Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Taking the Antarctic Dream Part 2.

The next day, was March 2; we got up at 5.00 AM to hike up the glacier for a view of a sunrise at Neko Harbor. The sun was not out that day, but the view was spectacular, none-the-less.
We stomped through snow in a zigzag pattern to reach the ridge, but the scenery was worth it.

We had our regular routine of Breakfast at 7.30, lunch at 12.30, and coffee at 16.00 with dinner at 19.30.

The routine was broken again with an outing at 11.00 AM to visit the rookery of, again Gentoo Penguins, on Wiencke Island
and a landing at Port Lockroy Station in Dorian Bay. Carol and I passed on the walk through ankle deep melt waters and over slippery rocks to see more Gentoo Penguins and were shuttled directly to the Lockroy Station. This is a fun spot and right up my alley.

The British had a weather and research station for the Ionosphere here until 1962.
Today this spot still has some basic weather reports to send but it serves more as a museum. During the summer months four volunteers ‘man’ this
station but serve mainly as tour guides for the many ships that visit. The volunteers this year were four women; three British and one German woman. This station has an active, British Post Office.
I bought stamps and dropped some cards in the box; let’s see how long it takes before they arrive in NJ.

The bickering as to who ‘owns’ this speck of land was sometimes even comical. Argentina, Chile and the United Kingdom, the three Nations, all laid ‘claim’ to this spot on the Antarctic Peninsula. Erecting national symbols, depositing written claims, facing each other with verbal claims for this Port is all part of the history here. After all was said and done, after they had their dinners to discuss it among each other no country won. The Antarctic Treaty superseded any claims and since 1958 all claims by any Nation have been shelved.

Today you can buy stickers, sweaters and maps in the summer from this British Museum.
In the winter this place serves as an Emergency Shelter if need be. The whalers, expeditions of the past, Antarctic flight pioneers, scientists and politians are gone, only their memories remain. The new, modern research today has been taken over by the Ukrainian Research Station some 50Km South at Vernadsky.

During Lunch our ship passed through the narrow Le Maire Channel.
An optical illusion makes the entrance even smaller than it really is.
It looked like we were fitting the ship through the eye of a needle.
Rock walls on both sides of the channel reached far up into the sky. This section reminded me of a narrow fjord passage. Our old icebreaker slid through fast ice, chunks banging against the hull sending drum sounds throughout the ship.
We were lucky we did not have the denser pack ice, which would have been impossible to cross. Winter seems to be closing in; the ice is defiantly starting to form in certain spots already.

For the afternoon, the Antarctic Dream scheduled Zodiac tours, drive by’s, of the icebergs a bit further south. After a long wait amidships, we finally stepped out in rough seas at 17.30 to the Zodiacs. Carol and I were among the first to climb on board. As soon as we stepped off the wobbly gangway, which was not even installed properly, we got swamped by a huge wave. We were soaking wet. Our Zodiac was just about 20 meters from the ship when the whole operation was cancelled. We had to return to the Mother Ship immediately. Carol and I were dripping from head to toe, covered in ice cold seawater. “Everybody back to their cabins, please”: came the PA announcements. Safety first!

Yes, the trip was rescheduled a bit later again but Carol and I passed on this tour as our gloves were very wet inside. Yet the people that returned had a great time among the icebergs. Even so, at the very end, the winds picked up again and large waves doused some folks returning in the Zodiacs pretty well. I missed this trip.
I guess I was too angry at the visible incompetence when we tried the first time to get into the zodiacs. Well, my loss!

The following day we had to get up really early again. Announcements came through the PA system at 5 AM. The First Zodiacs left at 5.30 AM. Our destination was the caldera of a not so active volcano.
One side of the crater, years ago, opened up to the ocean and most of the center of the volcano was flooded with sea water. This set up made for a perfect landing spot in a much protected harbor. Deception Island, as it is called, contains very dark brown volcanic rocks and ash.

We climbed the sides of the crater and the sight was primitive, primordial.
The very first lichen has barely established a presence. We saw one pair of chin strap penguins but too far away for pictures. Over the ridge was a huge colony of Chinstrap Penguins but we did not go there.
A few Fur Seals sat on the beach, sunning or sleeping. The spot was desolate, forlorn looking.
We marched single file to again see a sunrise; only to be disappointed again by our central star. The sun did not shine.

Along the beach, years ago, some whalers had their boiling station here.
Whales were rendered into oil and the huts, now abandoned and derelict, look lost along the beach.

Not far from those abandoned looking buildings, now a museum, steam rose out of the ground, washed over by the gentle surf. Heat from the magma below rises up to give some warmth and makes a small spot ice free in winter. Very small, yet it is a left over from the volcanic activities that created this Island.

This spot is used to dare passengers to take a swim in the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean. Some fools took off their clothes, stood in the ice cold wind and dipped into the almost freezing waters (31 Degrees F). Never mind the very small patch of ‘hot’ sand near the water’s edge. The water is like ice water.

I know, because I was one of those fools that had to just try it.

Shivering, but smiling we returned back to the ship for some hot broth.

We had more lectures on mammals, specifically whales, we ate lunch. We waited for the weather to get better before landing at Livingston Island to see Macaroni and Adélie Penguins but it never happened. We had had our last tour visiting the old whaling station and swimming in the Antarctic Ocean.

The weather determines every landing. And the weather always wins in Antarctica. While we, as people, try to master nature, this continent has its own rules. Antarctica is like a fickle woman; changing constantly for no apparent reason. Do something stupid and she will just take you away. Take her away and the earth, as it is now, will not exist.

Antarctica is an ever changing place. So far man has left Antarctica alone, let her do her thing which I think it is the right approach. She still has many secrets, still has spots untouched by man. She still brings the winds to us, still agitates the waters all around the world. She is still the pulse of Mother Earth.

I am glad I could visit but all I ever did was stand on her, just leaving a foot print or two. I really know little about her but I am awestruck by her powers, by her way of creating a different environment that mankind is still trying to comprehend. She will let you visit, but I doubt she will ever let you settle there permanently. I support the Antarctic Treaty; it is a good way for man to live on a continent so different from the rest of this earth.

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