antarctica, and some joshua tree too! travel blog

Welcome to posting #6. It’s Saturday at 3pm and we’ve done the last of our ‘landings’ in Antarctica today and are heading out to the open sea for return to Ushuaia. Target to return is Tuesday morning at 8:00am and the captain expects some bad weather ahead, so that’s why we’ve left a bit earlier than expected.

Today we were awakened at 4:45am for a quick landing on Deception Island in the South Shetlands. This was our sixth landing – 2 on the continent and 4 on islands – and turned out to be our last of the journey. We were supposed to go to Half Moon Island this afternoon, but upon arriving in the area the winds were at 28 knots so the Zodiac landing craft couldn’t operate safely in those seas. (Terribly disappointed was the couple from Half Moon Bay, California who’d planned to take photos of themselves on Half Moon Island for their Christmas cards!) So instead the captain took the entire ship around the small island so we could see all of it.

The landing on Deception was scheduled last night because we’d missed yesterday’s landing at Danco due to weather. The expedition leader announced in the daily evening meeting that we’d be woken up early if we had an opportunity to land. There were lots of groans but cheers at the same time, and I would say about 2/3 of the boat geared up and went out there. It was a quick trip, just one hour at the landing site, but enough to walk both directions up the beach to look at some graves and the ruins of two scientific research stations, one British and one Chilean. Deception Island is a caldera, the remains of the mouth of an active volcano that collapsed under its own weight about 10,000 years ago. Lava flows sometime in the 1960s destroyed these two research facilities. We saw tents in the distance which are apparently a British survey team checking seismic records, so the expectation of further volcanic activity is clearly on their minds. (In fact when we were being prepped for the landing, the leader told us that, in the event of volcanic activity, the plan was for the ship to leave the caldera quickly and for us to hike over to the ocean side of the island to meet the ship there. Darn – it didn’t happen, and I would have enjoyed the hike!) We were back on board by 6:45am and the ship exited through the narrow opening in the caldera (called Neptune’s Bellows), which I believe is only about 500 feet wide and has a big submerged rock right in the middle of it. Any significant wind will drive the ship into damaging areas, so it was interesting to watch the captain negotiate the ship in and out of that opening.

Someone noted that the waves lapping up onto the beach at Deception Island were warm, perhaps due to a large magma chamber just below. There was even a bit of steam along the shoreline. I checked and sure enough, you’d have thought we were in Hawaii – or maybe it just felt that warm in comparison to everything else around here. I don’t know why we couldn’t have done the polar plunge there instead of at Neko Harbour – it’s still the Antarctic and not one of you would have been any the wiser! A good acting job could have made it seem really really cold......

After we started north towards ‘home’ it was announced that there would be group photos taken. The ship’s photographer started with those of us hitting our 7th continent, holding up the hand-painted sign; it looked to be about 25 people or so. (At the end of the trip they’re going to auction off the sign, proceeds to polar research.) Then the rest of our shipmates joined on the prow (bow?) as a sort of ‘farewell to Antarctica’ photo. The captain did make a brief detour to Discovery Bay where we encountered a humpback and a Minke whale. We’ve seen lots of whales and seals and penguins flying through the water and I just can’t seem to have the patience to capture them in action. However, several shipmates have taken great action photos and posted them on a community laptop up in the lounge area, so I went up there today with my laptop and borrowed a thumb drive from one of the schoolboys so I could download them. I’ll post the best ones when I get home and wrap up this journal.

One thing I noticed is missing down here in Antarctica is insects. I haven’t seen a one, not even flies or an ant on the bare rocks. I keep meaning to ask the expedition staff if there are any insects down here, so I’ll have to make it a point tomorrow. We’ll have two days of not-much-to-do as we sail home; there’ll be a few lectures but plenty of time to ask questions......

I’ll close by talking about how amazing some of the passengers are. This morning I was at breakfast with four people that I’ve met and eaten with: Anne and Anna, mother and daughter from the UK, and Clare and Sara, friends from the UK that I’d first met in Tierra del Fuego. And I come to find out that all four of them have PhDs – two in Sociology, one in Linguistics, and one in Microbiology! They were having a free-range discussion on various topics and I just shut up and listened – can’t hang with that level of education! And at lunch Henrik and Fanny from Germany came and sat with me, who’ve both been doing fantastic photos. And they were telling me about several trips they’ve taken to Africa to photograph wildlife and how they had to hack through the jungle with machetes to get photos of the gorillas in Uganda. These two are just in their early 30s; he’s an air traffic controller and she’s a project manager, but they have such a rich life. Very impressive!

So, not much more to add. This may be my last post before I return home and write a wrap-up and, of course, post photos. I don’t expect too much to happen in the next two days as we rock’n’roll across the Drake Passage but if it does, I’ll post something. Thanks to those of you who’ve written to me at It gives me something to do while we’re sailing!

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