Saturday, January 27, 2024

Antarctica 2023-4 - Days 13-6 - 1/7-10/2024 - Journey home

I’ll combine the remaining days of the trip, as there was not much in terms of activity.

Days 13 and 14 were for sailing back across the Drake Passage toward Ushuaia. Even though the sea was choppier on the return voyage, I didn’t have any issues with seasickness this time around. Day 13 had about 3 meter swells, while Day 14 had 4-5 meter swells. The wind speed on the second day of the crossing reached 50-60 knots, high enough that they closed the outside decks of the ship.

Voyage map  Courtesy Intrepid Travel

Inside, the days were scheduled with talks and activities, though we skipped out on most of them. The subjects of the talks/activities that I did attend included: the geology of Antarctica, the Antarctic treaty, knot tying, our ship (Ocean Endeavor), orcas (aka killer whales), and a fundraising auction. The auction raised funds for WWF and the Citizen Science charity; notable items up for auction included: driving the ship for 20 minutes, delivering the morning wake-up announcement, the ship’s Antarctica flag for the voyage, and the expedition nautical chart (with additional artwork). The flag and chart each fetched about $800-$900. There was a captain’s farewell event, during which they also presented some employee-of-the-month awards. The executive chef also provided some fun statistics about the amount of food that was consumed during our 1877 (later adjusted to 1927) nautical mile voyage; I don’t remember any specific amounts, but most things mentioned were in the hundreds of kilograms.

Expedition nautical chart + artwork for auction

Day 13 had a “plant based” dinner to promote Intrepid’s sustainable practices; I use the quotes because: (1) it was a vegetarian dinner, not a vegan one (as I expect the term plant-based to mean); (2) they still had the option to order the standard grilled chicken or fish that was available every dinner. In all, I think the dinner menu was reasonable for the clientele on board; I just have issues with the use of the term “plant based” to describe it.

On Day 14 we settled our shipboard accounts, which included all onboard purchases and gratuity for the ship and expedition crews (they automatically added a suggested amount, which we did not change). We also each got $50 credits for the late boarding and missing dinner the first night of the expedition. We also tagged our luggage with ribbons (organized by bus color) and set them out for pickup before 11pm.

We were originally supposed to be on the pink bus which went directly to the airport, but we changed to the green bus which went to a luggage storage location (a bar that they had rented for the morning/afternoon) since we had plenty of time before our 1:15pm flight. We disembarked around 9am, took the bus the short ride to storage, and stowed our luggage there for a couple of hours. We walked with Liz, Michelle, Diane, and Kayla to a cafe on the main street for breakfast. We made a couple more stops (cafe, pharmacy, chocolate shop) on the way back to storage, where we picked up our luggage and five of us (Diane’s flight was later that night) took a couple of Ubers to the airport.

Flying out of Ushuaia

I somehow didn’t get dinged for overweight luggage, but Michelle did. This caused her to have to wait in the incredibly slow payment line while the rest of us (minus Liz, who waited for her) went through security. It all worked out, though, and she made the flight with us. Liz and Kayla were on later flights. Seating on the Aerolineas Argentina flight was a little weird. The first class section had economy seats, but was half empty - they seemed to only fill at most the window and aisle seats of each set of 3. Fran and I each had a side of row 3 to ourselves; though we had initially selected seats in row 1 at purchase time. We also saw something like 15 or 20 other people from our expedition on the same flight out. And there was another Intrepid couple on our same flight from Buenos Aires to JFK. We had about 5.5 hours between the flights, which were once again in separate airports. We shared a taxi with Michelle from AEP to EZE. The check-in line for Delta was really long, but we had plenty of time and no cause for stress. The flights today were better than the other way a couple of weeks ago in terms of pelvic discomfort. I suspect that the 2 weeks of antibiotics might be helping, but another big factor is less anxiety/stress on the return. I’ll also give a shout-out once again to the Global Entry facial recognition system that made immigration a breeze. The exit process in Buenos Aires also used facial recognition, but it didn’t go quite as smoothly (especially since I scanned the wrong boarding pass barcode, but also because it required taking off my glasses to work). As an aside, we didn’t get Argentina stamps in our passports because I guess everything is going digital.

In closing, I’ll add a few thoughts about the trip overall. I can easily say that this was my favorite trip that I’ve taken over the last 6 years with Fran, and likely also my favorite of my lifetime; though there may be a bit of recency bias there, and I definitely struggle to remember all my past trips. And I say this even with the anxiety and discomfort caused by my pelvic condition. The landscape was more spectacular than anything I’ve seen before. And the excursions were (mostly) great, even though I’m not normally one for the cold. I particularly enjoyed getting close to the whales, and the seals and penguins were also fun to see. It was also good to have Fran to push me to do a couple of things, like day paddling, that I normally would not have done on my own.

When we were at port in Ushuaia, I noticed a couple of fancier looking ships alongside. That got me wondering how much, if at all, the experience would have been improved on a new ship - the Ocean Endeavor is about 40 years old. Besides creature comforts (the other ships had rooms with balconies, and fancier looking terraces), the newer ships would pollute less than the Ocean Endeavor (which seems to release a lot of sooty smoke) does. Intrepid claims to operate carbon neutral, so hopefully they have high quality carbon offsets to balance the ship’s emissions. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I have any regrets about the trip, and would highly recommend Antarctica and Intrepid to anyone interested.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 12 - 1/6/2024 - Last of the excursions (Base Brown & Danco Island)

We stayed in Downtown Peninsula for our last day of excursions. The day on ship began with a cool humpback sighting in the morning after breakfast, and ended with an exciting (Type B) orca sighting just before dinner.

Humpback whales

The morning excursion to Brown Station was the farthest south we got - almost 65° in latitude. The flag route at the station included a hike up the hill, where they had set up path to slide down on our backs (this was permitted, as opposed to most locations where we weren’t even allowed to kneel, because this was a designated camping site). Fran being Fran, she ran up the hill and did the slide two more times before we left the site. She built up a reputation for being active, where multiple people (like the expedition doctor) were regularly asking her how many times she had been up and down the hills.

Danco Island

Our last excursion brought us back to Danco Island, in the previously visited Foyn Harbour. Fran and I decided that we liked cruising before the landing, so we stayed back a couple of groups after ours was called to ensure that we did the cruise first. The landing portion included more mini-hiking up snowy hillsides and observing Gentoo nests and highways.

Type B orcas

After the recap all the passengers went out to the bow of the ship to take a group photo. The forecast for the return across the Drake passage is a bit ominous, with 3 meter swells the first day and potentially up to 5 meter swells the second day. Let’s hope that we can outrun the incoming low pressure zone and minimize the bumps. We began our Bonine course before going to bed.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 11 - 1/5/2024 - Foyn Harbour & Cuverville Island

We would spend the next couple of days in the area that the expedition leader referred to as “Downtown Peninsula”. This is the area that most Antarctic tourist expeditions visit. For the morning, we sailed down the Gerlache Strait and hung out in Foyn Harbour. We did a zodiac cruise that took us by a shipwreck (Guvernøren) of an old whaling company. A cool aspect of this cruise is that the ship sailed off afer dropping us off, and the zodiacs caught up to it down the harbor after cruising around.

Guvernøren shipwreck

The afternoon excursion was to nearby Cuverville Island, home to a Gentoo penguin colony. The cruise portion wove through an “iceberg graveyard” off the coast of the island. The landing portion felt a bit less invasive to me than when we went to the Adélie colony. I had been a little cold during the morning cruise, so I added an extra later for the afternoon. This ended up being a bit of a mistake, as I was overheating while walking around. But then I knew better for the next time.

Cuverville Island

Tonight was the camping night, for those (not us) who opted for that additional excursion. Transfer to the island in Leith Cove for camping began after dinner, around 10pm. There were 60 people camping, and many more on the waitlist. We heard from multiple guides that our expedition passengers signed up for more things than the typical tour group. This seemed to be because we had a younger group than normal; and that in turn was likely because there was a batch of 20+ Remote Year participants on the expedition.

Another random musing… The west side of the peninsula has a noticeably different landscape than the Weddell Sea side. There is more snow, mountains, and glaciers on the west side, while the east side is rockier. I like the general landscape better on the west side, but in the sea I prefer the majestic tabular icebergs of the Weddell Sea more.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 10 - 1/4/2024 - Freud Passage & Portal Point

Today was a day of alternate plans. Because, as Ryan would say, it’s an expedition after all. We were originally supposed to have a morning landing at Palaver Point and an afternoon landing at Cierva Cove. Right as they were starting the disembarkation announcements around 8am, they decided to call it off - the winds were too high and the water too choppy. They then scheduled some talks and onboard activities for the morning in place of the outing, while repositioning the ship to look for alternatives. Toward the end of the first talk, the presenter (who was a guide) let us know that he was being called to prepare for a standby excursion. And not too long after it was announced that we would be doing a short zodiac cruise in Freud Passage. We headed out around 10:15am for the one hour cruise with Carlos. The best thing about the cruise was watching 3 humpback whales from the zodiac, though we didn’t get all that close.

Humpback whales

The afternoon excursion also ended up being a change from the original plan. It was a split landing / cruise at Portal Point. Since we were in the second to last mudroom group, we went on the cruise first - Julie was our zodiac driver. I think we were originally supposed to cruise for about 35 minutes, but it seemed closer to an hour by the time we were done. We spent the whole time watching a few groups of humpback whales feeding, sometimes getting as close as 100ish meters to them. It seemed like not more than 30 seconds would go by without us hearing spouting in some direction, then we’d each have to figure out which way it was to prepare to take shots as the whales surfaced. It was great seeing so many whales so close; Fran absolutely loved it. She also got a sighting of an almost full humpback breach (one of the things that I would most like to see during the expedition), but I missed it.

The (mainland) landing was at a place where we did a tiny bit of glacial hiking for an hour. The guides had flagged out a path that traversed 2 hills and circled back on itself. The path through the snow was narrow, and we were asked not to deviate from it (in one section in particular there was a danger of crevasses, and in fact that section was blocked off because a crevasse had been recently found). We were also treated to a group of seals resting on the snow - the initial group of 2 grew to 4 as we were leaving. The last point of note is that there was another small group of expeditioners nearby who had apparently traveled there in a yacht - we noticed them in the distance when our ship initially approached, and the hike took us even closer to where they were. I should also mention that we saw one or two cool iceberg calving events.

My Portal Point selfie

At dinner we chatted for a while with Chris and Marissa, the guide couple who had led our day paddle outing.

One random item of note… We took advantage of the shipboard laundry to help get our underwear through the whole trip. But I would have been much better off packing underwear for the full duration instead of the extra base layers that I brought along. Conservatively, I think I ended up not wearing about one-third of the clothes that I brought, and simply re-wore items more than I expected. And the laundry prices were as expensive as you’d find at a hotel - $2.50 per underwear, and more expensive for other items.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 9 - 1/3/2024 - View Point

In accordance with the early schedule for the day, we had breakfast at 6:30am - 30 minutes after it opened. We were the first normal mud room group (apart from the photography group, who is always first) called for the morning outing, with the call going out a little before 7:20am (about 10 minutes earlier than expected). The original plan was a split landing at View Point (our first Antarctic mainland landing), but the zodiac cruises were cancelled soon after we were on board, and everyone just did a landing. The site was a rocky beach that led to a walk over some shale to an outlook with some man-made structures. There was a meteorological station, two Chilean huts (one long abandoned) for emergency shelter, and a cross. The area around the huts was scattered with Crabeater seal bones and remains, from a hunt by humans. We spent about an hour on land before boarding the zodiacs for the return trip to the ship.

View Point - Chilean emergency hut

The return to the ship ended up being a bit of an adventure. We headed straight for the ship, but as soon as we approached they pulled up the gangways; the captain decided to move the ship to clearer waters to escape approaching ice. Unfortunately, these clearer waters were also choppier waters. We hovered around for a bit while the ship was being moved, and took a small diversion to go gawk at a seal laying on an ice floe. Afterward we turned and followed the ship through the path it had made through the ice, hovering around and waiting for a decision to open the gangways and allow approaching. After a couple of false starts and some circling, we became the second boat in line to approach. By this time the water was quite choppy in the 35-40 knot winds. The adrenaline level was elevated when the first zodiac had an incident where one side was caught under the gangway and resulted in a puncture of one of the seven compression chambers. Fortunately the passengers were able to unload without any injuries, as the zodiacs are built to withstand multiple punctures. We eventually made it off the boat successfully as well, in spite of the big bumps; we had been on the zodiac for about an hour by that time. All of the other zodiacs also had successful unloadings, and no other ones sustained damage. The expedition leader, Ryan, later said that this was in his top 5 roughest loadings/unloadings in his 70+ Antarctic expeditions.

Casualty of rough waters

The afternoon excursion was supposed to be a landing at Brown Bluff. But because of the sustained high winds, the rough time in the morning, and the fact that the ship was running behind schedule because of having to navigate sea ice, the afternoon outing was cancelled. Nobody in the restaurant seemed to be surprised when the announcement was made during lunch. The ship would instead get a head start on passing through the Antarctic Sound to head to the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The day’s programming was updated to include a few afternoon talks to replace the cancelled outing. Fran spent a couple of the afternoon hours out on deck and in the bridge of the ship; the ship has an open bridge policy, where (at almost any time) guests can come hang out in one corner of the bridge, and use provided binoculars. When I went to join her and a few others once, we got into a discussion about how read the electronic chart being displayed. Ryan, the expedition leader, happened to come up to the bridge, so I called him over to ask about the chart. This led to further discussions about his path to becoming an expedition leader, his experiences on Antarctic expeditions, how he plans expeditions and excursions, and other topics; it was an interesting and informative time for the group of people who were up there at the time.

The water became choppy as we navigated to the west side of the peninsula; so much so that I developed a hint of queasiness. I got through dinner alright, though, and then was fine to laze around the room for a couple of hours before turning in for almost 9 hours (!) of shut-eye.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 8 - 1/2/2024 - Croft Bay & Devil Island

It was an early morning, with breakfast starting at 6:30am and disembarkation starting around 8:30am. We were still on for the day paddle - basically, paddling in inflatable kayaks - and met in the reception area at 8:20am. Like the kayakers, day paddlers are given dry suits to wear over our internal layers. The instruction and preparation process took a while, but we eventually made it down to board a zodiac. The guides were Chris and Marissa, who just happened to be a couple. The zodiac had 5 inflatable tandem kayaks and 1 regular solo kayak tethered to it. Chris drove us out to some open water, and then we began boarding the kayaks.

I took the front seat of our kayak while Fran took the back. This was my first time in any sort of kayak, and I was initially not good at all. Enough so that Fran at one point told me to stop paddling so she could figure things out herself. I feel like I improved over the course of the 2 or so hours, though, and we were probably the second fastest kayak (vs fourth-ish initially) by the end. More importantly, the paddle was quite spectacular despite my initial learning curve frustrations. We spent a lot of the time paddling through grease ice - the thin layer of flexible ice that forms on top of water as it starts to freeze; this only made the learning curve steeper. In some cases Chris used the zodiac to break a path through the ice for us to follow. The weather was great - sunny and calm - so I ended up taking off my gloves and using just the paddling pogies. The harder than expected ice work and the sunny weather (still around freezing temperature-wise, though) meant that I worked up quite a sweat by the time that we were done. We hopped back on zodiac and Chris drove us back to the ship.

Day paddle on inflatable kayak

Because we were paddling, we missed out on the regular zodiac excursion. From what we later heard, we didn’t miss much, as they made a relatively simple split landing (half on land, half cruising; then switch) without a ton to see. The original hope was to make a landing on the fast ice at the south end of Croft Bay, but the scouts had found it not strong enough to hold the big groups.

The second outing of the day was another split landing, this time at Devil Island. The island is home to a large Adélie penguin rookery. We were in the second mud room group, so we were one of the first to disembark around 3:45pm. The first half went to land while the other half cruised, and then they switched after an hour on shore. A flag route was set up along the rocky beach, leading right into the penguin colony. We were directed to stay 5 meters away from any penguins, though this was pretty much impossible at times (and some people weren’t trying too hard to meet that guidance), and to walk at “penguin pace”. They also had us move in clusters at penguin pace so as to minimize blocking of the penguins’ paths between the water and their nesting areas. I had mixed feelings about this landing - while it was certainly nice to be so close to the penguins, it was obvious that we were disrupting them (even if without any significant long term impact) on their home turf. The zodiac cruise after the landing was nice, but less of a spectacle than the landing.

Devil Island

The plan for tomorrow includes two more landing attempts within the islands at the boundary of the Weddell Sea before we head over to the western side of the peninsula. However, there’s a chance that the high winds forecasted for tomorrow afternoon could cause that outing to be cancelled; the wind has already started picking up tonight. In any case, there will be an early start once again tomorrow. The post-dinner activity was a talk by one of the guides who spent the last summer and winter working in inland Antarctica for the US Antarctic Program, primarily at McMurdo Station.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 7 - 1/1/2024 - Admiralty Sound & Seymour Island

I finally got some decent sleep after the somewhat late night. Our expedition leader Ryan thought that we should start the new year off with a bang, scheduling the polar plunge (where passengers jump into the 0.5°C water) for this morning. Being averse to both cold and deep water, I did not take part in this activity; but Fran was super excited for it. Ryan was also sensible enough to start things off later than normal, with breakfast opening at 8am. Fran did the 8am yoga class, then we met up at 9am to eat.

The ship was parked in Admiralty Sound next to Cockburn Island. The weather for the day was pleasant - although the temperature was similar to yesterday’s 0°C, the sunny skies and lack of wind made things feel warmer. The plunging began around 10am, with Fran’s group being called about half an hour later. It was fun to watch (from the safety of the 7th/8th deck) the various types of jumps that people did. We later found out that 157 people took the plunge, more than 75% of the guests. Most people did some sort of pose facing the photographer, but some people got creative with it. Diane did a back dive, while Fran did a swan dive. A few people slipped as they jumped off, resulting in more of an awkward fall; a couple of people who slipped (including both Tom and TJ) took a second more successful go at it. They put down mats about halfway through to help prevent slipping. After Fran’s plunge she went up to the sauna to warm up alongside many of the other plungers.

Fran's polar plunge

As we were finishing up lunch Ryan came on to announce that the afternoon excursion would be to the primary location that he had mentioned the night before. This was the site of a group of mummified crabeater seals on Seymour Island - he had only just learned of this via a friend in the weeks leading up to the expedition, and was fairly sure that no tour group had ever tried to go there. He apparently consulted a research paper about the site and combined that with Google Maps sleuthing in order to come up with a plan. They had sent out two scout boats in the morning while the polar plunge was going on, and had managed to find the site. We later found out that one of the boats had to be left on the muddy shore because the tide had pulled out while they were scouting.

Young elephant seal among Adélie penguins

Zodiac boarding began around 2:30p. On each excursion (or plunge) they rotated which mudroom group to start with, so our group was moving closer to the front. However, we ended up boarding toward the end because I had to go back to the room to find my hat, which I apparently had accidentally dropped just outside our room. Our driver/guide was Carlos, who was another good navigator - so far I have been lucky with the drivers I’ve matched with (there have been a couple on other boats who seem  less experienced). The cruise had a bit of an unfortunate start, as a couple of the last boats (including us) were called back to pick up an extra passenger, as the number had apparently overflowed what they planned for; but the 2 hour clock restarted when we pushed off for the second time, so we didn’t lose those 20 minutes. We ended up staying out for almost 30 minutes longer than the planned 5pm return. And fortunately my bladder wasn’t struggling very much, probably thanks to my new technique of semi-dehydrating myself before the excursions.

Seymour Island - first Antarctic landing

As far as I can tell this excursion hit a new high point for all the guests. For one, we made a landing, so we can all say that we have set foot on the Antarctic continent. Secondly, the landing was at a rarely visited/seen site that required extra planning by the expedition crew. The nice weather also made a positive contribution. The site was quite far from the ship, and required going around Cockburn Island to get there. The landing site was a muddy beach next to a glacier. The seals were a short walk away across some rocky ground. There, Ryan proudly gave each incoming group a brief history of the site. I don’t think any of the groups came close to keeping under the 20 minutes that they were each supposed to stay at the site; but then again the guides were totally fine with people taking their time to soak it all in. On the cruise back to the ship we were met by the ship’s drone at the ice floe that still (we had seen it on the way out) had a Weddell seal lazing on it.

Dinner tonight was a BBQ buffet out on the aft of the 7th deck; plus a DJ. It was an admirable effort to take advantage of the nice weather, but with the boat moving it was too cold to hang around longer than the time it took to quickly eat. We later found out that the day paddle groups would be going out tomorrow, and we were set for the morning outing. A late announcement was made after 10pm when an emperor penguin was spotted on some ice - a rare sighting in these parts.

Lost Emperor penguin  Courtesy Intrepid Travel


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 6 - 12/31/2023 - First excursions (Heroina and Paulet Islands)

The sleepless nights are starting to get old. This time I think it was mostly from anxiety about the off-ship excursions and how my bladder would handle them. The plan from the night before indicated that the first disembarkation for the first excursion would be at 8:45am. However, the expedition leader (Ryan) announced around 6:30am that we were now aiming for an 8am disembarkation. Before breakfast Fran also found out that her sign-up for the acoustic zodiac had been accepted, and that they would be touring in their separate zodiac as part of this first excursion - so we would be on separate zodiacs. The expedition used the term “zodiac” for their rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) - I think it’s a particular brand of RIB.

After a quick breakfast we returned to the room so that Fran could hurriedly prepare for her boat - they were among the first groups, while our normal group (Crabeater Seals) was third to last. They call passengers down to the mud room by group, with about 20 passengers to a group - this avoids overflowing the mud room. Once down in the room, passengers don their muck boots, coats, and life vests, then line up to board the general zodiacs in groups of 10 or 11 - your call group doesn’t matter at this point. Special groups (photographers, kayakers, science groups) of course board specific vessels and don’t take part in the general lines.

The calling of the groups went faster than we anticipated, and I was quite flustered at having to get on all my gear without my "guide" Fran to help me. I somehow managed to get prepared in time and made it down after my group was called. I put on the boots, jacket, and vest, and lined up. The boarding members head down the stairs, step in a tub of Virkon to disinfect our boots, then board with the help of the guides as soon as the zodiac pulls up.

This first excursion was a sea cruise at Heroina Island - one of the bigger of the Danger Islands at the tip of the Antarctic peninsula. We apparently had good conditions in the Weddell Sea, as the water was relatively calm for us. The main attraction at this island was a very large colony of Adélie penguins. Our driver Julie drove us around the sea ice and toward the island. The penguins were all over the island and the nearby waters, including on top of the ice floes. We got within 3 or 4 meters of swimming penguins at multiple points on the cruise. One of the “highlights” was witnessing a leopard seal that had caught a penguin and was bashing it against the water and ice to dismember it so that the seal could eat it. Another noteworthy moment was the first whiff of the mass of guano (feces) when we got close to the island and a bit downwind. Apparently some other groups ahead of us (including Fran's boat) had also seen some whales, but we did not get sight of them.

Adélie penguins on Heroina Island

We headed back to the ship after about 75 minutes of puttering about. The boat was still buzzing with excitement, but unfortunately I was starting to have the pelvic discomfort; the high speed dash to the ship helped in terms of time, but not in terms of comfort. I was also getting a bit cold toward the end of the cruise, so I’ll have to think about how to adjust my layering to improve that.

Once back on the boat, we brush our boots off in a tub and then step in another tub of Virkon. From there we head up to the mud room and get changed. Fran was waiting for me in the mud room, and we immediately began exchanging stories. She had a great time on the acoustic cruise (they were making sound recordings to support a PhD project for a researcher on board), though she didn’t get as much time for sightseeing as other zodiacs did.

From there we headed up to the common areas to debrief a bit with some fellow passengers before going back to our room. Fran went to the gym for a quick workout while I hung around, chatted with a few others in the lounge, and went to the “Polar Boutique” to buy some glove liners. I met back up with her for lunch while the ship was making its way toward Paulet Island for the afternoon excursion. Afterward we had a check-in about how I was feeling, which turned into a bit of an intervention, but also some inspiration for me to make a better time of the trip and stop sulking so much about my condition.

It took a while to get to Paulet Island, partially because of all the sea ice, and the announcement around lunch indicated that we would arrive in the area around 3pm, and hoped to begin disembarkation at 3:45pm. However, the wind picked up when we got to the area, and they announced around 3:30pm that they were repositioning the ship downwind of the island to get some shelter to operate the gangways, and would continue to assess the situation. Unfortunately, the result of this is that we weren’t able to make a landing on the island. We began disembarkation around 4:45 for another 75-ish minutes of zodiac cruising. This island also had a large Adélie penguin colony. This time there was more sea ice / pack ice for our driver Andy to navigate during the cruise. We saw 3 different types of seals (Elephant, Leopard, Weddell) laying out on the rocky beaches.

Adélie penguin jumping into the water

After the cruise we headed over to the restaurant for dinner; it was buffet style this time, and had some New Year decorations. After dinner we changed into more festive clothes before heading out to the lounge to join the New Year celebration. It started with a series of musical performances by the expedition crew before moving upstairs for a mini dance party. We rang in the New Year (Argentina time) with Liz, Michelle, and Diane, then headed off to bed.

New Years Eve - I'm wearing Fran's jacket


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 5 - 12/30/2023 - Drake Lake

I had some trouble falling asleep the night before, but eventually did get a few hours of decent sleep in. Fran slept pretty well. She did the 8am morning movement yoga class and then met me for a quick breakfast. I was feel better after a night of more sleep, and was beginning to get my sea legs. It also helped that the water grew calmer throughout the day as we reached the end of he Drake Passage and transitioned to the Weddell Sea in the evening.

In terms of scheduled programming… We watched a talk about whales at 9am. Beginning at 10:15am, they called us down to the mud room (by zodiac groups - we were in the Crabeater Seal group) to try on (and exchange if necessary) the muck boots and outer (Gill) jacket that we were being loaned for the expedition; mine fit fine, while Fran exchanged both her boots and jacket for different sizes than she had ordered. Next was an intro to photography briefing at 11am, followed by lunch. We went to a talk on the history of Antarctic expeditions at 1:30pm, a briefing for day paddle participants at 3:15pm, and a talk on penguins at 4pm. Fran spent some time in the sauna before we watched the daily recap remotely at 6pm.

Our lockers (153 & 154) in the mud room

My nausea essentially dissipated by the end of the afternoon. I wasn’t the only one feeling much better, as others passengers who had mentioned being sick were now in better spirits. It was also palpable in the mood at dinner, as people were more upbeat and there was more chatter in the dining room. I got a more of an appetite at lunch and dinner, though I still wasn’t quite finishing full meals even by dinner. Speaking of the food, it’s been unimpressive, though fine, so far. One of the expedition crew was talking it up before we left, so there was a bit of reason to raise expectations. But so far it hasn’t matched his hype. Which, again, is fine; especially given the remote location where we started and where we are going. I don’t think people are here for the food.

We, particularly Fran, also spent a decent chunk of time sightseeing outside on the deck and in the bridge of the ship as we cruised through the Erebus and Terror Gulf. We saw some icebergs (a couple with penguins on them) and some whales (humpbacks and fin), and others reported seeing seals. Fran saw an iceberg calving.

First big iceberg

We found out that the plan for tomorrow is to have 2 zodiac excursions to the islands at the tip of the peninsula - one in the morning, and another in the afternoon. The afternoon excursion should include time on land.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 4 - 12/29/2023 - Into the Drake Passage

Once again my sleep last night could have been better, especially given that the late night and early start of schedule didn’t give much time to sleep. The ship cast off right as we were going to bed around 1am and spent the first few hours in the calm Beagle Channel. I got some sleep during this time, but I woke up a couple of times, and I definitely had some anxiety about how things would change once we hit the Drake Passage. It was around 6am when the big bobbing began, and I couldn’t sleep much after that. We later learned that the water conditions were apparently “mild”, with only 2.5-3 meter swells. Well, nothing about that felt mild to me, even though I have seen footage of much worse. My shaky sea legs somehow got through a shower without falling (the handles were a lifesaver), and we made it to breakfast about 20 minutes before it ended at 9am. Despite the Bonine tablets that we had started taking the night before for motion sickness, I was already feeling queasy, and had to force myself to eat at least a little; the heat in the dining room didn’t help my intense sweating, and I even briefly had the shakes a couple of times (including while in bed). I certainly wasn’t the only one struggling, as we came across a few people who were in the act of vomiting or had already done so. Meanwhile, Fran had essentially no problems at all.

The first mandatory activity was a safety drill at 9am, followed by a mandatory intro briefing at 10am. I could barely keep my eyes open from tiredness during the briefing, in addition to feeling unwell. Luckily, the next mandatory (for all) briefing wasn’t until 1:30pm, so I took some time to rest/nap in the room. Fran had a sea kayaking briefing at 11am, but I did not sign up for that activity. However, she cancelled her reservation after the briefing because she found out that the sea kayaking group went out on every excursion, so if she did that she couldn’t also do any excursions with me (without also putting out her assigned kayaking partner).

I once again forced down some food for lunch, and started to feel slightly better after. On the other hand, the pelvic discomfort started up around that time. I took the opportunity after lunch to check in with the expedition doctor/medic about my seasickness and over-active bladder - this was mostly information only, as there were no new actions to take about either condition.

The 1:30pm mandatory meeting concerned IAATO and biosecurity when visiting Antarctica - extra measures are taken to ensure that travelers are not bringing any foreign species to the continent (e.g., via seeds stuck in outerwear velcro). Afterward passengers were asked to bring in their outerwear for checking by expedition crew, and cleaning (e.g., vacuuming, sanitization) if necessary. I was a bit of a wreck for the rest of the afternoon, so I didn’t attend any more briefings (they were all optional) in person. The expedition/ship has a nice feature where they broadcast the feed from the main presentation area (the Nautilus Lounge) on a channel on the TVs in the room - I took advantage of this to watch a couple of the briefings remotely while resting in the room. On Fran’s urging, I also went outside briefly a couple of times to get fresh air. She spent a lot of time out there, enjoying the air and looking out for wildlife - she saw a whale.

The expedition leader holds a daily recap where he shares plans for the next day and brings on guests for lightning talks. This happened at 6:30pm today, and dinner followed at 7pm. Unlike the buffet breakfast and lunch, dinner was a la carte. I couldn’t eat much once again, and actually began to feel worse during the meal. We headed back to the rooms soon after dinner to settle in and try to catch up on sleep lost the night before.

Front of my key card (with makeshift lanyard by Franny)

Some early observations about the fellow passengers on the expedition (198 total according to what we overheard at check-in)… The age range/composition skewed a little younger than we expected. One surprise is that there is one family that brought young-ish children - about low teenage or pre-teen. Another surprise is that Australians are tied with Americans as the most represented nationality (I believe 35% each) - we didn’t realize that Intrepid is an Australian company. Ethnicity is mostly white as expected, though there are quite a few Asians and a couple of other Blacks. Lastly, it should come as no surprise that people visiting Antarctica are already well-travelled. Of the people we’ve conversed with (or observed) so far only a couple of days in: this is the 7th continent for quite a few of them; a few of them are on extended trips (including Tom and TJ on 18 months through Africa and Latin America); a bunch have done previous expeditions with Intrepid; there have been many mentions of outdoor/adventure hobbies/interests/activities.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 3 - 12/28/2023 - Glaciar Martial

We received word yesterday when checking in that the meeting time for embarkation would likely be moved back to 7pm tonight from the originally planned 3pm. We tried last night to find an activity to do for today, but we couldn’t find a reasonably timed tour (e.g., to the national park). One concern/limitation was that it was supposed to snow and rain today. Also, we would need to give our luggage to Intrepid by 9am and then check out by 10am - even with the embarkation delay.

After breakfast and checking out, we decided that we wanted to do the hike up the nearby Glaciar Martial. Fran ran into another couple from England, TJ and Tom, with similar ideas. We waited around for them and all set out around 11am. It was about a 15 minute walk up the road to the start of the trail, and then another hour or so to get up to the top. It was snowing and quite windy during parts of the hike. We left TJ and Tom behind about halfway up, and if I was alone I probably would have turned around as well. But I had Fran there to keep me motivated to “just make it to the next bend” and then decide from there. I was definitely close to my limit in terms of cold as well, and needed to keep moving to maintain the warmth. In any case, Fran and I made it to the end of the trail, which was simply marked by a succinct sign post. The end itself did not provide a particularly stunning view, but the general landscape along the way was quite admirable. Also, there turned out to be not much of a glacier at all; perhaps because it was summer.

Hiking the Glaciar Martial trail

We took another hour to get back down to the hotel, where it took me quite a while to warm my fingers up to functioning condition again. They had a nice fire pit set up in one of the rooms, which helped provide warmth and dry our gear (in particular my inner layers). I should mention that I didn’t really have any pelvic discomfort until about halfway down, and didn’t have too much trouble lasting the remaining half hour or so.

After resting in the hotel for a while, we decided to take an Uber into town around 5pm to check out the gear shops again and have a light meal at Cafe Martinez once again. The meeting time was 7pm for departure by bus from the hotel, and 7:30pm at the final meeting point by the pier for those declining the transfer. We found out when we arrived at the meeting point that the ship - Ocean Endeavor - (which we could see from the shore) hadn’t even docked yet from the previous expedition (it already had one failed docking attempt after bad weather), and boarding would be delayed. Eight of us (including Michelle, Liz (who turned out to be from STL as well), TJ, Tom, Steph, and Katrina) decided to go wait and grab drinks at a nearby restaurant/bar overlooking the port; a couple of other smaller groups from the tour later came to the same place to have food. Fran bought a few empanadas from a small shop across the street for us to have later - the original expedition plan included dinner on the ship that night, but it was becoming more likely that this wouldn’t happen.

The latest information we had was that the ship would attempt to dock again at 9pm, and that we should be back at the meeting point by 9:30pm. We were able to watch the ship pull in and dock successfully, at which point the group headed back to the meeting point (around 9:45pm). After some more waiting around (the ship still needed to be unloaded after all), we eventually boarded the buses and were driven onto the pier, where we could board from the gangway. We were on board sometime before midnight. After a quick safety briefing we met our luggage back in our rooms. We didn’t get to bed until around 1am.

Our room for 12 days; they gave us the jacket as part of the package


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 2 - 12/27/2023 - Ushuaia

I fell asleep quite quickly the night before, but didn't stay asleep for very long. A combination of factors (a hard bed, street noise because we had the window open because otherwise the room was burning up, the early sunrise, and some pelvic discomfort) led to me spending probably more time awake as asleep over the course of the night; but at least I was resting. Fran thankfully slept better than I did, but was still tired from missed sleep over the last day of traveling. We therefore took our time getting going, and checked out around 11am. We wouldn't be able to check in to the hotel for the first night of the tour (the Wyndham Garden Hotel del Glaciar) until 3pm.

We left our luggage at the hotel while we went out to explore Ushuaia, particularly the main street Avenida San Martín. One of our first stops was for a late breakfast at a cafe. As we were leaving, we saw the couple who were at the taxi stand at the airport the night before. Fran, being the thoughtful and amicable person that she is, asked if they were able to figure out whatever plans they were having trouble with last night, and this turned into an incredible conversation. It turned out that they (George and Jenna) were doctors on their honeymoon trip, and the transfer they missed was to volunteer as medics on an expedition, and they were trying to figure out what to do for the time being before beginning their own Antarctica tour in a week. At some point they mentioned a friend who was a doctor who would be on our tour, and then I remarked that I should probably see the medic on our tour about my overactive bladder issues. This then turned into a free medical consultation as they tried to diagnose the underlying cause of my prostatitis, and suggested that I restart a new longer course of antibiotics. We took their informal prescription to a nearby pharmacy and were able to buy the second choice antibiotics over the counter. It's still somewhat unbelievable to me how Fran's "making friends" led to an encounter where these two doctors took time out of dealing with their own issues to display such helpfulness. I should also mention that my bladder symptoms were much better today than they had been the previous couple of days - probably thanks to a night of rest after the portion of the journey I was most anxious about.

By the shore in Ushuaia

We next continued to the end of the avenue, to the Museo Marítimo y del Presidio de Ushuaia - an old prison that had been converted into a museum about the prison, the maritime history of the area, and the history of native peoples in the area. It was worthwhile to see, but probably not worth spending a ton of time there - the collection is seemingly random at times, and there's too much to stay interested in for an extended period of time.

Looking down toward Ushuaia from Wyndham Garden Hotel del Glaciar

It began to rain lightly while we were in the museum, turning the nice crisp day into a wet and cold one. We eventually made our way back to a cafe for a hot chocolate while we waited for a couple of outdoor gear stores to open from siesta. After checking out the stores, but not buying anything, we we headed back to the Isla Bonita Suites to ask for a taxi over to the Wyndham Garden, which was about 10 minutes up the mountain out of town. We checked in with the tour group and the hotel, and later headed back down to meet some folks at the welcome mixer. We had (a disappointing) dinner at the hotel restaurant with a new friend Diane before heading up to the room.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

Antarctica 2023-4 - Days 0-1 - 12/25-6/2023 - To Ushuaia

This trip had been in the making for a long time; but the timing turned out not to be so great from a personal health perspective. Fran and I decided in February 2023 to pull the trigger on the Antarctica trip that we had been considering for a few years. We booked a 14 day tour through Intrepid Travel, mostly because they had offered a discount to Googlers last year (though sadly not this year). The bad timing part is that I somehow came down with prostatitis (an inflamed prostate) in early September, and, despite a few attempted treatment methods, have since had an overactive bladder and frequent pelvic discomfort. Needless to say, this is less than an ideal situation for the trip we are calling our honeymoon; never mind the tens of thousands of dollars we spent on it. You can imagine that I've been stressed out about this for a while, and stress is a contributor to prostatatis and can make symptoms worse. And unfortunately, the previously somewhat manageable symptoms began to flare up much worse 2 days before the trip.

We left on Christmas day, taking an 11ish hour overnight flight from JFK to Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires. I'll spare the details, but mention that the pelvic discomfort made this the most uncomfortable flight experience that I've had (though keeping in perspective that there are many people in much worse situations). Thankfully I had Fran there for support and reassurance; and it helped to have the two outer seats on the Boeing 767, giving us unobstructed access to the aisle. We both managed to get a few hours of (admittedly low quality) sleep during the night.

We arrived at EZE a little after 10am, and then had a 5pm flight from the other Buenos Aires airport, Aeroparque, to Ushuaia. The line to get through immigration was initially overflowing the queuing area, but things sped up as they distributed the foreigners to the VIP and Argentinian lines once those had receded. As we exited customs we found a stand for Tienda León, a company that we knew offered a shuttle bus between the airports. We also found out there that they offered a taxi transfer, so we opted for that instead - it was about twice as much as 2 tickets for the bus, but would get us there much faster (an immediate 45 minute ride vs waiting 45 minutes until noon and then a 1.5 hour ride).

We got to Aeroparque (which is just north of downtown) around noon, 5 hours before the flight. We couldn't check in until 2pm, so we found a cafe to grab a quick bite and then wandered around the airport grounds for a bit, looking for an outdoor seat to enjoy the nice weather (it was sunny and around 70° Fahrenheit). I was still dealing with discomfort and frequent urination, but managing. Matters were not helped by the discovery that the wheels of my (admittedly old) giant suitcase had both cracked in half; but they were thankfully still usable. We checked in and dropped off the luggage just past 2pm. We both noticed that our suitcases were tagged with "Sky Priority" by the agent, but didn't think much of it at the time. We next exited the airport grounds and walked across the road to check out the Christopher Columbus monument by the water, then returned to go through security.

Upon lining up to board the 4 hour flight, we found out that we were to board in the Sky Priority line. At that point we realized that our seats in the first row of the plane were probably not ordinary seats - they turned out to be in first class, something Fran didn't know when she selected them (and they were not expensive tickets either). That surprise certainly made the flight less uncomfortable, given my state at the time.

Flying into Ushuaia

After landing in Ushuaia we made our way to the taxi stand. There were a man and woman from an earlier flight in front of us who were trying to figure out how to make it to somewhere far, as they had missed their transfer from the airport. We didn't think too much of it at the time (besides that it was an unfortunate situation), but they would end up having an impact on our trip by the next day. We took a taxi into town to our hotel for the night - Isla Bonita Suites. We were both quite tired by now, and didn't stay up much later.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.