Day 5: Welcome to Penguin Country (part 1)

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 8:06 pm. 1 comment

One reason it’s taken me so long to write these blog posts is that Antarctica is impossible to describe with words. Photos and videos help, but even they do not tell the whole story.

By day 5, we’ve crossed officially into Antarctica. Icebergs surround the ship. Once there are icebergs floating past you, you really feel like you’re in a different place. A quiet, empty, place, miles and miles from civilization. There was also snow everywhere. For me especially, it was really exciting to see snow.

After lunch, we loaded into the zodiacs. We went in groups of ten, and were exploring an area called Cuverville Island. It’s found in the Errera Channel, between Rongé Island and the Arctowski Peninsula. Ice cliffs in this area were about 650ft. Normally we’d land and explore, but today there were so many broken bits of ice that we had to stay in our rubber boats. Being on a zodiac, you feel a bit like you might fall off at any time. The snow was wet and cold, and I was perpetually afraid I was getting too much melted snow on my camera. There was a lot of water droplets on my lens building up.

The zodiacs brought us to the island, and from a good distance we got to observe a Gentoo penguin colony that had 4,800 breeding pairs of penguins.  I know that people want to know what my reaction was to seeing a wild penguin was. I can’t really answer. They’re amazing. They’re beautiful. There are SO many of them! All of the cliffs were covered in tiny penguins.

Our zodiac drivers left the penguins and cruised through a bunch of small ice formations. It felt like taking a boat ride through a slurpee. The crystal clear bits of ice are glacier ice, and we really really wanted to steal some to use as ice for drinks. Our driver saw a chunk and pulled it up. Between that chunk and a few others, we had glacier ice in our drinks for the rest of our trip.

We saw a seal laying on an iceberg. Unexpectedly, seals aren’t that awesome. They’re sluggish and lazy, and are massive mounds of blubber and fur. Seals have a secret weapon, though. If they lift their heads and look at you, their dog-like faces exude adorableness.

(will continue this story later. writing it out is making me cold.)


(video is vertical cuz i shot it on an iphone)

Day 4! Drake Passage Party

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 5:26 am. 0 comments

Today we saw our first iceberg. A ton of people ran up to the bridge when they announced it. It was wet and slippery out, and there was snow on the ship, but icebergs meant that we were ACTUALLY IN ANTARCTICA. YES! Even though it was dark and cloudy, the photographers were going nuts taking pictures of any sea ice. I deleted most of my pictures because I saw way cooler icebergs later.

Iceberg that we saw our first penguins

On those early icebergs were a patch of dots. If you zoomed in all the way with your camera, you could sort of tell they were penguins. This was super super exciting.

I think I skipped the lectures, but we learned how the zodiacs worked. Those were the rubber rafts that we were gonna use to get from the ship to the shore. We also got to try on a full-body suit that protects you from hypothermia in case of a Titanic-style disaster. It makes you look like a lobster. The rest of the day we vacuumed our gear to make sure we wouldn’t bring seeds from other continents into Antarctica and break their ecosystem. It felt a bit like we were visiting an alien planet.

For dinner, we decided to dress up. I had my penguin snuggleroo outfit. David Moon had the infamous foot pajamas that he wore on the substandard cruise. XBS had a snow bodysuit that had bones printed on it, with a butt flap (like little kids have). He wore penguin boxers over it. Jon had robot PJs.

We decided to throw a party in the presentation room, on the first floor of the ship. Lower floors move less, so seasickness doesn’t affect you as much. We set up projectors and had the wii going, and half the group was doing Power Hour. We busted out glowsticks while DJ Bolivia spun drum’n'bass (download the mix here!!).  This is the way to travel :)

Day 3. A Day in the Drake.

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 4:50 am. 0 comments

Albatross followed our ship as it cut through the seas. The ship churned up the sea, pushing fish to the surface for the albatross to grab. They were all very large seabirds, and their name was fun to say. Try it. Albatross!

We also had a number of other seabirds circling our ship. Mostly we had petrels, prions, and a sooty shearwater bird. The weird thing about the birds is that they’re half-asleep. Literally half their brain turns off, and they glide through the airstream created by the ship. They’re sort of fishing and mostly gliding for an almost-free ride to Antarctica.

There wasn’t much to do, so we went and tried to take pictures of the birds. For me, it didn’t work out too well, but other people were able to capture them.

The talks were pretty interesting. I went to “Ice is Nice,” “Penguins of the Antarctic Peninsula,” “Who owns Antarctica?” and “Seals of the Southern Ocean.”

I think after lunch we hit the Drake Passage. It’s known as the roughest sea in the world. I lost my lunch shortly after.

We had a variety of seasick meds, but many of us wore patches. Supposedly if you touched your patch, then rubbed your eye, you’d get high and hallucinate. Adam (Cookie) accidentally touched his. Since they’re kinda itchy and behind your ear, it’s not hard to do. Adam Lathers ended up coming up with a solution of putting a band-aid over it. Octalpussy ended up being allergic to the latex in hers and was sick.

The Drake Passage is not a pleasant place. It’s weird walking up and down the stairs, especially on the higher floors, because the ship sort of lifts you into the air when you step. It’s like being on an amusement park ride ALL THE TIME. Amusement park rides are great for a couple minutes.. not for a couple days.

Day 2: Boat to Nowhere

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 5:00 am. 0 comments

So we woke up in the morning… and our boat hasn’t gone far. Apparently there was a storm in the Drake Passage that was so bad that our captain was afraid to go near it. So we waited at Cape Horn pretty much all day. It was okay though. We ran around the ship and took pictures of seabirds (tried to anyways). David Moon introduced us to the awesomeness of the Jungle Speed game, which is a multi-person reflex game. At dinner I handed out welcome packets to the group and everyone got an inflatable penguin.

We slept a lot, and there were always 4 educational lectures a day. The ones on penguins and types of ice were my favorite ones. We got to know others on the ship. The most important thing we learned was that at 4:30 every day, desserts would magically show up in the lounge, and the embargo on hot chocolate would be lifted.

Also curious, today the ship ran out of coca-cola. Diet coke still seemed to be in supply.

We’re on a Boat! Day 1 of Antarctic Adventuretime

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 8:04 pm. 1 comment

Very very reluctantly we dragged our luggage down at 9a, and put some sort of breakfast together at the hotel buffet. Droopy-eyed, we hung out in the lobby on the internet for a bit, and then decided to start knocking off items from our TO-BUY list. Jon wanted to try to film a zombie movie without anyone seeing us, so I needed zombie makeup supplies. We thought the ship would run out of booze, so we needed our own. We needed flasks. And we needed a new 50mm Canon lens. Our shopping trip took us from one end of town to the other, with a stop for mediocre gelato halfway between. Most of our goods came from a grocery store at the far end of town. We filled two grocery carts with a ton of liter beers, kitty cat sippy cuts, measuring glasses for power hour, string (just in case), colored duct tape, strawberry syrup (zombie blood), and cornstarch. We never actually ended up making any movies.

A stop at a gift shop yielded a horrific drink called Seamen Shot, plus at least 4 giant bottles of what turned out to be the worst Vodka known to man. But they were $6 each. And we had our last good meal: cheeseburgers at a cafe.

We were still very tired when we made it to the busses at 3p that would take us to our new home. The trip was only a few minutes long; I’m not even sure why they had buses. Maybe they thought we’d get lost finding the ship.

The gangway to the Akademik Ioffe was steep, and the doorways were about a foot off the ground so you had to watch your step. We ran off to find our rooms. Ours was on the 4th floor, towards the front of the ship. I stepped through the door and was immediately amazed at how spacious the room was, and how many little cubbyholes there were in the space. We had a suite, and it had a living room and kitchen area with a writing desk, fridge, and LCD television. The other room had a comfortable double bed with some warm blankets and a closet. We had way more than enough space to store 4 suitcases full of stuff, 2 tuxes, a ton of booze, redbull, chocolate, and camera gear. The desk’s tiny deep drawers were perfect for art supplies. Note to future travellers: 1liter bottles do not fit well in the fridge.

I think after that we ran around to visit some of the other rooms and explore the ship. It was very exciting. There was also a double rainbow outside as we were waiting to depart (which took forever.. it was cold out). We handed out the powerhour measuring cups to everyone, and told them it was part of a game (which we kinda made up as time went by). First they had to customize their cup. We went to dinner, where they introduced the expedition staff for Quark. I don’t remember what we had for dinner. It wasn’t particularly good or bad, but it was much better than the food for the days to come. Towards the end of dinner, we did some cup-swapping, so that everyone would have a different cup. We also re-enacted the Last Supper, with Craig as Jesus.

I introduced myself to Lynn, the person in charge of the Quark team. Then I spotted the ship doctor and updated him with the medications I was now taking.

Our next task was to fill the cup with a drink, and figure out which person was the original owner of the cup. One thing we weren’t expecting was that there wasn’t juice or soda cheaply available. They had tiny cans for of coke, coke zero, orange fanta, and sprite at $2.50. Those were only available at the bar while it was open. Jon M stopped by the room and thought my cup was Adam’s.. I assumed he meant Adam Lathers, so I made a redbull vodka out of a redbull shot.

Then we all met up at Nous’s room, the penthouse suite (aka the Cook Suite). It was a pretty enormous room, with more storage space than anyone knew what to do with. Our group of 17 fit in the room, which was sort of amazing. Octal had a drink for me, which I think was herbal tea with whiskey in it maybe? And some honey? The drink I made was actually for Adam Ceccheti (who we started calling Cookie cuz he had blue hair). It worked out okay cuz he liked energy drinks. The Seamen Shot was brought out and we all tried it (tasted like cough syrup). We hung out there til Nous wanted to go to sleep, and I think the lack of sleep from the day before caught up to me too.

pics by shadow, since I apparently was not awake enough to shoot. except the top one, which dave took.

Flying, Ushuaia, Raves, and Shopping

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 6:38 pm. 1 comment

I should back up and start from the beginning.

I was sick for two months before the trip. The night before our flights, I was doing so poorly that I wasn’t sure I’d make it on the flight. I went to the doctor two hours before we had to leave, and he gave me some super-strong antibiotics (levaquin). Armed with about half a pharmacy in my carryon, I was ready for the trip. Paul Byrne showed up at our house, and Craig’s dad came to get us at 9p.

We got to LAX pretty early and managed to avoid the bodyscanners. We all were planning to opt-out anyways. We killed some of the time at a sports bar. Our first flight was on Copa, which was a shitty Panama airline. We all were seated in the exit row, which was nice. I was supposed to stay hydrated because of my bronchitis but the service people pretty much ignored me for four hours. I even hit the attendant light at some point. When breakfast rolled around I finally got something to drink. All of the food was really horrible airplane food. We didn’t realize til the last meal that there was free booze, too.

We hired a van to take us from the airport to our hotel, Ayres Porteños Tango Suites. It was in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, apparently the land of hostels. Many of the hostels had Tango in the name. Ours was painted up with vibrant murals in the rooms, and had some surreal looking statues scattered around. Michael Lim was staying around the corner but I remembered the name of his hostel wrong and we never found it. Calling him just got me to a an automated message of a lady rattling off some spanish. I emailed him and told him to meet at our hotel in the morning, and that worked. He was there at 10a.

We told the hotel to get us some taxis but they never showed up, so we eventually went out to grab them ourselves. Our driver got really really close to some other cars, as all drivers in Argentina tend to do. At first glance, it seems that there are no laws on the road. I saw a sign that made me think we were supposed to be at Terminal C, but the driver tried to drop us off at A. He realized that was wrong and dropped us off at B instead. The other taxi was nowhere in sight, and our luggage was split unevenly amongst both of them. We waited at C a bit, then sent a search party out for the other group. Eventually we got all our people matched back up to their luggages, and got in line for the Aerolinas checkin. Aerolinas is the domestic airline for Argentina. It’s like Southwest but much, much worse. As we were in line, someone shouted at us.. it was XBS and Methal! Awesome!

Our flight had been moved to 11a, but then got delayed 45mins, so we sat around eating Argentinian pastries. Methal and I spotted a Quark tag on some luggage owned by a teenage girl reading a Harry Potter book, so we went over to talk to her. She was gonna be on our ship and was traveling with her mom (from NY) and her Scottish penguin-loving grandma.

The flight to Ushuaia was uneventful, but as we approached the airport we saw incredible snow capped mountains and glaciers. People come from all over the world to say they’ve been to the bottom of the world, and Ushuaia is a magnificent place to visit. The airport looks like a log cabin, and we were greeted by our drivers quickly. They took us to Hotel Albatross, which had nice rooms. Wifi mostly works in the bar and lounge, and not very well (when you have a group of 17 internet-thirsty people). I think when we got to the hotel we saw Nous, Nkryptr, Jon McClintock, Adam Ceccheti, Adam Lathers, Shadow, and Octalpussy.

We stuck around for a briefing and ended up at a sit-down place for a fantastic seafood dinner. The area is famous for snow crabs and lamb. We got our own room. Then we wandered over to a coffeeshop and ate these amazing penguin meringues.

Jon and Adam had befriended the bartender, so we joined them at the bar. He was the best bartender I’d ever seen. He made Dave a venison martini!!!!

So it turned out that he was also a DJ so we agreed to go watch him spin at 2a. Meanwhile I’d gotten a Facebook message from Ushuaia Electronica, and they VIPed everyone in our group to a rave at 4a. So to kill time we went to an Irish pub, Dubliners. For some reason David Moon really wanted the tshirts they had, but they were sold out. He asked if he could steal the one on their wall if he could have it and they said yes. But they were kinda mad when he actually tried.

We went over to Dreamland, which was a very small bar. It had a low stage, which I tripped over. Broke a camera lens in the process, so I ran back to Albatross to drop it off. Then I walked Dave and Craig to their rooms. It was 4:30a so I grabbed Jon, Adam, Adam Lathers, the DJ bartender guy, and Stacy (a random girl we met who was going on the trip).

The venue looked like a nondescript two story building, across from the Hacker cybercafe. Kids were milling around outside. They wouldn’t let Adam bring a bag without checking it, and it had camera stuff in it so he took off. The rest of us went in.

It seriously felt like a 1997 rave. Old house music, smoke machines, strobes, lasers. Some people were in costumes; I spotted a Fred Flintstone and a mad scientist. The dancefloor was enthusiastically packed. This party was 100x better than the last one. Some kid saw my penguin hat and asked to borrow it for a pic… I reluctantly let him. He had like 10 people cheering him on as he put it on and danced. It must be weird to see a new penguin item in a town that has more penguin knickknacks than anywhere else in the world. We gave them glow bracelets, which went over well. Since getting at least a couple hours of sleep was a good idea, we didn’t stay long, but it was awesome to know that people can party at the bottom of the world.

We’re Home!

Posted 3 years, 10 months ago at 5:10 pm. 4 comments

photo by Jon McClintock

Most of us are now back from Antarctica, which we all agree was the best trip we’ve ever taken. Nowhere is as surreal and alien as the iceberg-studded seas of the south. The only animals were seals, penguins, whales, and a handful of sleepy seabirds. Everything was covered in snow.

The shot above is all 107 passengers of the Akademik Ioffe, our Russian science vessel and home for 10 days. The Ioffe was built during the end of the Cold War, and has the look and feel of a 70′s Nasa command center. Big light-up buttons seemed to control areas of the ship. It had three levels of passenger rooms, a bar/lounge, dining hall, gym, 2 saunas, and a lecture room. The lounge was home to a game that David Moon brought along called Jungle Speed. We all got minor injuries from that game, and Metal broke a pinky finger. But it kept us from thinking about being seasick in the Drake Passage, the roughest sea in the world.

The Quark expedition staff were largely Canadian, but the ship staff were mostly Russian. Many of them didn’t speak English too well. The captain routinely gave orders to his crew over the intercom and it sounded like an angry Russian barking at you, which wasn’t fun at 7a. Our days started early, as they squeezed in 2-3 continent landings a day. To get to shore, you got on a 10-person rubber boat called a Zodiak, which navigated the icey slushie waters to shore. The zodiak rides were always pretty exciting. We were given really warm waterproof parkas and rubber gumboots, and usually had to step through water to get out. The staff were really careful in helping us in and out of the zodiaks, using a hand-to-wrist technique called the sailor’s grip to make sure they had us.

It took two days travelling through the Drake to get to Antarctica, and we spent an extra day basically going in circles off Cape Horn waiting for a really scary storm to pass. Even without the storm, and dosed up on seasick meds, many people still got super sick through the Drake. The ship’s doctor passed out medicine like candy, and they had barf bags everywhere, even stuck behind paintings and in plants. Octalpus ended up getting a latex allergy to her patch, and we didn’t see her for a couple days. The way back was a lot better, because we had gotten accustomed to the movement of the ship.

November 23, 2010 at 2:22p I saw my first penguin colony. It was when we were first going past some icebergs, and I could barely make out black and white blotches. (They’re between those two rocks). A bunch of people were hanging out at the bridge of the ship taking pictures because we were so excited to finally see icebergs. It was really grey out. Most of those pictures got deleted cuz we saw way better icebergs in really good light for the rest of the trip.

We got to land and see Gentoos the next day. I’ll write about those a bit later.

Jon McClintock has a bunch of pictures up on flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonmcclintock/sets/72157625500986686/

Making a Fancy Party

Posted 3 years, 11 months ago at 7:06 pm. 0 comments


There are many challenges to throwing a party in Antarctica. One of the big ones is luggage weight. Since we can’t bring a bunch of deco down and aren’t making any fancy foods, one of the ways we wanted to make Titanic Night fancy was with chocolate cigars. After realizing that making my own chocolates is probably a terrible idea, I used the Alchemy Bot on Etsy to post that I needed 17 custom chocolate cigars. Quickly, I got a reply from The Kitchen Cobbler. Denise has been a joy to work with, and totally understood what I was looking for. She went out and bought cigar molds, and made some quality chocolates. Then she dusted them in gold and wrapped them in foil. She packed them in a way that will hopefully survive Los Angeles and Argentinan heat. If you need custom chocolates for events or gifts, I highly recommend her services.

Flying to Ushuaia tonight!

Posted 3 years, 11 months ago at 10:43 pm. 0 comments

A bunch of us are hopping on planes tonight and tomorrow to head out to Ushuaia. We sort of have internet til the 20th so if new penguin orders come in, I’ll try to make note of your address.

ruiz and marc rogers: i probably need addresses for you.

some twitters from our group this week:

@nibq Just took swing lessons at the basement of the Armenian Cultural Center at a place called Virtue Tango. So surreal, but so Buenos Aires.

@nousie in the back of a remise on the way to hotel… usimg Kindle to tweet.

@paulby Just a couple of hours till I get molested by the #tsa

@adamcecc On my way to Antarctica!!! #Roflpenguins!

Adopt a Penguin Postcard!!!!

Posted 3 years, 11 months ago at 4:45 am. 0 comments

Over the past couple years, Pinguino has been sketching penguin postcards specifically to mail from Antarctica. We’ve arranged it with our ship that you will get an Antarctica postmark as we send them from Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Each postcard is numbered and signed. They are hand-drawn and hand-colored. They each have names and unique identities, and is documented online. Please support our trip by adopting your very own penguin postcard.