Blog - dreamscapephotography

Thoughts and Ramblings

  • Mon, 30 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 16
    December 13

    Well, it started off a very bittersweet day as the trip has officially come to an end.  I woke up and got the last of my stuff packed and put my bag in the hallway for pick up, and then headed upstairs to watch as we docked and got ready to leave the ship.  As people slowly started to fill the lounge, many of us began exchanging contact information and saying our goodbyes.  There were some great people on this trip and some I really hope to stay in touch with and maybe even meet up with and shoot together again.  We watched as the ship docked and had to wait onboard until customs had come on and cleared the crew and ship.

    There were three busses waiting to take everyone to the airport.  Two were for those people on the first flight out which seemed to be about 2/3 of the group.  It sounded like they actually would be the vast majority of passengers on the first flight out too which was kind of funny.  I was on the third bus with the last 1/3 of the group, most of which were flying out later in the day.  I think there were a handful staying over in Ushuaia at least 1 more day which sounded like a great plan right about then.  We were driven to the parking lot at the end of the pier were we were then able to leave our bags on the bus and get out and wander the town for a few hours until heading back to the bus at 12:30 for the short ride to the airport.  My flight out was at 3:10... and was pretty uneventful. 

    After landing back in Buenos Aires, I was really wishing I had picked a hotel closer to the airport there to stay at for the night.  Not knowing the city well, I thought the smart think would be to cross town and stay at a hotel closer to the International airport where I had to fly out the next night.  That turned out to be a mistake as traffic was horrible getting across town and took well over 90 minutes to get to my hotel.  I was already tired before sitting in traffic all that time, and then discovered that there really isn't much at this end of town to see.  All the best stuff was much closer to the other end of town where I'd landed.  I'm pretty disappointed that I'm going to miss out seeing a lot of the sights on this trip now, but I guess that just means I'll have to find another reason to come back down and explore Buenos Aires a lot more.

    The hotel was nice and quiet when I checked in .... other than an issue with 3 of the four cards for the door not working, check in was smooth and I pretty much collapsed into bed after settling in. Travel days can really just take it out of you, even when all you're doing for most of the day is sitting around in lines waiting to get on the plane, where you just sit some more wishing you had a few more inches of space.  Tomorrow is the long leg of the trip home, so I'm hoping to get as much sleep as possible, knowing I won't get to sleep much for the next 24 hours.

  • Sun, 29 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 14 & 15
    Well, it was time to head back home... and to cross the Drake again.  A few people sounded a bit worried about the crossing but luckily we got even luckier for our trip north than we did on our way south.  The seas were even calmer for the trip, and the winds not nearly as bad.  The ship still rocked and rolled, but nothing like we experienced on the way down.

    That didn't mean there wasn't some drama to the trip, but it's nothing I can really write about here.  I have shared the story with a few of you and maybe I can write a lot more about it soon, but for now, I'll just leave this entry kind of short, and say that the 2 days we had to sail back to Ushuaia was smooth, but took much longer than expected and we barely got back to port in time to disembark as scheduled instead of spending the night before in the Beagle Channel having a nice dinner and good bye party with the crew.

    It's time to get some sleep, and say our goodbyes in the morning and head back to our respective homes.  The trip was amazing, and there will be great memories and hopefully long lasting friendships that came out of this adventure.

    There will be one or two more posts still I think and then I may take a break and work on the rest of the photos and maybe even post a few follow up stories about the trip, some of the photos I got, some of the things I saw, and maybe just a recap and some info in case anyone else out there would really like to do this trip themselves one day. :)

  • Sat, 28 Dec 2019 22:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 13 - Part 2

    With everyone back on the ship, we sailed off to the next and last excursion of the trip. This landing was at Hannah Point in Walker Bay on Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands.  The point was named after a sealer named Hanna who wrecked his ship there on Dec 25 1820. I kept watching for signs of the shipwreck, but if we were supposed to be able to see it here, I totally missed where it was. This landing might have been the least exciting of all the landings we'd had so far but it was our first really good chance to see more than a random Elephant Seal on the beach.  This beach had a pretty good number of them laying around, some in pretty good sized groups and then as you wandered the beach you would run across a random seal here and there laying off on it's own, tucked up in rocks to help cut the wind I guess.  Can I just mention that seals are pretty boring to watch though? They really don't do much of anything and it started to become a running joke among everyone. Heck, we started to comment that there was some huge excitement happening when one would open it's eyes! LOL

    Okay, maybe that's exaggerating things a little bit as there was actually some more excitement than that. We saw a couple of adolescent males do battle a few times. It was fun to watch even if their hearts didn't seem to be totally into it.  It was mostly just a bunch of posturing for the cameras if you ask me. LOL

    There were some that kept trying to climb on top of others to get warm which was usually just met with bellows of what I can only assume meant "hey, get OFF me!".

    The most exciting seal of all though, was one that was doing something that had to be the equivalent of running the 100 yard dash on the beach. This seal was actually great fun to watch as it would get up on it's front flippers and then do something that appeared to be related to the dance known as "The Worm"... only instead of going backwards this guy was moving forward at a really good pace. I was very impressed!  He would "sprint" about 100 feet and then collapse into a heap with a big deep grunt.  After about 30 seconds of rest though, he was ready for his next "sprint" and would get up and go again.  Another 100 feet, another huge collapse in a heap.  He did this about 5 or 6 times and then the couple of us enjoying the show started to notice he was beginning to cheat now.  He wasn't going that full 100 feet any longer and his breaks seemed to be getting longer with each rest.  Hmmmmm... something's up with that.

    I stopped watching when he finally reach a smallish puddle about 200 yards or so down the beach, where he collapsed one last time in what looked like his finally resting spot for the night.  I heard later that he made some pretty funny faces when he reached the pond and that it really did look like he was wiped out. Turns out he did continue on, but by that time I had started to make my way back to the Zodiac as our landing was coming to a close and it was time to head back to the ship.

    More Penguins... well, just because :)

    The final landing of the trip was over now... I really am not ready to head home.  I could easily spend another month down here continuing on as far as the ship could take us.  Heck, if we could circle the entire continent, I'd be up for that trip!

  • Sat, 28 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 13 - Part 1

    This morning the first stop of the day is at a collapsed volcano that harbors a bay that was once used for Whaling until the late 60's. We were told that we should try to get up and be outside around 7:00am to watch as the captain maneuvers the ship into the bay. We'd heard that the entrance into the bay can be a hairy experience and I think most everyone wanted to watch and see what the fuss was all about. The ship needs to pass through a 1300 ft wide gap in the wall of a Caldera known as "Neptune's Bellows" because of the violent winds that sometimes blow across the mouth of the entrance. Those winds have pushed ships up onto the rocks more than a few times from what I understand, so I decided this would be a great time to set up my GoPro to shoot another time-lapse and capture what it looked like putting the ship into the mouth of a collapsed volcano. It was a pretty morning out there but the winds were kicking up a bit and if you watch the video, you'll be able to see how much the ship rocked back and forth on the way toward the caldera.  It wasn't as exciting to watch as I expected it to be, but was very interesting to feel the ship really being blown around until we entered the mouth of the caldera, where the winds and waves really seemed to calm down ... until we moved a little deeper into the opening and then we were hit with very high and super cold blasts of wind as the winds rushed up and over the wall and glacier slamming into the ship. This seemed to be an "easy" sail into the bay, but did make you realize how the area got it's name and made you wonder what that had to be like back in the day without all the sophisticated navigation today's ships have, or even more, if there was a storm brewing while a captain tried to navigate his way in there.

    The wind was really whipping and cold and I think most everyone including me headed back inside. Breakfast was going to be served before we climbed onto the Zodiacs to head to shore, and since I wasn't hungry I just spent the time getting bundled up and looking out the windows to see what I could see.  I was actually kind of excited to see something other than penguins to shoot today. I already saw a number of things to shoot that would be perfect for some abstract type photography this morning. That's much more in my wheelhouse than wildlife has proven to be for sure! LOL

    Wandering around through much of the old Whaler's equipment really made you think about what used to go on here, and to think about how many whales much have been fished here. It was sad to think about, especially after seeing so many of those great animals out in the waters around Antarctica and knowing there would probably have been so many more to see if not for the massive hunting of them over the years. Even with all that in mind I really enjoyed shooting abstracts of the old machinery that was scattered around the bay and even found what looked like a tractor of some kind buried deep in the sands near the beach.

    There were constant reminders that this is a volcano and that there is still activity somewhere deep below us. The smell of sulfur was pretty strong in the air and then all along the beach, there was a constant flow of steam coming up out of the sands. I walked down to the water's edge and twisted my boots back and forth until they were buried in the sand and after a few minutes you could actually feel the warmth work it's way through the thick rubber and warm your feet. It was a very cool experience to feel how warm your feet got even though you were surrounded by all that ice cold water.

    Speaking of ice cold water, there were a handful of people that decided they really wanted to do a polar plunge here before heading back to the ship. I couldn't decide if they were brave or crazy LOL  I didn't stick around to watch as they were all going to be put on the last Zodiac back to the ship, but did later watch the video of all the craziness and was happy I decided against joining in! LOL  My cabin mate and one of the guys I'd been hanging out with for most of the trip did take the plunge and both said that the water was crazy cold!  They did really seem to be happy they did it though.  I mean how many people can say that took a quick swim in Antarctic waters right?
  • Fri, 27 Dec 2019 22:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 12 - Part 2

    We safely got out of the harbor and made our way to our next landing of the day at Paulet Island. While we were underway, lunch was served and it felt really good to be back in the warmth of the ship. I even had a couple of cups of hot chocolate to help warm me up.

    Paulet is a circular island, about 1.0 mile in diameter, lying 3 miles SE of Dundee  Island, off
    the NE end of the Antarctic Peninsula. Paulet is the site of an enormous Adélie penguin
    colony. Paulet consists of a distinct volcanic cone, 1,158 feet high.

    In February 1903  a stone hut was built in  by shipwreck  survivors from the Swedish Antarctic
    Expedition led by Otto Nordenskiöld, together with the grave of an expedition member, and the cairn
    built on the highest point of the island to draw the attention of rescuers, thankfully this story
    ended well with the rescue of the totality of the crew by the  Argentinean  Corbeta  Uruguay.  In 
    1972  this  hut  was  declared  Historic  Site  and Monument # 41 by the Antarctic Treaty System

    This island has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports a large
    breeding colony of about 100,000 pairs of Adelié penguins.

    Here are photos from the day, including a few that show just how many penguins there were here. They stretched on for as far as the eye could see. 

    One funny story from the afternoon is that I was trapped on the beach for close to 20 minutes, I walked up on a group of penguins that were waiting to go into the water and stopped the 10 feet away as required and while I was there waiting for them to decide what to do, another group of penguins came out of the water directly behind me, and then they basically just stood around me preening and shaking the water off, and one even decided to lay down and take a bit of a nap.  Since I couldn't really move without breaking the rule on approaching them, I just took a knee on the beach and enjoyed watching them up close like that.  Other people seemed to get a kick out of me being stuck there as a few later told me they took photos of me trapped there.  LOL

    Here is another collection of Penguin photos and a few Blue-Eyed Shags which also nested here and mixed in with the 100,000 penguins nicely.

    We stayed on the island and watched the Penguins for a couple of hours and then it was time to start to head back to the ship.  Dinner tonight was at 19:00.

    At 20:30 Monika, the expedition leader, gave an introduction on the “History of Whaling in Antarctica” in preparation at tomorrow´s landing at Deception Island.  The weather tonight didn't look like it was going to break enough for there to be any kind of beautiful sunset so I decided i would do my best to get some good sleep tonight for the first time in a week. 

    Watching the ship pull into Deception Island tomorrow is supposed to be something to not miss, so I plan on being up early to set up the GoPro and film the whole thing is possible.

    Weather Conditions
    Wind (direction & force): South East | Light Breeze (4-6 Knots)
    Weather & Sea: Clouded | Smooth

    LAT. 63˚ 34.9’ S, LONG. 55˚ 46.3’ W
  • Fri, 27 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 12 - Part 1

    Breakfast was served at 07:30 again this morning, and once again I decided to skip it because I still can't adjust to eating when my body think's it's 2:30am. LOL

    Our first landing today was at 9:00am at a location called Brown Bluff.  When you see the photo, the name will make perfect sense. :)  Brown  Bluff  is  an  ice-capped,  flat  topped,  745m  high  mountain with a prominent cliff of reddish-brown volcanic rocks. It is part of the northernmost continental extension of the Antarctic Peninsula, and home to thousands of Adelie Penguins, a few hundred Gentoo Penguins  and  a  mix  of  Kelp  Gulls,  Skuas,  Snow  Petrels,  and Pintado Petrels. It is located by the Antarctic Sound to the east of Hope  Bay.

    Today was the first day where the weather finally looked and felt like what I had always Antarctica to be like.  The sky was grey, the wind was blowing pretty hard, and it was cold out there.  In fact, before we headed to the land, we were told that our stay may have to be short because the ice was already beginning to move back in.  The captain said he would stay as long as he could, but if the conditions got much worse, he would blow the ships horn twice and we all needed to get back to the ship ASAP.  

    As we headed to land, things didn't look too bad out in the bay even though you could see a few huge icebergs way off in the distance.  We were met on the shoreline by lots of Adelie Penguins and right away you could see how different their behavior was compared to the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins we had been seeing up until now.  For one thing, these Penguins were so much faster on land than the others, and they behaved differently as well which became so very entertaining to watch. The first thing I noticed is that ran up and down the beach in single file, and you couldn't help but kind of laugh as the would go running past you or up close to you where they would stop and check you out.

    The other thing that was very different was the way these guys would all gather together at the shoreline. While the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins would go into the water a few at a time or even by themselves, the Adelie seemed to only work under the assumption that there was safety in numbers.  A few of them might actually go up to the water's edge and appear ready to go in, but they weren't going anywhere any time soon.... as they insisted on waiting for much larger numbers to come join them before even attempting to jump in.  It was so funny...  to see the way they would bunch up and then seem to wait for one brave, or extra hungry member of the group to be the first to jump in, after which the rest would suddenly dive in behind him until yet another penguin in the group would freeze up, causing the penguins behind him to stop as well, and even run away from the water for a second until they realized they should have gone because this one dummy only got cold feet and now they were all stuck again, waiting for the whole process to start over.  LOL

    You can't really see all of that in action  in the photos, but this gives you a little idea what it looked like.  LOL

    As we were all sitting there enjoying watching these silly penguins run up and down the beach, and watch them struggle to decide if they wanted to risk diving in to the water to eat, it started to snow and the wind began to pick up.  We suddenly got the call that we had to get back to the ship right now, and everyone was good and rushed back to the Zodiacs.  I think it might have been the fastest they have ever gotten everybody back on board and as soon as I got up on the ship, I could see why the captain made the call that we had to get moving, and now!

    Where the bay had been fairly free of ice when we first left the ship, this is what it looked like as we got back on board.

    The ice had seriously moved in on us, and the last thing we wanted was to get stuck here in all that ice for who knows how long if it froze up all around the ship. 

    So, the visit to Brown Bluff was cut short, but we finally experienced just how fast the weather and conditions here can change, and we got to feel what the weather in Antarctica probably feels like more often than not.  Up until now we've had spring like temperatures... this was more like it!  :)

    LAT. 63° 32’ 00” S, LONG. 56° 52’ 00” W

    Weather Conditions
    Wind (direction & force): South | Fresh Breeze (17-21 Knots)
    Weather & Sea: Clouded | Smooth
    Temperature: -2ºC | 28.4 ºF

  • Fri, 27 Dec 2019 04:43:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 11

    This morning's first landing was our official first Continental landing, in Neko Harbor.  Neko   Harbor   is   an   inlet   of   the   Antarctic Peninsula  on  Andvord  Bay,  situated  on  the west coast of Graham Land. Was discovered by Belgian  explorer  Adrien  de  Gerlache  during the  early  20th  century.  It  was  named  for  a Scottish   whaling   boat,   the   Neko,   which operated in the area between 1911 and 1924.

    Above the bay there is a is very active, deeply cracked and tilted glacier that frequently fills the bay with ice and produces huge waves that can wash up onto the beach. There is also a Gentoo rookery on the steep slope above the landing site that may total 1000 pair at the peak of the season

    Up until now all of our landings have been on islands just off the Antarctica Peninsula so we've been in Antarctica, but today we officially stepped onto the Continent itself and and I stepped onto my 5th continent.  All I have left is Africa and Australia.

    There were a lot of Penguins around and I took a lot of photos yet again. The biggest things that happened on this stop that are memorable, is I saw my first pair of mating Penguins.

    I saw and photographed a gull stealing a penguin egg to feast on.

    And there was a small avalanche across the bay from where we were all standing that put on a very cool show. I captured most of it in photos, and then was given an actual video clip that captured the whole thing as well.  Here are just a few of the images I shot of that.

    All in all, it was a very fun and memorable stop and fun way to start the day. After a couple of hours here though, it was time to get back on the ship.

    The rest of the day was going to be spent watching the landscape, icebergs, and glaciers pass by as we speed up the Gerlache Strait and through the Errera Channel so we can round the top of the peninsula and make a landing on Brown Bluff tomorrow.  We are going to be visiting a colony of Adelie penguins that has over 100,000 mating pairs, and is a location that many people usually don't get to see as it's usually blocked in by ice.

    The views today were amazing, and the ride east was punctuated with some great whale sightings during the day, including my first real chance to watch a humpback whale breaching over and over again out in the bay.  I was actually lucky enough to get one really good shot of it as it breached as well, which was one of those photos I'd always hoped I'd get a chance to take!

    As the day and evening went on, we saw even more whales, some far away, others so close to the ship it felt like you could have just reached out to touch them if you were at water level.  Since most of the whale shots are just the backs of them coming out of the water a little, and not really all that exciting, I'll share more Penguin photos instead.  I mean, you can't really ever get enough cute penguin photos right?  :)

    And just to finish off the days's photos... here is a photo of one of the many "Penguin Highways" in use:

    And yes, I know this isn't a penguin, but this seal looked right in the camera so I just know he was hoping for a showing on the internet as well.  :)

    Today's Weather Conditions
    Wind (direction & force): South East | Gentle breeze (7-10Knots)
    Weather & Sea: Partly Clouded | Smooth
    Temperature: 5ºC | 41 ºF
  • Mon, 23 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 10

    Today was a very interesting day.  Our first stops of the morning were at Port Lockroy and Jougla Point. 

    The entrance into the harbor was just stunning and might have some of the most beautiful scenery seen so far. Little did I know what I would be seeing later this afternoon.  Here were the views on the way into Port Lockroy.

    This was looking out the back of the ship as we cruised into the harbor.

    And then this was the view looking forward to see where we were heading.

    A Zodiac was sent out to pick up two of the volunteers from Port Lockroy who were going to come and give a talk on the history of the base, and answer any questions people may have about what they do here, what life is like being almost stranded here for months on end, etc.

    Before heading to Port Lockroy though, I went with the first group of people to Jougla Point.

    Jougla Point  lies at  the  southwestern  end  of  Wiencke  Island  and  juts into  the  small
    harbor  of  Port  Lockroy,  a  protected  anchorage  entered  between  Flag  Point  and Lécuyer
    Point. This point is a rocky peninsula indented with small coves, a point forming the west side of
    the entrance to Alice Creek in Port Lockroy, in the Palmer Archipelago. Snow cornices, glaciers and
    extensive, steep, and highly crevassed snowfields surround the Harbour. It was discovered and named by the French Antarctic Expedition, 1903- 1905, under Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who considered it to
    be a peninsula.

    I won't bore you with more Penguin photos but yes, there were more penguins here but not as many as we have seen at some of our other landing spots.  The weather was great and it was just nice to get out and walk around taking it all in while waiting for our turn to head over to the base.

    Port Lockroy at Goudier island was a previous British Base, known as “Base A”, and now designated as Historic Site and Monument #61 under the Antarctic Treaty System. It is operated by the United
    Kingdom as a living museum. In addition to Bransfield House (the main base building), there is a
    boat shed, building foundations and a number of associated artifacts on Goudier Island. It was
    built by the ending of the WWII, to prevent from further nazi settlements.

    It also houses the only operational post office in Antarctica as well as a small souvenir shop. I think everyone on the ship was looking forward to the chance to mail off postcards from here, that would actually come with a stamp that was canceled in Antarctica.  I know I just had to mail a postcard to myself to have something to remember the visit and to keep as a memento.  I also was happy to find out I could keep up my tradition of buying a hoodie from everywhere I've traveled as they actually had a hoodie for sale here.

    You can see the base here in this photo. That really is all there is to it.  A very small island, with no boat, no running water and no plumbing.  Yeah, you read that right and now can imagine how hard life here must be.  :)

    Okay, so I'm going to share a funny story here.. I bought a postcard for myself and one for my daughter and wrote each of us a short little note to mail from here today. I quickly learned that sleep deprivation really does effect brain function as when I went to address the postcard to myself, I honestly could NOT remember my home address!  I sat there totally blank trying to remember it, and to make things even funnier, I forgot I had my wallet in my back pocket which has this little thing inside it called a driver's license.  On that license is my address.  Did I remember that?  Nope! After about 5 minutes the address finally came to me, but I think this was the first sign that I really needed to start getting some sleep on this trip.  LOL

    I thought the view this morning was one of the most beautiful I'd ever seen and couldn't imagine anywhere else on this trip beating it.  Little did I know how wrong I was, and just how short the wait would be to see what might be the most beautiful place on the planet.  And yes, I still think so even now that the trip is over.

    This afternoon, we made our way to the Lemaire Channel, which is a 11km long and 1600 meters wide strait off Antarctica between Kiev Peninsula in the mainland’s Graham Land and Booth Island. It's been nicknamed “Kodak Gap” by some because of its scenic views and once you see it, you'll totally understand why.

    Instead of posting a bunch of photos here to try to give you an idea of just how beautiful this place was, let's try something different, here is a link to a timelapse video on my website that is about 5 minutes long, and kind of let's you get a feel of the experience of sailing a ship through the Lemaire...

    When we get close to the end of the channel, there is a huge iceberg and sheet ice in front of us, blocking the rest of the way through. You can kind of make it out when the ship slows and starts to turn around.  I'd say I was disappointed we didn't get to go the rest of the way through, but I'd be lying because having to turn around, meant we got to witness this beautiful place a second time and have even more opportunities to shoot photos that might hopefully capture it's beauty.

    Today's Weather Conditions
    Weather & Sea: Partly Clouded | Calm
    Temperature: 3ºC | 37.4 ºF
    LAT. 65° 11’ S, LONG. 64° 10’ W

  • Mon, 23 Dec 2019 00:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 9 - Part 2
    December 6, 2019

    After lunch, it was time to kick back a bit in the lounge and share stories with people about the trip so far.  A number of people were working on photos but I was just spending most of my time making 2 full backups of all the shots I'd taken so far.  I wasn't sure if I'd ever get down here again, so wanting to be extra careful and get two copies of everything JUST in case one of my hard drive backups went bad.

    While waiting for my group's turn to get out on the Zodiacs and cruise around Cierva Cove, there was some big excitement, as a group of whales came up really close to the ship and were actively feeding. Until now most whales we'd seen were hundreds of yards away but this group was probably less than 50-75 feet from us.   Everyone grabbed their cameras and rushed to the deck in hopes to get some great shots.

    There was a moment when we all thought we were going to see something extraordinary, when we could see the whales begin to build a bubble net!  I don't know how well you can see it in this photo, but the whales began to circle and blow bubbles which helps them gather their prey into a nice tight group so that they can then swoop up and get more in each mouthful.  If you've ever seen video or photos of a group of whales with their mouths wide open punching through the surface of the water, that's what I thought were were going to see here!

    Everyone had their camera's ready and you could hear the excited voices thinking we were about to get a GREAT show, but sadly this group of whales was just going to tease us, and they ended up feeding just below the surface instead. So we didn't get those amazing shots, but still got a really fun show as the whales just slowly moved back and forth next to the ship, slowly feeding and from time to time showing their dorsal fins, and every once in a while, giving as a quick view of their tails as the would go into a deeper dive for a few minutes.   Here are just a few photos of the whales in action: 

    They stayed right next to us for close to 20 minutes before finally moving on and out of site of the ship. Even though we didn't get the epic type of show, it was still so very cool to watch them up so close to us.

    At 16:00, it was finally time for the second half of us to climb aboard the Zodiacs and head out into the cove.  There was a lot more ice here although much of it was smaller than what we saw yesterday. The Pro that was in our boat had scoped out a very cool area with the first group, and asked our driver to hurry and take us there first to start the ride.  The thinking was it was much further out than most of the other Zodiacs would go so we'd have it all to ourselves, and if we started off as far away as we dared go, we could take our time out there, and then slowly work our way back to the ship.

    Cierva   Cove  lies   at   the   western   side   of   the   Antarctic Peninsula in the northern
    entrance of the Gerlache Strait. In the  vicinity,  there  is  an  Argentinean  station  (Primavera
    Station).  It  is  truly another beautiful  area  surrounded  by  spectacular glaciers and as we headed across the water you could really see just how big those glaciers were!

     The first shot most everyone wanted to take of course, was another photo of the ship from on the water just below it  After that, we were off and running across the bay.

    Here are just some of the views we had once we got to the far end of the bay. It's really hard to judge how tall these glacier walls were, but if I had to guess, I'd say they were about as high as a 6 story building.

    Once we all shot tons of photos in and around those big glaciers, we began to slowly head back toward the ship and pass a number of very interesting looking icebergs.  One cool thing I started to spot on some of them, were these long icicles hanging down from the edges, where you could see that the snow on top had begun to melt during the warm days and as the water ran down and dripped into the sea, it would freeze again at night as the temps dropped.  It was pretty interesting to me...  

    Here is a quick look at a few of the rock formations poking out of all that ice and snow.

    The icebergs here are so seriously blue when the light hits them just right.  Here you can really see that blue and how it almost seems to glow from deep inside.

    Just for fun I'm including a couple of shots with another Zodiac in the photo for scale.  We were cruising around this one berg with a cool arch in it when suddenly another Zodiac pulled in front of the arch on the other side.  We were soon all shooting photos of each other through the arch. LOL

    In this shot, you can see just how full the bay was with all kinds of small chunks of ice.  I'm guessing most of these were from all kinds of small chunks breaking off of the big glaciers from earlier and then those chunks slowly melting and breaking down over time.

    Once back on the ship, it was time to get out of the extra layers and waterproof stuff and into street clothes.  Before dinner was served, there was a quick lightroom class on the Develop module. It's always interesting to me to see and hear how others use Lightroom to edit their photos.

    There was also a quick briefing by the expedition leader about tomorrows activities and then it was off to dinner.   The first few days on the ship, a group of 6 of us had found a nice small and quiet back room to sit and have our meals in.  Turns out the secret was out and when we got in the dining room, our table had been overtaken by another group.  We moved to another table in the room even though it wasn't set up for meals, and the crew was more than happy to bring us what we needed to sit there since they knew we'd used that room every meal until now. 

    After dinner there was one more talk given.  This one was on the mammals of Antarctica and then after that it was everyone to themselves.  Once again, the large majority of people headed off to bed, and the usual suspects kept looking out the window, knowing we could possibly had yet another beautiful sunset ahead of us.  I mean, who can sleep when the weather looks like this?

    Once again we stayed up really late, taking lots of photos, and then when the light stopped changing and we felt satisfied with our photos, it was time to head off to bed to try to get at least a few hours of sleep.

  • Sun, 22 Dec 2019 19:52:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 9 - Part 1
    December 6, 2019

    The wake-up call this morning didn't come until 6:30 which was nice after the super early start yesterday.  Breakfast was served at 07:00 but I wasn't feeling hungry today so I just took my time getting myself ready and packing my camera stuff for the only landing scheduled for today.

    We were doing an 08:30 landing at Hydrurga Rocks which is a small  landing  site  at  the  northern  entrance  of  the  Gerlache Strait.  We were told to expect to see Chinstrap  penguins,  Antarctic  Cormorants and Kelp gulls here, accompanied by snowy sheathbills and Antarctic Brown Skuas. Weddell seals will often haul up on the snow to take naps here too, so we were to keep our eyes open for them as well.

    There was a lot of snow at this landing site and with the warmer temps it was pretty hard to walk through. Falling through the snow up to your thighs was a pretty common occurrence for the day.  I think I found myself thigh deep in the snow at least a dozen times myself.  Any time you got off the small path that had been trampled down, you were almost sure to bury yourself.  lol

    This location is really pretty (which has pretty much been everywhere we've been now, but it still makes you catch your breath) and has a trail that winds up and around a small inlet of water before wrapping around to the back side of the little island.  If you went up and to the left at the top of the hill, you could walk down to a couple of small penguin groups on the rocks, and one that had taken up residence around an old building which I'm missed hearing what it had been used for or maybe if it was still in use.

    When you went to the right, you could see this high rock on the other side of a small water inlet which was covered in penguins and Blue-eyed shag, an Antarctic cormorant. It was funny to see how Penguins work their way so high up on rocks when you know it must take them forever to get up and down from there.  They aren't the swiftest animal on land.

    A pair of snowy sheathbills strutted their way around me for a good 5 minutes, not seeming to care how close they got. They aren't the prettiest birds around for sure.

    I got a little closer to actually getting a face pic of a Weddell seal... this was about as close as I got but I won't give up!

    There were a few Kelp Gulls flying around the area too so we really did see everything they'd told us to watch for.  

    Usually when you see pictures of Penguins, they are fresh out of the water and so nice and clean.  It was pretty interesting to see how that is far from the normal state of these silly creatures.  They are almost always covered in filth because they seen to not mind sliding around mud and their own poo.  Heck this fella looks like he just created some hideous crime somewhere and is making a run for it! LOL  Actually that's just poo I'm sure as most of it is red because of their main diet of Krill.  I know... I just ruined your idea of lovable, cuddly Penguins.  Sorry. Don't worry though, they clean up really well when they hit the water and hunt for food.  They come out looking squeaky clean after a good swim and then you can cuddle away :)

    There were mostly Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins here but there was one lonely Adelie trying to fit in and not be noticed.  It was funny to watch this guy standing in the middle of a group of other Penguins. He stood there like a statue for a long time almost like he was hoping no one would notice him. LOL

    Maybe the coolest thing I saw this morning was a pretty good sized iceberg that was floating just off the beach, suddenly break in half and roll as it tried to settle into a good balanced position again. This thing was bigger than it looked before it rolled, and then you saw two pieces of ice about the size of  large SUVs spinning around.   I wish I had caught that on video but here is a before and after look of it.

    And yes... that's the same chunk of ice. :)

    Well, at noon it was time to head back to the ship.  Lunch was going to be served at 12:30 today and then we are scheduled for another fun Zodiac cruise today.  This time I'm in group two so I will have some down time before I get to go out there.  The cruise today is going to take place at Cierva Cove.

    Since this entry is getting long again, I'll split it in two like I did with yesterday's blog.  Watch for more later today.  :)

  • Sat, 21 Dec 2019 22:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 8 - Part 2

    After getting back on the ship, it was time for breakfast.  I normally skip breakfast but now that I've been up and trudging through snow for a couple of hours, I worked up an appetite so had to check out the offering.  Breakfast on the ship is buffet style, and they had put out eggs, bacon, toast, fruits, cereal, yogurt, and a few other things I probably missed.

    After breakfast, we suited up again. This time it was going to be for a Zodiac cruise in the waters around Spert Island, an island lying off the west extremity of Trinity Island, in the Palmer Archipielago.  They had to split everyone into two groups in order to get us all on the available Zodiacs for a 90 minute cruise around the bay.  I was in the early group today.

    The water was really smooth and the Zodiac ride was awesome. Just feeling the wind on your face, smelling the fresh air, hearing the water splash around us.. it really felt like you were IN nature now more than just observing it.  The views all around us were amazing but with people on each side of the boat, it was kind of hard to get great shots without someone getting in the way.  It took a little time but we finally figured out a method that seemed to work well.  people on one side would kneel down on the floor while the other side took photos over your head and then we would switch when the views were on the other side of us.

    I was really surprised at just how beautiful the weather was and how warm it was on the Zodiac.  I was so worried about being cold on this trip and so far, I've been anything but. Even on the water like that. :)   Here are a few shots to give an idea of how things looked:

    The first two shots have the Zodiac in them to try to give an idea of scale to the area we were in, and to the size of one of the icebergs that was just sitting behind the ship when we offloaded.

    Here are two more shots looking on each side of us to show you how big this bay is and just how smooth the water is right now. 

    And this shot hopefully gives you at least a little idea of how massive those mountains really are. I felt really small sitting down on the water looking up at them.... heck, just that iceberg in front of the mountain was massive!

    Here is another shot of that iceberg with a Zodiac closer to it, so you can really see the size of it.

    After going around a few icebergs and getting up close to them, we wandered further out and over to this massive rock and channel between them.  There was a big chunk of ice stuck in there that totally blocked our ability to pass the rest of the way through there, but it was fun to get up close to it and just see how wedged in there it was.

    In the photo it looks like that thing might be connected to the rocks, but it was actually fully free floating in there.  When we got up and super close to it, you could watch it just bobbing up and down on the water and it didn't seem possible as that chunk of ice had to be the size of a 2 or 3 story home.  Yet it just bobbed around effortlessly between those huge slabs of stone.

    This was just a quick shot, looking back at the ship to see just how far we've traveled so far, and we were still moving further away when I shot this.

    There was a very cool rock arch hidden way from our view until we got close to it, and then two small caves as well.  We tried to talk the driver into taking us through there, but he wouldn't risk it because he couldn't be sure how safe that would be.

    Here is another decent sized iceberg that has been worn smooth by the seas over however many years it's been out there floating around.

    There was a little bit of a ice jam back here... at least until the winds and tide change again and all that huge ice floats back out into the bay.

    And then totally unexpectedly, we saw our third type of Penguin out there..  this Adelie Penguin was far from home and much further north than they usually travel. No one seemed sure what might have brought him so far north, but for now it was taking a break from swimming and just hanging out up on a rock shelf.  

    The 90 minutes out there went by so very fast. I couldn't believe it was already time to get back to the ship, but there was another group waiting for their turn so back we went.  Here's what it looks like looking up at the ship from down on the water.

    The rest of the day was spend on the ship and was pretty relaxing.  We were served lunch at noon, and then after a short break there were a few lectures again. The first was on the Exposure triangle at 13:30 and then at 15:00 there was the first Critique session where everyone was asked to pick two shots to share with the group and then the Pros would tell you what worked or didn't work with the shot and ways to make them better.  That session was great and it was interesting to see what other's were shooting.

    Then it was dinner at 19:00 and Critique session #2 which mostly covered the photos that the first session didn't get to.  After that, a lot of people headed to their rooms to sleep after getting up so early, but the light outside was looking good and I wanted to stay up and see what came of it, along with a handful of others.  Looks like this might be the regular night owl group as it's the same people again tonight as it was last night.

    The wait paid off as the light was pretty amazing tonight.  Now to find out if I got any great shots out of it.  It's too late to look now... it's almost 1:30am and I need some sleep!

  • Sat, 21 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 8 - Part 1

    There was a very early wake up call this morning.  At 4:00 am the wake up call came across the intercom to get everyone up and moving around and ready to make our second landing of the trip.  This morning's landing was in Mikkelsen Harbor, a small bay on the south side of Trinity Island between Skottsberg Point and Borge Point, in the Palmer Archipelago.

    The weather conditions were actually pretty nice, with a small breeze (17-21Knots) and a Temperature:  of -3ºC | 26.6 ºF at the time of the Zodiac ride across the harbor.  The morning was beautiful and the sunrise that was still happening lit up the area all around us with the most beautiful light. If I hadn't already packed up all my gear into the dry bag, I would have been taking pictures like crazy.  I just hoped we would get to the land before the light went away!

    The Zodiac ride over to the landing spot wasn't very long this morning and the water was much smoother than we had on the ride yesterday.  I don't think there were many big splashes this morning which made me regret not getting my camera out earlier but it's always better to be safe than sorry.  There are still way too many days of photography ahead to risk shorting my camera out now.

    Here is a look back at the ship where you can still see the way the early morning light is just touching the mountains around us.

    The following photo shows how beautiful the light was even more... I just wish the photo could also let you hear how quiet and peaceful it is here!  The penguins are even being quiet this morning compared to the loud group we saw yesterday. It's truly an amazing place.

    The first, huge difference in today's landing is that today we have tons of snow and ice around us compared to that muddy mess we had to walk around in yesterday.  I have to say that the smell today isn't nearly as bad either which was a nice surprise. I think the snow really helps keep everything a little fresher.  I know I certainly enjoyed walking in the snow a lot more!

    One of the first animals I saw was this Skua just laying in the snow near our landing site.  It didn't seem bothered at all by me as I got closer to take it's photo. It just laid there watching me. These are one of the biggest threats to Penguins on land, as they like to feed on Penguin eggs and chicks.  Maybe this one had already gotten its fill of eggs this morning.

    There was also a seal nearby just lounging in the snow down by the water.  I waited and watched it for a while to see if it would move so I could get a better shot, but turns out... seals don't do much of anything once they find a spot to snooze.  I finally gave up and realized this would be the best photo of this seal I was going to get today.

     The penguins here are all taking advantage of the few places without snow, to build their nests and lay their eggs.  There were only a few spots on this island with bare land visible and most all of it was taken up the the mating pairs. I have to say, they sure have some amazing views from their chosen spots!

    There would be these little rock outcrops here and there and on every one of them, you'd see a few more Penguins.  They don't seem to let much open ground go to waste this time of year.  Once again, this nest just has some amazing views. 

    Another thing I've learned is that Penguins aren't the quietest creatures around.  They are constantly squawking and calling out. You can see one of them here doing it.  I think I was able to get some good video footage of them where you can hear what it sounds like. I'll have to post that later when I get a change to go through all my video footage. 

    It was fun wandering around in the snow and just watching these few groups as they woke up to start their day.  They weren't nearly as active right now which made watching them easy, but made getting any kind of interesting photos a lot more difficult.

    When it was time to head back to the ship, I just had to stop and take one last look around.  This entire bay is surrounded by amazing Mountains, with Glaciers and snow packs that have to be seen to be believed. I can't even explain the scale of how big these things are... but hopefully the photos can give you an idea.  Look at the way all of that snow and ice just goes right down to the water's edge!

    Oh, and just for grins, here is a picture of TWO seals that joined the beach party .. and yep, they were just as exciting as the first fella I saw this morning.  I guess they are better at doing rock imitations than they are at looking like active animals.  :)

    This post seems like it's getting pretty long so I'm going to break it into two parts.  Watch for part 2 later today :)
  • Fri, 20 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 7
    At 4:00 am we crossed what's known as the Antarctic Convergence. The Antarctic Convergence or
    Antarctic Polar Front is a circular current continuously encircling Antarctica, varying in
    latitude seasonally, where cold, northward-flowing Antarctic waters meet the relatively
    warmer waters of the sub Antarctic. Antarctic waters predominantly sink beneath the
    warmer Sub Antarctic waters, while associated zones of mixing and up-welling create a
    zone very high in marine productivity, especially for Antarctic krill.  Were were told this area is usually pretty heavy with marine life, especially whales because of the high concentration of krill here.

    The Antarctic Convergence is a zone approximately 20 – 30 mi wide, 
    extending across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans between the 48th and 61st
    parallels of south latitude. This line is a natural boundary rather than an artificial one. It
    separates not only two hydro-logical regions, but also areas of distinctive marine life and
    climates. Now we were officially in Antarctica!

    The morning wake up call went out at 7:30 am this morning, with breakfast being served at 8:00 am.  We are supposed to finally see land at some point this afternoon and then have our first landing of the trip at Barrientos Island in the Aitcho Islands Group/South Shetland Islands. This volcanic island is home to Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins.

    Before the landings start, there is going to be a safety briefing on IAATO regulations and on Zodiac operations, going over the process of getting on and off the Zodiacs and then the decontamination process before and after each landing as well.

    The safety talks lasted almost 2 hours but it was nice in that it helped pass the time while we wait to get to shore and off the ship for a bit.  There was lunch at noon and then one more talk about the best ways to carry gear on each landing and what you should and shouldn't do.  I think everyone is just anxious to get off the ship for a while now and to finally get to see some wildlife.  Feels like we've been on the ship for days even though it's only been about 45 hours ... 

    It was finally time to make our first landing of the trip so I headed off to my room to put on a few more layers of clothes.  Not knowing what to expect, I figured I'd play it safe and put on two base layers under a thicker top layer and then my windbreaker / rain coat.  I also put on a smart wool bottom layer under my jeans, followed by a waterproof top layer.  I was instantly too warm on the ship so headed out on to the deck to try to keep cool while waiting to board the Zodiac. 

    The water in the bay was pretty rough and we got hit with a few really big sprays of water on the way too shore. Now I understand the need for a dry bag for the camera gear and the waterproof top layers for out clothing.  It wasn't cold at all on the ride, but when the water hit me in the fact, that was a wee bit chilly. LOL

    As soon as we landed, you could see Penguins on the beach and some had already wandered over just to see all the weird big Penguins on the beach.  LOL  I was surprised to see how little snow there is here and how muddy the ground is. As bad as it smells right now, I'm sure hoping this island isn't made of pure Penguin poo. LOL  This is the nesting season and I can already see Penguins on nests all around.  I think I shot way too many shots on this first stop... just being excited to see all the Penguins so close up.  We got here a bit late so only have an hour to spend taking photos, but it's good to finally be shooting some and to be on solid ground again.  The time went by so fast, but I think I got a few okay shots for my first attempts.

    Chinstrap Penguin
    Gentoo Penguin 
    Gentoo Penguin looking over its shoulder
    Chinstrap Penguin coming right at me to check me out
    Pebble Thieves Get an Earful
    Another Penguin gives up a pebble theft attempt LOL
    Overview of the Penguin Colony
    Another curious Penguin heading my way
    Penguin just getting ready to turn the eggs 
    Another pebble stand-off
    I wasn't sure what this squabble was about but the Chinstrap Penguin seems to be enjoying the show

    We headed back to the ship at our assigned time and then had dinner at 7:30.  After dinner there was an Advanced Lightroom class and most people were looking through all their photos from the island. Everyone seemed really happy and excited by the experience.

    The rest of the night was just spent sharing pictures with each other and talking about the whole experience of watching Penguins building their nests and stealing pebbles from each other. It was a very funny sight to see for sure.
  • Thu, 19 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 6
    Sleep was really tough last night.  I think I woke up just a few hours after going to bed to the ship really pitching and rolling and hearing a few very loud booms from huge waves slamming into the ship during the night.  Now I know why the beds come with rails on them, it really is to keep you from being rolled right out of bed. They were saying that we would be experiencing mild waves before the trip started and all I can say if the ship feels like its being tossed around like a toy in a bath tub in mild waves, I would hate to see what it feels like in really rough seas.

    Looking at the latest report that was posted upstairs though, it looks like the weather report changed as the night went on and the current weather conditions are Gale for Winds of 34-40 Knots and the Seas are listed as Rough.  That would explain the way the ship is just being tossed around right now.
    The good news is that I am feeling no effects of sea sickness at all, but just trying to get into the bathroom to shower this morning was a crazy adventure.  It’s really hard to stand up and I was seriously worried I might get thrown right out of the shower when I first got in there this morning. Luckily there is a rail in there to hold on to, but taking a shower one handed is no where near as easy as you'd think.  LOL

    Time to head upstairs and sit in on the first talk of the day. I decided to skip breakfast this morning.  My body just can’t adjust to the time yet and there is no way I can eat breakfast when it feels like 3 am to me. I usually never eat breakfast at home until 10am as it is.

    Its looking and sounding like there are quite a few people that are feeling sea sick due to the way the ship is just rolling back and forth right now.  They still say this is pretty calm for the Drake, so now it totally makes sense why they were pushing the sea sickness meds so hard at dinner last night, even to people who never suffer motion sickness.  Even though I’m still okay, I have never felt a ship move like this… heck, I haven’t even felt a small boat on a lake bounce around the way we are right now, and looking outside the seas really don’t look THAT bad.  It’s some kind of weird optical illusion I think.

    The morning has mostly been filled with talks. It started with a lecture on "The Art of Seeing" and then after a short break there was a talk by one of the wildlife experts on "Seabirds and Penguins".  She mostly covered all of the wildlife we should be seeing on the trip and shared pointers on how to tell the difference between many of the different species we may see.

    The slight rolling motion of the ship has been getting worse as the days goes on, and people have been flung across the ship more than a few times now. It really is no joke that you should told on to the hand railings whenever possible and to really try to time the rolling motion when you walk across the room.

    During the breaks between talks, I’d gone outside to attempt to shoot photos of some of the birds following the ship, but shooting photos of birds in flight is tough enough on a good day and its even tougher when the ground underneath you is pitching side to side 12-15 degrees. I have to say I’ve gotten really good at surfing the deck while trying to shoot some photos now though.  I’ve managed to just stand out there without holding on to anything and ride the ship like a surfboard while taking photos. Being able to stand out there doesn’t mean I got a single good shot though!  LOL

    Here are some of my better shots of birds so far...

    They finally closed the deck to us and no one is allowed outside any longer today.  The ship is really bouncing around now to the point where it almost looked like waves were going to roll up on the deck a few times as we rolled WAY over to the side.  We’ve done that a few dozen times now and you can almost time it when it happens.  It’s very crazy to watch it happen out the window but not scary or anything. It’s kind of become the norm today.  I can’t even imagine how bad this crossing would be in bad weather with big seas.

    There were a couple of more talks during the afternoon before dinner and one after dinner.  They covered topics on Wildlife Photography, Photographing Birds and then after dinner there was a great slideshow and talk about photography in Antarctica put on by a guy that's made the trip 34 times now.

    Everyone headed to bed right after that final lecture and I’m the only one up in the lounge other than the crew so maybe I’ll head to bed now and see if I can’t get a bit more sleep tonight.  We are supposed to reach the Shetland Islands tomorrow afternoon and have our first excursion of the trip around 4pm! They also said that the seas will be much calmer once we get inside the cover of the island which made more than a few people happy.  I’m curious to see just how must calmer the water will be.
  • Wed, 18 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 5
    After a year of planning, 2 days of travel and 2 days of waiting around in Ushuaia, the big day where we all finally get on the ship is here!  I got up pretty early to make sure to get all my stuff packed up and ready to go, as it has to be taken to the lobby of the hotel next door by 9:00am so that it could be picked up and taken over to the ship for boarding.  It finally feels like the trip is real, but but now that my bag has been checked in next door there is still another 6 or 7 hours of waiting around to do until we can actually go through customs and board the ship at 4:00. 

    Needless to say, the wait dragged on and on and seemed to take forever for 4pm to roll around.  I ran into Randy and Bob, the guy that went to dinner with me last night before so we all wandered around together while Randy looked for a few last minute clothing items.  The shopping helped pass the time a little but even after all that, there were still 5 hours to sit around and wait. Tick tock, tick tock….  I won’t bore you with the tedious details of the wait more than I might already have.

    Everyone from the trip started to gather at the port at around 3:30, all seeming to be as anxious as I was to get this show on the road.  We milled around in front of the port Entry for a while until the time came to finally get our carry on bags scanned and board the ship. It was pretty funny in that the security scanning processed seemed like it was much more for show than for true security. They never even really watched the x-ray of the bags passing through.

    Walking down the dock I passed 3 much bigger cruise type ships before reaching the Ushuaia and it pretty funny to realized our shipe was about half the size of any of the others docked there.  This was certainly going to be a no frills kind of sailing.  No pool, so spa, and rooms about 1/3 the size of rooms on any cruise ship I’ve ever seen.  I'm not complaining at all though, as I wanted this trip to be more about the adventure of getting there than one where I just sat in high luxury feeling totally disconnected from the world outside.  I want to feel like I earned the right to be there once we crossed the Drake.

    The only thing I was nervous about for the trip was to find out who I would be sharing a room with since I didn't pay the extra money to have a solo cabin.  I just hoped the person I was sharing the room with would turn out to be a nice easy going kind of guy. I figured I'd be in the room a very limited amount of time anyway, so I saved my money to put toward the hotel rooms on the trip.  The guy that was assigned to my room turned out to be from Washington as well.  I don’t know if that was just totally random or not, but it was kind of nice to at least have something in common with him.

    Here are a couple of photos of the room showing just how sparse it was and showing the shared bathroom.

    Everyone got settled in to their rooms pretty quick and then headed up to the “lounge” area and the deck to watch the ship pull away from the dock at 6pm.

    We are finally under way!  Looking back at the town on the way out, you can really see just how big the mountains are and how the close in around the city.  It’s really pretty and I can hear the excitement in everyone’s voices now that we are moving and the trip finally feels real.  Here are a few shots from the deck of the ship to show you what it looked like as we started the trip.

    The ship spent the first 4 -5 hours sailing through the Beagle Channel which is the body of water between Argentina and Chile.  The water was nice and calm and the day was beautiful out there. I was actually surprised by how warm it was here today. 

    As with all cruises or trips on ships like this, there is a safety briefing and then dinner tonight and I think I’m going to try to get some sleep after that.

    As part of the safety briefing, they told us to not expect these calm seas when we wake up in the morning as we’ll be entering the Drake Straight sometime later tonight after 10pm.  It guess that means its time to find out if the Drake will live up to everything I’ve heard.

    We were being told that the seas will be “calm” for the Drake in one breath, and then warned about always making sure to use both hands on the rails when going up and down the stairs and being told if we wake up in the middle of the night and get out of bed, to make sure we are fully awake first… and to take time to feel how the ship is moving before actually getting up. 

    Hmmmmmm…. Sounds ominous.
  • Tue, 17 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 4
    When I finally woke up, I realized just how tired I must have been because I think I slept close to 10 hours and had maybe only woken up once all night!  That’s so rare for me that I can’t even remember the last time I slept that long or that well.  I felt great this morning so got ready for the day and grabbed my camera and decided I would explore the rest of the town and take some photos of murals I had seen the day before while out exploring.  It seemed like there were a few dozen murals throughout the city and I decided I would only shoot the better and more interesting ones I could find.

    The mural above, has become very famous on Instagram from what I was told, and I guess it's a popular place for tourists to stop and pose with the penguins with all kinds of crazy selfies and shots of themselves.  I didn't go looking for any examples, but I assume you could find them out there if you try looking as I watched 4 different couples taking those kinds of shots here, spending 15 - 20 minutes each trying to get that perfect photo to impress their friends I guess.  LOL   I kept coming back until I finally got a lucky break between the Instagram fanatics and snapped my shot in about 3.5 seconds. I just wanted to get one with my life and see more of the town than just this mural I guess.  LOL

    The following are all part of a long mural along a wall near the hotel I was staying at. I couldn't get the entire thing into one shot, so I broke it up into pieces... 

    The following was just really interesting to look at and I wish I could have found out more about the story behind it.

    I always enjoy exploring new places and getting away from the streets designed to draw in the tourists… so I headed up the hill to the top of the city and started to wander through the neighborhoods just seeing what life was like or at least trying to get a feel for what it must be like living here.  People seemed friendly and although the streets and sidewalks were a bit beat up, the houses looked well kept and I even passed a few people already out cooking meat on the barbecue, either for lunch or if they smoked it all day, for dinner.  Argentina is known for its meet, and I’m thinking they take it pretty serious from how much care they put into slow cooking it.

    I passed a few playgrounds that reminded me of the playgrounds in Germany, where there were big fences around the soccer fields and basketball courts to keep the balls from flying out into traffic.  There were kids playing in all of the ones I passed by. The laughter and noise just made the streets feel alive and kind of made the walk that much more fun. 

    After a few hours of wandering the residential streets, I decided to head back down to the hotel as it was getting close to the time for our first meeting for the excursion.  The trip still didn’t feel real even though I was now 7700+ miles from home.  I don’t think it will feel real until I’m on the ship and we pull out of port, but at least the meeting where we get our passes and last minute info will make it feel like it’s really going to happen.

    The meet and greet with the group going on the expedition went really well and I met some of the people that were going on trip and met a few people I knew I would have fun hanging out and talking with while we sail south for 48 hours.

    After the meeting ended,  I grabbed dinner with one of the guys I had met, and we decided we had to try out a steak place just down the street from the hotel.  When I said they were serious about their meat here, I don’t think I really knew how serious until we hit the restaurant.  I made the mistake of ordering the “big steak” and looking at the price I assumed it was going to maybe be an 8 oz steak. Imagine my surprise when it showed up and looked to be a pound if it was an ounce!  Yikes!!  Those of you who know me know how slow I eat, and I quickly realized two things… one, I could never finish that steak, and two… if I even attempted to try, I might be there 4 hours or so. LOL  The steak was excellent and I did my best, but think I barely managed to eat half of it, without anything else but a couple of bites of mashed potatoes.

    Now that I was full, and I had been walking half the day, I decided I should attempted to get one more really good night of sleep, as it may be 12 days before I sleep really well again.
  • Mon, 16 Dec 2019 22:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 3
    Got up at 3:00 am so that I could shower and be ready to head out of the hotel by 4:00am and get to the domestic airport here.  Even though it was so early in the morning, there were still a lot of people out and about on the streets of the city, looking like they were just heading home after a long night of partying, or maybe just moving on to the next part.  I asked someone about that at the airport and they said that the city parties all night long every Friday and Saturday night and that was totally normal.
    The good news was almost everyone I saw that morning was walking so the streets were pretty empty and I got to the airport in less than 15 minutes.  As bad as immigration was coming into the country, security to fly out to another part of Argentina was so quick and easy and I was through security with plenty of time to spare.

    The only real difference between flying domestically here as opposed to most other countries I've been to, is that to check a bag, you have to check it at airline’s counter where they weigh it and put in on the conveyor belt, but then you are handed a receipt for the bag and sent down the hall to a cashier window to pay the checked bag fee. It was strange they couldn't take the payment at the counter.  The cashier was kind of hard to find at first, and then after I paid the fee, they printed me a new boarding pass and sent me on my way.  It was a totally different and not all that efficient experience really, but the airport wasn’t busy at the time so it really didn’t add all that much time to my check in process.  If I wouldn’t have been so early, it might have been more stressful as there were only two people there to collect the baggage fees for all the flights that morning.

    The flight to Ushuaia was smooth and only took about 3.5 hours. Ushuaia is known as the city at the end of the world for good reason. I have to admit it wasn’t what I expected or pictured in my head.  I was thinking this would be some really small port town where a few ships docked, but it was actually a nice sized town completely surrounded by big mountains that seemed to loom over you as you walked around the streets there. It's beautiful to see the way the mountains loom over the city like that.

    I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours so I was getting hungry and since I got to my hotel before I could check in, I hit the restaurant there and had some lunch.  By the time I finished lunch, my room was ready and I got all checked in and settled, and decided to head out and explore the town a bit.  I hadn’t slept much in the last 24 hours, so it was just a short exploration of the main street with all the tourist shops and restaurants tonight. By the time 10pm rolled around I was beat and called it a night and thought I should try to get as much sleep before getting on the ship as I could, since I knew sleep would be hard to come by once on board the ship.
  • Sun, 01 Dec 2019 02:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 2
    The flight from Houston to Buenos Aires was smooth and quiet the entire way.  Most people slept the entire night other than me and a handful of others that I could see were awake watching movies during the night.  So as smooth as the flight was, and the fact they fed us twice and both meals were tasty... I should have expected the rest of the morning to be a bit rougher.

    It started off with some of the longest lines I'd ever seen at a passport control when flying into another country.  Sadly by the time I got into that line, I think I was way at the back and the slow slog began... snaking our way back and forth, feeling like I was never going to get to the front of the line.  They had it split up really strange too, and at one point, pushed a lot of us from one line into a much longer line for some unknown reason... so my long wait got even longer.  After almost an hour... with what looked like a good 45 minutes left in my line... I looked behind me and noticed that the original line I had been in, was down to about 12 people.  Quickly I rushed back and joined the end of that line and I was so glad I did.  Those customs agents were getting tired and could see that they were almost through their line.  After watching them asking people question after question for that first hour, and seeing them make people pull out their hotel info, their flight itineraries, etc....  they suddenly started blowing through people so they could get a break.  I think I was asked how long I would be here, if it was business or pleasure, they took my photo, my thumb print and sent me on  my way.  Dang.... why didn't they do that the whole time?  We could have been though there in 45 minutes instead of the 90 it took.  LOL

    After that, I found my bag waiting at baggage claim,  got to the random red/green light telling me if I'd have to scan my luggage on the way out of the airport or not, and got the green light that let me bypass that last step, and was finally free to step outside ... into the 80 degree heat!

    Finding a taxi was a breeze, and then I got to experience some seriously crazy traffic and driving.  I quickly learned that traffic here is so much worse than the Seattle traffic, which I honestly didn't think could be possible.  It was only noon on a Friday and the freeway was backed up and at a stand still for as far as the eye could see.  My Taxi driver did a quick search on his mapping program to find a path around the mess, and then the real fun started!   If you get nervous when someone else is driving a little crazy, you may have just had to close your eyes for the next hour and a half!   It seems lanes and stop signs are just suggestions here and suggestions that most drivers don't feel any sort of need to follow.  I don't think my driver came to a complete stop at a single stop sign, and in fact, at the 4-way stops we went through, there were times cars were coming in both directions, through the intersection with one slowing JUST enough to pass behind another ...  it was kind of scary at first... but I guess I got used to it after the first 4 "stop" signs....  and then just started to wonder how cars weren't getting t-boned in every intersection.  LOL

    I did notice that almost every car on the road had big dents in them.... a lot with long deep gouges along the side of the car... where it appears they shared a lane with another car for a little bit of time.  Let's just say it made me appreciate the traffic in Seattle a little which I can't believe I just said.  :)

    I finally made it to the hotel safe and sound and by now was really feeling exhausted.  I had only managed to sleep about 2 hours total in the last 24 hours so tonight is going to be a relaxing one where I try to catch up on some sleep before having to be up at 4am to get back to the airport for the final leg of the flight.   I did make the mistake of running out to look for lunch, just in time to get caught in a crazy thunderstorm that came out of nowhere!  I'll have to post videos of it after I get back home. 

    If any of this makes no sense, or was just a bunch of rambling, I'll blame it on my lack of sleep! I don't know if anything will post after this entry until I get back... but maybe I can post one more day before I get on the ship and lose all contact with the world for 11 days.  :)
  • Sat, 30 Nov 2019 02:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 1
    This trip has been on the calendar for so long, that at times if felt like it would never get here, and as I would read up on Antarctica and watch videos and see photos from there, my excitement to get the trip underway would spike over and over again.... the waiting was killing me so I tried hard to put it out of my mind for months on end.  Then the day of my flight out of Seattle got down to the single digits, it almost didn't feel real anymore.

    I don't think it really sunk in that it was time to go, until the night I packed my bags, which I did two days before the trip... and which is 2 days sooner than I pack for most of my trips.  I'm a last minute kind of packer when I travel.

    I think I was at the airport close to 4 hours early on Thanksgiving... wanting to be absolutely sure nothing happened to make me miss that flight... not traffic, security lines, some snag while checking my bag, etc.  I have to actually admit I was nervous for the first time in a very long time about a trip.  Turns out there was nothing to be nervous about though, as I checked my bag and was through security in record time!  I think it might have seriously taken 7 minutes and 4 of those were talking from checking my bag to the security checkpoint.   Why can't flying always be that smooth?

    I spent a few hours just wandering around the airport,  caught a little bit of the first Thanksgiving Day football game (but can't tell you a single thing that happened)... and then watched a movie about Apollo 11 to take my mind off things.

    The flight was mostly smooth and the first leg of the trip was over.  Now it was just a matter of waiting another 4 hours to get on the flight to Buenos Aires.  I got my first taste of hanging out in the United Lounge which made the wait so much nicer... (Thanks Randy!).

    Boarding for the next leg started at 9:30 pm... so I was already 12 hours into the trip, with a 10 hour flight ahead of me now.  Nothing too exciting really happened in all that downtime, so I'll just sign off for now.  It's a huge plane, not nearly as full as I feared... and so far so good!

  • Thu, 18 Apr 2019 15:00:00 +0000

    Scotland - Day 11
    For the final day in Scotland, we decided to take a last minute tour to see Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abbey, and then cross the border down into England to visit the World Heritage Site, Hadrian's Wall.

    The first time I heard or read anything at all about Rosslyn Chapel, was in "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown.  It was a surprise addition to the trip and one that I was excited to be able to go visit and see in person.  The ideas of the mysteries buried there in symbols and codes were pretty intriguing so it was fun to see some of those things and find them on the walls of the chapel myself. I can totally see why it's made people wonder if there was more to it than just blueprints for work on the church itself.  I wish I could have taken some photos from inside the Chapel, but it wasn't allowed so this was all I could really shoot there.

    Just down the hill from here is the family home and another set of ruins where parts of the movie starring Tom Hanks was filmed, so I had to wander down there for a look and shoot a couple of photos from that location as well.  It was really fun to see where some of the filming took place.

    After having about 90 minutes here, it was back on the bus and on to the next stop in a small village called Melrose.  The town was really pretty and situated just on the edge of town was the Melrose Abby, most famous for being the location of Robert The Bruce's Heart.  The King's heart is said to have been buried in the church, perhaps brought back from a crusade with the body of Lord Douglas in either 1330 or 1331.

    After walking around the Abby and having some lunch, it was back onto the bus and across the border into England and a visit to see Hadrian's Wall.  It's also known as The Roman's Wall, and runs 73 miles, spanning the entire width of England at one of it's narrower locations.  The story as it was explained was that the Roman's had gone north to take all of Scotland along with England as they ruled most of the known world back then, but for some reason decided against claiming Scotland for the Empire.  They then decided to build the Wall to protect themselves from what they called the Barbarians north of the border and this wall marked the northern-most point of the Romane Empire. Construction of the wall ran from 122-128 AD.

    This shot gives more of a close up of the construction of the wall and how well it has held together after all these years.  I think it was between 5 - 6 ft high along this stretch of wall.

    Here you can see the wall running off into the distance up and over the hill in the background.

    If you'd like to read more about the wall, check out the link here.

    After leaving here, it was time to head back to the apartment, pack up the bags and get ready to head back home.  11 days may sound like a lot, but there is just so much that Scotland has to offer, that we barely scratched the surface on things to do and see if you ever go there.  I could have spent months there an never ran out of things I wanted to see.  It's truly a beautiful country.

    I'm sad the trip is over but ready to head back home.  I will be back!

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