Friday, December 29, 2006

A Symbol of Our Time

"The continent has become a symbol of our time. The test of man's willingness to pull back from the destruction of the Antarctic wilderness is the test also of his willingness to avert destruction globally. If he cannot succeed in Antarctica he has little chance of success elsewhere." - Edwin Mickleburgh

If you're interested in learning more about this amazing land, click here, here, and here.

If you'd like to see more of my photos, go here.

I thank you for checking out this blog.

Cape Horn

The most beautiful sunset I have ever seen is this one near Cape Horn. It seemed like an appropriate end to our journey.

Diego Ramirez

On our way back, we were lucky enough to have a bonus landing on Diego Ramirez Island, another Chilean facility. The island was gorgeous, but the most interesting factor was the albatrosses that seemed to control the island. Before going on this trip, I never imagined that the albatross is such a beautiful bird.

Falling in Love

"First you fall in love with Antarctica, and then it breaks your heart." - Kim Stanley Robinson

Fall in love with Antarctica, I did.

Back to the Drake

Unfortunately, we eventually had to return to Ushuaia and leave the Continent behind.

It seemed to be the end of a journey that exceeded all expections and whose magnificence is hard to express.

Going Outside

"I am just going outside, and may be some time." - Lawrence Oates

Una's Tits

These magnificent twin peaks in the Lemaire Channel were named after poor Una, a woman who worked in the British Antarcic office. I can't decide if the name is demeaning to Una, or if it is a huge honor.


Prior to embarking on this voyage, I think the thing I most anticipated was the possibility of seeing some whales. I had never had that experience before, so I was hoping that I would be able to see whether whale-watching lived up to the hype.

I'm glad to inform you that it exceeded all my expectations.

During the first seven days of the journey, we encountered no whales and I had resigned myself to thinking that it was too early in the season to see any whales. I was OK with that, given the amount of magnificent things I was experiencing.

The next day, Martin awoke us with reports of whales on the port side of the ship. I hurried to the bow and was lucky enough to see a few minke whales off in the distance. They really made me happy.

But the next day, during a Zodiac cruise in Neeko Harbor, we chased some humpbacks that the captain had seen from the bridge of the ship. We got REALLY close to a mother humpback and her calf who seemed to be feeding on krill.

I really can't describe how awe-inspiring it was to see those beautiful animals up-close. I once again felt humbled by the beauty of Antarctica and its wildlife.

Holy crap!

"The land looks like a fairytale." - Roald Amundsen

Thursday, December 28, 2006


One of the the amazing things about Antarctic wildlife is that since they have no predators on land, they don't seem to be bothered by man. It felt like a special honor to get as close to the Weddell seals as I did. They are beautiful animals that somehow remind me of Labrador Retrievers.


"You're going uphill, chasing the horizon. Sometimes it's above your head, at your midsection, or beneath your feet, but you never catch it. At times you can see blue sky above you and yet there's a ground blizzard around your feet. The wind swirls particles of ice and snow, and the sun catches them and you see reds and turquoises and purples. Each day is remarkable in and of itself." - Ann Bancroft


Zodiacs are the rubber boats we used as a tether to the continent. I developed a great fondness for them as they were versatile, safe, and a lot of fun. They enabled us to access places that would otherwise be impossible for us to see, and that meant entering icy channels and chasing whales, and a multitude of other spectacular locales.

Life on the Multanovskiy

A day on the Multanovskiy usually began with Martin, our sometimes overly-enthusiastic expedition leader from Sweden, awakening us on the intercom system around 6:00 AM to inform us that coffee would begin in thirty minutes and breakfast in an hour. And then he would let us know that there was a glorious bird flying near the ship and that we all should make our way to the bridge to see the bird.

It was really a strange way to wake up, but being the good yanqui, I usually felt compelled to hurry up and get dressed to see the bird that Martin was so excited about.

Meals were always an interesting time, as you never knew with whom you would end up eating. The other passengers were a pretty diverse lot in terms of nationality, and I remember some of my best dinners were spent conversing with Swedes, Australians, or Brits. This group consisted of hard-core travellers, so it was usually a lot of fun to hear stories of people's adventures throughout the world.

One thing you NEVER wanted to do on the ship was to ever piss off the Russians. They were sticklers for rules and would sometimes scold you if you did anything wrong. I developed a secret fear of one of the women who worked in the kitchen; she was furious with me one day when I asked for breakfast two or three minutes late. I never asked for any special favors again.

After breakfast, we would usually get ready for a landing or Zodiac cruise which were the times I enjoyed more than I can express. We left the ship two or three times a day, so it seemed we were always putting on or taking off our yellow parkas and snowpants. But having the ability to land was well worth the effort. We averaged about three landings a day.

Ice, Baby

"If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it." - Andrew Denton


Before departing, I chose to participate in the sea-kayaking option. It sounded like a lot of fun to paddle around the Antarctic waters. The only problem was that my previous sea-kayaking experience was nonexistent, so my first paddle was more than challenging. But I did persist and had a successful paddle or two among the icebergs.

I think one of my favorite moments was kayaking in a pretty fierce snowstorm. We were on the shore of a beautiful penguin island surrounded by icebergs and it seemed that I was living in some sort of a dream. It really was amazing.

Deception Island

One of our early landings was at a place called Deception Island, a land mass that was formed by an underwater volcano that was the sight of whaling station until an eruption in the 1960s that destroyed the place. Now it's nothing but ruins and black sand beaches.

I enjoyed walking around the island for a bit to explore some of the ruins in an area that reminded me very much of a moonscape, but the highlight was when people took a swim in the thermal waters. The volcano heats the water in a somewhat dispersed fashion, so if you didn't land in exactly the right space, your swim would be a bit chilly. Still, it was a fun event made even better by the bartender who awaited the swimmers on the beach with a concoction that involved hot tea and whiskey.


"I have often had the impression that, to penguins, man is just another penguin - different, less predictable, occasionally violent, but tolerable company when he sits still and minds his own business." - Bernard Stonehouse

The unavoidable element of wildlife in Antartica is the penguins. It seemed that at every stop we made, those funny birds were there on the beach to welcome us to their towns. If they were troubled by our presence, they certainly didn't let on, as they continued to go about their business of gathering stones for their nests, caring for their eggs, or just standing there and observing.

While they are awkward on land, when swimming they are as graceful as any animal you've ever seen. They certainly seem far better adapted to the water than they are the land. While on the ship, I smiled every time I saw a group of them surfacing and briefly diving into the air, much like dolphins.

Bernardo O'Higgins

My first landfall took place at the Chilean naval base, Bernardo O'Higgins, named after that country's liberator. The Chileans warmly welcomed us as it seemed that they hadn't had any visitors for quite some time. We were given an extensive tour of the facility during which I was lucky enough to play interpreter. Our guides were more than a little chatty and and they insisted upon showing us everything and then asking us to sit down for coffee with them. Their hospitality was appreciated.

During our expedition, we ran across a number of Chilean and Argentine bases, most of which seemed uninhabited. I later learned that those two nations, plus the UK all have territorial claims on the Antarctic peninsula and maintain unoccupied facilities in order to give legitimacy to their claims in the event that the international treaty that governs Antarctica is ever not renewed.

We made it!

After a couple of days of enduring the Drake, were were awakened at 6:00 AM by our expedition leader who informed us that we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence. It seems that we had a tail wind through the Drake and we were able to arrive about 12 hours ahead of schedule.

Since I had contracted some kind of a virus that was making its rounds on the ship, I missed the first landing, which was a little bit of a disappointment, but ultimately OK as they landed during what appeared to be a blizzard and thus were not able to see much.

The knowledge that we had finally reached our destination, a continent that very few humans had ever seen created quite a bit of excitement throughout the ship. I felt as if I had been given a great honor and felt a little humbled by it.

Crossing the Drake

If you're not familiar with the Drake passage, you're lucky. For over a hundred years, sailors have reported that the Drake is rougher than anything they have experienced.

They weren't lying.

The Drake is a little bit of hell in your very own cabin. Not only did the boat rock and roll, it sickened many of the passengers on the ship. I was OK, but my cabinmate and others were quite ill.

It really was quite awful to spend two days not being able to control my own body while the boat thrashed about and the simplest tasks seemed extraordinary.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Professor Multanovskiy

After seeing Ushuaia and its environs, we were finally allowed to board our ship, Quark Expeditions' Professor Multanovskiy , a vessel that was built by the Finns for the Russians during the end of the Cold War, but has now been refurbished for polar expeditions.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Multanovskiy, as though its conditions were a bit spartan, they were far more comfortable than I had expected given what Quark's people had told me.

I had to share toilet facilities, but my cabin contained two cots, a desk and a sink. The bed was actually pretty comfortable and I was able to sleep well in it, especially when the boat did some serious rocking.

The ship also boasts a dining room, a small bar, and a captain's bridge that passengers were welcome to enter at any time.

Early on, perhaps when we were still sailing out of the Beagle Channel, we were required to endure an evacuation exercise in which we all got inside the "life boat," or as I prefer to call it, the "escape pod." We were instructed how to enter the pod, that there was enough food inside for 35 of us to last for three days, and how to "live" inside the pod.

The only problem with the drill was that the Russian subcaptain who was the leader of my pod, appeared to be just a little drunk as his eyes were red and he stunk of vodka. The smell of vodka doesn't do a lot to inspire confidence among passengers contemplating death at the hands of an angry sea. I was more than a little relieved when we were able to escape the escape pod.

One thing I really enjoyed doing was visiting the ship's bridge, which is something we were encouraged to do. On the bridge, we were able to observe the captain and his crew navigating the waters and making decisions about where exactly the Multanovskiy was going to go on any given day based on the weather, ocean conditions and the likelihood of being able to observe wildlife.

I also liked the bridge for its control panels and instrumentation. They were straight out of the USSR during the Cold War and reminded me of props from an outdated science fiction movie.


The journey starts in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Argentines, well, people from Buenos Aires complain that while Ushuaia is in a beautiful location, that the town has little to offer. I didn't find that to be my experience at all as the town offers a sort of Alpine ambience and it is full of touristy shops and restaurants that specialize in Argentine asado (barbeque) and Fuegian lamb.

But more importantly, Ushuaia is cradled by the Andes on three sides and the Beagle channel on the South. It offers some truly unforgettable vistas, especially as you land and get to fly through the mountains.

On the first day, before boarding the ship, we visisted the Tierra del Fuego National Park and saw some amazing sites, but nothing to prepare us for what was ahead.

Getting Started

In 2006, I was given a great opportunity by the United Way of Central Indiana as part of their Professional Renewal Program. In order to encourage me to not quit my job, they sent me to Antarctica. I feel very honored and grateful to them for giving me this experience that was so awe-inspiring, that it's hard to communicate.

This blog is my story of that adventure. If you enjoy what you read and see, please leave a comment or two. I'd love to hear your thoughts.