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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Antarctica, A Twelve Footer

 

It is nothing short of spectacular to watch as a twelve foot wave crashes the bow of the Akademik Ioffe while crossing the Drake Passage.

 

 

 

Antarctica, Night At The Bridge

 

Although it is late at night, I feel my company is immediately welcomed on the bridge of the Ioffe.

Sailing north across the Drake to Ushuaia,  the First Mate and I engage in light hearted chatter about the current sea  conditions.

The wind is blowing about 40-50 miles an hour with the seas ranging from nine to twelve feet high. We both have a laugh that these are probably not the best conditions for some of the Ioffe passengers.

It is exciting to watch as a huge wave crest over the bow of the Ioffe. I am sure this is just one of many that we will encounter tonight.

As the frigid sea water escapes overboard, it is hard to imagine it is the same deck we stood on just a few hours ago.

 

 

 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Antarctica, It's 1 am

 

While most if not all of the Ioffe passengers have retired for the evening, I am wide awake and head for the bridge. The seas and weather conditions are not conducive for an outside stroll so I make my way there through the inside halls and stairwells.

 

Night Watch At this time of the night there is only a sole occupant on the bridge and I am in for a treat.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Antarctica, Guessing Head Games

 

How difficult can this be? I am black and white and very popular. Being in Antarctica the first thing that comes to mind is a penguin but I am wrong.

What else can be black and white, real or imagined and very popular. Michael Jackson? Wrong, again!

How do I find myself in this guessing predicament? Well it started with a beer and then volunteering to have a piece of paper taped to my forehead.

Along with a few others, I am playing a head guessing game put together by members of the expedition staff. Another part of tonight’s entertainment.

I am not feeling to bad being unable to guess my the person or thing as I watch Carlton, a British passenger struggle with his clues. “A British politician in the last 50 years that everybody would know”.

Don't say the answer if you know it, he is still trying to guess it.

After about fifteen or so, yes or no answers, I finally smelled a rat, well more like a mouse and got a clue who was stuck on the tip of my forehead. Ironically, I should not have thrown stones at Carlton. Can you guess?

 

 

 

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Antarctica, Is The Great Auk Still Extinct?

 

With our sailing to Ushuaia well on the way a few of us gather in the Ioffe bar for an evening of staff inspired entertainment.

The fun begins with a reading of questions asked by former passengers.

Although we have a few laughs at their expense, I have a feeling given the opportunity a few of us might come up with some gems of our own.

I sense this by the pause in laughter and the deep thought given when we ponder one question that was asked about leaving the ship in Ushuaia.

“Should I put out my luggage before or after I go to sleep?”

 

 

 

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Antarctica, Back Across The Drake

 

Ironically, the worst weather we encounter on our expedition happens as we set sail back to Ushuaia, Argentina.

I adventure just outside my room to a passage way at the forward part of the ship for a small taste of true Antarctic ocean weather.

Here the wind is so fierce from the right to left side of the passage way that it forces me to remain in the protected shelter of an inside hall.

Occasionally, a huge spray of ocean water blasts its way from the starboard to port side of the ship. The temperature is now so cold that this causes sheets of ice to form on the deck of the Ioffe.

Continuing my somewhat research exposure to the weather, I move along the inside to the exterior stern. As the Ioffe pitches and rolls on the high seas, I am on it's starboard side when I get an exhilarating surprise.

A huge wave breaks over the bow and I get drenched!

  

 

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Antarctica, A Farewell Filled With Cheers

 

With our final zodiac cruise completed we are gathered on the bow of the Ioffe for a photo op along with an appropriate send off from one of the coldest and of course, coolest places on the planet.

Champagne is poured and toasts are made as we celebrate a successful expedition. It is a heart warming experience as I am reminded of pleasant and fun international group of passengers and crew on board the Akademik Ioffe.

Cheers to Brazil, Bolivia, England, India, Australia, Holland, The United States, Taiwan and a host of other countries well represented on The Blue Continent.

 

 

 

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Bolivia, The Death Road

 

La Paz Death Ride 001 It is Good Friday and instead of enjoying a fine meal of fish and chips, I find myself cold and barely able to breathe.

 

 

 

Of course, it is part my own doing having made arrangements the previous evening with www.prodownhill.com.

 

La Paz Death Ride 007 I am now at La Cumbre, Bolivia about 13,000 above sea level.

 

 

 

 

We have just arrived here after about an hour's drive from La Paz. In the distance, snow capped mountains reach for the almost cloudless skies as I inhale the crisp oxygen deprived air.

 

La Paz Death Ride 008 After what seems like a lengthy delay due to problems with one of the bikes we are given a safety briefing then begin our adventure down “The World's Most Dangerous Road”.

 

 

Joining the downhill pavement my shortness of breath and being cold is quickly replaced with excitement and adrenaline. The laws of physics are working nicely in my favor as this ton of mass begins to accelerate and accelerate rapidly.

 

 

La Paz Death Ride 010

 

Freeing myself from the captivating scenery, I test another law of physics and I am not to sure I like the results. My rear brakes did not pay attention in class or is not happy about carrying all this extra mass.

I have to make a pit stop as others race by me on a descending steep and curving hill. I watch them from above, looking like ants on wheels as my rear brakes is repaired.

Before long my tires are madly humming at over 300 miles an hour. Well, it seemed like that as the wind is ferociously whistling through my helmet. A stop at a military checkpoint and fluid is added to my brakes before I begin another downhill stretch.

 

La Paz Death Ride 035 Fortunately, there are no bugs along this area of  the highway as this part of the ride has me smiling from ear to ear.

 

 

 

 

 

La Paz Death Ride 048 Bypassing a tunnel, we are at another check point where we have a snack break and pay an entrance fee for the National Park.

BO$25 about US$3.60, a bargain.

 

 

Here, I have a fried chicken sandwich with fresh corn on the cob. I am teased that it will have me going to the bathroom more often than usual. A small price I think to pay for a taste of some local cuisine.

Recharged, we are now ready for the real challenge ahead of us. In about twenty minutes we will be where the Andes meet the Amazon. This is beginning point of “The Old Death Road”.

 

La Paz Death Ride 058 Another safety briefing as fog clouds hang over head and we are told this time to stay on the left side of the gravel road.

 

 

 

As our new descent begins a short distance from our briefing point I can see the road winding below us in between the breaks of the valley fog. We are now told to stay on the right side of the road although this is against Bolivian law.

 

 

La Paz Death Ride 072 It is a new and awesome thrill a minute as we race down the curving mountainous road that has no safety barriers. An instant painful death is sometimes just mere feet away.

 

 

However, in a strange way this and the gorgeous landscape adds to the excitement of the ride.

 

 

La Paz Death Ride 097

Coming on roadside waterfalls, I occasionally stop to relax a moment as others leave me behind in the dust.

It is tons of fun to race down the mountain but for me stopping to “smell the roses” is always a worthwhile part of any adventure.

A few hours into our ride and  we have a lunch break where chips, sandwiches and a refreshing old fashioned Coca-Cola in the bottle is provided. Still full from my tasty chicken sandwich, I just quench my thirst with “The Real Thing”.

 

La Paz Death Ride 104 Leaving our lunch stop the weather is improving but I keep myself layered as the night before I was warned about getting bug bites at the lower elevations.

Besides a history of it's own, a sad part of world history can also be found along “The Death Road”.

 

 

 

 

La Paz Death Ride 162 Klaus Barbie the notorious Nazi once lived along a part of this road and his former home still remains here.

 

 

 

 

Saving the best for last, we reach an area of “The Death Road” that promises to be the most challenging. Here, I take the “low road” so to speak and I am one of the last ones headed down. I will let the others “blaze” the trail for me.

In our final descent I can see “The New Death Road” that will take us back to La Paz. I am not looking forward to the four hour drive. This portion of the ride does turn out to be challenging, fun, enjoyable and ends with a cold reward.

 

 

La Paz Death Ride 197 Everyone has to repeat after me, okay, “Arriba, Abajo, El Centro, A Dentro”.

$70 well spent!

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Antarctica, The Last Zodiac Cruise

 

 

SAM 002 It is bitter cold with howling winds as we launch on our last zodiac cruise.

A fitting farewell to one of the most remote and coldest region on the planet.

 

 

It is not unusual that again I am on the last zodiac to leave the Ioffe. There are  just a few of us on board with Dr. Timor.

 

SAM 005 We would have been one less had I not convinced Peter to brave the cold and join us.

 

 

 

 

 

For me, the zodiac ride is fun as we maneuver over rolling waves and the cold ocean water sprays off the rubber bow. Even after several days down here the scenery that includes a landscape covered with pure white snow, occasionally highlighted with areas of aqua blue still fascinates me.

 

 

SAM 008

 

 

 

SAM 009 Before long we cruise past another Argentina research station then find shelter from the wind in an enclosed harbor. A few more minutes exploring the area then we are on our way back to the Ioffe.

 

 

While waiting our turn to reboard the ship a few of us share some of the memorable moments of our adventure. It seems like only yesterday I was sinking up to my knees in snow on Half Moon Bay. Only one of the many memories I will take from my visit to The Blue Continent.

 

 CAN 008 Farewell, Antarctica!