What We Learned From Circling Birds

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On Lake Erie, when you look out over the water and see birds circling it usually means there are schools of bait fish near the surface, or, depending on the type of birds, it could mean a decaying snack. Today we learned that down here there is a third possibility. Especially when the birds are accompanied by:

Antarctica Part 1 1649The dorsal fin of a killer whale.

Then four:

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Well, it doesn’t take long to figure out they’ve killed something big, and now the feast begins:

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Or, rather, the frenzy:

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At the time of this event, the naturalist on board speculated that the victim was probably a baby Humpback. Well, that had us all bummin’. It wasn’t until we got back and we started going through thousands of these photos that we found the culprits in the act.

In the picture below one Killer is kind enough to bring the victim, most likely a sea lion, to the surface for the dining pleasure of his friends. For good reason, it appears that killer whales don’t care to dive thousands of feet down just for a bite. A large part of their effort went to keeping the corpus delecti near the surface. By the way, I bear no ill will to sea lions, but if it turned out to be a baby humpback, I wasn’t going to tell you. I know how you people are!

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We found that the table manners of Killer Whales could stand improvement. You will see a very large piece hanging from this whale’s jaw:

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What started as a small group of four, by the time the carnage was over became a large group of around fourteen. It would have been something to have a microphone in the water. I’m sure there would have been lots of chatter. At last, dinner was winding down.

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Of course, still pictures can only tell so much. I posted the video on YouTube:

(Sorry for the camera shake!)

As we were crossing the Drake Passage we were informed by lecturers that a team from the US program at Palmer Station would be coming on board the ship on our second day here to tell us what they’ve been doing and how life is in such a place. Later, the captain came on the PA and said he had received a call from Palmer Station and was advised that the weather forecast for tomorrow was not good, so they were coming on board today. As if we hadn’t already had enough excitement!. Sure enough, I went out on the balcony and here came two Zodiaks:

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Soon they were knocking on the door!

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They passed by quite an iceberg on the way in:

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After dropping off the science crew, the two Zodiaks headed back. That is Palmer Station in the background. Apparently an iceberg has come to call in their harbor.

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A lot of people thought that as soon as they got on board they would want showers or laundry or something like that. Not so. They have all that stuff at the station. What they really wanted was salads and fresh fruit. The crew made sure they were well fed before their presentation. The first lady who spoke was introduced as the head of Palmer, but that doesn’t quite match up with the staff list on their web site. She is a scientist and might be in charge of research or of outreach or both. Or she might be the Queen of Antarctica. I should have kept better notes.

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She introduced the team and talked generally about the research being done at Palmer, which has to do with climate, oceanography, penguin studies (they are the canaries in our global mine), and much more. Then she turned it over to one of the scientists dealing with climate:

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This is how the ice shelf has changed at Palmer since 1975. That is not true of Antarctica as a whole, however, as in some areas there is growth. Antarctica is the last, largely unpolluted, area on Earth left for climate study. The impact of the studies done here have a global reach. Except they have apparently not reached Florida yet. Then is was time to meet the team:

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First there was a presentation from the lady on the right, who is not from Palmer, but has some connection to it.

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Then each member of the team had a chance to talk about what they do. All the science people applied for grants through the National Science Foundation and were funded to come here to complete and publish their projects. A few are undergrads but most are Masters or Doctorate level researchers. Some of the people presenting were part of the support team. The guy in the knit cap is a carpenter who came here because he was sick of Minnesota winters. Another of the support team, a plumber, got here simply by Googling “Jobs in Antarctica”. There was a lengthy Q&A which was very informative and funny. Then is was time for them to go back. What an impressive team it was!

If you are interested, here is the link to the Palmer Station web site:

http://pal.lternet.edu/

And, the National Science Foundation site related to Palmer and polar studies:

http://www.nsf.gov/geo/plr/support/palmerst.jsp

Well, what a big day our first day in Antarctica had been! We thought our adventures were over. Not so fast! The Zaandam has an on-board water purification system which produces water of good, but not drinking quality. As a result, we are not allowed to discharge waste into Antarctic water. We had to go 12 miles offshore. Well, as it turned out, the bad weather forecast for tomorrow arrived early. We found ourselves rolling for awhile, then the captain brought out the stabilizers. What a difference! Here were the conditions as noted on our TV monitor:

Apparent wind is the wind you feel when you are in motion. With the data from the screen I calculated the true wind at 64 mph. The waves were running 15 ft. plus. On a small boat, the quickest way to visit Davy Jone’s Locker is to take a wave on the side. But small boats don’t have stabilizers. (Wish they did!). The captain took all the seas on the side and kept us at an angle of heel of about 10 degrees.  How do I know? We were rolling pretty well when we were in the open ocean some time back so I took my ear buds, added some weight and made my own inclinometer:

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On that night, the black thingy extended past the dark stripe on the right. Using sticky notes on this screen I have calculated the sustained angle of heel to be about 10 degrees. Enough to cause slight discomfort, but not enough to have you throwing on your life jacket as you run screaming in your underwear down the hall. At last we were having the weather some of us hoped for!

In The Kingdom Of Ice

Following a disappointingly calm night crossing the Drake Passage, we pulled back the curtains the next morning to see this, our first view of Antarctica:

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Well, we didn’t have to go too far into our memory banks to realize we’d never seen any place like this before. Here was some more confirmation:

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One of the ladies in our group, who has been here before, described Antarctica as “Alaska on steroids.” When we were in Alaska some years ago we already thought it WAS on steroids. But….

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For those of you who like to see maps, here is one from the captain that outlines our voyage. I’ll put it up on each of the remaining Antarctica posts.

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If you want the real BIG picture, here that is also:

Antarctic Peninsula

As you can see on the first map, our first stop was Cuverville Island, famous for its rookery of Gentoo Penguins. All we had to do was step outside to know we had arrived.

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Cuverville Island
Cuverville Island

You will notice a sailboat to the right. Apparently it is now somewhat common for yachtsmen and/or women to cross the Drake Passage and come over here for sightseeing. Best wishes to them all!

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There was quite a lot of chattering going on with these guys!

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Some were trying to decide if this was a good time to go for a little dip.

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After a while we had to say goodbye, and good luck! But I will say, and I’m sure I could find plenty of our shipmates who would agree, there was more than one time I imagined myself being that guy. OK, maybe not in Antarctica, but some place. Now I’m just happy to be here under any circumstances.

It was time to head down Andvord Bay and see the sights: I don’t want to tell you your business, but if were me, I’d pour a nice cup of joe and take my time going through the next set.

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Thankfully, it’s the middle of summer!

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It is always good to know that somebody on the bridge is at least looking out the window!
It is always good to know that somebody on the bridge is at least looking out the window!

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Some day I think it will be discovered that some crazed electrician has secretly been wiring icebergs with blue lights. How else can it be explained?

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We’ve seen icebergs before, but not the size of the Doyt Perry stadium!

But they sure make a convenient resting place!

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Now we were entering Paradise Harbor to pass by the Videla Station, operated by our friends from Chile. There could possibly be some sanitation issues:

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Yes, it’s a research station, but it is also a whoppin’ big penguin rookery!

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I hope the dining hall is air tight!

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But now it was time to say goodbye to our Chilean friends!

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It wasn’t even noon yet and we headed for the Neumayer Channel

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We headed for the Channel, but things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Cape Horn

And mountain waves, like avalanches crashed upon the decks,

The screaming winds snapped ropes and spars,

and tried to have us wrecked.

but she rose and fell through the foam and the swell,

her sails were ripped and torn

Eight thousand tons tossed like a cork,

on the way around the wild Cape Horn.

-Ralph McTell

Here is a little video to help set the mood: (You might have to hit the back button after it’s over)

In the late 1970’s, having no boat, I resorted to the next best thing. I became an armchair sailor. In those years I read tale after mesmerizing tale of ships in the age of sail. Most of these stories could be divided into two categories: those who made it around Cape Horn and those that didn’t. Take the Bounty, for example, famous for the mutiny. For 29 days straight, Captain Bligh tried to round the Horn from east to west. Each day the Bounty was beaten back till finally the Captain turned her around, headed east and rounded the horn of Africa. He was not the only one who did the same thing.

Even as late as 1905, 133 ships left Europe bound for the West Coast of North America. 52 arrived at their destination, 4 wrecked, 22 put into ports of distress after Cape Horn damage, and 53 remain unaccounted for in a winter that brought some of the worst storms on record to a place already quite famous for them.

So, even today rounding the Horn is a sailor’s equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest. True, doing it in a cruise ship is like being helicoptered to Everest, but even veteran sailors on our ship were, like me, simply glad to finally see it.

We began the morning crossing the teeth of the Island of Deceit ( and who hasn’t at some time in their lives?) This is the northern end.

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By the time we reached the southern end, there it was in the distance! Cape Horn!

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My chance had come at last!

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And, it looked every bit as cheerful as we hoped it would!

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As we rounded her, her true nature was revealed:

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Mariners can take comfort knowing that in case of, say, an engine failure, the Cape offers a nice soft beach to land on.

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Antarctica Part 1 1288The Cape dead on, so to speak.

Cape Horn as virtually every great sailor and explorer in history saw her.
Cape Horn as virtually every great sailor and explorer in history saw her.

The first person to see Cape Horn saw it when just the highest promontory was sticking out of the fog. He assumed it was part of mainland South America and so, called it a cape. It is, however, an island, the southernmost in the cluster of islands that make up Tierra del Fuego. Tierra del Fuego translates as “Land of Fire” because when Magellan first sailed up his famous Strait the natives had lit bonfires all along the coast. Those particular natives never exactly took a shine to the palefaced visitors, so that to compound tragedies in this area, survivors of shipwrecks who found their way ashore were often killed by the natives.

The first person to see Cape Horn and understand that it was an island and that waters to the south might be navigable, was Sir Francis Drake. Sir Francis had made it all the way to the Pacific by going up the Magellan Strait. But, as soon as he made it to the open ocean a series of storms came up and blew him so far south that he could look north and see Cape Horn. When he got back he told everybody about the possibility of sailing around the Horn, but people were not much interested, preferring the Strait.

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The Chilean government maintains a naval station behind the cape.

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As you might imagine, Cape Horn is sacred ground for mariners the world over. In 1992 the Cape Horn Brotherhood placed a memorial to men of the sea from every nation who lost their lives struggling to round the Horn. As we rounded the Cape, the captain came over the PA system and said, “In honor of my colleagues who sailed these waters and did not return, I would like to read this poem which is inscribed at the memorial”.

I am the albatross that awaits you
At the end of the world.
I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners
Who passed Cape Horn
From all the oceans of the world.
But they did not die In the furious waves.
Today they sail on my wings
Toward eternity,
In the last crevice
Of the Antarctic winds.
Here is a photo from internet of the memorial, the only picture not mine that will be posted on this blog:
The memorial was built to withstand winds of 125 mph. The reason I used a photo taken by someone else is, this is how the memorial looked on the day we were there:
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Repairs are under way.
Although there was a pretty fair breeze, some of us were somewhat disappointed that the weather was as good as it was. After we rounded the Horn we approached the Chilean station and they sent a boat out to pick up the pilot. No problemo!
It was sufficiently difficult picking up the pilot that they couldn’t get his luggage on. They sent a Zodiak over for that.
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With the pilot safely off the ship, it was time to say goodbye to Cape Horn:
The good seawife, wishing it was just a little stormier.
The good seawife, wishing it was just a little stormier.

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We were now being accompanied on a regular basis by an albatross. I checked my shipmates regularly to make sure none of them had a crossbow.

We had entered the famous Drake Passage. It was more than kind of Sir Francis to treat us to a beautiful sunset:

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Tomorrow, at long last, we would be in Antarctica.

Ushuaia

On Friday, February 6th we found ourselves docked at the beautiful city of Ushuaia, pronounced by the locals oosh-EYE-uh. This city sits on the Beagle Canal in the only part of Tierra del Fuego that belongs to Argentina. Its claim to fame is that it is the southernmost city in the world.

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Unlike its Chilean counterparts, this is a modern and very lively resort city with a very busy private airport. It is also the place where almost all Antarctic expeditions are outfitted. The dock, was very busy.

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This one is part of a Russian fleet of research/tourist ships that operate in Antarctica. Last year a sister ship to this one got stuck in the ice and the tourists had to be helicoptered off.

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This ship is an Italian tourist ship, much smaller than ours, which takes people to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia Islands, and the Falklands all for a mere $16K per person. Bring the family!

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This is an Argentine fishing trawler. It’s not hard to imagine the world’s fisheries are under stress with these things floating around.

Well, anyway, for our stop in Ushuaia, we decided to book the Travel with Alan tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park. This was a bus tour and we, once again, piled on with our shipmates. Photography on bus tours is always problematic. For one thing, you have a 50/50 chance of being on the right side. Then, the bus only stops at the destination. No scenic turnouts. So, while I would typically start a series of pictures like this with a picture of the sign at the entrance to the park, this time it was on the opposite side and we blew by it so fast it would have been pure luck to get it at all. So, picture this, a sign that says, “Tierra del Fuego National Park”.

We wound down a VERY dusty road for maybe a half hour or so and finally the bus pulled to a stop in front of this lake. Well, NanSea, who is with us on the bus says, you can take a hike around the lake, or just relax, or, there is a post office here that is the southernmost post office in the world. You have 20 minutes.

Well, I had read about this post office and I knew that they postmarked their mail “Fin del Mundo” or End of the World. Well, this is exactly what we wanted for the family, so I made a B-line for the place. But, there were 6 or 7 buses already here and the line was long.

Yes, this is the post office at the end of the world.
Yes, this is the post office at the end of the world.
Since there was nothing around for miles, they made their own lunch
Since there was nothing around for miles, they made their own lunch

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Yes, the line was long and it moved very slowly. Why? There was only ONE guy to wait on all these people! AND he was the most meticulous guy I ever saw. I knew trouble was on the rise.

There were some people from TWA in line ahead of me and they hadn’t even been waited on before NanSea sticks her head in with her all-too-familiar “The bus is leaving!” admonishment. Our friends ahead of me looked stressed, but they held their ground. And I held mine.

The way this place works is, they have a bunch of cards in the rack on the right. You pick the ones you want, take them up there and the guy stamps them with the famous stamp and then sells you stamps to mail them. In time, my peeps finally made it up there. Then more time passed. I was now three people from the finish line, the only person left from TWA. In pops NanSea again. “The bus is leaving, NOW!” I said, “Don’t tell me. Tell HIM!” pointing to the lonesome clerk. Off goes NanSea.

Finally I get to the counter. I got six cards. Then, in Spanish, had to figure out how much postage. We came to a conclusion at last and he slowly and CAREFULLY tore off EACH FRIGGIN” STAMP!. Then he says, “Next!” Whoa! He hadn’t stamped the cards! We corrected that in an instant and I was out the door. Back I go to a very quiet and late bus. Again I arrive at the same simple concept: If you don’t want us to go there, don’t bring us!

Somewhere on the trip from the post office to our next stop, a visitor center/gift shop, I finally had my “Come To Alan” moment, which is this: The most we can ever hope for, traveling in groups like this, is a snapshot of the destination. Forget about leisurely stops at a sidewalk cafe, or a visit to a nice museum. When you travel in groups you have a single, solemn duty: get in and get the hell out.

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We went in, and they had lots of nice stuff. It didn’t matter to me. I was done standing in lines. Here is NanSea guiding one of our friends who was almost late:

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OK, so now that I reached this level of zen, I also found that I had to appreciate the upside to group travel, which is first, of course, price. We were having a far better experience than people getting on that fancy ship in Ushuaia. We may not be getting the depth, but we were certainly getting the breadth. And, as I said at the beginning, we knew nothing about South America and less about Antarctica, a perfect situation for having the buffet instead of the 6-course dinner. I was at peace. NanSea should expect almost no trouble from me for the duration.

Our journey continued:

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Our next stop was Lake Acigami, A beautiful fresh-water lake where the surf was definitely up. Then is it was time to go for a hike to Lapataia Bay

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We started out in the lowlands and wound our way into a forest of trees that were very unfamiliar.

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Finally we arrived at the overlook to Latataia Bay:

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Not too hard on the eyes! From here we climbed down to the water level, where they have a park and boardwalk set up.

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Here are a couple of sketchy road racers trying to convince the tourists that they had just traveled the entire length of the Pan-American Highway, which begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends right here. Our friend, Ron Shafer, took this slightly more believable shot:

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This sign spells out that the highway does end here, the beginning of which is 17,818 kilometers, or, as we like to say, 11,090 miles to the north. For those of you that have bucket lists, I suggest you add the complete Pan-American highway.

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A very pleasant place to spend some time!

After this stop, the tour was over and we headed back into town. When we returned we found we still had a couple hours so we chose to be dropped off near the shopping district:

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Ushuaia is a clean, modern town with all kinds of nice shops, although it was a little low on tourist goods, probably to their credit

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In Argentina the exchange rate is a little under 9 pesos to the USD. While that was easier on my frazzled brain, it didn’t take long to learn that things are much more expensive here than in Chile. In the early 2000’s the Argentine economy almost completely collapsed, and, while they have come a long way back, the inflation rate is still over 20%. Made me wish I hadn’t converted quite so many USDs. I still have a few pesos so if anybody wants a few for hedging purposes, I’ve got a great rate!

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Summer here is winding down, but the students are not yet back in school, There were quite a few here and just as we were heading back to the ship a rock band was tuning up on a nearby square. So, if you feel like REALLY heading south sometime, I’m pretty sure you could find a rockin’ good time in Ushuaia. Just keep those peso’s handy! For us, it was time to head back to home sweet home:

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The border with Chile is very close by and that night we stopped near a very small village, probably Cabo de Hornos, Chile, to take on the pilot who would guide us to Cape Horn. Ushuaia was the last stop we would make for the next six days.

Glacier Alley

Toward evening we said goodbye to Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan and headed south through the Cockburn Channel. This evening and all of the next day, Mother Nature would steal the show. The South American continent ends at Ushuaia, but across the Strait is the cluster of islands called Tierra del Fuego. This is still Chilean territory. It is where we headed next. We were treated to quite a sunset: Antarctica Part 1 984

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The mists were just starting to rise on the mountains.
The mists were just starting to rise on the mountains.

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The next morning we were at it early! In the night we had entered the Beagle Channel, named after the boat that carried Charles Darwin as a naturalist on a mission to survey Tierra del Fuego. His book The Voyage of the Beagle is a diary of this experience. Antarctica Part 1 988

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A little bit later we were treated to a beautiful moonrise: Antarctica Part 1 999 What a way to start the day. And, it got even better as the sunlight began playing off peaks!

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Finally! A waterfall! Antarctica Part 1 1020 That was a nice one! Wish we could see more!

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WOW!

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Throughout our journey down Glacier Alley the ship’s naturalist kept us informed about the qualities of each glacier, the wildlife in the area, the history, and so on. What an asset they were to the experience! As we have done so many times before, all we could say to ourselves: What a wonderful world! Antarctica Part 1 1072

At last, it was time to leave the channel for our next port of call, the last one before Antarctica. Antarctica Part 1 1074 As night fell, we found the lights of beautiful Ushuaia! We were now in Argentina! But not for long.

The Penguins of Magdalena Island

One thing you quickly experience when approaching a penguin colony is a certain aroma. Let’s just say it can bring tears to your eyes. And, it makes you wish there were a hog farm around just to sweeten the air. But all that is quickly forgotten upon arrival.

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And, they were all waiting to greet us!

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Thankfully there was a dock there, so it was easy to get off the boat. From the dock there is a roped off walkway that leads around the entire island. There are ample rangers there to keep you on the path.

From the time we got off the boat we were surrounded by cuteness:

Magellanic penguins live in burrows shaped like extended triangles. And (awww!) they mate with the same partner year after year. The male somehow finds his burrow from the previous year  and waits to reconnect with his female partner. The females are able to recognize their mates through their call alone. How they hear it above the squawking gulls is beyond us.

At the time of our visit many of the chicks were just finishing molting, while in some nests were chicks not very old.

A burrow with a chick almost ready to leave the nest

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Proud parents showing junior the way to the beach!

Here are some young penguins ready to try the water:

Our walkway led us to the visitor center/lighthouse:

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We saw numerous places on the island where our friends in the animal kingdom were able to demonstrate, in their own way, just how happy they were that we had discovered their nesting place:

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Here is a penguin parent bringing food for the family, something from the nearby sea:

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Some are clearly more into hygiene than others:

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Sometimes it’s just enough to only stand and wait:

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Although, there are others who feel it necessary to organize a beach patrol:

Then there are those who would be happy just to have a pedi:

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Happy Feet!!!

Along my way to the lighthouse I came across a naturalist whose job it was to clean off the signage:

Antarctica Part 1 899         She was more than happy that she had cheated death to come over here!

Soon it was time to say a sad goodbye:

But wait! Our co-captain had a treat in store!

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A small container of cookies and a cup of instant coffee for our long voyage home. I’m not a big instant coffee fan, but it’s kind of chilly, so OK. Hold on!!! What is that by his right elbow? A bottle of Pisco? One shot of that and, whoa!, the best coffee this side of Paris. It was a much more relaxing voyage home.

Adios, penguins!

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The Strait of Magellan

I believe it was Fred Almendinger, history teacher extraordinaire, who first introduced me to Ferdinand Magellan. It was not an introduction that I exactly treasured at the time. But times have changed and now we were about to sail the very waters that he sailed and see exactly what he saw. This was not an experience we took lightly. Here is how it began:

You will notice that the seas have gotten a little rougher. In my little boat it would have been time for a mayday broadcast. Our ship, however, couldn’t have cared less. We entered the Strait in the late afternoon and the plan was to sail through the night to Punta Arenas, our last scheduled stop in Chile. We would not see much more today, but we would see the second half tomorrow afternoon. Here is what was left:

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Toward sunset it finally started to clear.
Toward sunset it finally started to clear.
Good night, Ferdinand!
Good night, Ferdinand!

The next morning, we found ourselves anchored in beautiful Punta Arenas!

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Although there are many attractive natural wonders around here, that is not what we came to see. In researching this area what we found is that there is a huge rookery of Magellanic penguins on a place called Magdalena Island, which is several miles offshore in the Strait. What I learned is, there are two ways to get to this island. One is by commercial ferry, which is a 5 hour round trip. The other is by a private boat company called Solo Expediciones.

I first looked into the ferry and discovered that the day we would be in port they would not even be sailing till 5pm. Since our ship was due to leave a 5:30, this was a no go.

I then looked into the excursion offered through Holland-America and found that what they offered was a trip to the island aboard that same ferry that left at 10 am. Well, that was long since sold out, so I called and had us put on a wait list. A list for a day I was sure would never come.

I called the ferry company directly to see if we, as just plain citizens, could get on the 10:00 run. They acted like such a run didn’t even exist.

Then I looked into Solo Expediciones . Here is a post I found in Trip Advisor:

“Felt like a near death experience”
Reviewed January 13, 2015
P L E A S E Read It completley.

DO NOT Recommend this trip at all

On January 7th we took the trip to isla Magdalena with Solo Expediciones. There were a lot of people that seemed to be unaccounted for, they arrived there without reservations.
We got on the vans that took us to port, and the boat that was there to take us to the island didn’t look anything like the one on the pictures. There was also an extra boat that was very small where they put the rest of the people who didn’t fit on the bigger yellow one.
It was a RIB (Rigid inflatable boat) that seemed a little dodgy. they filled the boat with about 40 people and we all put life vests on which is completely understandable.
The trip to the island was about 45 minutes but the people inside were very scared cause 2 – 4meter (6 to 12 feet) waves were crashing on the boat and completely covering it every few seconds. There were no emergency exits or anything, it felt pretty unsafe, but finally we made it to Magdalena Island.
The penguins were great, it was very windy but its something no one could do anything about of course. We were on the island for about 40 minutes.

The Problem Started On Our Way Back.

First. They Told Us We Were Not Going To The Sea Wolves Island Which Was Also Understandable Because Of Weather Conditions.

Then My Family Had To Go On The Small Boat, Which I Think Is Only Used When They Have More People Than Expected, And Don’t Turn Down For Safety Reasons.

The Way Back, The Weather Wasnt Improving, And The Captain Told Us Not To Worry, We Were Gonna Be Back In 50 Mins One Hour Tops. But It Was 3 Hours

The Worst 3 Hours Of My Life.

Huge Waves Were Coming At Us, And It Was Looking Like The Boat Was Going To Turn Over Or Sink At Any Minute.

The Captain Had To Get Away From The Shore So He Could Try To Approach The Port From A Different Angle. The Strength Of The Wind And The Waves Wouldnt Let Us Any Closer To The Dock.

The Big Boat Passed Us And Didnt Wait For Us To Follow, Or Even Try To See What Was Going On.
The Captain Kept Saying It Would Be Only 20 More Minutes, But It Was Way More Than That.
Everyone In The Boat Was Really Worried, An Old Lady Was Almost Fainted And The Other Passengers Were All Getting Sea Sick.

Waves Kept Coming And My Family And I Even Started Praying And Thought I Would Have To Swim In A 3ªC Almos Frozen Ocean, Which Is Obviously Impossible.

We Were Worried That Gas Would Run Out Because If They Had Calculated 45 Minutes, 3 Hours Was Way Out Of Hand.

The Captain Seemed Nervous And Also Worried But Woulndt Say Anything In English Or In Spanish.

After 3 Times More The Estimated Time Of Getting Back, We Finally Got To Port.

But It Was Definitely Not Worth Risking Our Lives Or At Least That Is What It Seemed Like Just To See Some Penguins For 40 Minutes.

Definitely Not Recommended Or Worth The Money. Even If Some One Payed Me I Wouldn’t Go Again.

Well, even though, as is always the case on Trip Advisor, there were many other posts saying what a wonderful time they had, this one could hardly be ignored. It looked like we would not be seeing any penguins after all.

But, when all seemed lost, an ad appeared from a company called Viator on Trip Advisor offering a trip to Magdalena Island leaving at 10 am. They were charging $145 USD’s per, but that was still cheaper than Holland-America. I booked it instantly and cancelled our forlorn position on the wait list. I received an e-mail directing us to report to an address just a couple blocks from the dock. We were in business!

We actually arrived at the dock about an hour early for a change, and soon we found an internet cafe’.

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This was one of only two times we communicated with our peeps in three weeks. And, the internet was all in Spanish and we could not find a way to switch even Google to English. The 16 year old who ran place didn’t hable Englais and certainly didn’t care to engage in our usual sign language. Still, we managed.

After we struggled for an hour, we headed for the address we had been given:

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Well, well, well. Turns out Viator is merely a broker for services already in place. And, we paid $145 per for what we could have gotten for $88 on our own if we had EVER intended to call them which we certainly HAD NOT! And yet, here we were. It came down to penguins or no penguins. The deciding factor was the weather forecast we had received from the ship, which called for light winds all day. OK. Penguins it is. Soon we were zippin’ down the highway.

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Alright, let’s start looking on the bright side. For one thing, these guys have a dock much nearer to the island. That means instead of a two hour ferry ride, we have a 45 minute boat ride. Of course, the ferry ride is the one that offers a much better probability of return, that is, of returning alive. It all came down to this simple question: WWMD? What would Magellan do?

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I saw no particular reason to bring up the subject to the missus that we were booked with the company in the bad review. She read it, too. And, she could see the calm seas behind us. Everything was looking up!

Then our boat pulled in:

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Dang! We didn’t even get the bigger boat. I carefully grilled the people coming off. They all said they had a great time. So, in we go!

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You mariners will note a few things, that is, in addition to the life jackts: First, the homemade roof is supported by PVC pipe. Second, the exit looks just a little tiny. There is a larger one in back, but not much larger. And, last but not least, the gentleman at the end was one of two crew on board. I presume it must have been Casual Friday in the Chilean maritime trades. Clearly this guy and the captain had been to sea quite a few times, and, no doubt on both sea and land they knew something about survival. Who better to take us out on one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world? WWMD? He’d say full speed ahead! And, that’s what we did:

Although it didn’t seem like 45 minutes (actually it seemed quite a bit longer) we soon found ourselves pulling up, first, to Isla Marta, which is a nature preserve. We couldn’t get off the boat (although we all really kind of wanted to for reasons other than bird watching), but to his credit, our captain took us right up to the shore. Here is what we found:

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Cormorants were everywhere! And, they were quite vocal about their new visitors!

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But they weren’t the only ones! There were sea lions all over the place!

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Although they look like penguins from a distance, all that goes away when they start to fly.

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Clearly these guys have found a happy home.

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And the livin’ is easy.

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But when the boss starts barkin’, it’s time to shape up!

Next, we’ll visit the penguins!