Days 10-12: Return to South America

These last three days get combined into one post, because now we’re just heading back to South America, and there’s nothing to prepare for, except the inevitable end of the trip. Having to cross the Drake again gives you a couple days to sort of decompress from the excitement of Antarctica and prepare mentally to reenter the civilized world.

On day 10, our first day back on the Drake, there was no wake up call. (Nowhere to be except on the ship!) Then there were a couple of presentations in the lounge—including one by Laurie who gave his account of skiing across the Arctic Ocean from Canada via the North Pole in 91 days. This guy is totally amazing, and I’m going to tell you even more amazing things about him soon. Jimmy talked about orcas; the geologist talked about weather systems in Antarctica.

There was a “wild west” themed party in the lounge that night. Some people got very creative with costumes.

On day 11, we were still on the Drake. This morning they had a couple more presentations, one of which was about the other polar trips Quark does. (Not a sales presentation at all…just one of the team leaders talking about all the cool stuff they do and see.) Jimmy talked about whales again (there is a lot to know about whales).

And then, Alex let us know that we were making really good time (it was, they said, the smoothest Drake crossing they’d had all season—I still took phenergan to be safe) and that had allowed us to cross quickly enough to be able to detour over to Cape Horn. This was historically one of the most dangerous routes to sail for ships, as they sailed around South America. Now they can avoid it by using the Panama Canal, so most people do not sail this route anymore other than for the challenge. (Several round-the-world races go this way, according to Wikipedia.)

We sailed within three miles of it.

It was still windy enough on deck to need the yellow parkas.

We turned in our rubber boots this day, placing them outside our cabins before lunch so they could be picked up.

That afternoon they showed another movie in the lounge—this one called “Around Cape Horn,” depicting the voyage of the Peking around the Horn in 1929. This guy actually shot video of the trip, and he narrates the video in this movie. And it is harrowing!!


Alex held a disembarkation briefing to explain the procedures, and we had our final recap. Then we were invited to a Captain’s Farewell Cocktails in the lounge that evening before dinner.

After cocktails, we all went into the dining room for the farewell dinner, where the entire crew of kitchen staff came out and paraded around the room clapping and cheering, and then were introduced to us so we could recognize them for all of their hard work. They really did an incredible job.

We crossed the Drake so quickly we were going to arrive early, so first they said we would anchor for the night outside the Beagle Channel and sail in to Ushuaia in the early morning, but then they told us that they wanted to do some maintenance work on the ship and that having it in one place for 12 whole hours was a luxury they didn’t often get, so we would go ahead and sail into Ushuaia that evening.

I was already in bed nearly asleep when we dropped anchor…I think it was probably around 11pm. It was weird to not feel the engines running!

In the morning (day 12), we were to place our checked luggage in the hallway to be picked up and taken off the ship. We ate our last breakfast in the dining room, and then it was time to say goodbye.

Some people were going directly to the airport, and some of us were going to local hotels. Allen was flying home that morning, and they called the airport people first, so we said goodbye outside the cabin, and he left for the shuttle to the airport. Jeff & I went upstairs and sat in the lounge to wait to be called.

I had heard of people rolling their parkas up into basketballs, so this is what we did with ours, too. It was not easy to get them stuffed up this small! These also got us a lot of weird looks and questions from customs officials. (“What are those yellow things??”)

When they called us, we picked up our passports at reception and headed out.
Once on the pier, we had to ID our luggage to be put onto a shuttle. (Remember how we had to arrive on the pier by shuttle? Same for departure.) The shuttle dropped us off at a taxi stand a block from the pier.

We had a hotel only a couple blocks away, so we walked up to it, only to find two other passengers from our trip arriving at the same time as us for the same hotel.

The hotel had an amazing fourth floor deck where we could hang out and use the wifi. It was around 8:30 in the morning when we got there. The four of us set up shop with our laptops and iPads and phones and started reconnecting with the world. We had gorgeous views, snacks, and internet. It was from here that I finally began to post photos to Facebook, which I had been dying to do.

We left the hotel deck and wandered around town for a while around lunchtime, eating at a little deli we came across. We spent more time on the deck in the afternoon, when I spotted this large cruise ship that had come in. It dwarfs the smaller ships!

Ushuaia is hilly.



Ushuaia at dusk

The next morning we took a cab to the airport, where we ran into several other people from our ship, all on the same flight to Buenos Aires we were on. In BA, we all parted ways as we headed off to various cities and countries around the world.

Day 9: Charity auction

Finishing off day 9. It was our last day of landings, and now we were headed back across the Drake Passage again for South America.

That evening after dinner, Quark held a charity auction to raise money for Penguin Lifelines, a project that researches threats to penguins and how they are affected by things like climate change, fisheries, and pollution.

Ryan emceed the event, which was held in the main lounge where we’d had all our recaps. Every time you bid on an item, they would refill your champagne.

day09-47The items up for grabs included the Crossing the Circle flag from our celebration, a bottle of glacier water melted from a hunk of ice Jimmy picked up at one of our landings, and a bottle of Shackleton whisky, a replica of the whisky that the famous explorer took with him on his 1907 expedition to Antarctica.

The krill game had nothing to do with the auction; it was just one of the games available in the lounge and I thought it was funny.

By the way, the other night I had a dream that I passed a krill stand on the side of the road. Like a little fast-food shop. But they sold krill. Krill have invaded my dreams!

They also auctioned off the opportunity to do the wake-up call on one of our days on the Drake. Alex chose a song each morning that started the wake-up call, and then he made our daily announcements. The person who won this auction item would get to choose the music and make their own announcement.

We did not buy anything. I mainly wanted the Crossing the Circle flag, but it went for more than we were willing to pay. We bid up to $100 but it got over that pretty fast. (Ended up going for $500.)

And thus ended day 9.

Day 9: Last landing at Telefon Bay

In the afternoon, we landed at Telefon Bay, named for a salvage vessel that moored in the bay in 1909 awaiting repairs. This is the site of the crater of the most recent volcanic eruption in 1969. It was more ash-covered ice. You could kick through the ash and see the ice, but it was amazing how much ash there was.
There were some muddy streams to contend with.
Looking ahead to where we were going.
Looking back to where we’d come from.
Allen talking to Yvonne, the geologist. I have a separate post on the Quark team coming soon.
Looks like a shark’s tooth.
Hugo the video guy again.
Still pretty foggy.

So this was our last landing. Our last time to step foot on Antarctica. Once we went back on the zodiac to the ship, we would be heading back across the Drake for South America, with this amazing experience behind us. I wasn’t ready for it to be over; I don’t think anyone was.

But as we approached the spot on the beach where the zodiacs had landed…TWO CHINSTRAP PENGUINS SWAM UP AND HOPPED ONTO THE BEACH!
And these were two of the most curious penguins we’d encountered yet. The guides asked us to keep to one side, not to circle around (within the allowed 15 feet) on all sides, but to leave one side completely open. The penguins kept moving closer to us, walking in amongst us. They were watching us as much as we were watching them.
The last zodiac was ready for us, but it was so hard to decide to say goodbye to these curious guys. These were probably the two most photographed penguins on our trip. I was thrilled to get to see chinstraps after all.
This was the most perfect ending to our last landing. And as we finally loaded up into the zodiac and started to pull away from the beach, the penguins watched us leave, and then hopped into the water and swam off.

That night after dinner there was a charity auction. I’ll say a little about that in a separate post, and then it’s back across the Drake.

Day 9: Deception Island

Morning of day 9—our last day of landings. SO BITTERSWEET.

We had two landings scheduled at Deception Island—one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano. It erupted in 1967 and 1969. It looks all black, but it’s still ice, it’s just covered in volcanic ash. You can kick through the ash an inch or two and see the ice.

There’s an Argentinian research station here, and that was the site of our morning landing. We had the option to hike up to the top of the ridge of the caldera, where we would be able to look down to the other side to see a colony of 50,000 pairs of chinstrap penguins. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND CHINSTRAP PENGUINS.

But first, we had to sail into the caldera, through a narrow channel (only 850 feet wide) called Neptune’s Bellows. The ship had an open bridge policy, which meant you could go in and visit it at any time, watching the captain and his team sail the ship. Even when navigating such a tricky channel, the captain kept the bridge open, they just asked that visitors please not talk while the captain got us through here.
It was a very foggy morning–the clouds hung really low in the sky. Most of us were out on deck to watch us sail through Neptune’s Bellows.


What the flight map looks like when you’re anchored in a caldera

Sailing very close to these cliffs.
And then we anchored and headed to shore in the zodiacs. This fur seal was waiting there to greet us.
The kayakers can be seen in the distance. During lunch, the ship would be repositioning to the other side of the caldera for our afternoon landing. The kayakers, instead of taking the ship, kayaked from this landing site to the other one. I think the idea of it was better than the reality of it—it sounded like it turned out to be a very difficult kayaking trip, cold and wet and challenging. But they can say they did it, right guys?

You can also see the steam rising from the ground.
We hiked up. And up. And up. And here Laurie, our guide, grabbed a quick photo.
The Quark penguins again.
The higher we hiked, the worse the visibility became. We were hoping that as the morning went on, the fog would lift, but it seemed to be getting worse, if anything. We hiked until we had almost zero visibility. It was hard to see people more than a few feet away. At that point, we decided it was pointless to go on—the goal was to see the penguin colony, and there was no way we were going to be able to see it in these conditions. No penguins!!! So sad.
We stopped and took a few photos of each other before turning around to go back down.

At this point, I was super disappointed. There had been a chinstrap or two at a couple of our other landings, but I had not seen them. I’d only heard other people talking about them or seen their photos of them. I really wanted to see one for myself. Even though I’d seen tons of other penguins, the chinstrap was the one type I could identify prior to this trip, so I really had been hoping to see one. Our afternoon landing, they’d already told us, was just more caldera, no wildlife. Bittersweet.
The research base. The Argentinians invited us in and had drinks and cookies set out for us. I tried to take a some photos inside but it was so warm compared to outside my lens completely fogged up, so I got nothing. It also got hot in there pretty fast in all my clothes, so I didn’t stay inside much longer than it took me to eat a couple of cookies.
Alex told us about a time a few years ago when they’d been anchored across the caldera, and someone called to them on their radio, asking, “Who is in that blue ship?” They identified themselves, and the Argentinians identified themselves and asked, “Do you have any cigarettes?” And they did, so they went over and visited them at the research station and have been visiting them ever since.
Time to go back to the ship.
Back on the ship, I realized that I hadn’t done my favorite trick of taking a photo of a scene through my phone, so I did that real quick. Since I had no internet on the ship, I didn’t use my phone at all, basically, for two weeks. I had thought I might use it as an alarm clock, but Alex’s wake-up calls over the PA system were all I needed, so my phone mostly just sat next to my bed, unused.

So then we ate lunch while the ship repositioned across the caldera for our afternoon landing. Next up: Telefon Bay.

Day 8: Neko Harbour

It’s still day 8. We’ve done the polar plunge, showered, and had some dinner. And now here we were at Neko Harbour, which was located in the incredibly beautiful Andvord Bay.
We’re anchored and about to head out in the zodiacs for our first (and only) landing on the actual continent of Antarctica. All of our other landings were on islands, so this one is particularly exciting. Dinner was at 6 this evening, and then we started loading the zodiacs around 7:30. Here they were getting the kayaks ready for the kayakers.


White on white



The Quark team at the landing spot


The three of us on the continent

This site was home to about 250 pairs of breeding gentoo penguins.
The evening light was really beautiful.
Penguin highways.
Glacier / molting.
On Neko Harbour we hiked up a ridge for an overlook of the whole bay.
You can tell it’s me by the arms.
Allen filming some video from the top of the ridge.
Chatting with Laurie. I have got to do a post soon about the Quark team themselves, because they were half of what made the trip so awesome.
I had to stop and wait for these penguins to cross paths on the penguin highway before I continued on.
We were losing light by the end. Sunset was at 9:21 this evening and this was taken around 9:50pm as we prepared to head back to the ship.

The next day would be our last two landings before we had to head back across the Drake. And they happened to be inside the caldera of a volcano.

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