<< markandrupa

Antarctica

january 2007

We weren't really sure what we were getting into when we booked our Antarctic cruise, but 50 trips to REI and 500 photography blogs later and we were geared up and ready to go.  We also convinced our close friend Michelle to join the trip, and the three of us embarked on a 25 day cruise of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica with Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris.  The cruise would turn out more fabulous than we had imagined, even magical at times, and once it was all over we agreed that we'd have to return, now tentatively scheduled for 2017!

Photos

We've chosen our favorite 230 photos and put them in a slideshow - check it out.

Trip log

  1. Ushuaia - december 28

    We woke up in time for breakfast this morning, where we met some of the Cheeseman staff who had also arrived in Ushuaia, the self proclaimed "End of the World", a day early.  Breakfast was a decent continental affair, after which we set out for some souvenir shopping.  We'd only been out for ten minutes when the weather turned fierce and assaulted us with a brief but heavy hail, immediately followed by blue sky and blazing sun.  All of the literature had warned us that the weather can change on a dime around here, and Ushuaia was out to prove it.  We stayed out and spent several hours browsing the shops along the main drag before heading over to a nearby grocery store to stock up on snacks for the upcoming cruise.  While Rupa went in to do the shopping I hung around outside to snap some photos of the clearing sky.

    By mid-afternoon we were hungry again and stopped in for paninis and submarinos (hot milk in which you melt a chunk of soft chocolate) at a wine bar decked out as an early twentieth century general store.  I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening working on trip logs while Rupa recharged with a nap and headed out for more shopping.  We had intended to eat dinner with Michelle, who was scheduled to arrive around eight, but her plane was seriously delayed and she left us a message to eat without her, so we found a hip cafe just around the corner where we grabbed a light dinner and some excellent hot chocolate.

    Hotel Albatross, Ushuaia

  2. Tierra del Fuego - december 29

    Our Cheeseman's Antarctica tour offically kicked off this morning as we checked in with Ted and picked up our magnetic name tags.  The morning had been a bit stressful as we'd been told that the buses would leave around ten, but Michelle called us at seven-thirty to say that we only had thirty minutes to get ready.  We were mostly packed and made it down to the lobby shortly after eight, but as it turned out our local Ushuaia tour operator didn't arrive with the buses until nine-thirty.  This gave us some time to catch up with Michelle, who hadn't arrived until two in the morning after a six hour flight delay.

    Once on the bus we drove out to nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park and spent a couple of hours touring the lush forests and scenic lakes.  Among the beaver ponds and rabbit infested fields we also passed an ancient lake bed that, according to our guide, was now a field of moss nearly forty feet deep!  We continued on and eventually made our way to a picnic grounds for a box lunch, but instead of eating I spent the hour photographing the local bird life, including caracaras, thorn-tailed rayadito, austral thrushes and various finches.

    Back in town we paid a visit to the local waterfront museum before heading to the dock, where we passed through security and boarded the M.V. Ushuaia, our home for the next four weeks.  Interestingly enough, the M.V. Ushuaia was built in Toledo, Ohio, only forty miles from where I grew up, and was recently converted from research vessel to tourist ship.  Our cabin was larger than I had expected and fairly basic:  We had a bunk bed, wardrobe, desk and sink, and we shared a toilet and shower with the neighboring cabin.  Overall, the only real inconveniences would turn out to be the shortage of hangers (four) and hooks for drying our gear and the lack of an in-cabin PA system for shipwide communications.  Beyond our cabin, the common areas of the ship were quite extensive and included a large lounge, sitting parlor, lecture room and cafeteria.

    We were scheduled to set sail just before dinner, but a forty knot side wind kept us pinned to the dock for an extra hour.  By the time we pulled out we were well into our first shipboard dinner, a respectable three-course affair, after which we hung out in the lounge with Michelle before heading back to our room to settle in.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Beagle Channel

  3. At sea, Atlantic Ocean - december 30

    Our first night at sea was uneventful, which is a good thing when you are floating in the middle of an ocean.  While in bed the rocking motion of the boat made me feel as if I were repeatedly nestling into a Tempur-Pedic bed, with the downward motion of the boat levitating me slightly and the upward motion sinking me back into the mattress.  Although I woke up feeling fine, Rupa had trouble maintaining her balance and began a regimen of the motion sickness medicine Bonine.

    After a basic breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham and cheese, porridge, fruit and runny yogurt (our standard breakfast for the next twenty-five days) I attended a lecture on Falkland Islands birds while Rupa attempted to sleep off her sea-sickness.  Later in the morning we had a Zodiac safety briefing and then lounged around until lunch.  Like most meals on board, lunch was decent but mostly unmemorable, the exception this time being the profiteroles, which were mistakenly sprinkled with baking soda instead of the more traditional powdered sugar!

    Between naps I spent the afternoon working on trip logs and attending a photo exposure seminar given by staff member Tom Murphy.  The seminar was a general introduction to SLR exposure controls, but I did learn a couple of tidbits, including the general rule of overexposing penguins by one stop.  Our final briefing of the day covered the following morning's landing at New Island, after which we grabbed dinner and went to bed.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  4. New Island, Falkland Islands - december 31

    We had our first shore excursion this morning, and while most days would be split into separate morning and afternoon landings, today would be an all day affair.  We were also finally able to make use of the cold weather gear we'd lugged with us throughout Argentina and Chile, including our heavy Muck Boots, ski pants, thermal base layers, gloves, hats and dry bags.  It was still a moderate 50F, but the weather down here can change quickly and we would be out in it for seven hours

    The excursion started off slowly, as both passengers and staff were learning how to load and unload the Zodiacs, and it took more than an hour to get all seventy of us to shore.  Once ashore we met local residents Tony and Ian, who, in addition to Tony's wife and kids, were the only people living on the Island.  Interestingly enough, Tony and Ian were not on good terms and barely acknowledged the other's existence, even though they had each set up a table of souvenirs on the beach.

    We headed off across the small Island to a narrow gorge on the opposite shore.  Topping the gorge was a colony of blue-eyed shags, which I unknowingly passed up to hike down into the gorge to see the rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatrosses.  On the path down we navigated our first field of tussock grass, a densely packed, tufted grass of varying height (up to ten feet) that encircles many of the bird colonies down here, as it thrives on the heavily fertilized soil and wafting ammonia.  At the base of the gorge we scrambled over a hundred yards of large boulders out to the shoreline, where we spent a couple of hours watching rockerhopper penguins hop, literally, onto shore and amongst the boulders.  Above us, nestled along the cliff face, albatross mothers were tending to their chicks.

    A picnic lunch was waiting for us back at the beach, where Michelle also picked up an equal number of postcards from both Ian and Tony:  She had an address list 85 names long and needed to get started on them if she was going to mail them from the Antarctic peninsula.  After lunch we took off on a four mile, two and a half hour hike to the albatross colony at the other end of the Island.  The route was fairly level and the ground was blanketed with bright green moss and adorable little ground covers.  Scattered across the Island were hundreds of Magellanic penguin burrows, with the random penguin casually surveying his surroundings, much like a groundhog might.

    The albatross colony was perched atop a dramatic seaside cliff where the birds could use the wind to assist with their takeoffs and landings.  Most of the birds were nesting with small chicks, and would occasionally wake up to feed the little fellas by regurgitating a bit of half-digested food to the back of their throat, where the chicks could reach in and snag it.  Meanwhile, blue-eyed shags would happen by now and again to pose for a photo, and rockhoppers weaved their way among the nests. 

    We had a bit of time left before returning to the ship, so the three of us headed over a ridge to a nearby gentoo penguin colony, where we found two small groups of penguins, a total of maybe 200 individuals.  We stayed to watch one of them build a nest by stealing material from his neighbor's nest, and then we headed off in the direction of the Zodiacs.  As we crossed another ridge, four large colonies - hundreds of penguins each - appeared and we realized that the two small groups we had been watching were really just the suburbs.  We hung out for just a bit, finding a lone king penguin nesting among the gentoos, before makig our way to the beach and boarding a Zodiac.  Back on the ship the three of us ate dinner together and then joined everyone in the lounge for a 9:00pm (midnight, GMT) New Year's Eve toast.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  5. Saunders & Carcass Islands, Falkland Islands - january 1

    We woke up to a windy, overcast morning punctuated by pelting hail that delayed by an hour our landing on Saunders Island.  When we finally made it ashore we found a number of gentoo colonies spread across the relatively narrow neck of the Island.  Photographic conditions were still poor out in the open, but on the opposite shore a sheltered cove played host to a string of rockhoppers making their way to and from the turgid waters along well-worn paths in the black volcanic rock.  Within an hour the weather had improved as the hail subsided and the wind dissipated, so I wandered out of the cove to watch a few Magellanics pick their way down a grassy slope, onto the beach and out to sea.  Further along, the gentoos were also making their way to and from the beach, weaving their way through a lovely field of yellow flowering plants and stopping occasionally for a brief whiff.

    We caught one of the last Zodiacs back to the ship and were greated by Commerson's dolphins shortly after leaving the beach.  Our Zodiac driver, Andy, cruised around the calm bay for a bit as the dolphins played all around us.  The dolphins became especially excited when Andy fired up the motor for the ride back, darting and skipping along side us all the way to the ship.

    During lunch the ship moved to our second landing site, Leopard Beach on Carcass Island, where we disembarked on a beautiful white sand beach rimmed with short tussock grass.  Just beyond the tussock a couple of thousand Magellanic penguins were arrayed in small clusters, spread across an open field ablaze in reds, yellows and greens.  As the penguins made their way to and from the beach they crossed through the tussock, and while I stuck around to photograph them, Rupa and Michelle joined a guided walk through the highlands where they sighted a variety of birds.  I continued to work my way around the landing site, eventually happening upon a young Magellanic family just hanging out near their burrow.  A bit further afield I tracked down some striking long-tailed meadowlarks before starting out over a nearby ridge.  Just then I saw Rupa trailing me in the distance, coming to let me know the landing was being cut short as the wind was picking up speed.

    Indeed, back at the beach the surf was rough enough that the Zodiacs were backed in for loading.  The staff had scouted out alternative departure points, but was unable to find anything more suitable.  We boarded quickly as large breakers crashed over the bow, soaking the foremost passengers, and Hugh gunned the engine to get us out of there.  As we neared the ship we were greated by a school of playful Commerson's dolphins, and once aboard Michelle and I stood on deck frantically trying for some photos.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  6. Steeple Jason, Falkland Islands - january 2

    Last night's cruise was a bit rough as we fought 55mph winds all the way to Steeple Jason Island.  Despite the poor night's sleep we set out early for an all day excursion to the largest black-browed albatross colony in the world:  Some 500,000 albatrosses can be found along a four mile stretch of the Island's western shore.  Due to weather conditions we landed on the eastern shore and hiked a mile and half up and over the Island's ridegline, passing a large gentoo colony and dozens of inquisitive striated caracaras enroute.  As we crossed the ridgeline we spotted thousands of white specks in the distant surf, each representing a floating albatross.  A little further down the trail and the birds were soaring directly overhead, catching a stiff breeze to keep them aloft as they circled time and again above the colony.

    As we rounded the last ridge the colony came into view, and the enormity of half a million birds struck us.  Down along the coast the colony stretched as far as we could see, the large white birds shrinking into little flecks of white until we could no longer resolve individual birds, which, for a bird with a seven-foot wingspan, is quite some distance.  I spent the entire afternoon nestled within the ten-foot tall tussock grass that surrounded the colony, snapping photo after photo of incoming albatrosses as they approached the colony in wide, looping arcs, until I finally got the picture I was after.  Once in a while a bird would actually try to land, creating chaos in the colony as the bird came crashing down to an ungainly halt.

    Around lunch time Rupa hiked back toward the landing site to grab our picnic lunches while I stayed behind to take some close-ups of feedings and flirtations.  I tried adjusting my position a bit, but that only resulted in repeated strafing by a pair of caracaras that were nesting near the colony.  Needless to say, I didn't get many photos from that position, as the sight of two large raptors flying toward me at eye level was a frightful enough experience to send me back to my original spot.

    Rupa returned a couple of hours later with my lunch, at which point we hiked up a bit to get a panoramic view of the colony while I devoured a ham and cheese sandwich.  A short while later we started back, stopping twice along the way - first near a group of curious caracaras that grew fond of Rupa and second where some gentoos were torpedoing out of the water and onto a steep rock face, clinging to small fissures in the rock with the tiny talons on the end of their small webbed feet.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  7. At sea, Atlantic Ocean - january 3

    Rupa and I woke up late this morning, skipping breakfast, as the seas were calm and conducive to sleep and we'd lost an hour as we sprang forward a timezone.  To keep us entertained the staff had arranged another full day of lectures, but the only one I ended up attending was a photo composition lecture given by Tim Davis.  I spent the rest of the day working on Chile trip logs and sorting through my Falkland Islands photos, while Rupa read and napped and Michelle worked on her postcards, making it through 20 of her 85.  The three of us ate a quick dinner and scored good seats for the evening movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which we all somehow missed in the theatre.  Although it was a bit partisan, it was very well organized and did a fabulous job detailing the facts and laying out the threat.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  8. At sea, Atlantic Ocean - january 4

    Rupa and I attended two good lectures this morning, the first on plate tectonics and the second on the impact of global climate change on Antarctica.  I then spent the afternoon on photography, selecting my best Falkland Islands images for an upcoming slideshow, attending a photography composition lecture and practicing my panning technique on birds off the stern of the ship, which was quite cold without my base layer on.  The rest of day proceeded without incident, excepting a spilled bottle of wine at dinner, the third of the trip.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  9. At sea, Atlantic Ocean - january 5

    I woke up early this morning to view Shag Rocks, a small outcropping of rocky islets near South Georgia teaming with birds.  The ship passed slowly to allow for some photos, after which I had a quick breakfast and headed back to bed until lunch (Rupa slept through till lunch).  Other than an afternoon lecture by Tom Murphy on photo composition and a CSI Miami (Tivo'd to our laptop), we spent the day reading, knitting and catching up on trip logs.  Sometime around dinner we sighted land and everyone jumped up get their first view of South Georgia.  Unfortunately, the wind and waves had conspired against us and we arrived a few hours too late for an evening landing at Right Whale Bay and instead continued on to our morning anchorage.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  10. Salisbury Plain & Prion Island, South Georgia - january 6

    Our first landing in South Georgia was a large wind-swept king penguin colony known as Salisbury Plain.  The temperature had dropped to around 40F, but the overcast and windy conditions made it feel ten degrees colder, so we dressed in extra layers and packed our disposable handwarmers.

    Our landing site was a rocky beach littered with thousands of penguins and fur seals.  The large male seals didn't appreciate our company, but if we moved slowly and kept a wide berth - generally about ten feet - they left us alone, but any closer and they would break out in a surprisingly swift charge, employing their flippers and tails to great effect.  To fend them off we each carried a plastic broomstick to wave in their direction should they charge, but occasionally this wasn't enough to disuade them, and we had to use the end of our stick to tickle their highly sensitive whiskers.  In this manner, walking slowly and wielding our broomsticks, we weaved our way along the beach and over to the penguin colony.

    The colony here was enormous, with over 300,000 king penguins loafing, nesting and feeding.  We were not allowed to enter the tightly packed, egg-filled colony itself, and instead snaked our way along the muddy, guano-soaked perimeter where downy-clad infants and scruffy-looking juveniles loitered.  Some were rather inquisitive and approached to within a few feet, and one or two even gathered up enough courage to peck at Rupa's rain pants and my tripod.  An hour or two into the excursion it started to rain a little and my lens fogged up, so we called it a morning and headed back to the ship.  A disappointing first excursion, to be sure, but many more opportunities lay ahead.

    In the afternoon we landed on Prion Island, a protected nesting site for wandering albatrosses and giant petrels.  Because the site is protected we traveled in small, guided groups as we wound our way through the fur seals on the beach and up a rocky stream bed that degenerated into shin-deep muck near the top.  We spread out across a pair of hillsides as we searched out the 36 albatross nests known to exist on the Island.  The fragility of species hit home here - four days ago we watched half a million black-browed albatrosses soar and nest at Steeple Jason, while here we scanned for some 80 wandering albatrosses.  Luckily, it's not easy for birds with ten-foot wingspans to hide among three-foot tall tussock grasses, and we spotted about 30 individuals, including a few circling overhead.  We had hoped to witness the albatross's fantastic courtship display, and as our shadows lengthed and the winds accelerated our chances improved.  Finally, our patience was rewarded, as a pair of young birds gave the courtship dance a valiant 20 minute effort.

    After four hours on land we slogged back down the stream bed and caught the last Zodiac back to the ship.  While we all ate dinner the ship cruised on to our morning site, Hercules Bay, and we got a lovely evening look at the small beach and waterfall before heading to bed.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  11. Hercules Bay & Grytviken, South Georgia - january 7

    We split our Hercules Bay landing across two small beaches.  The first beach was enclosed by a steep rock face highlighted with a lovely glacier-fed waterfall.  Despite its small size, the beach supported a variety of wildlife including king penguins, fur seals, elephant seals, macaroni penguins and a lone chinstrap penguin.  Macaronis, with their bright yellow headdresses, were the highlight, as they generally nest along inaccessibly steep cliffs, but here we could see them crossing the beach to their colony in the hills above.  For a glimpse of the colony itself, Michael led a small group of us up a steep scree slope along the edge of the cliff face, where we eventually came across a dozen or so penguins, loafing and playing.  Meanwhile, back on the beach, Rupa nearly stumbled into a two-ton elephant seal, startling the both of them and prompting a fellow traveler to comment that they weren't sure whose eyes were bigger - Rupa's or the seal's!

    After a couple of hours we cruised over to the second beach, which was more of a rocky cove than an actual beach.  A large white fur seal, a relatively uncommon sight, was resting along the waterfront as we made our way over to the macaroni penguins, who were hopping along the black volcanic rocks, migrating from a small rocky peninsula to their colony in the hills behind the beach.  At the same time, a lone king penguin, presumably lost and entirely inept at navigating among the rocks, spent his morning wandering among the relocating macaronis.

    After lunch and a short power nap we pulled up to Grytviken, a historic whaling station that operated during the first half of the twentieth century.  We began our visit at Shakleton's grave to toast the courageous explorer and proceeded to spend the next two hours wandering the rusting, dismantled station, stopping to read a dozen or so explanatory placards and to imagine the station as it must have appeared sixty years ago.  We also visited the recently restored church and the small but first-rate whaling museum and gift shop, where Michelle augmented her postcard collection.  Back on ship the kitchen staff prepared a wonderful outdoor bar-b-que of pork, beef and sausage.  Although we filled our plates out on deck, we returned to the warmth of the dining room to feast.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  12. Salisbury Plain & Fortuna Bay, South Georgia - january 8

    For a morning landing today we headed back to the king colony at Salisbury Plain, and what a difference the weather can make.  Whereas two days ago we slogged through wind and rain and cold, today we arrived to a fresh dusting of snow, a lightly overcast sky and a clear horizon that revealed the spectacular snow-capped peaks surrounding the colony.  I spent some time with the kings ammassed on the beach and then picked my way through the maze of penguins and fur seals littering the grassy plain beyond.  Eventually I ended up at the back side of the colony and worked my way up the tussock covered slope for an aerial view into the heart of the colony.  On the way back I stopped for close-ups of a few accommodating kings, including this parent that was checking on the state of its precious egg.

    During lunch, which proved to be the first repeat meal of the cruise, the ship sailed over to Fortuna Bay for a sunny afternoon landing.  Fed by a melting glacier, Fortuna Bay was marked with a distinct color gradient where the silver glacial water abutted the deep blue water typical of South Georgia.  After landing on the rocky beach the three of us worked our way toward the glacier, passing hundreds of lounging king penguins and dozens of playful young fur seals, but a hundred yards down the beach we were sidetracked by the sight of reindeer grazing on the hills above.  The three of us climbed 50 feet up the soggy green slopes for a better view, but by the time I arrived the herd had moved on, so Rupa and I continued up another 100 feet to a second herd, where we happened across Walt, who had found his own way up.  Meanwhile, Michelle trekked back to the landing site to participate in a three and half mile guided hike up and over the ridegeline.

    Rupa and I spent the rest of the afternoon up in the hills, then slowly worked our way back along the beach in time to catch the last Zodiac back to the ship.  With all the non hikers aboard, the ship navigated over to the next bay to pick up the weary hikers for a late dinner.  The hike, as it turned out, was rather steep and slippery, gaining and losing 1200 feet of elevation in under four miles.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  13. St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia - january 9

    Today was the first of two consecutive all day landings, and we had a stunner of a day - sunny and 50F warm with no wind to speak of.  I was on one of the first Zodiacs out at 6am and was awestruck by the scenery - a long, sweeping beach fronted a grassy glacial plain and distant, snow-covered peaks.  Scattered throughout were nearly half a million kings and loads of seals, including one monstrous elephant seal bull who was five times the size of the already large females in his harem.  I spent the early morning photographing individual penguins with dramatic backgrounds before moving up a ridge to breakfast with Rupa and Michelle, which for me consisted of a few small cookies and a snickers bar.  From the top of the ridge we had a wonderful panoramic view into the colony itself and immediately noticed the clustering of birds into distinctive groupings called creshes, the most obvious being the brown fur-cloaked chicks that huddled together along the river banks.

    We spent the rest of the morning wandering around and observing various behaviors including mating rituals, bonding, molting, trumpting and loafing.  After a morning nap up on the ridge, Rupa and Michelle went back to the boat for lunch while I stayed on shore to take a few more photos of penguins in action.  When Rupa and Michelle returned they took off on a guided walk to find an egg exchange, which occurs every couple of weeks when a non-nesting parent returns to the nest with a full belly and takes over egg warming duties for the next two weeks.  The egg exchange ritual is quite elaborate and can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours.  As luck would have it, Rupa and Michelle witnessed two such exchanges on their walk, one of which involved high drama as the egg rolled away during the exchange and was nearly stolen by another nesting penguin before being recovered.

    Later in the afternoon I caught up with Hugh and Rod photographing penguins in surf.  The light was perfect as the birds were directly front-lit and I quickly chewed through a couple gigs trying to capture the action.  Finally, at 7pm I caught the last Zodiac back to the ship, concluding a long but rewarding 13 hour excursion.  Back on board, having missed breakfast and lunch, I ate every morsel off my dinner plate and devoured two helpings of desert.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  14. Gold Harbour, South Georgia - january 10

    We awoke to another beautiful day and headed out for an all day landing just after breakfast.  The beach at Gold Harbour was strewn with large elephant seals which, while more laid back than the territorial fur seals, were champion belchers and their stinky breath cast a haze over the entire beach.  To protect our equipment from these two-ton behemouths the staff erected a broomstick cage around our gear, but when one individual got too close Ted tried to discourage it by waving it off and tickling its whiskers.  Instead of scaring off, the seal retaliated by sitting tight and flipping piles of sand over his back and onto our gear.

    We started off the morning by walking out to the edge of the king colony and found a nice cluster of egg sitting penguins as well as a beautiful white fur seal.  Before we could really get going though, we noticed some staff out among the tussock grass scouting out light-mantled sooty albatross nests.  We quickly worked our way out there for a closer view, and while Rupa and Michelle stayed on the ground I climbed up a grassy cliff with Tim to get some close-ups.  On our way back to the beach we stopped by a gentoo colony hidden among the grass to watch some young chicks wake up and feed.  A short time later a skua swooped in and stole a penguin egg, landing a mere dozen feet from the colony to enjoy his breakfast.  Finally, as we walked back to the beach a pair of yellow-billed pintails flew in for a short visit.

    Around lunch time we noticed Michelle up on a seaside cliff and hiked over there to see what she was up to.  The path up wound through tall mounds of fur seal infested tussock grass, but wielding our handy broomsticks we made it up without incident.  Once on top we spent an hour with Michelle, and later Dan, watching a half dozen nesting and feeding albatrosses and enjoying the gorgeous view while lunching on Snickers.

    After lunch on the cliff we hiked back to the king colony and waited around near the nesting birds with the hope of catching an egg exchange.  A number of penguin pairs flirted with an exchange, and Michelle and I watched one particular couple prep for over an hour but ultimately fail to move the egg.  Rupa, on the other hand, watched an apparently more experienced couple get together and pass their egg in under fifteen minutes.  While standing around the colony we also observed a number of mating rituals, some consumated and others not, as well as a gentoo and king walking side by side.

    We finished the afternoon walking along the beach.  Michelle chased a lone chinstrap around trying to get photos, while I followed Hugh down the beach to photograph kings in the surf again.  After ten hours on land we all caught the last Zodiac back to the ship and proceeded to inhale our dinner.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Atlantic Ocean

  15. Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia - january 11

    We had planned to land at Cooper Bay today to visit the macaroni colony, but an overcast sky and a large swell kept us on the ship.  We hung out a little, hoping the conditions would improve, but they never did we sailed on to Drygalski Fjord, a beautiful deep-water gorge lined with numerous glaciers and patterned with sea ice.  A few of the glaciers stopped short of the water line and fed the fjord via cascading waterfalls, but the large terminal glacier rose 130 feet out of the water to tower above the M.V. Ushuaia.  Meanwhile, dozens of black and white pintados flitted across the turquoise surface, while a quartet of blue-eyed shags camped out on small ice berg.  As we were preparing to leave, as if giving us a send-off, the glacier thundered as a large chunk of ice calved into the sea and generated a small cresting wave.

    Rupa and I spent the afternoon in the lounge, reading, writing and knitting as the ship sailed away from South Georgia and into the Scotia Sea, passing a few ship-sized ice bergs along the way.  Meanwhile, Michelle spent time on her postcards, still hoping to get through her list before our landing at Port Lockroy seven days hence.  By dinner the seas had kicked up a bit and both Rupa and I left the table feeling ill.  Rupa took some Bonine, but rather than start in on the medication I laid down for a long night's rest, hoping that dehydration and exhaustion were to blame.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Scotia Sea

  16. At sea, Scotia Sea - january 12

    We woke up today feeling much better after a solid twelve hours rest.  We jumped out of bed just in time to catch the tail end of breakfast, but the dining hall was already closed and locked.  Just then Ted and Renee came around the corner and reminded us that we had fallen back an hour last night as we traveled west, and that for once we were actually early to breakfast!

    We spent the day enjoying Andy's Antarctic history lesson and Hugh's glacier lecture as well as the film 90 South, an early twentieth century documentary detailing Scott's ill-fated south pole expedition.  Between scheduled events we spent time out on deck, where we watched a large iceberg hosting a couple of hundred chinstraps slide by and caught a glimpse of some fin whales.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Scotia Sea

  17. Covington Island, South Orkney Islands - january 13

    We both had another good night's rest and woke up ready for our landing at Shingle Cove, our only landing in the South Orkney Islands.  This was also our first visit with adelie penguins - short, black penguins with a white belly and distinctive white rings around their eyes.  They are also the smelliest and dirtiest of the penguins - we could almost smell the colony while anchored a few hundred yards off shore.

    Our first stop on shore was the nesting pintados in the low-lying cliffs next to the beach, some of which were flying overhead and coming in for landings.  After thirty minutes with the pintados, we walked back to beach, carefully passing a pair of agressive elephant seals, to watch the adelies (and another lone chinstrap) perform their ritualistic water entries.  Wary of leapard seals and other predators, the adelies sneak up on the sea one at a time, until a large mob has gathered at the water's edge.  Eventually, one courageous soul takes two quick steps and dives in head first, followed immediately by a dozen of his companions, all cashing in on his bravery.  Either that, or the lead penguin loses his balance and tumbles in, in which case the others still follow along, unable to differentiate bravery from clumsiness.  It's really quite entertaining, and we spent the better part of an hour watching the scenario unfold time and again.

    We spent our remaining time in the adelie colony itself, up on a rocky plateau not 50 feet from the beach.  The chicks here had already hatched and were quite large - shorter than their parents but fatter and molting out of their downy coats.  We must have shown up at the right time of day, as many of the adelies were feeding their chicks mouthfuls of regurgitated krill.  Most amusing though, were the parents feeding two chicks, as both chicks always wanted the next feeding, and the one left out repeatedly pecked at the parent.  If the pecking persisted too long, though, the parent would take off in small circles, hopping and skipping away with both chicks bobbling along after, all three of them determinedly wide-eyed.  Were it not for a pair of adorable little skua chicks in a nearby nest, we would have spent the rest of the morning watching the feeding frenzy unfold.

    We were back on the ship for lunch and on our way again, passing large ice bergs on our way, some of them nearly a 1000 feet long.  I took a short afternoon nap, waking up in time to catch Andy's history lesson on the fortuitous Nordenskold expedition of 1903.  Afterword, I worked on the computer while Rupa continued to nap and Michelle labored away on her postcards - she'd made good progress recently and had now completed 52 of them.  Meanwhile, a heavy fog settled in and threatened to slow our progress, but calm seas and doppler radar allowed the captain to weave through the icebergs at full steam.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  18. At sea, Southern Ocean - january 14

    Michelle and I spent the entire morning out on the bow as we weaved our way through thousands of large ice bergs, including a few highly compacted blue bergs and dozens of massive tabular bergs - large sheets of ice 100 feet tall and over 1000 feet long (and that's just the 20% of the berg that sits atop the water!)  Some the larger bergs even looked like a bit like Superman's Fortress of Solitude.  We also sighted a new bird this morning - the albatross-like southern fulmar - as well as the occasional leopard seal or adelie clan lounging around on a berg.  Tim and Suzi finished off the morning with a Photoshop lecture.

    After lunch Rupa joined us up on the bridge for some more sightseeing.  As we approached within 60 miles of Paulet though, our route was blocked by a solid ice barrier, forcing us into a longer 160 mile route around Joinville Island and assuring that we wouldn't arrive in time for an evening landing.  As luck would have it, though, our extended detour took us past a small ice berg populated by a solitary emperor penguin - a rare sight in these parts to say the least.  Sophie spotted the large penguin from over 300 yards away, and everyone rushed to the bow for some photos with their longest lens, including Ian with his 1530mm (as compared to my 640mm).  The ship maneuvered to within good shooting distance, and we spent the next hour stopped next to the berg.  The emperor, instead of running away like an adelie might, simply regarded our ship with a general disinterest.  Eventually, though, he arose and let out a few scratchy calls, which, amazingly enough, were answered by the arrival of a pair of chinstraps.  The three of them plodded around the berg for a while, seemingly unsure what to do with each other, until they finally all slid into the sea and out of sight.

    After dinner we watched the movie Endurance, an excellent documentary detailing Shackleton's miraculous voyage and rescue.  I left before the end though, as we had a beautiful sunset outside, with the sky alight in yellows, oranges and purples.  Ice bergs made the scene all the more surreal, and the moon made a late appearance, rising through the still lit sky.  Even the final waning light lent an erie irridescent glow to the ice.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  19. Paulet Island, Antarctica - january 15

    An intially foggy morning gave way to fabulous blue skys soon after we landed on Paulet Island.  The area around our landing site was crowded with adelie-laden ice bergs, and although we'd seen lots of penguins already, the sight of them loitering on the ice under sunny skies was something special.  The first round of Zodiacs were already out cruising, so I spent the first hour checking out the seals and antarctic shags goofing around on shore, as well as the streams of dirty adelies filing into the sea.  Rupa and Michelle made it to land a short time later and were greeted by an enterprising adelie:  When confronted with the anchorline, pulled taut and suspended six inches above the beach, the adelie considered his alternatives and proceeded to hop over the line - quite the vertical leap for a two-foot tall penguin.

    We caught the second round of Zodiac cruising just as the hazy weather began to lift.  The seas were relatively calm, and combined with my previous experience photographing from a Zodiac in the Galapagos, I had an absolutely marvelous time as we bounded from berg to berg trying to catch adelies spilling into the sea.  We also caught the adelies shooting out of the water and onto the ice, sometimes startling the penguins on the berg into full retreat.  After two hours in the Zodiac I had shot almost all of my memory cards, so we headed back to the ship to empty the cards and grab a quick lunch.  Meanwhile, Michelle joined a small group in a guided walked up a steep 1000 foot hill.

    After lunch I headed back out on another Zodiac cruise (Rupa and I got separated on the gangway) and began filling up my cards again.  This time we started with a nearby leopard seal lounging on a small berg, accompanied by a number of brave adelies.  We then moved further out to a new area of bergs, including a tall, steeply angled one with a hundred penguins balanced atop its face.  All along the watery edge adelies were bounding out of the water, hoping to catch enough of a grip to remain on the ice, while small pockets of dry adelies huddled together, occasionally building up the courage to propel themselves into the icy water.  We spent a solid two hours exploring a dozen or more intricately shaped bergs, always hoping to catch a penguin or two perched against the blue sky or leaping into the sea.

    By the time I returned to shore Rupa was waiting for me, and we snapped one of our first big-head photos of the trip.  Nearby, some gleaming white adelies made their way up to the colony, while shag chicks chirped away for their parents to feed them.  Catching our attention, though, were the small flocks of six to ten shags that flew in low over our heads to land at their hillside colony.  While not wholely ungainly like the albatrosses, the shags had an awkward way of landing, with wings spread and neck extended, that reminded me of a harrier type aircraft.

    Back on the ship, we cruised to our following morning's stop through a small snowstorm.  I took advantage of the long evening and reviewed some of my day's shots with Tom Murphy, and got some good advice regarding composition of large groups of penguins, such as position in the frame, spacing of the birds and how to find interesting angles and unique formations.  All told though, I was extremely happy with my shots today, especially amid the trying conditions of Zodiac photography.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  20. Deception Island, South Shetland Islands - january 16

    Bailey Head, on the outer rim of the Deception Island caldera, has a reputation of being a difficult place to land due to the tight quarters and potentially large swell.  Past experience had taught the staff that mornings generally offered the smoothest seas, so we set out on an early landing today.

    Our landing site was a beautiful black sand beach choked with thousands of chinstrap penguins entering and exiting the water.  I was excited to finally be at a chinstrap colony, as I'd fallen in love with them back in July when I was researching Antarctica, and thus far we'd only seen a few isolated individuals.  The beach scene, though, was only the beginning, as the half million strong colony extended far up into the mountains, requiring the more remote penguins to march nearly a mile down to the sea and back every couple of days to clean and feed.  Furthermore, the route to and from the sea was constrained to a small valley, so the chinstraps devised a solution to prevent congestion:  Dirty, sea-bound birds march to the right of a small stream bed while clean, colony bound birds march to the left.  A penguin highway, as the staff dubbed it.

    Apart from juveline kings, chinstraps were perhaps the most inquisitive of the penguins, often approaching photographers for a closer look.  Photographers, though, were not the only ones of interest to chinstraps, as one courageous young fellow took a liking to Rupa's jacket, giving it a few good pecks before deciding to move on and explore some other territory.  Up in the colony, Rupa and I watched dozens of small chicks as they awoke, and also spotted a few industrious chinstraps working on their nests.

    Around ten o'clock we had hoped to head out on a trek up and over the caldera wall, but a light snow turned into a heavier snow and the hike was cancelled.  Meanwhile, the swell that Baily Head is famous for had arrived, and the staff had to improvise a departure scenario.  Instead of backing the Zodiac up to the beach, the driver rode a large swell into shore and parked the Zodiac on the beach.  The rest of the staff quickly turned the boat around and loaded it with passengers, hoping to finish before the next big swell arrived and carried the boat back out to sea.  For the most part this approach worked well, but when it was our turn to board, the second swell came in a little early and Rupa was left hanging onto the Zodiac as her feet were swept out from under her.  Rather than leave her behind, Tom grabbed her bottom half and tossed her aboard while Allison helped pull from within the boat.  In the end it all worked out and everyone made it safely back to the ship.

    During lunch we cruised into the caldera through a narrow opening in the wall known as Neptune's Bellows.  Inside the caldera the sea was calm and we made an easy afternoon landing at Whaler's Cove, the site of an old whaling village and later a geological research station.  We hiked around for three hours, exploring the old village and the acoustically rich whale oil tank, inside which Ben sang a tribute to our expedition leader, Ted, to the tune of Aladdin's "A Whole New World".  We also hiked out past the ancient whaling boats and up to Neptune's Window, a low cavity in the caldera wall, before heading over to the ash covered glacier, where I sank shin deep in a muddy sinkhole.

    By this point it was time for a few brave souls to take part in an Antarctic "swim" along the shoreline, where volcanic activity heated the sand and warmed the water.  Rupa and I skipped out, preferring not to expose ourselves to the frigid air, but Michelle was determined to "suck the marrow out of life" and proceeded to strip down to her swimsuit.  Moments before we had dug out a small pool near the waterline, and by mixing a little cold water with the scalding hot sand, we had created a sort of hottub, where Michelle and a half dozen others wallowed.  As an added bonus, and to the entertainment of all, just as Michelle entered the pool a sheathbill squawked overhead and deposited a fresh, healthy load of poo down her neck.  But, to top it all off, a solitary chinstrap bounded ashore mere feet from the edge of the pool, and, after taking a few minutes to consider the bizarre scene unfolding before him, turned and waddled back into the sea.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  21. Gerlache Straight & Cuverville Island, Antarctica - january 17

    Our itinerary had us Zodiac cruising at Cierva Cove today, but 60mph katabatic winds kept us huddled in the ship and we eventually moved on in search of a calmer landing.  We cruised through the Gerlache Straight, where the seas had leved out a bit, and encountered a humpback mother and calf.  We spent over an hour circling around the playful pair as they surfaced time and again, spraying water into the air and waving their tails.  At one point they even crossed right under our bow, the mother displaying her fluke, and I got so caught up watching the moment unfold that my photos ended up too tightly framed.

    As we approached Cuverville Island we passed a large ice berg hosting a small community of gentoos as well as another lone chinstrap.  After anchoring, we found a calm landing site and spent the better part of the afternoon on shore mingling with the gentoos while a nearby glacier sporadically rumbled.  We weren't the only ones to find Cuverville a safe harbor, as a small metal sailboat slid by shortly after we arrived.  While browsing the colony, I found a lone gentoo parent perched on an outcropping, shielding its chicks from the cold wind.  I stuck around for half an hour, hoping the chicks would feed, when a pair of skuas suddenly swooped into the colony, snatched up an egg and landed not ten feet in front of me to share their prize.  I fired off a hundred shots over the next 12 minutes as they opened the egg and devoured its contents.  Just as the skuas finished my luck continued, as the lone gentoo's mate arrived and began calling on the nesting parent.  Minutes later the parents swapped positions so the mate could begin feeding the chicks, having apparently just completed a successful krill run.

    I spent a little more time searching the colony for interesting gentoo behavior before catching a late afternoon Zodiac cruise.  We had hoped to find a leopard seal lounging on a small berg, as he'd been doing all afternoon, but by the time we arrived he had slithered away.  Instead, we cruised around an iceberg graveyard looking for interesting textures and shapes.  When a fellow Zodiac stumbled upon some minke whales we rushed right over, but arrived a few minutes too late.  As luck would have it, though, we ran into our leopard seal loafing around a berg, but this time he had a large fish grasped in his jaw.  Much to our delight, he spent the next 10 minutes playing with his meal, tossing it aside and retrieving it numerous times, shaking it apart in his mouth and eventually downing it in two large gulps.  On the way back to the ship we stopped by two dramatically lit ice bergs for some photos before pulling up to the gangway just in time for dinner.

    We stuck around Cuverville for some evening Zodiac cruising, as the southern summer sky remained bright long into the night.  This time we pushed further into the iceberg graveyard and out to a large, crinkle-cut berg with a scalloped texture indicitive of time spent under water.  We tried to venture out even further into the sunset, but a three-foot swell and 40mph winds kept us away, although as soon as we turned around the wind died and the seas flattened.  As we returned to the ship the Island's snow-covered mountains gleamed a beautiful pink hue - a lovely end to another magical day.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  22. Port Lockroy, Palmer Station & Petermann Island, Antarctica - january 18

    We began the longest day of our trip with an early morning (5:30am) cruise through the Neumeyer Channel, and for 16 miles snow-draped mountains and crystal clear water filled our view.  At one point we spotted a quartet of orcas spouting in the distance, but we couldn't get close enough for a better look.  Leaving the channel, we ate a quick breakfast and began our first excursion of the day - a landing at the idyllic Jougla Point gentoo colony.  Spread throughout a dozen rocky outcroppings, the gentoos were quite active this morning as they trumpeted, mated and built nests.  The chicks, in particular, were quite active, as Rupa caught one working hard to catch up with his sibling, exhausting himself in the process.  We also took the opportunity to take a big head photo in front of a partially assembled whale skeleton.

    Just around the bend, and a short Zodiac ride away, was Port Lockroy, a historic British research station restored to its mid twentieth century state.  After a couple of hours at Jougla Point we cruised over there and met the three caretakers, who live in the original structure surrounded by a gentoo colony  Sadly for the penguins, the temperature was a scorching 55F, and the heavily insulated birds were steaming in the sun, especially the down-clad chicks who were unable to cool off in the icy water and instead lay spread eagle and panting on the rocks.  Meanwhile, inside the station, Michelle purchased 74 stamps and mailed her nearly complete stack of postcards.  In comparison, Rupa and I mailed off three, all purchased at the last minute and hurriedly scribbled on.

    We had lunch back on the ship as we cruised over to Palmer Station, a modern US base that plays host to around 40 researchers during the summer months, most of them funded by the NSF.  Some of the staff came aboard the Ushuaia to give a short presentation, after which we landed at the base for a thirty minute tour of the facility, including the small gift shop.  After the tour they took us inside to the kitchen/dining room where they had prepared some highly anticipated chocolate brownies to welcome us.  While Michelle spent the rest of the afternoon socializing with the researchers, Rupa and I cruised over to Torgensen Island for another encounter with adelies.  This time we spent the entire landing right on the beach, watching the penguins porpoise along shore and dart onto the beach.

    We were all back on the ship for dinner, after which we cruised through the Lemaire Channel, a particularly scenic gorge dotted with small ice bergs and lined with steep mountain peaks.  Along the way we passed a number of lazy leopard seals as well as a pair of humpbacks that approached and passed along our port side.

    Our day wasn't over yet, though, as we had an evening (9:30pm) landing scheduled for Petermann Island.  The Island was occupied by a group of researchers camping among the gentoos, so we quietly passed by camp and hiked up and over a small, icy ridge to a long plateau that overlooked the sea.  We set up for sunset here, but meanwhile spent an hour photographing the still active penguins as they finished off the day.  Sunset came a little after eleven, to the sound of a thousand shutters, and we hung out a while longer as the sky darkened and cast a pink hue across the snow-capped peaks.  As we trekked back to the boat I stopped a few times to photograph the fading light as it siloutted the penguins perched atop their rocky nests.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  23. Booth Island & Neko Harbor, Antarctica - january 19

    After getting to bed around 1am last night we were back out on the Zodaics by 6am this morning.  This time we landed at Booth Island, a rocky, snow covered island where the three species of brushtail penguins - gentoos, adelies and chinstraps - all nest among each other.  Although the morning started off cloudy, the sun soon arrived and lit up the slopes.  I spent most of the morning with a particularly active chinstrap family, as we hadn't seen many chinstraps in good light yet and I wanted some nice images of their beautiful orange eyes.  I also caught a few gentoos crossing the icy slopes, including a pair wandering off down a well worn penguin trail.

    I skipped breakfast this morning, electing instead to spend the morning out on deck as we passed back through the Lemaire Channel.  The sealife wasn't as active this morning as it was yesterday afternoon, and only after passing through the channel did we encounter a few penguin-populated bergs and a pair of humpback whales - a mother and her young calf.

    We had an exciting afternoon landing scheduled at Neko Harbor, as this would be our first and only visit to the Antarctic continent.  Until today we had been visiting small islands dotting the coast, but we hadn't yet set foot on the continent itself.  Michelle was particularly excited, as this would be her seventh and final continent, and she laid it upon me to capture the moment.  The harbor itself was exceptionally gorgeous, encased by tall, glaciated mountains and crystal clear water.  Once on shore, Ben, an aspiring actor, recited some lines from Shakespeare just as a large glacier calved in the background.  The calving continued throughout our landing, echoing across the harbor like rolling thunder.

    After asking Rebecca to take our photo, Rupa and I spent the entire landing along the beach, first with a pair of tranquil seals attempting to stay cool in the 55F weather by snuggling up to small chunks of ice.  The penguins, too, were trying to cool off, and would hike down a snowy trail from their plateau colony, past a melting glacier and waddle into the sea, where they frolicked in the calm surf.  I waded knee deep into the clear water to get some closer shots, and to my surprise the penguins remained ambivalent and continued to play in the water around me.  Rupa and I spent quite the magical afternoon here just hanging out with the penguins, and we were dissappointed when it was time to trudge back to the ship.

    Dinner was exciting, as we had another outdoor bar-b-que of beef, pork and sausage while we anchored in nearby Paradise Bay.  Ted held a briefing after dinner, where he handed out certificates for those who participated in the Antarctic swim.  Michelle's certificate came with special recognition, "as bestowed by a sheath bill"!  Gary also lived up to his earlier promise to buy the ship a round of drinks should we spot an emperor penguin.  In the end, he figured he got off cheap, as visiting an emperor colony can cost upwards of $40,000.

    Later in the evening, while a few of us were still gathered in the lounge, we joined the staff in a lively game of butt darts, in which contestants clench one or more quarters between their clothed cheeks, waddle ten feet over to a small cup, and position themselves in such a way as to deposit as many quarters as possible into the cup.  Despite being Michelle's first match, she was quite the competitor and held the lead most of the night with four quarters simultaneously deposited, until Ian introduced a new technique and dropped eight on his first go.  Rupa and I, unfortunately, were unable to sink a single quarter, and could only hope to redeem ourselves another night.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  24. Hannah Point, Antarctica - january 20

    We had hoped for a good night's rest in preparation for our final landing of the trip, but the seas didn't cooperate and we had a rather rough night, slowing the ship's progress and delaying our arrival at Hannah Point by more than an hour.  Unfortunately, the seas around Hannah Point were also quite rough and prevented us from landing as planned.  After waiting around a couple of hours in hopes that the conditions would improve, we left Hannah Point and made for an alternate landing site further north.  We arrived in the late afternoon, but as luck would have it the conditions here were as bad as at Hannah Point.  Rather than risk injury and attempt a desperate final landing, we reluctently turned around and headed for home.

    The seas remained rough all day long.  The conditions were as bad as any we had encountered on the trip, and we figured we were in for a difficult 48 hours as we passed through the Drake Passage enroute to Ushuaia.  Those of us able to handle the rocking of the boat spent the day at leisure, and I took the time to watch some videos, catch up on trip logs and sort through my photos.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Southern Ocean

  25. At sea, Drake Passage - january 21

    The seas were still wild when we headed for bed last night, but some time in the middle of the night the conditions improved dramatically as the Drake Passage turned into the "Drake Lake" (meaning, calm seas).  Rupa woke up in time to catch a late breakfast, but I slept in till a leisurely 10am.  After lunch Hugh gave a preview of the Cheesemans' trip he leads once a year up in Prince William Sound, Alaska.  It sounded like a fabulous trip, especially for bird photography, and Rupa and I made a note to check it out at some point.  We spent the balance of the afternoon cleaning our gear (which smelled like penguin poo), reading and working on trip logs while listening to the ship's only music mix for the eightieth time.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Drake Passage

  26. At sea, Beagle Channel - january 22

    We started off another day at sea with Tim's presentation of his 1998 trip to visit emperor penguins.  He'd spent 30 days on tour but was only able to eke out six days of shooting as they waited for storms to clear.  During lunch we dropped anchor in the Beagle Channel, as the calm conditions enabled us to cross the Drake in near record time but we weren't allowed to dock in Ushuaia until the following morning.  After lunch Suzi gave a presentation on her work in Kenya, where she'd followed around four cheetah families for months to create a photo essay on cheetah cubs.  We spent the rest of the afternoon goofing off and wasting time.

    Our farewell dinner was a fabulous filet mignon - even at sea the Argentines know how to do steak.  After dinner we had two photo shows.  The first was a 300 shot slideshow of everyone's people pictures from throughout the trip.  Well, actually 298 shots - Tim had caught Rupa and I napping one afternoon and inserted the photo three times - as if we would nap that much?!  The second slideshow was of everyone's best Antarctica shots.  We'd had so much freedom to wander around and experience Antarctica our own way that it was fun to see what everyone else had done with their time on shore.  As the slideshows wrapped up the sun put on a brilliant farewell of its own, lighting up the sky with hues of red, orange and purple.  And, as if that weren't enough, just after midnight one of the ship staff burst into the lounge to point out a comet glowing on the horizon, which we later found out was named Comet McNaught and was the brightest comet of the past 40 years.

    M.V. Ushuaia, Drake Passage

  27. Ushuaia to Miami - january 23

    We checked out of our cabin at 7am this morning, had a quick breakfast on board and said goodbye to the ship as we walked down the pier toward Ushuaia.  In town we enjoyed a second breakfast with Michelle and a few of the staff members, aiming for something different than we'd had for the past 25 days.  We then walked around town for a couple of hours, shopping for souvenirs (Michelle was after a cheesy snow globe) and chocolates, before grabbing a quick lunch and catching our bus to the airport.  During the ride Ted informed us that our group-checked baggage was 1300lbs overweight, and while he had talked them down to charging for only 600lbs, we still each owed $40 to cover the difference.  Other than that, check-in went smoothly and we had 30 minutes of free WiFi coverage in the lounge to catch up on our internet news and email.

    As most of our fellow travelers found out on the way to Ushuaia 25 days earlier, Aerolineas was not the most reliable of airlines.  Unfortunately, Aerolineas lived up to its reputation yet again, as once we were airborne the crew informed us that instead of landing at the international airport in Buenos Aires - where we had all intended to catch our onward flights - we would be landing at the domestic airport and would be transferred to the international airport, an hour away, by bus.  Upon arrival we claimed our baggage and made our way to the bus, which wound up being a small 15 person shuttle that Aerolineas had somehow imagined would handle the transfers for everyone aboard the 200 seat plane.  They promised a second bus would arrive, but made no indication of when, or whether a third and possibly fourth bus would ever appear.  With considerable prodding from Ted, they offered to reimburse everyone for private taxi transfers, but given their previous track record I was skeptical that a reimbursement request would bear much fruit.  Michelle, Rupa and I were last in line, along with a few of the staff members, and we all decided to share a couple of private minivan transfers.  Fortunately, we all had five hour layovers in BA, and we all made it to the airport in time to catch our connecting flights.

    At the international airport we waited patiently through the standard set of queues, including the check-in counter, departure tax booth, security checkpoint, passport control, duty free, gate security and boarding.  While waiting at the gate, Michelle, who was on a different airline and had waited through her own set of queues, caught up to us and asked me to use the airport's free WiFi connection to have her TiVo to record the upcoming State of the Union Address.  She then headed off in search of fresh Argentine beef, hoping to have some shipped home from the airport (which, ultimately, didn't work out, as you cannot have beef shipped into the States).

    Finally, we boarded our flight to Miami around 11pm and settled in for a long night.  We hadn't expected dinner at this hour, but then realized that Argentines generally eat around midnight, and sure enough LAN served a full meal shortly after take off.  We then spent the rest of the nine hour flight dozing as best we could.

    LAN flight #4520

  28. Miami to Seattle- january 24

    We arrived in Miami a little late, but still managed to make it through passport control, baggage claim, customs, check-in and security in time to catch our flight to Seattle, which ended up being delayed two hours anyways.  Other than an extended flight time due to 150mph headwinds, the seven hour flight to Seattle was pleasantly uneventful.  Upon arrival we met up with Malinda and Emily, who had just arrived to give us a lift home, and bring to an end our longest adventure yet.

    At home in Seattle

Souvenir List

  1. Small, black and white agate penguin
  2. Four infant t-shirts
  3. Long sleeve button-down shirt
  4. Short sleeve button-down shirt
  5. Magnet from Port Lockroy
  6. Two mens t-shirts from Palmer Station
  7. Two womens t-shirts from Palmer Station
  8. Two ball caps from Palmer Station
  9. Magnet from Palmer Station
  10. Magnet from Ushuaia