusa, Wow. What an amazing chronicle. Thanks so much for sharing all the details. Antarctica has never been on my (quite extensive) wish list, but I may have to rethink that. I recently finished a management class that incorporated Shackleton's book, and that sparked my interest in Antarctica. Your trip report may be the clincher! And your pictures are fabulous. Thanks again.

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    Thanks althom1122 - Antarctica is a wonderful place to visit. That said, I'd encourage anyone who goes to try and include South Georgia and the Falklands in their itinerary. It makes for a longer, more expensive itinerary, but in the end, it is worth every penny IMHO. As well, I can understand why some people opt for "cruise-by" voyages on the big ships, but for an all-encompassing experience, a voyage that includes landings is essential.

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    Seconded, South Georgia and Falklands are an absolute must as are lots of landings, preferable with as much time on shore as possible.

    Can I just take this opportunity to jump up and down like a lunatic and share my excitement about our return trip to the Antarctic this November? The itinerary gives us 4 days in South Georgia and I can hardly contain myself, even though I have some other (fantastic) trips lined up before then which I don't want to wish away!

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    Be my guest, Kavey! Jump up and down all you want! In your place, I'd probably be on a trampoline just to jump that much higher. No Antarctica for us in the near future; going to Churchill in November to see the bears instead!

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    eenusa///do you have a great resource for the Churchill trip?
    It may be in our future...as are S Georgia and the Falklands seeing that we missed them on our 10 day Antarctica adventure!
    By the way, a couple of the passengers did have some physical limitations but (although I never saw the zodiac em and disembarkations) they seemed to make every landing.

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    Philbill - we booked directly with Frontiers North Adventures as they are the only ones with access to Cape Churchill in Wapusk National Park. As it turns out, that particular adventure (only done at the very end of the season as it is the last place the bears congregate) was sold out a long time ago. After much debate, we decided not to wait to see if we're going to clear the waitlist. So, we're doing the Tundra Buggy Lodge at Polar Bear Point adventure instead - about 20 miles west of the Cape. (With the money we saved, we've booked a heli ride to see the area and the bears from the air - guaranteed sightings, or money back.)

    Another operator is Great White Bear Tours - no access to Cape Churchill, however. I believe you can book them direct or through companies like Natural Habitat.

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    This is a wonderful thread to learn about everyone's experiences in Antarctica.
    A friend and I are very close to booking a trip with Quark in December and would love to hear about their experiences with Quark -specifically the Ocean Nova ship. Also, we are interested in kayaking but would not want to do so if kayaking would cause us to miss too many land excurisions?

    The other company we are considering is Lindblad. Any recommendations between the two?

    Due to schedules we plan to go in December and be home by Christmas...any thoughts about going at this time of year?

    Thank you in advance for your kind responses to this email!

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    If you read my review, then you know we went with Quark and had a terrific time. We also considered Lindblad, but they weren't doing the itinerary we wanted until March, and we did not want to go in March.

    Weather in Antarctica is variable to say the least, so it's hard to say how it might be from one year to another. I have read reports of great weather in November-December, and I have read reports of really bad weather (lots of overcast, snow) and rough seas. So it's luck of the draw. We opted to go in January to increase our chances of better weather, although, again, there would have been no guarantees. We lucked out with really great weather except for two days where our landings were impacted.

    Kayaking was not offered on our expedition, so I cannot speak to that. But this link will take you to an experience on Lindblad
    http://www.cruisecritic.com/virtual/virtual.cfm?ID=29.

    Also, if you search the Antarctica and South America Boards at CruiseCritic.com you'll find some more information. I believe there is at least one thread about Ocean Nova.

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    Thank you for writing this wonderful trip report. My husband and I are taking an Antarctic cruise in December, and I found your report to be so informative (and fun to read as well!)

    We went to Africa two years ago and, like you, thought that was our "trip of a lifetime". We loved Africa and hope to go back someday. We are so excited to read that you consider Antarctica to be another "trip of a lifetime"!

    How difficult is getting on and off the Zodiacs? That is the only part of the trip that is making me a bit nervous!

    Again, thanks for the terrific trip report.

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    Glad you enjoyed my review. I still dream of returning to Antarctica one day ... it was such a spectacular voyage and experience. You are going to have a spectacular time.

    Which ship are you sailing on?

    I didn't think it was that difficult to get in and out of the zodiacs. When getting on and off at the gangway, there were seamen to help as well as the zodiac driver. The key was to have hands free of any encumbrances in order to use the seaman's grip (they will demonstrate on the ship) and to time your step to the movement of the zodiac. Don't try to hurry the process.

    On shore, it was a bit more of a challenge sometimes if the zodiac was not completely beached. (I have short legs, so swinging my leg up and over the pontoon to get back into the boat was the issue for me at times.) Still, I managed with little difficulty and again there were expedition staff to help.

    Have a wonderful voyage and do post a review of your experience. Those of us who aren't going will be living vicariously through the experiences of those who are going this year.

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    Thank you for the reassurance about the Zodiacs! If I can't keep up once ashore, I'm pretty good at amusing myself, but I don't want to miss the excursion.

    How did you manage with the camera equipment - especially the tripod/monopod? I've decided to bring both my DSLR and a good compact camera, but am afraid that bringing my tripod will turn me into an annoyingly unwelcome passenger on the Zodiac.

    We're celebrating two events with this cruise - a landmark birthday for me and our 40 anniversary. My husband and I are both so excited. I'm already having trouble sleeping at night in anticipation!!

    We're sailing with Silversea on the Prince Albert II.

    Cheers!

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    I have mild arthritis in my hips which can be pain but I managed OK.

    Basically, as Eenusa says, you walk down the gangway steps, make sure any bags can be carried on your back so arms are both free.

    When you get to the bottom you're going to be stepping onto the raised side of the zodiac not INTO it. You'll reach one arm out and the crew member will grip it, you'll grip his and safely gripped you will step onto the zodiac. Where this is slightly tricky is if there is a lot of motion in the sea and the zodiac bobs up and down differently to the ship. So you can take your time and get your mind in tune with that motion and then step over and then down into the boat.

    The crew member will direct you which side to sit and you sit straight down.

    On shore, as said, it can be difficult but as long as you're not too proud you basically can roll/ haul/ fling yourself unceremoniously in!

    There were just one or two landings to rocks rather than beach which I found hard but not impossible.

    We had an 83 years old on board and he was fine!

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    I brought my monopod and hubby had his tripod. Getting in and out of the zodiacs, it's easiest to just hand it to someone who is alredy in the zodiac and then lay it on the floor behind your legs until you reach land/ship. Don't worry - you will not be the only one with a tripod/monopod.

    I found out quickly that unless the ship was in calm waters the tripod/monopod was useless - not enough flexibility to keep the camera focused on the subject when the ship was bobbing up and down or swaying from one side to the other. On land, always used the monopod ... it even served as a trekking pole on occasion.

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    Nevermind -- I meant to include my congrats on the special occasions you are celebrating. The trip was a belated 25th anniversary gift to ourselves and hubby did celebrate a milestone birthday just before we left the peninsula. It's a birthday that he will always recall.

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    Kavey and eenusa -- thank you for the reassurances. Two years ago Fodorites helped me have the confidence to go to Africa after I tore my ACL and had surgery 2 months before our scheduled trip. I had posted about my disappointment and so many people told me not to give up. The result was that I left for Africa the day after I finished up with physical therapy and had such a marvelous trip.

    My knee is still pretty pesky, thus my concern about the zodiacs. I'm feeling much more assured after reading what you have to say!

    eenusa - thanks for the congratulations. Aren't we so lucky to be able to celebrate in such grand fashion!

    Now... back to my packing list...

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    I happened across this incredibly helpful thread while planning our upcoming Falklands/South Georgia/Antarctica trip (also with Quark, we will be on the Orlova leaving Ushuaia January 15).

    First I have to thank eenusa for such a thorough, informative and interesting trip report. This is one of the best trip reports I have ever seen anywhere for any destination and was incredibly helpful to me.

    eenusa and kavey -- can I ask a couple of photography questions? Here is what I am definitely planning to take (this is for me and my wife, we both will be shooting on this trip):

    Bodies: 1D Mark III, 40D
    Wide angles: 10-22, 24-105
    Telephotos: 100-400, 300/2.8 + extenders
    Flash: 580ExII and Better Beamer
    CF monopod, Manfrotto 3232 head, RRS clamp (for the 300/2.8)
    Storage: Two Hyperdrives, one 500GB, one 250GB, plus spare 100GB
    Point & shoot: Canon A720IS with underwater housing

    My primary question relates to lens focal lengths. Should we also take our 70-200/2.8? I am thinking of leaving it at home because we have that focal length range covered with other lenses, but I wonder if I will regret it. When photographing wildlife in these places, does it make sense for one of us to use the 100-400 and the other the 300 with or without an extender, or will we both want the flexibility of a zoom?

    Second question (also lens related) is whether you think a 500/4 is needed, desirable, or even workable on a trip like this. I would have to buy or rent one (although I am planning to buy one next year anyway), but my main concern is traveling with it and then carrying it around. Thoughts on that?

    Any other photography tips based on the situations and conditions you encountered would really be appreciated. And if anyone has online galleries of their pics from the Falklands, SGI or Antarctica, I would love to see them!

    Chris
    www.pbase.com/cwillis

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    Wow, that's a lot of kit to be carrying!
    It's really hard to know whether or not you'll regret not taking the 70-200 when you already have that range covered. I'm assuming you're wanting it for the extra sharpness or were you thinking more for the wider aperture?
    One comment would be that, one thing is for sure, you'll get lots of light for long, long hours if that helps at all.
    Also, keep in mind you need to have everything in a good, strong backpack that allows you to easily manoevre down the gangplank and onto/ into the zodiacs. Either a waterproof one or buy a waterproof sac to place it into for the zodiac journey as splashes do make it into the boat and onto bags.
    If you have space, better to take it and not need it than other way around!
    I'm probably going to take my body (a week 400D as I like small bodies better), a 100-300 lens, my 70-200 f.28 with 2x extender and then one or other wider zoom. Not sure which.
    Husband will take his 10-22, maybe the 50mm, or one of his wide zoom plus his 400mm prime. And we'll have an older body as backup.

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    Thanks for the response. The 70-200 is nice in low light and is a bit sharper than our 100-400, plus it does allow for a norrower depth of field if you open the aperture up. What I worry about is both me and my wife wanting to have zooms at the same time versus the one zoom, one prime arrangement I was considering.

    In terms of backpacks, for the flights we will split everything between a Lowepro DryZone 200 and a Lowepro Photo Trekker Classic, then when we do the zodiac rides and shore excursions from the cruise I figured I would put what we anticipated using in the Dryzone 200 and leave the rest on the ship. I wouldn't expect to carry everything on every shore visit.

    If the light is good most of the time, that takes away one of the major reasons to take the 70-200. So thanks for that piece of information.

    Chris

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    Chris ... few comments to add to what Kavey posted.

    I found myself using my 18-200 most of the time - in many cases because the wildlife was just too close for the 100-400. I definitely would not worry about a 500.

    I used my monopod all the time when we made landings - wouldn't go without it.

    I've made a note of your photo site - will be checking out your galleries ... I am especially interested in your Peru photos since we're heading there in April.

    If you have not seen my online galleries - they are at: http://eenusa.smugmug.com/Antarctica.

    Have a fantastic voyage and adventure. And do come back and tell us all about it. Looking forward to seeing your photos.

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    Thanks for the advice and thank you again for all the packing and clothing suggestions in your trip report. If there is anything I can help you with in terms of Peru, feel free to email me -- chrisgts(at)gmail(dot)com.

    Chris

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    Dryzone is a great bag, it's what we took on same trip. We had less equipment then so we could fit everything we needed in that one bag. I'm still trying to work out whether we'll need a second one for this trip or not.
    Good news is that we found we could leave the bag by all the lifejackets on the beach rather than carrying it around and come back and change lenses when we wanted, which worked well for those beaches where we weren't wandering far...

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    Kavey, that is good to know. I actually don't like the Dryzone for everyday use because it seems harder to get into and out of than our Photo Trekker, but of course it is waterproof and that is the key for a trip like this!

    EE -- I have only looked at a part of your pictures so far, but they are really spectacular. You should be really proud of them.

    Chris

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    Chris, thanks but actually I look at my photos and realise that I knew NOTHING about digital processing back then (having just made the switch from film) and really ought to redo them!

    Dryzone, agree, it's a pain to get into. We only bothered sealing the inner seal when travelling in the zodiac. When ashore, we'd just use the outer zipper only.

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    Chris - thanks for the email info. Working out arrangements re: Peru ... got all hotels, airfare, etc. completed. Will get in touch with questions as I proceed with the details of our daily plans.

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    Kavey, that is a great shot of the parent feeding the chick. I love shots like that and I hope I come back from our trip with something that good.

    EE -- look forward to talking with you. The Cusco/Urubamba River Valley/Machu Picchu area is one of the coolest places we have ever visited and we really enjoyed it a lot. We also had a really incredible local guide there too. So let me know if I can help you.

    Chris

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    I'm so glad I checked back and found more conversation on this thread! I, too, had wondered about photography equipment. eenusa, thanks to your encouragement I've decided that I will take my tripod. I'm taking my Nikon D80 with a 18-200 VR Nikkor lens and a polarizing filter. I don't think I'll take another lens unless someone can think of a compelling reason I should do so. My other camera is a little Panasonic Lumix LX3, which will accompany me as well. It has a great wide angle lens, but not much zoom. Any suggestions for any other "must have" equipment.

    Kavey -- love the penguin photo.

    We have almost all of our clothing and gear gathered up. I think I'll go back and read the trip report for anything I've forgot. We are getting excited!

    Thanks so much for all the useful info.

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    eenusa...What a FANTASTIC report. I got lost in your words! I just joined Fodor's, because I felt I needed to reply to your report! I am considering Antarctica for our next family trip, however I am a small-time worrier and wasn't sure I could handle the daunting task of preparing or figuring out what to pack, etc. You have helped me more than you'll know!!! I am still trying to figure out how to swing the cost for my family, but your information has convinced me that the smaller ships will be worth the added cost.

    I was wondering what was the youngest age person you saw on your expedition? My husband and I would not be doing this trip if we could not bring our daughter. She will be 11 years old for the trip. To provide some background information - she's not your typical youngster. (Truly now I sound like a biased parent!!) She hunts and hikes in upstate Pennsylvania with us, she travels extremely well including third world countries such as egypt and Peru - and she climbed Huayna Picchu in Peru 2 weeks ago. (The only child in our group of 400 people and one of only about 2 dozen to actually make it to the top!) Ok...done bragging...Scop patch is a must for all three of us - we've used it before with much success, but anything else I should know about that would stop me from taking my child? I have some research to do on crossing the Drake Passage, but if I had read safety statistics before climbing Huayna Picchu before we went, we would have skipped it and missed out on an amazing aerial view of Macchu Picchu. I'm sure I'll have more questions if this looks like a REAL TRIP for us, but this is the most important which will decide whether I research the trip further or table it for 10 years...Is it safe to take my daughter? Thanks!!

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    Goodness, I can't wait, in just two weeks we're back out there, I am practically bouncing with excitement!

    I don't recall ANY children at all, not even older teens, on the trip we did.

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    Ervin 0719 - thank you for the kind words. There were no children on our voyage. I think the youngest pax were in their mid-late 30s.

    I've read of some families traveling to Antarctica with their kids, mostly on the larger ships. Your daughter sounds like she'd be able to handle the rigors of such a voyage and I think it would be safe to take her. Keep in mind that there will likely be no other passengers her age to keep her company, nor will there be any entertainment in the usual sense of the word, nor internet and the like. That said, if she's into wildlife, she would certainly find a lot to keep her occupied on sea days, and of course tons of wildlife on the islands and peninsula. If she is the kind of kid that can entertain herself and has a love of nature and animals, I think this would be an incredible learning experience for her.

    Be happy to answer any other questions you might have about the voyage when/if it becomes a reality for you.

    Kavey -- have a wonderful voyage back to the southern latitudes and know that we're expecting a visual treat of photos when you return. We're off to Canada tomorrow; will be in Churchill for a week starting Thursday to see the Polar Bears. All things being equal, would rather be going to Antarctica, but since a return trip to the southern continent is not in our immedate future, I'm thrilled to be going north instead.

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    For Chris,

    In response to your request for pictures of your next destination, it came to mind that I had seen an album at MyPublisher.com. Under Forums/Travel Journals, on the first page--second entry, an album has just been posted of South Georgia.

    Farther down on page 4 there's an album of Antarctica, but actually you go to MyBookshelf on the Home Page and then use M638354 for the User and 1130897 for the password.

    Sometimes these give a good perspective.

    Your Atlanta Neighbor

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    Thank you very much, neighbor! Those are both really nice sets of pictures and they make both South Georgia and Antarctica look beautiful. Are you responsible for either of those sets?
    Anyway, thanks again, those are excellent photo collections.

    Chris

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    Thanks for the send off, can't wait, just one more week left. Mostly we've now purchased any extras we need (a new lens and matching filters, some rubber washing up gloves) and now just need to get everything together and pack!

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    Glad I was somewhat helpful, Chris. No, neither book is mine. I do personal Fotofusion collage chronology albums of our travels. I stumbled on MyPublisher when the idea intrigued me for a special occasion.

    Enjoy your trip to Antarctica. We're off to a much warmer climate in India.

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    For those who have gone this year, what has the ice been like? We leave for Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica in less than two weeks, and I just read a Travel & Leisure article where the ice was too thick to reach the continent (not to mention the boat that ran aground today), and am a little concerned.

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    eu...just back to the Fodor's site after a long absence due to a kitchen addition.
    did you post on Canada..can i have the link??
    Kavey..you went yet again to Antarctica..is this the third time or am I confused and it is the second???

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    Second time only, got back December 19th!

    As for ice, we were amazed to find a LOT of large ice up by South Georgia, as were our expedition crew, the experts. Just as well, really, since it gave people the chance to experience and photograph the huge bergs. The Peninsula part of our itinerary didn't happen as we had a very severe medical emergency and turned back north to get her to a Chilean base with airstrip for evacuation.

    Paulet Island, which was completely snow-covered when we were there same time in 2004, was almost devoid of snow except a few remaining patches. Again, our expedition crew confirmed how unusual that was for time of year.

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    Philbill - yes I did post Canada here on the Fodor's Canada board, but I started a blog recently as well and have a few of the couple hundred photos I took interspersed amongst the text, so I'll give you that link. When the rest of the photos are available for public viewing, I will put the link in a blog entry.

    http://2totravel.blogspot.com/2008/12/our-polar-bear-adventure-starts-in.html

    The link is to the beginning of our adventure, then there is a blog entry for our time on the tundra, and a separate one for the tundra buggy lodge.

    Enjoy.

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    Kavey..was everyone disappointed to miss the Peninsula? I feel for the sick person, but also for the rest of you.

    Eu..will read your Canada posting and blog in the next couple of days. So, how did it rank with the Galapagos, Africa and Antarctica?

    Although all are soooo different, personally I would advise a person who has not been to those places to go to the Galapagos first.

    Still not persuaded my husband to go to India, even though I found a 'luxury train' which seemed like it might work!

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    Have not been to the Galapagos yet ... on the list. We had a terrific time on our Churchill adventure, but unlike Africa and Antarctica, we have no plans to return. Being so close to the bears and seeing them in the wild was fantastic and I am so glad we did the Tundra Buggy experience rather than staying in town, but there's not enough variety in the scenery or the wildlife viewing to make me want to go back to the area ... except maybe during a different season to see beluga whales and such.

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    Hi Kavey - welcome back! We're back from our Antarctic trip too. We got back December 23. Lots of ice, but I understand conditions are better now. It was an amazing experience.

    I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get to the peninsula -- but really sorry, too, for the medical emergency. I hope she is o.k.

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    Unfortunately, we received a letter just after Christmas from the UK company we booked with, letting us know she'd passed away in the hospital in Chile.

    Yes, people were disappointed not to land at all on the peninsula, we at least had been before, but for some this really was their one and only chance. Everyone understood, of course, the evacuation, we all were behind that 100%, but disappointed by how many days we ended up losing and the loss of peninsula landing.

    We did get landings on paulet island and half moon island which were good.

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    Kavey - What a very sad ending for her and her family. Of course everyone would be disappointed to not have the cruise they had planned, especially the continental landing. For so many this is a trip of a lifetime. I guess that it is in circumstances like this that one needs to become philosophical and count their blessings.

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    I had really been hoping that she would be OK and that we'd hear some good news on our return home. So her passing was certainly a sad thing indeed.

    The only positive is that she was an older traveller and passed away doing something she really enjoyed.

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    Just a quick note to say that we just returned from our trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica with Quark Expeditions on the Orlova. I have 300GB of pictures to go through and eventually I will write a trip report, but for now I will just say that the trip was a wonderful experience and I really enjoyed it a lot. If anyone has any specific questions, I would be happy to answer them while I am working on the pictures and the trip report.

    I would like to thank the members of this Forum again for their extremely helpful advice in helping me plan and pack for this trip. Thank you!

    Chris

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    Kavey, thanks, and thank you for your pre-trip advice as well. As I reflect more on the trip and look through our pictures, I am increasingly feeling what a profound experience it was. Kind of like the first time we went to Africa.

    I am working hard on the pictures and hope I will have them done in about two weeks, then comes writing the trip report.

    Chris

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    Chris - welcome back ... again ... my previous welcome back seems to have disappeared into the ether. I have a friend on her way back from Antarctica ... she returns tomorrow. Between your photos/trip report and hers, I'm looking forward to taking a couple of virtual trips back to that wonderful part of the world.

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    Chris, of the trips we've done that linger and linger and linger in the memory and have us desperately longing to go back, African safaris and Antarctica are both at the top.

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    Chris and Kavey, I agree - Africa and Antarctica are places that have an undefinable essence. I can't find my trip report when I do a search - for some reason it isn't coming up, but if you are interested in my December trip you can find it here: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?screen_name=nevermind&fid=31

    Within the report is a link to some of the photos I took as well.

    It was a magical trip and I think about it every day!

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    een (hope you see this, as this thread is from a long time ago!), I bookmarked your wonderful report a year and a half ago when I first booked my own Antarctic trip, and have come back several times to read it. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

    Now that my trip is nearing, I'm ready to go shopping. I noticed you used kayak dry bags instead of waterproof photo backpacks, and I'd like to do the same. My question is - did you get the ones with backpack handles? I'm not sure of how it works when you go from the ship to the zodiac and then onto land - do you need to be "wearing" your pack and have your hands free? Or did you just get the dry bags that are big sacks and hand them off to someone? Thanks for your help.

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    Glad to hear that my report has proven useful.

    The ideal would be to have your hands free -- not just when you're getting into and out of the zodiacs, but also when you're walking down the gangway. We bought the kind with the backpack straps and wore them on our backs ... also made it easy when we were on land as it kept our hands free for the camera; often there is nowhere to leave things when you get off the zodiac on shore.

    Have a terrific time and I hope you come back to share your experience.

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    Eenusa's report rocks, doesn't it?

    When you walk down the gangway to get onto the zodiac (and back up it when returning to the ship) you'll want at least one hand free. I preferred both as I found the footing a little scary, though it was fine. So either something that you can carry as backpack OR something with a handle you can slip over your arm and still use your hand to hold the rail. That said, some sure-footed passengers were quite happy with just one hand for the rail and had both backpack plus items in their free hand.

    In the zodiac you will not be permitted to keep anything on your back but will need to store it on the floor of the boat, between your feet. So make sure, if it's a backpack, that it's not one that's really difficult to get on/ off.

    In terms of ease of use, being able to drop a NORMAL backpack or back inside a waterproof bag (with handle) works fine, as once you are on shore, you'll either carry your bag as normal or, what often happens, leave it lying on the ground and come back to it as and when you need it.

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    Hey Kavey ... interesting reading that you had to remove backpacks when on the zodiac ... that wasn't our experience as everyone kept their packs on their backs. I didn't see anyone with an overly large pack, though. We were also discouraged from leaving our bags unattended, so we always took ours with us. Good to know that different operators may have different rules ...

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    Oh that's interesting. We were absolutely NOT allowed to keep backpacks on during zodiacs - they said that if we hit a rough patch of water or submerged ice, the backpacks may make the difference in terms of our balance and make it more likely for someone to fall backwards over side!

    In terms of leaving the bags, it was quite common for people to leave them near the lifejackets/ boats. The crew were there anyway. We were encouraged to ensure they were heavy enough that they could NOT be blown away by strong gust.

    And it was not a problem for us to leave them on the ground elsewhere, if we were within reasonably close distance, so could grab them if problem.

    Of course, there was strong encouragement not to accidentally leave ANYTHING behind.

    I felt very guilty when, on one occasion, I took a tissue fro my pocket to blow my nose, and part of it slipped out of my hand and flew away. I couldn't retrieve it or even spot it in amongst all the feathers being carried all over by the wind - lots of moulting going on. The crew member nearby said not to worry though as would degrade very quickly indeed. But I felt awful still! Littering not good!

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    Thanks een and Kavey, I've been having a difficult time visualizing the zodiac procedure and this conversation helps. I'm hoping to find the 70L dry bag backpack and see if my regular photo backpack with compartments fits inside. And still debating whether to bring my tripod, and if so, how I'll carry it...

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    Nutella, don't worry. Occasionally, when I wanted to take something extra ashore, such as a tripod, but didn't feel secure enough walking up/ down gangway with just one hand for the rail, I'd ask for help and one of the crew members would do an extra run up/ down the gangway for me to carry the extra item.

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    I took a monopod and my husband took a tripod - since we had our camera equipment on our backs, we easily carried them down the gangway and once at the bottom, gave them to the crewman in the zodiac who placed them on the floor of the boat, thus freeing our hands for the sailor's grip used to help us into the zodiac. Sounds more complicated than it is ... after the first time, you get used to the process - there are two crew members helping and they know what they are doing so just follow their instructions.

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    Okay, I'm sold on the tripod! I don't want to be "that woman lugging all the camera gear and slowing everyone down," but I'm sure that however much I have, someone will have more :)

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    Nutella
    If you can fit it into your luggage and get it onto the ship, then take it. You can always leave it in the cabin if you realise after the first excursion that you don't want/ need it. Better to have it and not use it than not to have it and hanker after it!

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    This is such a great resource, thanks to all, especially< eeenusa>.I am just going to print out your gear advice and stick it on the fridge!
    I am going on the Ocean Nova with Quark, Jan 20-Feb10, South Georgia, Falklands, Peninsula. I only booked a few weeks ago so am hustling to catch up! I am in San Francisco and all my hiking boots are in Ireland, natch, so my question is what to wear on my feet if I am just standing around outside on the ship. Will Klogs do, heavy rubber type clogs, or runners, or do I need some waterproof shoes. This is the place I always wanted to go, I am a Shackleton, Frank Hurley and Tom Crean fan, so I am just a tad excited.

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    We had some waterproof light hikers that worked great ( something like this with the boa system to make it easy to get on/off -- http://www2.thenorthface.com/opencms/opencms/tnf/gear.jsp?site=AP&model=ACRB ).

    More often than not, however, I just wore crocs with heavy socks ... non-slip so they were perfect. Crocs have all kinds of "winter" options, but we just got the slipper type (the ones without the holes) and used them as deck shoes, slippers, and even in the shower.

    Have a terrific time and come back and share your experience and your photos.

    Current Quark blog link - http://blog.quarkexpeditions.com/

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    For the first trip, I just had some basic leather (non waterproofed) walking boots that I wore inside and outside the ship, when not preparing for a landing.

    On the second trip, I had happened to find some small waterproof boots a bit like these (but lace up not velcro) which are rubber/ waterproof at the lower ends: http://www.cavendishbridgefarm.co.uk/shopcrt/images/Shires/QFastener.jpg

    As they're as comfy as regular shoes, I took those on second trip.

    For the landings we got Sorel Caribou boots as my husband is 2 metres tall with correspondingly large feet and couldn't get wellington rubber boots in his size and I have large calves and couldn't get any for me either. The Sorels are expensive but fantastic and have done two trips to Antarctica, one to Lapland just now, been used out in snow here in UK and are going to Falklands with us next month... heavy and bulky but very warm!

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    In about a week I leave for EZE to meet up with Quark in Ushuaia, I have reviewed your posting several times and I am taking notes as I make my final preparations. You mention it being warm on the ship so it seems the extra gear would be primarily for the outdoors. Purchased “Polypropylene” thermals which I understand is top of the line for cold weather. Will have regular thermals for the ship. I am hoping layering will also do the trick. Your toe warmers sound like a great idea and I will pick some up. Again, thanks for a great report from you and your contributors, can't wait for the experience!

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