Amazing Antarctica

Discovering The 7th Continent


“I set foot on Antarctica, my 7th & final continent. Pictures were taken with the Antarctica flag while a few gentoos, traversing the Penguin Highway behind me, added some conspiracy-quelling authenticity to the scene.” – Excerpt from day 5. November 30, 2015.


Image || Slowly does it. Navigating through Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. Day 6. December 1, 2015.

Antarctica

There’s a lot I miss about Antarctica. I miss the clean cold. I miss the towering, deep-blue icebergs that reminded me how small I really am. I miss the daily challenge of trying to take everything in & to adequately record the experience. I miss the enchanting, endless light. I miss the knowledgeable & affable Expedition Crew & their fervour for all they do. I miss my cosy cabin. I miss the zippy Zodiacs taking me twice a day to somewhere I’ll never, ever forget. I miss the rocking, ducking & diving of the M/V Ocean Endeavour as she tackled the notorious Drake Passage. I miss the serenity, the Chinese aside. I miss taking a coffee up on deck to keep me company as I watch the Antarctic world glide by. I miss the 5-star service, the incredible food, & the bottomless wine at dinner, all served by the placating waitstaff. I miss the smell of penguin poo, the defining aroma of Antarctica. I miss the informative expedition lectures & being educated on my surroundings & its fauna. I miss the fresh air, the cleanest on earth. I miss tracking our progress via on board maps. I miss hanging out (& staying out of harm’s way) on the bridge. I miss the ‘Good morning, good morning!’ announcements over the PA signalling the start of yet another unforgettable day. I miss feeling so remote. I miss the all-encompassing whiteness. I miss the challenge of sending sporadic tweets while not trying to run out of on board Wi-Fi credit. I miss getting robed up in my thermals, my canary-yellow parka & my rubber boots in the Mud Room. I miss feeling very special & very, very privileged. I miss being a photographer in Antarctica, an unrivalled photographers nirvana. I miss whale watching off the bow of the ship & the sound the whales make when they surface & expel air through their blowhole. I miss giving right of way to the locals on the Penguin Highway. I miss the friends I made and shared many a side-splitting laugh with. I miss drinks in the bar at night. Yes I miss all of that & more from my time in Antarctica, but mostly I miss the penguins, the awkward, boisterous, smelly & comedic little penguins that were everywhere & that I grew to love so much.

Chinstrap penguins on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

Chinstrap penguins on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015 || Antarctica, and just as I suspected it would, blew me away photographically. A pristine otherworldly location that treated me to various weather conditions and 24 hours light, it was easily, & as I’m hoping the pictures displayed here will attest to, the most photogenic place I’ve ever visited on planet earth. Captured on the morning of day 4 of my 10-day Antarctica cruise, this picture is the pick of many, many images I cherish from that 10-day period. In fact, it’s probably the pick of my images from 48 weeks of travel on 5 continents & through 38 countries & territories that was my hectic 2015.

It’s the trip of a lifetime.

Lonely Planet Antarctica

Antarctica || Driest, Windiest, Highest, Coldest

A little over 1000 kilometres south of Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s most southern city, astonishing, mysterious & amazing Antarctica is the least explored continent on earth. Receiving only some 200 millimeters of precipitation a year, the desert that is Antarctica is not only the driest continent on earth, but also the windiest, highest and coldest – the lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was -89.2 °C at a Russian Antarctic research base in July 1983 (the continent’s average low is a balmy -60 °C… a domestic deep-freeze runs at about -20 °C). Covering 14 million square kilometres, 9% of the world’s landmass, the southernmost continent is the 5th largest. Bigger than Australia & 1.3 times the size of Europe, it is almost entirely (98%) covered by a sheet of ice that averages almost 2 kilometres in thickness and holds 90% of the world’s ice & 70% of its fresh water; estimates say that if all of Antarctica’s ice melted, the world’s sea level would rise by 60 metres.

Antarctica || Environment, Preservation & The Antarctic Treaty System
… shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

– The Antarctic Treaty

Antarctic Treaty System Flag

Antarctic Treaty Flag

Antarctica’s environment, the world’s last great wilderness & boasting the smallest human footprint of any environment on earth, is all gigantic glaciers combined with white mountains, flat highland (tableland) and an irregular 18,000 kilometre-long coastline of ice formations with fjords, estuaries and bays, home to an amazing variety of marine mammals and birds. Preserving this pristine & spotless environment, an international zone of Peace & Science, is the job of the Antarctic Treaty System. Brought into force in 1961 by its initial 12 members, today it comprises 53 parties/countries that effectively govern the politically-neutral continent & supposedly protect it by prohibiting military activities, mining & waste disposal while promoting scientific research. The only continent on earth without countries, certain countries do routinely claim parts of the continent for their own, moves that usually cause friction among other treaty members but moves that are largely ignored by the Treaty & its members.

Antarctica || Exploration & Tourism

The most inhospitable place on earth is one of its least explored regions. Captain James Cook, on his second voyage of discovery, sailed across the Antarctic Circle in January 1773 while searching for another continent in the southern hemisphere, the fabled Terra Australis, noting with pride in his journal that he was “undoubtedly the first that ever crossed that line.” However, he never laid eyes on the continent, deciding to sail north after encountering large masses of ice. The Antarctic continent was first sighted, it is widely accepted, on January 28, 1820, by Russian Naval explorers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev. They beat, by two days, Irish-born British mariner Edward Bransfield, who sighted Trinity Peninsula, the northernmost part of the Antarctic Peninsula, on January 30, 1820. Anglo-American sealer John Davis is credited with captaining the vessel that may have seen man take the first steps on the continent of Antarctica in February, 1821. Thereafter vast, ice-chocked Antarctica remained largely neglected because of its hostile environment, lack of resources, and isolation. It was almost another century before man set foot at the South Pole when, on December 14, 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen famously pipped (Robert Falcon) Scott to the Pole, albeit by some 5 weeks. Scott & his party died on the return trek in what is probably the most widely published event in the continent’s history and certainly the most well-known, not to mention tragic, event of the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, an era beginning at the end of the 19th century and ending with Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in February 1917.

The worst has happened; All the day dreams must go; Great God! This is an awful place.

– Scott commenting on the South Pole in his diary shortly after realising he had been beaten to the prize of the South Pole by Amundsen. January 17, 1912.

Today Antarctica is still the only continent on earth without a native human population & while there is no industry on the continent per se, small-scale tourism, which first emerged in the late 1950s, is making inroads. The continent attracts about 40,000 visitors a year (in comparison Chad gets approximately 100,000 visitors a year, France some 85 million), very few of whom would agree with Scott’s above observation. While these numbers are rising, they are still below the Antarctic high of 46,000 visitors during the 2007-2008 season shortly after which, in 2009, larger boats carrying 500+ passengers were banned from Antarctic waters.

Antarctica || Through The Lens

Lt. Adrien de Gerlache of the Belgian Navy conceived, organised and led the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99. This expedition, whose Second Officer was a then unknown Roald Amundsen, was the first truly scientific expedition to visit Antarctica. The program was very broad and included hydrography, exploration of lands, meteorology, glaciology, soundings, dredging, study of fauna & flora, magnetism & photography. Indeed, this expedition is credited with producing the very first photographic records of places in Antarctica with some of the images returned of astonishing quality. The expedition’s photographer (& Doctor), American Frederick Cook, would later, in 1908, go on to claim to have discovered the North Pole.

The above text is reproduced from information on display in the Museo Maritimo (Maritime Museum) in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

Early morning in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

Early morning in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

dMb In Antarctica

I kept a diary in Antarctica. Both a digital & a written one, neither of which were very structured; a few typed observations here, a few scribbled titbits of information there. Collectively they formed part of a strategy of preservation, to help me try and retain as I grow old as many memories as possible from my time in Antarctica. Those diary entries are the basis for what follows, a day-by-day, picture-heavy recap of a 10-day period during which I regularly commented that life probably doesn’t get any better than this (being in Antarctica will do that to you). I’m far from concise but an epic once-in-a-lifetime jaunt to Antarctica deserves an epic write up. This is my epic write up. It’s long & there’s quite a bit of reading. If it’s only pictures you’re after then fine, simply scroll (or click, link below) down to the Amazing Antarctica gallery. Chances are en route you’ll see something you like, something that stops you in your tracks. That happened to me almost daily in Amazing Antarctica.

A chinstrap Penguin on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Islands, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

A chinstrap Penguin on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Islands, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

Day One || November 26, 2015

Overview

Boarded, Settled In & Set Sail || Departed Ushuaia, Argentina. Entered the Beagle Channel en route to the Drake Passage.
Day 1 Diary & Pictures || Settling In

So far so good. This seems to have been worth the wait. I boarded the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour shortly after 16:30. I was 2nd on board (1st place for losers, dang) & was greeted by a champagne reception with fancy finger food in the Nautilus Lounge. Nice. I took advantage while trying to remain unobtrusive, a pointless enterprise; I’m sure budget-conscious travellers on these big-money sort of jaunts stick out like sore thumbs. I was led to my cabin, cabin 5146 on deck 5, by Jang, my smiley, eager & affable Filipino housekeeper, my bag, having been taken off me at the rendezvous earlier in Ushuaia, nowhere to be seen. Jang, still grinning ear-to-ear, departed to lead others, me wondering should I have tipped him. Probably not. It’s a bit too soon.

Cabin 5146 of the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour. November 26, 2015.

|| Day 1, 17:15 || Home in Antarctica, cabin 5146 on deck 5 of the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour. The first thing I did in here when alone was to explore, something I could have probably done with my feet rooted to the spot. I opened the presses, opened the faucets (poooooower shower baby), opened the minibar. I tested all the light switches. I made sure both the flat screen TV & its remote worked. The safe too, not that it’s needed. I checked the firmness of the bed(s) & the pillows. I checked the fluffiness of the towels, of which there were way too many in varying sizes. Everything was in order, everything worked. Shipshape, if you’ll pardon the pun. I didn’t really want to disturb anything. OK, so cabin 5146 has no window/porthole & not much room, neither of which I really need. It does, however, have plenty of comfort, Quark Expeditions-branded freebies, & a nice welcome note from the company informing me that I’m about to join an exclusive group of adventures by embarking on a trip to Antarctica. The cabin even has things to pilfer were I that way inclined & assuming they didn’t have my credit card on file – I’m not & they do.

||17:30 || A Welcome & Introduction briefing back in the Nautilus Lounge. It was informal & light-hearted but informative. We were introduced to the crew, both the Expedition Team who’ll look after us off the ship & the housekeeping & waitstaff who will do likewise on board. Both crews seem a content bunch and one can’t help but get the impression that collectively these guys, emm, run a tight ship. Myself and the other 175 passengers on board were told to expect a 5-star treatment throughout – while the Endeavour is clearly an oceangoing vessel, to some she’s a floating 5-star hotel. That’s fine by me. I’m easy. I’d take 4 stars. Hey, I’d even be happy with 3. It was recommended we ‘Drake proof’ our cabins by placing valuables or breakables on the floor ahead of our arrival in the notoriously choppy waters of the Drake Passage in the early hours of the morning, the early hours of cruise day 2. Seemingly things move around when the Drake rocks, which it does more often than not. That shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. It certainly wasn’t to me; I’ve anticipated the Drake Passage challenge for many years & was looking forward to it finally fronting up. Back in my cabin. Still no sign of a roommate but at least my bag has materalised. Given the choice, I’d take my belongings over a roommate any day. || 18:30 || Mandatory Safety Briefing time. I’m to wear appropriate footwear when moving about the ship (no flip-flops), I’ve to mind the door jams (closing with quite a force, it’d be a nasty place to catch one’s fingers), & I’ve to try remember my designated Muster Station. Again I was led from the Nautilus Lounge, this time for a meet-and-greet with my designated lifeboat, number 4, out on deck. It was a beautiful evening as we were making our way down the Beagle Channel and I’m sure the Endeavour & her crew, marooned in Ushuaia for the past week-plus, were just as happy as I was to be finally underway.|| 19:30 || Dinner in the Polaris Restaurant. Wow. A five-course menu, crisp linen, spotless, reflective cutlery, gleaming classes, attentive waiter service, & seemingly bottomless wine. I can, & probably will, get used to this.

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu 2015 on board the M/V Ocean Endeavour, Beagle Channel. November 26, 2015.

|| Day 1, 19:45 || Cruise day 1 was American Thanksgiving so for the first meal on the M/V Ocean Endeavour I chose the turkey & ham. I chose one starter, not realising one is free to order both an appetiser AND a soup. A rookie mistake, one I won’t be making again.

After dinner, & with unfinished wine in hand, it was time to sort out some important logistics; to collect an expedition parka & a pair of rubber boots and sign up into one of 4 disembarkation teams – Leopard, Minke, Gentoo & Albatross. I’m a Gentoo and I like that; when in Antarctica I’d much rather be a penguin as opposed to a seal (leopard), a bird (albatross) or a whale (minke). Back to the cabin. The lights were dimmed & my bed turned down, a little mint chocolate perched on my puffed pillow. A small touch but a noticeable one. 5-star service indeed. Oh, and still no roommate. It looks like I do actually have a cabin all to myself. Yes, this was definitely worth the wait. (Update: It was only later, post-Antarctica, that I realised that the Ocean Endeavour accommodates single travellers in a private cabin without charging a single traveller supplement. Whoops). I popped a Drake-busting Agirax Dimenhidrinato, a seasickness pill that surely could have been given a more user-friendly name, before popping back to the Nautilus Lounge one final time on this day for a few beers. A nightcap. I’ve a feeling I’ll sleep well tonight.

Day Two || November 27, 2015

Overview

All at sea || Southbound on the Drake Passage. More Drake lake than Drake shake.

Wind Conditions

Beaufort 2 (Light breeze, 4-6 knots)

Sea State

Beaufort 2 (Small wavelets, 0.2-0.5 metre waves)

Sunrise || Sunset

04:35 || 21:40

A benign crossing. That’s what they are calling it. On this particular cruise, the southbound Drake Passage has been more Drake lake than Drake shake. Less than one metre swells, although large enough to rhythmically rock a 137-metre-long vessel, are nothing, seemingly. Maybe I don’t need to pop the seasickness pills I’m popping at 8 hour intervals. I made the effort to buy then so I may as well, their side effects notwithstanding. Conditions can change in an instant but the forecast is good & right now, a little over 24 hours since departing Ushuaia & some 17-20 hours from our first port of call in the sub-Antarctic South Shetland Islands, it’s plain sailing, or about as plain as sailing across the notorious Drake Passage gets.

Plain sailing. Southbound across the notorious Drake Passage en route to the South Shetland Islands aboard the M/V Ocean Endeavour. November 27, 2015.

Plain sailing. Southbound across the Drake Passage en route to the South Shetland Islands aboard the M/V Ocean Endeavour.

Day 2 Diary & Pictures || The Drake Passage Southbound

I did sleep well. Maybe too well. This cabin is comfy. And it’s all mine. I was up early. 07:00 for me is early. I was anticipating the room to be swaying but no. Well, yes. But nothing like I expected it to… and kind of wanted it to. You just want to experience everything, be it good or bad. || 07:40 || Breakfast. A full, buffet-style, help yourself job. I had a fry. It had been a while. The coffee was good. || 09:00 || I Went to my first of the optional lectures in the Nautilus Lounge. Delivered by Kiwi Adrian, the Expedition Team’s resident Ornithologist (one who knows a lot about birds), it was all about the penguins. I was drowsy at the lecture. Not because of the presentation content but because of the pills. Oh the pills. || 10:00 || Back to the cabin. I lay down, remote in hand scanning the TV channels. I couldn’t flick beyond David Attenborough on Antarctica. How could I? And oh how appropriate. More about penguins here, too. It seems they are everywhere already. || 11:00 || Lecture number 2. ‘Antarctic Ice’ with British Yvonne, the Geologist. I was almost shivering listening to her – iceberg, ice shelf, ice stream, ice sheet. So much ice. And some good quotes, too.

We might with equal chance of success try to sail through the cliffs of Dover, as to penetrate such a mass.

– James Clark Ross (1800-1862), British naval officer and explorer commenting, on January 28, 1841, on the discovery & naming of the Victoria Barrier, later changed to the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in Antarctica, a nearly vertical ice front to the open sea that is roughly the size of France, a rather big country.

After the lecture I poked around, eventually finding myself up on the bridge. It was fascinating. We were in open water and, I assume, on maritime autopilot but lots of numbers were still being brandied about. Mariners communicate in numbers or, and as they would know them, coordinates; coordinates are called out, coordinates are repeated, coordinates are verified, & finally coordinates are put into action. I saw a lot of things I dared not touch on the bridge – dials, leavers, buttons, binoculars, charts, maps, manuals – but what I didn’t see was the ‘No Access/Crew Only’ sign to the starboard (that’s right-hand side I was to learn) side of the bridge. Marla brought that transgression to my attention. Supervising the bridge at the time, Marla is Canadian & loves whales – she’s the on board Marine Biologist.

On the bridge of the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour. November 27, 2015.

|| Day 2, noon || Maps on the on the bridge of the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour crossing the Drake Passage en route from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the South Shetland Islands.

|| 12:30 || Lunch. A buffet again. I went for the smoked mackerel, veil steak & some rice pudding. As you do sailing across the Drake Passage. Exploring again saw me ending up reading about real explorers in the Endeavour’s Polar Library.

Passing time in the Polar Library on board the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour crossing the Drake Passage en route to the South Shetland Islands. November 27, 2015.

|| Day 2, 13:30 || Plenty of options for passing time in the Polar Library but I opted for a children’s book (nice illustrations & photos and less text to read) on Shackleton’s 1914–17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the failed attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. Shackleton’s ship Endurance famously became trapped in Weddell Sea pack ice and was slowly crushed, resulting in one of the most epic feats of human survival & Antarctic exploration when, against all the odds, he piloted a lifeboat to seek help before returning to Elephant Island to retrieve his crew.

After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen, who by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeying — the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea.

– Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922)

|| 14:00 || Mandatory IAATO briefing in the Nautilus Lounge. All about landing procedures & bio-security. Lots of don’ts – don’t pee on shore, don’t eat or drink on shore, don’t stray off defined paths (marked by flags) on shore, & definitely don’t disturb the wildlife. The latter is a big finger-waving, head-shaking, tut-tut-inducing no-no – while the curious penguins are free to investigate humans, humans have to keep a distance of at least 5 metres from the penguins. Oh, and I almost forgot. No drones allowed either. Dang. We were briefed on where we were hoping to go (weather & ice permitting), we were instructed how to dress – layers is key people, layers – & on safety/medevac procedures should anything go seriously wrong. It was then off to the Mud Room to have our clothes & bags, anything going ashore, examined for environmental threats – any alien, non-native species like seeds, algae, dirt etc. – & to sign a Antarctic Pre-Arrival Bio-Security Declaration. The Antarctic environment is pristine, its inhabitants protected. Steps are taken to ensure it stays that way. Make no mistake, Antarctica is the world’s ultimate leave only footprints & take only memories location.

Disembarkation Ground Zero. The Mud Room of the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour. November 27, 2015.

|| Day 2, 08:10 || Disembarkation Ground Zero. The Mud Room of the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour with a designated locker for everyone on board, one housing a life vest, a pair of The Muck Boot Company rubber boots, & a complimentary canary-yellow parka, a.k.a. a Quarka (see what I did there?). This place was a hive of activity during the bio-security checks but I had already paid it a visit earlier in the day when I was poking around and getting acquainted with the Endeavour.

I started into writing the 80+ #PostcardFromAntarctica project postcards this afternoon. Maybe I should have started sooner. Boy, this is going to take some time. || 18:45 || The first of the daily recaps in the Nautilus Lounge. Adrian reviewed the birds spotted over the Drake Passage throughout the day; we were told the ‘benign crossing’ means we are making good time; we were told to expect (more) fog; it was pointed out that as we are heading south so too, and as if we hadn’t noticed, are the temperatures – at 08:00 it was 7.1 Celsius, at 18:00 2.5 Celsius; and finally, it was pointed out that we’d crossed the Antarctic Convergence, a.k.a. the Polar Front, an irregular, mobile zone some 30-50 kilometres wide where the cold, northward-flowing Antarctic waters sink beneath the relatively warmer waters of the sub-Antarctic. That’s all well & good but it was also pointed out that crossing the convergence is considered to be entering Antarctica proper. Yay. I’m here and I didn’t even know it. || 19:30 || Dinner. Escargot & peach melba, among other delights. I think I’m into my stride now.

Day Three || November 28, 2015

Overview

Morning || Still at sea approaching South Shetland Islands. Afternoon || First disembarkation, Barrientos Island of the Aitcho group of islands (map pointer 1) in South Shetland Islands, & meeting the penguins.

Wind Conditions

Beaufort 4 (Moderate breeze, 11-16 knots)

Sea State

Beaufort 4 (Small waves, 1-2 metre waves)

Sunrise || Sunset

03:32 || 22:07

I knew when sitting having lunch this afternoon and seeing a massive iceberg float by the window all matter-of-factly that today, cruise day 3, was going to be special. And it was. The smooth crossing means we made good time in getting here to the South Shetland Islands which means this afternoon saw us wrap up & disembark the ship for the very first time, whisked to shore in groups aboard the zippy zodiacs. November 28, 2015, when I first saw Antarctic ice, penguins & set foot on the sub-Antarctic islands. It’s not quite the continent of Antarctica just yet – that’s a bit further south via the Bransfield Strait – but as an appetiser today did just fine. Just fine indeed.

Excursion Day Three & Four Itinerary Map

A penguin rookery on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

A penguin rookery on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

Day 3 Diary & Pictures || First Landing, South Shetland Islands

It was a struggle to get out of bed at 08:00. I wanted to be up earlier but those pills make more of a challenge than it should be. I took the final one, for now, shortly after rising. I probably won’t need them again before the return trip when I suspect I’ll probably really need them; surely one can’t get two calm Drakes. It’s breezier this morning meaning the M/V Ocean Endeavour is rocking & rolling a bit more today than she was yesterday. But it’s still relatively plain sailing, so much so that we’re probably going to get a ‘bonus’ landing this afternoon – normally the morning of day 4 is when cruisers first get to stretch their legs on sub-Antarctic terra firma. || 09:00 || Lecture in the Nautilus Lounge entitled ‘Introduction to the Marine Mammals of the Antarctic Summer’ with Marla. Wow. She’s so, so passionate about what she does. I’m starting to really like whales. || 11:00 || Mandatory Zodiac briefing where we got the low-down on the ins & outs of preparing for and travelling in the zodicas, the 11-man rubber dinghy that will take us off the Endeavour to either land or cruise. Either option sounds good to me right about now, the foggy conditions aside. Not long now. || 12:30 || Lunch was pretty memorable. No, not the food, although it was up to its usual high standards. It was the massive iceberg that got our attention as it drifted past. It was the first Antarctic ice we’ve encountered & it was appropriately huge. Massive, even from a distance. It signalled something special. It felt like we’d arrived, or were at the very least very close. I kept my eyes on the iceberg for as long as I could, my lasagne al Forno going cold in the process. || 13:30 || I wrapped up, grabbed my camera & headed for the forward deck, even at this early stage of proceedings a familiar stomping ground of mine.

Arriving at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands on board the M/V Ocean Endeavour. November 28, 2015.

|| Day 3, 13:45 || The thick haze when approaching the Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands meant visibility was poor. But as it was our very first port of call there were a sizable number of passengers up on the forward deck in anticipation of something new, something different. It was up here that I spotted my very first Antarctic penguins. It wasn’t immediately obvious what those little bullets torpedoing through the water or those little black specs on far-off icebergs were. It should have been but it wasn’t. It was an awe moment once the penny finally dropped. Wow! Penguins. Real penguins. Yes, we’d definitely arrived now alright.

||14:20|| Down below, the bridge was a hive of activity. Passengers not braving the forward deck were getting their first look at penguins in the waters all around us from behind glass. As for the crew. Well, the coordinates were really flying now. Eventually instructions were relayed, we came to a halt, the anchor was dropped, and that was that – we weren’t going anywhere for the first time in almost 2 days… except ashore.

On the bridge of the M/V Ocean Endeavour arriving at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands. November 28, 2015.

|| Day 3, 14:15 || Steady as she goes. On the bridge of the M/V Ocean Endeavour arriving at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands.

I waited for the announcement over the PA. I waited in my cabin, waited on the bridge, & waited on deck while watching the zodiacs being lowered into the water to do their thing.

Zodiacs being lowered from the M/V Ocean Endeavour into the water after arrival at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands. November 28, 2015.

|| Day 3, 14:40 || Zodiacs being lowered from the M/V Ocean Endeavour into the water after arrival at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands.

Eventually the call came through – Gentoo’s to assemble in the Mud Room at 15:00. Aye aye, I’ll be there. || 14:50 || I was early to the Mud Room. Nobody seemed to notice. Emptying locker 150, I put on my Quarka, life vest & boots for the first time in earnest and walked, like an astronaut walking to the Space Shuttle launch, from the Mud Room to the gangway off the beam of the ship from where I was helped into the zodiac – it’s all about the arm grip. It was raining. It was cold. It was windy. It was downright bloody miserable but I was warm and elated. A few minutes later, and after zipping the short distance across the water in the zodiac while realising in the process that my waterproof trousers were about as waterproof as toilet paper, I was among the penguins on Aitcho’s Barrientos Island. I sensed them long before I saw them, their very distinctive noise & aroma carrying on the breeze and through the haze.

A penguin rookery on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

|| Day 3, 15:35 || I spent a lot of the two hours I passed on Barrientos Island just standing & staring at this rookery, trying to take it all in. The busy little penguins, the noise, the smell. Never forgetting where I was made me totally forgot about my camera. Forget about the cold. Forget about my wet trousers. It was awesome, a moment I’ll never, ever forget & a moment that makes me smile every time I recall it. Eventually I snapped this image, the very first I took on land in Antarctica & as it turns out one of my favourites of the whole trip, before moving on to see what else the island had in store for me.

When you first lay eyes on these ever-anthropomorphized birds, you know you’ll have arrived in Antarctica. From the tiny tuxedo-clad Adelie and the bushy-browed macaroni, to the world’s largest penguin, the fabulously debonair emperor, the Antarctic offers a chance to see these unique creatures on their own turf: sea, ice & shore. Spot them shooting out of the water, tobogganing along the ice or in cacophonous rookeries which are a sight to behold: squawking, gambolling birds, hatching, molting and carrying their young.

– Lonely Planet Antarctica on Meeting The Penguins

The Penguin
Penguins are birds so they have bodies covered in feathers, they can regulate their own body temperature, & they reproduce by means of eggs. But that’s where the similarities with birds as we know them end. A specialised group of flightless birds, penguins evolved, it is thought, from flying birds some 40 million years ago to reach a high level of adaption to the marine environment. Their body changed to a more streamlined form to allow efficient diving and swimming – unlike other birds, whose bones are light & air-filled, penguins’ bones are heavy and solid, perfect for life in the water. They also lost their ability to fly, their wings becoming stiff, paddle-like flippers. Spending 75% of their 15-20 year lifespan at sea, penguins only visit land to reproduce, molt, or when they are ill, their awkwardness & comedic waddles on land a big reason, along with their relatively small size, why they are universally loved among humans. On land they have no natural predators, hence why they have no fear of humans, but they are prey for Leopard seals when in the water. Reports suggest that climate change is putting these iconic birds in peril. The truth is a little more complex with some species declining while others are not depending on location. Found only in the southern hemisphere, of the 17 known species of penguins only eight live on or near Antarctica, where there is estimated to be 20 million breeding pairs, including the largest of the lot, the regal 1.1-metre-high, 35 kilogram-plus Emperor Penguin.

|| September 9, 1588 || Explorer & privateer Sir Thomas Cavendish returns to England having completed his circumnavigation of the globe via the Strait of Magellan in his ship Desire. The word ‘penguin’ is used for the very first time, describing the southern bird in his journal.

A Chinstrap penguin on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

|| Day 3, 16:20 || A Chinstrap penguin on Barrientos Island. At only 70 cm & weighing on average 3-4 kilograms, the Chinstrap, the most numerous of all penguins, is one of the smaller penguins found in Antarctica. So called because of the distinctive strap of black feathers that extends around its chin, these guys have a reputation for being rather boisterous & aggressive, their rookeries probably the noisiest of all the penguin rookeries. This pictures show the tightly-packed feathers of a penguin which provide a waterproof coat. This, together with layers of insulated fat that lie beneath their skin & blood vessels in their flippers & legs that have evolved intricate structures to preserve heat, all combine to keep penguins warm even during the worst of the Antarctic winter.

Landing Location Low-down || Aitcho Islands
The Aitcho group of islands comprise of several islands and rock formations that were first mapped in 1936. Extending 1.7 by 0.5 kilometres, 160-acre ice-free Barrientos Island is the Aitcho island visited by tour operators. Saddle-shaped, the central portion of the island is elevated and is a favoured hangout for breeding gentoo & chinstrap penguins, the chinstraps favouring the higher elevations. Another feature of the island is the remains of an unidentified ship that are scattered about the island. It’s most likely the remains of a whaling or sealing factory ship – fragments of a ship timbers are to be found among whale bones on the island’s so-called Whalebone Beach, the favoured landing spot for visitors.

On Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

|| Day 3, 16:25 || Overlooking a rookery, a penguin nesting site, on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.

A Gentoo penguin on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.

|| Day 3, 16:40 || A Gentoo, just like me, on Barrientos Island. Measuring 85 cm and weighing up to 6 kilograms, the Gentoo penguin is the largest penguin found on the Antarctic Peninsula. They have distinctive white patches above each eye & have bright orange bills & feet. Their defining feature, however, is probably their tail. The largest tail of all penguins relative to body size, it helps the Gentoo reach swimming speeds of up to 35 kph, the fastest of all penguins.

||17:55 || I developed a new appreciation for my cabin. It’s such a nice contrast to the cold exterior, a perfect place to thaw out after being on land, a long shower just what the doctor ordered. And I don’t even mind that my cozy confines now smell of penguin poo. My trousers may not be good at repelling water but they like to attract scent. || 18:45 || Everyone was still buzzing, and had made an effort to spruce up, for Captain’s Welcome Cocktails in the Nautilus Lounge. Drinks were had, toasts given, & speeches delivered, Captain Alexey formally welcoming us all to Antarctica in his best broken English (he’s Russian). Looking all maritime dapper, he was an especially big hit with the large Chinese contingent. Pictures all round. Selfies even. I found it strange that the Captain’s Welcome Dinner, the gastronomic highlight of which for me was the freshly seared halibut, was held back until the third (‘turd’) night of the cruise, the utterance of which others found sidesplittingly hilarious. I guess I did too. I haven’t laughed as much in a long time. Drinks flowed this evening, both during & after dinner. It even felt the right time to break the seal on the litre bottle of rum I brought on board. Day 3, the ‘turd’ day of the cruise, the day things really got going. A great day, a great night. Seven more to go. Oh no, only 7 more to go.

Day Four || November 29, 2015

Overview

Ups & Downs || A morning of clear skies and Antarctica at what has to be its pristine best on Half Moon Island (map pointer 2). Huge ice formations in the Bransfield Strait en route to an afternoon failure to land on Deception Island (map pointer 3).

Sunrise || Sunset

03:20 || 22:16

They say if you get one clear day on a standard Antarctic cruise then you’re lucky. I’m feeling very lucky today, despite the disappointment of not getting to land on Deception Island, an Antarctic highlight and somewhere I’d really been looking forward to experiencing. That aside, clear skies, towering bergs, awesome wildlife (penguins, seals, & humpback whales) & stunning land & seascapes means today is just the latest day, following on from yesterday, that I’ll not be forgetting for a long time.

Day Four Tweet From The Bottom of The World

Excursion Day Three & Four Itinerary Map

An iceberg in the windswept Bransfield Strait, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg in a windswept Bransfield Strait, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

Day 4 Diary & Pictures || Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, & Bransfield Strait
I was a bit hazy waking this morning, the remnants of a good night lingering stubbornly. Antarctica is not the place to be nursing a hangover, even a mild one. || 08:20 || Gentoos were first to disembark this morning for Half Moon Island. I was on the first zodiac, the first passenger to land. Even if I wasn’t, Half Moon Island would still have been special; the sun was out, the whiteness was blinding, the scenery incredible, the penguins in good fettle, the seals as lifeless as you’d expect them to be while laying out. For two solid hours my cameras were busy. My mild hangover was gone within seconds.

Chinstrap penguins on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 08:56 || Chinstrap penguins on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands.

The penguin love-in continues. As if penguins aren’t cool enough. I read the following on the notice board of the Endeavour and knew I just had to reproduce it on my blog. So here it is.

Penguins & Navigation
Most penguins seem to navigate by the sun and are equipped with an internal clock to adjust for the time of day. Experiments have shown that if penguins are captured and released far from their colony, the weather is crucial to the operation of their homing instinct. In sunny conditions they will immediately head in exactly the right direction. However, in overcast conditions it takes them longer to orient themselves and begin the trek to their colony. If it is very cloudy, they simply cannot work out what direction to take and their homeward journey is erratic. They will wander in the wrong direction for hours, then orient themselves correctly during brief clear spells but lose their way again when it clouds over. Evidently penguins know which direction they want to take, but can find it only by the position of the sun in the sky.

Penguins. Amazing little creatures.

A Weddell Seal hauled out on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 09:22 || A very content looking Weddell Seal hauled out on Half Moon Island. Growing to lengths of over 3 metres and weighing between 400 and 600 kilograms, the Weddell Seal is the most southerly breeding of all mammals. With a small head & cat-like mouth, they are solitary animals that prefer to inhabit areas of coastal fast-ice (ice connected to land) rather than moving pack ice. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the Weddell seal, especially its whereabouts; they have poorly known, complex seasonal movements. In winter, they chew breathing holes in fast-ice with males defending their holes vigorously. They live for about 22 years, less than other seals a contributing factor being dental problems from opening & maintaining holes in the ice.

Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 09:25 || Two chinstrap penguins, one tobogganing, one waddling, on Half Moon Island with home, the M/V Ocean Endeavour, in the background. Penguins, just like a fish out of water, are awkward on land, waddling and hopping over rocks. They walk with a very erect posture although sometimes they prefer to toboggan by pushing themselves along on their stomachs. Either way, observing them move about, especially when navigating the so-called Penguin Highway, the path they tread from their nesting location to and from the sea, always brings a smile to your face.

Landing Location Low-down || Half Moon Island
Half Moon Island is an ancient caldera with steep raised beaches. Used as a whaling site in the early part of the 20th century, the 420-acre island is home to the Argentine Cámara Base. Opened in 1953 by the Argentine Navy, it is currently unused. The island is designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports a breeding colony of about 100 pairs of south polar skuas. Other birds nesting on the island include about 3,300 nesting pairs of chinstrap penguins, a number that has been declining in recent years. Seals regularly haul out on the beaches & whales are often seen patrolling the shores. In September 2010, Google added Street View imagery of Half Moon Island to its Google Earth and Google Maps services, thus expanding Google Street View to all seven continents.

A Chinstrap penguin on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 10:10 || A Chinstrap penguin on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.

A Chinstrap penguin rookery on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 10:13 || A Chinstrap penguin rookery on Half Moon Island with the small and presently unused Argentine Cámara Base seen in the distance. Penguins are highly social birds, usually breeding in large colonies. All penguins, except the Emperor, breed during the brief austral (southern) summer months. While they live on barren islands & congregate on large icebergs during the bleak Antarctic winter, for nesting they require solid, snow-free ground, the chinstraps preferring more elevated nesting locations to the gentoos who prefer to remain closer to shore. Early in the brief austral breeding season – which is right about now – they build circular nests out of rocks, bones, and feathers. Whatever material is available. Chinstraps then lay 2 eggs with the chicks hatching after about 37 days. The adults share responsibilities – one will mind the chicks while the other will traverse the Penguin Highway to go fishing, possibly up to 80 kilometres offshore, for krill, shrimp & small fish. Chicks stay in the nest for about 20-30 days before going to join a crèche. At about 50-60 days they molt for the first time gaining their adult feathers before taking their first dip in the sea.

Antarctic Research Stations
There are no permanent human residents in Antarctica but a sizeable population of up to 5,000 in the Antarctic summer, less in winter, are based at research stations dotted throughout the continent at any one time. The first Antarctic research stations were established during World War II by a British military operation, Operation Tabarin. The 1950s saw a marked increase in the number of research bases as Britain, Chile and Argentina competed to make claims over the same area. Meteorology and geology were the primary research subjects; ice core and sediment samples from the peninsula are valuable because events such as the Little Ice Age can be verified with samples from other continents. A lot of the present-day stations are mere flags in the ground, small huts built to bolster territorial claims, claims prohibited by the Antarctic Treaty System. Some are used only during the Antarctic summer months while others are abandoned altogether. Permanently manned bases include Argentina’s Esperanza Base, the birthplace of Emilio Marcos Palma, the first person to be born on the continent of Antarctica (1978), & the American bases of Amundesn-Scott South Pole Station & McMurdo Station, the latter the largest of all Antarctica’s bases with a capability of supporting over 1,000 residents.

|| 10:45 || I’m back on the Endeavour and free of the parka. It’s warm but it’s bulky. I keep wondering how I’m going to get it home. Or if I’ll just forgo it once all is said a done. The waft of penguin poo in the cabin is rather strong now. Not that I mind of course. || 15:00 || It was as good a time as any to send the first tweet from Antarctica, a Good Morning from Half Moon Island. A quick balance check tells me that little exercise ate up almost 7 of my 20 Mbyte free on board Wi-Fi allowance. Yikes. I might actually consider buying more were it not so prohibitively expensive – it is. || 19:00 || I spend the majority of the afternoon up on deck, circling the ship & popping in and out of the bridge. The afternoon was gloriously sunny & uncomfortably breezy in equal measure. We passed some epic formations of ice. Some were quite a distance away but they still seemed to loom large. Big or small, they were all mesmerisingly beautiful, untouched nature at its finest.

An iceberg in the Bransfield Strait, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 15:14 || An iceberg in the Bransfield Strait as seen from the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour. One of the biggest challenges, maybe the biggest challenge, of photographing icebergs in Antarctic is getting a scene of scale in the shot. This iceberg, or at least the small percentage of it visible above the waterline, was a beast. Watching the waves batter its lower reaches and the deep-blue colour of its interior change as we slowly drifted past was, yes, mesmerising.

To enter Greater Antarctica is to be drawn into a maelstrom of ice… Antarctica is literally fused together, as a continent, by ice… Ice replaces everything that is not ice. Ice confines ice. Ice defines ice. A continent is reduced to a single mineral. In Antarctica more is less.

– Stephen J. Pyne

On the M/V Ocean Endeavour sailing down the Bransfield Strait in Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 17:05 || Enjoying the scenery from the forward deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour sailing down the Bransfield Strait in Antarctica.

The Endeavour continued sailing down the Bransfield Strait, named after the early 19th century Irish-born British naval mariner Edward Bransfield who is credited with being one of the first to lay eyes on the continent of Antarctica when he did so on January 30, 1820. We were headed for Deception Island, somewhere Bransfield passed on his 1820 voyage but did not investigate or chart. Once the Endeavour reached Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow passage marking the entrance to the island, she stopped, took a look, shook her head, and moved on. It’s seems like a waste of emotions to be disappointed in such an environment like Antarctica but for a few minutes this afternoon I was disappointed. Very much so. As I said before, you just want to experience all this amazing adventure can possibly offer.

Blocked. Outside Neptune's Bellows, the narrow entrance to Deception Island, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 17:46 – You shall not pass. Blocked outside Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow entrance to Deception Island. || In the early 20th century, Deception Island was one of the biggest summer-only whaling stations found anywhere in Antarctica – production peaked in 1912-13 when over 200 workers were based on the island & over 5,000 whales were processed. The rusting remnants of the old whaling stations, a thermal black-sand beach & several colonies of chinstrap penguins make this a stalwart on the Antarctic cruise circuit. The island offers one of the safest harbours in Antarctica. Therefore it is somewhat ironic that getting access to it can prove a challenge, or prove impossible altogether. ‘Discovered’ in 1820, Deception is a 12 kilometre diameter caldera of an active underwater shield volcano, one that started forming about 700,000 years ago and which eventually breached the surface of the sea to form the interior’s Port Foster – sitting in the middle of the Antarctic tectonic plate means Antarctica is generally geologically stable with few earthquakes and with volcanoes confined to only 2 regions, one of which is right here (the other is Mount Erebus on Ross Island, the world’s southernmost active volcano). The narrow entrance to Port Foster, called Neptune’s Bellows, is just 230 metres wide. There’s a hazard, Ravn Rock, lying just 2.5 metres below the surface of the water in the middle of the channel meaning entering Port Foster from the Bransfield Strait requires a bit of savvy maritime manoeuvring, even in good conditions. The sunshine aside, we didn’t have good conditions – the wind was really blowing. Not only that but a stubborn iceberg blocking the channel meant the Endeavour had to shelve plans to visit Deception Island on this particular pass-by. I took this picture from the forward deck of the ship as she was sizing up the challenge ahead, ultimately deciding it was a no-go. There were quite a few passengers out on deck waiting for the call to come through. Will we, won’t we. We won’t & so we didn’t. I wasn’t the only one disappointed.

Weather and ice, not clocks and calendars, set the schedule for a journey here. No matter what the reason for your visit, you’ll be at the mercy of the continent’s changing moods and weather patterns. You may be able to make a landing as expected at the appropriate time, but don’t rely on it if the weather and sea state have other ideas.

– CoolAntarctica.com

The message for COP 21, the November 30-December 12 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, is simple - We're on Thin Ice. On the M/V Ocean Endeavour in the Bransfield Strait, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.

|| Day 4, 18:42 || Saying goodbye to the South Shetland Archipelago, we continued down the Barnsfield Strait and towards the Antarctic Peninsula, the continent of Antarctica itself. En route, and with the backdrop of two hulking icebergs (not shown here), some of the cruise passengers & crew posed on the bow of the Endeavour with a message for COP 21, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris that was in progress. The message was simple – We’re on Thin Ice. ACT NOW.

|| 23:10 || Everyone seems a bit tired tonight, a hangover from the Deception Island disappointment maybe. It’s a quiet evening/night, few attending the optional ‘Antarctica: Of Ice and Men’ movie screened in the Nautilus Lounge, the incentive of free popcorn doing little to drum up interest. I’m just back from one final lap of the ship for this day. There’s barely an hour left of cruise day 4, although to see outside you’d scarcely believe that given how bright it is. Sunrise & sunset times are posted – seemingly the sun ‘set’ some 45 minutes ago! – but it never gets dark down here this time of year. As such I’m kind of happy my cabin doesn’t have a porthole. I’ll continue to work though more of the #PostcardFromAntarctica project pile ahead of a big – BIG – day tomorrow. All going to plan, we’ll be setting foot on the continent and I say that knowing now how plans can change in an instant here at the bottom of the world.

Day Five || November 30, 2015

Overview

Morning || Set foot on the continent, my 7th & final, in Neko Harbour (map pointer 4). Afternoon || Cruising the Errea Channel (map pointer 5) & around Danco Island (map pointer 8).

Sunrise || Sunset

02:54 || 23:06

A good weather day yesterday, a bad one today. Such is the way of it here in changeable Antarctica. Not that that really matters as today I set foot on Antarctica, my 7th and final continent. Lots more wildlife and all manner of ice, including a mammoth glacial calving & avalanche, were simply the icing on the cake, the cherry on top.

Day Five Tweet #1 From The Bottom of The World

Day Five Tweet #2 From The Bottom of The World

Excursion Day Five, Six & Seven Itinerary Map

Zodiac cruising near Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

Zodiac cruising near Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

Day 5 Diary & Pictures || Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula
The crew had done their job overnight and I woke at 07:00 to the sight of the continent of Antarctica, the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, off the deck of the Endeavour as it sat in Neko Harbour, although it wasn’t immediately obvious – conditions we very poor and visibility limited. Having taken 40+ years to get here, I wondered how long more I’d have to wait to set foot on my 7th & final continent. Not long was the answer.

The Antarctic Peninsula
Formed by a 1,800-kilometre-long mountain chain, the jagged Antarctic Peninsula, separated from the South Shetland islands further north by the Bransfield Strait, is the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica. It is, & unlike the vast & largely inaccessible interior, the part of Antarctica most often visited by cruise ships. The peninsula’s position means it has the mildest climate within the continent – its warmest January temperatures average from 1 to 2 °C with the coldest June temperatures averaging from –15 °C to –20 °C, a tad ‘warmer’ than the average cold winter temperature of -60 °C at the South Pole. The peninsula, & the many islands dotting its coastline, also houses the highest concentration of scientific research stations in Antarctica. Numerous nations have made claims of sovereignty on peninsula territory & presently it is part of disputed and overlapping claims by Chile, the United Kingdom & Argentina, the latter of which has the most bases and personnel stationed on the peninsula. Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty System, none of these claims has international recognition and nor do the respective countries attempt to enforce their claims.

I waited out on deck, waiting for the call to summon the Gentoos to the Mud Room. We were to be the last group of the 4 to disembark on this particular landing, the biggest landing of them all. While I waited, I captured others beating me off the boat, beating me to the continent.

A zodiac in the snow as seen from the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 09:06 || A zodiac in the snow departing the M/V Ocean Endeavour in Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula.

|| 10:55 || I set foot on Antarctica, my 7th & final continent. Pictures were taken with the Antarctica flag while a few gentoos, traversing the Penguin Highway behind me, added some conspiracy-quelling authenticity to the scene. The two hours spent on land in changeable conditions threw up some special views & some equally special moments.

The M/V Ocean Endeavour in Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 11:37 || One of Neko Harbour’s defining features is a steep, permanent snow slope from the landing beach that leads up past a few gentoo rookeries to an elevated ridge, one that offers awesome views of the sweeping expanse of the Gerlache Strait.

Landing Location Low-down || Neko Harbour
Neko Harbour is a small bay within Andvord Bay, a 17-kilometre-long inlet on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula’s Graham Land. It’s one of only 2 continental landing points used by cruise ships on this section of the Antarctic Peninsula. Discovered by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache in the early 20th century, it was named after a Scottish whaling boat, the Neko, which used the bay regularly in the early 20th century. The landing area in use today was where an unmanned Chilean refuge hut once stood, one that blew down in a storm in 2009. The enterprising gentoos now use the hut’s concrete foundation as a rookery/nesting area. Neko’s iceberg-filled waters is also where American long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox braved the 0.5 degree Celsius Antarctic waters to swim the distance of 2 kilometres in December 2002. It took her 25 minutes to complete the feat, one that would be a fatal undertaking for mere mortals – although she trained for many years in super chilled waters, Doctors say Cox is also physiologically unique (if a little crazy).

Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 11:38 || It was quite the slog to get to the Neko ridge but the views en route made it worth the effort. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula.

Battling the elements. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 11:41 || No more than three minutes after the previous picture was captured and the winds whip up seemingly out of nowhere meaning I had to battle the elements as well as the slope. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula.

It’s windy in Antarctica, like nowhere else on earth, so the clouds go scurrying by most days giving ample opportunity for photography. If the lighting isn’t quite right at the moment, then just wait a little while and it soon will be – but not for long.

– CoolAntarctica.com

The Chinese. Some of them. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 11:41 || The Chinese. Some of them. Even in small groups, & even over the howl of the wind, they were adept at breaking the Antarctic serenity. I often found myself wondering why they couldn’t just appreciate the scene, just enjoy the environment, in some semblance of appropriate, respectful silence like everyone else. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula.

… a plunge into the writhing snow whirl stamps upon the senses an indelible and awful impression seldom equalled in the whole gamut of natural experiences… We stumble and struggle through the Stygian gloom; the merciless blast – an incubus of vengeance – stabs, buffets and freezes… We had found an accursed country.

– Douglas Mawson, 1911 Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Overlooking the massive glaciers in Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 11:57 || Overlooking the massive, highly crevassed glaciers that are another ferature of Neko Harbour. One calved when I was up here observing the scene. The thunderous roar & the sight of the calving aftermath, with icy waves dissipating from the scene through Neko’s iceberg-filled waters & massive blocks of ice bobbing in the water, stopped everyone dead. It was a Wow! moment. The Chinese really enjoyed the spectacle. I mean, really enjoyed it. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula.

Zodiac cruising in Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 12:28 || The End. Picture captured in the zodiac as it zipped across Neko Harbour to return to the M/V Ocean Endeavour, our Antarctica landing at an end. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula.

|| 21:20 || The conditions didn’t improve much throughout the day as we left Neko Harbour for Danko Island via the Errera Channel. We got off the Endeavour again in the afternoon to cruise in the waters around Danco Island. We didn’t land, setting foot on the 7th Continent earlier in the day seemingly enough land-based shenanigans for this cruise day 5. There was a lot of ice about as we cruised – big ice, little ice, deep-blue ice, clear ice. Cruising is all about spotting, circling &, most importantly, avoiding the ice. Well, for the most part.

A growler in the waters off Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 17:15 || A skulking growler in the waters off Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula. A growler is a nasty piece of ice that can give zodiac pilots nasty surprises. Clear, hard to see and resting just below the surface of the water, they are remnants of larger icebergs that have fallen off into the water to bob around causing problems. We hauled a few growlers into the zodiac to get an even closer look, not an easy undertaking by any means (see Day 6 below for more up-close-and-personal interactions with Antarctic growlers).

Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.

|| Day 5, 17:28 || Penguins, undisturbed by humans on this particular day, on a section of Danco Island as seen from the water.

|| 23:15 || No one really needed to be reminded at the nightly recap briefing this evening ahead of dinner (lamb, oh yes) that we set foot on the continent of Antarctica earlier in the day – I don’t think anyone will ever forget – so the briefing was basically a heads up for tomorrow morning when we hope to visit Port Lockroy in the British Antarctic Territory, the location of the Penguin Post Office. We were told the Polar Boutique would be open into the night to facilitate any last-minute postcard purchases (no need, I brought ALL of mine with me) & we were told to have postcards ready for the off, a reminder I didn’t need. Mine are all ready to go, all 83 of them.

#PostcardFromAntarctica pile.

|| Day 5, 22:55 || The #PostcardFromAntarctica project pile. All ready to go. Coming to a classroom near you soon (well, within a few months I hope).

Day Six || December 1, 2015

Overview

Another day of ups & downs, the disappointment of failing to visit icebound Port Lockroy made up for by visits to stunning Cuverville Island (map pointer 6) in the morning & equally stunning Paradsie Harbour (map pointer 7) in the afternoon & evening.

Sunrise || Sunset

02:55 || 23:05

I feel we’ve been blessed so far. Today, cruise day 6 & the day when lingering winter ice thwarted our bid to get to the Penguin Post Office in Port Lockroy, was easily the most photogenic day of the cruise, so much so that today’s photographic exploits saw me run out of storage space. Yes, today Antarctica really put on a show.

Excursion Day Five, Six & Seven Itinerary Map

Day Six Tweet #1 From The Bottom of The World

Day Six Tweet #2 From The Bottom of The World

Day Six Tweet #3 From The Bottom of The World

Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

Day 6 Diary & Pictures || Cuverville Island & Paradise Harbour
I‘ve had better starts to a day. News came over the PA very early that Port Lockroy was icebound. It was my alarm call. I was groggy & hoping what I was hearing was a (bad) dream. But alas no, it was real.

Spoilsport Ice
In winter the Southern Ocean which surrounds Antarctica freezes. Unlike in the Arctic, first year sea ice in the Southern Ocean melts each year meaning the Antarctic sea ice shrinks from about 19 million km² during the Antarctic winter to some 4 million km² during the Antarctic summer. Now, the 1st day of December, isn’t quite summer yet. It’s still early in the season, still the early Antarctic summer, so winter sea ice is lingering in places, including Port Lockroy.

We were told, maybe as a tactic to soften the blow, that a vessel better equipped to deal with stubborn ice was also thwarted in its attempt to access Port Lockroy this morning. Doesn’t the ice know I have over 80 postcards destined for people, mostly schoolchildren, around the world via Port Lockroy’s Penguin Post office? I’m hearing arrangements will be made to accommodate our cruise postcards on future cruises. I wait for updates as I come to terms with the latest disappointment. Both Deception Island and Port Lockroy offer something different to the Antarctic cruise norm of landing with penguins and zodiac cruising in the vicinity of icebergs. Missing out on one is/was disappointing. Missing out on both is doubly so. I guess now I’ve not one but two reasons to return for another once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica.

A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

– John Steinbeck

|| 13:10 || Even though the postcards I had prepared for presentation to the Penguin Post Office in Port Lockroy sit beside me as a reminder, I’ve almost forgotten about the disappointment of this morning. I’ve no doubt experiencing Cuverville Island on a gloriously sunny morning, as I did this morning, will make one forget many a recent letdown. Nope, it doesn’t boast a post office but as a last-minute replacement for Port Lockroy Cuverville Island did just fine.

On the Penguin Highway on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 10:08 || Gentoo penguins on the Penguin Highway, Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

Landing Location Low-down || Cuverville Island
Cuverville Island is a rocky island in the north Errera Channel. Another island designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International, it supports a breeding colony of about 5000 pairs of gentoo penguins, the largest gentoo rookeries on the whole Antarctic Peninsula. I can only assume they like their surroundings.

Climbing in the snow on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 09:27 || Cuverville Island didn’t start out bathed in sunshine. For the first 15 minutes on land this morning it was snowing heavily. The sun was breaking through but it was still snowing, albeit lightly, when I took this picture of climbers on the slopes above the island’s landing beach.

Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 10:22 || Shooting on assignment in Antarctica. A sweet deal if you can get it. Jamie was on assignment for the Wall Street Journal, capturing images for the lead article in the February 2016 edition of WSJ Magazine. Clearly a purist, Jamie’s lumbering, old-school film camera wasn’t what I would call the most appropriate or practical photographic equipment to bring to Antarctica – I shared a few zodiac cruises with him & changing film while it snowed and in a wet & bobbing zodiac didn’t look like much fun to me. I’m sure he much preferred the kind of conditions we were treated to here on Cuverville Island. You can see the article in question, including the images Jamie shot for it, here.

A penguin rookery on Cuverville Island, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 11:04 || A penguin rookery on Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 10:17 || Antarctica through a pair of Oakleys. There had to be at least one. This is obviously it. I’ve quite the collection of these images now.

After a few hours on land, it was time to cruise in the vicinity of Cuverville Island in the zodiac thus ensuring regulations as laid down by IAATO (the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), regulations that limit the number of people landing on Antarctica at any one time to no more were 100, were adhered to – when half of us are on land, the other half are cruising. Our zodiac pilot was Sam from the U.K. There were only a few of us in the zodiac, most of us keen photographers, including Jamie & his ponderous kit. Sam, herself a keen photographer, asked if we wanted to go on what she called a ‘photography cruise’. ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ It was calm & peaceful as we cruised around looking for passage through and around massive blocks of white & deep-blue ice. We got up close and personal with some beautiful formations, but never too up close and never too personal. Gotta keep a safe distance of course.

Ice formations while zodiac cruising off Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 11:38 || Ice formations while zodiac cruising off Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

The ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around. It cracked and growled and roared and howled like noises in a swound.

– Samual Taylor Coleridge, from The Ancient Mariner

But the zodiac cruise wasn’t only about ice. We got close to some wildlife too. Young wildlife.

A baby Elephant Seal on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 11:28 || A young Elephant Seal on the stony beach of Cuverville Island as seen from the waters surrounding the island. The largest of all pinnipeds, aquatic carnivorous mammals having a streamlined body specialized for swimming with limbs modified as flippers, fully grown male Elephant Seals, who boast a distinctive trunk, grow to over 5 metres in length and can weigh over 4000 kilograms. They have large eyes and are excellent divers – they can stay submerged for up to two hours and can reach depths of 1200 metres. This is an Elephant Seal pup, one that attracted quite a lot of attention as it lay there on the beach of Cuverville Island. Most pups are born in September so this one is probably only 2 months old. They grow quickly, gaining up to 5 kilograms of weight every day.

Cruising of Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 11:54 || A cruising zodiac dwarfed by an iceberg off Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

I was aware of it. It had been coming for a while. Almost a year of everyday photography means I’d been low on digital space for weeks. Cuverville Island this morning pushed me to the limit, forcing me to spend some time after lunch freeing up space. Wow. I’ve so much captured from the Antarctic already. It’s going to be a daunting task to sort through the digital mountain I’m building up down here. I didn’t spent too much time resolving space issues or worrying about future chores. Today was too nice a day not to be up on deck as we sailed south from Cuverville Island to the aptly-named Paradise Harbour.

Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 14:25 || Paradise Harbour, Antarctica.

Location Low-down || Paradise Harbour
Paradise Harbour is a wide embayment located midway along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, a large sea inlet southwest of Andvord Bay protected by an arc formed by Lemaire, Cramer and Bryde islands. The harbour is home to not one but two research bases – one Chilean, one Argentine – & it boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in Antarctica with peaks up to 1500 metres in height surrounding the harbour & glaciers descending into the sea. It is the second of the Antarctic Peninsula’s two harbours used for continental cruise ships landings, the other being Neko Harbour where I set foot on Antarctica a day earlier.

The Pragmatic whalers who worked in the waters of the Antarctic Peninsula at the beginning of the 20th century were hardly sentimental. Yet they named this harbour Paradise, obviously quite taken with the stunning icebergs and reflections of the surrounding mountains.

– Lonely Planet Antarctica

Approaching Paradise Harbour I was reminded that snow & water reflects almost all of the ultraviolet light falling on it – I stared to feel the effects of exposure to the sun earlier on and in the waters around Cuverville Island. Trust me to come to Antarctica and get sunburned.

Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 14:35 || Passing into Paradise Harbour, we slid past the mustard & ochre coloured Contraalmirante Oscar Viel Toro, a 90 metre-long icebreaker in the service of the Chilean Navy, some if its crew acknowledging our passing. The ship is, I assume, supplying the Chilean González Videla Base seen in the background. Named after Chilean President Gabriel González Videla, who was the first chief of state of any nation to visit Antarctica when he did so in the 1940s, the site, a popular gentoo penguin colony, was first surveyed in 1897-1899 and was formally used as a depot for floating factory ships. The base here was initially active between 1951 and 1958. It was reopened briefly in the early 1980s & is now only occupied during the Antarctic summer months.

An Iceberg towering over the nearby Chilian González Videla Base in Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 14:48 || An Antarctic iceberg with a sense of scale. A rather big & beautiful ice formation in the vicinity of the Chilean González Videla Base in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica.

One of the biggest icebergs ever (possibly the biggest iceberg ever) broke free from the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica in 2000. It was 295 kilometres long and 37 kilometres wide with a surface area of 11,000 sq km above water – and 10 times bigger below. It’s similar in size to The Gambia, Qatar, The Bahamas, Connecticut and some other places you aren’t really sure about.

– CoolAntarctica.com

Slowly does it navigating through ice in Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 15:06 || It was awesome being up on deck for this portion of the day 6 cruise, leaning over the edge to watch huge blocks of pack ice brush past the bow as we looked for a safe anchorage location in Paradise Harbour.

|| 23:15 || We dropped anchor in Paradise Harbour shortly after 15:40. We’re still here now and will be for the night. We disembarked in the zodiacs shortly after, my gentoos first off. We had no plans to land (no reason given) so we simply cruised in the zodiacs for the second time today. According to the location information posted on the Endeavour noticeboards, cruising in Paradise Harbour offers ‘beautiful and varied viewing.’ I’d say.

Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 17:12 || As seen from the zodiac when cruising in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica.

Getting to grips with a growler while zodiac cruising in Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 17:20 || Once again we encountered a few growlers while cruising the Paradise Harbour waters, inviting some of them to join us as we went. Leaning out and hauling them into the zodiac was never easy – growlers are always bigger than they look, heavier than you’d expect, & colder than you could ever imagine. Due to its location at the bottom of the world, Antarctica receives relatively little solar radiation. This is why the continent is the coldest there is. It also means that what little precipitation falls (remember, Antarctica is a desert) is almost always in the form of snow. This accumulates, never evaporating, and over hundreds and thousands of years forms into enormously thick ice sheets which cover the land. It is estimated that snow falling at the South Pole takes about 100,000 years to ‘flow’ to the coast of Antarctica before it drops off into the ocean as an iceberg. Therefore, and while it’s obviously impossible to estimate its age, it’s a safe bet to say that this particular piece of Antarctic ice has been around for many a year.

Brown base as seen from the waters of Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 17:26 || The second of the two bases in Paradise Harbour is Brown, an Argentine scientific research station, one of 13 research bases in Antarctica operated by Argentina. It is named after Admiral William Brown, the father of the Argentine Navy. From 1951 to 1984 it served as a permanent base conducting Argentina’s Antarctic marine biology & hydrography studies. In 1984 the main base building was burned down by the base doctor. It was a rather extreme but ultimately successful move to ensure he didn’t have to overwinter. The base was reopened in the 1990s but it is presently only occupied during the Antarctic summer months. Looking at it on this day from the zodiac the Paradise Harbour, it doesn’t look yet to have been inhabited this summer.

Not being a fan, I had simply bypassed the hot chocolate station set up to welcome passengers back on board up to this point of the cruise. I partook this afternoon, a sweet treat, with an added optional kick, to signal the end of the excursions for cruise day 6. I didn’t have my camera with me when I paid a pre-dinner visit to the deck of the Endeavour. I tried to take in the beauty of my surroundings, the clam, reflective waters, icebergs & peaks of Paradise Harbour forming a stunning setting, the only sound the hum of the Endeavour. I made sure to nab a porthole seat at dinner. I’ve had meals in some rather pretty locations but I don’t think I’ve ever had a view with a meal like the one I had this evening. I’ve paid a few subsequent visits to the forward deck since, being awed each & every time; the soft lighting is always a different kind of gorgeous. I’m really going to miss this place.

23:00 in Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.

|| Day 6, 22:50 || This picture of some of the peaks surrounding Paradise Harbour was captured from the deck of the Endeavour 15 minutes before the officially posted sunset time for this day of 23:05. Beautiful, just beautiful, the full you-had-to-have-been-there beauty obviously absent in any digital reproduction of the scene. Reaching heights of 1500 metres, the peaks here are some of the highest I’ve seen in Antarctica. Or are they? Maybe it was just my proximity to them as I stood on the deck of the Endeavour. Either way, they are still less than one-third the height of Antarctica’s highest peak, the 4,892 metre-high Vinson Massif, part of the continent’s Ellsworth Mountain range.

The thing that is most beautiful about Antarctica for me is the light. It’s like no other light on earth because the air is so free of impurities. You get drugged by it, like when you listen to one of your favourite songs. The light there is a mood-enhancing substance.

– Jon Krakauer, American writer and mountaineer

It has been a long day. I’m tired but I won’t sleep much tonight. I’ll be gone from here tomorrow, gone from the stunning setting, gone from the tranquillity, gone from the amazing light. This is a rather remote part of planet earth. It’s a hard place to get to. It’s a bloody expensive place to get to. No doubt I’ll be somewhere else unforgettable tomorrow, cruise day 7, our very last day down here before tackling the northbound Drake Passage. But I want to live the Paradise Harbour moment as much as I can, while I can. But I also need sleep. So while I’m setting my alarm for stupid o’clock in the morning I’ve a feeling I’ll be up before that.

Day Seven || December 2, 2015

Overview

A (very) early start in Paradise Harbour (map pointer 7), a final, farewell landing on Danco Island (map pointer 8), & whale watching & polar plunging in heavy snow in Wilhelmina Bay (map pointer 9).

Sunrise || Sunset

02:51 || 23:09

An early start gave me Antarctica all to myself, at least for a while. The early bird really does catch the worm or, in Antarctica, sights the whale. Then it was time to say goodbye to the penguins.

Excursion Day Five, Six & Seven Itinerary Map

Day Seven Tweet #1 From The Bottom of The World

Day Seven Tweet #2 From The Bottom of The World

Day Seven Tweet #3 From The Bottom of The World

Danco Island, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

Danco Island, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

Day 7 Diary & Pictures || Danco Island & Wilhelmina Bay

I had my alarm set for 04:00. I forgot about it until it went off in my pocket when up on deck. I had arrived there some 20 minutes earlier, just before walking a loop of the Endeavour’s deck. Save for crew on the bridge, who have no doubt seen this all before, I was all alone, just me in the middle of the same amazing scene I’d left some 4+ hours earlier. It was overwhelmingly blue, everything tinted a different shade of blue. The scene looked cold, it projected frigidity, but it was surprisingly mild. Quite comfortable. There wasn’t even the hint of a breeze. Everything was so, so still. So silent. I could have heard myself breathing if not for the low, ever-present & necessary hum of the Endeavour. I’d never experienced serenity like it. The placidity was astonishing, ripples in the calm, glass-like waters in our corner of Paradise Harbour appearing only every so often when a tiny little bullet of a penguin, torpedoing through the water & surfacing to breathe, dared to disturb the perfection.

Early morning perfection in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

||Day 7, 04:45 || Early morning Antarctic perfection as seen from the forward deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica.

I stayed up on deck for about 90 minutes. At one point, while contemplating going back to bed, a humpback whale appeared off the port side of the Endeavour. Two humpback whales even. I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t. When they first appeared they were mere metres from the Endeavour. They hung around for a while circling the harbour. Dive, surface, blow. Dive, surface, blow. They never again got as close to the Endeavour as they did for that first sighting. I followed them around the harbour, easy to do in the placid amphitheatre I was a spectator in. They eventually moved on, me silently thanking them for the performance they gave for just little old me. Wow.

The tail of a humpback whale in the placid early morning waters of Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

|| Day 7, 04:30 || I didn’t make much of an effort to photograph the humpback whales, happy, very happy, to just to follow and observe them (plus, I’d observed them earlier in the year breaching the waters off Puerto Lopez, Ecuador). I did, however, video them for a portion of their (very) early morning exploration of the harbour, capturing the awesome sound of their blowhole exhalation. This is a rather poor image of one of the whales I observed as it dove, its tail, visibly unique on all humpbacks, just about to slip below the surface of the harbour’s placid waters. Humpbacks grow to reach lengths of 14-16 metres with the females being slightly larger than the males. They weigh approximately 30-35 tonnes and live for an estimated 50-70 years. They mate & give birth in warmer waters up north with a single calf born every 2 or 3 years.

Some other passengers eventually joined me on deck. Appropriately, no words were exchanged. Just a nod & a smile, a silent acknowledgment that said everything from ‘Hello, good morning’ to ‘isn’t this place beyond amazing?’. They were photographers. They had a big kit and sturdy tripods. ‘Only photographers would be up this early’, I thought. But they weren’t up early enough; they missed the whales. I took a few more pictures, said goodbye to Paradise Harbour and returned to my cabin.

Early morning in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

|| Day 7, 05:05 || Blue. A parting early morning shot of Paradise Harbour, Antarctica, as seen from the stern of the M/V Ocean Endeavour.

When I woke for the second time on cruise day 7 we had already anchored at Danko Island, our last landing of the cruise. It was 07:30. I was a tad melancholy in the zodiac being ferried from the Endeavour to the island knowing this was to be my last jaunt on Antarctic terra firma. Once again the aroma of the penguins of Danco Island hit me well before I swung my feet over the side of the zodiac to set foot on the island itself.

Location Low-down || Danco Island
At almost 2 kilometres long, Danco Island was once used as a survey point for mapping the Errera channel. It was also the site of a U.K. base, Base ‘O’, in the last 1950s. The island’s main geographical feature is its ice covered 179 metre-high summit, one that offers great 360 degree views of the aforementioned channel and is home to a rookery of gentoo penguins.

A lone gentoo penguin heading uphill set against the massive glaciers off Danco Island, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

|| Day 7, 09:21 || It’s a bit of a slog from Danco’s landing beach to the summit of the island. The snow was deep, the going slow. The path the Expedition Team had marked out with flags to the summit crossed many a Penguin Highway where I was forced to stop en route to the summit to let the natives pass. Sometimes they’d stop their own amble up or down the slope right on the highway crossing point, as if to purposely delay me. Surely not. This is a picture of a lone gentoo penguin heading uphill on the Penguin Highway having halted me for some minutes before continuing on its way. Set against the backdrop of the massive glaciers surrounding Danco Island, this is a shot that reminds me that, and make no mistake, down here these little guys are the boss.

Hanging with the penguins on Danco Island, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

|| Day 7, 10:22 || When I got to the summit of Danco Island I did a loop of the snow-covered crest. I then found a position the required 5 metres from one of the small penguin rookeries on the summit, plonked myself down and just sat there taking it all in one last time – the views, the penguins, the noise, the smell. I sat there until I had to go, until my time was up. My legs got wet but I didn’t really care. A few minutes after capturing this picture I had retraced my steps down to the waiting zodiacs and I was back on the Endeavour, my jaunts in Antarctica over.

A few more pictures of the gentoo penguins of Danco Island.

It started to snow en route from Danco Island to Wilhelmina Bay, our last location stop of the cruise. It was snowing heavily by the time we were approaching the bay. Visibility was very poor and conditions on deck were slippery underfoot but there were probably more people out on deck this afternoon than at any other time of the cruise. Everyone was there spotting the whales. The bay was very active with humpbacks. They were there almost constantly on both the port and starboard side of the Endevour. Sightings were guaranteed. All you had to do was brave the elements. I guess everyone, & knowing the end was nigh, jumped on one last opportunity to view the humpbacks. I was on deck too of course and with my own private encounter with the humpbacks in Paradise Harbour earlier in the day still fresh in my memory I was content with photographing my fellow passengers.

Whale watching in the driving snow off the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

|| Day 7, 16:38 || Whale watching in the driving snow off the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour in Wilhelmina Bay. I loved the driving snow – loved it – but needless to say visibility was poor & thus conditions were not great for whale watching. They were much better at 04:00 this morning in Paradise Harbour.

Location Low-down || Wilhelmina Bay
Wilhelmina Bay is a bay some 24 kilometres wide between the Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna along the west coast of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was discovered by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99 led by Adrien de Gerlache. The bay is named for Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands, who reigned from 1890 to 1948. Dubbed “Whale-mina Bay”, it’s a popular destination for tourist expedition ships to Antarctica thanks to its abundant whale population, not to mention its spectacular scenery – the bay is surrounded by steep cliffs full of snow and glaciers with an almost perfect pyramid-shaped peak towering over the water.

Oh, how do you choose a favourite among the Antarctic Peninsula’s many gorgeous bays & inlets?

– Lonely Planet Antarctica

We eventually came to a stop in Wilhelmina Bay. It was still snowing heavily. The anchor was dropped one last time in Antarctic waters and shortly thereafter 66 passengers felt the need to throw themselves into the frigid 1.3 °C waters of the bay. It was Polar Plunge time.

Polar plunge in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

|| Day 7, 17:46 || Polar plunge in Wilhelmina Bay. An integral part of any Antarctic cruise, the word is that this is actually good for you.

Everyone was in high spirits this evening seemingly oblivious to the fact that the end of our time in Antarctica was nigh.

Dinner on night 7, seared venison lion with a foie gras can cherry bon bon. Polaris Restaurant, M/V Ocean Endeavour, Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.

|| Day 7, 19:33 || Dinner on night 7 in the Polaris Restaurant, seared venison lion with a foie gras and cherry bon bon. Desert was memorable too. Ice cream Antarctica – vanilla ice cream with warm forest berries & fresh whipped cream. It’s not something I normally do as I travel but I took pictures at most of the cruise dinners with tonight’s main proving rather photogenic.

I spent some time Drake proofing my cabin after dinner, reminding myself in the process that I mustn’t forget to pop a seasickness pill before bed; the forecast is for a rough return crossing, or at least a less benign crossing than we had getting here. The upbeat buzz was pushed into overdrive this evening in the Nautilus Lounge. Some passengers had risen to the task over the last few days of scripting a cruise/Antarctica Limerick, the culmination of which was tonight’s Limerick Contest. It would have been funny anyway but with Huw, the on board historian, author & general comedian, on the mic, it was a highlight of the evening. The highlight of the evening’s Ice Show with Ryan & Dave was the ‘Top Ten’, a list of dumb-ass questions asked by dumb-ass cruise passengers over the years. I like how they keep track of this kind of detail; you can’t fix stupid so, and in my opinion, dumb people’s antics should always be preserved for the benefit of others. A few of my favourites. ‘Does the crew sleep on board?‘… ‘Does the ship generate its own electricity?’… ‘How high above sea level are we?’ (while sitting in the zodiac)… & ‘Is this the same moon we see in Texas?’ Oh yes. A few (more) drinks were had this evening. And why not? There’ll be no alarm call tomorrow, no penguins to visit, no icebergs to see. Just the Drake Passage. Again.

Day Eight || December 3, 2015

Overview

Bedbound. Antarctica tax payday.

Wind Conditions

Beaufort 7 (High wind, moderate gale, near gale, 28-33 knots)

Sea State

Beaufort 7 (Sea heaps up, 4.0-5.5 metre breaking waves)

Sunrise || Sunset

03:34 || 22:28

The idiom is well-known – be careful what you wish for. I’d read about it, how it can be so bad that some people avoid Antarctica altogether because to do so means suffering the Drake Passage. But I wanted to experience it. Today I did, on a day that everything swayed, everything rocked, & a few things fell, a day when the take-no-prisoners Drake Passage took many a casualty, me included.

Day 8 Diary & Pictures || The Drake Passage Northbound

I didn’t feel too bad when I first opened my eyes this morning. It was just before 08:00. My world was moving. A lot. Mostly up & down, the downs/dives, and even when laying down, much harder to take than the ups. But it seemed fine. Seemed bearable. I was actually kind of relieved. ‘This is more like the performance I expected from the Drake,’ I thought to myself. And as I lay there I had every intention of getting up for breakfast, after which I’d go up on deck to high-five the Drake to, you know, thank it for finally showing its true colours. Then I stood up. I took a step, or at least attempted to. Something was wrong. My legs weren’t responding very well. There was a disconnect. Not only that but the the g-force in the tight confines of my cabin seemed to rachet up rather alarmingly. It took all I could muster to prevent myself from collapsing. I lay back down, my head now swaying. ‘Damn, I shouldn’t have stood up.’ Among all the topsy-turvyness, I somehow remembered that I had forgotten to take a seasickness pill before going to bed last night. I couldn’t understand how, taking some ill-founded solace in the fact that I doubt taking a pill would have made any difference. I debated whether taking one now, maybe even two, would be beneficial. I might have taken all 6 pills that I had left and taken my chances were it not for the fact that doing so would have required me standing up. I was paying my Antarctica tax now alright. I wish I hadn’t woken on this day. Breakfast. No chance.

|| Noon || I tried to get up for lunch. ‘Food will help’ I reasoned, assuming I could 1) make it to the Polaris Restaurant & 2) keep it down. No chance there either. About the only thing was capable of doing was laying down. Even that was a struggle but at least doing so staved off the desire to vomit. Fleeting sleep came and went. The Endeavour kept rocking & rolling – up, down & side-to-side, but mostly up & down. If you concentrate hard enough you know what to expect, you know what’s next as the motion seems to follow some semblance of a rhythm. I’d listen to the few loose items in my room slide around until something stopped them. If I could have risen I’d have secured them better but it was way too late for such labours at this stage. My head was all over the place. Jang, my smiley Filipino housekeeper, attempted to come into the cabin a few times to do his thing. I was impressed with his sea legs. ‘We’re all good in here, buddy!’ I’d struggle to tell him, clearly lying. Jang had obviously seen it all before. By late afternoon I’d somehow managed to convince myself that getting up was to be of some kind of benefit. ‘I can’t lay here all day,’ I’d tell myself when that was precisely what I’d already done. At the very least I had to – JUST HAD TO – get a picture of the culprit, the rocking Drake Passage. ‘I could do that, right?’ This day would have gone from bad to worse had I not. I did. Phew.

Northbound on the Drake Passage. December 3, 2015.

|| Day 8, 18:04 || Northbound on the Drake Passage, otherwise known on this day as the Drake Shake, a day it registered a 7 on the 0-12 Beaufort scale. Somehow, and I don’t know how, I made it up onto the forward deck of the Endeavour to see what all the fuss was about. I could probably have made my way from my cabin to this point of the Endeavour‘s forward deck blindfolded at this stage of proceedings but to get here on this day took monumental effort – I wobbled, I careened, I bounced off walls, I struggled with doors, & I almost had to crawl up steps. And things didn’t improve much once I got here as I was almost blown off the deck of the Endeavour while trying to keep the horizon straight capturing this image. I didn’t/couldn’t stay up here long. Point, shoot, & hope. Job done. Back to bed.

The Drake Passage
The Drake Passage is the body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn, Chile, and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. Feared by many, the tumultuous Drake connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean (Scotia Sea) with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. The passage receives its English name from the 16th Century privateer Sir Francis Drake. Drake’s only remaining ship, after passing through the Strait of Magellan, was blown far south in September 1578 implying an open connection between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Half a century earlier, after a gale had pushed the south from the entrance of the Strait of Magellan, the crew of the Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces thought they saw land’s end and possibly inferred this passage in 1525. For this reason, some Spanish & Latin American historians and sources call it Mar de Hoces after Francisco de Hoces. The first recorded voyage through the passage was that of the Eendracht, captained by the Dutch navigator Willem Schouten in 1616, naming Cape Horn in the process. The 800 kilometre-wide passage between Cape Horn and Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to the rest of the world’s land – the boundary between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is sometimes taken to be a line drawn from Cape Horn to Snow Island 130 kilometres north of mainland Antarctica. There is no significant land anywhere around the world at the latitudes of the Drake Passage, which is important to the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which carries a huge volume of water, about 600 times the flow of the Amazon River, through the passage and around Antarctica. The passage is known to have been closed until around 41 million years ago according to a chemical study of fish teeth found in oceanic sedimentary rock. Before the passage opened, the Atlantic & Pacific Oceans were separated entirely with Antarctica being much warmer and having no ice cap. The joining of the two great oceans started the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and cooled the continent significantly.

Buoyed up by my superhuman excursion up on deck, I devised a plan to attend the nightly briefing. ‘Emm, make it through that and I could probably make it to dinner,’ I thought. Again, no chance. I sat for the first 20 minutes of the briefing not hearing a word that was spoken, the whole time concentrating intently on not vomiting. I struggled back to my cabin, popped a pill (the ONLY thing, aside from water, that I ingested on this day), brushed my teeth, and fell into bed. It was shortly after 19:00. This day was mercifully over & I wished it had never started.

Day Nine || December 4, 2015

Overview

The recovery, the wind down & the party.

Wind Conditions

Beaufort 6 (Strong breeze, 22-27 knots)

Sea State

Beaufort 6 (Long waves, 3-4 metre waves)

Sunrise || Sunset

04:31 || 21:54

Officially day 9 is the penultimate day of the cruise. It’s effectively the last day, day 10 comprising of nothing more than waking up, having breakfast and walking off the Endeavour for the last time. Day 9, the wind down day and the last opportunity to take it all in.

Day 9 Diary & Pictures

A new day. I was almost afraid to get out of bed, the experience of yesterday still fresh in my memory. But, and while the Drake was rocking along nicely at Beaufort 6 (3 to 4 metre waves), either the pills had done their job or I had grown some sea legs overnight; seemingly you do adapt. Either way I managed breakfast. It even stayed down. And upon returning to my cabin I found a Certificate of Achievement waiting for me having been shoved under my door.

Antarctica Certificate of Achievement. December 4, 2015.

|| Day 9, 08:10 || Antarctica Certificate of Achievement.

The rest of the day was all about winding down, mostly packing. It was, and as I knew it would be, a sombre endeavour, one I put off for as long as I could. I managed to squeeze the Quarka into the bottom of my bag. When push came to shove, I just couldn’t leave it behind. But I’ll have no choice but to leave the Endeavour behind. I took a few final walks around her innards, walks I’d taken countless times over the previous 8 days. Using the walls here & there for support, I photographed things I’ve probably photographed a few times already. Just to be sure. It was too uncomfortably windy to spend any extended time out on deck, not until later in the afternoon when we returned back into the sheltered Beagle Channel. By that stage everyone was in fine fettle, no doubt their mood bolstered by the sun & the champagne on offer during Farewell Cocktails in the Nautilus Lounge which flowed after the 16:30 Disembarkation Briefing & the 17:15 Charity Auction. Yes, we’d made it back and that was reason enough, as if reason were needed, to celebrate.

Welcome back champagne on the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour in the Beagle Channel. December 4, 2015.

|| Day 9, 18:51 || Welcome back champagne on the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour in the Beagle Channel.

The Antarctica cruise crew on the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour arriving back in the Beagle Channel after the return crossing of the Drake Passage. December 4, 2015.

|| Day 9, 18:57 || The Antarctica cruise crew on the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour arriving back in the Beagle Channel after the return crossing of the Drake Passage. A cruise to Antarctica was always going to be special but these Freestylers made it all the more so. You know who you are. #turd #dzznuts #threebestfriends

The Farewell Dinner was whole tail lobster thermidor. Or slow roasted sirloin of beef. Or both if you had Keith as a waiter. We did so we had two mains, something that just seemed acceptable at the Last Supper. Keith looked after us so well throughout the cruise, especially on the last night. We’d look forward to seeing Keith every evening, getting to the Polaris Restaurant early to ensure no one else would nab our seats and thus get Keith’s attention for the night. He was ours. We’ll all miss him. And Arthur too, he with the wine. Keith & Arthur. Yes, we’ll miss those two. Legends both. We’ll miss Alex too, the Maitre D’ who’d greet us at every meal with a liberal dose of hand sanitiser, & Manfred, the Executive Chef who would do the rounds at dinner asking us if everything was alright. Top-notch Manfred, top-notch. We assembled one last time in the Nautilus Lounge after dinner for the presentation of the End of Voyage Slideshow. Quite a few of my images featured (I’d been uploading images through the cruise to the passenger’s shared Photo Journal). And then all that was left to do was drink, be merry & party into the night, the dance floor in the Nautilus Lounge getting a good workout. We prolonged the day, avoiding bed for as long as possible. But eventually that was that.

Day Ten || December 5, 2015

Overview

Disembarkation & au revoir.

There’s not a lot to report from cruise day 10. I rose, I ate, I bid everyone adieu, & I walked off the Endeavour. And that was that. It was all done by 08:30, ending one of the most memorable travel experiences of my life.

Pre-Departure Entries

The Wait & #PostcardfromAntarctica

Ultimately it was worth the wait. Of course it was. But there was a lot of uncertainty as I waited and waited and waited for the green light to embark on my trip to Antarctica. I waited in Ushuaia, Argentina, and waited again. And again. And when I couldn’t bear to wait any longer in Ushuaia, I waited further north in Chile. Here are the archived entries, presented in chronological order, as posted from the road at the time.

November 16, 2015 || The Cancellation

Date || November 16, 2015
Location || Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (map-pointer-icon)

The countdown started at almost 6 days, the countdown from booking to the departure of my once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica. I waited, and waited, and waited, killing time in Ushuaia, the Argentine gateway city at fin del mundo, the world’s end. I was still waiting, still excited, when, with 1 day 19 hours & 15 minutes to go, the e-mail came through.

Gutted. The official word from the cruise company. Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. November 15, 2015.

Upon first reading, I honestly thought this was a joke. I soon realised it wasn’t. Then I was numb. Deflated. Gutted. The official you’ve-got-to-be-shitting-me word from the cruise company. Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. November 15, 2015.

Gutted. Options are scarce at this stage but options there are, none of which are ideal & none of which I would even consider contemplating for a nanosecond where it not for the fact that it’s Antarctica. I’m in a quandary. I’ve a first world problem of mammoth proportions. My White Continent odyssey is not quite dead but right now it’s on life-support & fading fast. More to come.

1 day 19 hours 15 minutes. Around about the time Antarctica, attempt 1, went pear-shaped. Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. November 15, 2015.

One day 19 hours & 15 minutes. Around about the time Antarctica, attempt 1, went pear-shaped. Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. November 15, 2015.

November 17, 2015 || The Wait

Date || November 17, 2015
Location || Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (map-pointer-icon)

It’s a miserable kind of day here at the end of the world, cold & wet. But regardless of the here & now climatic conditions, the outlook for today was always sunny. Today was supposed to be the day I set sail aboard the M/V Ocean Endeavour for Antarctica. Instead I’m looking at it in the rain sitting wounded in Ushuaia port, somewhere it limped into earlier this morning after returning back across the Drake Passage. She won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

Sick & port bound. The Quark Expeditions 137 metre-long Ocean Endeavour in Ushuaia port, Tierra del Fuego, southern Argentina. November 17, 2015.

Sick & port bound. An early morning brush with some rouge Antarctic Peninsula ice means the Quark Expeditions 137 metre-long M/V Ocean Endeavour is presently undergoing something of a maritime medical to assess the scale of the damage. Needless to say, today’s scheduled 10-day cruise departure has already bit the dust. It remains to be seen if next week’s departure, scheduled for November 26th, will also fall by the way side. Ushuaia port, Tierra del Fuego, southern Argentina. November 17, 2015.

So I’ve decided, & to the detriment of a big chunk of the final portion of my 2015 travels further north, to hang around in the hopes of being accommodated on that November 26th sailing, assuming it happens. I’ll know in a day or so and until then I’ll keep waiting here at the end of the world. There’s not a whole lot to do here in Ushuaia & its well-marketed end of the world vibe will appease even the most passive of souls only for so long. Tonight is night 7 here & if I get the green light for that November 26th departure then I’ll have to find something to do while I wait some more. And I’ll have to someplace else to do it too.

November 20, 2015 || #PostcardfromAntarctica

Date || November 20, 2015
Location || Puerto Natales, Chile (map-pointer-icon)

I’m still waiting on the word, hoping that the old adage of all good things come to those who wait holds true. As I type the M/V Ocean Endeavour is being seen to, battling to get fit ahead of her next scheduled departure on Thursday afternoon, November 26. I’m confident it’ll happen so, & hoping I don’t jinx things, I’ve started the countdown again. Once again there’s 6+ days left to departure, just like there was when I started the countdown prior to the scratched November 17 sailing.

Countdown take 2

My second bite at the once-in-a-lifetime Antarctica cherry. The departure countdown is on. Again.

A Chile Wait || Waiting Elsewhere
I’m waiting out the countdown here in Puerto Natales, Chile. I thought I was done with Chile & I’ve already been to Puerto Natales, the gateway for Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, somewhere I’ll revisit as I strive to pass the remaining pre-Antarctica days. Both Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine National Park are nice places but, & nice and all as they are, they are hardly worth two sojourns, proof that I’d clearly reached the end of my tether waiting at the end of the world. If I was going to have to continue waiting for Antarctica then I was going to do it elsewhere even if elsewhere, as Puerto Natales does, demands you spend 16 hours getting here from Ushuaia via 3 different buses & a brief ferry across the Strait of Magellan. Oh and with an international border crossing thrown in for good measure.

Sunrise in Ushuaia port, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. November 19, 2015.

5:45 a.m. Sunrise over Ushuaia port, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. I stopped by the port for one final look at the stricken M/V Ocean Endeavour prior to hitting the long road for my present location of Puerto Natales. You know, just in case I don’t see her again. Sunrise was nice. November 19, 2015.

Postcard from Antarctica?
Waiting means I’ve had some time on my hands. A lot of time. I’ve read about Antarctica, read a lot. I was reminded that there’s a Post Office down there, Port Lockroy Post Office, a.k.a. The Penguin Post Office (watch this video on YouTube to find out more about Port Lockroy & its Post Office.). It’s an official Post Office of the British Antarctic Territory, a whopping 1.7m sq km portion of the continent that the U.K. has claimed as its own ever since 1908, even though the 1959 Antarctic Treaty say they are really not allowed to (I get it, it’s more complicated than that). The Post Office, typically only open November to March, the Antarctic summer & cruising season, is a popular stop on the Antarctic cruise circuit, its obvious attraction the ability to send some old-fashioned snail mail home from the world’s southernmost, not to mention remotest Post Office. And that got me thinking – plenty of time for that of late too – as to who would like a #PostcardfromAntarctica. You would? OK, all’s you gotta do is the following:

Register by sending me an e-mail (Feedback at davidMbyrne dot com) with your name, address & any brief message you’d like on the postcard. I’ll acknowledge any e-mail received.
Like davidMbyrne.com on Facebook & share this post, requesting others do the same. Tweet it too if you’re on Twitter. On all postings, please use the hashtag #PostcardfromAntarctica
When the postcard arrives (I hear it could take up to 2 months but there’s no rush, right?), leave a comment on this post telling me it arrived & share a picture of it on social media, again using the hashtag #PostcardfromAntarctica

And that’s it. Easy peasy. You have until 3 p.m. GMT, 10 a.m. ET, on departure day, November 26, to register. This is just prior my scheduled departure (I don’t plan on having internet access in Antarctica, not until I return to port on December 5).

Here’s what I’ll do in return.

Send you a postcard from Antarctica!

Needless to say, & assuming it happens, I’ll be highlighting my Antarctic adventure right here, a day-by-day recap that’ll be posted once back on shore.

Postcard from Antarctica.

#PostcardfromAntarctica

So, who wants a postcard from Antarctica?

November 26, 2015 || Departure Day

Date || November 26, 2015
Location || Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (map-pointer-icon)

This has been dragging on quite a while but I’ve a feeling the wait will be worth it. It is 16 days now since I first arrived in Ushuaia, 15 days since I first booked passage to Antarctica. The trails & tribulations since then have been well documented but today the wait is finally over. In a few hours, & on what is a beautiful day here at the end of the world, I’m finally setting sail for Antarctica.

The Ocean Endeavour has been seen to & she’s well rested, if a little tender in parts. She’ll set sail down the Beagle Channel toward the Drake Passage with a clean bill of health (& a new Safety Officer) in a few hours from a sunny Ushuaia port and I’ll be on board, finally bound for the White Continent. To say I’m excited is an understatement. Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. November 26, 2015.

The M/V Ocean Endeavour has been seen to & she’s well rested, if a little tender in parts. In a few hours, and from a sunny Ushuaia Port, she’ll set sail down the sheltered Beagle Channel toward the open Drake Passage with a clean bill of health. And I’ll be on board, finally bound for the White Continent. To say I’m excited is an understatement. Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. November 26, 2015.

I’m ready. I’m ready to call the M/V Ocean Endeavour home for the next 9 nights. I’ve got my sea sickness pills & I’m ready for whatever the notorious Drake Passage throws at me, not to mention whatever Antarctica awes me with after that. My camera gear is ready too. Oh, & I have my postcard orders, all 80+ of them from locations around the world; thank you to those who’ve taken part in this little project of mine. I’ll be offline for the most part, save for maybe a few tweets here & there over the coming days. I’ll be back in port on December 5th armed, of course, with pictures & insights from my latest travel exploit. I’ve a feeling this one is going to be a tad more special than most.

A Freestyle Gracias

Freestyle LogoMy 5-star Antarctica adventure didn’t start upon boarding the M/V Ocean Endeavour, it started some weeks earlier when I walked into the Bunker, the office of Freestyle Adventure Travel in Ushuaia. Sarah & Gabi, the dynamic Freestyle duo, made spending many thousands of Euros as painless as it could ever be. Check them out on facebook (or via the Freestyle Adventure Travel website) and if you’re thinking of embarking on a trip to Antarctica, you should do yourself a massive favour by making Freestyle your very first port of call. Tell them Irish Dave, a.k.a. Irish, sent you.

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