Friday March 13, 2015 (Antarctica)
We’re back on solid ground!
I know the burning question that everybody needs answered: who puked first? For those of you who bet on Ian, I’m proud to say you chose a winner. The first day crossing the Drake Passage, Ian managed to total no less than eight separate fits of vomiting. Sandra by contrast, and to her immense credit, managed to stay vomit-free throughout the entire trip.
We were told by the team early on, “This is not a cruise. This is an expedition.” So: yes. The crossing from Cape Horn to the Antarctic Peninsula was rough. The Passage lived up to its reputation as one of the most infamously rough seas in the world and gave us some nice 4-5m swell. For two days straight. Trust me when I say it’s more than mildly unpleasant to awake from a night of being tossed around in your bed by the movement of the ship. Then you try to shower and you’re bracing your legs against the walls to try to stay standing. Then you walk down the halls of the ship and everybody’s swaying to and fro. My brain didn’t deal well with it.
But we persevered! And as expected, it was completely worth the rough sea, not to mention the punishment to the wallet. We set foot on the Antarctic continent. We took the polar plunge in a water temperature of 1.8 degrees Celcius. We saw Humpback whales, Orca whales, Elephant seals, Crabeater seals, Leopard seals, Weddell seals, Fur seals, Gentoo penguins, Adelie penguins, Chinstrap penguins, and King penguins. We saw birds ranging from the tiny Snowy Sheathbill scavenger to the bird with the largest wingspan in the world: the Wandering Albatross. The abundance of wildlife was truly incredible.
We received lectures on everything from the history of Shackleton's expeditions in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration to the sport of Wellie Wanging (you can look that one up). We visited Shackleton’s grave at the historic Grytviken whaling station, and walked the same path he look to cross South Georgia island at the end of his epic journey to reach safety at Stromness. Next to Shackleton’s grave is that of his right hand man Frank Wild. We were able to visit the spit of land on Elephant Island where Frank Wild waited with the bulk of Shackleton’s crew for four months awaiting rescue.
We drove our ship alongside tabular icebergs the size of city blocks. We broke through fields of sea ice as far as the eye could see. We hiked to the highest point in the Falkland Islands after learning about the war. We saw a very vocal penguin get covered head to toe in poop from a nearby Black browed albatross chick for refusing to shut up. We rammed a National Geographic boat head on while attempting to dock in the Falklands, destroying some portions of our ship. We travelled in wind gusts up to 95 knots, much in excess of hurricane force. It was awesome.
Eating on the boat seemed like an almost constant affair. You’d have barely finished breakfast and attended a lecture or two before it was lunch time. Some days we’d be awoken at 5:30am to land our zodiacs on the beach at the largest King penguin colony in the world, and proceeded to wander by literally hundreds of thousands of penguins.
The people on the boat were fantastic. Australians, Chinese, Japanese, Canadians, Americans. The list goes on! We made many friends on the trip, and by the end of the three week excursion we had settled into a great seating group for all of the meals: get there early or you won’t be able to secure a seat at your favourite table! We liked to sit in Marela’s section. She took great care of us and would happily let us customize our meals to our heart’s content. Breakfast and lunch buffets, and a dinner menu with four appetizer and four entree options. And if you weren’t happy with the two dessert offerings, you could always customize it by adding ice cream, getting a fruit plate, or just demanding the incredible lemon sorbet!
There were several party evenings organized by the crew throughout the expedition. These ended up involving the two of us dressing up as “Ernest Shag-a-ton” and “Frankly I’m Wild”, in addition to “Ernest Shackles-and-gun” (for Western night). We took part in a talent night, for which I wrote a song highlighting each of the members of the expedition staff. It went over very well, and we ended up playing a recording that was taken of it at the final night’s festivities. I got a lot of positive feedback on it, with people wanting to obtain the lyrics and recordings for themselves to remember the trip by. I’ll make sure to post a copy here when/if I get ahold of it myself!
On our final night we were treated to a slideshow created by the staff showing many of the best pictures taken by the expedition team and passengers alike. It was quite amazing to see such a beautiful summary of the amazing experiences we’ve had the privilege to take part in over the past three weeks. Although I’ve tried to do a reasonable job of highlighting some of the more notable aspects of the trip, it’s overwhelming how many stories we’ve come away with.
Our backpacking continues from here on out. Nobody making our meals anymore. And nobody organizing our days for us (unfortunately!). We take an overnight bus this evening from Buenos Aires to Salta on our quest to make our way through Bolivia. The eventual goal is to get into northwestern Brazil. At that point, we plan on catching a flight back to Sao Paolo before flying onward to Johannesburg, South Africa where we commence the African portion of the trip.
What an absolutely phenomenal journey we’ve had in the farthest southern reaches of our planet!
P.S. In case you’re wondering about the pictures of an awesome Japanese guy taking tripod-based selfies, you’ll have to ask us when you’ve got time for a yarn!
P.P.S. We don’t have enough time to upload all of our pictures at this point in time, so I’ll send as many as I can before we have to grab this bus to Salta. After that, I’ll keep plopping them into here!