Vernadsky Station

After our amazing ice walk experience, we continued on to the Ukranian Vernadsky Research Station located at Marina Point on Galindez Island of Argentine Islands. Until as recently as 1996, it belonged to the UK and was called Faraday Station.

The weather was still gorgeous, with the sun shining bright over the sparkling ice. Huge icebergs lined the mountainous shoreline, slowly floating towards the open sea.The penguins met our zodiacs as we passed through the narrow channel that led through to the bay. We watched with joy as they leaped out of the water next to the foot long icicles along the shoreline and struggled with their funny waddling gait further onto the land.

our zodiacs brought us through this narrow channel to the base
check out those icicles, the penguins have to deal with them every time they want to eat!

It was nice of the scientists to invite us to visit them, we were their first ship of the season. They must’ve been looking forward to the distraction since I didn’t see any science going on. 😉

They sent their biologist out to meet us and give us a tour. She was happy to explain their lifestyle and answer our questions (even tho I was at the back end of our group so couldn’t hear much of what she said).

our guide Oksana

As we made our way up to the station, the snow reached over our heads along the wooden pathways. The buildings stood out in colorful contrast against the stark white of the snow surrounding them.

There were plenty of birds around: penguins, petrels and gulls. Like the Galapagos, they weren’t at all bothered by us. We were told before we had to stay at least a few feet away from them, but the birds didn’t follow the rules and sometimes came quite close. I noticed some of them were already banded (like this sheathbill in the photo).

As we removed our muck boots inside the crowded entry, we got a look at some of the photos of previous visitors: scientists and explorers from all over the world (and lots of photos of their ‘Antarctic league’ soccer teams). This photographic exhibit continued along the passageways. We saw various offices, labs, and storage for their skis, snowshoes and other equipment for the cold.

Old photo lining the passageway showing the Belgian expedition of 1897-99

Eventually we arrived at the galley and recreation room. They were set up for us to buy stamps, envelopes and post cards. Lots of business going on there. I bought a couple of cards to send home (I still haven’t received that one yet, tho I did get back the one from Stanley last week).

Further on, they had a bar where you could have a drink, play pool or darts and relax. They even had a souvenir shop where they sold t-shirts, patches, shot glasses, tiny little penguins and assorted other tchotchkes. 🙂

They also sold their own home made vodka which was actually pretty good. I bet even better after a long winters ‘day’ (when the sun never comes up).

After sending off my post cards and a warming shot of vodka, it was time to start heading back to the ship. I wondered how hard it would be to get a job like that. You might think it would be easy, I mean how many people really want to spend months or years away from friends and family to work in all that ice cold and darkness. But apparently, it’s pretty hard to get. Our guide told us she was one of the first women allowed, they only started allowing women a couple of years ago.

Seems to me, it would be similar to shipboard life. The isolation, the weather, the long periods away from home. I have actually tried to get a job on some of the supply ships that go to Antarctica. To this day, I’ve never heard back. Now, there are new requirements for “polar experience” so looks like another catch-22 as far as getting work goes. Can’t be considered because you don’t have the experience, but can’t get the experience without being hired first. 😦

First Time Ever

When I woke up, the sun was shining. Everything looked fresh and new, the stark contrast of white against blue was strikingly beautiful. The world was a blank slate, empty of all but water, ice and snow.

The weather had changed completely from yesterday. We had passed through Lemaire Channel and found ourselves surrounded by the ice. Our captain decided to drive the ship up into the ice to give us a truly unique experience.

We crowded the decks to watch as the ship slowly ground its way through the flat sheets of ice. When we slowed to a stop, we waited anxiously to see if our expedition crew would find the ice thick enough for it to be safe for us to hop off and explore.

they look so tiny!

expedition crew testing the thickness of the ice

Yes! It was. We watched each group head down the gangway to stumble around on the fresh packed snow, staying within the area marked off with the usual orange cones. My group- the Giant Petrels- was not one of the first. The snow was already pretty torn up by the time I was able to exit the ship.

It was so empty, so quiet. Nothing to see, for miles around, but us and the ice and snow- with far off mountains hemming us in. I did see the tracks of a couple of penguins, but there were only 2. I kept wondering where was all the wildlife I’ve been expecting to see. So far, I’ve only seen a couple of seals (far away), and some gentoo penguins.

It was hard to walk around, with the snow melting into slush and so the ‘ground’ was very uneven. Everyone was wandering around, taking selfies in the snow with the Roald Amundsen in the background.

Today we made history! This was the first time in the history of Hurtigruten that a ship drove into the ice and we got to take a walk on the sea ice! So exciting. 🙂

Orne Harbor to Lemaire Channel

After a beautiful day at Orne Harbor, we woke up to a more ‘typical’ day for Antarctica. So far, we’d been lucky finding nice weather most of the time. It changed quickly tho. We picked up our hearty campers who’d spent the night ashore, then headed on to our next planned stop at Neko Harbor (Andvord Bay).

Campers got to spend the night at Orne Harbor
we can just barely see the campers from the ship (far right in the photo)
The end of the red line is Orne Harbor. Around the corner to the South is Neko Harbor at the bottom of Andvord Bay. At the bottom left corner is Port Lockroy.

On arrival, we were met with high winds, rough seas, snow and freezing cold. There was a lot of ice in the water and it kept moving around. The zodiacs would have a hard time shuttling us back and forth to shore. After checking it out, the captain decided that the weather was not going to allow us to go ashore as planned.

too much ice for the zodiacs!

Expedition cruising, even more than normal cruising, is dependent on weather and other local conditions. You need to be flexible. It’s best to have the attitude of looking forward to whatever the day may bring and forget about being upset about what you might’ve missed.

We sailed on towards Damoy Point and Port Lockroy where we were scheduled to go ashore to the historic site run by the British. It has a museum and the only post office on the continent of Antarctica.

you can just barely see Port Lockroy middle left of the photo, we could just barely see their people waving with the binoculars
seals on the ice, taken from my cabin- I’m not sure if they’re weddel or crabeater seals

Sadly, the weather was still too bad for us to go ashore. I would’ve liked to send some postcards home with an Antarctica stamp. We did drive by and we all waved at each other. Brave people, to stand around outside in that kind of weather to wave at our ship.

On we went, to cruise through the Lemaire Channel. The weather was still pretty nasty for a little while. Howling winds, snow and cold! It felt like about 20 below, but I don’t think it was actually below 0 F. It was the wind that really made it feel cold.

The scenery was spectacular. We made our way through the channel filled with pancake ice, the sharp tips of the mountains peaking out of their coats of snow, glaciers calving off large chunks of ice into the passage alongside our ship.

The passage narrowed as the day went on. The wind died down, the snow stopped and the sun came out. I sat in the lounge with it’s wrap around floor to ceiling windows and just watched the world go by. Towards sunset (around 9 pm- it didn’t get dark until about 11), we passed through the narrows- only 1600 meters wide. The sound of the ice scraping along the hull of the ship was loud enough to be heard everywhere onboard.

In my room, I fell asleep to the low pitched background sound of the sea slushing along the side of the ship and occasional bang of a berg as we came out the South end of the Lemaire Channel to find our next adventure in the morning.

the mark on the Google map shows Lemaire Channel

 

 

Now What?

Well, I’m back home again. I’m so grateful that I got to go on that fantastic trip. Cruising to Antarctica has been a dream of mine for decades, and I’ve wanted to see Chile for a while too. 

I had hopes that I’d be able to get some work when I got back, but I’ve already been home a week and there is still NOTHING at all going on out there. This time of year is usually the best time for getting work. People want to be home for the holidays. But for 5 years now, everyone has been scared to death to take a vacation. It’s still THAT BAD out there. 😦

My friends ask me if I’m retired yet? Well, I probably would be if I hadn’t been laid off 4 years ago and not able to find any real work since. Yes, I’ve managed to get 1-2 real jobs every year and lucky to get that. No more than that- when I used to work 8 hitches or more. I’ve beat the bushes and scrambled to make a few bucks doing other things like teaching, selling some art, garage sales, etc.

So far, I’ve been able to survive. I’ve even been able to do a bit of traveling over the last couple of years. Not nearly as much as if I’d have been working, but enough to keep my sanity. 

Now I’m home and after spending all week looking for work again I’m at the point of being extremely frustrated- also bored and depressed. I have a million things I couldbe doing: cleaning the house, pulling weeds, cutting down the damn mimosa trees that never stop coming back. 

I could be figuring out how to publish the book I’ve been working on. I could be finishing the pastel drawing I started. I could be uploading more of my photos to the stock agencies. I could be pitching stories.

I could be doing all those useful and productive things, but I don’t feel like it. Instead, I spend my time on the computer (not doing anything useful). Why?

I should change my attitude- my outlook on life- but HOW? I’ve never been able to figure that out. How do you change your most basic thought processes? 

Orne Harbor

From Half Moon Island, we sailed on to Orne Harbor for promised spectacular views from atop the ridge. 

The expedition crew set out on arrival and surveyed a safe pathway that zig-zagged its way up the steep slope for us to follow. The kayaks were brought out for those who had opted for that activity.

The weather was very changeable. In the morning, it was overcast and gloomy, with a thick layer of fog. By the time my group- the giant petrels- got to go ashore after lunch the sun was shining and the winds were calm.

I made it only to the first stage. Sadly, I did not get all the way up to the top of the mountain. I was really struggling, slipping and sliding around in the snow. Due to my ongoing work situation (not having any), I have to be super-careful not to do anything where I might hurt myself. I could just see myself tumbling down the mountain, rolling like a tumbleweed all the way down to the sea and then having a heart attack in the freezing cold water. 😦

After making that decision, I made my way back to the landing site and watched the zodiacs come and go. The scenery was so beautiful. I didn’t need to go anywhere else to see even more of it.

I sat in the snow and watched the penguins and the people come and go. Absorbing the sunlight and the immensity of the atmosphere, I was so grateful of the fact that I was able to even just sit there- in Antarctica!

penguins
more penguins

I even managed to get a decent shot of a couple of penguins in the water. They’re so fast when they’re swimming!

Gentoo penguins in the water

I’m glad I made it as far as I did. Turns out, this would be our only landing on Antarctica. All the rest of our stops were on nearby islands. I was a little disappointed to learn that, but I have to admit the places we did go were pretty much just as wonderful. What difference does a name make? I’m not sure, but I am still glad I get to say I got to go to Antarctica and not just close to it.

Spigot Peak as viewed from MS Roald Amundsen

Half Moon Island

Our first landing in Antarctica! We’re all so excited. We pulled into the bay early this morning at Half Moon Island. Technically, we’re not landing in Antarctica- we’re still only in the South Shetland Islands. 

Close enough for government work.

We’ve already collected our Hurtigruten jackets, group patches (petrels, seals, penguins & albatrosses) and muck boots. As groups were announced on the PA, we assembled in the “black box” (tender pit) to be shuttled ashore in the RIBs.

Our key cards securely inserted into our jacket arm pouches, we’re all scanned as we leave the ship. We’re helped into the tenders and slide along the sides to fill the boat. Then we’re off, the cold wind biting at any inch of skin left uncovered.

We had a couple of hours to wander around. The expedition crew had arrived first and marked off a trail for us with cones and flags. We were not allowed to approach the rookeries, or wander too far afield. Not that it would be easy to loose us with those red jackets against the white snow, ‘but just to be safe’.

our first close up penguins!
Chinstrap penguins

Returning to the ship, boots washed (for bio-security) and scanned back in, it was time for a nice buffett lunch and relaxing in the Explorer lounge with a cup of hot tea before trying my hand at a watercoloring workshop.

As the afternoon passed on, the Roald Amundsen sailed on to our next stop and I enjoyed watching the scenery from the Explorer lounge while working on a jigsaw puzzle with some new friends. The sun came out as I was leaving Half Moon Island and it turned into a beautiful afternoon.

We passed more icebergs, and islands with glaciers. The scenery was captivating, but soon to get even better.

PS- all that red goop in the photos is penguin poop- just in case you’re curious 😉