Friday, May 5, 2017

Perfect Weather in Antarctica

     Bad weather caused cancellations of some activities - camping one night, kayaking, mountaineering.  Passengers who did not get to do any activities were distressed, understandably.  While the trip was marketed as having activities for all, with chances for everyone to do each activity, in reality many people were getting one or no activities; a few were getting two.  At meals, we heard reports from people who had been camping.  No one was getting any sleep - reports were that it was hideously cold, too cold for sleep, and that someone in each group snored very loudly, keeping others awake and uncomfortable.  I was glad I had opted not to camp, and annoyed I had not realized that having anyone camp meant the ship could only move a very short distance.
     On one of the zodiac rides I had to listen to one of the European twenty-somethings explain how he was out of space on the one memory card he had brought because he filmed the entire camping experience on his GoPro.  He was particularly proud that he had captured the lecture on how to toilet on the ice and how to use the bivy sac.  I can't understand the video or the GoPro craze - who has time to watch in  real time events already lived?  And how could it possibly be interesting to anyone to capture the most mundane details of a trip?  I prefer stills, spectacular moments, or capturing something quietly.  Once again I realized how little I had in common with most of the passengers on the Antarctic voyage.
    One of the differences I found striking between the passengers of the two back to back voyages was how they arrived there.  Most of the S. Georgia passengers were retired or at least late in their careers; my husband and I were among the youngest, in our forties.  While many, if not most, were on a repeat voyage, they were also very well traveled elsewhere.  Every bucket list trip I have had been completed already by someone on the S. Georgia trip!  (I don't think I've ever been more jealous of someone that of the woman I met whose husband planned trips for her for every birthday and anniversary!)  Although I'd been all over the world, I was a novice compared to some of those well-traveled folks.  Travel gives you perspective.  The guests were interesting, polite, and generally kept to themselves. There was a wide variety of personalities present, yet there was no drama.  These people paid for the trip and valued the experience.
     The Antarctic portion had passengers who largely seemed to be traveling on daddy's money.  Rather than having saved up for a treasured experience, most of them seemed to be treating it like a trip that was a graduation present - "could be neat!" We were among the oldest of the passengers on this portion of the voyage, and it was hard to relate to most of the passengers.  The conversations at meals were pained as a result.  As an introvert, after nearly a month, I had also exhausted my conversational resources almost completely.
     The meals were pained too.  The ship, which we had been on nearly a month, was in its third rotation of available menus.  I absolutely despise green peppers, and since they seem to keep well, they were in almost every meal.  The super dry air of the southern ocean dried almost everything out immediately, so even a freshly sliced piece of bread was nearly hard.  The food had become very tiresome and I was already making a list of all the things I would be cooking or baking once I was home again.
    One of the landings we were offered was actually a repeat of the Chilean base we had landed at previously.  Had we not had the constraint of campers, the ship could have gone to other landing sites, but it didn't - and as a result, we had a repeat site.  For such an expensive trip it was ridiculous to land at the same place twice...not just frustrating, it was infuriating.
     Luckily we finally had a perfect weather day.   Also luckily, my husband's lottery came up for mountaineering that day - the one activity he really, really wanted to do.  As he had planned to do the Shackleton hike on S. Georgia and it had been cancelled twice due to weather, we had brought an entire duffel of climbing gear that hadn't been used.  He had trained for glacier climbing and not gotten any in at all, except a bit on snowshoes.  As much as I wasn't thrilled he would be going with the Italian who did not communicate well as a leader, rather than the vastly more qualified mountaineering leader that had been on the previous voyage, I wanted him to get a chance to climb.  It was very good luck that he had the opportunity on the best possible weather day.  I was out in a zodiac, struggling to get photos while some Chinese passengers constantly got in the way.  I did manage a few of the mountaineers though, on a ridge above, roped together.
     The sunshine made the water mirror-like and allowed for some amazing shots from the zodiac.  It was absolutely gorgeous in all directions.
     Although there was not much wildlife, I found a few lone penguins in this setting that I managed to get some photos of that I like.
A lone Gentoo in the lower left
I finally captured a leap
     We landed, thanks to our "trip leader" at yet another landing site which was a base, with lots of buildings rather than a natural setting.  This was really infuriating on so many levels!  I did not endure all of the hardships of the trip to see penguins among buildings.  It's sad we have put buildings in this setting to begin with.
     To make matters worse, a large number of passengers wanted to do an idiotic dive into Antarctic waters, a polar plunge.  This necessitated the doctor, and tied up several zodiacs.  The ship was  more than a mile from the landing site.  Once one dove into the freezing Antarctic waters (for no reason other than to apparently say one has done it, and catch it on the iphone for posting on Youtube) there was a long, cold zodiac ride back to the ship.  I couldn't think of anything dumber.  Chaperoning these twenty-somethings hollering and hooting as they "swam" in frigid waters consumed all of the time of the "trip leader" and the doctor and several of the staff.
     As a result, there was no staff to watch over the remaining passengers who were visiting the penguin colony trying to exist among the human buildings.  The colony was a hike off to the right from the landing site. I sat in the snow and watched the penguins, getting a few decent captures.
     Unfortunately, the colony was at the bottom of a hill, where there was a trail to an overlook.  Some of the passengers decided that rather than hike down to the colony after the overlook, they would sit and slide down the hill.  I watched one moron come up with this idea and implement it, sailing into the colony and sending penguins everywhere, startling and disturbing them.  This was totally unacceptable!!  Unfortunately there was not really anything I could do to prevent it either.  I looked over at one of my trip-mates from S. Georgia, also sitting quietly in the snow taking photos. She had horror on her face as well.  We looked at each other, both shocked at the incredible stupidity, callousness, and idiocy we'd just witnessed.  No words were necessary.  We looked up the ridge just as more people, copying the great idea to fly into the middle of a bunch of nesting penguins, came sailing down the snow.  It was revolting.  Oceanwide should be ashamed for not policing their passengers, and this was the ultimate failure for the trip "leader."  Allowing this to happen on her watch was an unforgivable offense as far as I am concerned.  Any tiny shred of polite respect I had for her evaporated.  I left in disgust, unable to watch anymore human interference with the penguins.  It's not bad enough we have to melt the ice, kill the krill, massacre the whales, erect useless structures out of ego on the only unpopulated continent...we also have to have morons visiting and disrupting penguins?
     It is too bad that there is not a way to screen tourists.  We live in a world where people will take sharks and baby dolphins out of the water for selfies, literally killing them in the process.  I can't understand these things.  It is beyond stupid and selfish to harm other living creatures for photo ops.  I can't understand, either, coming to Antarctica and behaving so badly.  It made me sick.  I avoided the passengers I saw doing this for the rest of the trip as I feared I might actually punch them in the face if I had any contact with them at all.
     This brought up another hard thing for me about being on a ship for a month - I didn't have any of my animals to comfort me.  Typically when I am fed up with the human race, my dogs, cats, horses - even the goats and chickens offer solace.  I was without them, and had been for a very long time, and I could not even be in any contact with my petsitter to know if all was well.  My anxiety to rejoin them, and to know how they were all doing, was mounting by the day.  Despite the beautiful weather of the morning, it began to feel like a gloomy day again.
     As I waited a long time for a zodiac back to the ship, I watched some cormorants gathering grass from the bottom of the sea, which was shallow in the bay, for their nests.  I tried not to think about the disrespect for nature I had just walked away from.
    Sadly, the couple who had brought their 9 year old child to Antarctica (no idea why the company would have permitted a child!) was near me and had no idea where their child was.  The man/father wanted her to see him dive into the freezing waters and film it.  The woman/mother said that she had last seen the girl hiking but assumed she was with the father.  They went to look for her.  It was appalling.  I had seen the poor kid crying through meals while she was seasick, unable to eat.  I had found her locked in the stairwells twice, as the doors were too heavy for her to open, so she just waited until someone came and let her out.  Twice that someone had been me.  She was calm about it.  She was a quiet kid.  She made the best of the trip and the free-range parenting style that seemed to be in play.  That, too, was hard to watch.  (She was located without incident, by the way....but letting your kid wander unsupervised in such a dangerous environment was inconceivable).

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