10 Day Expedition to Antarctica


“You can’t miss Antarctica!” said Fred, while discussing my “Around the World” plans, just less than a year ago. “That way you will hit all of the seven continents.”


Fred you are a genius! I will do just that, I went home researched the trip, and it didn’t take much to sell the idea to Iza. We booked the lower class price tag of $4,300, on the bottom level “D” deck, without windows and with a shared bathroom. All of our travels in North-Central and South America depended on the November 13th date, from north to south all the way down south.


The day came quicker than we expected, excited with adrenaline rushing we got ready to board the ship. We talked about it, we dreamed about it and now we are finally doing it!

When we arrive to the boarding area, we got escorted by a lovely lady who took us to our cabin. Confusion set in when we started to walk up the stairs, instead of down towards the level “D” deck.

“Agnieszka Czerska and Izabela Kobylarz, welcome aboard, this is your cabin for the next 10 days” she said smiling and closed the door.

“DUDE!!!! What?! I am pretty sure we’ve paid for the bottom “D” deck, without windows, bunk beds and shared bathroom.”

Instead we were sitting confused in a cabin with two twin beds, huge window, and a private bathroom with a blow-dryer. A blow-dryer, yes you read it right, a freaking blow dryer we have not used one in 9 months. Alleluia! So we sat there on our fancy beds, for a good 30 minutes waiting for them to realize that we were in the wrong cabin.

Since no one came we unpacked, and happily laughed about the situation. “This is the happiest day of my life, now all we need is Brian and Ryan and we are set” Iza said with a smile.

Aha yes, let me introduce you to our imaginary Brian and Ryan from New Jersey, who we are going to meet preferably on this voyage. Ryan is a fit handsome guy with curly hair, who will arrive on a brown horse, and sweep Iza away. Brian, with his flowing wavy hair and white linen shirt will appear on his unicorn and take Aga away.

Why from New Jersey? Because it´s funny!

Shortly after we unpacked, we heard an announcement on the speaker to join everybody for a welcome toast by the main bar. Great, lets go have a drink! We sat down next to a younger crowd, immediately got approached by a guy who introduced himself and the rest. Paul was his name, and he was from Australia.

“Thank god there are some backpackers, we are not alone”

We toast and mingled, eventually I started talking to a guy who was sitting next to me, after a short conversation he introduced himself “So, my name is Brian, what is yours?” Hi Bria… Brian? Your name is what?? Brian? I laughed and said “Nice to meet you.” I looked at Iza and I just burst out laughing, we couldn’t compose ourselves. Didn’t we just finished talking about this.

Hilarious!

“Half done, all we need is Ryan now” she said.

Next day. “This is the worst day of my life!” I said while feeling dizzy from sea sickness. We are passing through the Drake Passage, one of the most dangerous waters in the world. During the winter, storms can happen every other day while in the summer less frequent once a week. Some can get really crazy, where the waves might reach 25 meters height. Ushuaia the ship has experience them on their very first voyage to Antarctica. Average waves are about 5 meters height, I would say that on our Drake Passage to Antarctica we had about 5 meter waves, quite normal but even then everything was swaying.

So we have 2.5 days crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica, 4 days exploring Antarctica and 3 days coming back to Ushuaia.

If we were not puking, and had some energy the crew was really good at keeping us busy with educational workshops, where we learned about the different type of penguins, birds, ice and our motherly ozone layer. For example as you might already know there is a huge hole in the ozone layer, mainly over Antarctica, which adds to the melting ice and wild life changes. The Adelie penguins are moving to cooler places as they are the true Antarctic water lovers, and they love the cold.

In the evening, while the boat continued to sway, some of the more brave ones chilled in the lounge area and sipped on Seman Extra, minty vodka that Travis brought at the duty free, the cheapest one with the name that kept the conversation going. ”You want some more Seman? How much? Which cup? ” and it kept on going “Do you like the way it tastes? A bit minty, no?” ha ha ha… these guys were funny. Iza decided to stay in the room and slowly kill herself with motion sickness.

That night was definitely a night Brian, Ashley and I won’t forget as Ashley, the Canadian, came back from the bathroom with blood gushing out of her thumb. She was white, pale white. The fireproof bathroom door swung hard and smashed her thumb; it was the killer Drake Passage that made it even more powerful. Brian the ballsy one was exposed to our naked Russian Doc who he had to wake up. My motherly instinct hit in and I went with Ashley, and kept her mind of the gushing blood while he stitched the baby up. I killed the pain, I like to think, but she was buzzed so, so note to self no buzzing while the boat is swinging side to side. I need my fingers.

During the day we chilled on the outside decks observing flying things like the Wandering Albatross, the world’s biggest albatross. It’s also the bird with the biggest wingspan of any living bird. Measured from tip to tip, its wings can reach up to 3.5 meters across (11.5 feet)! They can glide for several hours without moving their wings. And my favorite, they can spend weeks at a time over the open seas without ever reaching land.1 “Some biologists believe that they have the capability of sleeping with one side of the brain while the other still functions” said Susan, the on board biologist. And I say, only if humans would have that power, I can only imagine how much more shit China would produce. MORE crocks, anybody?

After finally arriving into the Aitcho Island, we got a kick of energy when the ship stopped waving and we entered into calmer waters. Shortly after we heard the speaker announcement informing us that the weather is perfect and we will make our first landing on Aitcho Island, an island occupied by colonies of Gentoo penguins.

“YES!! Finally we are going to step our foot on land. We have been waiting for this impatiently!”

The afternoon’s dimmed sunlight gave an amazing view of the Gentoo penguins and their habitats. We saw, hundredths of penguin colonies living life, looking for love, mating and creating nests. They did not care or even noticed that 65 or so humans just landed on their territory. Since they don’t have any land predators they are not afraid. If anything they are more concerned that another penguin might steal their rock from the nest. In water is where they are more alert, since they are more likely to be attacked. But with their camouflage design, bellies white so no predator will see them from underneath and black backs so no predators will notice from above they are smart, cute, and funny looking.

“I can´t believe that we are actually here.”

Antarctica was not always at the South-est tip of the earth, scientist believe that it was once part of Gondwanaland, adjacent to what is now known as Asia, Africa and Australia, it broke off and it took around 180 million years to migrate to its current position. The climate was not always cold as scientist have discovered dinosaur remains and believe that in fact the climate was tropical.

It’s a bit of a different story now days, as Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest continent on earth, during winter the temperatures can reach up to -80C (-112F). That my friends, is freaking cold, perfect condition to store your beers before the game, or kill off all the blood sucking bed bugs.

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica


Day 1 out of 4, exploring Antarctica.

“Good morning “Antarcticans”, the weather is sweet 2.6C, zero wind, perfect day for our first zodiac cruise around the Foyn Harbour. Breakfast will be served at 7:30 and we will begin boarding at 9:00″ we woke up to Agustin, our guide singing with happiness.

He wasn’t kidding when he said beautiful morning. It was magical. Crisp reflection of the Antarctic waters with mountains and icebergs on the horizon. Early morning’s light made it perfect for surreal shots, probably some of my favorites. We hopped on to the zodiacs and cruised around a world of icebergs covered with snow and icicles. The sun´s rays helped the crystal deep navy water to shine and allowed us to see the massive iceberg´s root. What we see on the outside is usually only quarter of it, most of it is under water. Does Titanic ring a bell?? They crashed into the lonely floating iceberg, which made a great movie out of it!

We were really luckily with the weather; apparently the crew has not seen weather like this in few years. It is rare that you will have, sun, zero wind and comfortable temperatures in Antarctica. It was amazing, 8 people on the zodiac with Agustin, a head guide who was super patient if we wanted to take a picture.

Additional to the amazing cruise through the icebergs, we also passed by a wreck, which was once used as a ship and factory for whales. In the early 1900´s Antarctica was very popular for whales, Elephant and Arctic Fur seals. They caught thousands of whales and Fur seals, to make oil and other things out of them. China learned how to plug the Fur seal´s hair as it was high valued. Thousands of innocent animals were slathered, today only 5% of the whale population remains in the Antarctic waters. As a result of the busy times in the 1900´s lots of wrecks and sunken ships can be found, the one we saw houses many Arctic Terns. When protecting their nest they will get wild and can bomb-dive you.

Second expedition of the day we landed on Brown Station, a burned down Argentinian station which is partially renovated and occupied by the Gentoo penguins. Just few hours later and the weather was totally different, rain, snow and cold wind. I couldn’t feel my toes, Iza looked like her face partially froze, but it was an amazing sight, to see penguins again, occupying human houses. It is mating season, so we also saw lots of penguin action, left and right they were getting it on. “How can you tell if it’s a female penguin? asked Agustin. “Female penguins have little foot prints on their back” ha ha ha ha hilarious!

The day ended with a nice dinner, where everybody continued to get to know each other. Our table seemed to start forming with the regular crowd. Romina, the girl from Switzerland, Ashley the Canadian, Brian, Mat and Mark from UK, Travis, Chris, Paul and Mr. B (Beauden) from Australia. We call Beauden Mr. B as we had a really hard time remembering his name. Mainly backpackers, that booked their voyage at last minute price. Hence, why we are on the upper class cabins, apparently not all were sold, so first come first served. We were staying in a cabin that probably in a high season costs twice as much.

A bit of advice to my friends who are planning to go to Antarctica, get to Ushuaia at the beginning or end of the summer season and you will find last minute deals to Antarctica for much cheaper. When we arrived to Ushuaia we saw several last minute options displaying everywhere, 10 day voyages for $3,500.

At dinner, we cracked about almost everything; laughs kept overtaking the entire dining area. My favorite is when we joked about an Argentinian guy, who was on the ship and kept trying to hook up with every girl. He tried with Iza, Ashley, Romina and me, plus all other chicks on the ship. We called him Mr. Bumbastic!

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica

From Antarctica



Day 2 out of 4, exploring Antarctica.

Before we got ready to board the zodiac heading to Vernadsky station, a Ukrainian station that researches mainly the ozone layer, we jumped into our daily routine of getting ready. First we got dressed like an onion, two pair of pants, under shirt, shirt, fleece, five pair of socks, jacket, plus a waterproof jacket, hat, gloves, rubber boots, life jackets, and backpack. Right before we left the ship we soaked our rubber boots in solution, it is very important not to bring any foreign soil into Antarctica and vs. only then we were ready to head to the station.

The weather conditions were terrible, snowing, raining, windy dark, and cold, just like I imagined Antarctica to be, but perfect time to visit the Ukrainian station. They gave us a tour of the station and then brought us to their bar. We all had a shot of the Ukrainian vodka, talked a bit, and returned to the ship.

Ahhh, vodka it was good to drink you again. It’s been a while as we mainly drink what is local on our travels, rum, rum and more rum. “This is the South-est point on earth that I have a drink.” said Iza with a boozed smile.

The second trip of the day we hit up Peterman Island, where we saw different type of penguins like Chinstrap and Adelie. Chinstrap is the second most abundant penguins in the world. Its total breeding population is estimated to be 7.5 million pairs, the majority of which are in the South Sandwich Islands. Penguins have the densest feather arrangement of any bird family, a penguin´s biggest problem isn´t the cold, it is overheating. Heat can escape only from bare areas on their feet, the base of their bill, and from the underside of their flippers. There are 17 species of penguins in the world. We’ve seen only 4 so far.5

We trekked a bit on the white fluffy snow with the gray clouds covering mountains giving off snow, rain and then brightness came out. No sun just lots of UV rays which were harsh on the eyes. It was a remarkable sight of true Antarctic world and beauty, super natural and yet so unreal, a different planet.

Our day ended with a bit extra as we had a bonus zodiac cruise, through dark gray, deep blue hues of icebergs, where we have seen seals chilling on icebergs and heard water dripping from icicles giving off a rare melody.

The highlight of the cruise was when our zodiac driver turned off the engine; we were alone in the middle of icebergs looking at an adult Fur seal. I closed my eyes and just absorbed the melody which changed its beat to breaking ice, moving water and arctic birds, unexplainable feeling.

From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica



Day 3 out of 4, exploring Antarctica
This day could not have been described better, than our on board biologist, Susan Adie, who was also in charge of writing the everyday blog.

Here are her words of this remarkable day.

“There is too much ice to get the ship and Zodiacs close to shore to make a landing today. So we are Zodiac cruising in the ice. On a day like today – I wish I was a landscape painter. I would choose Paine’s Gray to paint Antarctica. Not a dreary gray but a magical gray! The gray I am seeing has light and movement in it. It has so many values and hues that it can be silver gray, mercurial gray, blue gray, gray going towards black and pale light thin soft gray. Does that color exist or I am hallucinating? The dense cloud covering is in wisps of countless shades of gray in a translucent veil that covers the sun. You only get the impression that the sun is there! You cannot really see it – you only see its veiled image. The sea, when there is no wind, is mercurial gray – like quick silver. When an all white Snow Petrel flies in lazy circles over that gray sea, its reflection is gray-white. The sea looks like a thick liquid as it moves like a slow motion bubble escaping a boil from underneath, which is actually the black bodies of penguins quietly coming to the surface. Gentoos with their black, white and orange of the beak are reflected in gray tones.

But of course you could not paint Antarctica without black gray. Mountain peaks or sheer cliffs are the darkest hue of gray surrounded by massive areas of white. But the white is gray too! Variations of gray tones are infinite and like a watercolorist fine strokes change across the paper, so do the colors across the icescape on land. Obviously, today in Andvord Bay, one of my favorite bays by the way – it is overcast. Overcast not in a gloomy way but in an enchanting gray way.

I do not know how to describe the softness of this landscape. We sit in silence, engines off contemplating this supernatural world, when out of all the tones of gray a glistening black spear 5 or 6 foot tall breaks the surface. BULL ORCA! AGAIN???!!!! Then we see other dorsal fins scattered among the ice floes. WOW – in one trip, two unique Orca sightings. There is a group of 5 or 6. They are hunting in the pack ice that we are Zodiac cruising in… they are bringing their massive heads above water slowly looking for seals on the ice. These are clearly the black and white orca – hunters of sea mammals. We do not see much of them except when they break the surface to check for feeding opportunities. Then they are gone. We sit for many minutes looking – hoping to get another chance to see them. But they have disappeared in the dense pack ice.” 2

Additional to the wildlife and the beauty, we also had fun!

Our zodiac driver was Mr. Seba, funny, good looking Argentinian, who was easily convinced to attack other zodiacs with a snow ball fight. It was 8 of us including Carolina, the crazy girl who came up with the idea to having a snowball fight, through icebergs, in Antarctica. Why!? Hmmm maybe cus she was already board looking at icebergs, or maybe because she is crazy. So, who else to bombard first, if not Agustin’s zodiac. We started the fight and then end up being attacked by all other zodiacs later on. Now, who can say that they had a snowball fight on Antarctic waters using snow from icebergs? You go Hot Toddies! Now if we could only have a Hot Toddy after words.

Ok maybe not a Hot Toddy but what about an outside BBQ on the deck?? Ohh man… when we got back on the ship, the afternoon´s sun was out, the smell of BBQ filled the air. Hungry, exhausted people were fed Chorizos on a bun. The rest of the Parilla (BBQ) was served for dinner. Amazing!!! First, the natural beauty, then the snowball fight, and then the BBQ surrounded by icebergs, beautiful mountains and jumping penguins.

Are you convinced yet that you must absolutely go and experience Antarctica? No? ohh wait it gets better.

From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica
From Antarctica


Day 4 out of 4, exploring Antarctica
Whalers Bay (Deception Island), in 1906, a Norwegian-Chilean whaling company started using Whalers Bay as a base for a factory ship, the Gobernador Bories. Other whaling operations followed suit, and by 1914 there were 13 factory ships based there. The station did not actually process whale blubber, which was done on the ships, but instead took the carcasses and boiled them down to extract additional whale oil, using large iron boilers, and storing the results in iron tanks.3 Now only the remains are left standing, and it is used as a tour for the tourists, but I will remember this place for the active volcano, where the shore´s sand is nice and warm.

AND

This is also where most expeditions come so the crew can have a laugh and observe the crazy tourists. Apparently it is cool to go swimming in the Arctic waters. Do people wake up one day and say before I die I must swim in Antarctica???

“The weather is perfect, no winds, nice and warm so if you would like to dip into these warm volcanic waters go ahead.” said Agustin. Most of the people started to undress, the smarter ones stood there with their video cameras, and the crew just lined up and observed. The crew is mainly made up of guys, so they totally were waiting for all the chics to undress and get into the cold water where “nipple-flytest” was awaiting them.

“Aga, get undressed, we are going in. Come on… let’s go, we can´t be here and not go into the water” Iza was convincing me, while I stood there and contemplated whether I was crazy or not.

So I do just as Iza says, I undressed. I am already freezing before I even take my shirt off. She screams at me to hurry up, it’s already cold. So I try to hurry up. Then eventually we run, we run for the water, boobs flying, ass shacking, we run faster then I ran the triathlon. My feet touched the water, ok kind of warm, so I continue to push my body, and then a fucking thermal shocker. COLD COLD COLD, Nipple-flytesss at its maximum, video cameras are rolling and I don´t know what, when and why they fuck did I just did that. So we run out even faster as we ran in and jetted back to my clothes, pushed the old man on the way, and screamed at Iza “You Crazy Bitch!” Dirt everywhere, we get dressed and head back to the ship. WTF?? was I thinking.

We can officially say that we swam in the Antarctic waters!

After returning on the ship, we got showered and had a warm soup, where some people came up to us and said that they have a video of us running into the water. GREAT! Including Mr. Bumbastic “If he takes one more freaking picture of me, I am going to kill him”

“You know, we still have not got really bad weather, I mean it has been cold but not like a storm or a blizzard yet.” Iza said, prior to our next and last landing in Antarctica. Jinxed!!! We barely made it onto the zodiacs, as the weather was crazy, raining, snowing, strong wind, waves were getting rougher and we landed on the Half Moon Island. At this point I was exhausted, cold and I just did the robot move and followed everybody while looking last time at penguins realizing that they are my favorite birds!



Drake Passage back to Ushuaia.
“This is the scariest day of my life” I whisper, as I go upstairs and pack all my necessary things for an emergency evacuation.

“10! A perfect 10! OK – there is never perfection – but it is still a 10. On the Beaufort scale that means a storm. The wind is steady to 50 knots from the NW with gusts to 70k. With very little effort the winds could build into a Beaufort 11, which is a step down from hurricane force winds. The sea state is 10 meter seas from NW also. We have altered course away from Cape Horn and are now steering a more easterly course. This ship was built as a research vessel to withstand the most horrific seas – so I feel completely at east as we roll from 25 to 45 degrees. Even on the 3rd floor above sea level our windows darken as we drop into the troughs of the steep waves. White streamers run off the wave crests.”2 Susan’s view of the storm.

Susan was calm, but I was shitting in my pants. I guess the only thing that was keeping me sedated where the sea sickness pills, from the Russian doc. They were so strong that at one point in the midst of all the commotion, the entire lounge area was filled with sleeping humans, including Iza and I.

I am sure we rolled to a 45 degree angle, when the Brazilian guy who was sleeping opposite, flew right at me including his couch and coffee table. That’s when I saw my life flash before my eyes, I prayed to god, and I thought of all the people that I knew.

The storm was way above average, and I know it, everything was flying and breaking. All the bars glasses were breaking, chairs where upside down and people where walking at a 40 degree angle.

When the captain announced on the speaker that we entered calmer waters, and we will be protected from the waves by land, I was so relieved.


Movie by Mark Blackburn


“We Survived!!!! I will see you again”

The night ended with captain’s dinner, a certificate ceremony and lots of wine, followed by underground crew’s party.

“ohh no Aga, look it´s a full moon, we should not go down to the party, crazy things happen when we go out when there is a full moon” Iza said with a concern look.

“Ohh come on, it is our last night, we need to celebrate with all the amazing people we became friends with, with who we had great dinners together and who became part of this expedition.”

So we joined the rest of the backpackers and celebrated our survival and the amazing experience we just had in the past 10 days. We mingled with the entire crew from the ship including: cooks, waiters, zodiac drivers, guides and everybody who is in charge of this giant ship.

Dancing, drinking, flirting and all happiness were escaping the ship´s lower deck. One thing for sure, everybody was drunk. So drunk, that most people didn’t get back to their cabins till late, or even maybe very late.

This was a perfect opportunity to get to know some people on higher levels. Since it was mating season, everybody was successful at finding their partners. Except Mr. Bumbastic as he kept roaming the ship freely and peeping in. Let’s just hope no nest building will be required. Brian found Romina, Ashley found Mat, Iza found Mr. B and I? Well let’s just say apparently I am into freckles.

Brian didn’t appear on his unicorn and Ryan still remains unfound.

This was one of the best adventures we had!


click on the slide show to view all of Antarctica photos

References: 1. wikipidia description 2. Blog by Susan Adie http://www.antarpply.com/eng/blog_archive6.php 3. wikipidia description

2 thoughts on “10 Day Expedition to Antarctica

  1. Hi girls

    Yes it was a great trip, and thanks for helping us relive the voyage of a lifetime. We didn't mix a lot with you on the trip, being older, and married (Dave & Noeline, blue and olive anoraks) but we did spend some time with you at the after-voyage party. Wishing you all the best for Christmas, and on your future adventures.

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