Monday, February 25, 2008

Camera blues

I was all set to post about the snowfall we had late Sat night/Sunday morning. I took pictures again and was going to show you what 2 inches of real snow looks like as opposed to 2 inches of ice!

However, when I just now started to upload the pictures to my computer I find my camera isn't working. It's not a dead battery. My darling Buttercup knocked the camera from the desk to the floor last night, but at the time it didn't seem damaged. Now I see that the on/off switch won't lock into place. It's not an expensive camera. In fact, it came bundled with my computer, printer, etc. when I replaced my system about four years ago. It's done very well for a cheapie little digital, so I can't complain. It took all the pics you've seen posted here to date. I'm just sad that I can't load the snowy pictures now.
The snow was the "wet" kind, which melted fairly quickly after it quit falling. It didn't interfere with the play and the second and final performance went off yesterday afternoon as scheduled. The walk ways were clear by show time, and we had a good audience. The play was well received, and it's always fun to be involved with the Stage Co.
Tomorrow it will be off to Wal-Mart to buy a new camera. I hope I can find one that uses the same kind of batteries as the old one, since I bought a bunch of batteries before the trip and still have several left.




So since I can't post any new pictures I'm going to post some old ones. Here's Buttercup, the camera-destroyer, with her "big brother", Madison. She adores him and cuddles up at every opportunity.











If these four ladies look as if they're having a good time, it's because they were. This was taken at last year's CUF (Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship) annual Women's Retreat. I'm posting this picture because this year's retreat is this coming weekend, and I'll be there with bells on! I promise I will take pictures with my new camera, which I desperately hope will be compatible with my computer--or the next purchase could be a new computer! Oy! I understand there is to be belly dancing at this year's retreat. Double Oy!
The bread machine just beeped. I've made a loaf of poppyseed white bread and the house smells divine! When I take the loaf out of the machine and turn it out onto the rack to cool, the smell will be even better. I'd take a picture of it...if I had a camera!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mother Nature's Wrath-- The Sequel

That's what today's newspaper called it. I call in a royal pain in the patoot.

Starting late Weds night and continuing all day yesterday we had another ice storm. This time I didn't lose power, although I was ready with flashlights and extra batteries and a supply of food and water.

Last night's dress rehearsal had already been cancelled, so I didn't have to go out at all Thursday. Early this morning I took some more pictures of the ice.

This is the Anderson Skating Rink, otherwise known as my back yard, about 6:30 this morning. The bamboo is bending, as it does so well.



Although the white stuff looks like snow, it's not. It's pure ice. I was guesstimating about 3/4 of an inch of it but I was underestimating.

Notice the heater cord coming from the bird bath. Yesterday I managed to get out and put fresh water in it and put out bird seed, corn, and a fresh seed cake in the holder that hangs from what looks like a four foot tall pole you can see on the left side. It's actually the trunk of a dogwood tree that died. When I had the tree cut down I had them leave the trunk that way. I nailed a board across the top and it makes a great feeding platform. There are some nails here and there to hold a seed basket and a seed cake holder. My birds love me.



This was taken right at the foot of my back steps. You can see Madison's water bowl just to the right, and you can barely see the door mat, which is brown plastic fiber, right in the lower middle of the picture. Shortly after taking the picture I scattered some salt in this area so I could walk to the right to get more bird seed. I managed to get to the seed, but just stood and threw it out into the yard. No way I was going to try to skate out to the feeder.




This is my little baby silver Prius, all covered with ice. Late this afternoon I finally got out and started getting the ice off. Thank heaven for the hybrid drive, so I could run the engine with the front and back deicers on without using any gasoline--car runs on the battery as long as it's standing still. Because the side windows are in shadow the ice doesn't show up on them, but take my word for it, it was there. On the front and back windshield, I measured an inch and a half of solid ice. (I did this by sticking a small pair of scissors straight down through the ice, marking with my finger where the scissors stopped and then measuring the distance from that point to the to the scissors' tip.) While the car was running, I scattered salt around on the driveway so I could walk all the way around the car when it was time to scrape. I also scattered a path down the left side of the driveway almost to the street, since one of the actors in the play is going to come get me for tonight's dress rehearsal. He has a 4 wheel drive truck. Thank goodness I won't have to try to negotiate the icy roads tonight.

Don't you have a garage, you might ask? Yes, I do. But there's no room in it for the car. It's attached to the house and is both heated and cooled, so I couldn't even pull the car part way in. The garage has the washer and dryer, five cat boxes, a table with cat food and water, and a variety of other miscellaneous objects, including trash cans, tools, ice salt, etc. There are shelves built in on the sides (put in before I bought the house) that reduce the space available. If I took everything else out, I might be able to get the car inside, but I'm not sure I could open the door!
This is my front yard and front patio. You can see some of the branches from last week's storm still piled in front. The rest are still in the back, since Jerry hasn't had time to load them up and get them to the dump.
When the power went off last week, the timer on the lights on my front path got messed up, so now they come on at dawn and go off at dusk. I see a few of them need new bulbs, but that will have to wait for the thaw.
The ice along the outer edge of the patio was very slick, but because I had scattered salt last week on the part behind that, it melted off and was just slushy. This afternoon I was able to push most of the ice off the patio with my snow shovel. Wish the car had been that easy to deal with. It took almost an hour to get all the ice off the front and back windshields and side windows. So now the car is clean and I can see, providing I can get out of the driveway. That remains to be seen tomorrow. So far, no more ice is forecast for the immediate future. Whew!











































Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Play's the Thing

For the past several years I've been an active member of The Jackson County Stage Company, a community theater group that puts on about four plays a year. Until 2 years ago our digs were in a building owned by a local bank, who let us use it rent free for over 20 years. The building was old and in disrepair, and finally, after it literally began to come down over our heads, the bank was forced to "evict" us and have the building torn down.
Since then the Stage Co has been a wandering troupe, staging our plays in venues all over town, including a restaurant, a church, and a couple of schools. The play we're currently producing, Neil Simon's Chapter Two, is being staged at the Carbondale Community High School.

This is a shot of the stage setting for "Chapter Two". In the "audience" is director Craig Hinde, also a talented actor who has appeared in many other Stage Co productions. In addition Craig is the organization's current treasurer. In this group many of us wear several different hats. It's all a labor of love.









Because of having to move from place to place with limited time in each location for setting up the stage and doing on-site rehearsals, our plays the past 2 years have been carefully chosen by the Play Selection Committee for small casts and simplicity of sets and staging. That doesn't always translate into simplicity of props, however, which is what I'm working on for this production.

Chapter Two is Simon's semi-autobiographical play about his second marriage (to actress Marsha Mason), and all the action takes place on a set divided into two New York City apartments, "George's' and Jennie's". ("George" represents the Simon character, and "Jennie" is Marsha Mason's alter ego.) The other two characters are "Leo", George's brother, and "Faye", Jennie's friend. The play is a comedy and full of Simon's typically witty repartee. It's a two-act play, each act having a number of mostly short scenes. That often means not a lot of time to get props ready between scenes.

The theater has a language all its own. It's crucial for everyone in the cast and crew to understand clearly where everything is supposed to be at all times, including people, so directions are described from the point of view of an actor on center stage facing the audience. The part of the stage to the actor's right, is "stage right", and the offstage area on that side is "off right". To the actor's left, logically, is "stage left", and "off left". Stage locations are further designated by "downstage" (toward the audience) and "upstage" (toward the rear of the stage. )


(AUDIENCE)


DOWNSTAGE



OFF LEFT STAGE LEFT STAGE RIGHT OFF RIGHT

UPSTAGE

BACKSTAGE



(The props used for Chapter Two are divided on prop tables "off right", for the items used in Jennie's apartment, and "off left", for the items used in George's apartment. Sometimes an item goes back and forth between apartments, which makes things interesting. Fortunately for this play there are two of us working props, one for each side. My bailiwick is "off left", or the props for George's apartment.


This is a partial view of George's apartment, facing downstage left . Upstage left has a bookshelf, the "front" door, a small table and a coat tree. The white swinging doors go offstage left into George's "kitchen".




Jennies' apartment is back-to-back with George's. The green sofa and round white lamp shade are in her apartment.
















This is George's desk. (You can barely see the corner of it in the upper left of the picture above.) Quite a bit of prop changing has to do with the desk: add clutter, clean up clutter, put things in drawers where they can be found by the actor, put a note under the phone, etc. Even the position of the desk chair is crucial for one scene in particular.

At the end of each scene, the lights fade and the stage "blacks out" so the prop people (that's me) can come out like little elves and do our stuff. It's difficult to work in total darknees so the person handling the lights will try to give us a "dim glow" to work by. Sometimes he gets it right. Sometimes not. When I walk out onto the stage I never know if I'm going to be able to see what I'm doing or floundering around in the dark, trying to remove some props and add others. Factor in that some props are glasses and bottles of liquid and things get dicey.



This is the main off left prop table. Another smaller table is out of sight behind a flat (a piece of plywood used to make "walls" etc.) and holds specific items meant to be brought on stage from the apartment "kitchen". There are three on stage "doors" in George's apartment: one directly across from this table, one further downstage (that supposedly goes to the kitchen), and the far upstage "front door", which opens onto the backstage area. Quite a few props have to be placed backstage near the front door, so that the actors can carry them in as they "arrive" at the apartment.

On and under this table and the one in the "kitchen" are the props which must be placed onstage and removed at the proper times so the actors can depend on the props being where they expect them to be. It's the responsibility of the prop people to be sure this happens smoothly. In our theater group, the prop people, along with the actors, director and others actually provide all the items for the set, including furniture, rugs, props, and any item needed for the production. The little green stickers you see on the glasses indicate these glasses are clean and the actors can drink from them. (I take the stickers off before putting them in place, of course.) When I remove the glasses from the stage after a scene I quickly put on a red sticker (dirty) until I can wipe the glasses off and return them to my prop box. Every night after rehearsal I pack up the four dirty glasses (which are "low ball " glasses from my own china cabinet) and take them home to wash and bring back the next evening. I also provide clean water and tea (for club soda , vodka and scotch) which the actors drink and use for other onstage "business", which is the term describing facial expressions and small actions by the actors as they say their lines or react to the lines of others. (Thank goodness there's no actual food in this play. I've done props for plays with food and it's a nightmare!!!)



My prop table is my sacrosanct place while the play is being produced. Woe be unto the stage hand who leaves a roll of duct tape or a pair of wire cutters or his McDonald's soda cup on my tables! I know exactly where each item is set and have a typed list of what goes on stage where when. I don't have a complete script, just the tag lines at the end of each scene to alert me to get ready to do my thing. The stage manager, who is kind of an on-stage assistant director, provided me with a basic list of props and scene changes and I retyped it and adapted it so I could follow it better. I used a script to add in the end-of-scene lines so I'd know when it was time to leap into action.


This play has been in rehearsal all month, but I was out of town for the first part of the month. (see earlier posts) My first rehearsal was Monday night and I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off. I work with five different coats at one time or another, and I was having fits trying to figure out which coat went where when. Tuesday night was better. Last night even better, as far as the props went. (They were still having some glitches with the lighting, ringing phone cues, etc.) Tonight was supposed to be dress rehearsal, but guess what? Another ice storm is upon us! It started sleeting during the night and has continued off and on. It's now early afternoon, and the roads and sidewalks are sheets of ice with ice still falling. We knew this was coming, so Craig told us last night might be our final rehearsal before Friday night's opening performance.



Theater lore has it that a lousy dress rehearsal portends a fabulously successful opening night. Our first public performance tomorrow ought to be terrific! I just hope the ice stops coming down and the roads get cleared or we may be playing to only a paltry few intrepid souls willing to brave icy conditions to see the play. However, "the show must go on" and it will. This time I won't be taking any bows because all my work will have been backstage or only dimly witnessed onstage as I scurry around in my black clothes during a twilit scene change. That's OK. I've been in front of the lights before and it's fun, and it's great to get applause from the audience. But those of us who work backstage will know we've done our part and the actors and director appreciate our efforts.












Monday, February 18, 2008

Warmer in Antarctica than in Illinois ?????

My dear friend Laura, who has a fascinating blog, has persuaded me that it's not only OK but desirable to create blog posts about everyday life. Since my "normal" life contains little material that is nearly as interesting as that in the past few posts--obviously one does not skip off to places as exotic as Antarctica that often--I am somewhat skeptical. Nevertheless, I will soldier on and see how it goes. If nothing else I will be creating a sort of journal of what's going on around here.

When I returned to Southern Illinois from Antarctica on Weds, Feb 13 I left an area where the coldest temperatures I encountered were in the 30's, albeit with some pretty fierce wind chill factors at times. However, when I got off the plane in St. Louis, the local temperature was 16 degrees F!!! Yikes. There was snow and ice all over the place, and, Louie, the van driver who picked me up at the airport, told me the area had been hard hit by a nasty ice storm on Monday and Tuesday. As we drove further south toward Carbondale, the amount of snow and ice noticeably increased, and I noted tree limbs down on the roadside.
I arrived home shortly after 1 pm, and as Louie was helping me drag my luggage up the slippery driveway, my neighbor Jeff from across the street walked over. He told me there was a large limb down in my yard that had pretty well trashed the fence. I immediately thought of my dog, Madison, who will grab any opportunity to flee the yard. However, when I unlocked the door, Madison greeted me as only a dog who loves you can greet you, wagging his entire large body, and grinning and panting and slobbering his welcome. My housesitter had come by on her lunch hour to let him out to do his business and put him back in the house, knowing I was expected in the early afternoon. Thanks, Bridget!

I was so exhausted that I could barely stand up, but after dragging in all the bags I opened the back door to survey the damage. All I can say is Jeff is a master of understatement. There were at least 3 huge limbs down, 2 from a large maple near the north side of the house and one from an enormous white pine on the other side of my yard to the south. I say "limb", but one of the parts of the maple that was broken off was about 10 inches in diameter at the broken stub. That limb had taken out two sections of cyclone fence, bending the top railing of one section nearly to the ground. The top of that limb was lying against my neighbor's house, and I was relieved to see that it didn't appear to have broken the window against which the upper branches rested. Thank goodness! The second maple limb was on my roof! It was smaller than the one lying across the fence, but plenty big enough to have done some damage to my new roof, just put up last summer. I couldn't see any obvious damage, and there was no way I could remove the limb, so I turned my attention to the pine tree. The upper part of that limb was also on the roof, but the base, approximately 6 inches in diameter, lay in the yard directly in front of the heat pump, which it apparently missed by inches. Again, thank goodness!

It was risky to try to assess the damage, since the entire yard was a glazed sheet of ice. During the storm there was rain, followed by sleet, which accumulated to a three inch layer, and then about 2 inches of snow on top of that, all of which was still frozen solid, since it was currently about 20 degrees F. Oh well, no sense crying over spilt milk, or split trees. There was virtually nothing I could do about it, so I gingerly picked my way back to the house to begin unpacking.
About an hour later Brenda, the lady who cleans my house every Wednesday arrived, all bundled up against the cold and accompanied by her husband, Jerry, who does handyman chores for me. He immediately checked out the back yard and announced he would drive to True Value and rent a chain saw to get the biggest limb off the fence and sawed up. He assessed the limb on the roof and decided he would have to wait for the temperature to warm up since the limb was frozen solid to the ice on the roof.
Jerry sawed up the huge limb and propped up the fence so Madison couldn't get out. He assured me he would come back the next day to fix the fence and deal with the rest of the limbs. After he left Brenda was cleaning and I was lying down, too worked up to sleep but too tired to do much else. All at once there was a noise that sounded like a train was coming through the house. Brenda yelped and I came charging out of the bedroom! The limb on the roof had decided it was time to come down rather than wait around for Jerry to pry it loose. The weight of the limb was enough it had dragged loose from the top layer of ice and came sliding off the roof and crashing down into the back yard directly in front of the back door. How it managed to miss the bird feeder, bird bath, and heat pump I'll never know, but it did. As I stood looking at it, Madison shoved past my legs and jumped onto the back stoop. When he saw the limb with all its attached branches in his path, he screeched to a halt, backed up, and whined! Apparently he needed to go to the back of the yard where the doggy loo is located, but he couldn't figure out how to deal with the obstacle. He looked back at me, as if to say, "Make it go away, Mama!", but I just shrugged and told him if he had to go he was going to have to deal with it. Eventually he figured out how to wend his way through the branches and leap over the main trunk of the limb.

When Jerry came back to pick up Brenda, we showed him the limb. "I'll be back tomorrow to cut it up," he promised, and he was as good as his word. Since I hadn't unpacked my cameras yet, it didn't occur to me to take any pictures of this situation. However, after speaking with Laura the following day, I put a new memory card into my little Kodak and snapped a few pictures.

It had warmed up considerably by Friday, when I took this picture, but you can still see quite a bit of ice. The green plastic fencing holds the leaves and small branches raked up last fall, so I can compost them. To the right you can see bamboo, which sustained no damage that I could see from the ice. There's a lot to be said for being able to bend.







This shows some of the logs from the middle section of the largest limb, the one that took out the fence. Again, you can see the bamboo is upright and undamaged. I love that it stays green all winter. Peeking out at the far right of the picture is a leg of one of my patio chairs, which were stacked at the end of the patio. Somehow the limbs missed them too, or I'd be out buying new patio chairs this spring.
Where the ice and snow have melted it's very slushy, muddy and still treacherous to walk on. I did manage to get to the feeders and put out
sunflower seeds. Within minutes the yard was full of cardinals, sparrows, finches, and later some greedy grackles.


This is the other side of the yard. See what I mean about the heat pump, and also my compost bin and storage shed, which also had a narrow escape. Jerry had already dragged some of the branches around to the front, but said he'd have to wait to load up the rest, since he couldn't get his truck into the dump site because the road was still bad.
The sound of whining chain saws fills the neighborhood today, since I'm not the only one with downed limbs. At least my power was only off for a few hours on Tuesday. There are some folks in the rural areas around here who still are without power. I expect I'm going to have to hire a professional tree trimmer to clean up the fractured stubs and take down a few other large limbs that could come down in the next ice or wind storm. I might not be so lucky next time. As near as I can tell, the roof appears undamaged. The thick layer of ice that was already on it when the limb came down probably saved my new shingles!
About an hour ago my next door neighbor rang my bell to tell me Madison was out of the yard. I checked and found that the limb that broke the fence had jostled the end post attached to the gate, moving it so that the gate latch barely catches. Appparently while barking and lunging at a passing dog or the mailman, Madison pushed the gate open and took advantage of the opportunity for a little walkabout. I scolded him and he was suitably chagrined. He knows he's not supposed to leave the yard unless I'm with him and he's on a leash. I found some wire and implemented a temporary fix on the gate, but there's another job for Jerry.
When I went out front to bring Madison in, I noticed several bright yellow crocuses blooming like crazy near my front patio. It's in the 40's today, and the smell of spring is in the air. That's the way it is in Southern Illinois. We can go from extremely nasty weather to the promise of spring in a couple of days. Chances are, however, winter is not quite done with us. According to the newspaper, local farmers and orchard growers are nervous, worried about premature budding followed by another cold snap. That happened last spring and we lost nearly the entire apple, peach, and blueberry crops, plus some of the early vegetables we look forward to when the Farmer's Market opens on the first Saturday in April.
So that's how it is here in Southern Illinois on February 18.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Shopping" in Antarctica!...and more

(Green=dates, black=comments with pictures, blue=diary entries with additional comments in parentheses)

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8th, 2008

We woke as the ship pulled into Port Lockroy on Wienckne Island at the lower edge of the Gerlache Strait. Off for breakfast and then to a short lecture by one of the scientists from the Port Lockroy British station.



"Rick", the Brit guy from the Port Lockroy station. Funny and friendly. Guess he has to have a sense of humor since he's stuck there with two women for four months at a time.




Then half of us will go ashore to Port Lockroy and the other half to a nearly site, as the number of people who can be at Port Lockroy is limited to 60 at a time. Then we will switch sites.
Went first to Jougla Point--penguins, skuas (rather nasty brown birds who disturb the penguins and eat the eggs and young babies if they can get them), and a lot of extremely treacherous, slippery rocks. I was very careful!


Jougla Point. This is representative of the kind of weather we had nearly the entire trip--some clouds but a lot of sunshine. Our tour staff informed us we were being extremely lucky with the weather and visibility, as sometimes there is heavy fog, preventing many Zodiac landings and making others shorter and with limited visibility. Guess we were livin' right!









Not the best picture in the world, but I wanted to show you that the babies really are as cute as in the movies. The parents are very attentive, but it's funny to watch the little ones chase after them wanting grub. Sometimes they chase their own parents and apparently occasionally they'll take off after any promising looking adult who wanders by.







Then Zodiaced to Port Lockroy and toured the museum and gift shop--last chance for souvenirs! The shop proceeds support the museum, so I bought bookmarks (and other) souvenirs for
friends and joined the "Friends of Antarctica" organization, which supports protection of the environment and wildlife. Also got a free tote bag and a booklet about the station. Took video inside the station, but lighting was dim. (Didn't take any pics with my still camera--very dark inside. The museum is set up like a typical station in the 50's, with all the gear, including canned foods, etc. still set up. Evidently the station's earlier staff wintered over, doing research and monitoring temperature, winds, etc. Now the station is only maintained as the museum and gift shop, but it was very interesting to see how this relatively tiny space was set up and stocked to accomodate several people through the Antarctic year. The staff is due to leave on March 8, which one of the young women in the shop cheerfully informed us is "one week from today!". They will batten down the station for the winter and go out on a cruise ship similar to ours, perhaps even on the Orlova's last tourist cruise. )

Back to the ship and ready for lunch. At 1:30 we entered the Lemaire Channel, a narrow passage between the continent and a series of islands. We saw a leopard seal sunning on an ice floe (unfortunately too far away for a decent picture). Stunning scenery, bright sunshine, rather windy outside on deck 7, chilly--in the 30's-and the wind really bites.




Taken from the bow end of deck 7
as the ship approached the Lemaire Channel, the narrowing opening ahead. The channel is about one mile wide, but with the currents, it's still a very tricky navigation maneuver to get through safely. We were told we wouldn't even know whether or not we'd be able to do it until we approached the area and checked out the wind and swell. Luckily, as you can see, the sea was calm and the captain guided us through very nicely.




Too bad there are so many pictures with bits of my fellow travelers' heads, arms, etc., but it seemed there was always a crowd trying to get "the money shot". That's what I get for being short.

Me again with one side of the Lemaire Channel in the background, and yes it was COLD out there. Under that shocking pink parka was a fleece head covering, a fleece vest, a long sleeved turtleneck knit top, and a long john top, along with the normal "undies"; also two layers of pants. Didn't need the waterproofs since we were not preparing yet for a landing. I also had on two pairs of socks and my feet were still cold. But it was worth it. Don't I look happy?

A little about preparing for landings. First come the under layers: underwear, top and bottom long johns, kneewarmers, a turtleneck, a fleece vest, and fleece pants. Then three pairs of socks, then the waterproof pants, followed by the waterproof boots. Then comes the fleece ear/head wrap, and the parka, which is also waterproof. Then I put on my
life vest, and put on my waterproof backpack with cameras, etc. Finally, I add waterproof gloves and a polar fleece scarf to pull up over my face against the wind, and pull up the hood of the parka. Hopefully after all this I don't have to wait too long to get off the ship, since I heat up pretty fast in all this gear. In addition I had chemical handwarmers, one in each parka pocket, and one in each camera case, both the video and still camera, to keep the batteries warm. I felt like a cross between the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Michelin Tire Man--but I stayed warm most of the time.

Now we're anchoring at Peterman Island and preparing to go ashore. This time we're hoping to see Adelie penguins (named by French explorer Dumont D'Urville after his wife Adelie. I hope she was suitably flattered.)

Saw the Adelies. Had to hike up slippery rocks and then a snowy slope to get to them, but I did it. Got good pictures and video, especially of gentoos belly sliding in the snow. (Gentoos are everywhere on the peninsula, it seems, and live side by side with the other penguin species in relative harmony. )

(This landfall at Peterman Island marked our furthest point south- 65 degrees 14 minutes S. After this we will be cruising northward. In the polar regions each degree of latitude represents 69.4 statute miles. The geographic South Pole is, of course, at 90 degrees S, therefore, we were about 1800 miles north of the South Pole. Since we were also considerably west of the Pole, we were a good little distance away from it. Antarctica is BIG. )

I was almost back to the staging area (where we put on our life vests prior to getting back into the Zodiacs) and lost my footing on the slippery rocks, which actually had algae on them. (It's too cold for algae in most places, but these rocks were wet with fresh water ice melt and the algae took advantage of the short summer to bloom on them.) Down I went in slo-mo, knees, hands, forearms, chest. I was so well padded that nothing was hurt but my dignity! But I decided to return to the ship rather than hike any more.




You may have to enlarge this photo to see the distinguishing mark of the Adelie penguin, the white ring around it's eyes. There were a lot of them, but they were perched high up on the rocks and even zooming in didn't help much.

These rocks are similar to the ones I fell on, except the latter were wet and covered with algae. All things considered I'm glad I didn't get hurt.


Several people were injured during the trip. One woman had five stitches across the bridge of her nose, and another woman had a light concussion. There were a lot of falls like mine, where only a few bruises resulted.

Nice dinner of baked sole, veggies, salad, and chocolate souffle'. Early to bed --9:30 pm.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9th

Our last day ashore. After breakfast my Zodiac group--"Scott"--and one other headed for share for Almirante Brown Station at Paradise Bay. (A note about the Zodiac groups: They divided us into four groups named after Antarctic explorers: Scott, Shackleton, Larsen and Mawson. We left the ship in shifts according to our groups to avoid crowding at the debarkation area. Each time we left the ship and returned we had to sign out and sign in. No way anyone was going to be left ashore on this expedition!)

We woke up the Argentinians at the station (who should have been up anyway since it was nearly 9:30 am! Well, actually, for all I know they could have been up late the night before doing important research. Yeah.) Short hike, since the snow is slippery and my left knee is a little stiff from yesterday's fall.




This is the Argentinian station at Almirante Brown. I guess they're used to having visitors since there were signs here and there that said "Tourists This Way". You can see the first part of the "path" we could take to get further into the island.


There is an interesting story about this station. Part of the original portions were destroyed by fire in 1984, a fire set by a disgrunted Argentinian physician who had been told that because a replacement could not be found, he was going to have to stay another year instead of return home as planned with all the other members of his group. This made him extremely unhappy.
To prevent him from leaving the island, he was locked into the main station builiding, which he promptly set ablaze. Of course he was rescued and sent packing back home to be put in prison, which he apparently preferred rather than spend another winter in Antarctica!

If you look closely in the center you can see some of my fellow travelers, who had far more spunk and audacity than I to climb way up there above the station. I heard the view was magnificent. Good for them. I also heard to get down they slid on their butts most of the way. Again, good for them. I really don't begrudge anyone who can accomplish more than I can. I'm just so proud and happy to be here at all that I'm tickled at whatever I can see and do.





The shot below was taken at Almirante Brown, just above the Zodiac landing site. I say "landing site" advisedly, since there really was no "land" to climb out onto. The Zodiacs pulled up as close as they could to the shore, which consisted of a rocky ledge under about 12 inches of water. Then one at a time we scooted to the front of the raft and lifted our legs over the side to perch on the rocky ledge in the water. Then we had to scramble up some more rocks which were in a VERY rough semblance to steps to get to the level of the station buildings. My knees were complaining about the steep lifts I was asking them to do, but I told them to shut up and just do it. It was nice there was nearly always a helping hand available for a boost or pull up, sometimes from the staff, sometimes from fellow travelers. When I could, I offered my share of assistance to others as well. It was that kind of group, very pleasant to travel with.






You're looking at the "tallest" land
plant life that grows this far south. It is one of a couple of species of moss. The other plant life consists of a few species of algae, one of which caused my "downfall" the day before.







Back to the ship for a quick cup of tea and then re-geared for Zodiac cruise to the face of a glacier.


This is Kara Weller, our Zodiac driver for this trip, who also happened to be the leader of the entire expedition. What a bright, capable young woman she is. She has a B.S. and M.S in wildlife biology and her research experiences range from studying whales in the Bering Sea to mouflon sheep in Eastern Europe. She told us this was her 30th (I think I am remembering that right) trip to Antarctica. It was pretty obvious she had knowledge and competence to spare. And she was really nice in the bargain!



This is the Petzval glacier. There's nothing in this picture to give you an idea of the scale, but the face of the glacier was about 50 meters high in Kara's estimate (as I recall. Anyone who reads these posts and has more accurate information is welcome to add it via the comments. I couldn't find any references to the specific height of the glacier in my books.)









Colorful deposits on the cliffs near the
Petzval glacier in Paradise Harbor. The blue-green is from copper deposits. The emerald green is moss and the orange, lichens. Most of the rock in the entire area is basalt.












Lots of nesting blue-eyed shags seen along the way. We also had seen a minke whale while coming back to the ship from the Argentinian station, which by the way, is also on the continent, our second footfall on the continent's peninsula. Also noted all who went ashore on the continent got a certificate verifying that we have set foot on mainland Antarctica. (Apparently some tourists complain that if they only visit the islands off the peninsula they haven't really been to Antarctica. That's sort of like saying you went to Hawaii or the Florida keys and weren't really in the United States. A matter of opinion. Anyway, I have now been there and done that and have a certificate to prove it.)

The birds on one of the few rocky beaches are blue-eyed shags, who nest in the cliffs of Paradise Bay .The pink coloration is snow algae, which is very abundant in this area.












Back to the Petzval glacier. Astounding and beautiful. Many interesting ice shapes.
No calving seen today, since this one is presently pretty stable except for an ice tongue that sticks out into the bay.

Beautiful ice formations on the "tongue" of the Petzval glacier that juts into the bay. When it does calve, it will likely be some of these tall sections that fall into the sea. It would be dangerous for a Zodiac to be close
when that happens, as it will generate a large wave which could easily swamp the raft.













Lovely icebergs in Paradise Bay. Don't they look as if they are made from styrofoam or dipped up from the local Dairy Queen? Remember, 85% of these chunks of ice are underwater, so chances are our Zodiac was over the submerged ice where we were.






One of the Zodiacs sighted a leopard seal on a floe and we tried to get there but the brash ice slowed us down, so we had to return to the ship, since two more groups are waiting to cruise now. Lunch in 45 minutes and then we'll sail northward to the Melchior Islands, where we hope to have what will be our last Zodiac cruise.

Incredible last Zodiac cruise! Terrific length--at least 10 to 15 minutes--interaction with a leopard seal who "performed" for us and "played" with us. There were 3 rafts. He acted as if he knew we were watching him, enthralled!


This guy was obviously having a good time diving under our rafts, which were bobbing in a U-shaped pattern, coming up on the other sides, then coming up in the middle to "grin" at us. Leopard seals have a bad rep, partially due to the "Happy Feet" movie, but in reality at least half their diet is krill. Plus, Akos, our ornithologist, told us if the leopard seals didn't eat some penguins (as well as the skuas and petrels making some inroads on the penguin populations), the gentoos would take over the world! I can believe that!



We also saw many cormorants, chinstraps, fur seals, and interesting bergs.




These are fur seals, who were hunted in the 19th and early 20th centuries almost to extinction. Since becoming a protected species, however, their numbers have rebounded to very healthy populations. They are the "cutest" of the seals, with cat-like faces, large eyes, and long whiskers. While most seal species are very clumsy and slow on land, fur seals can use their fused back flippers to "walk" on land, and can actually get up a head of speed if they are startled or irritated. They have been known
to chase humans, and if they catch one, can provide the hapless victim with a nasty bite.






These chinstraps are perched on the rocks above Paradise Bay. Note the rusty old chain embedded in the rock. We were told it is a remnant from whaling days, where ships would use it as a second anchor along with their sea anchors to avoid the wind blowing them around against the rocks.















One more amazingly stunning iceberg for you to enjoy. Paradise Bay.
















A friend took this picture out on the deck as we were cruising around between Dallman Bay and the Melchior Islands. It was a beautiful day, not really chilly, as you can see by the fact that I'm almost bareheaded! We were whale watching and did see quite a few humpbacks in groups of two, three, and four. They were too far away for pictures but wonderful to watch. Note the sunglasses, because of the glare from the ice and snow. We were advised to wear them all the time when out on
deck and on shore. We also wore sunscreen, which seems odd, but the sun relecting off the ice and water can give a nasty burn.

Supper tonight was "Russian Night" with the dining room girls dressed in pretty costumes and serving chilled vodka, but no caviar! We had borscht, beef stroganoff, salad , and for dessert something called "Pavlova", a wonderful fruit dessert. Early to bed since I'm exhausted.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10 th

So far this morning we seem to have the "Drake Lake"! Yay! I took a dramamine just in case. After breakfast a wonderful lecture by Victoria (the historian) on Amundsen's and Scott's race to the pole. Coffee break and now a lecture by geologist Roger on "Is Antarctica Getting Warmer?" (answer: Yes. But in the eastern part it's so much colder that it won't make any difference, since very little will melt. Where we are is a different story. In the Weddell Sea, huge sections of ice shelf have broken off due to a rise in temperature of only a few degrees F, and krill, the foundation for nearly all animal life in the Antarctic, may not be able to survive much warmer ocean temperatures.)
Lunch--good soup and salad but the other choices weren't to my liking. Had "banana split"--sort of--for dessert.
This afternoon lecture by Akos on albatross endangerment due to long-line fishing. Wonderful talk, and he also has published a book of Antarctic pictures, proceeds from of which go to the "Save the Albatross" organization. (I ordered a copy which will be mailed to me.) Colin, our shipboard artist, is also having a silent auction tonight of several watercolors he has done this trip--and proceeds go to the same fund. I'm bidding on several of them.

I missed a lecture to take a shower and wash my hair, probably the last chance to do so, unless I grab a quick shower tomorrow night. I'm nearly all packed and I think everything will fit just fine, especially since I gave away to one of the staff a brand new pair of waterproof pants that were way too long for me. Also sent my second and last email this afternoon, since shipboard accounts close after 9 pm tonight.

Movie tonight is "March of the Penguins". I've seen it but would enjoy it again from a different perspective, providing I can stay awake.

Supper tonight, mushroom raviolli, salad, pumpkin soup, and for dessert a thing called "nut-something" that had no nuts in it, but was a small dumpling with fruit and carmel sance and was very good.

I have managed to stay awake for the movie and enjoyed it--again--very much. Back to cabin and to bed at 10:30. First time Ellie has beat me to bed.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11

Woke up at 7:30 to Kara's PA greeting. Much more ship motion now but I'm fine with it. To breakfast and then off for a lecture on "Hot Subtropical Antarctica". I can't imagine what that will be. I had to swap tops after breakfast, as the heavy sweater I had on was too warm. Luckily I have some clean clothes and am now wearing the polo shirt I bought at Port Lockroy.

I should add I was successful in bidding on 3 of Colin's watercolors last night. I will enjoy having them framed and hung at home. They'll make a nice arrangement.

The lecture turned out to be about geology and the formation of Antarctica. Very interesting. Lunch was good, as usual. Skipped a lecture on the Antarctic Treaty System to finish packing and relax a bit. Got our recap info this afternoon and our debarkation info. It's sad, but I'm anxious to get home. Supper tonight very nice--red snapper, salad, wine, oxtail soup, and "baked Antarctica", complete with sparklers and a march around the dining room! Very yummy.

We're packed and ready for bed.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12 th

Up at 6 am. Suitcases outside the door and off to breakfast. Disembarked to Ushuaia about 8:15 am. Transported by bus with our luggage to Restaurante Nautica, where our bags will be stored until we are ready to go to the airport.

Walked around Ushuaia, ate lunch, and did some more shopping. Got a rhodocrocite (pink
stone mined in Argentina) ring and two little penguins for me and an armadillo for Kim, plus a tee shirt so I can change clothes tomorrow morning if I want to.

At the Ushuaia airport utter chaos--which we now recognize as typical of Aerolineas Argentinas. All outbound flights are delayed. Mine was supposed to leave at 2:04 pm and is now scheduled to leave at 2:30 pm???? We'll see..Flight did leave around 2:30.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 13th

Managed to sleep for almost 6 hours on this flight (from Buenos Aires to Chicago). No one in the seat next to me, so I could lift the arm rest and stretch out to some extent. In the Buenos
Aires airport, trying to use up my left over pesos, I bought a neck rest pillow, which proved to be an excellent investment. (I managed to spend down my pesos until I have left 3 pesos and a few small coins totaling about US $1.10. Not bad, and make good, cheap souvenirs.)
It's now 6 am Buenos Aires time, and we're 8 and a half hours into a 10 and a half hour flight, so at this point we're probably flying over the southern USA. At least home is underfoot somewhere. We're due into chicago at 6 am local time, so about 2 more hours or so. I'm awake now, so I guess I'll read a while.


Here ends my travel diary of the trip to Antarctica. I hope you have enjoyed these blog posts. If you have questions, email me or ask in the comments.









Saturday, February 16, 2008

LAND HO!

(Just a reminder: green text is date, black is comments with pictures, and blue is diary text with additional comments in parentheses)

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6th, 2008

Up at 5:30 am trying not to wake Ellie. Land ho! Ice and snow with rocks peeking through. Went for coffee at 6 and heard we spotted our first iceberg at 9:40 pm last night. (There was a contest going on with many of us writing down a guess as to the time we would sight our first "real" iceberg--had to be the size of the ship to count. A young woman won the prize--a bottle of champagne--by guessing it right on the nose.) We are headed for the Aitcho Islands, where we will anchor offshore and take Zodiac rafts to land Can't wait!...

First Shore Excursion! Excellent! Not too bad down and up the gangway. I stayed dry and fairly warm except for my feet, which got a little cold after an hour. I was ashore for about an hour and a half. Saw lots of gentoo and chinstrap penguins, also petrels, skuas, and sheathbills (the last three all birds). The chinstraps are brave and come closest, one came about 3 feet away from me. I spent a lot of time sitting, but no babies came to me. (One guy had several of them climbing all over him. I accused him of using fish-scented aftershave.)




Penguin in center right foreground is a "gentle gentoo", most of whom were pretty much sitting around molting (the adults). You can id gentoos by the white slash above their eyes. The guy on his right is a chinstrap, identifiable by the black line which stretches from "ear to ear" under their chins, hence the name. The chinnies were very busy, hustling back and forth from the ocean. In this picture you can probaby tell the gentoo is "parked" and the chinny is on the march!





This is a typical nest, abandoned now that the chicks are all hatched and about half grown. The only nesting materials available are pebbles, so that's what they use. (Remember in the movie "Happy Feet" where the penguin guru had a huge mountain of pebbles? "Good" pebbles are apparently the equivalent of penguin wealth, and they will sometimes swipe pebbles from other nests. The chinnies are particularly adept pebble thieves, we were told.) The "pretty" star shaped pattern around the nest is penguin guano. While nesting, they simply rise up and squirt, making this characteristic pattern. Penguin guano is extremely smelly, and we could smell the island well before we landed on it. After a few minutes our noses became accustomed. However, all the outer clothes I wore had to be carefully packed separately to keep all my luggage from smelling like a penguin rookery.

This is a pretty good shot of the Zodiacs, taken from Aitcho. The floating ice in the foreground is called "brash ice". The ice is given different names, based on size, shape, and location. Pieces bigger than this, about the size of a car (there are a few in the background), are called "growlers". The next largest size, but not huge, are called "bergie bits", and the truly large ones are icebergs. Only about 15% of the ice is above the water, so even the growlers can be treacherous. I read that hitting a growler is what caused the damage to the cruise ship that sank in this area in Nov.

If I were more adept at this blog stuff I would upload a map of Antarctica for reference. But if you've got a globe or world map, you can see that Antarctica is shaped somewhat like a mushroom tilted a little to the right or east, with the peninsula coming off to the upper left, or west side. Off the northern and western edge of the peninsula are a number of small islands, including the Aticho Islands, which are technically part of the South Shetland Islands. There are so many of these that many don't have individual names. The continent itself is huge, larger than the continental US, and contains about 80% of the earth's fresh water in the form of ice, some of which is many thousands of years old. Part of the interior of the continent lies below sea level and is covered by ice up to over a mile thick.

I didn't risk the trek (up an icy ridge and down the other side to the beach on the other side of the island) to see the elephant seals--steep and icy--discretion is the better part of valor. Don't want to fall first day ashore.

Back aboard, hungry and thirsty. Hot tea tastes great. Lunch isn't for 2 more hours. I may need some raisins.

10:30 am I sent an email to the Fab 4 (my great, good friends), Patrick (my nephew) and Judy and Stan (my buddies from church)--hope it gets through. (We had to set up individual email accounts and were charged so much per message based on the length. Very reasonable.)

Lunch was prawns, salad, veggies, and blueberry crepe. At about 1:30 pm they announced the visabilty conditions were extraordinary, enabling us to see the Antarctic continent, some 100 nautical miles away to the east, (which, if my math is correct, is about 115 statute miles), across the Bransfield Strait. We are sailing past Greenwich Island and the Livingston Islands on our way to Deception Island and our second shore trip. I geared up and went out and the view was spectacular. Some 115 miles distant are the mountains of the mainland!

Another briefing due at 2:30 pm. Passed through "Neptune's Belows", the narrow gap at the opening to the caldera of Deception Island, a volcano last active in 1970, and also one of the South Shetland Islands. Got all geared up for the shore trip, but there was a delay of over half an hour (due to problems with the cranes lowering the Zodiacs). I got hot and tired and my back was aching, so I decided to chuck this one for a nap. No wild life here, just barren volcanic ash, and, of course, the "Polar Plunge", which I had already decided not to do after hearing in the briefing that the water is NOT warm. Ellie did go in and verified the water was COLD!

Had a lovely nap and a shower and washed my hair and ready for dinner at 7:30 pm. Some sort of beef dish, very good, salad, soup, and blueberries over ice cream.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7th

"Slept in" until 7:30 am and did not go on the 5:30 am shore excursion. Two more today will be enough.

12 Noon: Just back from Danco Island. Gentoos, sheathbills, some petrels, and gorgeous scenery, especially icebergs. Zodiac trip took a short tour around icebergs and we saw a Weddell seal, sunning himself on an ice floe. Got several good pics of him.

Me on Danco Island, sitting on part of the remains of an old station, Argentinian I think. (They had to close several of their stations due to financial problems in their economy.) Note the whale vertebrae. Many of the islands are littered with whalebones from the days when whaling processing was done on shore before the factory ships became common.









This is an Antarctic sheathbill, the only land-based bird in the Antarctic. (Note the feet are not webbed.) Penguins and the other bird species here only come ashore to breed and nest, and spend the remainder of their lives at sea or in the air.

Sheathbills look like large white pigeons. The part of the face around the bill has no feathers, since it has to be washed often due to their rather nasty eating habits. They are scavengers, and forage through penguin guano seeking undigested bits of krill, etc. They also follow the adult penguins around as they feed their chicks, hoping for a bit of dropped partially digested food that the adult penguins regurgitate for their young. They will also feed on dead birds and animals, sort of like vultures. No wonder they have to wash their faces often.



This little guy walked within a couple of feet of me. It's an adult gentoo. We saw gentoos on nearly every landing, as their numbers are high and growing, primarily because the krill population thrives because of the drastic reduction in the number of baleen whales to eat it. Nice for the penguins. Not nice for the whales.

Harvest of krill for human consumption is becoming more common. The more of us there are on earth, the less of everything else there will be. Will we someday have to resort to eating one another? (Shades of "Soylent Green"!)


This is the Weddell seal, sunning himself. They are named after James Weddell, a British whaler who was first to explore some of these waters. The Weddell Sea, on the west side of the peninsula and northwest edge of the continent, is also named for him. The seal was pretty unconcerned as we cruised by, but eventually got enough of us and slipped off into the sea.







The Orlova is 90 meters in length, not quite the length of a football field, so you can get some idea of the grandeur of the scenery.

In this picture, taken from Danco Island, she is anchored between an island and an iceberg, and not as close to either as it looks. Distances are deceiving here, because the air is crystal clear, which is why we could see the mainland from over 100 miles away. Because it never got fully dark at night, we could not see a starry night sky, which I'm sure would be spectacular, with the colorful southern lights and blazing stars. Alas, this occurs only in winter, when conditions are not favorable for tourists. In winter the area where we are crusing now will be solid pack ice.

The berg on the right is just one example of the colorful designs Mother Nature creates as the ice slithers down a glacier or partially melts in the seawater until it rolls over. The guides knew all the characteristic signs and could tell which markings were from ground slide, and which occured as the berg eroded under water until it flipped over, and so on. As I recall, the ridges on this one are from water running down as the ice melted over time. Because of the variations, it appears this berg has flipped over at least once, accounting for the differences in texture. Some of the bergs look like they are made from styrofoam; others look like they were scooped up from a Dairy Queen. No two looked alike, and the shapes are more beautiful and amazing than any human sculptor could form.


Another example of a beautiful berg. The various shades of blue occur because of the pressure of the ice when it's still in the glacier. The pressure is so great that it forces the ice to compress until the only part of the color spectrum from which light can escape to be visible is the blue end. This results in amazing colors ranging from deep to light blue. The irregular shape of this berg also suggests it has rolled over at least once. Remember, only 15% of the berg is above water. The enormous flat topped bergs are called "tabular icebergs", and some of them are several miles in length.


After lunch we landed at Neko Harbour and actually set foot on the Antarctic continent for the first time. I was awestruck. There just aren't words to describe this. Penguins again, gentoos again, and lots of friendly young ones. Also skuas and a Weddell seal stretched out for a nap. I heard the nearby glacier calving but didn't see it because it was hidden from my view by the Argentinian rescue shelter nearby. Took lots of penguin photos and video and then back to the Zodiac and off in search of a humpback whale which had been sighted from the ship earlier. We found him! He put on a show for 30 mintues. It was snowing and we were all cold but no one wanted to leave. Gorgeous icebergs and mountains, rapidly being obscured by the falling snow.

This was taken ashore on the continent at Neko Harbour. If you look closely you can see the young penguins, many of whom are lying down asleep. Their main "job" at this point is to eat and grow so they can fledge fully feathered to the sea before winter sets in. The adults are molting, as I mentioned, and don't eat or move around much during this time. We were cautioned not to disturb the molting adults, since this is a stressful time for them anyway. Sometimes it was difficult to maintain the "15 foot rule", trying not to come within 15 feet of the wildlife. More often than not there were so many and they were so spread out it was hard to move around without walking closer than 15 feet. If we had to do so, we moved very slowly and made no sudden movements to disturb them. Note the pinish tinge on the snowy slope above. This is from an algae that grows on the snow. One of my fellow travelers argued with me that it was penguin guano, but one of the tour staff verified it was algae. So there!








This is another lucky guy with chicks in his lap, fluffy penguin chicks, that is. I hope you can see them. He's in the exact center of the picture, sitting down, and babies are in front of him and actually in his lap! He was grinning like a fool and I don't blame him a bit! You can see lots more babies in the background on the left.







Bergs, particulary bergie bits and growlers, often are stranded ashore with the tide. Then as they slowly melt, they form wondrous shapes, such as this one.









Here's the humpback we found on the Zodiac cruise. (The dark spot in the center of the picture.) I have several shots of just a bit of whale showing but I chose to post this one which includes the distant Zodiac and the tip of ours to give you an idea of his size and how close he was to us. It was really hard to catch most of his activity with a still camera, but I got a lot of really neat video of his movements, surfacing to blow, doing shallow dives showing his hump, as in this shot, and even some showing of his beautiful fluke. Whales' flukes are like fingerprints in humans, no two alike, so careful photographs and descriptions help scientists track their movements. Humpbacks are known for being curious and "friendly" toward ships and rafts. He was large enough to easily topple all of us into the frigid ocean, but we felt no fear of him, only palpable excitement because of his presence. From his behavior it was pretty obvious he knew we were there and he moved leisurely back and forth between the three Zodiacs near him. It was as if he wanted to give all of us equal opportunities to see him and take his picture! (I refer to the whale as "he", but in truth whales are very difficult to sex, since you have to see their bellies and look for specific rather small orifices, clearly not an easy thing to do in the open sea.)


This is a shot of something we saw often. These are penguins at sea, "porpoising", a swimming behavior where they rapidly move through the water, alternately surfacing and doing shallow dives in groups. They could have been feeding on krill, but our Zodiac driver said it was more likely they were just "playing". Seeing them move about on land with their endearing, clumsy waddles is very different from watching them in the water, where they are graceful to the max. Through evolution they have adapted their wings, bodies and feet so that they do indeed "fly", they just do it in a different medium, water instead of air.


Another beautiful berg. I don't think it's readily apparent from this picture that by this time it was snowing fairly heavily, the only day that it snowed on us during the trip. This area routinely receives less than two inches of precipitation annually, so we were actually lucky to see some of it.










Returned to ship finally for a quick recap and briefing for tomorrow's activities. Then a special supper: a BBQ on the deck! In the snow! We bundled up and had soup, huge pretzels, beef, lamb, sausage, chicken, salads, green beans, corn on the cob, beer, wine and cookies or baked apple for dessert. I had the baked apple with vanilla sauce and it was all very good. The snow was still coming down hard and I noticed beautiful flakes landing on my dark pink parka. I took off my bright red muffler and laid it out on the table, and several of us ooh'd and aah'd over the snowflakes as they landed on the red fleece, each one a momentary jewel and thing of beauty. A wonderful memory.

They are showing "Happy Feet" tonight, but since I've seen it I'm going to get ready for bed and read.

Enough for today. Next post: Port Lockroy and the only "souvenir shop" on the Peninsula!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggity jig! What a trip!

Hello Everyone! It's good to be home but what a fantastic trip it was! Best I've ever taken in every aspect, including ship, food, scenery, tour staff, and excursions. I'm going to try to give you as much info as I can, but not overwhelm you. I kept a diary on the trip, so it will be the basis for the next few posts. Since it takes a while for pictures to load, I will break up the "travel log" into several posts, probably over the next few days, unless I get up a head of steam today. Green text is dates; black is picture ID and blue is from the diary. (Blue in parentheses is additional explanation where indicated.) Enough of that. Here we go:

THURSDAY, JANUARY 31 st and FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1st, 2008 (since they sort of blurred together.)

Took BART (Bootheel Area Regional Transport) to St. Louis, leaving at 10:15 am. About halfway there it began to snow. Flight was delayed 40 minutes for "de-iceing". Arrived in Miami safe and sound. Departed Miami at 8:30 pm EST for Buenos Aires. Nice flight, quiet, but I only grabbed about 1 to 2 hours sleep. Arrived in Buenos Aires around 9 am on 2/1. Quickly cleared customs and got a taxi to the Hotel Colon. After checking in I called our room and Ellie Gates, my future cabin mate, came down to meet me. We went for a light breakfast and then some walking, exploring downtown. Temperature in mid-80's and sunny.


This is a well known landmark in the city, a beautiful obelisk that was only a few blocks from our hotel.


















On the right is a typical street scene with lots of small shops and cafes.

No cars on this street, since it's a pedestrian walkway, but on the streets where there is traffic, one has to be careful not to become "roadkill". It seems the red lights are only "suggestions" to stop.











Recognize this building? It's the location of many public appearances by Argentina's most famous (? infamous) presidential couple, Eva and Juan Peron. It was also the site where scenes from the film, "Evita" were shot, with Madonna standing on the center balcony.




Buenos Aires has many small parks and plazas with lots of refreshing green space. You know you're in a different place when you see parakeets pecking around on the ground like sparrows! (Look closely--they're the little green guys.)








After about 1 pm I was too tired to continue, so I caught a cab back to the hotel for a much needed shower and nap.
At 8:15 pm a van picked us up to go to "El Querandi", the Tango Restaurant/Theater. Fabulous meal and show. I had a yummy potato-based appetizer, excellent spinach crepe, and fruit with ice cream. Ellie and I shared a bottle of Chardonnay and there was a complimentary glass of champagne--all this for about the equivalent of U.S. $80 a piece. I hadn't brought my camera along, since I figured they probably wouldn't allow pictures--wrong! Ellie took some and will send them to me, but take my word for it, the dancers were great!

Back to the hotel after midnight and a short sleep to catch our early flight to Ushuaia.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2nd

Up VERY early (4 am) for our 4 hour flight to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, locally known as "el fin del mondo" (the end of the world). Nice room in the Hotel Albatross. Lunch in hotel restaurant and then out to walk around the waterfront area.


This picture was taken from Ushuaia's dock area. I believe the largest vessel is a Princess
Line cruise ship, either coming or going to/from Antarctica. The large ships cruise the peninsular
area but due to size cannot reach many of the areas where we will go, nor can they offload passengers in any of the Antarctic region.

The mountains in the background are the southern tips of the Andes. Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago off the tip of South America, is split between Chile and Argentina. The eastern or Argentinian section is part of the region of Argentina currently known as Patagonia.



This picture taken from the dock looking back toward part of the town. Ushuaia is currently a bustling little city of 65,000 and growing rapidly. Because there is work here in the tourist and electronics industries, people come from outlying areas seeking work and a better life. The temperature was in the high 50's and windy. It didn't rain while we were here--highly unusual, since it normally rains virtually every day in the summer, which of course it currently in southern hemisphere.


Ellie and I had a nice dinner in a local restaurant (trout, potoato and salad) and walked back to hotel. Finally--a good night's sleep!

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3 rd
Breakfast at 8:30 am (buffet style) and off on a motor coach to tour Tierra del Fuego National Park. Lots of rabbits! Beautiful views of river, lake and the Beagle Channel Bay and Mt. Condor.









Left: Bay, Part of the Beagle Channel







Below: Mt. Condor



Back on motor coach and heading for lunch, which is to be a "typical" Argentinian BBQ--lots of lamb, chicken, and sausage, and salad and dessert. Back to Ushuaia for a little shopping and then on board our ship, "Lyubov Orlova" (named after a famous Russian actress). Nice roomy cabin. considering the size of the ship.


I'm jumping ahead with this photo, taken from one of the Zodiac rafts, but it gives you some idea of the size of the ship. Of course, the Antarctic mountains in the background dwarf everything.



My side of the cabin. Some of my outdoor gear laid out ready to don. Technically the cabins can hold four (note the upper bunk bed which can fold down above mine), but that would really be cramped. I'm glad they put comfort over the extra dollars of having more passengers per trip. The bright light at top right is coming from our porthole. Since Ellie often works at night (she's an astronomer) and is used to sleeping during the daytime, we had some minor disagreement as to whether or not the porthole cover should be shut at night, since it never got completely dark after we reached Antarctic waters. It turned out I was tired enough to sleep under a spotlight, so it didn't really matter. Since we were on the 4th deck, not far above the water level, we couldn't open the porthole to the air or we'd get splashed. The in-ceiling ventilation fan/heater control was somewhat difficult to adjust, so the room tended to be stuffy. We often left our door open while we were in the cabin.


Our miniature bathroom At least if we lose our balance we have something close to grab--since everything is close!

Shortly after boarding we attended a meeting to meet the staff and get a briefing, then lifeboat drill. Believe me, I paid close attention this time! (A passenger cruise ship hit a small iceberg and sank in Antarctic last November--all aboard were rescued but lost all their luggage, etc.)

We are late leaving port due to heavy wind. (Should have left at 6 pm or so.) Dinner at 8--back to the cabin and bed at 11.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4th

Finally we are at sea! I woke in the night to the movememt of the ship. Woke again at 5:30 or so when the medicine cabinet door was banging. I got up and secured it and returned to bed but couldn't get back to sleep. We are both awake. Ellie isn't feeling well. I'm a little shakey but otherwise OK. A lot of ship motion here in the Drake Passage, (an area known as some of the roughest water in the world.) I estimated 12 foot swells, and later over the PA was announced 5 meter (15 foot) swells, so I wasn't too far off.

Went for coffee at 7:30 and then breakfast at 8. I took Ellie a cracker, but she won't eat. She did manage to make it to the dining room later for some tea. It appears about a third of us are "missing in action" due to seasickness.

9:15 am Lecture on "Birds"--very interesting. Hope I can remember it when I see them. Then went to get my credit card imprinted for use on the ship. Feeling a little woozy, so took a dramamine and drank some ginger tea.

11:00 am Lecture on Antarctica, general info and some history. Very good but I already knew a lot of that from my reading. The forward lounge where we have our meetings is very warm, and I was feeling more queasy and very sleepy. Back to the cabin for a nap--slept through lunch, but had some raisins and Ellie's cracker, which she didn't eat. Awake at 2 pm and feeling much better. Probably just needed rest. Did some video filming in the room and then geared up to go out on deck. The sea is a little calmer than earlier, and I feel great now. Saw several wandering albatross, storm petrels, and what I think was a sooty albatross. Back to lounge at 3 for lecture on "Whales and Dolphins". Then "tea" at 4 pm in the dining room, with tea and coffee and a lovely selection of pastries.
5 pm Lecture on the geological history of Antarctica, extremely interesting.
8 pm Nice dinner--Chinese BBQ pork, veggies, salad and excellent bread. Another recap and briefing (ship's position, weather, etc.) and a film, the first part of the National Geographic video, "Antarctica". To bed by 11.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5th

Up at 7 and had a very careful shower. Much less severe ship motion this morning. Overcast sky. Noticeably cooler outside, about 40 degrees F. and a chilly wind. Out for coffee, then breakfast. Lecture this morning on "Penguins". Came back to cabin and napped for an hour. Lunch at 12:30--turkey enchilada, mushroom soup, and semolina with pistachio pudding (which tastes way better than it sounds.)

A note about the meals: at all meals the tableclothes are wet to reduce sliding of plates, etc.
(Notice I said reduce, not prevent.) Glasses and cups are in a wooden holder at the center of the table. Tables seat 6 and we are encouraged to eat with different people to get to know one another. There are 110 passengers, and we are a very polyglot group, with Americans, British, South Africans, French, Swiss, Germans, Slovenians, at least one Canadian, and some others. Most of the dining room staff are young Russian women. (Most of the ship's crew is Russian, including the captain.) Some of the diningroom supervisors are Americans, however, including one who is engaged to our tour staff's ornithologist, Akos (a young Russian). They are a cute couple and very sweet together. (More about Akos later.)


Some views in the dining room. Breakfast was always buffet style, except hot drinks were brought to our table. Other meals were partially buffet (salad and breads) and the rest sit down and order from menu. For lunch and dinner we had three choices of entrees: a fish, a meat, and a vegetarian dish. All the meals were excellent, equal to those I've had on any other cruise ship. The soups were especially good, and many of the desserts were made on board the ship by the pastry chef--all were excellent, which I can verify since I had them all, more's the pity for my waistline. Good thing we were burning a lot of calories just trying to stay upright!



As you can probably see from the photo, many of the folks on board were in my general age group (ahem, upper middle age). There were several I would call downright old, including one fairly elderly and somewhat frail lady who as far as I know never got off the ship during the cruise. She fell as we were going through the Drake Passage, and was having trouble moving around, so didn't feel she should chance a landing. Probably a wise choice. I hope she was able to see a lot from the ship's decks. She seemed to be enjoying herself.


I saw a whale spout during breakfast, and I think I'll go out to see if I can spot some more, as it's very stuffy in our cabin...saw no whales but did see more birds. Then took another nap. (Skipped the lecture on digital photography, figuring I'll just wing it.) This time I didn't sleep through lunch, but I ate lightly. Seas somewhat rough again but dramamine working. Nevertheless, I don't want to push it.
Lecture on seals after lunch.
I forgot to note after breakfast this am there was a lecture on whales. Very interesting. Spent some more time out on deck after lunch and this time did see some small whales. Couldn't tell what kind from the distance. Also more birds.

"Tea" again at 4. How can I resist?
Later this pm lecture on Zodiac raft landings, the first of which is planned for early am tomorrow!

Supper: French onion soup, nice fish and veggies and plum-something for dessert

(This post has taken over two hours to set up , so tune in later. Next post, "Land Ho!")