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Ben and Ange - On the Road

Antarctica!!!

ANTARCTICA | Friday, 29 February 2008 | Views [1686] | Comments [3]

Ice is nice

Ice is nice

A slight warning comes with this story and related photo albums.... LONG.  I`m sure you can imagine what a battle we`re having doing the whole Antarctic experience justice.  But here goes nothing. 

DAY 1-3 Beagle Canal and Drakes Passage

We boarded our boat "The Polaris" with only 62 other passengers!  Cool.  Surprised to see plenty of other young and youngish people and even more surprised to see plenty of other backpackers.  Cool.

18 nations represented! Cool.

Gap Adventures staff a young-ish, multicultural (Aus, Canadian, British, American) group of well travelled, well informed, enthusiastic and PASSIONATE people.  Cool.

Actual ship crew were Russian (my new favourite accent).  Really warm, genuine people. 

Awoke 2am to swell, rocking side to side. Most action i've had in bed without being amorous, 10 to 13 meter swell!! It was everything the Drake is renowned for.  Rough, windy, cold.  Altogether the real deal.  Including Albatros sightings.  Now theres all sorts of amazing facts and figures around these birds... I shant bore you.  Suffice it to say, they`re big! (Up to 3.5m wingspan) and fly a long long long way - mostly without flapping their wings.  Impressive.

I have to confess - you may need to get hold of a colour chart to try to pick the shade of green that one of us turned!  Dammit... not so hard-core after all!

One of the great things about our Gap staff was their passion and desire to share knowledge with us.  A much richer experience to be had through being informed, aye?  So we were offered lectures for the duration of the Drake crossing.  We could attend lectures by these guys in their field of expertise.  This included, birlife (including penguins, albatross etc), Marine mammals (whales, seals etc), History (Shackleton, Mawson, Admundson... the whole "Heroic Era"), Ice (glaciars, bergs, pack ice etc) and other bits and bobs like the Antarctic treaty and stuff.  All very very interesting (or at least a good way to take the mind of queasiness) and really well presented.  A tad tricky holding onto chair and table while the boat rocked to a 40 degree angle though.

As we neared the end of the Drake passage (heading towards the South Shetland Islands) we were told to look out for our first iceberg.  First to spot one wins a bottle of champers! 

First iceberg end of day 3, Ange wins champers

DAY 4

We're down in the Antarctic peninsula now.  Tis blissfully calm and whisper quiet.  If you`re not looking at massive mountains, you`re looking at glaciers, icebergs or mirror like water!  It`s a bit nice :-)

1st Trip = Zodiac trip, Snowing!!

For each expedition they lower 6 zodiacs off the ship into the water.  With the zodiac driver in them.  Cool!  They then drive around to the gang plank and we climb aboard (with the help of our friendly Russian crew).  Of  course we have already layered up with no less than 4 layers (including thermals and ski pants), gloves (two pairs) scarves, beanies, rain jackets, GUM BOOTS, life jacket... and so on!  A mammoth effort.  Especially in a cabin 2x1m!

So we cruised around in our zodiac... oohing and aahing at all the ice and in our case... the snow!  Our fellow passengers much amused by this being Ben`s first experience of snow falling!  Spotted a Weddel seal, and cruised around an old whaling shipwreck.

Each day usually involved at least 2 Expeditions.  Usually with lunch or afternoon tea in between and a whole lot of changing in and out of layers!  Our 2nd trip was a landing to hang out with some Gentoo penguins.  SMELLY!!!  But so very cute.  The chicks are all still being fed by their parents.  So mum and dad go off fishing.  When they come back they have to find their offspring by a calling them (raucous to say the least).  Once they`ve identified them they make the fluffy, fat little buggers chase after them to get their feed!  You haven´t seen anything quite so funny as a penguin waddle chase over a rocky beach!!!  Rerurgitation part not quite so cute. 

Of course, since we`re sitting in Antarctica it was totally natural that we should hear thunderous cracks and roaring snow as ice is breaking and falling or starting off an avalanche somewhere nearby.

DAY 5 - A HUGE DAY

A 5am wake-up call, but seriously, when you experience a day like this... who the hell gives a damn?

1st expedition = Elmarante Brown research station, Antarctica proper.

Yep - touched down on the Great White Continent.  Trecked up a nice snow slope to check out the views.  Sun convinently decides to emerge at that moment and create a veritable GLOW on the mountains across the bay.

Easiest way DOWN our snow slope? Snow slide!  Fun.  Had to then have a snow fight- so by the end of this, our first expedition for the day we`ve got wet pants, a banged elbow and already too many photos to believe! 

 Lemierre Channel (and Gerlache Strait) in between jaunts (quarter mile at narrowist point, 100 meters deep, 1000 plus meter mountains either side, 7 miles long.) At one point the ship has had to nudge through some small patches of ice.  The amazing crunching and scraping sound that fills the eerily quiet channel as we do this inspired all-over-goosebumps!

2nd trip= Iceberg Alley. great weather, sunshine. Icebergs lined up, spaced out and and shaped like an exhibition in some incredible art gallery.   Can I just say... Icebers are amazing!  They really are like natures works of art!  Each one of them a unique and breath-taking sculpture.  Every texture, size and shape you can imagine.  Blue-est of blues and whitest of whites!  ON a textured back drop of clouds, mountains and ocean!  Sorry to go on... check the pics! 

Leopard seals swimming around our Zodiac. So very curious and so very lithe in the water!  Gorgeous dappled stomach.  Big beautiful eyes and long whiskers... yep we were THAT close! Check the photos for that poor lone penguin not looking happy.

Whales blowing and fluking in the distance and a whole cluster of crab eater seals hauled up on flat bergs.

Penguins in the water are a different creature to penguins on land!  They are swift and agile beyone belief.  And when they jump it`s not like a dolphin "porpising" so much as a full exit from the water and belly flop back in!  Could we get a photo?  Course bloody not! 

3rd trip = smelly penguin colony (Adellie).  Really smelly.  Like GAGGING smelly!  Checked them out, sympathised with the dude who tripped and landed in a pool of guano and beat a hasty retreat!

Day 6

Only one trip today = Verdansky station. Currently Ukraine owned.  They bought if from the Brits for 1 pound.  Was used to confirm ozone problem in 80s. Most southern point of our trip.  We wrote and posted some postcards and THEN found out they could take anywhere up to 2 years to get to their final destination.  Oopsee.  Weather not great - bit drizzly and cold - so we definitely got to see this place in every light.

Visited Wordie House - an Ex English base.  All the original contents (including tins of coffee and backgammon set all still lying around.

Started heading back north - through Lemierre chanel again. Had a Great evening sky.

Day 7 - Last Day in Antarctica

Trip 1 = Deception island, old active volcano. old whaling station and then research station, deserted in 70s due to eruption. ruins all around. fur seals.

Swim!!  Picture it folks.  40 mad buggers (us included of course) stripping, posing for the group pic and then running madly, wildly and noisily into the Antarctic waters.  MINUS 1 degree I´m told!  What can I say - it was a VERY brief swim!  Had to be done.  Ben had to go one better and streak!  YES photos were taken!

Trip 2 = Livingstone Island Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins and elephant and fur seals. bull about 2.5 tonnes, max growth 4.5 tonnes

Day 8-10 Re-crossing the Drake

Drakes Passage better this time round since we didn´t have the following sea of our intial crossing. Towards the end of our 2nd day we got to witness "Drakes lake".  We also were on the winning team (Team Dramamine) of Guess my Antarctic Bluff... a game not too disimilar to Balderdash. So all alcoholic prizes on this trip were won by... us.

We were welcomed back into the Beagle canal by a pod of 10 or so dolphins and a divine sunset.

The weirdest sensation to come out onto deck and be startled to see... trees!  And plants!  And to smell.  Didn´t realise these were all missing from my senses until they were back.

So all in all.... it was ok.

AND TOTALLY MIND-BLOWINGLY INCREDIBLE. 

So very pleased we went.  Feeling just a tad blessed right now.

Tags: Adventures

 

Comments

1

Comments have now been switched on!!
This is a draft of Antarctica so far

  bagen Feb 29, 2008 12:39 AM

2

WOW! fantabulous read, awesome photies! Hearing the crunch and scraping of an iceberg, that would be an amazing experience. They say photies don't do the real mccoy justice, it looks impressive to me, it must be an incredible sight, such grrrrrreat photies. You sound very excited to have done this trip, goodonya!

  Dee P Mar 1, 2008 12:05 AM

3

How ya goin guys looks and sounds like you are on on of those epic adventures..your dumb assed brother told us about some of your holiday moments, sounds cool---Keep up the good work and remember your Aussies so get pissed and harass as many people as possible..
See ya Davo.

  Davo Dab.. Mar 10, 2008 4:14 PM

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