After lunch we entered Cierva Cove. The Vavilov moored in the bay.
We lined up eagerly on the gangway. The northern sky was a foreboding grey yet filled with texture.
Humpback whales were swimming in front of giant icebergs.
Nothing can prepare you for the beauty and peace of this land at the bottom of the world. The ice masses intrigue. From steel blue to pure white, geometric and haphazard, the shapes appear in front of your eyes and fall away as the next more beautiful piece appears.
Near a giant iceberg we slowed the zodiac and had humpback whales diving in front of us. Their deep sigh near us as they breathed out resonated somewhere in my soul. I have felt their breath before in False Bay in the Cape, but here in this wilderness I was truly honoured.
We followed another whale, then another, trying to frame the big tail as it dripped water first against a glacier face, then an iceberg and finally a black cliff. Taking pictures in the freezing cold and poor light from a kneeling position in a zodiac is not easy, but the experience was worth just being there, even without a camera.
We left the whales and made our way to the western edge of the bay, to look at giant icebergs. Along the way we saw smaller more interesting shapes and shades. We had penguins on the ice, a small group on a massive slab. Then two on a smaller block. Suddenly they became three as one flew onto the ice from the water. Penguins transform in water as pure swimming machines to land on ice as clumsy clowns. The transition is instant.
It started snowing and we headed back. We were far from the ship and were thinking up excuses for Boris, the expedition leader, to explain the delay:
“Tell him we had a puncture” piped up one voice.
“No, tell him a whale breached right next to us and we nearly sank” said another.
As we joked and squinted through the sea spray and snow three Minke whales breached right next to us a few times, feeding. It was a beautiful and inspiring sight.
Back on board the Vavilov we celebrated with a whisky on glacier ice. As we steamed out of Cierva Cove we had humpback whales circle feeding on either side of the ship. The lounge erupted like a rowdy football crowd, with each side cheering as their whales breached.
Truly, a spectacular sight.
I have no idea why we still hunt whales. Nor do I understand why we are systematically destroying our fragile earth?
The Vavilov had sailed on the north of the South Shetland Islands because thick ice prevented us entering the Antarctic Sound.
Now we had turned and were sailing in the channel between the islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
On ether side of the ship rose towering black cliffed mountains with thick glaciers cutting the valleys right to the sea.
After a fresh smoothie from Amanda and breakfast we landed at Mikkelsen Harbour, facing the great continent. The ice and snow shone bright white in the sun, under a blue sky with small cumulus clouds dotting the horizon.
We landed amongst the debris of whalebones, geometric vertebra lying like toys in the gravel and ice blocks. I lay down to compose pictures with the ice shapes and the Gentoo Penguins came to investigate me. They were inquisitive, like short-necked giraffes; dreamy eyes stretching forward to see what was lying on the ground.
After a while I climbed a short hill to the other side of the bay, where the weathered red container structure of an Argentinian base scarred the rocky promontory. Before reaching the Gentoo colony at the base, I played around with penguins on snow highways and then moved to the colony. From there we had sight of a long highway coming straight at us down the slope, but somehow the pictures were not working.
There was a lot of excitement around the base. The penguins were not feeding but roosting on their eggs. Movement was limited. Then slowly one would bend down and nudge the speckled white egg as the chick breached the shell and came to life. We saw a few at various stages of birth. Time seemed to stand still as these noisy garrulous ungainly on land birds shifted up and moved back to allow the egg to crack and the young chick to hatch.
We had to rush back to catch the last zodiac to the ship, passing another Gentoo on the beach that was pecking at the remains of one of his kin.
On deck the sun remained low and it got much colder. The kitchen staff had put barrels on the stern and had prepared a braai (a South African barbeque). The smells were incongruous for me and as the meat came off the grill it froze to the plate in my hand. I was warm initially from the activity on Mikkelsen Harbour and did not take all my outer gear to the braai and froze. I found a protected spot and stood chatting to Luis who guides for Rock Jumper birding tours and also Suricato in South America.
As lunch wound down and people snacked on the fresh profiteroles for desert, the sky became grey and we set sail for Cervia Bay. Between the
peninsula and us we spotted 5 Orcas, about 1 kilometer off the starboard. What excitement on the ship.
Penguins on snow highways. That was one of the photographs I wanted to capture, Today was the day.
After three days at sea it was exciting to be doing an excursion again. This morning we would be landing on Halfmoon Island, with three big Chinstrap Penguin Colonies, and perhaps one or two Macaroni penguins.
It was like being in grade school again. We were all very excited. Waterproof bags were shouldered with camera kit and after breakfast we loaded onto the zodiacs and landed near the wreck of an old rowing boat.
There were no seals here, just snow ice, penguin highways and penguins. I stepped of the contour highway that passed the first colony on my right. You have to step off to give the penguins right of way. I was on my knees gazing at the sheer beauty of the colony nestled on rocks stained red with regurgitated feed against a backdrop of black peaks shouldering above the white ice.
After a while I flopped exhausted onto my back and gazed up at the blue grey sky. Everyone passed me on foot and looked down at this crazy snowman. But I was so happy. And tired. I was exhausted by being bunk bound for so many days and not eating. But this was the new me on ice and snow.
I moved to a saddle where a few people were sitting. It was a great position as from our left we could see the penguins walking towards us along a contour, and from our right we could see the clean penguins coming up from the sea, cresting in the s-shaped path.
We made our way along the beach to another colony where we say the macaroni Penguin and many
young Chinstraps. We could see across the bay to glaciers carving their way through mountains reaching the sea.
It was wonderful and invigorating to be on solid land again, even if it was covered with ice. The outing broke three days of sailing and being ship bound. It was good to get back to the Vavilov and have a hot lunch.
The topic at lunch was the visit to Deception Island and the Polar Plunge. Before the trip I had thought about the raw beauty of the continent I was to see, of the explorers of the last century and of the amazing wildlife spectacles I would witness. But I had no idea that people made a thing of swimming in the icy waters. I first saw this the morning before we left when I was doing some research on the small ship I had seen from the helicopter. But I knew I would want to do something crazy like that and soon I would be.
We entered Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island through a narrow gorge. More tension showed on the Russian crews’ faces. About as much tension as on the faces of the rest of us who would be doing the swim. We landed in a Mad Max world of the remains of a whaling station. This was destroyed not only by the severe climate but also by a volcanic eruption in 1970. Yes, we were in the crater of an active volcano. The air temperature was -2 °C and the water surface temperature was 2 °C but close to zero a few centimetres below the surface. It had snowed heavily here two weeks before, and although thick snow lay on the slopes, the beach was dry with dust from the heat of the volcano. I took my gloves off and could not feel any warmth. Come to think of it, my feet were not warm either!
Marius, Steven, Johan and I walked around the bay, up onto a hill and had a relaxing afternoon of fun photography. It is important to do that in photography, because if you do not have fun your pictures die a slow death. It always amazes me how photography ( or any creative pursuit) is just like life. Best to enjoy it.
Then we met at the water’s edge for the swim. I joined the girls who would be swimming with me: Angela, Danielle and Alex. The truth be told I could not sneak a peak at them in their bikinis because my eyes were watering. There is only one way to do the Polar Plunge. Strip and run into the water. You have to submerge your head to qualify. I did
that and came up with a mouthful of sulphurous volcanic gravel.
Back on land everything froze. The wind had picked up. It was difficult to dress: numb fingers would not pull zippers, my face and head were locked in a grimace, trying to breathe but there was no warm air. I do not recall any of the pain of entering the water or submerging. Nor trying to run out onto the dry gravel. But the drying and dressing part was excruciating.
After what seemed like a full moon rise we clambered aboard the zodiac and saw whales breaching between the Vavilov and the beach. On board I had a hot shower (I declined the invitation to the sauna with the girls on account of me still searching for my manhood) but took my bottle of whisky from duty free that had not been touched for two weeks up to the bar and celebrated.
I was Polar One. Angela Polar Two. Danielle Polar Three. And Alex was Polar Four. We were crazy enough to have gone for a swim in midsummer in the Antarctic waters.
I was so happy. What a fantastic day on and about the Vavilov!
Thanks to Johan Slazus for the pictures of the Plunge.
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I started a course of antibiotics and took anti-inflammatories to control my fever.
At least I was not nauseous. I just lay in my bunk alternately sweating in my shorts on top of the duvet then shivering under the duvet and two blankets with my thermal underwear on.
I left my bunk on the morning of day 13 on the Vavilov.
Over the last two days I missed incredible talks by the ship’s photographers, historian, biologist and ornithologist. I also was too sick to watch the reenactment of Shackleton’s journey across the Weddel Sea where a group of modern day explorers did the same trip from an ice flow to South Georgia in a small boat built to the original specifications with the same clothing and food: Shackleton, Death or Glory.
Day 13 was a crisp day with us cruising past Elephant Isle. The sky was a strong blue with streaks of cirrus clouds laying a soft pattern in the sky. The white of the clouds matched the snow and ice on the island. We got in close enough to see the bust of Captain Luis Alberto Pardo, the Chilean captain of a steam tug “Yelcho” that rescued Wild and 21 others. We had started their trip in reverse. First we saw the harsh Alps of South Georgia where Shackleton had landed and crossed the snow and ice laden peaks. Then we crossed the sea to Elephant Island, and now we were moving towards the South Shetlands and we seeing icebergs along the way. Schackleton and all his men had survived an 800 mile trip through ice and storms. It is one of the most incredible expedition stories of our time. Although the expedition itself was not successful in it’s objective to cross the Antarctic from side to side, the journey expressed the strength of men and solid and visionary leadership. Shackleton was truly loved, admired and respected by his men. The story is worth a read or watch the film.
First thing that morning I went to the bar, weak again from not eating, and was happy to see Amanda’s smiling face and the blender filled with fruit and berries for a smoothie. I sat next to one of the older passenger whom I had only greeted before. She looked and me, said good morning then asked:
“Do you dream?”
I was flabbergasted, then remembered that this universe is filled with synchronicity.
“Oh, yes I do” I said to the stranger. “In fact I really had a terrible dream about someone close dying last night. But I know they are OK for now, but that it will happen in the future.”
“I didn’t dream so much when I was on medication for depression”, she said, us not having said anything before except “Hi, where are you from?” She was from New York. “Now I dream more and talk about it a lot to my therapist” she finished, and sipped her smoothie.
I then told her about Ian Player and his Dream Centre Workshops in the Karkloof, and how he has kept a Dream Diary for most of his adult life
We parted and I continued my dream trip to the Antarctic.
We landed on a stone beach in moderate surf amongst a group of Elephant seals.
Grey-black clouds billowed over the mountains, attempting to cover the gun blue glacier face that divided the black cliff at the other end of the bay..
A loud crack and puff of pure white snow announced the birthing of the glacier.
The Five-Meter Rule
Simon Boyes, the ornithologist on board, led us through the giant Elephant Seals that were jousting to secure their harem. They can weight up to 3 tons and raise their necks by extending their backs to face the competition. They are a lot less graceful and if you stand 5 meters away (the rule of wildlife viewing in the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic region) then invariably some penguins walk up behind you and start pecking at any loose straps. There are 400 000 Elephant Seals on South Georgia, making up 75% of the global population. The scientific name is Mirounga leonina
The Origin of Scientific Names
My fascination with the origin of names was worthwhile in this instance. Many have Greek derivation, as in the leonina for lion-like. But the Genus Mirounga is derived from the old Aboriginal word for these animals, whose range stretches to the Sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia.
Simon led us to a breeding colony of King Penguins on the beach. He drew a line with his foot in the pebble beach to keep us from entering the thickest part of the colony. This line did nothing to prevent the penguins from coming to investigate us. We set up to photograph in a jaw dropping position: penguins squawking; elephant seals jousting; penguins incubating eggs while last years hatchlings were bigger than their parents and covered in brown down; wieners barking and skuas flying and landing like scavengers at war.
Snow Does Not Stop photography
Then it started snowing. First lightly then much harder, then the wind picked up to break the muffled quiet of the snow. Many of the group slowly returned to the zodiacs and the ship, but we stayed till the last and were frozen, even with thick and proper layered outdoor gear.
Marius had a moment of genius when he noticed penguins waling through the brood and panned them at a slow shutter speed. He gracefully shared his idea with his clients. What a great and generous photographer. Have a look at his website here.
Back to the ship and we were all on a high from an intensely beautiful yet rugged morning.
The Elusive South Georgia Pipit
It was to be the birders afternoon as we cruised onto Drygalski Fjord. The bridge is open at all times to passengers but the tension is palpable as the captain and crew negotiate the narrow entry into rocky harbours or fjords. I am sure they must use some vodka to distress afterwards.
The birders were there to see the last remaining South Georgia Pipits, the most southerly passerine in the world and endemic to South Georgia. There was a rat free island here where the bird could breed and the eggs were not destroyed. The birder’s disappointment was audible when the ship had to swing around in the fjord and exit because of a snowstorm.
Crossing the Scotia Sea
The next two days saw us crossing the Scotia Sea. I survived the trip in terms of motion with three drugs now: Epanutin, Stugeron and Scopolamine. Then I was struck down by ‘flu, and took to my bunk for another two days of hallucination.
But when I surfaced we had crossed 60 degrees south and we were in the thick of ice.
Whale blubber tanks are only slightly smaller than oil refinery tanks.
The tanks and town buildings of Stromness Bay were uniformly red from the rust and looked peaceful set at the base of glaciers and in the green grass at the water’s edge.
This Mad Max like setting belied the peacefulness of the bay and mountains: the buildings were built with asbestos insulation and it was dangerous to land and disturb the carcinogenic fibres.
The size of the tanks disturbed me. We were still hunting whales, our 7 billion inhabitants of this fragile earth. We were still building tanks, but now there were many more, mainly in the hot arid desert regions of our earth, filled with fossil oil. We are still so inefficient and have so much to learn.
After lunch we moored in the bay of Grytviken and were introduced to the Director of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, Sarah Lurcock who presented on the history of the trust and the Rat Eradication Project. Rats are exotic to the islands and arrived with the numerous shipwrecks. They breed like rats (or rabbits) and eats small bird eggs to the point that they almost eradicated the South Georgia Pipit, and endemic species and the most southerly passerine in the world.
The program started with a pilot study, which used helicopters to drop poison pellets with minimal secondary fallout. They are currently completing the second phase and have the third and last phase to complete to have eradicated the rodent from the island. Interestingly, the effect of global warming is felt here. Before the glaciers would reach the sea and form district geographic barriers to the rat movement, but now with them receding there is a beach between the wall of ice and the sea, which the rats use to traverse to previously, unexplored (or now eradicated) areas. So there is some urgency to use the remaining barriers to optmise the rat eradication program.
Grytviken is the capital of South Georgia. The buildings have been cleared of asbestos and there is a museum, post office and a research station. About twenty people live on the island in summer. Our ship’s historian, Kate Murray, did and internship there last year and indeed she was the kingpin in getting us to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave in the cemetery of Grytviken.
For those not familiar with the one greatest explorers of our world it is best to read his book “South” it is well worth it. He stands out as a great leader of men in desperate times.
The landing at Grytviken was somber with our toast at his grave. A wee dram of whiskey burnt our throats and the brought life to his grave.
There is a Mexican belief related to All Saints’ Day:
“We all die three times. The first is when the body ceases its function. The second is when the soil covers our grave. The last is when our name is no longer spoken.”
Ernest Schackleton will live forever.
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Overnight we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, where the icy waters of the Antarctic mix with the warmer waters of the Atlantic.
The ship maintained a blackout with no outside lights except essential navigation lights and all cabins had to have the blackout curtains drawn. We were doing this to avoid petrel mortality as they flew into the light like moths.
I awoke a new man. No sickness. I was so happy to be alive!
I was up before breakfast and went upstairs to the lounge and to the deck to suck in the sweet cold dry air and be faced with glaciers a few hundred meters away on either side of the ship. After being laid low I had forgotten all this port and starboard stuff.
I was looking at South Georgia, a long island running north south with a western seaboard that was hammered by Antarctic weather systems, and the eastern seaboard that had numerous bays that had been carved out by glaciers that still reached the sea, although in some places they were receding. The sea was ice blue, the sky clear with some wind. It was 1 Degree Celsius. Penguins were porpoising along side the ship and seals played like puppies around us in the water.
I sat at the bar and had one of Amanda Jurinen’s famous Smoothies. It paid to get there early. Amanda always had a smile on and with her soft voice a warm greeting and a story to tell. She was a wonderful hostess.
Sailing Along Salisbury Plain
After a light breakfast we readied ourselves for an excursion to Salisbury Plain, which is found with the Bay of Isles. The expedition team tried to land but decided it was too rough with big surf breaking on the black gravel beaches. We ended up riding the Zodiacs behind the backline, which was only 20 meters or so from the beach, so we would get good close ups of the view.
What a view it was: silver-white waves rolling onto the beach that was home to a breeding colony of King Penguins of more than 300 000 birds. Fur seals too numerous to mention. The colony stretched up from the beach, which was the widest point up into a low valley in the Alpine setting between the Grace and Lucas Glaciers. Yes, the mountains of South Georgia rise above the glaciers like the Alps rise above the plains of Italy and Germany. Except here he plains are the sea.
In the Zodiacs we could almost touch the penguins and seals. They launched themselves into the surf and played, some penguins swimming backstroke while others dived. They played in groups and broke away to hunt. On the beach the masses thronged and it was truly one of the amazing wildlife spectacles of this fragile earth of ours.
So Lucky in Fortuna Bay
We boarded the Vavilov and made our way further down the island to Fortuna Bay. This was much more protected than Salisbury Plains and we landed easily and in the midst of penguins and baby seals, or wieners. There was a King Penguin breeding colony at the base of a glacier about 1 kilometer inland, but I was so engrossed with the wieners and the young penguins in their brown down that I hardly moved from where we landed.
There were clear streams of water flowing in the green grass, while the waterfalls not a few hundred meters away that fell into the wetland were frozen. The peaks were high and covered in snow, the valleys lined with glaciers.
As we stood to take pictures and compose penguins and wieners would come up behind you, and when you turn around the wieners would bark and feign attack, just like a playful puppy.
Both Salisbury plain and Fortuna bay were stellar introductions to the spectacular wildlife of South Georgia.
The next 48 hours were tough. When the aggressive soup was restrained at dinner on New Year’s Eve I received a visit from Liz Gifford shortly after
She was doing her cabin check and there I was groaning in my bunk with the window opened a slit for fresh cold air. I was on the 5th level and between the roll of the boat and the size of the waves they were breaking at my window level and would drench me if it was left open.
Liz is a wonderful person; very caring and sensitive. She is well read, an anthropologist who studied in Greece, a yoga instructor, a qualified wilderness guide and knows bears very well. She is also an excellent host for Penguin Pictionary.
More than that, as I was to discover later when I had recovered, she takes the most amazing photographs. I have never seen such sensual and sensitive pictures of icebergs like the ones she has captured. I cannot find a link to any over her beautiful work, otherwise it would be here.
I sipped water through the night, double dosed on Stugeron and still struggled. I was bed bound. The next morning Liz found me in bed still after the breakfast call. I felt still the same at lunch. It was my first New Year’s Day that nobody wished me for St Basil’s Day. It really felt empty. At lunch she brought me my One Ocean motion sickness survival pack: a packet of cream cracker biscuits and a can of ginger ale. I was still in bed at dinner.
The ship’s doctor, Sarah Oxley, had been to see me and given me another tablet at first. The next day when I was still sick she gave me some Odansitron.
This is a super strong medication they use in post-anaesthesia nausea, but it made no difference. When she gave me the Odansitron she said something to the effect that “you really shouldn’t be on the ship if you get this sick, because it is going to get much rougher!” Liz visited me again that evening and during the day, Stephen, my roommate kept popping in and supplying ginger ales. Marius came by a few times and the next morning captured a Fuji moment with me weak in bed. Johan also came by on the 1st and then on the 2nd he brought a small bread roll after lunch and left it on the counter next to my desk.
Liz visited again at dinner and for breakfast. On the morning of the second I was so weak and scared I was thinking of getting hold of the satellite phone and calling for a helicopter to get out. Sarah came by after the Odansitron had failed and gave me an injection of Phenergan later that morning and I slept till late afternoon. When I awoke 2nd Janaury I devoured the bread roll, cancelled the satellite phone call and wrote in my journal:
“Hmm, only writing now after Stanley’s fish & chips.
1 Jan: was very sick. Lay in bed.
2 Jan: Got Odansitron from Sarah then injection of Phenergan and woke up OK.
Am so weak & tired. Managed soup for dinner.
Lights out to save petrels en route to South Georgia”
That evening I hobbled into the dining room and raised my hands:
“I am no longer Basil. Lazarus has arrived on board!”
Everyone laughed and from then when anyone was sick on the ship they used a new euphemism. No longer did they say the person is sick. They just said they “had been Basiled!”
This is a long post to explain what happened when the forces of nature relegated me to my bunk and had me wish for a puff of grass as instructed by my anesthetist, Pawel Wisniewski. It was just not available in the dispensary. Maybe if I sailed through Colorado where it is now legal I could get some for the nausea.
But the setback cleared two things in my mind:
I really wanted to be going to South Georgia and the Antarctic, and I would survive anything to get there.
During the two days in my bunk I came to the realisation that I had not been touched nor had touched anyone for days and felt strangely isolated. My everyday life is filled with touching people, at home and at work, and I really missed that.
I had not penned a poem for years but as I lay curled up in my bunk rocking from side to side, my mind light from the two-day fast and the drugs to try control the nausea, my thoughts floated away.
I grasped these words out of nowhere when I realized how important it was for me to touch people, physically and with an aura of thought expressed in writing and pictures.
Liz and I had some deep conversations when she visited me but I cannot remember any details. We spoke of travel, of exploring, of growth, of wilderness and of the collective subconscious.
Then out of nowhere came this poem:
Far away, where even eagles do not soar,
Where sunset never happens but can hold the evening.
A land so harsh, yet a land so beautiful.
A land where our dreams are lost, where the spirit is gone.
Emptiness fills the silence and the white.
A land where the sea closes you off with waves,
Or great ice blocks your passage.
An empty land, cold and fearless,
Where our collective unconscious fails.
God fails almost?
Something I saw a lot of was bird feathers; when the penguins moult the feathers collect in patches at the water’s edge and then get blown into the snow to form pockets or ice to form frozen fossils. Finding feathers all over the place was reassuring, and slowly I began to record the dreams I had and look for the feathers. My spirit was connecting but I was struggling to define to what. There seemed a paucity of spirits in this place, like no other wilderness I had been to. Yet there were just so many messages that I saw but I was just not ready.
Quiet in heaven’s soft light
Glaciers glowing blue at the water’s edge
Cold feet and fingers frozen
Eyes watery to frame a feeling
Close enough to touch
And to dive into the water
Black blue land on the horizon
Swallows a single stony peak
White fades into blue into grey
Absolutely nothing in the way
The sea waves stop moving
The world is growing closer
Still colder camera battery fails
Slow picture making
No wind or sun just being
Slowly a picture appeared at my side and then in the camera:
Three weeks later as I walked down the steps into my home a single feather floated down in front of me and whispered: “ Everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see.”
I felt an immense peace descend on me in the midst of the bedlam of city and surgical life.
“Good morning” came the wake up call at 7 a.m. , later than usual. Boris (the expedition leader) has a mid-Atlantic singsong accent. “We are about to enter Port Stanley and should ready for the gangway at 9 a.m. The weather is overcast, temperature 5 degrees Celsius and winds will pick up later. Gangway time is 9 a.m.”.
After a short overnight cruise we arrived at Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands whose total population is a bit over 2600. Our two lifeboats of passengers and crew would not add significantly to the tourism income on the 31st December 2013, but we are on land again. I imagine when a big cruise ship arrives the population of the island must double sometimes and all the bars and coffee shops must be open.
The Vavilov entered through a narrow isthmus into a large bay, oblong with the long end opposite the entrance. The town lay on this facing bank, having been severely damaged by landslides due to aggressive peat harvesting and then the war of 1982.
Let me say that I spent from 1978 avoiding conscription in South Africa until it was abolished in 1992. Most wars today and in the past are not about what is right or wrong, but rather a power game. That’s makes war a non-started in my books.
Stanley looks like an English town with quaint buildings and bright colours, but no hedges or village greens or avenues of oaks. The tundra is brown and desolate. The sky and sea were grey. I was tired of the big cameras so I slung the Fuji X100 around my neck and hit the town.
Passport control consisted of the Vavilov authorities giving the Falkland Immigration Officials a pile of documents to be stamped. Then we jumped off the Zodiacs onto the pier and walked through customs control shedding life jackets and outer gear on the benches lining a glass structure next to the pier.
On land Again
First stop was the local tourist information and curio shop cleverly marked with penguin prints in the tar leading from the customs. With the impending
isolation from mobile and internet coverage I felt myself withdraw more from the quaint commercial attempts in Stanley. I bought nothing.
The first stop our photographic group made was at the Christ Church Cathedral. Outside in the adjacent park is a monument made by sparring four whale ribs and joining them at the top. The stone church is beautiful and simple, and has touched the lives of many. Memorial plaques that line the inner walls attest this for the saving or loss of whalers, frontiersman, explorers and soldiers.
After the church we walked along the waterfront, slightly raised from a narrow pebble strewn beach littered with parts of or total shipwrecks. We stopped to watch Landrovers go by and take some panning shots. The inhabitants are weathered like their cars, with an air of irritation that tourists have invaded their peaceful town. At least most of us were English or of `Commonwealth origin. Argentines were definitely not welcome! For the South Africans that read this I got the feeling this was the “Oranje” of the South Atlantic, except they spoke English and not Afrikaans.
We walked past the post office and city hall, the flower lined lane to Government House (the Falkland Islands is independent but under British Protection), then the Liberation Monument and War Memorial. We ended at the Jhetum Shipwreck, and turned around, with the bay on our left and the large hospital on our right. The hospital was incongruously large for a population that small, but I suppose it serves the Antarctic bases and shipping community as well.
Malvina House Hotel
We stopped for a cup of tea at the Malvina House Hotel. Considering the antagonism to the Argentinians I was surprised to find a newish hotel with a Spanish name. I suppose if it was Hotel Porto Argentino it would have been bombed or burnt down. Shelley, mother of Garrad and Alex, two children on the ship, was sitting there writing in her journal. Joe was out exploring with the children. He had just returned from a trip climbing Mount Vincent, the tallest peak on the continent, but more about that later. Also, tucked away in the corner were a few of the expedition crew huddled over Macbooks catching up on emails and social media. The ship does have limited email access but only a few people connected on board and I cannot imagine spoiling all that peace with the main distraction of our current generation. Never before has a generation been so distracted from living as now by the power of the internet and all the mindless entertainment it has spawned.
Fish and Chips at “The Victory”
After tea we walked to find a fish and chips bar. Many bars and restaurants were closed at lunch on the last day of the year, but we found “The Victory” and huddled inside. We toasted our voyage and Lawrence’s Hasselblad with Foster’s Beer (there was no local beer), ate the fish and chips, while I looked at the picture of the great Polaris Icebreaker on the wall. Our Vavilov looked way too small and I was about to find out that reality.
After lunch we meandered back to the pier, kitted up for the Zodiac trip and asked Quinn to do a short trip of the bay so we could take pictures.
Aggressive Soup Curtails Dinner
Back on the ship we left our boots in the mudroom, took our wet skins to our cabins and hang them in the corridor to dry. I was excited, but Boris made an announcement that would change my life:
“Welcome back on board, ladies and gentleman. I am sure you had a fantastic time in Stanley. We set sail shortly and will be entering the open sea in about two hours. The weather forecast is for strong wind so please pack away all loose items in your cabin and check there is nothing to fall off shelves or roll onto your head while sleeping. A big camera can do a lot of damage. Once you have storm proofed your cabin please come down at 5:30 p.m. to the presentation room for Ira Meyer’s talk on “Photography in the Antarctic”. After packing away my gear, I went down to the 2nd level Presentation Room. I was excited and I was getting to know Ira and loved his work. He published a book last year called “ICE at the Ends of the Earth”, which is filled with beautiful and moving story-telling pictures of the polar ice, north and south.
I might have gone in to the Presentation Room but I left the “Vomitorium” as Ira ended and questions started. The boat was really rolling.
Huddled in bed for New Year’s Eve I heard that dreaded announcement:
“Ladies and gentleman. It is 7:30 and dinner is served. Please note because of the rough seas the soup will not be served.”
As I lay sick in my bunk I could only laugh at the thought that the soup was too aggressive to take out on rough sea days.