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Antarctica trip

Day 8 added in order.  Scan down.

One of my grads is publishing a daily log of a voyage she is takiing to Antarctica.  I'll post it here for those who are interested.  If you aren't interested, don't read it.
Drake Shake

Day 9: Monday, 27-December-2010

"I want to see this," said a man at the table, the Frenchman who'd spent so much time traveling through South America before coming on the trip by himself. "They say it is the worst water in the world. I want to see it."

One of our friends (and my travel mates) had already left the table to go back to her cabin, skipping the rest of dinner and following entertainment, music and conversation for the comfort of bed. She'd start ed feeling ill on the Zodiac and it only got worse with thoughts of the Drake. The patch just hadn't kicked in, yet, not to the point of making anything better. Just enough to make her sleepy.

The rest of us stayed up, sharing bottles of wine opened with a penguin corkscrew as we left the penguins behind and headed into a corkscrew of our own, the Drake Passage with promises of an eastern wind changing to western and causing rocking and rolling, pitching and yawing, up, down, front and back. Every announcement came with reminders to take seasickness medication and to remember to keep one hand for the boat, one for ourselves.

The night proved rather exciting with more than a few things that went bump in the night, falling to the floor of the cabin, rolling about in drawers and rattling about the closets. In the middle of the night, my cabinmate got up to lock the closet drawers. At another point, she handed me a bottle of vodka and commented on the contents of the trashcan, which had traveled about the bathroom floor.

As for myself, I tossed and turned throughout the night, rolling with the motion of the ocean. I tucked the vodka into a drawer and wedged it shut with my backpack. I pulled a fleece from another drawer and wrapped myself in it. Air and spray from the port hole had chilled the room.

"Did you bring the orange juice?" my friend asked.

"Yes, it's on the…..." I looked up at the shelf, "floor."

But it had slid. She gave up the search.

"Do you know which drawer keeps banging?"

I had seen it open, but every time she got up, it had slammed shut.

"The one on the end by your bed."

She duct taped it shut.

Morning dawned cold and gray. We had left the sun with the smooth water behind and entered the passage, Drake Passage, the roughest water in the world, full steam ahead. The morning call to breakfast noted the skip of a wakeup call. We had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and lectures that wouldn't happen until later. Much later. In the meantime, anyone suffering from the "Drake Shake" could just stay in bed. The crew and staff would check on us later and bring us breakfast if we needed it.

Strangely enough, though, nobody took them up on the offer and breakfast found all of us moving - slowly and awkwardly, but moving.

The sick travel mate had made it to breakfast, slipped in the hot food area and went back to bed. The group petered out for the morning lectures but returned full strength for a lunch (served instead of buffet) and a showing of Happy Feet, grown adults pleased as punch with a cartoon about penguins.

Most made it through the film and the lecture that followed but several dropped during dinner (duck and fish might have been less than appealing selections) and by the time we'd watch another film, most of the boat was out for the count.

A few of us stayed up sharing stories and pictures. We'd even pull on rain pants and parkas, hats and gloves to climb to the observation deck on six and watch waves crash against the bow, laughing in exhilaration as sea water soaked our cameras and the wind chapped our cheeks.

Only one more day left in the Drake and then back to Ushuaia to disembark on Wednesday morning. They're cutting email in 46 minutes or so; no more words until we reach terra firma.

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posted by Kristin @ 8:57 PM

Boxing Day

Day 8: Sunday, 26-December-2010

When the bing-bong of the ship's announcement system sounded, I covered my head and ignored the wakeup call. Half-drowsing, I waited for it to sound again, to announce breakfast and the morning's activities, but it didn't. In the bright sunshine of day, I pulled the alarm toward my squinting eyes and read the time: 4:48.

"The clock must be wrong," I thought as I saw my cabin-mate sleeping and decided to go back to bed, still waiting for the sound that just did not come.

Upon waking again, I got up and looked out the porthole to see the sea still passing by. I was safe for a while; we wouldn't go on an excursion until we were anchored somewhere. I just didn't know when that would be or what time it was.

In a half hour or so, the system sounded again, and I prepped to get up and dress as expedition leader Hannah announced humpback whales around our ship. She suggested rather strongly that we get up to see them in the glorious morning light. Rolling over, I decided for sleep. Then, she made another announcement telling us all that it was worth getting up. We could sleep later, she said, and announced the time: 5:55.

Apparently, I was dreaming when I heard the wakeup call. It felt like maybe I still was as I stepped onto the deck to see the immensely beautiful and beautifully immense animals swimming 'round our ship. Some were near; others far. It was hard to know where to look with bits of whale rising out of the water from time to time, blowholes, flippers and flukes but I managed to
catch (if not photograph) one entire whale as it breached the water not  once but twice.

"I don't have a bucket list," I soon said, "But if I did, I think this morning crossed a whole lot off it."

I spent an hour and a half outside watching for whales. Watching whales. Spouts and slapping tails. The sun brightly reflecting off ice and snow. Eventually, we started moving again, heading toward our morning's destination at Cierva Cove and the whales moved along with us, pulling us out of our cabins and the observation lounge time after time until breakfast was called. The next excursion. The rest of the day.

We did see humpback whales (chasing a couple) from our Zodiak tour around the cove as well as a leopard seal lounging on an iceberg and a Gentoo colony with some of its colonials out porpoising in the waters around us. An iceberg split in two and separated as we watched from eye level. The Antarctic shag, brown skuas, and kelp gulls swooped over head as we passed an Argentine base and visited a waterfall along thick moss beds.

After that, after peeling off layers, eating, making new friends and layering again, we headed out on one final excursion with promises that we could nap later (we wouldn't) to Mikkelsen Harbour, a tiny, rocky island covered in Gentoo penguins (and the requisite guano), skua and sleeping sea ls, Wendells with smiling faces). An abandoned Argentine refuge provided human context to the penguin colony as did the ship in the distance as we continued to take picture after picture of penguins, snow and ice.

Glaciers calved, dropping snow and ice and sending waves to the shore, as we waded hip deep in snow and circled the island by way of the rocky shore. I tromped off the path to visit a seal and sank to my thigh with every step. I almost lost my boot once and an Australian lifted me out of the snow. On the way back to the ship, we chased a leopard seal and picked up bits of glacier to chill our drinks, and on board the vessel, we shared drinks, dinner, conversation and laughter. The resident musician, an award-winning songwriter, provided the evening's entertainment in the form of original songs penned for and about recent trips to Antarctic, including ours.

Evening passed quickly and ended early as we re-entered Drake Passage. The ship's doctor had handed out sea sickness patches and pills to those who might need them (most of the ship). Between the side effects and late hours of the Christmas holiday, exhaustion fell early and people crawled into bed or a night of rocking and rolling on our way home.

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posted by Kristin @ 12:30 PM


White Christmas

Day 7: Saturday, 25-December-2010

Morning came early to our boat near the South Pole with gifts of socks from the North. (Did they come from the MIT grads? Does anyone know?) Mine carry the king penguins we thought we would not see, as well as facts about the birds (how does one cite a sock?)- they can walk faster than humans, which one might find rather absurd. They seem so unstable, clumsy and sweet, waddling onshore, falling to their bellies and gliding awhile.

Despite the vast quantities of lovely Argentine wine at our makeshift Christmas Eve celebration with friends (old and new), Scrabble and dancing, we made it to breakfast on time to share a table with our suitemates (as if one were being generous enough to call what we share - six bunks and one bathroom - a suite).

Coming on the tail of almost two full days of wind, we needed a break from the gale forces that blew and relative cabin fever, so I offered to do what I could to take one for the team - I offered to shower.

Stepping in the stall between breakfast and scheduled outing could not help but spark an announcement that we were going onshore. And soon. The showerer would not only have to stop bathing but also dress incredibly fast and head onto Antarctica with a head full of wet hair, so I took one for the team.

As soon as I'd doused and lathered my head, the announcement came: An excursion on warm, wet snow and ice.

I braided my hair, layered trousers, tops and jackets and headed first to land, then to a steep, windy peak where a pair of skuas nested, regarding us with disdain. In too little time, the wind blew us back down and we slid down a near vertical slope with jackets tucked into our rain pants and backpacks turned front. It might have been absolutely terrifying if we had any idea where we were going. Instead, we just watched the world spin around us as we slid and everything did go all topsy-turvy.

"I think I have boot in my snow," I observed an hour later.


"I think I have snow in my boot."

It seemed to be the only thing that could have generated the icy sharp pain in my right ankle, the pressure and numbing. I didn't realize how much there was until after slow, windy drive around the bay and back to the ship. I wanted to vomit from by the time we returned and Magda checked my name to prove I had come back.

Scrub. Disinfect. Remove boot and shake out pile of snow and ice pellets.

Limping back to my cabin, I left a trail of wet right footprints that made me laugh despite the pain. Then, I strapped on a pair of foot warmers, making a heated foot sandwich of myself and regaining feeling. By our Christmas lunch, I felt almost normal. I didn't even cry. Though, I did need a nap and checked with the doctor to make sure my foot would be alright. (We spent more time talking about Garp than the discoloration, ache and numbness in my right leg.)

After lunch came the humpbacks, a mother and her calf that I wanted to call Mississippi (M - I - crooked letter, crooked letter, I , crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I) followed by another trip ashore, Gentoo colonies with penguin superhighways, rolling icebergs and skuas looking for the tasty treat of fresh, baby penguin.

By the time we ate our own dinner (turkey not penguin), exchanged gifts and recapped the day, by the time we started a holiday flick, I just wanted to crawl into bed. Instead, I crawled into the bar with friends for a night filled with wine and laughter.

"It's a good Christmas," I thought, as I stood on the deck at three minutes 'til midnight in the twilight of a polar summer night.

I listened to glaciers calve and watched snow avalanche down a distant  mountain while smoking a cigar with the "real men" and talking of travel and life. Clouds stretched across a landscape so surreal, mountains almost superimposed, that I couldn't help but think of Dali as only the snow, ice
and water moved.

When I went to bed, on the horizon, on the other side of the ship, clouds blushed from sunrise or sunset or maybe both at almost two in the  morning.

I could feel the ship vibrate with the rising anchor and the end of the holiday, and again I thought, "It's a good Christmas."

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posted by Kristin @ 3:34 PM


Christmas Eve

Day 6: Friday, 24-December-2010

Wind whipped as we stood on deck and watched the Zodiac tack in Dorian's

"What are we doing?"

The woman in front of us in line was absolutely indistinguishable but for the muffled accent that came from the depths of her layers as she asked my to help with her hood. I tucked another friend's mittens into her sleeve and cinched the cuff tight, zipping up jackets and turning up collars of those around me, feeling like nothing so much as mother penguin. Or a father. I'd take either one.

Bundled to the point that we couldn't even recognize each other by hats, we made our wet, windy shore by way of zodiac.

It was a short excursion, cut even shorter by the wind that whipped shards of ice cross the field. We barely made it up three-quarters of the way to the summit before we were turned back because of the wind. The same with the hut and the rookery and we were all turned back to the landing point where a long queue had formed for the two zodiacs (plus ballast) that ferried us back and forth.

"Bird!" my friend shouted, impressed by my ability to photograph birds in flight. "Bird!"

We found ourselves toward the end of the line with the recent MBA grads from MIT and all of us flopped in the snow, lounging in sunglasses and parkas under a midday, Antarctic sun.

"Act like a seal!"

"What kind?"

"Act like a Weddell seal!"

We lay in the snow and occasionally waved or rolled.

"A leopard seal!"

I opened my mouth as large as it would go and slithered like a serpent.

"An elephant seal!"

I rolled onto my stomach and arched my back as did one of my friends before huddling together in a pile.

"This is kind of weird…"

The MIT grads buried a friend in the snow while we posed in life jackets and snow, certain not to drown on land. We entertained ourselves for a half hour or so, maybe more, before making our wetter, windier way back to the ship after wading out to a zodiac surrounded diving penguins.

The rest of the day, we spent on the ship, hoping against hope that we'd make it ashore again before the day ended. The weather turned against us, though, spinning the boat, as we watched a long, wordless film made by and about Shackleton's fated voyage. It was fascinating and wonderfully subtitled and somewhat nap-inspiring as we spun 'round the anchor and the women and man from Port Lockroy made their way out to us. We ended up with a makeshift post office and gift shop in the dining room. Fortunately, they were not setting up for dinner because we'd enjoy a Christmas feast (sans barbecue) to the Observation Lounge.

We observed. We lounged. The crew brought up a penguin made of fruit and a Santa head carved from a watermelon. A makeshift Christmas chorus sang traditional carols as well as one made up just for us and this trip. Penny whistlers played, too, and we all sang along. After that, and several bottles of wine, the group just got more merry, with Scrabble in teams, dancing on stage and a strange fascination with green running shorts.

"This is what happens when we don't go on land," I noted of our second day of missed expeditions. "If it's too windy tomorrow, you're going to have to lock me in the gym with the treadmill."

"You know there's a sign in there that says 'Don't exercise alone,'" my bathroom-mate said, shaking her head. "One of us will have to go in there with you."

"Pray for good weather, and a very merry Christmas."

A Christmas tree packed by a friend made our crowded table festive as we unhooked and dragged chairs across the room, making room for more, more and more. Goodwill and Christmas cheer spread as the night edged it's soft, dusky way toward morning.

"A merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

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posted by Kristin @ 7:09 PM


Day 6: Friday, 24-December-2010
"I am king of the world," I muttered from the lower bunk.


"I am king of the world," I repeated. "I just thought I'd let you know before breakfast, in case you were wondering."

I'm not sure where it came from, but my passage in steerage probably warranted less than such a claim. I didn't mind. Our dinner conversation had  evolved around Russian princesses stiletto-deep in penguin guano while four of us at the table shared two triples and one bathroom. (We were just glad it wasn't six of us, which was entirely possible.)

"You know," I said to my friend. "If you're not getting the pictures that you want, I'll just have to come back to Antarctica with you."

She laughed.

"Thanks, man."

"That's my Christmas gift to you... I'm going to keep the self-unwrapping gift that I brought."

I might have been a little slap-happy after an almost full day on the ship, but I went with happy. Just... happy.

In what would be a sidebar, if I had a sidebar and not the limited, text-only option of emailing my words to the site with no way of editing, formatting or even knowing if they've actually posted, I'd include a write up of the Polar Star itself. Of the ship and the trip and the people onboard. The oceanographer who makes me think of the Old Man and the Sea (in only good ways) and his delightfully-balanced and equally charming wife who live in Mozambique. The Rhodesian doctor who'd come by way of Australia and our discussions of books, family holidays and my broken tooth.

Our resident "birdologist" also known as Dr. Brent within our small group (and only our small group). I kept taking pictures and asking him the namesu until finally I learned the differences between the wandering albatross and the black-browed and light-mantled sooty, the giant petrel (southern with the greenish tip to the beak as opposed to northern with red) and Cape (also known as pintado). I kept asking, though. The terns. The shags. The skuas that came at our heads. One of my friends called him my big brother and me her own little sister.

The expedition leader and her love of seals. Joe and his love of pretty much anything that doesn't move. The zodiac driver/resident musician and his original songs, some even written during the course of our cruise. He used to be the writer in residence at McMurdo, writing and diving and driving a zodiac.

The photographer in his cow suit leapt about the observation lounge and making us all howl with laughter. Simon… What was Simon's specialty? He had great photos of birds, taken with film because he still uses film, and much like all of the rest, he steers a zodiac.

Much like the amazingly beautiful and remote landscape around me, I don't know how to do justice to the people onboard the ship, the people with whom I share my trip. We seem to rotate tables at every meal, making new friends, hearing new stories, and everyone has a story, especially those who'd come to the Antarctic for the holidays.

We've grown familiar with one another. Comfortable. We've shared some of the most surreal landscapes that have looked almost like moonscapes, which is
pretty much the next most remote destination we can visit.

"Who's going to believe this?" my cabinmate asked as she scrolled through her camera.

"I don't know," I replied. "I can't wait to post some of the pictures."

I paused and revised, "I can wait. I don't want to leave the boat!"

It has become something like home and, after all, I had declared myself king.

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posted by Kristin @ 1:44 PM

Day 5: Thursday, 23-December-2010
"There's an iceberg right outside our window… It looks really cold out."

"But it's over 30 degrees."

"That's what they say [at 3 degrees centigrade]. I'm just saying it looks
really cold."

She was right: Gray, rainy, an iceberg outside our porthole. It did look cold so we layered for a split excursion, a trip to the continent - actually to the continent - of Antarctica (and our first actual continental landing) and a zodiac tour 'round Paradise Bay. The snow was due to be thick on land, leading to much tromping and a difficult hike in borrowed rubber boots to the summit, so we tried to leave early, planning to hike first, cruise later.

As reality would have it, we found ourselves doing precisely the opposite, but instead of cruising the cursing, we soon issued words of praise, trying and failing to capture the wonder of a gentle snow falling on steel blue water next to a color that seemed to exist only in sports drinks and the far, icy reaches of the world. In New Zealand, on Fox, hiking after a helicopter ride and drop halfway up. In Alaska, with calving glaciers. In Antarctica and the waters of Paradise Bay.


An Antarctic tern perched on a small iceberg took off in flight, white against white with bright flashes of feet and beak. Blue-eyed shags dotted cliffs that rose out of the water. Blue, green and orange streaked the face of the rocks, colors from a crayon box made by elements within metamorphic rock. Penguins porpoised through water littered with ice and a female Minke breached the surface right next to a zodiac so close to us.

"I keep thinking that nothing can top an excursion," I said, as we approached the rock landing and took our first steps on the continent proper, "And then something does."

We climbed to the summit, sweating from some combination of exertion, layers and the sun that appeared as the snow stopped falling.

"I am king of the world!"

Coming back down, we took a shortcut, sliding down on our bums through the shoots of a luge, replete moguls, snow flying from our boots as we soared and I found myself airborne and laughing from the sheer exhilaration of it all. Walking the rest of the way, stepping off the trail to make a snow angel as directed by one of my friends, I found myself hip deep in snow. I withdrew a stockinged foot and spent the next bit digging while my friends laughed, shot pictures and helped.

Then, I made the snow angel.

Heading back to the trail, I lost the left boot in similar fashion, hip deep again, and dug myself out. Back to the zodiac, the ship, the rest of the day.

We had plans for two more stops for the day, but the day stopped us. We cruised to our southern most point, breaking ice along the way, and seeing more wildlife in the form of birds (skua, gulls and the like), toddling penguins, molting seals and some Ukrainians. We saw our first crab eater seals, including one with a pup, and a leopard seal that seemed completely unfazed by us. The Ukrainians, however, seemed rather flustered.

We'd planned to visit their base, to mail postcards on the next ship out (in March), buy a drink in a bar littered with bras and deliver some supplies. The ice was too thick, though, for our zodiacs, so they came to us. Talking a little. Selling a little. (I bought a $15 magnet for no reason at all.) Disappearing into the day as we went to supper. Five of us mobbed one of the men for a photo op, women in our 20s and 30s clustered around him with a bra out, and arms around his shoulders and even a kiss that took him by surprise. (The photos were great.)

The rest of the night revolved around photo sharing and taking. A recap with an ozone hole presentation, original songs, and a man dressed as a cow and bounding about the observation deck. Laughter. More talking. Nobody really wanted to go to bed despite the fact that four of us shared a space joined by bathrooms, but the day of "nothing" had simply worn us out. Hours outside watching ice break had a taken a toll. We couldn't quite wrap our minds around any of it, much less it all. We needed sleep, even if the sun was still up and would be for hours.

Of course, it always was.

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posted by Kristin @ 7:22 AM

Day 4: Wednesday, 22-December-2010
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have no idea of the day. The date. It's somewhere in the 20s of December and not quite Christmas Eve. Tuesday? Wednesday? Christmas Eve is not tomorrow because we'll visit a British post office then and that's after the Ukrainian station and post office. (Items sent may arrive sometime in the next three to six months, if ever, so I'm sending a post card to me.) It must be Wednesday

I'm not the only one who's forgotten the date. Everyone I asked looked a  me in surprise.

"Was that only yesterday? It seems like ages ago."

This morning felt like ages ago with a 5:30 wakeup and Zodiac tour replete with seals, penguins and a formation that looked like nothing so much as Devil's Tower in Wyoming, which I've only seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (both the tower itself and one made of mashed potatoes). From there, back to the boat and breakfast, followed by a visit to Half Moon Island, which I desperately wanted to call Half Moon Bay, which it wasn't

We tromped through snow up to our knees and I grew to fully appreciate following in someone else's footsteps, trailblazing and the like. Even still, we formed giant holes over which gave penguins pause and inspired jumps.

"Think light thoughts," I whispered to myself as I left the path.

Sometimes it worked. More often it didn't, but sometimes the hollows created by molting seals, bits of packed ice, saved me. Other times, I spread my weight as I watched the penguins and seals doing nothing at all but so slowly molt with the occasional lift of the head or blink. Somehow, even that generated dozens of photo opportunities as did the snow angel I tried to make.

Naps before lunch, porpoising penguins alongside the ship in the afternoon followed closely by a pair of humpback whales in the afternoon, which we watched from the bridge. After that, we could have been done for the day, maybe the week, or our entire lives, instead, we pulled on our cold weather gear and bundled up to go to Deception Island.

We probably could have skipped the bundling, peeling off layers as we raced from one end of the island (Neptune's Window) to the other (Ronald Hill) and sweating fiercely in the (late afternoon that seemed more like midday) sun.From high point to higher, we jumped over the ship, proving my general groundedness and complete inability to leave the earth. At both points, though, even grounded, we soaked in the views of a landscape so alien with beach, rocks and volcanic caldera shrouded in steam.

The whaling village in the middle warranted more time, but we stuck more to the aerial view with a few photos from ground level as we headed back toward
the Zodiacs and one final onshore activity - stripping down to a red racing swimsuit and running into the barely-above-freezing Antarctic waters. Some of the earlier bathers enjoyed a little hot-tubing with water from the hot springs, but the tide had come in while we explored, leaving only icy water.

I'd never more wanted a hot, burn-your-face-off, restore-feeling-to-my-phalanges shower in my life nor the hot chocolate with rum that greeted us when we came back to the boat. Combined with the day, it was all a little slice of heaven. Dinner and drinks, recap and music. Conversation far too late into the past-midnight, pinkening sky.

Did I honestly think I'd be bored off my rocker?

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posted by Kristin @ 6:28 PM

Aitcho Barrientos
Day 3: Tuesday, 21-December-2010
I know the smell of penguin poo and it... it is bad. Everything else pretty much rocks from this end of the world. The end of the world. I have visited Antarctica, my seventh continent, THE seventh continent, and have decided to return. We've batted around talk of Emperors and the Aurora Australis with promises of information from one of the expedition staff about the best time to come, the length of the trips and from whence to depart. In the meantime, though, we have a whole world to see, at least more of this one, which really is just the tip of the iceberg.

Speaking of icebergs, I have seen my first one. A giant, glacially blue iceberg dotted with penguins and hugged by humpback whales with Ant(arctic) winds blowing and chapping our cheeks and our noses. The gods of weather have treated us kindly. We passed through Drake without much yawing and rolling, without crawling to the bathroom (even with wine), and found ourselves sailing through Nelson Strain between Nelson and Greenwich in the South Shetland Islands for an evening landing at Aitcho - Barrientos Island and our first (!) steps on Antarctica.

Before that, though, we needed to vacuum our gear, anything we brought that we hadn't just bought, to make sure that we didn't carry spores or seeds or anything else to the shores of Antarctica. We needed to learn how to clean and disinfect our boots, to get boots, borrowed boots, in which we'd live for the next several days (off of the boat) and leave in the wet room in
hopes of keeping the smell of penguin guano to a minimum. We needed to learn about the smell of penguin guano. And to keep our distance. What to wear. What to do.

Only then did they set us free on Barrientos Island. To conquer a seventh continent for so many of us. To wander. To sit with penguins and watch adolescent male elephant seals spar. To wave at a Wendell seal. To laugh in wonder and duck from birds of prey dive bombing my head in hopes of driving me away from the nests.

Back at the boat, after my second time in a Zodiak, I made my way to the bridge to get shots of friends coming in and to watch the sunset from the bridge. (It was almost 11.) At a half past midnight, I'd take a dusky shot from my porthole of a sky that looked more like evening that the middle of the night, firm in the knowledge that it would soon rise, early enough to ease a painful 5:30 wake up call.

We stayed up too late for any of that but just couldn't help it. We were
just so excited.

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posted by Kristin @ 8:30 PM

Drake Passage
Day 2: Monday, 20-December-2010

"I'd like to ask whomever coordinated the weather," she said, "to please
keep it up."

The crowd laughed appreciatively as the former ballerina took the stage to show us stretches and a few hints for keeping balance, illuminated by the sun streaming through the windows.

Thus far, I'd managed to keep somewhat on my feet, walkin   g slowly but with confidence, without fear of falling, which I think related directly to the fact that I so often did. I fell all the time. I never had balance. Finding myself on a sea, even on the roughest patch of water in the world, felt somewhat familiar.

Some, like the tall skinny blond wove with grace; though, they, like the rest of us still wove. Some lurched. Or clung to the handrails. Or just stayed seated. Anything went with an experience so new to most of us.

Even the second mate said he generally got sick on his first day at sea after a few months vacation, which he told me immediately after saying how impressed he was by my lack of both seasickness and preventative patch as I sat in the bridge for a while and he planned his upcoming vacation... a cruise to Greenland.

For most of the day, people clambored up and down staircases, onto the  decks and around the bridge taking pictures but there wasn't much to  see: water, sky, an albatross or three. They circled the boat for much of our first day at sea, and if not for the cold it would be hard to tear oneself away from the search for the perfect shot.

But cold, it was. Not bitterly so, just enough for the condensation of breath and stiffening fingers, enough to drive a person inside for hot coffee and a chance to sit down and listen to the expedition staff talk about the things they really loved - birds, oceanography, geology and  photographs. (It was a full day of lectures for whomever wanted toparticipate and naps, reading, talking and food for those who didn't.) Later, we'd watch a Planet Earth video and sigh over the scenery we'd soon visit.

"I only had two things I wanted to see," one of my friends explained to one of the expedition staff, a birthday boy with whom a group of us stayed up too late talking, unsure whether wine or the motion of the ship made the walking hard. "Emperor Penguins and the Southern Lights. Two things."

"Did you read your brochure?" he asked.

We were all fairly lucky and not just in the fact that we were among the few heading to terra incognita, the seventh continent with or without Emperors and lights. Night would flit so briefly with the sky a dark shade of blue at 1:27. It was the night of a lunar eclipse, which we wouldn't see, and the next day offered the longest of the year in the southern hemisphere, which we would.

The wind and the storm were at our back, pushing us along and rocking us gently without knocking us around all that much. The staff even promised that we'd find ourselves in the South Shetland islands a few hours earlier than expected, in time for a Tuesday afternoon expedition instead of waiting for Wednesday morning.

Some of us would probably need to nap before that happened, though. Late night. Early morning. Breakfast. Expedition briefing. Vacuum party. We needed to vacuum any outer garments even slightly less than new to make sure we didn't introduce foreign elements to the continent or its feathered denizens. Bed.

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posted by Kristin @ 3:23 PM

Beagle to Drake
Day 1: Sunday, 19-December-2010
9:57 pm
We've boarded, met and mustered. We've passed the muster and through the Beagle Channel and apparently, we're about to enter very bad weather in the Drake Passage. The "less drowsy" form of Dramamine that I took earlier has been augmented by the more drowsy form of original formula. I'm one of few not wearing a patch against seasickness and I really don't want to vomit tonight. Or in the morning.

The Captain warned us of the weather coming up and gale force winds in
numbers that meant nothing to me but the doctor reiterated the need to take
care, the first mate issued warnings about moving around and the expedition
leader encouraged us to crawl to the bathroom, saying that nobody would see
us but the ones that we loved and/or the strangers with whom we shared a
cabin (and our case, a bathroom).

Fortunately, our triple turned into a double, giving us two extra drawers
and cupboard space to share. The same happened with our neighbors, Hannah and Heidi, so only four of us will be using the head instead of the possible six.

There are 93 of us on board, less than capacity but not by too much. We were lucky. We are lucky, in general, to be able to travel so far and wide at any age, much less our relative youth. Hannah and Heidi seem a little younger than us and there are others, even younger, traveling with families. For the most part, though, other than a handful of travelers in their 20s and 30s, we're younger that the mean age of the guests by a couple decades.

They let us in slightly early and we'd unpacked (saving the now-extra space)
by the official boarding time of 4 p.m. and wandered the ship until we set
off, watching the gangplank rise from the observation deck in the after
before heading to the (perpetually) open bridge, which fascinated me and
could keep me entertained for hours, which is good, because I don't think
I'll be running for the next couple of days, what with crawling to the
bathroom, warnings to exercise with caution during rough seas and advisories
to only workout with someone else.

The Channel was rather calm, though, and we enjoyed a leisurely dinner with
friends, old and new. Afterward, we made our way to and through various
decks to see some wildlife - birds like terns and shags, penguins at sea, my
first ever whale (a Minke), some dolphin and an albatross.

Somewhere in my drawer (one of my drawers!) I have a Christmas present
rapidly unwrapping itself - a book of literary Mad Libs for one of my
friends. Given last night's discussion of Dorian Gray and The League of
Extraordinary Gentlemen and today's albatrosses, I think it should fit right
in. I just need to wait another day or five.

For now, I fear I'll soon be asleep. We're passing out of the Channel and
into the passage and I'd rather sleep through the first part of it, hoping
the second glass of champagne wasn't a bad idea and that I don't need to
crawl to the bathroom any time soon.

10:54 pm
The rolling has started...

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posted by Kristin @ 11:39 AM
Mac IX

My apologies. They have put me on a medication that makes me sleep all the time and not give a shit when I'm awake.  This is a separate infection and not related to the cancer, but I'm just as down and out.  If you want to follow the end of the trip go to Kristen's blog at

She is back and doing well and has posted wall to wall pictures there. Forum Index -> Don't touch my Junk Drawer
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