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Trip Report Trip to Antarctica Nov 2010

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In Nov. 2010 I took an Antarctic trip with National Geographic and Lindblad.

Here is a link to some of my pictures:

http://cougfan.smugmug.com/Travel/Antarctica-Nov-2010

I chose National Geographic Explorer for my trip to Antarctica because I had always wanted to do a National Geographic trip and as a solo traveler this time, they had rooms for singles which were priced cheaper than the less expensive Antarctica trips with their single supplements.

I picked a November time frame because it was somewhat cheaper. I knew that I would probably not see babies but we did see nests and some eggs.

I flew down on Alaska Airlines’ frequent flyer miles in first (SEA-DFW) and business class(DFW-SCL), back in coach (SCL-DFW) and first (DFW-SEA).

My trip started with weather delay worries. We had some snow and very cold weather just before Thanksgiving and the flight I was to take on American to Dallas was late for three days in a row and I panicked. We called Alaska to see if there was any way to get an earlier flight to Dallas and they put me on the Alaska noon flight. That had me getting into Dallas three hours before my flight to Santiago but I didn’t mind. As it turns out the American flight was on time.

Both flights down to Santiago were fine.

Nov. 28th
Once in Santiago I found the Nat Geo persons and they put us on a bus to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt. We got into our rooms right away so that we could rest for a few hours. In the early afternoon we went on a driving tour of Santiago and went to the Pre-Columbian museum. It was nice to see some of the city and at the museum it was nice to see some of artifacts from South America. After the tour we had a cocktail get together and dinner to meet some of the Expedition staff and our fellow travelers.

Nov. 29th
After an early morning wakeup call we headed to the airport to catch the chartered flight to Ushuaia. The flight down was uneventful and we arrived into Ushuaia in the early afternoon. We boarded buses which took us to Tierra del Fuego where we were to get on catamarans for lunch and a short cruise around the harbor. The lunch was fine and we got some good views of Ushuaia and some wildlife, sea lions and Imperial Cormorants. The cruise took us right to the ship and we boarded around 4:30PM. My room was a solo cabin on the main deck, larger than I had imagined. We made the requisite lifeboat drill with life jackets and then went to dinner. After dinner I stayed on deck for some time just watching the sun set and observing the pilot get taken off the boat as we left the Beagle Channel.

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    Nov. 30th
    Today was a sea day which included several talks by the Expedition crew about what we would see and the mandatory briefing about expedition landings. Breakfast and lunch were buffet; dinner was sit-down with a choice of three entrées.

    Dec. 1st
    With the winds and smooth seas we made excellent time across the Drake Passage arriving at the South Shetland Islands in the late morning. In the early morning we had the biosecurity decontamination. This entailed taking anything that you had brought to take onto shore down to the mudroom and having it vacuumed. Since most of my things were new, I only brought my camera bag. We also signed up for our zodiac groups, I was in Group 6.

    We arrived at Deception Island just before lunch. We had thought that we might land at Bailey Head but the wind and waves were too strong. We were able to sail through Neptune’s Bellows into the caldera and pulled into Whaler’s Bay. After lunch we got to do our first excursion. Our group was called to be one of the first two on shore. We landed in a blizzard and I was sure hoping that not all of the landings were going to be like this one. As we were waiting by the landing site, for other groups to come in, our first penguins (Gentoo) came ashore in the snow. They stood right by a zodiac that had just landed and looked like they were seriously confused about all of the red penguins on their beach. They then kept coming and going along the beach, maybe thinking that eventually we would leave them in peace. I took a walk to Neptune’s Window, a low spot on the edge of the caldera, along the way seeing Skua’s bathing in the freshwater ponds on the beach, a couple of Chinstrap penguins and my first Weddell Seal. After the hike I went back along the beach to the abandoned whaling operation. The wind and snow finally died down so the rest of the time spent at Whalers’ Bay was a lot more fun. We saw a lot of abandoned, almost falling down, buildings and tanks that had been used for whale oil.

    After we got back on the ship it was announced that a Polar Plunge would be tried. The participants all thought that when they mentioned “hot springs” that the water would actually be hot or at least warm. It was the same temp as the air, 32°F. So the hardy folks put their bathing suits on under their parkas and went back ashore. I watched from the bow of the ship. It looked fun but very cold. After the braves souls completed the polar plunge we backed off of the beach and sailed out of the caldera.

    Dec. 2nd
    This day saw me waking up, looking out my window and scrambling to get dressed and out on deck. The sky was blue, the sun was out and we were sailing through the Gerlache strait. The site was so beautiful I almost cried. For several hours I was the only person on the bow of the ship. After breakfast I went back to the wonderful scenery. We did see whales, a pair of Humpbacks. We sailed down the Errera Channel to Cuverville Island. I was able to do my first ever kayaking in the glass smooth water. After the kayaking I went ashore to see the Gentoo colony. The colony was trying to nest but there was too much snow, more than normal for this time of year, and they couldn’t lay any eggs because there were very little rocky areas available. The few that had nests ran the risk of having their eggs drown as the snow melted.

    After Cuverville Island we sailed further down the Errera Channel and passed between two other ships – Prince Albert II and the Polar Pioneer. We were on the way to make our first and only landing on the Antarctica Continent – Neko Harbour. At Neko Harbor there were more Gentoo penguins along with a couple Weddell seals on the rocky beach. Some of the group hiked to a ridge up high above the penguin colonies. Our Expedition leader even took a snow board up to the top of the ridge and skied back down. Other people slid down on their hind ends. There was a glacier very close to the landing spot but we didn’t see any calving. Because of this glacier we weren’t allowed to stand on the beach for any length of time. After we were all back on board we left Neko Harbor and started steaming away.

    After dinner, at our nightly recap, we found out why we had sped away from our landing. The Expedition staff had decided that we would make a beeline for the Antarctic Circle. It was very early in the season but the weather was going to turn bad north of us so the staff had decided to head south, fast.

    Dec. 3rd
    I was up bright early for breakfast and the bow of the ship. We were informed by the Expedition leader that we would get to the Antarctic Circle just around 10AM or so. I stayed out for a couple of hours until we had the count down to the Circle at 10:30. All of the guests were invited to come out to the Bow and have their picture taken. After crossing the Circle the Captain had planned on going further towards the Continent but each time he tried to get closer to land the ice got very thick and the ship was going very slow. So after trying to go through a couple of places, the ship just headed north, staying outside of the Islands along the coast.

    After an afternoon of cruising the Captain decided to drop the Zodiacs and organize a zodiac cruise in an area that they had never previously explored. The area was at the north end of the Crystal Sound around the Extension Reef. It was a group of small rocky islands that had a few penguins, seals and icebergs. On my zodiac cruise we saw Weddell seals, a few Chinstrap penguins and one lone Adelie penguin, along with a few icebergs. When we got back to the ship we were greeted by a flock of Cape Petrels floating in the water. They came right up to our zodiac and nibbled on it. One in particular seemed to think that the big black thing he had found was all his. He would chase the others away and come back and nibble on our zodiac. Our zodiac driver, Eric, said he had never seen anything like it.

    When all the zodiacs were on board we set sail once again to try to find some fast ice (ice still attached to land) so the captain could have us walk on the ice. We didn’t find any, but had a good time seeing and feeling the ship push its way through the ice around the ship. Just when the captain decided to turn around, the doctor saw what she thought was an Emperor Penguin a ways from the ship. So the captain snuck up on the Emperor Penguin and we all got a good look at it, taking many pictures.

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    Dec. 4th
    Today we awoke to find out that we were going to be cruising through the Lemaire Channel from North to South. It was slightly overcast so the channel was very gray but beautiful. We cruised through the channel just before lunch. At the end of the channel we went around the south end of Booth Island for our landing there. Booth Island is where Jean-Baptiste Charcot overwintered in 1904. We were able to hike up and look down onto Charcot Bay where he overwintered. The bay that we dropped anchor in was so calm that kayaking was allowed again. I decided to just go on land to spend my time hiking, sitting and taking it all in. Booth Island is the one place where all three Brush-tail Penguins nest. We did see Gentoo and Chinstrap nests and one lone Adelie just hanging out. I enjoyed just sitting next to our people trails watching the action in the various groups of penguins. I watched one Gentoo go away and a few minutes later come back with a rock. He did this several times while I watched. I was never sure where he went, probably steeling from another pair. Here again there was more snow than normal and the poor penguins were nesting on snow in some places. We were told that the Gentoo’s can nest twice in a season, so they would still have a chance for babies if these eggs didn’t survive.

    When it was time to go back to the landing spot I witnessed several zodiacs departing the ship and going back out into the bay. I followed their progress and noticed that they appeared to be taking people out to a group of other people on an ice flow. I asked about it to a passing crew member and she said that I would find out shortly. So I went to the landing spot and discovered that we were having a barbeque. The zodiac took our group out to the barbeque. They were actually barbequing meat for sandwiches and had pop or beer to drink. It was a wonderful and unique way to end our day at Booth Island. Until dinner we sailed further south through the Penola Strait.

    Once each trip, each person on board is invited to eat dinner with Expedition staff members in the Chart Room. This was my night. I ate dinner with National Geographic, husband and wife photographers, Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. It was a very enjoyable dinner except that we had turned around to go north sometime during dinner. We were starting to sail back through the Lemaire Channel from South to North, the sun was setting and the view was beautiful. Cotton kept getting up and running outside to take a few pictures. Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and we ended dinner so we could all go outside and take pictures. The setting sun gave some very pretty light to sides of the channel and the sunset from behind Booth Island was very beautiful.

    Dec. 5th
    This morning found us sailing through the Neumayer Channel on our way to Port Lockroy and Jougla Point on Wiencke Island. Our group went to Jougla Point first. We saw Gentoo and Adelie Penguins along with Blue-eyed Shags nesting. We also saw a few Weddell seals. At one point I watched a group of Gentoo penguins go in a line, one after the other and steal stones from another’s nest. I felt sorry for the one lone penguin who couldn’t keep the others from taking its rocks because its mate was off somewhere. Going back to the landing site I saw whale bones sticking out from the snow along the beach.

    After a short transfer we were at Port Lockroy, a former British station-turned-museum on Goudier Island. The area was a safe harbor for whalers in the 30’s, a secret British base during WWII and the 50’s and now a tourist stop for the ships that come to Antarctica. I enjoyed seeing the refurbished rooms and shopping in the gift shop. What amazed me was that the Gentoo penguins didn’t seem to mind the visitors around. They nested right under and alongside the buildings.

    After leaving Port Lockroy we sailed through the Lemaire Channel for the third time. It was just as beautiful as the other two times, just under a different light. It was decided that we would land at Petermann Island. We arrived at the island and our group started with a zodiac cruise through the ice. After our cruise we landed on the island. Here we saw our first colonies of Adelie penguins, my favorite. I enjoyed watching them go about their business which seemed to include stealing each other’s rocks. During our time on shore, the wind changed, blowing the ice into the area of the bay we had landed. So the landing site had to be changed. We now had to walk right through one of the Gentoo colonies, making sure we stayed the requisite 5 meters away from the penguins. After walking through the colony we had to step down steep rocks to get into the zodiac which had been pulled up onto the rocks. We then had another adventurous zodiac ride back to the ship through the ice. As we got closer to the ship, the zodiac driver contacted the ship to find out which side of the ship he was to drop us off. The ship kept changing position to keep an area around the ship clear of ice.

    This evening during our recap we discovered that we were going to go to Palmer Station. Only a few ships get to stop here each season, so it was going to be a treat to go there. We also had a presentation by John Evans about his group’s first climb of the Vincent Massif, tallest mountain in Antarctica.

    Dec. 6th
    This morning found us cruising into Arthur Harbor off the south end of Anvers Island. Our group went to Torgersen Island before going to Palmer Station. The island has several colonies of Adelie penguins but they have declined about 60% since 1974. It is felt that by 2014 they may be gone forever. Here we saw our only Elephant Seal, a “weaner” who had been abandoned by his mother after four weeks of nursing. He was very cute and very interested in us. I had a great time just sitting on the rocks and watching the Adelies go about their business. The colonies were much quieter here than at our other landings. We were told that was because here they had rocks, not covered by snow, to build their nests and lay their two eggs.

    After our island visit we set off for the station. A supporting staff member showed us around because all of the scientist were very busy doing science. We were shown around the complex and got to do a little shopping. After shopping we enjoyed some brownies and drinks.

    After the visit to Palmer we set sail up the Neumayer Channel to start our trip back to Ushuaia. Because of weather reports the Captain’s plan was to go back up the Gerlache strait to the north end of Anvers Island and sail between Brabant Island and Anvers Island on our way back north.

    In the afternoon, we had a presentation by the Oceanites group that was on board. The Oceanites have been counting the penguin colonies in Antarctica since 1994 for the Antarctic Site Inventory. National Geographic has a pair of Oceanites on board each Antarctic trip. They get off during the shore trips, go off by themselves and count the penguin nests.

    In the evening we cruised down Lapeyrere Bay, which is on the northeast coast of Anvers Island, so that we could eat dinner peacefully.

    After dinner we set off from Lapeyrere Bay towards Dallmann Bay. As we left land behind, the seas got rougher and rougher. There were four of us on the bow admiring the waves. When one wave finally went over the bow I moved up to an upper deck outside the Chart Room. The other three stayed down on the bow until a crew member came out and closed the bow. While we were standing on the upper deck a huge wave came over the bow and got us all wet. At that time I called it a night and went back to my room and dried off my camera.
    That night the seas were really rocking. Anything left on a flat surface in my room ended up on the floor.

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    Dec. 7th
    This morning we were awoken with the news that we had 10 meter seas and 50 knot winds. Because of the stabilizers the movement wasn’t too bad, mostly up and down. I made it to breakfast, not many others were there. Once there, it was very hard to eat, since you had to hold onto everything on the table and eat at the same time. After breakfast I went back to my room. Lunch was another adventure; I was amazed that they were able to provide a meal with the rocking and rolling that was going on.

    At noon our Expedition leader came on the intercom to tell us about the Clelia II which was having difficulty in the bad weather. She had a wave come over her bow and knock out a window on the bridge. This got some of their electronics wet and they lost satellite communication. Once we got within 16 miles of them, our ship was contacted by way of their radio. We had to change course which made our travel much more difficult. I went up to the Observation lounge to see what was going on but it would be a few hours before we would be by the Clelia. I went back to my room to start putting away things I would not need anymore. While there the ship rolled so badly that my window got covered with water and I decided to go up to the Observation Lounge again. At that time we were right next to the Clelia and I watched while several attempts were made to shoot a line over to her along with a satellite phone. It took three tries but they did make it. We took off for a little ways and then just stayed still until we were released. Once we were released we were able to steam ahead and use the stabilizers which made our travels easier.

    Later we found out that the Clelia had had problems before leaving Ushuaia late, had hit the storm that we went south to avoid, had only a few days in the Antarctica and then had the problems returning to Ushuaia. While watching the drama unfold we were all glad that we were on the Explorer.

    It was decided that we should have dinner in our rooms because of the rough seas. The cabin crew came around and took our orders and then brought our food to our rooms.

    Dec. 8th
    Thankfully when I awoke the seas were a lot calmer than the day before. It was nice to see everybody out and about at meals. The gift shop was a shambles of broken glass but it was put back to rights after a few hours. Since we had missed talks that had been scheduled for yesterday we had several today. We had a National Photography presentation by Sisse and Cotton and another talk by John Evans, this one about Antarctica and Science. We gathered together our 3 favorite pictures for the group slideshow to be shown at the Farewell Cocktail Party which was scheduled for just before dinner. Our last presentation was a very interesting one about Climate Change & the Polar Regions. We had our Farewell party, saw the group slide show and had our last dinner. We then had to pack up and get our luggage outside our room by 11PM. It was hard to believe that my trip was almost over.



    Dec. 9th
    In the early morning we had breakfast and said our last goodbyes to the crew. We got on buses which took us to the Maritime Museum which is in the prison. It was a fun hour to go around and see all of the displays. A group of us walked downtown to do some last minute shopping before getting on the buses again to go for lunch in Tierra Del Fuego Park. After lunch we went to the airport. Check in didn’t take too long, they had the boarding passes already printed out, we just had to collect them at the counter. They were very picky about the carry-ons though. A lot of people had to take cameras out of their carry-ons and wear them around their necks in order to get the weight down to 8 kg, which was the allowance on the charted LAN flight. My bag was just over the 8kg limit but since it was the only bag I had the counter person let me keep it.

    The flight to Santiago was fine. I had a 5 hour layover in Santiago and spent it with other people from my tour group who were also going to Dallas. In Dallas I had a 1 hour 20 minute transfer time and just barely made it to my Seattle flight.

    I had a fabulous trip and if I didn't have so many other places left to see I would go back.

    Julie

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    Great report! Thanks for posting!

    Reading your report reminded me of how quickly Antarctic itineraries change, due to weather, etc. For me, that was my main life lesson from the trip -- things change, be flexible, look for the new opportunities.

    You were lucky to see emperor penguins! Your itinerary went farther south than most.

    And I'm still fascinated by the Clelia II story, as I was originally going to be on that ship. Here's a video of your ship, taken from a passenger on the Clelia II:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt0hA5E7aT4

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    Eenusa, I loved ready your report when I was researching my trip. It was very helpful when deciding what to buy for the trip.

    SPT, I had not seen the view of our ship from the Clelia II. Now I can see why my window would get covered by water every now and then. We actually saw two Emperor penguins but I only saw the one on the ice.

    Thank you both for your kind remarks about my trip report. I haven't written many.

    Julie

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    What an adventure! Your trip report and pictures are amazing and very timely for me as I am contemplating taking the Journey o Antarctica trip with National Geographic. I am a single traveler as well and traveled with National Geographic last December on the South African Safari by Private Air--NG travel is awesome! (I am ashamed to say I have not posted a trip report, YET). I think your trip report has helped me make a definite decision to take the journey. Now I have to determine if there is space on the remaining dates this December or if I will have to wait until next year. Quick question? I know it's cold; however, it appears that you were on deck for quite some time, can I assume that If one is dressed properly, the cold temps and wind are bearable?
    Robin

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    Hi Robin,

    I hope you do go, the trip was my best ever. And since NG has single rooms it was comparible in price to the cheaper ships, if you can call any trip to Antartica cheap.

    Yes I spent a lot of time on the bow of the ship. So much that my cheeks got wind burned. When the ship was moving I would have on top long underware, fleece top and the very warm parka. I usually had a fleece hat and the hood of the parka on my head. For my legs I would just wear my jeans, never used long underware unless on shore. For my feet I had tennis shoes. On my hands I would wear some light gloves, similar to bike gloves, so I could take pictures. Most of the people on the boat would stay in the Chart room or the Bridge and look out from there. If there were interesting things spotted then more would come out onto the bow. But there were quite a few times when I was the only one on the bow or with one of the photographers on board.

    You can ask any questions you might have. A know that it was hard for me to make some decisions because I found very few people who had gone on NG.

    Julie

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    Julie,
    Thank you for your reply. I am like you--I always want to be where the action is. If that's on the bow of the ship with the photographers, then that's where I'll be. I'll make sure I am dressed properly (will not forget the face gear:). I read a post from someone else that stated their tour company provided the Parkas as gifts and allowed passengers to rent boots onboard. Did NG provide this option? I have plans to call NG on Monday and start gathering info; however, I think I may be too late for the 2011 December departure, but it gives me ample planning time for next year. I am looking forward to comparing penguin pictures from Antarctica to the African Jackass penguin pictures from the Cape Peninsula. Thank you for renewing my excitement for this journey!
    Robin

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    Robin,

    The parka was supplied and on the boat when we boarded. They also had a few extras if you found that the size you ordered was not correct. I purchased my boots but they have a rental program for boots and other gear that you can use. Many people on my sailing had used that option. You get the information when you get your trip packet a few months before your trip. The ordering info for gear is also on the Lindblad/NG website under - destinations-Antarctica-shop for your adventure.

    Julie

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    Hello,

    I would appreciate if you could help me:
    - would you know if NG is better than the Silver Explorer (these are the 2 I have shortlisted for our Antarctica this December. I will be going with my wife and 2 kids.
    - Thanks for the data on clothing requirements. How about motion/sea sickness stuff?
    - About the food - is there enough variety (especially vegetarian)?

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    RT,

    I can't say much about the Silver Explorer. We did pass the Explorer, known as the Prince Albert II then, while going through the Errera Channel on our way to Neko Harbor. You should go to Cruise Critic and read up on Silverseas cruises. You should get more info about the boat. On our cruise there were no children. There were some young people, maybe in their 20's. The Silverseas Silver Explorer would maybe have a few children because it has more people on the boat.

    One thing I didn't like, when I was researching Antarctica trips, was that persons who had traveled on the Prince Albert II talked about having to take fancier clothes for formal dining. I did not want to take any more clothes than necessary. So much of your luggage is taken up with all the winter clothes.

    They had motion sickness meds at Reception.

    I do remember that they had vegetarian dishes at each meal.

    Julie

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    Hi Julie, it's CarrieT from the PNW GTG...sorry I'm still going under the assumed name until Fodors can fix some security issues with my old account (hopefully soon!). I just wanted to say that it was nice meeting you and the video was fabulous!! I just read your trip report and it really makes me want to go to Antarctica sooner rather than later. Of course that means sometime after 2015 due to other commitments and trips planned, but I'll get there as soon as I can now that I know it is so incredible! I'm sure I'll have some questions for you when it gets closer. I'm also looking at National Geographic for when I go. Thanks again and I hope to see you next year at Lynda's. Carrie

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