MUSIC: (1) "Dunya Salam" by 1 Giant Leap, (2) "1/1 (Excerpt)" by Brian Eno and (3) "Nomad" by Niraj Chag
Our first landing, Half Moon Island, on January 19, 4:30 AM.
That's right, 4:30 AM.
Fur seal and chin-strap penguins.
Old whaling boat.
Colony of chin-strap penguins.
Did I mention it was 4:30 in the morning?
Rob chillin' with the chin-straps.
Half Moon Island
Yes, that's Rob.
Hannah Point on Livingston Island, Jan. 19 afternoon.
A harem of elephant seals.
Kirsten (in the blue jacket) was an Austrian geologist on the staff. At this landing she showed us a collection of fossils and interesting rocks that had been found along the shore.
Me on Hannah Point.
Walking along the ridge at Hannah Point.
Our procession along the ridge. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
This was one of my favorite spots.
The sun strengthened as the day worn on, and by afternoon we were taking off our jackets and basking in the warmth. I never learned the actual temperature that day, but the powerful sun made it feel like 70 (F). The other days... not so much! Most of the time it was in the low 30s, but on the last day it got very cold.
Penguin making friends. They were completely unafraid of humans, and even though we were told many times to stay at least 15 feet away from the wildlife, it was often impossible to do.
Our landing site at Hannah Point.
Seals and penguins everywhere...
...and me trying to get it all.
January 19, evening. Passing through Neptune's Bellows to get to Deception Island. Just a few years ago a cruise ship hit a rock right here and had to be abandoned. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
An aerial view of Deception Island. Whalers' Bay is the protected area on the right. (Photo from the internet)
Sailing through Neptune's Bellows and into Whalers' Bay...
In Whalers' Bay.
Whalers' Bay, Deception Island. The island is the caldera of a volcano... still active! The location is deemed "unsafe" and in the event of an eruption, escape is "extremely unlikely" as you would have to race out of there through the dangerous Neptune's Bellows while dodging molten rocks. Nice!
Landing on the beach at Whalers' Bay.
Whalers' Bay is the location of an old whale blubber processing plant, abandoned in the 1930s and destroyed by volcanic eruptions.
The enormous, rusting machinery gave the place a distinctly alien atmosphere.
The desolation made it feel as if we had landed on another planet...
...walking among the rotting bones of an extinct alien race...
...petrified remains of giant, extraterrestrial monsters...
...the abandoned homes of a colony of ancient astronauts...
...demolished work stations...
...the remnants of a space expedition...
...gone terribly wrong.
Some didn't make it.
A Martian landscape.
Not a Martian. Rob.
Still not a Martian.
- Because it is an active volcano, the water in Whalers’ Bay is a bit warmer than elsewhere in Antarctica. Hence, no penguins or seals live there… but it’s a good place for crazy tourists to go swimming. The water is still frigid, but not too much colder then on a typical New England summer day. Meaning, too cold for me…
...but not too cold for Rob... (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
...or these crazy guys. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
This is Larry. He got so cold he thought he might not, um, ever be the same. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
Cuverville Island, January 20, morning.
A beautiful landscape.
A colony of gentoo penguins.
Me, sitting and watching the penguins. That person is not taking a picture of me. (Photo by Polar Star Staff.)
Paradise Bay, January 20, afternoon. Almirante Brown is a small Argentine station. This was our first landing on the actual continent of Antarctica. Now it was official: our seventh continent!
We hiked high up this snowy hill for some great views...
...and a great slide down!
On the morning of Friday, January 21, we visited Vernadsky Station. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
Vernadsky is a former British research station where the ozone hole was discovered. It was sold to the Ukrainians in 1996 for one pound sterling and the agreement to maintain meteorological observations.
We were taken on a tour of the station by a young Ukrainian scientist who was showing severe symptoms of cabin fever. There are about six guys stationed here for nine months.
They did have a terrific, comfortable bar...
...where they served their own homemade vodka.
They also set up trays of free snacks for us: apples and liverwurst.
The vodka was $3 a shot, but if you gave them your bra you could drink for free... for life!
It was very tempting. I would love to be able to say I had left my bra at a bar in Antarctica, but I was wearing my favorite bra! I paid the $3. Uh, make that $6. Did I mention it was 9 in the morning?
Friday, January 21: in the afternoon we landed on the Yalour Islands.
This was the only place where we saw Adelie penguins.
The morning of Saturday, January 22... Jougla Point on Wiencke Island.
The weather had turned dark, windy, and very cold. The temperature was probably in the teens (F), but with stiff winds and no sun.
There was a colony of gentoo penguins here but the highlight of this landing was the enormous bleached whale skeleton left over from the Antarctic whaling era.
This was our fourth and last day in Antarctica, and the storm we had been warned about was closing in fast. It was the first time that it was necessary for us to use all the cold weather gear we had packed so carefully.
Yes, that is a sailboat in the background. We saw a few of them seeking shelter from the storm in the small harbors and inlets around the area. One sailboat had been tied up tightly with about six different ropes to keep it from being bashed against the rocks. I can't imagine crossing the Drake Passage in such a small boat.
In the background is Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, the site of Britain's very first base in Antarctica. The base was established in 1944, when an eight man team wintered there to report on enemy activities during WWII. That's right. That's what the brochure says. Enemy activities during WWII in Antarctica. In the winter.
The building on the left is the old base, now a living museum. The Quonset hut on the right is where the seasonal caretakers live: four young British women.
The women work for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, which now runs the museum. They spend the Antarctic summer, about six months, in this isolated place, grateful for the occasional tourist ship that stops in. Yes, the Ukrainian scientists had invited the women to come over and... sample the vodka, I guess... but 35 miles of frigid waterways separate them, and the British women have no boat! The scientists are going to have to do better than a vague invite! (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
There is a gift shop here and a post office... well, a post BOX where you can mail a letter, which gets shipped to the Falklands, then flown to the UK, then sent on to its final destination. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
Visitors to Port Lockroy can wander through the drafty old building and try to imagine what it must have been like to spend the winter months here.
Trying to cook a decent meal...
...with the supplies provided.
Trying to sleep...
...while trying to stay warm through the Antarctic winter. The museum caretakers used to live right IN the museum, but the building was so drafty and uncomfortable (even in the summer) that the Quonset hut was finally erected.
The base closed in 1962, was abandoned and fell into disrepair. It was finally restored in 1996 and opened to summertime visitors.
As we left Port Lockroy we saw this eerie ring around the sun portending bad weather.
(Photo by Polar Star staff.)
The afternoon of Saturday, January 22, was our last landing in Antarctica at Neko Harbour.
As the glaciers here calf regularly, we were told to stay off the beach at all times (unless we were getting on or off the zodiacs). Calving glaciers cause huge waves.
Glacier and brash ice. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
We hiked up a high, snowy, icy hill... (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
...to a stunning view of Neko Harbour.
From this vantage point we could really see the bad weather moving in fast. It was extremely unsettling, as we all knew the next day we'd be sailing into that mess.
Those tiny dots are us. In the center of the picture is the crag where we all gathered. (Photo by Polar Star staff.)
Rob and me. I was anxious to go. Not because I was afraid of being swept off the crag by a strong gust of wind (although I WAS afraid of being swept off the crag by a strong gust of wind), but because there was an AWESOME icy slide going down! Our friend Christine took this photo.
The slides! I took this photo from a zodiac, after everyone had left. Those lines in the snow are the slides we came down. You can see the crag in the left-middle of the picture.