Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Our Antarctic Dream

And away we go! We're Antarctica-bound with the "Antarctic Dream" behind us. A young honeymooning couple from Japan took this picture ---and then they took our top deck first class cabin. Somehow their travel agent or wealthy family managed to talk the company out of giving it to us and to them instead. But as it turned out, as you'll see, I think we got the better deal. Keep in mind as we go along here, the trip was given to us as a gift by a good friend of our traveling companions, Brian and Denise. So what the hell are we complaining about?

Going down (poor choice of words on a boat), crossing legendary Drake's Passage was a piece of cake. Forty-eight hours of smooth sailing to the snow and ice-covered Antarctic continent...first glimpse seen here.

Why is Denise smiling (see below)? Well, our handsome captain (seen here)

had all the women smiling -- and quite honestly, a few of the men.

Denise had the captain cinch up her life jacket. Brian kicked him in the shins.

All bundled up and ready for our first shore excursion. And that'll take the grin off this woman's face.

"Aweigh all boats!" Aboard the zodiac, bundled to the nines (Translation: freezing our butts off.)...bound for somewhere.

Our first excursion wasn't ashore but past some floating icebergs about the size of a city block. This is a family from Boston. Hell, we took everyone's picture.

Brian, Denise, me and Claudia (zodiac driver). Note: Denise still managing a smile in her Davy Crockett head-gear.

Then there's Paul taking a picture with his outstretched arm. Note: He ain't smiling. He hates cold weather and goofy hats.

Our second zodiac adventure. Somehow Al Qaeda managed to get aboard.

This is the guy from Boston, panicked at the thought of a Somali-type takeover.

But we beat back the attack and stepped ashore in Antarctica for the first time. Where the hell's the snow? The Eskimos?

And where the hell did all these penguins come from?

And if you wonder what a million crapping penguins smells like, well, you can just imagine. But somehow it doesn't bother me or Denise. She's still smiling.

We left old "Happy Go Lucky" ashore. We went back to the boat for a glass of vino tinto. That's red wine for you non-Spanish speakers. Here she is waving goodbye to us.

Yep. Found the snow and we had to march in line to something on the other side. I bet it's more penguins and probably a seal or two. Oh...yippee.

Our friends Brian and Smiley joined by our new best friends Caroline and David from Brisbane, Australia.

Yep. If you think penguins smell bad...

Paul with another of his outstretched arm shots.

Denise (still smiling) and me with a stud hunk writer from England.

Corita discovered evidence of an alien encounter. Perhaps a piece from one of their spacecraft. Actually, it turned out to be the remains of an iron pot that would render seal blubber into valuable oil back in the day when it was legal to do these things. Now the damn things just proliferate and stink. But it's still pretty cool to walk among them and have them show no fear of you whatsoever...especially given that a half century ago they were almost hunted to extinction.

Here some of the guides and passengers are attempting to reassemble the skeleton of a long-gone tourist.

This is a not-so-long gone dead bird. I don't know why with all the beauty and life in the Antarctic we all seem to gravitate to the dead things.

Like I said...

This is what a dead penguin looks like. By the way, has anyone seen where the ice and snow went? Could it be global warming?

There it is! The seal found it. And is in seventh heaven.

More icebergs but at least no more dead things.

Where's Al Qaeda taking us now? Back to the boat for a drink, we hope.

Nope. Another landing. But you must admit, this is pretty spectacular. That's our boat off in the distance, dwarfed by icebergs.

At times it's so stunning that you just want to sit and stare.

I looked off to my right and there was Daisy. Eight-thousand miles from home. I knew she'd find us. She had slipped her cage at the kennel in Arizona and stowed away aboard a tramp steamer bound for the Antarctic.

Anybody ready for a vino tinto?

Yep. I'm up for one. And here I go. One foot in front of the other.

Found more penguins nesting making more penguins.

Don't know how this picture of an elephant got in there.

Stunning, no? This ice would look good in some vodka.

Returning to the boat. Could there be warmth and vino tinto in our future?

This is the boat going through one of the narrow passages.

Paul in his goofy hat with his outstretched arm. Actually his head fills that point perfectly.

Here's a good one. In the main passageway was a huge map showing the locations of ships that have gone down recently.

Which brings to mind the story of Ernest Shackleton who led an ill-fated trip to the Antarctic in 1914-1915.

Hey, Ernest. When was the last time you went to sea?

His ship (the "Endurance"....yeah, right) got stuck in the ice, tilted, broke apart, and his crew spent more than a year waiting to be rescued. It's an extraordinary story of survival.

Here his crew waves to their rescuers after more than a year of beating the incredible odds of survival in the Antarctic. This is an actual photo that Paul took with his outstretched arm.

And Brian was so impressed with the Ernest Shackleton story that he morphed into the great explorer. Haven't seen him since.

Now back to dead things...this is one big penguin. Actually, it's a whale.

And did I mention penguin poop?

Here we are at one of the old whaling stations. Whale bones scattered about everywhere. This practice has also largely been stopped. A couple of countries continue to slaughter the poor creatures. I get my oil at Jiffy Lube. I think they should do the same.

By the way, during our trip there was a confrontation between Greenpeace and Japanese whalers somewhere in the Antarctic.

A photo op. The Gang of Six.

Went to an old British outpost called "Port Lockroy". The Brits staffed it during World War Two to keep an eye out for German u-boats. Once abandoned, it's been turned into a tourist attraction with a gift shop and museum.

We caught Brian trying to steal the artifacts. You can always tell they're up to no good when they grin like this.

Four young British girls staff this during the Antarctic summer from late November through March. Of course, summer down here means temperatures rarely rise above freezing and often dip below zero.

Denise was looking for a larger mug for her morning tea. Found this one on the wall of the museum that you could take a bath in. But the girls wouldn't part with it.

Bored with Port Lockroy yet? Yeah.

Oh, this was what the Brits had to eat: marmite. A God-awful spread for your morning toast. Something only the Brits could stomach.

This is a mailbox where everybody wanted to post a letter to home. Only problem: it takes about two months to make it home so all of you can expect to receive a postcard stamped "Port Lockroy, Antarctica" in the near future. Yeah, right.

This is Iwo Jima, Port Lockroy-style.

And here we are exiting Iwo Jima with souvenirs in hand. It's a hell of a long way to go for a t-shirt and refrigerator magnet.

Brian and Denise. The only two known survivors of the battle up Suribachi. That's "Iwo Jima" for you non-Marines.

Okay, we promise. This is the last Port Lockroy pic. We're afraid we'll lose you to some porn site.

This is yet another shore excursion on probably the coldest day of an extinct (we hoped) volcano. This is looking down into the caldera. For you non-Spanish speakers, that's "hole in the ground".

Here we are climbing the cinder cone of the volcano in a gale-force wind trying to keep from being blown into that hole in the ground. It's a long drop.

This is Paul. Again, arm outstretched. You get the idea. But this is atop the volcano with stinging sleet and temps somewhere below zero. But you'll be proud of this old ex-Marine. He was one of the few to make it to the top. What a guy.

This shows you just how far Daisy had to go to find us, at the bottom of the world.

Remember that smooth trip coming down? Well, here we are going back through Drake's Passage. BOOM! Those waves slammed into us like a big wet fist.

Forty-eight hours of bone-jarring rough seas.

Stuff was thrown about the cabin and so were we. I made the mistake of trying to make it to the bathroom only to crash at top speed into the mini-bar. Hit it so hard it broke off the wall where it had been bolted.

This is out our window. Yo-ho-ho. The sea floor here is littered with the remains of ships less seaworthy than ours. Hundreds of ships have gone down over the years trying to navigate this, Drake's Passage, the roughest body of water on earth. Anyone up for a trip?

These are some big containers being tossed around the deck, right outside our cabin.

The chairs in the dining room are chained to the floor.

Here the cook is grilling an emperor penguin. You can only take the males. ...just joking. All you tree-huggers, relax. We took this during calm seas. We had a bbq dinner with chicken, steak and fish. Actually, the food on board was excellent. The only problem here was that this was right outside our cabin and it filled with smoke.

Back to the rough seas with everything strapped down including Paul and me. You didn't even want to get out of bed because you simply couldn't move without falling. As we mentioned earlier, though, our cabin and bed were in line with the boat, easier to handle the rough seas. The top cabin (that we were kicked out of) suffered much more rocking and rolling. The honeymooning Japanese couple was thrown out of bed but we just hunkered down and rode it out. Yee-hah! Yo-ho.

Believe it or not, this waiter--a real nice kid--managed to bring us sandwiches and fruit.

Here's Corita, losing her sandwich.

But we made it back all the way to Lake Powell on the Arizona/Utah border. WHAT???

Actually, this takes us back to a trailer trip last summer and another story of survival at sea.

We bought this two-person blow-up kayak from Costco. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Paid $300 for it and carried the damn thing for seven weeks across 6,000 miles in our trailer.

On the last day of the trip, come hell or high water, we decided we're going to blow this baby up and see if she floats. Daisy had her doubts.

We're about two hundred feet from shore. I looked between my legs and saw water coming into the boat.

Good old Daisy was the first to abandon ship but Paul had her on the leash. She swam toward shore, pulling us with her. My dog, the heroic hound.

We were so happy she saved our lives that we let this wet dog roll in the sand. Yes, that's a life jacket on her. Somehow we had a premonition that this would be a disaster.

So we stuck this rapidly deflating sorry excuse for a kayak in the back of our truck and took it back to Costco. Got our money back, all $300. No questions asked.

Needless to say (but I'm saying it anyway), we returned from Antarctica safe and sound. Had a wonderful, wonderful time and are so grateful for the experience. Now we have bragging rights to say that we've been to literally the end of the world.

Our next blog will detail our life aboard ship, including Brian's birthday party, New Year's festivities, rubbing shoulders (ho ho) with Capitan Dreamboat, and Paul's little mishap with his drawers, if you catch my drift. Oh Lord, is that what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life?