Friday, February 28, 2014

Antarctica Day 10: My 10 Minutes on the Antarctic Continent

Posted via email from satellite phone on-board the Ioffe. Photos will come
when the voyage is over!


After an early morning kayak meeting to discuss our options for the day, we
dressed up and loaded up to go only to find out that the wind at our
destination was far too strong to get in the kayaks. The wind was even
threatening to be too strong to even get in the zodiacs, but this was our
last chance after a few close attempts to step ashore the actual Antarctic
continent vs. the near-shore islands we had been landing at. Even though we
had spent most of the trip within throwing distance of the shore, the
massive glacial walls made landing zodiacs difficult. As we were standing
outside in our gear waiting to disembark, we were all told "anyone not
determined to go to shore can hang out in comfort on the boat", but all of
us stayed.

They took us to shore at Brown Base, an Argentinian research base that
usually don't like to set people land (even though it really isn't within
their power to say yes or no, Antarctica by the Antarctic Treaty not really
being Argentina's to claim and all), but this time the base commander was a
nice woman sympathetic to our cause. We ran up a hill, I kissed rock, made
another snow angel, and then we were shooed back to the boats before the
wind could get any worse. But exciting! Antarctic Continent! Woo! For many
it was their 7th continent. It was my 4th. Asia, Africa, Australia, here I

Then we cruised to Wilhelmina Bay, with the promise of TONS OF WHALES,
WHALES EVERYWHERE. And leopard seals, which is what I was most excited
about. I've had nightmares of leopard seals approaching us in our kayaks
(them being bigger and a whole lot meaner than the kayaks and all), and was
eager to have it happen for reals. But again the wind thwarted us, even
though the weather was lovely. I was also bummed because my camera is still
in a bag of rice hopefully recovering from its overnight swim (everyone
please keep your fingers crossed, or this will be the end of Pretty Pictures
by Carie) and the light and snow and glaciers and mountains were spectacular
and I desperately wanted to take photos. Alas. But we got in the zodiacs and
cruised around for our Whale Hunt. For two hours. No whales, no seals. But
the staff, always excellent and brilliant and feeling sorry for us, took a
zodiac loaded up with booze out and delivered spiked hot chocolate and a
Queen karaoke session to all of us while we cruised.

Back on the ship we were bugged to get our photos uploaded to the ship's
shared folder so that all of us could have photos of ourselves and so that
we could have a "Best of" set put together. Ingrid and I snuggled up in our
room and worked hard on processing all of our photos and videos, a big job
when you spend all day every day taking photos and videos!

The evening's activity was the ship's Antarctica Auction, where some fun
items were auctioned off in order to raise money for several
Antarctica-related nonprofits. There was a penguin sculpture made and
donated by the Chinese group, a set of silly penguin T-shirts, a gemstone
penguin pendant necklace, a beautiful watercolor of penguins walking up a
glacier that a resident artist had painted on a previous voyage from one of
the landing sites, a cleaned whiskey bottle that had been re-labeled and
bottled with pristine melted glacial ice collected on this trip, a photo of
this year's Vernadski station crew signed by the crew (awww), breakfast in
bed delivered by the staff member of the bidder's choosing, the chance to
don a captain's hat and sunglasses and be "captain" for the hour when we
sail around Cape Horn (if I had lots of money, that's the one I would have
wanted), one of Ari's biopsy darts that still had a bit of whale skin stuck
to it (I got to smell test it, it was legit), a bottle of scotch that was a
re-creation of the scotch that Shackleton had brought with him on the
Endurance voyage, and the big treasure: a map of our ship's route plotted
out and signed by the ship's captain. The map went for over $4000. Lynn, the
woman through whom my dad had booked this trip, bought the Shackleton scotch
and then sold off $10 tastings to raise even more money. $10 I could afford,
and I very much enjoyed the peaty scotch.

Just as dinner was being served, I glanced out the window and saw some
mountains glowing outside. I ran up to the top deck just as a sunbeam was
passing over a pyramidal glacier-covered mountain at the horizon. It was
stunning. If I had had my camera working, it would have been the best photo
of the trip. Instead I stood there and drank in the beautiful moment before
running down to grab my roommate and have her snap the shot. On the way up
the stairs, we crossed paths with Ari who commented, "they may not still be
breaching," since apparently whales had also been spotted. But they were. So
there we were, watching a spectacular sunset over spectacular mountains in
Antarctica, and the whales were putting on a show.

And then we had delicious stuffed pumpkin for dinner.

Another day in Antarctica.

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