ANTARCTICA DECEMBER 27- JANUARY 10, 1989
December 27, 1988 I'm still having a hard time getting myself focused on anything and, a contradiction, as hard a time getting myself unplugged from the bank et al. Coming back from Philly yesterday gave me the perfect chance to get a head start on preparations, but aside from an errand or two, I did nothing. It was only when I got up this morning (at (am thank you) that I even checked my tickets. Surprise! The flight that I had in my mind as 5pm was really 1:55. That news inspired me to pack, but through a fog. It seemed still as though my brains had atrophied, lost all elasticity. I could detect a low vibration, but the whole brain feels rigid. This trip may keep me from shattering into time little fragments. Finally declared my packing complete and called All-City to cab it to the airport. Painless as usual. Flight on Pan Am to Miami was not restful. I don't think I've even seen a flight with more kids on it. Left La Guardia an hour late, but made up most of it. I spent the bulk of the flight paying bills and opening mail that had piled up over the last month. I hadn't realized how much I'd lost control-several weeks worth of mail that I simply hadn't been able to cope with. Anyway, cleared through most of it so I can head off with a clear conscience. (Mailed everything in the Miami airport.)The connection in Miami was easy, only had to lug my bag across one concourse. Of course, I did head in the wrong direction first, but no great harm done. The Society Expeditions rep was waiting at the Lan Chile desk although it was still five hours before check in. The red parkas make it easy to spot group members. Several predicable types-well heeled older and adventurous couples or New England ladies. Had a drink and a bite with a pleasant guy my age-Bain Chadsey from New Mexico. He's a writer gone investor. Grew up with money in Connecticut. Went to Penn '75. So it's a start. The wait here seems endless. Sitting on the floor watching the usual confusion over seats and luggage and times... it's a wonder airports work at all. I just want to get on the plane;-have a nice sleep and GET ON WITH IT. I'm already bored with being in transit. If this is sounding a bit sour, it's because it's past my bedtime. I can feel the ache gathering in the two accustomed spots: in my neck and in the pinpoint spot between my eyebrows. Heaven right now would be a massage and a queen size bed. (Am I pining for the Boltons or what?)Getting there has got to be the worst part of traveling.
December 28 Long sleep on one of the most crowded 747s you could ever imagine. I nested at my window and sacked out; I probably got close to six hours of solid sleep. We arrived in Santiago at maybe 9:30and stepped off the stairs into (or onto) a red carpet welcome. If we passed the Andes view, I slept through it. Coming into Santiago, I could see very rugged brown foothills. Sparse tree coverage and POLLUTION-roughly purple brown and as thick as clouds. The airport is down in a valley that seems perfectly flat like a ballroom with papier-mâché mountains set on the floor. The runway seemed endless; obviously no problem with expansion. Probably military use too? There was a tolerably long wait for immigration and to get the luggage counted off. I'd hate to have to baby sit for a tour group of sixty or whatever we had on that flight. Folks were pretty good, not too much moaning, but all that luggage and all the "crucial"" questions! It takes more patience than I have or could ever find. The trip to the hotel went straight across downtown. Aside from the dirty air and dryness (30% humidity with temperatures over 80.) the city looks mundane. Very clean, very orderly, quite prosperous. I had expected chaos on the streets-crazy cabs and mobs of people-but it isn't like that at all. In the newer sections, it could be any dumpy city. In the old sections, scheduled for renewal, it still looked neat and organized. Where I had expected crowds hanging out on the streets and poor, maybe open front shops, it turned out to be normal hustle and bustle, people going about their business, small shops with modest stock. Nice surprise. The hotel was a Sheraton, what else, with a glorious pool. I had lunch at the patio buffet, then popped in for a swim. Heavenly. I ended up with a sunburned neck, but it was worth it to swim and bake after all the time in planes and airports. After lunch, there was a standard city tour. Started with the statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of San Cristobel. Statue brought to you by Bertolini who did the Statue of Liberty. The nicest part was a simple chapel halfway up the hill. Quiet, plain, just a few murals. Simply lovely. Other stops included a show-stopping municipal pool (a gift from Mexico), the presidential palace (and Citibank!) downtown, and a lot of driving around nice suburban streets. Houses were modestly sized, but invariably pleasant looking. Always surrounded by walls or fencing. Not a sign of a slum or even poor section. Unnerving. The final stop, of course, was for shopping, so I got my lapis and some treats for all and sundry. All of this left time for dinner with a middling age doctor from Memphis and sleep. Ah. What a great feeling.
December 29 The wake up call came later than expected -- 6:20 -- so I had a mad rush and just a little breakfast before hopping on the bus to the airport. Straight onto the plane for Punta Arenas. Once again I was struck by the pollution and the brown dryness of the hills and land. The flight was spectacular. I had a middle seat on the wrong side, but I was still knocked out by the views. Snow peaks, razor sharp on one side. On my side (before I fell asleep) I could see a perfect snow covered volcano and then miles of glaciers, smooth as fields and flowing down the fingers of every valley. When I woke up, I could see the mountains of Tierra del Fuego shining at the horizon as we landed at Punta Arenas. Sandy Point. Founded 1848, population 100,00. Strait of Magellan. Discovered-by us-Nov. 1, 1520. 350 miles lone. 600 feet deep. We got a little sightseeing tour. I wouldn't say that there are a lot of major landmarks. First stop was a little local culture museum attached to a big beautiful church. Then a photo opportunity at a cute shepherd's monument. On to an open-air museum. One note: In 1908, pre-Panama Canal, 1200 ships a year crossed through the Strait of Magellan. Now only "very few" use the strait. The whole town is very low and bare. It's easy to picture the wind blasting across town. Feels the same way from the city lookout. The city is packed tight along the shore. Town seems to end abruptly in each direction, turning to rolling hills. Lunch at the local Union Club. I wonder if it's like the one in Philadelphia? The a brief stroll past the Citi office-one NCR, no CA Ts-and a stop by the "beach". At long last, around 4:30,onto the ship. Both of the Society Expedition ships were in: World Discoverer and the Society Explorer. I spent a little time chatting and wandering and then, all of a sudden, it was time for the welcome lecture and dinner. The excitement has really built, at least for me. We're on the way. Actually sailed around 8pm, just before dinner. Trivial fact: more people fit into an NFL stadium than have ever been to Antarctica. Some book mentioned 31,00 which sounds like an offensively big number at first, but it isn't at all when you think about it. It's more fun to feel special. Tonight will be quite lovely to sleep and sleep and sleep.
December 30 Started the day with a nice long sleep and a mad scramble for breakfast. Sailing through the Strait of Magellan and then the Beagle Channel has been as smooth as can be. Everything looks like fjords, abrupt hills dropping straight to the water. As we turned into the Beagle Channel, we began to pass glaciers, seven of them, coming from the Darwin Cordillera. Our first zodiac landing was at the base of the Romanche Glacier. It was easy to see how the hillside had been scraped away. The glacier seemed to hover over the top menacingly. One small-tiny-bit broke off with a boom. Not huge, but gives you pause just the same. Scrambling around and zipping about in the zodiacs makes me feel like a real explorer. The exciting moments are getting into and out of the zodiacs. They've got quite a system with at least three guys holding onto you as you step in. All landings seem to be followed by a recap session. For more fun, we had the captain's welcome dinner. It was great fun to see everyone all dressed up, gang parkas. Many jokes and comments about how nice it is to have the dinner in calm waters, no flying tableware, no seasick passengers. We shall see.
December 31 Nice sleep. Woke up at 5:30 to find that we were parked at Cape Horn. By 6am we were in the zodiacs and landing on a very rocky beach. (Only one group in four ever gets to land due to weather.) After a climb up some rickety steps, ta dah!, we were at the Chilean weather station right at the cape. It's real! I'm really here. It reminds me a lot of Land's End, only the weather here ~ is better. As we left, the wind began to blow ferociously. We all joined on the pool deck for an eggnog toast to "The Horn." It was hard to keep on you feet with the wind and the ship beginning to rock, so it made for some funny moments with flying eggnog. The moment of truth came when we all went into the lecture hall for a video ("Around Cape Horn"-the film of the Peking done by Irving Johnson of the Johnson's Bookstore clan.) Just about everyone began to feel woozy cooped up inside there. Patch or no, I began to feel a little dubious, so after lunch I bundled up into a deck chair and stayed outside. Good move. The afternoon highlight was supposed to be a landing on Isla Diego Ramirez, one of three little islands stuck in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Unfortunately, even the staff and crew had trouble with the landing, so there was no way on earth they'd let any of us go. (One zodiac flipped over on top of a crewmember.) We did however circle there for a couple of hours and we could see that the cliffs were covered with albatross and penguins. Also gray, drizzly, and 10- 15 foot swells, so much better to look at from a distance. I took a booster Dramamine at teatime, then sacked out for an hour and a half. My poor roommate Jean has really been suffering. I was quite happy to dig into dinner with enthusiasm. I was sitting by the window so I could gaze out at the gray water; it looked a little like a steely gray lava field with bubbles and holes breaking up all over. Funny thick looking consistency. Constant churning, but rarely any breaking foam. The sun did go down eventually, around 11:15, but for hours before it was stretched into pale white light across half the horizon. Later I went up to the bridge deck to watch nightfall and was on the receiving end of the obligatory pass from Bain. Nice guy, but it made me uneasy. (You're so beautiful that I can't sleep knowing you're on board...") But he did give a good neck rub through the parka. Party time for New Year's Eve: in the lounge, lots of tinsel, hats and noisemakers. The bridge counting down 10, 9, 8... Happy New Year. A wonderful place to be. (Bain annoyed with a peck on the check.) Observation: for reassurance, they tuck barf bags every five feet or so along the railings all over the ship. Cheerful.
January 1.1989 A very lazy day crossing the Drake Passage, or "Drake Lake" as the staff dubbed it in honor of our smooth conditions. What seemed unlikely was sitting out in blazing sunshine for most of the day wearing only a sweater. Who'd have thought it? The water was blue, deep blue, and looked as clean as can be. It's something like 3000 meters deep, which gives one pause. It may also be the loneliest spot on earth. 360 degrees of empty ocean, no planes, no nothing. One odd thing: where the water was churned up in our wake, it was a brilliant light, glowing blue green, just like glacial runoff. Absolutely gorgeous.
January 2 I woke up during the night to find myself being bounced around in bed. Went straight back to sleep, but it was probably as we reached the Nelson Channel and crossed toward Bransfield Strait. When I woke again, there was an enormous tabular iceberg outside the porthole. Phenomenal! Everything a bit misty which added to the magic. We were aiming for Paulet Island in the Antarctic Sound, but we were finally turned back by pack ice. We were hemmed in totally and had drifting icebergs right by as well. We even bumped one which is quite close enough thank you. I got the impression for staff that we'd reached a bit of a predicament, but ignorance is bliss, so no one worried. We turned back and headed instead for King George Island where we visited the Polish Base, Arctowski. Spectacular spot. An easy rocky beach decorated with penguins and seals, then snow spotted hills and mountains just beyond. We climbed up to the penguin rookery and what a surprise. Thousands of penguins massed on the hillside, all shiny bright adults or fuzzy babies about a month old. We could almost literally wade in. They make a sort of trumpeting sound which is not unpleasant and they produce a guano that is unpleasant. But bearable because they are cute enough to go straight to FAO Schwartz. One I tore myself away from the penguins, I checked out the Pole's greenhouse where they grow tomatoes, vegetables, lettuce and flowers. The only greenhouse in Antarctica. Their living quarters were a cross between pine-paneled family room and college dorm. Few of the Poles could speak English, but they graciously offered tea and cookies to all comers. A great place to visit, but I don't know about staying. The wind, on a mild day like today, was strong enough to push me around. On a bad day it must be wild. Bev during the day remarked that the ice we saw was truly unusual for this time of year: "on a scale of one to ten, those icebergs were a big deal." We had two Poles from the station at our table for dinner which was painfully awkward. spoke no English, we spoke no Polish. They spoke French, we didn't. Ouch!
January 3 Oh Frabjous day. Early, early start (it seemed) for a 6:30 zodiac to Bailey Head on Deception Island. Fabulous penguin rookery, but the thrill began as thirteen of us hiked across the volcanic rim. Dennis led at a steady, but murderous pace. Bev and I the only women. Steep climbing on scree and snow brought us eventually to the top of the ridge where we watched the ship sail around the island and into the crater. Eerie feeling that, watching the ship sailing away without us.. Came skidding down; tried to slide on my rear end, but without a lot of success. Had time for a leisurely exploration of the former British Antarctic Survey base. The split, in a hurry, when the volcano erupted in 1970. Some buildings, a hangar and plane parts, and a lot of gorgeous scenery. The was is a steamy luminous green. The wind blew all day strong enough to knock you down. In the afternoon, we landed at Telefon Bay to look at the 1970 craters. Thank God I wasn't there when they blew. The power needed to create such desolation is unimaginable. Final thrill was THE SWIM. A comic approach in bathing suit, terry robe, wind pants, sneakers, parka, a life vest and backpack. The briefing on board was a hoot with Dennis showing off the uniform. The cove was a bit protected so the wind was not a problem. We stripped on shore and ran for the marked off safe zone. Only knee deep and not very hot. It varies all the time. Great fun with shrieks and giggles. The dry, re-dress, mulled wine toast on the beach, and skedaddle back home. What a wonderful day! Dinner conversation with, then lecture by Anton (Tony) Inderbintzen, head of the Antarctic Program for National Science Foundation. Neat guy. Whole program is $135 million, less than the Development Division. Food for thought. Bed with the highest seas so far. Waves covering the portholes. Slept fine.
January 4 I thought that our day at Deception would be the highlight, but life gets better and better. Morning landing at Palmer Station, one of the American outposts. Very Impressive. Efficient, tidy, and well equipped, right down to the seals on the pier. Typical American improvisation: one of the aquarium tanks has been converted to an outdoor, glacier-view hot tub. Despite the40 or so contingent on base, the station couldn't swallow up the whole ship at once, so we were split and shuttled over to Torgeson Island just opposite the station to see penguins. The views from there of harbor, glacier, penguins, and station were spectacular. After lunch, we sailed through the Lemaire Channel. Entrance is one mile wide, then it narrows to .3 miles with 2,000-foot mountains to either side. I never went inside. From noon until 7pm I was haunting the decks gazing. The wind was unbelievably strong. I was plastered against the ship and still worried about being blown off. But fabulous. We continued south of the channel to 65 degrees, 17 minutes south, our southernmost point. My heart sank when we turned (is it worth a mutiny?), but all things must head home eventually. Passed several stations on the way, notably Faraday a main BAS station, just as we turned. The trip back through the channel was every bit as spectacular as before, but the wind had dropped and it seemed like a different day. We headed on to Port Lockroy, one of the few sheltered anchorages in the area. Dinner was an outdoor barbecue on the pool deck, what else? Evening landing at penguins, oops, Port Lockroy. Then unwind. The weather has been a miracle: clear, warm (ex-wind), and sunny. Two ships were caught in a massive storm today at Deception Island and one, at least, was unable to enter. We had suntan weather. So who can figure it?
January 5 Topped again. Woke up in the middle of the aptly named Paradise Bay. Mainland Antarctica, a first, and 360 of mountains, glacier, ice, and whales. I pushed my way into the first group to start off with an hour-long zodiac tour. Whales, Lindblad ship (Russian charter), seals, and ICE. David Kaplan, senior wild man, was the zodiac driver and we punched through pack ice to land at an Argentine base with the other zodiacs following. They must mash up a couple of zodiacs a season doing this. The base had essentially burned down in April 1985 when a stir- crazy doctor torched it, but it has two enormous attractions: the views of the bay and a sliding hill. It was incredibly warm and sunny, so I was steaming by the time I climbed up the hill, but the slide down hooting and hollering was not to be missed. John Reynolds and I even got in some snowball fighting for good measure. I hung back for the last zodiac at 9am, but the ice had drifted in so heavily the zodiacs had some trouble getting through. It was an hour of loafing till we got into a boat, then another hour crunching through ice while the ship drifted quietly away. We blew the schedule a bit, but it was great fun. Distant mountains with a cloud base were a theatrical backdrop. Sailed through surreal ice to stop at Cuverville Island, another penguin rookery, but with views to die for. I sat in the sun (temperatures in the 50's!) and let it wash over and over my brain. Hated to move. But it didn't stop there. We assembled for a pre-dinner lecture on "The Continent of Ice" but were interrupted by the intercom chimes: "This is an announcement from the bridge. Forgive me for interrupting, but we have a school of killer whales off our starboard bow." Mass evacuation. There were fifty or more whales breaking around us, some right by the ship so close you could see them swimming below the water. They'd come up five or ten at a time, to the right, left, everywhere. Some swam under the ship, some kept pace beside. Even the crew and staff were whooping and clicking away with their cameras. Sabina was dashing up and down the deck pointing and cheering. It was like a fireworks display. Every time a whale came up, a hundred people would "ooh! look! Wow!" The show went on for a good half hour, maybe longer. John Reynolds earlier used the word "intoxicating" for Antarctica, but today was a different thrill, more like a drug high. Pure exhilaration. Everyone was buzzing at dinner and after, so it seemed appropriate that this was the night I went down (at Bev's invitation) to join in the crew party. It was someone's birthday, so there was drinking and dancing below decks. A fitting end to a phenomenal day. When I went to bed at 12:30 it was still twilight, as dark as it gets. W wonderful.
January 6 Lazy morning, thank God. Breakfast at nine, then ashore at Nelson Island for more penguins. I may have seen enough. And seals. I had always pictured seals upright and active. Wrong. They seem to be blobs of blubber who like sleeping in the sun. Not a bad life. The morning's excitement was the departure, by helicopter, of our penguin expert Frank Todd for lunch on the HMS Endurance. It seemed so out of place and loud to hear and see two Lynx helicopters on a gymnastic flyby. The penguins went nuts. These birds (the helicopters) apparently go into a dive to start a turn. Interesting. One landed and swept Frank off, so it's been peaceful since. He was back at mid-afternoon, lowered to the pool deck. It was great fun to watch eye-level from the observation deck. I'd love to get in one of those. Afternoon stop at Half Moon Island which was very scenic, but filled with, guess what, penguins. Still it was our last Antarctic stop, so I hated to leave and felt very nostalgic. I even managed to hang back for the last zodiac back to ship in honor of the occasion.
January 7 and 8 Drake Passage. Endless days of water and swells. I passed on the patch, but had no trouble. Sped through The Spy Who Came in from the Cold which was perfect reading right down to the title. Then lazed in a deck chair on the pool deck. It got a bit rougher toward dinnertime, which I found fascinating. I went up toe the semi-bridge to watch as we went plowing into the waves. In bed later, I had a sense of levitation a couple of times as we crested over waves. Also water over the portholes which do NOT leak thank goodness. Staff rated the crossing at three or four on a scale of ten, so no big deal. Thank you. I missed music for the first time so spent some time curled up in the lounges reading and plugged into my walkman. It's all been so still and clear. One of the bird experts, Peter Steyn, recited-beautifully-The Rime of the Ancient Mariner0 Perfect.
January 9 An endless and sad day. Off the ship early in Puerto Williams. Ugh. A navy base with now purpose but territorial claims. Nothing to do in town and nothing to do at the tourist hotel which is run by the Chilean navy. Lunch there. The a bird walk (HELP) to kill time until the plane to Punta Arenas (two flights since the runway at Puerto Williams is too short to fully load a 737), to Santiago, to Panama, to Miami, to New York. I hate to see it end and so feel quite miserable. It's all been so beautiful, not just barren and wild, but breathtaking.
A couple of quotes fit this trip. One is from The Ice, strange book by Stephen Pyne. "The traditional travelogue, with its abundant anecdotes about native life was turned inward into a monologue. In Antarctica there was no society except that of the exploring expedition, no contrast between cultures, only the looking-glass Ice that reflected back, in simplified form, what was brought to it." The other is from Rumer Godden's autobiography, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep. "Indians have a custom of taking 'darshan' which means, with a temple, a palace, a holy cave or renowned view such as the sight of the Himalayan snow peaks, Everest or Kanchenjunga, or a notable person-for instance Gandhi or the President-they will travel miles, make pilgrimages simply to take 'darshan' of that person or place, not trying to make contact or speak-certainly not taking photographs as we do-but, simply by looking, to let a little of the personality, sainthood, holiness or beauty, come into their souls. They go away, usually without speaking and so keep it for the rest of their lives."
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