The morning, as usual, began with every too early “Good morning, Good morning.” However, this time, it was a little different. It was our last morning wakeup call from the Expedition Leader. She was gentle in stirring the boat to get everybody up, to the kitchen and off the boat to begin the last parts of our expedition.
After breakfast, we all scurried about getting our bags in place to be picked up. Boarding the buses, we all began to realize this was all coming to an end. It was a very bittersweet moment. We were so proud of the things that we had done, seen and feats conquered that we never thought we could begin. There was a planned tour at the Ushuaia Jail and Military Prison. This was a very somber experience. The jail was originally started in 1896. Argentine prisoners and political “offenders” were brought there to actually build their own prison. It was thought of as the “Siberia of Argentina.” Walking into the complex, it became clear that it was a place that no one ever wanted to set foot in. Cells were so very small – 4 foot by 4 foot square. Originally, there were supposed to be two men to a cell. Capacity in the prison was twice the original plan; four men to a small cell does not seem humane.
The lighting dark and you could imagine the dread that a former inmate would have walking down the dark, tile floor. There was a putrid smell that seeped through the air creating staleness with every breath. Heaters that were in place clearly could not do the work needed to provide basic heating conditions. Jail it just depressing. It is a good thing that the Argentine government made this facility a museum and no longer uses it.
After finishing up the tour, the group made its way to a coffee shop in a nearby hotel as we waited to make our way to the airport. There was a jewelry store attached to the hotel that was handing out cards where we could get a free penguin charm. Many of the people of our group were collecting their free token when I saw a couple looking at a beautiful gold necklace that had a sophisticated, artisan craftsmanship to it. I admired it and could not hold myself back. Most of you don’t know that I formerly worked in the jewelry business, and admire quality pieces when I see it. I, of course, butted my nose into their private viewing and gave them my thumbs up – it was just spectacular! I was beside myself when the wife approached me when we were boarding the bus. She said, “Tom, every time I wear this piece I will always, always think of you. Your voice helped us make the decision to purchase the piece. It will be something that I wear, my daughter wears and the children beyond.” It was a touching moment to accidentally be a part of someone’s surprise commemorating our triumphs over the white continent.
Mr. Sanders and I had a relatively calm flight back to Buenos Aires. Tonight, we are staying in a hotel that is the former residential site of Eva Peron – a very famous political and social figure in Argentina. I am so excited to begin the tropical portion of our adventure and share those experiences with you! Rio is next on our list. It promised to be full of new experiences and cultural learning!
First, I need to say hello to my Lovebugs. I miss all 33 of you very much! I am so happy that you have continued to follow me during this time. I think of you every minute and know that this is your last day of school! I am very excited for you. Truly, I wish I was there to give each one of you a hug and a special wish for a safe, warm holiday season with your families.
The journey on the waters have been much kinder to us this go around. We are all pretty thankful on the boat for the ease of crossing and the approach of the South American Continent. The sea birds soaring around or vessel have changed in size and variety. This more temperate climate obviously brings different kinds of life for us to experience. Waking in these waters sounds an almost startling boom every so often as the waves crash against the sides of the ship. When waking from a deep slumber, it almost sounds like bombs exploding – some close against the side of the ship and far off in the distance as if they are miles way.
This morning, we approached the southern tip of South America. As we approached the Cape of Horn, we were reminded that we were not going to Chile as their coastal authorities contacted the ship and asked us not to come closer to their borders. Still, the captain was able to bring us closer and closer to get photos documenting our journey to this noteworthy point on the globe. The landscape had steep, jagged cliffs rising out of the seawater with deep burn sienna rock formations and green foliage; surely, we were no longer on the white continent! Dr. Johansen kindly let me have another photo opportunity as we came upon the Cape.
After lunch, Mr. Sanders and I tied up some of our obligations on board with the videographer. A montage of interviews, video clips and images will be woven together to provide interested parties our reflection of such an awesome experience. I deeply am grateful for such an opportunity from National Geographic and Lindblad expeditions. This has pushed me professionally and personally in so many ways. I never could have dreamed about the things I have been able to do. I have climbed up cavernous snow banks, sunk to my thighs in soft, yet heavily packed snow, jumped into water that was below the freezing point and bore witness to the remarkable behaviors of a bounty of animal life in a world where we often think that life barely exists. It exists and is thriving!
Tonight, we made our way back to Argentina through the Beagle Channel. In 1839, Captain Robert FitzRoy published his voyage of H.M.S. Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826-1836. For the first time, the world learned about the discovery of the Beagle Channel. The narrative described South America and the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe. On board was a young Charles Darwin, who went on to develop the theory of evolution based partially on observations he made in South America. These protected waterways of the southern tip of South America were stark contrast to the black and white landscapes of Antarctica, with the first trees seen since we left. When we looked every so closely, we could see Condors soaring against this impressive backdrop.
This post is a kind of recap from yesterday’s evening and today. Last night, we had an amazing opportunity. I have neglected to talk about some of the fascinating individuals that have been shipmates with me on this journey.
Everywhere I turn there are people from all over the world: San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, Florida, New York, Switzerland… the list goes on and on. Early on, Mr. Sanders and I were sitting on our cabin floor going through some materials. In walked a gentleman that we had chatted with earlier in the day. He mentioned something about Lucy – both of us were a bit confused. As the days passed, this conversation became much more clear. Our visitor was Dr. Don Johanson – the world-renowned man who discovered the link between humans and primates. Over the past 10 days, we have dined together, chatted and been on many expeditions together. It is amazing to have been able to really get to know someone who had changed the way we define the world today. Dr. Johanson treated all of the guests to a lecture tonight, telling his story about his discovery of Lucy. Funny enough, there is even a stronger connection! Dr. Johanson has been travelling with his fiancé, Leslie Iwerk. She is the granddaughter of a pioneer in cinematography, technology and animation when Walt Disney was just getting started. Leslie’s grandfather and father both have won Oscars. Leslie, without a doubt, will join such prestigious company has she has been nominated in herself! Leslie is kind, gracious and giving – immediately wanting to talk to me about her family history and how it is intertwined with the Disney legacy. What an evening this was! It is hard to explain what it is like to be surrounded by the perfection of our planet and meet people whose lives continue to shape it!
Today, we have set back to the Drake Passage. The familiar feeling of the ship’s rocking has returned. Ropes have been tied along the walkways to help us when our penguin-like waddles require some extra balance.
The morning featured two lectures from the National Geographic/Lindblad staff. First, we had a lecture from National Geographic photojournalists Cotton Coulson and Sisse Brimberg. The pair offered insight into their lifework: creating a story through the art of photography. After that, we were fortunate to experience the wisdom and insight of Eric Guth, certified photo instructor and naturalist from Lindblad Expeditions. Eric presented the second part of his lecture series that has a unique and creative perspective on the wondrous, organic nature of ice formations.
After lunch, Mr. Sanders and I were very lucky to be given an exclusive tour of the engine room by the Chief Engineer and our mentor Eric Guth. The complexity and harmony of the millions of parts working in concert flew our minds. As we made our way through the metal caverns, we found ourselves in the waster management area. Every day, the shipmates sort EVERY piece of trash into 17 categories with the purpose of recycling. A few steps further brought us to the water purification area where all consumable water is made by these complex machines from seawater! We are the only two guests aboard who have had this different kind of expedition. We were lucky to have guides; there was no way we could get out on our own!
The waters, while full of movement, are much easier than our original passing. The guests seem to be much more comfortable walking across a moving floor. We are professional now! The photos posted today are from different spots in our voyage. Enjoy!
Note from Mr. S.: My mom brought it to my attention that there are some misspellings and grammatical errors. I am doing my best! I am running from expedition to expedition - stealing a moment to document. I promise I will edit and fix! Thanks for understanding! :)
Our morning began with an introduction to Port Lockroy by new guests to our ship. 4 resident keepers of Port Lockroy came aboard to eat, shower and share with us some of the rich history of this port. Port Lockroy was used as an anchorage by whalers and established as Base A by the British in 1944, as part of a secret wartime initiative to monitor German shipping movements. The expedition was code named Operation Tabarin, after a well-known Paris nightclub, because team members would be staying there during the darkness of the Antarctic winter. After World War II, the station continued in a civilian capacity until 1964, when it ceased operations. This historic base was recently restored, and is now open to visitors as a museum. They have a post office – which is where a few post cards that Mr. S. wrote will be mailed.
Today marks the last day of landfall for us in Antarctica. Even though we are tired from the many days of steep hiking, it brings a sense of emotion as we descend from the ship to march upon the shores. We are sad because we know that our time on Antarctica is coming to an end. We are scared because we realize that in order to return to Buenos Aires, we have to cross the Drake Passage again. We have been told that the forecast suggests that we will have more mild waters crossing this time. However, the weather in Antarctica can change on a dime! We must be prepared.
After gearing up (snow pants, long underwear, waterproof boots, etc.), we made our way to the zodiac boat. The waters were significantly different this time than ever before; they were thick, slushy with a split pea soup consistency. Chunks of ice were floating all around us making maneuvering challenging for our driver. We would start, stop, and gain some momentum, only to be stuck in the frigid waters again! After several attempts, we made our way to our landing. Lisa, the expedition leader, was chest deep in the water wearing protective outerwear that allowed her to stay in the below freezing waters for hours! She pulled us upon the rocks so that we could climb our way up to the historic station.
The port now serves as a museum showing the most adventurous of guests how explorers lived many years ago. The structure was small, with windows certainly not treated to protect the dwellers from the winter weather. An antique stove displayed a recipe book for “Seal Brain Omelets.” It is hard to imagine how someone could desire to leave the warmth and comfort of home to set up residence in this station.
We will continue to hope that the Drake guides us home safely. All of the passengers know now that we are at the whim and care of Mother Earth!
This wake up came pretty easily today. I am not sure if it is because I slept well or that I never slept at all – the excitement of jumping into the polar waters never quite dying down so I could rest. I woke up early and got right out on the deck. The quiet and stillness had a voice of its own. As the sun beamed brightly down, it gave a sensation that permeated all of your senses. Everywhere you looked, there was a reflection. In the dark waters, the icebergs floating by now had twin friends below them. Glass from the ship’s windows suddenly became organic as you could clearly make out watery details that now were shimmering hundreds of feet above your head. The ship was quiet and this lead to auditory sensations unlike any I have had so far. The penguins were crooning in the distance. An occasional booming would announce to the planet that a new piece of glacial ice had calved and was now sliding into the ocean. It was almost as if the penguins were cooing over a newborn baby to say to the newly calved ice, “Good morning, welcome to our world!” All of this was wrapped up with the whooshing sounds of hidden waves cleaning the shorelines like earth’s brooms sweeping a watery brush.
Our landing site was Neko Harbour – where a lazy baby elephant seal was in a deep, zombie-like sleep. Penguins were hopping and skipping to their own song all around this torpid animal. The pup showed complete disinterest, occasionally flipping his rubbery feet covered in fur – stretching his toes. This slight movement always brought us excitement thinking that our giant friend would provide some action to record. That wasn’t a part of his plan as settled down, ignoring the landing parties, the penguins marching about, and the arctic birds soaring overhead.
The hike up the mountain offered impressive views. As the light changed from bright sunlight to a cottony haze – shadows came to life. The march to the summit brought us past two Gentoo colonies. There was familiar sound of the penguins singing a chorus of cries with the approach of a Skua or Snowy Sheathbill. Even though we were being safely guided along our way, the snow was soft and wet.
The afternoon brought us to the Gerlache Strait. The waters were calm this afternoon as we explore the cavernous coastline looking at the nooks and crannies searching for life. A Weddell Seal was found in another trance-like sleep hypnotized to sleep; the deep purr of the zodiac engines did little to disturb the slumber. We toured some more and found playful chinstrap penguins. The personalities of these three amigos made us all laugh as they behaved like supermodels on a photo shoot. Slipping and sliding, they were certainly in command of us, the humans, forcing the crane of our cameras to capture their brilliance in the afternoon light.
Dinner came to an abrupt halt! There was an announcement over the speaker system proclaiming, “There are humpback whales on the bow!!!!” We were dining with Magnus a naturalist from Sweden. He quickly shooed us as if there a fire alarm up the steps to take part in one of natures wonders. It only took a moment to see the air bubbles peculate to the oily surface. In a split second, whale tails became to break through and proclaim that they were there! There were three tails in all providing us with the joy and wonder of how animals behave in the while. Water was splashing and spewing when the whales would flop creating droplets of water across the air. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. Nature in its most mystical and vibrant hour!
So far, this has been such an incredible journey. There is just one more day before we head back across the Drake Passage. I continue to soak up the beauty and perfection that I am surrounded by every second of every day.
Once we were officially land bound, we made our way to the site of where Charcot’s Francaise expedition. It is one of the few landing sites on the Antarctic Peninsula where all three species of brush tail penguins life – Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins all nest together. I personally have come to love the chinstrap penguin the most. But let’s be honest – any penguin is a cute penguin! I tried very hard to capture them porpusing in and out of the water. I am afraid I was not that lucky. This hike was much easier. It was a completely different kind of vista atop the summit. The sky had a distinct battleship grey color and the snow swirled all around us dancing like snow fairies across the wind. While we were defiantly climbing higher and higher, the rise in the trek wasn’t nearly as steep as last night. I absolutely prefer this kind of hike! I only became nervous when a naturalist informed us at the summit that we were not to move a step beyond the footstep trail. Apparently, that was the crown of the snow ridge. One step too many and you know exactly where Mr. S. would land!
This morning we had a very early “photo alert” call come across the speakers – We were in the famous Lemaire Channel. The waters were calm and there was a mist of fog across the sky. Snow was falling gently and settling on all of the parts of the vessel. I rolled out of bed and quickly geared up so I could see the spectacle. The ship gently entered the Channel. At first, it didn’t seem much. However, every second brought more clarity to life as we forged ahead through the mist. Pancake shaped ice created an organic mosaic across the water. Glaciers on each side of us framed the majesty of our surroundings. Giant glacial ice sculptures rose out of the water. It was as if we were in a museum – a museum made by Mother Earth herself! The Lemaire Channel is 7 miles long and one mile wide. With icebergs all around us, we passed carefully along the waters. The channel was discovered by a German Expedition under the command of Dallman, 1873, and traversed in December 1898 by Gerlache, who named the channel after Charles Lemaire, Belgian explorer of the Congo. They say this channel is where “icebergs come to die” because they get stuck by the pancake ice and can’t move any further.
We came in from being awestruck and munched on a hearty breakfast of spinach omelets, potatoes, sausages and fresh fruit. We then heard a call overhead that we would be exploring the Penola Strait region, directly south of the Lemaire Channel. We made a landing at Port Charcot on Booth Island. This was a different kind of landing. Our boat wedged up to the coastline where we had to carefully step from the zodiac boat and step on stones to come ashore. Our next move was stepping bridge that was carved into the wall of snow only by the footsteps before us. The footing was not easy! One slip, and into the water you would go!
As I was sitting there taking it in, my serenity came to a screeching halt! Over the announcements, the staff informed the passengers that we would very (very) shortly be partaking in the POLAR PLUNDGE. I knew I had to do it, but each moment took me closer to the inevitable. Frigid icicle coldness would be coming off of my whiskers dripping down as if they took months to slowly drop; however, this time they would congeal in seconds.
Each step seemed a little heavier. I thought my feet were slowly sinking into a sludge hole pulling me to freeze me in place. You start to wonder if this will bring you down to the ocean floor after you jump! Step, step, step. You heart beats faster. You envision the worst outcome. The ship doctor is there along with an army of staff to help if your heart cannot take it. All lenses from National Geographic are pointing at you with the intention of capturing the jump into the frigid waters forever. At least if your heart stops you can rest assure that your last moments are captured forever. Time to smile for the big moment, right?
I had to do it. I know you are watching, reading and talking to me via the web. There was no doubt that this teacher was going to jump! How? I was unsure! How deep? I assumed to my waist. Right.
Inch by inch, I got closer to the main event. Down the stairs and unable to see the people before me, I still did not know what I was in for! I approached the zodiac boat to wait my final turn. Would it be my last? Over a shoulder I saw someone reaching for God as they were completely submerged under water. In Chicago, I just see photos people running out of lake Michigan. This was DIFFERENT. This time, I would be swimming for my life!
It was my turn to take the last move onto the edge of the zodiac. Knowing that I was going into water without a bottom, I hoped I remembered to swim. One. Two. Three!!! I jumped. A million needles were suddenly sticking into every pore on my body. My skin tingled like microscopic popcorn kernels exploding all over my body. In case you were wondering the Antarctic waters taste delicious! Apparently, I forgot how to swim. I needed to hold my breath under water. Floating did not seem as natural in icy abyss. My feet that felt heavy before now had gravity of the world pulling me down, down, down. I looked up to the water surface and prayed that I was pulling myself up. Every swing of my arm brought me closer to air, warmth and my friends! I had done it! I exploded through the surface of the water unknowing which direction I was facing. Quickly, I scurried up the platform landing, hopped over the zodiac boat ant back into the ship where there was a giant, fuzzy, blue towel ready for me. Suddenly the cheers of my friends came blazing through my foggy mind. It was then when I was so happy that I did this and proud to have completed another crazy adventure!
We woke up today with very tranquil conditions. The wind was still, waters were calm, and the temperature mildly cold. When the ships engines are turned off you can hear the stillness of the environment. Perhaps a gull calls in the distance or you hear a deep booming sound when a huge piece of snow and ice calf from the shoreline.
The first part of our morning brought us to Culverville Island. We boarded our zodiac and made way to a beautiful landing base with round stones and stairs carved into the snow so we could climb and explore! There were three choices – all had Gentoo Penguin colonies! Mr. Sanders and I decided to head our way to the “big” trek up the side of a mountain that provided spectacular views. Believe it or not, there was a Gentoo Penguin colony at the top of the climb! The incline was very steep and far enough to be nervous – about 1,000 feet. I was very relieved when we got to the top. However, my relaxed state only was temporary! How was I going to get back down? Mr. Sanders handed me a piece of glacial ice to try – quite tasty! I highly recommend it. After taking many pictures, we then had to start to descend to the bottom again. What was Mr. S. going to do? I sat right on my rear end and slid about 150 feet to the base! What fun!
From there we returned to the ship and were immediately corralled into another line to go kayaking with the glaciers! This was a spectacular treat! The water was still and looked like black glass. I have to be honest when I saw that it was a little scary floating on the water, alone, with only our hands to propel us. Soon, we got the knack of it and were moving at a pretty brisk pace. From this perspective, we could see the changes in the ice sculptures floating around us. If you looked closely, you might spot a blue rabbit or a grey turkey with brown stripes floating by! Often we found our selves just sitting and taking in the crisp air and appreciating the stillness of it all. Then suddenly we would hear a giant, roaring BOOOOOOMMMMM! In the distance a side of a glacier would be sliding off into the water!!! It was so exciting to see the landscape literally transform before out eyes! And yes, I was blessed to see a seal playing "hide and go seek" with us today!
That was just the morning! In the afternoon, we were given two choices. The first was a pretty high and steep climb. If you fell, you slid right into the ocean! The second was a zodiac tour. Zodiac boats are open-air motorboats that we use every day. I felt like a nice zodiac tour capturing photographs might be better for Mr. S. in the afternoon. They told us we couldn’t slide down – that just doesn’t sound like fun! The boat ride was full of colors – brown cinnamons, tangerine oranges, radiant topaz blues and Celtic greens were popping out of every corner. A turn in the zodiac could take a light, pale blue and make it looks like it was electric and plugged into an outlet. Surrounding all of this is ocean – shimmering like billion diamonds in the water. The photos in today’s post do not have much of me in it! Look for the color and enjoy!
We were met with a bit of a surprise at the evening “recap.” This is the time where many of the naturalists talk about the things we did and the nature we bore witness. The big news was that there would be an “after dinner” landing! Nobody was expecting this. The experience was described as roughly a “mile and a half hike” that was much easier than the earlier hike where people were walking up the side of a mountain in “switchback” formation. I was game for it feeling guilty for taking the easier path with the zodiac ride. Was I in for a shock! This was no “hike.” We were walking a super steep side of a mountain where the end never seemed to stop! Many of the steps resulted with your feet sinking deep to your knee! While the road was difficult and yes, sometimes scary, it was breathtaking at the top. Was it because of the beauty or because Mr. S. needs to work out more? I will let you decide. I made it though! Hooray!
I want to start by telling you that I am asked every second about my kids! My shipmates are so impressed that my students are not only reading this blog but you are posting your thoughts about it. Keep it up!! I love seeing them. My shipmates do too!
Yesterday we were in Antarctica but really it was an island. Today, we stepped foot on the actual continent. We had to get up very early today. Mr. Sanders and I were lucky. We were part of a group that was given a special zodiac tour (a small boat) of Brown Bluff and then we were brought to the coastline for more exploration. We were greeted with “Good morning, Good morning” once again with a different weather report. It was going to be 9 degrees Faranheit with a wind chill that would be slightly BELOW zero! I had to be sure to bundle up very good! After breakfast we waited for our group to be called. The zodiac tour would be first.
Paul took us around Brown Bluff. It was clear where it got its name. The beige land soared high over the snow. You could see the layers of sedimentary and volcanic rock soaring to the sky. We toured small icebergs and searched for Adelie Penguins. Oh, were they cute! I really believe that it is impossible to take a bad photo of these little guys. We saw them hopping above the ice, sliding into the ocean and running around as if they were playing tag. The water was beautiful and remarkable as you look at the way it carves into the bottom of the icebergs – often making a blue hue in the ice. After an hour, it was time to step foot on the continent “proper.” Our zodiac landed on the shoreline. The shore was black with various sized stones and fine-grained black sand. Brown Bluff is the site of ancient volcanic activity.
We were guided to first WALK ON AN ACTUAL GLACIER! Whoa! This was pretty neat. The first part of the trek had us walking along this very narrow path. One small step and Mr. S. would be swimming with the krill! I was very careful and a little nervous! After that part we gathered and then made our way up the slide of a glacier. The wind was scream and cold. I had to work hard to make it to the landing spot of our party. The ground was quite slippery, steep and icy. Mr. S. was out of breath getting to the top. Finally, we made it! Whew! I stopped and took in the scenery and caught my breath.
Then, it was time to make our way back down the iceberg to the initial base camp. This was harder to do than one would have though. The footing seemed less stable going down the iceberg and the wind was forcefully pushing us down. It should be no shock that Mr. S. fell flat on his bottom! Ouch! I brushed myself off and got back to shore.
The second part of our landing brought us to an Adelie Rookery – the place where the penguins nest their eggs. We were all very excited to hear that there were some baby chicks. I wasn’t able to get a photo of any because they were shown to us very quickly. The naturalists said that they were probably just 2 days old and required good protection from the cold and the wind. It was SO exciting to see.
The photo below is Eric Guth giving a lecture about the ice down here!
We then came back to the boat. Right after lunch, there was an announcement that everybody should get on deck for a gigantic tabular iceberg! We guessed at how big it was – perhaps 3 or 4 football fields. From a distance, it looked like a sliver above the water. As we got closer and closer, more and more details became to come alive! Giant carvings of ice and snow were shimmering in the sunlight. The vessel was driven around the iceberg so we could observe the magnificent beauty of this ice sculpture. I was also lucky enough to have a lecture in the afternoon on icebergs from Eric Guth. I learned many things. First glaciers form from snowflakes, to granular snow, to firm snow and finally becoming glacier ice. It can take hundreds of years for a glacier to form. It takes a lot of pressure and snow over the years to build up the layers for the snow to become ice. The official definition for an iceberg is a body of ice flowing downhill by the influence of gravity. Did you know there are warm-based and cold-based glaciers? Can you figure out the difference? An arête is a razor-like ridge in a glacier where one glacier begins and another one starts. There is a center dome of ice in the center of Antarctica pushing out towards the coastline to the path of least resistance. Also, there are ice streams moving the ice towards the shores. The ice shelves are a result of those ice streams dumping ice into the water. This creates an ice shelf moving out into the water. Also, can you find out how are icebergs given their names? So much information was given – and we have only talked about the, “tip of the iceberg.” J
In the process of watching this incredible spectacle, Killer Whales appeared! My photos of them were not so good, but it sure was exciting. We saw families of them swimming all around the boat. What was even better is that there was a lecture in the afternoon by John Durbin and Holly Fearnbach . They are Killer Whale researchers and have devoted their lives to Killer Whales all around the world. Their lecture was most informational and I learned some stuff! First, Killer Whales stay in family groups their entire lives. Mom is the boss! They have cultural traditions (feeding specialization). They eat salmon. They are very chatty and socially active. Because they eat the big salmon, they are in danger themselves. Sometimes they get caught by fishermen who are just trying to get salmon. Some killer whales eat marine mammals. Those Killer Whales are quiet so the marine mammals do not eat them. They eat different seals, dolphins, porpoises and the juvenile calves of whale species. Some eat sharks – and they are chatty because the sharks cannot hear them. There were lots of good questions but one of the most important was, “Have you ever seen them attack a zodiac boat?” John said that he hadn’t and thought it would be very unusual – but not impossible. The Killer Whales DO like to eat things above the water! Mr. S. is NOT Killer Whale food!
John and Holly say, “Hello” to all of the kids at Walt Disney! They thought it would be a good idea to give you guys a challenge. See if you can find their website by searching “Antarctic Killer Whale tracking.” You might need to put in one of their names. Let’s see what you can learn about Killer Whales! You might even be able to see some of them being tracked on their website!
Above are pictures of the Killer Whale that appeared! John is talking to us and finally there is the crossbow system they use to track the whales!
Today we awoke to some more stormy seas. While I was sleeping, I heard some crashing sounds. I am not making this up! In my dreams, I believed we were crashing through ice. I kind of assumed that when I woke, I would see nothing but floating ice – gently passing by the ship. No. Such. Luck. I still don’t know what those sounds were, and I wasn’t the only one who heard the crashing noises. Even more, there was one point in which I felt like I was standing while I was sleeping in bed! The boat was defiantly rocking back and forth.
The morning started off with a mandatory meeting for everybody visiting the white continent. We have to respect that this is the last region that has been virtually untouched by man. No trash. No smoking (not that Mr. S. would ever do that!). And absolutely no disturbing the natural wildlife. They announced that we would be making trips and touching ground on Antarctica today! You could sense that excitement as the room gasped.
Our first footsteps would be on Barrientos Island (Aitcho Group) – a part of the South Shetland Islands. As we got closer to the islands, you could feel the waters begin to settle. Then, clank, clank, clank… the anchor descended into the water! We were no longer doing our funny balancing dances to get around the boat.
Mr. Sanders and I found out that we were going to be in the morning exposition party to go out! We put on our long underwear, thermal pants, wool socks and finally our outer layer garments. Before we stepped on the zodiac boats, we had to have our clothing checked to “decontaminate” it. We wanted to make sure there weren’t any seeds or anything else that could harm the Antarctic environment as a result of our visit. Geared up, we stepped into a special solution and carefully stepped into our boat. The water was spectacular. The air had a brisk chill but nothing worse than Chicago at all. We were boating in the English Strait to the islands.
We landed and made our way to the base camp where they explained some basic rules and that helped us keep safe but observe the nature. There were penguins immediately to the right of our boat! Immediately, there was a sour odor in the air. The ground was covered in this reddish colors goop. Yes, it was Penguin poop! The naturalist explained that it was a good thing that the color was red. The red indicated that the penguins had a very healthy diet of krill – the major food supply for the penguins. Good or not – it smelled HORRIBLE. There were penguins nesting, penguins walking, penguins falling and penguins just lying around. There were many penguins sitting on their nests. I saw them try to steal rocks from one nest to another. Sometimes they were successful; other times, they were not. At one point, there was a giant bird flying overhead and I heard naturalist Andy say, “Ut oh…” I was quick and got my camera out. There it was – a bird stealing a penguin egg! It was exciting and sad. It is what happens in nature.
Look close! Can you see the penguin egg being taken?!?
In my last post, I ended with fearing the worst part of this journey – seasickness. Well, that night I felt the real power of what people have been talking about. I overheard staff talk about how we were going to head out FAST in order to beat the huge storm front that was coming. While this did not mean we were going to avoid rough seas, it meant that we were going to avoid the WORST. Another vessel elected to “wait.” This pretty much guaranteed that they would be sailing across the passage in horrendous seas.
I was feeling tired. It was a long day of travel and the seasickness medication tires you out. About midnight, I heard something slide and crash. Then I felt the up and down rocking of the boat. It wasn’t like the ship was moving. It was like I was in a baby cradle rocking back and forth! Things were sliding everywhere. I just took a breath and focused on the “positive” of it. Someone was rocking me to sleep! J
Believe it not, I didn’t get sick! Yet, there are no guarantees.
We were awoken by a gentle voice overhead. “Good morning, good morning. It is now 8:30. Breakfast will be served until 9:00.” I could have slept for another four hours. I am not sure if it was because of the medication, darkness of the room or the long days of travel.”
We got up and went to breakfast – however things were different. Ropes have been tied along the hallways. Why? You need them to walk. Everywhere. In the Drake Passage the ship rocks back and forth. At times, you really feel like the boat is about to lie flat on its side! Watching people walk has been so much fun. We all have our own little methods of maneuvering. We stagger. We stumble. We go real fast for a few steps, pause and then wiggle further some more. Sometimes, you just can’t predict when a swell (a giant wave) will come!
At breakfast, we saw people do their dance and balance plates of food! So many near misses of food being thrown up into air! The tasty food is dwarfed by the sounds of screams from the kitchen as the boat suddenly tips to one side. The poor folks in the kitchen don’t know it is coming. I kind of think it is fun!
Today’s agenda had several talks. We had a camera session – how to take good pictures and use some of the advanced camera functions. Then there was a fascinating lecture on the currents of the oceans – I wish my students were there with me to learn about this. After lunch, we had another talk about sea birds and how the geography impacts where they fly, eat, and mate. It wasn’t all about penguins!
It was a full day of lectures and learning. Sometime this evening we are going to cross the “convergence.” This is the area of the waters where there is a quick and significant change in water temperature. The boat is supposed to change directions at this point and we will be heading directly into the waves! It promises to be spectacular with water flying everywhere!
So far, Mr. S. has survived the Drake Passage. The boat is still rocking but not as extreme as this morning. So, we are calm – for now! Not a lot of pictures today. We were at sea the entire time. Photos would have been of people walking funny or getting sick! So far, I have not been sick! Yeah for Mr. S.!
Mr. Szymanski is a 1st grade teacher at Walt Disney Elementary School in Chicago, IL. He is bringing the world to his classroom with the help of National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. Here, he chronicles his adventures to Antarctica and South America in December 2014.