Antarctica Journal 3.13.09
Last day in Antarctica, but one of the most exciting of the trip. We hit the farthest point south (64’53”, I think) on this voyage. I’m a little disappointed that we aren’t crossing the Antarctic Circle, but I hop to come back some day and will make sure that’s a part of the experience.
I did my usual bridge visit and was happy to learn we’d be entering Neko Harbor. The channel looked too small to allow our ship through, but, as we got closer, Antarctica pulled its usual magic and the channel widened into a huge opening into Neko Harbor. It was beautiful!
I hurried down to breakfast (late) and had eggs Florentine. Rupert told us during his breakfast announcements that the morning examinations would include a landing and a cruise and only the first 5-6 zodiacs would land, while the rest cruised and, then, halfway through the morning, they’d switch. I was delayed at breakfast talking to someone, then kept forgetting stuff, so I ended up being in a cruising zodiac. We had to hear over the radio that a leopard seal had caught a penguin just off shore.
Instead of checking out the animal activity near shore, our driver went out into the bay to look at icebergs and kept us out so long that we only had about an hour on shore when we finally landed. I was really annoyed. I trudged up the beach, narrowly avoiding stepping on a penguin carcass. Penguins were all around us. As I came around to the snow hill, I saw Nadine lying on the snow taking pictures. Two penguins had come right up to her, so I snapped some shots, because she couldn’t. I went up the hill and took some pictures over the bay and back down the hill.
On my way back down the hill, Kevin handed me his camera and asked me to take pictures of him working with his video camera. He let me take some penguin shots, too, but I wished I knew more about photography so I could have taken full advantage of the opportunity. At that point, Michael, the wildlife expert, started herding us back to the shore to go back to the ship for lunch. I held back as much as I could and was the last person to get in the zodiac.
Lunch was pizza or crab louis, neither of which I like (or can eat, in the case of the crab), so I went for the pizza, obviously. The best part of lunch was dessert: ICE CREAM SOCIAL!!!! As we finished eating, the salad bar table was reset as a buffet of toppings: sauces, fruits, nuts, cookies, sprinkles, etc. I had two scoops of chocolate ice-cream with chocolate and caramel sauces (side-by-side), brownie bits, crumbled meringue cookies, crushed chocolate wafers, whipped cream and sprinkles. Yum!! I also got to talk to people who’d seen the leopard seal with the penguin. What an experience!
During lunch, the ship moved from Neko Harbor to Paradise Harbor. Rupert announced that there would be no polar plunge, which upset a lot of people, but I knew they wouldn’t have denied it, if they could have let it happen. For the afternoon excursions, there was no way I was getting in a cruising zodiac first, but, even so, I was on the 3rd zodiac out. I was a little surprised to see Thom and some of his staff getting on the early zodiacs. As our tour guide, I expected him to make sure we were all on shore first, but I haven’t noticed that he operates as a tour guide out here.
As soon as we landed, I saw a signpost with various destinations and their distance from the base in knots. I took a few pictures, with and without the ShakeAway cup, then explored the deserted Argentine base a bit, taking pictures and video of the penguins. In order to slide down the mountain, I had to climb it first. The sun was blazing and I was hot, so I left my parka at the landing and started trudging. I was sweating by the time I got halfway. It was really steep and I was glad that I had footprints to step into and make my way more easily up the hill (I’m not sure which this was – I’m not good at judging distances or steepness, which are both factors in determining whether an elevation is a hill or a mountain).
At the top of the snow, I climbed up onto the bare rocks and ate some chocolate. I’d forgotten that I wasn’t supposed to bring any food onto Antarctica, but I wanted to eat some of Daniel’s chocolate on the continent. People started sliding down the hill and, after a good groove was carved into the snow, I tucked myself into it, lifted my feet and slid down myself. A bunch of us started out towards the outcropping with the Argentine house, but were waved off from a zodiac in the bay. They’d forgotten to tell us that the scientific buildings were okay to explore (from outside), but not the house.
I took some more penguin pics and video, then went to the landing for my zodiac cruise. People from the emptying zodiacs were trying to get their pictures with the signpost, so I offered to take pictures for them. By the time I finished, the last zodiac had left, but it was going back to the ship to drop people off, so Lynn asked it to come back for me. It was, unfortunately, the same driver from the morning, with the same results. No animals, except for a lone minke whale on our way back to dinner. Some of the other zodiacs saw animals, but not ours. Luck of the draw, I guess.
Back on the ship, it was cookie time, so I grabbed a couple for me and a couple for my roommate (chocolate with white-chocolate chunks). Instead of packing, I played with my photos until dinner.
I sat with Liz and Rod. Dinner was prime rib, which was okay. Dessert was a chocolate molten cake, that was more like a chocolate soufflé cake. Delicious!! I spent the rest of the evening in the library before going to bed with a sleeping pill.
Pictures from these days are available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7411850@N04/sets/72157616101404706/