I'm still with you. How on earth do you remember everything? You must have taken some time during your busy days for notes!! I am thoroughly enjoying your reporting. I am a single traveler also and single supplements sure are the "pits" but I do enjoy small ship expedition cruising so grin and bear it.
Thanks LouiseMc! No notes, but I have a good memory and 3,000 pix to jog my memory Plus I remember what info *I* wanted and couldn't find when I was researching. I bet if you searched this forum, you'd see plenty of unanswered questions from me. Re: the single supplement, although I didn't explicitly pay one, I was penalized. If you are traveling in a group of 3, you can book at a triple rate, but you can't book into a triple unless you are in a group of 3. I really wanted to save 1k and was willing to deal with 2 roommates, but no dice. I *should* have had a far inferior cabin and a roommate, so I wound up being pretty happy overall with my super nice single
I am borrowing heavily from our ship journal/log here to remember what happened in what order – but I am rewriting in my own words. I am planning to break this up into 3 parts – Days 1 and 2, Camping, Days 3 and 4, and Day 5.
Day 1 of 5
We left Ushuaia on March 5 and “arrived” in Antarctica on March 8. In the morning, we came through the Lemaire Channel, which was absolutely beautiful. Our expedition leader awoken us with the news, and we all ran up on deck to see the beautiful scenery. The deck had ice covering it, so we were slipping and sliding all over!
After breakfast, we got all bundled up for our first landing! We went to Petermann Island. We were so completely excited. We walked a long a glacier, and laughed at the penguins. Parts of the snow had a red or green kind of cast to it – I forget the scientific reason for it – it was algae or something. We had about 2 and a half hours to explore, and everyone just couldn’t have been more thrilled.
After lunch, we cruised a little bit, checking out the surroundings and made 2 stops. I don’t recall there being much of note on the cruise, but it was good to get used to. The first stop was Vernadsky Station, the Ukranian base. Vernadsky was formerly known as Faraday and was the British base and was transferred to Ukraine in 1996. We landed at the base and headed on in. left our boots and lifevests in the main entrance and then took the tour. It was sort of difficult because many of the rooms were small and it was hard to hear the guide if you weren’t beside him. To be honest, although I really enjoy museums I wasn’t overly interested. I felt pretty bad for all the staff (all men) who lived there – it was definitely an older facility, and while in fine condition, was kinda dirty and definitely smelly. I was amused to see them storing their food outdoors. We went upstairs and there they tried to sell us souvineers, postcards, and drinks. [I am going to add a note here about postcards – BUY THEM IN USHUAIA. They are cheaper and far nicer. The Ukranians charged $4! to mail, and then take them over to Port Lockroy to mail. If you land at Port Lockroy yourself you can mail them for $1. I did mail 2 postcards because I didn’t know if I would have any chance later. We did, and I mailed 15 more from Port Lockroy. You have to appreciate that they don’t have a lot of resources and money and are doing all they can to profit, but $4 was pushing it for me!]
After we left, we cruised over to visit Wordie House. Wordie House was very interesting. It was an early British Research station and you can now visit it as a little museum (with no staff there). It has a kitchen and a little bunk and it’s hard to believe anyone would believe it. We poked in there for a minute and then wandered around the area. There was a big hill we climbed, and we had a great time climbing to the top and looking out over the island and the ocean in the distance, which was spotted with icebergs.
According to the journal Wildlife sightings included: Gentoo and Adelie penguins, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Snow Petrels, Antarctic Shags, Pale-faces Sheathbills, South Polar Skuas, Sub Antarctic Skuas, Kelp Gulls, Antarctic Terns, Minke Whales, Humpback Whales, Leopard Seals, Crabeater Seals, Antarctica Fur Seas, Lion's Mane Jellyfish.
Day 2 of 5
The next day, we went first to Port Lockroy, which is another former British Base, but is actually a staffed museum with a gift shop and a post office (box). Here is where I mailed my other postcards! I must say at this point I was getting a little concerned we were just going to visit bases, but this was pretty much the last stop. The museum was again, interesting, especially the kitchen. There were some great gentoo penguins which lived around the base and were just kind of EVERYWHERE. After visiting the museum we explored the area and all the penguins. Then we went to an area called Jougla Point which had a penguin rookery and this huge whale skeleton. This was one of our most fun stops. There were little areas were we could watch the young penguins learn to swim. The penguins literally crawled on people. I sat on a rock and just watched them play next to me. It was one of the best places ever. I will say, forever after I could not get the stink of penguin out of my clothing, but it was so worth the experience. Off the shore, we saw fur seal attack a penguin which is really rare. It was pretty far off and the penguin got away. We would see later attacks, but always with penguin seals.
After lunch we went up the Nuemayer Channel – I think they had a different excursion planned, but the expedition leader saw a group humpbacks so we decided to hop in the zodiacs. The humpbacks were fluking, which were really cool, but then a while pod of Orca surfaced and we chased them quite a ways! It was awesome. We also some amazing HUGE icebergs that were beautiful blues and whites.
On the Peregrine trips, they aim to offer a camping night during each voyage. They monitor the weather and conditions and look for a suitable location for a campsite, so it’s sort of a wait and see approach. They needed to find an area that had no wildlife, and was safe from calving glaciers and such. They found such an island in Paradise Harbour, and we wound up camping out on our 2nd evening at Antarctica proper. They hadn’t spoken of it the day before, but gave us a heads up at breakfast on the morning of Day 2 that we were going to try to do it that night.
In the afternoon, after lunch and before our excursion, we had our camping briefing, which was mandatory for everyone that wanted to camp. They encouraged everyone to come, even if they didn’t think they wanted to camp, to learn about how it would work, and laugh at those that were going. The staff, to be honest, was less than thrilled about camping. Those that didn’t have to go were very happy! This was not a good sign
We were assured that they would provide us with everything we needed, including a Mountain Hardwear Mummy sleeping bag, a sleep sheet, a mat and a bag to store it in. We were advised on what to wear (actually, not much!) and we were warned not to drink a lot, particularly alcohol, at dinner. They were very specific in describing the toilet facilities, and explaining the timeline for the evening. We were instructed to use our life jacket as a pillow. It was also VERY clear that we would go there and go to sleep and then come right back to the ship at dawn. No parties. We were also told that if weather conditions or anything else changed, we could be awoken in the middle of the night for an immediate evacuation. After all the warnings, we were sent off from the session for our afternoon excursion, and were told we would be told at dinner if camping was a go for that night. After the session, we collected the gear that we would use (minus the mats).
We went on our excursion, came back to dinner, and were told the weather was good, and a good camping spot had been found, and we would be leaving around 7PM. I’d say about 55 of the 80 passengers went – it was a pretty high turn out, and fairly typical. People of all ages went, which I was very impressed by.
They really encouraged us to wear just a layer each, but frankly, I wore more and was happy for it. Here is what I wore for sleeping: a bergelene long underwear (top and bottom), polarfleece pants, a techwick shirt, and a 300 power North Face fleece. I also wore 1 pair of liner socks, and 2 pairs of heavier socks. I also wore both my liner gloves, a balaclava, and I think I wore a neck gaiter as well. They really suggested we not wear fleece, but I decided to start with mine, and could remove it if I was too hot. That was unnecessary -it was -1 out there over night, which wasn’t so bad, but there was a great deal of wind. I was happy to have my layers! Additionally I wore my waterproof pants and jacket on the zodiac, and took them off before I went to sleep. I also wore my shoes and outerboots.
I brought my backpack, a flashlight, all sorts of little warmers – hand warmers, toe warmers, even those ThermaCare warmers they sell at the drug store – they worked really well. My friend who went before encouraged me to put them all over me before we left, and I did! I also bought these survival heat pads from Amazon:
I had 4 of them, and I shared them with 3 friends I made. We all gave them highmarks.
So, we took several zodiacs over to the island we were staying on. The staff had gone out there in advance and marked off an area for where we would sleep and set up the toilets.
It did not occur to me that there were 2 strategic things we should have done in staking out a sleeping location – (1) been on the first zodiac and (2) we should have noted where the staff was sleeping. They have done this before, they don’t like doing it, and they know where to make themselves most comfortable. Instead, my group was on the last zodiac, and we staked out this nice location where no one else was yet, and later realized we had picked the worst location wind-wise. When we arrived at the island we picked up our – sort of like those stiff blue yoga mats you might see at the gym. After the last people arrived there was a MAD dash to claim the left over mats so you could have 2 layers of cushioning. Of course, I scored one Although I don't know that it helped that much!
After we arrived and deposited our stuff, we had a mandatory group meeting by the toilet, which was a bit of a big deal. Essentially, it was a big trash can/container. There were distinct rules to keep it clean, to manage the toilet paper, and to not have trash strewn about because we had to take everything back with us. They really encouraged us NOT to use the facilities (and I did not) but surprisingly a lot of people hadn’t heeded their earlier warnings about not drinking, so I understand they saw some action. So we finished our session, and went off to make our little campsites. We used shovels to sort of flatted out an area. We may or may not have built a little fort around our area as well
Then we laid out our sleeping mats and unpacked the sleeping bags and tucked in the sleep sheets. This was surprisingly difficult. Then we got ourselves all settled in. We put our outer clothing in the bag the sleeping bag had come stored in to make a pillow (in addition to the life jacket). We tucked our shoes under out mats to keep them secure overnight. And that was pretty much that!
I was shocked that they told us to go right to sleep – it was like 8PM! But really the deal was to get this over with as fast as possible and we were leaving before 6AM. I think I really thought that the camping was going to be a super fun time, but it really, truly was designed so we could say we slept in Antarctica.
So how was it? Pretty uncomfortable. Heat was not an issue. I wasn’t too cold, or too hot. I had lots of layers to choose from, as I mentioned. Some people did say they were cold, but it wasn’t a super complaint. All the heat pads helped a lot. The worst thing was that the ground was so uncomfortable. Also, it was surprisingly loud – lots of glaciers cracking and avalanches. We were in a very safe location, away from them on a little deserted island, but they were SO loud, they woke me up many times. It sounded like the 4th of July. Truthfully, I didn’t sleep so well. I dozed for probably an hour at a time and then would wake up for quite awhile. I just kept waiting and waiting for night to be over. Finally, it was morning! And it was earlier than I expected – I think it was before 6 when we were awakened – and people were already heading for the zodiacs. Everyone packed up super fast and ran to leave, which I thought was funny. It was more challenging to pack up then it had been to unpack, and it was still pitch black when we left. We got back to the boat, and in the Mud Room, we left not only our life jackets and boots, but this time we handed in all our camping gear. This was a little annoying, but didn’t take long. They had some coffee and things for us waiting, since it was before breakfast, but I went right back to my cabin where I showered and laid down for a few minutes. Soon enough though, it was 7AM, and the morning announcement came that we had a beautiful sunrise (actually, the only really good one we had in our time in Antarctica), so I went up to the deck with my camera and took lots of great photos. At 730, as usual, we had breakfast, and we all went to trade stories or our night in Antarctica and hear about the day ahead, which included our first continental landing!
My overall camping summary: it was great to do it, but you are 100% just doing it to brag that you camped out/spent a night in Antarctica. It is an experience I will never forget, and I had a good time bonding with my new friends. It wasn't comfortable, but it wasn’t awful. I was very pleased with the gear provided by Peregrine – the sleeping bag was very good, and I felt well prepared. Plus, we got fun little certificates afterwards acknowledging our accomplishments. I was glad I did it and I’d recommend it!
Trip Report Part 10 - First and Last Continental Landings
When I had last left off, we had spent the night camping and returned to the ship and got right back into the normal routine, starting with breakfast. Day 3 turned out to be an unforgettable day, for so many reasons.
We had spent the night camping in Paradise Harbour, and it was clearly beautiful, but we didn’t really see it until we got out for our first excursion of the day. This first excursion was really a highlight of the trip for several reasons – the initial excitement though, was that this would be our very first continental landing. All but 2 of our landings were on islands, and sometimes, depending on conditions you may not even get to land on the continent proper, but that just didn’t even seem to be an option in my head! As in many cases, the expedition consisted of both a cruise and a landing, so half the group did the cruise first, like I did, and the others landed, and then after 90 minutes or so, we switched.
As we left the boat and pulled closer to the land, the amount of ice in the harbour was striking - our zodiac pushed sheets of ice away as we sailed. If you have seen the movie Titanic, you might remember the scene at the end where Rose is floating, waiting to be rescued, and ice just surrounds her, seemingly everywhere – well it was just like that. So we just floated around, and looked at this gorgeous ice, listening to glaciers crack and seeing some small avalanches. The ice and glaciers towered above us, completely dwarfing us. We saw some seals hanging out on the ice, but the focus of this cruise was really on the ice. This cruise was my favorite – it was so beautiful, and we had such a nice long time out there – it seemed like almost 2 hours, we just spent floating amongst the ice. I can totally understand why it’s called Paradise Harbor. After, we still had plenty of time and were dropped off at the beach for our first continental landing! That was pretty exciting, and some of the Aussies put down a flag. The landing site is at the old Almirante Brown Antarctic Base, which has an interesting story in that it was burned down in 1984 by the station’s leader and physican because he didn’t want to stay another winter!
The Peregrine crew had stamped out a path up a very steep hill for us to climb. It was hard work, even with the path, but once at the top we were rewarded with 2 things: (1) A spectacular view! We could see all of Paradise Harbor and it was so beautiful. Best of all we spotted Minke Whales leaving their oily circular marks as the progressed throughout the harbor. It was great fun watching them from the high vantage point and radioing to the zodiacs about their whereabouts. We all sat around, and after spending a good long time at the top, we got to the next reward (2) a man made slide carved out of the snow! Everyone slid down this giant hill, and it was so much fun – sort of like those huge slides in amusement parks. Some people just went up and down – the record was 8 times, but quite frankly, I didn’t much like climbing the hill much the first time, so once was fun enough for me!
After a nice long excursion, we headed back to the boat, where we were greeted with a traditional Antarctic BBQ. A traditional Antarctic BBQ takes place outside, on the deck. I’m not sure what else is traditional about it beyond the ambiance, which could not have been more spectacular. So instead of having our usual indoor lunch, the chefs had the grills out and cooked up hamburgers, chicken, fish, hotdogs, and the best grilled veggies ever. The crew handed out silly hats, and hot chocolate and had some music going. So the ship sat, in this beautiful, beautiful, icy harbor, and we wore our heavy fleeces and sat at tables on the deck eating our food, and it started snowing. It was pretty awesome, even if my sandwich was a little frostbit
We had a really great time, and soon after wrapping up, it was time for the next excursion, and the ship moved to Neko Harbor. So we loaded up and as soon as we got there, we rushed to the zodiacs as Minke Whales were spotted sleeping in the channel! We hurried along to see the mama whale and her calf. We found the sleeping whales, who were funny to watch, but really didn’t do much more than bob up and down. We quickly spotted more minkes (awake ones) and we set chase. It turned out to be a huge group of whales that just surrounded us. Sometimes we would lose them, and we would stop the zodiac, and sit quietly amongst the ice and just watch and listed for their blows, and as soon as we heard one, we take off! Sometimes, when we were waiting, they would suddenly surface right near the zodiac. It was amazing. After awhile, we took a break from the Minkes, and found some beautiful seals sitting on the ice. I believe that day we saw Weddell and Fur seals, as well as our first leopard. Again, the setting was just so spectacular, that this was one of my favorite cruises. We landed on a beach in Neko, which was a great location too. This marked our last Continental landing – there aren’t a lot of landing spots on Peninsula itself, so aside from this day, all of our landings were on islands.
Lots of baby penguins ran around everywhere, some stray mamas fed their young, and a couple of fur seals hanging out. Most of the parents had abandoned their chicks, so it was really great to witness a few parents left, and watch the feeding process. Regurgitated fish, just like in March of the Penguins! Yum. We had a great deal of time to wander around and interact with the penguins and just observe them. They got in lots of little fights and practiced their swimming, and were very fun to watch. The most spectacular part of this landing was a sighting just off shore of a leopard seal killing a penguin. This was pretty crazy – a National Geographic moment at it’s finest. Most of us were on the shore and could see it in the distance. One lucky group was in a zodiac and got very close to it. We were all super jealous, but the next day, seeing leopard seals kill penguins became a common sight! More on that next.
Next: Days 4 and 5 (Deception Island)
Kiwi Flyer, redbeard911, and mymiles2go - thanks for stopping by and for your nice comments I had my tonsils removed last week, so I have been a little slow to update. I'm hoping to finish this soon!
I have 2 posts left on my Antarctica recap, plus I’ll do a quick overview on the rest of my South America adventures, and I have really been dragging my heels and losing steam on it. My tonsil less throat is all better now, so no excuses
When I last left off, I had 2 more days to explore Antarctica. This day was most notable for the leopard seals. We were in the Gerlache Strait, which we had passed thru on the way down due to changing course because of a cyclone.
The day before, we had seen a leopard seal attack a penguin from the harbor. We were told this was very rare, and how fortunate we were. Apparently the Discovery Channel had been down for 2 weeks prior trying to film just such an attack, with no luck.
I think there was 1 zodiac full of passengers near the prior day’s attack, and the rest of us were still on land so we weren’t so close. We were very jealous of these few passengers, but by the end of the day, we all had experienced it, many times over.
In the morning, we all went quickly to the zodiacs as humpback whales were off the portside of the ship. Right away, as soon as my zodiac left the ship, we encountered a leopard seal.
So basically this is what would happen (I witnessed about 5 attacks, and it took up the bulk of our morning adventure). The leopard seal was usually already attacking the penguin by the time we caught up to it. The seal doesn’t just attack and kill the penguin – as the staff described it, they are “sadistic” – basically taunting and playing with the penguin for quite a while, letting it escape briefly and recapturing it. The seal would toss the penguin around – one even got tossed into a boat! The poor penguin would try really hard to escape, but the seal would eventually wear him down. This would go on for quite an extended period of time, and the seals were practically putting on a show for us! They would roll under and all around the zodiacs. It was really an embarrassment of riches – we saw so many – some simultaneous attacks. Eventually, we even wandered off to look at whales because we were a little tired of the seal attacks. It was literally my National Geographic moment. The video from this was amazing. I actually have to say before this trip I never considered getting a video camera, but I don’t think photos captured everything as well as I would have liked. I would definitely recommend bringing a video camera, or at a minimum, a digital camera with video capabilities (what I had). I was astonished by how much I used it.
After, we went back to the ship for lunch. We were sitting at lunch, and they brought up the marine biologist to talk to us about the leopard seals. Both the expedition leader and the marine biologist were at a loss for words – they kept telling us how amazing our trip was an how lucky we had been to see such amazing wildlife. I turned to the person sitting across from me, another consultant who was from Japan, and I said, “Every single time, something happens, we keep saying it’s the greatest thing ever and nothing can top it, and then something tops it!” At that exact moment, the Expedition Leader frantically interrupted the marine biologist to report that there were hunchbacks BREACHING off the front of the ship. Everyone in the dining room abandoned their pasta dishes and ran outside to watch. It was really amazing – there were probably a dozen whales that would just take turns breaking the water, spinning up and flopping down. It was unbelievable. After about 20 minutes, the show wound down and we returned to eat our dessert. I turned to my friend and said, “You see what I mean?”
The expedition leader resumed his commentary and told us about the afternoon plans, but not before reiterating again how great our trip had been so far.
In the afternoon we had another excursion, cruising, which after all the excitement of the last 24 hours, was much calmer. We went to Wilhelmina Bay and Foyn Harbor. At Foyn Harbor, we saw a whaling shipwreck from 1922, which was pretty neat. As a diver, I always like shipwrecks – this one was mostly above water. Some fog had begun to drift in, so we saw a little less than we had before, but we had some very good bird sightings, including our first chinstrap penguins. This was probably the least exciting excursion we went on, partially because of the driver I was with, partially because of the weather, and mostly in comparison to all the morning events.
That night they hosted an Albatross Auction over dinner. This is basically an auction where they had 10 items that they auctioned off to the passengers and raised cash to save the albatross. These items went for a lot of money – they raised over $11,000 on the 10 items. They included things like: a huge signed map of where we went to (biggest item at 5k), a book on Antarctica wildlife (went for $400, yours on Amazon for $30), a laminated log of the trip, a Peregrine staff hat, and other assorted items. I know that the excitement and alcohol (champagne) got people a little carried away. I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked to see some people spend so much – but it was way out of my price range after scrimping and saving for the trip. Needless to say, they accepted smaller contributions outside the auction as well.
Next up: last day in Antarctica, elephant seals and Deception Island
__________________ kflyer2 & BearX220 - thanks a lot