Monthly Archives: February 2006

Antarctic Cruise Day 10

February 15, 2006
Day 140
Antarctic Cruise Day 10

The Plan: A day at sea on our way to Montevideo, Uruguay.

With no landings scheduled for today, the time for rumors and complaints had come. Apparently, a lot of the passengers who paid full price for their tickets began complaining about the backpackers, to the point of starting a petition against the tour company. Some of the complaints were about passengers breaking the dress code and behaving rudely, but I didn't see any of it. The only time there was an official a dress code other than "no shorts inside at night" was during formal night, where people wore fancy dresses and tuxedos. The backpacker crowd avoided that night, so the complaint had no merit. As far as rude behavior is concerned, I haven't seen any of it. A few people have gotten drunk, but only within the confines of the bar late at night, and even then, they weren't loud when walking around the ship.

The real complaint was about money. Even though most passengers had no problem forking over big bucks when they signed up for the cruise a year ago, they suddenly became offended that young people who happened to be in the right place at the right time could go on the same ship as them for thousands of dollars less. The number of complainers was probably small, but there voices were heard loudly. I really don't understand their complaints. I signed up for the cruise at the last minute and waited around Ushuaia for over a week before leaving. I don't have much money, but I do have plenty of time, which was my leverage. If you have money but no time, then you couldn't afford to wait around for a good deal to pop up anyway, so why bother complaining about others who could?

Today was rather relaxing compared to the previous days on the trip. The weather had gotten much warmer, and people started hanging out on the deck in much greater numbers and with much less winter clothing. The entire atmosphere of the cruise changed overnight. The main purpose had been to learn about Antarctica and the Falklands, but today it turned into basking in the sun and having fun.

Todays lectures:

Wildlife & Nature Photography Around The World with Rich Kirchner -- Rich is a professional freelance nature photographer. He showed us around eighty of his favorite pictures from around the world. He also gave us some pointers on composing a photograph properly. It was interesting that he has never sold his favorite picture, yet another picture of his continues to sell over and over.

Preserving Icons of Antarctica with David Harrowfield -- This lecture talked about the techniques used to preserve some of the historical sites on Antarctica from the expeditions of Scott, Shackleton, and other pioneers. Sadly, some of these sites will cost too much money to preserve and will likely fall apart within the next fifty years. David also read some interesting diary entries from Scott and Shackleton that didn't appear in any of the books published about them.

Antarctic Cruise Day 9

February 14, 2006
Day 139
Antarctic Cruise Day 9

Picture of sign welcoming us to the Falklands.

We get a proper welcome at the Falkland Islands.

The Plan: Explore Stanley, the gigantic capital of the Falkland Islands.

We got to Stanley this morning after steaming around the island chain in the Marco Polo overnight. For the first time of the trip, we were allowed to disembark from the ship for more than an hour. Today, we had nine hours to explore the city, and were even given an included bus tour.

Stanley isn't big enough to have a cruise ship jetty, so we had to take a tender to shore once again. This time, the ocean was a little rougher than yesterday, so water constantly splashed inside the lifeboat as we road toward the shore. Everyone inside freaked out and will no doubt complain about the poor service to the cruise line.

When Craig and I arrived on shore, the first thing we did was take our free tour. We were loaded onto a bus and driven to the outside of the city. We saw what seemed like 100 wrecked ships as we drove away from shore. We also went past a minefield, which was left by the Argentine troops when they invaded in 1982. Luckily, no civilians on the Falklands have been injured because at school, kids are shown gruesome images of what mines can do to people.

On the way back into town, we passed several houses whose owners have dedicated to protests against whaling. These houses had whale skeletons, harpoons, and signs telling everyone to save the whales. Next to the skeletons was a pile of pete, which the locals collect to make bricks for their houses because it costs way too much to ship bricks in from overseas.

The tour ended with a trip to the museum, which was really big and gave a lot of info about the war that occurred on the islands. We only had twenty minutes to look around before being herded back onto the bus, though. Overall, the tour was informative, but it was pretty annoying that we kept stopping, unloading, and reloading the bus every few minutes to take pictures instead of walking around town. Stanley only has 2000 inhabitants, after all!

After we got dropped off where we started the tour, Craig and I slowly made our way through town and back to the museum. We stopped for a look at the governor's mansion, a few souvenir shops, and the war memorial on the way. It took us another hour to get through the museum. On the way back to the tender, we saw a crazy gnome lady's house, a cathedral with a blue wale jawbone structure outside, and the town's cemetery.

Stanley was a nice, quiet town. Even though I was near South America, it felt like I was in England. The only bad thing was that everything was three times more expensive than I was used to paying. Maybe someday when I'm rich I'll return and explore the islands more thoroughly for a month or so.

Tonight, the Filipino crew of the Marco Polo put on a show. They danced in traditional costumes and sang songs in Filipino and English. At the end of the show, they pulled audience members onto the stage to dance along with them. It was an interesting and colorful show.

With the highlights of the trip already behind us, the atmosphere of the ship has gotten a lot more festive.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Antarctic Cruise Day 8

February 13, 2006
Day 138
Antarctic Cruise Day 8

Picture of albatross.

An albatross gazes into the distance.

The Plan: Visit A rookery of penguins and albatrosses at West Point, Falkland Islands.

We got to the Falkland Islands at sunrise. Somehow, I managed to drag myself out of bed just as the sun was coming up and got a good look at the islands. After observing and taking some pictures for an hour or so, I went right back to bed.

I got a decent amount of sleep because we were delayed for 2.5 hours as the crew tried to get the ship anchored and the tenders prepared. There weren't any lectures planned for today, so I was able to take a rare breather after being constantly on the go during the last week.

My turn to go to West Point finally came early in the afternoon. I had to ride a tender for thirty minutes to reach the shore. When I got to the shore, the first thing I noticed was how little there was to see. As far as I could tell, there was only one house on the entire island, and the rest was full of open fields.

I watched a few birds go about their business and began the twenty minute walk to the other end of the island. When I got there, I saw the rookery located near the jagged cliffs overlooking the ocean. The main animals that I saw were rockhopper penguins and albatrosses, although the occasional striated caracara flew overhead, too. The caracara can be found all over the Falklands, but it is almost extinct in the rest of the world.

On the way back to the ship, we saw an ugly vulture and a large egg of some sort. There were also a few horses and a beautiful empty beach. Before boarding the ship, we were "invited" for tea and biscuits by the owner of the only house I had seen. He asked if there were any Argentines in our group. "Here we go," I thought, even though he only had good intentions.

Back in 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands and declared the islands as their own. There were only 3000 people on the islands, so they called Britain, their mother country for help. Britain slowly gathered and dispatched its troops to the islands while the Argentine troops dug themselves into the ground to prepare for battle. Britain forced Argentina's surrender after 8 weeks, and there still is a lot of bitterness between the two countries. On every map in Argentina, the Falklands are still called "Las Islas Malvinas," and are claimed by Argentina. To this day, it still isn't possible for people to fly from Argentina to the Falklands. The sad thing is that the Falklands are just a small chain of islands in the middle of nowhere, and the local people have had to deal with large amounts of hostility over their homeland for decades.

Tonight I "double-dipped" on supper. First I had a large meal with Patrick, Libby, Craig, and John on the ship's deck at sunset. It was actually warm enough to eat outside for the first time of the trip. Later I ate again at the Seven Seas. I admit, it wasn't the first time I ate two suppers, either. Every day, each meal takes an hour or more. It's nice to sit back and relax instead of hurrying off somewhere immediately after eating.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Invitation: Anyone want to go to Buenos Aires?

I'm going to keep this post on top of my blog for awhile, so just scroll down to see my normal blog updates.

I will soon be getting my first visitor from home on my trip. My friend Andrea will be visiting me in Buenos Aires around April 10-17 (the dates aren't quite finalized yet). I'll plan on getting there a day or two early to make sure we have a place to stay lined up. There's plenty of stuff to do in the city for a week, and we may go to Iguazu Falls if we have time.

Anyone reading this is welcome to come along. The only major things you'll have to worry about are getting a passport and buying a plane ticket. So, if you want to see South America's answer to Paris, learn how to tango, drink red wine, eat the best steaks in the world, enjoy some of the best (at least the latest) nightlife in the world, and visit the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, all with a fun person who speaks Spanish and is familiar with Argentine culture (that's me) without breaking your budget, this could be your only chance!

Antarctic Cruise Day 7

February 12, 2006
Day 137
Antarctic Cruise Day 7

Picture of the top of the ship at night.

A couple on top of the Marco Polo during a full moon.

The Plan: Riding through the open waters on our way to the Falkland Islands.

Today we began making the long journey north that would finish in Buenos Aires. In between, however, we would be making a stop for two days at the Falkland Islands, an archipelago located far from anywhere important off the coast of Argentina in the Atlantic.

It was another rough day at sea. The ship's public areas seemed emptier than normal, so I'm guessing that a lot of people stayed in their rooms to avoid the dreaded sea sickness. It's really funny to watch people navigate around a shaky ship. They tend to walk very slowly when the ship is going over a large swell, then make a mad dash to a location where they can brace themselves when the swell ends. I happen to love sea force 7. The ship rocks me to sleep like a baby in its cradle every night. Even though I only sleep for a few hours per night on the ship, I'm out like a light until the sun comes up.

Considering that we didn't see any land today, and conditions weren't exactly great for basking in the sun, it was a good day to try some indoor activities. First was carpet bowling. It didn't work out very well because the ship seemed to be permanently slanted toward the port side. We were rolling toward the stern, so no matter how far left people tried to roll the balls, they always ended up against the wall on the right side. We tried to compensate by playing a game from port to starboard, but then the balls just rolled right back to us. It must have been amusing to watch as none of us came within ten feet of the target ball.

We also had a ping pong tournament today. I had been playing Craig pretty regularly, so my game had improved, but he consistently beat me. Unfortunately, I had to play a previously unknown player in the first round, and he made quick work of me. Ralph almost beat Craig, but Craig still won the title match. I'm sure someday, he will lose at some activity, but not for now.

The food had gotten ridiculous after being on the ship for a week. The ship's crew is relentless in stuffing us. The meals are gigantic, and there always seem to be snacks lying around for us between meals. I haven't felt unfull since starting the cruise. In fact, before I even begin each meal, I'm already full. I don't know how much longer I can take it.

This afternoon, we had a short meeting about our Falkland Islands visit. There isn't a big enough jetty for our ship, so we will have to anchor far away and ride in a tender (lifeboat) to shore. Tomorrow, we will walk to the other side of the island and watch birds. It seemed like a simple plan, but people were still full of stupid questions. "Are there any bathrooms?" "What's guano?" "If I can't walk and I don't like looking at birds, then what is there for me to do?" It's sad, really. Over 100 passengers on the Marco Polo have been to all seven continents, yet half of them have never even met a local person who wasn't being paid by the cruise line.

After the meeting, some of the backpackers got together and decided to do a scavenger hunt on the ship. Looking at some of the items like "Steal a food sculpture from Raffles," "Moon the ship's camera and get a picture of it," and "Make a sexually suggestive popup card," I think the trip is about to get even more interesting. My team's name is "Captain Dick and the Whalers," named after one of the expedition leaders on the ship. The hunt begins after the visit to the Falklands when we have two more days at sea.

I went to see Jeff Bradley, a comedian/juggler, tonight. It was pretty funny when he tried to juggle a bunch of axes, knives, and sickles and accidentally chopped off his arm. Later in the show, he brought out a member of the audience and made it look like she could juggle by putting his arms through hers. He finished by recreating a cigar box juggling act by a famous vaudeville performer, for which he said, "Some of the audience members may have seen the original act live."

Today's lectures:

Ships in Ice with Dick Taylor -- Dick used to work on icebreakers in the Great Lakes and Antarctica. He told us many stories about the techniques used to cut open large canals in the ice to reach research facilities and ships that were stuck. Icebreaking in theory is a much simpler process than I had imagined. The ships are designed with extremely strong hulls and lots of weight in the bow. They bow has a narrow angle, so when the ship hits the ice, it slides on top of it and breaks through with its weight. My favorite story was when Dick tried to push a gigantic iceberg out of the way so a cargo ship could get through. He failed, but had a lot of fun trying. They ended up having to wait until the winds changed direction and blew the iceberg out of the way naturally.

Introduction to Nature in The Falklands with Chris Wilson -- This presentation was a slideshow of the animals living on the Falklands. The most likely ones we will see are rockhopper penguins, albatrosses, and striated caracaras, the rarest birds of prey on Earth. The only place they are found in abundance is the Falklands.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Antarctic Cruise Day 6

February 11, 2006
Day 136
Antarctic Cruise Day 6

Picture of an old man telling a dirty joke.

An old man tells a dirty joke.

Once again, we were steaming all night. We anchored at Elephant Island early today. The island is of import historical significance because it is where Shackleton finally touched land for the first time in nearly 500 days. Most of his Shackleton's men stayed behind on the island while he went for help. He returned over four months later to find that his entire crew had survived the winter.

Yesterday I had been warned that while the expedition team does all it can to get everyone on a zodiac ride around Elephant Island, it hasn't happened at all this season because the waters have always been too rough. Still, when I saw the first zodiacs get loaded into the somewhat calm waters, I thought we'd get our chance to go. Sure enough, the first group went for the first zodiac cruise around Elephant Island of the year. Luck would not be on my side, however, as the rest of the expedition had to be canceled before anyone else could get to go. Fred, an American who sat at the table next to ours at dinner, was one of the lucky few who actually did get to go, and he was gracious enough to give me his photos of the experience.

This afternoon, we left Antarctica behind. We'll be at sea for a full day before reaching the Falklands tomorrow. At some point in the night, we will pass through the Antarctic Convergence, the point at which the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet the Southern Ocean. The Convergence is marked by a sharp climb in the water's temperature as we move back into water that can merely be classified as sub-antarctic.

As the ship sailed away, the water became rough. It was tough for me to walk around the ship, but I enjoyed it. A lot of other passengers were not as lucky. Lots of seasickness was going around the ship, and the Seven Seas Restaurant seemed to be only half full tonight as a lot of people lost their appetite along with their lunch.

Tonight was amateur joke night at the Charleston. Anyone who had a joke was encouraged to tell it to the crowd. Most of the jokes were clean, but not all of them. There is nothing funnier than an old man telling a dirty joke to a bunch of rich people on a shaky ship.

Today's Lectures:

Art and Science in Antarctica with Lucia deLeiris -- Lucia has spent multiple winters on antarctic scientific bases as an artist. She has also taken a lot of photographs of Antarctica. In addition to drawing the present, she also had paintings depicting Antarctica's tropical past when dinosaurs roamed the continent.

Management of Antarctica with Dr. Neville Jones -- This lecture mainly concerned the antarctic treaty. It was first created about fifty years ago in order to protect the natural beauty of the white continent. Today, 45 countries are members of the treaty, which is reviewed every 30 years. Nev just gave the facts about the treaty, but it soon turned into a discussion about preserving the environment. I think it's fine to care about the environment, but the people asking the questions didn't seem to understand that they were at least partially responsible for destroying it. Someone asked, "What are the people living in Antarctica doing to reduce the hole in the ozone layer?" When that person was explained that the hole in the ozone layer has been caused by the pollutants pumped into the atmosphere by the industrialized countries of the world, and in fact had almost nothing to do with scientists' presence in Antarctica, it didn't seem to be a good enough answer. People love to complain about the environment being destroyed until they realized that they'll have to put some effort into saving it.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Antarctic Cruise Day 5

February 10, 2006
Day 135
Antarctic Cruise Day 5

Picture of a hungry gentoo penguin.

A gentoo looks at me like he wants some food.

The Plan: View penguins and tour a Chilean research facility in Paradise Harbor.

After steaming all night, we pulled into Paradise Harbor this morning. When we anchored, it was raining, so I thought it would be a bad day, especially since my group was set to go to shore early again. Indeed, when I got onto the zodiac, I got poured on. I thought Antarctica was supposed to be the driest continent in the world.

After I got to the harbor, the weather quickly changed for the better. The sun came out, and the rain finally stopped. The penguins we saw were gentoos once again, but today they were extremely muddy from the rain. Still, they didn't seem to care much as they went about their business waddling around and molting.

Also at the harbor was a Chilean research base. I took a walk through the house that the military personnel spend their winters in, and it didn't look so bad. They had comfy couches, a big TV set, and a large stockpile of food and booze.

Once again, the area was very beautiful, and once again we had to leave too soon. It seemed like it was time to go almost as soon as we got there. This cruise has been so luxurious, yet we've been made to hurry the entire time. Over the last several months, I had gotten used to a simple-yet-thorough style of travel, so it was tough to leave so quickly. I reluctantly boarded the zodiac knowing that it would be the last time I would set foot on antarctic territory.

This afternoon, after leaving Paradise Harbor, I went to the stern of the ship for some whale watching. I only saw a few humpbacks from far away, so it was a little disappointing. I had heard that during previous trips, the whales came a lot closer to the ship. I guess the whales just aren't very active this time of year.

Later in the afternoon, I watched the second half of the Shackleton movie. I was really impressed that he was able to save his entire crew. The sad thing is that half the people on my ship probably think they are like Shackleton because they are going to Antarctica. While he went through more trials and tribulations than most could even imagine, we went to the continent in the utmost luxury.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Antarctic Cruise Day 4

February 9, 2006
Day 134
Antarctic Cruise Day 4

Picture of a gentoo penguin looking at a Russian ship.

A gentoo penguin wonders why we are here.

The Plan: Stop at Port Lockroy in the LeMaire Channel of the Antarctic Peninsula for another zodiac landing.

Once again, I had to get up early. I had been staying out late every night, so sleep had been firmly placed on the back burner till the end of the cruise. I figured that even after the big last-minute discount I got, I still was spending a lot more money per day during the cruise than I would be spending normally, so I wanted to make the most of it.

After moving all night long, we docked in the LeMaire Channel this morning. Unlike yesterday, my group was the first to step on the land today, so we had to leave early. The drill was basically the same as yesterday: take a zodiac to the shore and look at penguins, only this time they were gentoos.

When we disembarked, I noticed a that a few things were different from yesterday. For starters, the area cordoned off for humans to walk in was much smaller this time around. I was told that this was because the penguins were closer to the shore than normal, and we didn't want to destroy their habitat. The other thing I noticed was that there were a lot of dead penguins on the ground. Apparently, half of the chicks had been lost in the last few weeks because it was so warm. Penguins have a thick coat of feathers and a lot of blubber to protect them from the extreme cold of Antarctica, but when it gets warm, it's common for them to overheat and die. You wouldn't believe how many of the ship's passengers I talked to were joyous that the weather was so comfortable for them to walk around in, yet they didn't even seem to realize that the same weather killed half the penguins in the rookery.

The LeMaire Channel must be a popular spot because there were two private yachts and a Russian ship anchored there at the same time as us. I can only imagine what an adventure it must be to sail around the world and chill out in Antarctica for a month or two.

This afternoon, I watched a movie about Shackleton, the great antarctic explorer. He failed to reach the south pole in his first expedition with Scott, and when Scott and Amundson both reached the pole in the same year, Shackleton decided to try to cross the entire continent on foot. Unfortunately, his ship got stuck in the ice during a terrible storm. His crew somehow managed to drag their lifeboats to open waters and sail to Elephant Island. Once at the island, Shackleton sailed with five of his men in a lifeboat over 800 miles through antarctic waters to South Georgia, but the whaling base he was hoping to reach was on the other side of the island. He had to hike over a mountain chain to reach the base, and he attempted to get back to the rest of his crew on Elephant Island four times before succeeding. When he got there, he found that everyone in his party had survived the harsh antarctic winter in a shack made out of the other lifeboats. In all, Shackleton and his team were gone for over three years. It's one of the greatest stories of adventure I've ever heard.

I also tried my hand at carpet bowling this afternoon. It's similar to boche ball, but it's played inside. The balls are weighted on one side, so you have to roll them on their "track." Being from a country where the game is popular, Craig easily beat everyone else, but it still was a fun time. Maybe it's something that could be played around the office on Friday afternoons.

Today was Lisa from New Zealand's birthday, so a bunch of us went to the Seven Seas Restaurant to celebrate with her. When the staff noticed us toasting to her birthday, they brought out a big cake and sang to her. Someone at a table nearby bought us all a bottle of wine, too. Tonight I learned that during your birthday is a very good time to be on a cruise ship.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Antarctic Cruise Day 3

February 8, 2006
Day 133
Antarctic Cruise Day 3

Picture of our zodiac getting splashed by water.

We get splashed by water on our way to Halfmoon Island.

The Plan: Anchor at Halfmoon Island and take a zodiac to shore to watch a penguin colony.

It was another early start for me today. The sun came up at 5:00, and I immediately rushed out of my cabin to the deck to watch it. At about the same time, I got my first look at Antarctica. We had arrived at Halfmoon Island, and it seemed like half the ship was fully awake with me to watch the glaciers pass by. We saw lots of birds, and Chris, the Expedition ornithologist, was always quick to point them out to us. Everyone was in absolute awe at the beauty of the land that so few had seen before.

As soon as the anchor was down, preparations began to unload the zodiacs, small rubber rafts that would take us to shore. It was sunny and somewhat warm, which would make for a great day of exploration. I felt comfortable on deck without even using my big red parka. The ship had been split into five groups of about 100 people each for going to shore, and as luck would have it, I was in the last group of the day. I only had gotten a few hours of sleep, so after eating a gigantic breakfast, I went back to my room for a nap.

At around noon, my turn to board the zodiac had finally come. I got on with a dozen or so other passengers, and we were driven so shore by a guy decked out in diving gear in case one of us fell in. The sea was rough for such a small boat, and we all got splashed by the antarctic waters a number of times. Now I see why the cruise line felt the need to give everyone a warm, waterproof coat.

We reached shore in the middle of a large rookery of chinstrap penguins. Some of them were walking around in a seemingly aimless pattern. Others were molting, an annual process in which a bird generates a new coat of feathers. These penguins had to stand completely still and expend an enormous amount of energy for two weeks to complete the process. A few other penguins were busy fighting and feeding their young. The rest just seemed to look at us and wonder what we were doing there. The entire place was covered in guano and smelled accordingly. I'm glad I was able to borrow a pair of rubber boots for the landing.

The only other thing to see at the landing site was a broken down wooden boat, although nobody was able to offer an explanation of why it was there. Despite the smell, the area was quite beautiful, and I was very excited to set foot on antarctic land for the first time.

After being there for 30 minutes, I was told that the expedition had been canceled. Everyone was rushed back to the landing area. The rumor was that the anchor was sliding, so the captain wanted to get moving ASAP. Because we were last, my group was the only one that had to leave early, so it wasn't too much of an inconvenience overall. I later found out that last year, the Marco Polo hit some ice and damaged its hull, so the captain is pretty paranoid about such things nowadays. The ship may seem like Disneyland, but Antarctica still disagrees.

I spent the rest of my day going to a series of lectures. The expedition team continues to teach us many things about the white continent. Later I had a quick, huge dinner at the buffet. Even though we had only been gone for three days, it felt like I had been on the cruise forever. It didn't take long for me to become accustomed to the cruise lifestyle. I guess now I can see why so many people choose to spend their golden years cruising around the world.

Today's lectures:

Penguin Passion with Chris Wilson -- A long slideshow explaining the different species of penguins and which ones we would be likely to see on the trip. Unfortunately, the chances of seeing any emperors, the biggest penguin of them all, would be low. Still, we would almost certainly see chinstraps, gentoos and rockhoppers, and we could get lucky and see some macaronis and kings at some point.

Rocks and Ice with Dr. Marco Taviani -- This lecture talked about the history of Antarctica. The continent was once part of Gondwanaland, a super-continent that contained all of the southern continents of the world. Before Antarctica broke away from Gondwanaland, it was located in much higher latitudes, which meant that it was full of forests, lakes, and dinosaurs. It's strange to think that the world's coldest, driest, most isolated continent was once full of so many plants and animals. We also learned about the ice core drilling that is going on in Antarctica now. By removing deep cylinders of ice, scientists can learn a lot about Antarctica's past.

March of the Penguins - This was a movie, not a lecture, but it still was informative. It's about the breeding pattern of the emperor penguin, the only species that doesn't migrate north during the winter. Even though I won't get to see any emperors on this trip, it still gave a lot of general information about penguins, so it might be a good movie to check out if you haven't already done so.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Antarctic Cruise Day 2

February 7, 2006
Day 132
Antarctic Cruise Day 2

Picture of an albatross.

An albatross flies over our ship.

The Plan: A day at sea on our way to the white continent.

I got up at sunrise today because I had too much adrenaline running through me to sleep. It was cold and rainy, but I didn't care because I was on my way to Antarctica. As I walked around the ship, I discovered what cruise food was like: good and lots of it. Every meal is all-you-can-eat, and it seems like there are at least 8 meal times every day. I weighed myself for the first time since starting my trip today, and I have lost 30 pounds. Maybe I'll put a little of that back on during this cruise.

I think Craig has the most extreme example of lifestyle changes with this trip. He has been living in his tent in the Andes for the last two years. Last week, he was so hungry he killed a rabbit with a rock and ate it. Now he, along with everyone else on the ship, can have whatever he wants whenever he wants it. It will be a good change of pace for a few weeks.

This afternoon, we went to a required briefing for our landings in Antarctica. We will be going to Half Moon Island on zodiacs for about an hour tomorrow where we will get to see a large rookery of chinstrap penguins. Three other antarctic landings will occur in the subsequent days. We also were given a set of ground rules for the landings. These rules mainly concerned preserving the environment. We have to stay at least ten feet from the penguins, clean our boots with a special disinfectant when we leave, stay within designated areas, and not collect any souvenirs.

The rest of my day was packed with activities. I went to several lectures given by members of the Marco Polo's expedition team. They all seem to be very knowledgeable in their fields, so my plethora of questions should get answered along the way. I also caught the tail end of a photography lecture, but it just appeared to be about the basic rules of composition, so I don't think I missed out on any technical information. Tonight, I played a lot of ping pong. Looking at the ship's schedule, I realized that there were far more activities planned on the ship than the time required to do them, so I don't think boredom will come into play during this cruise.

Tonight was formal night on the ship. There wasn't enough room in my backpack for a tuxedo, so I had to miss it. The only consequence to me was that I had to eat in the buffet instead of going to the nice restaurant, but the buffet was even better than anything I had eaten in months. Still, seeing hundreds of people walking around in dress that would be appropriate for the Academy Awards made me feel a little out of place. The backpackers on board seem to be getting along well, but there doesn't appear to be much mingling between them and the rich old Americans who never realized that it was possible to travel internationally for less than $5000 per week. I wonder if there will be a clash of the two cultures at some point as we move on.

Lectures I went to today:

Bird watching with Expedition Ornithologist with Chris Wilson -- This started early at 8:00 AM. I made it in time, but it was raining too much to see any birds.

Meet The Expedition Team with Expedition Team Leader, Allan Morgan -- This meeting gave us an introduction to the scientific minds that would be at our disposal during our journey. Hopefully I'll be able to learn a thing or two about Antarctica along the way. Included on the team are:
Alan Morgan -- Expedition Team Leader
Dr. Neville Jones -- Expedition Ecologist
Mary Lou Blakesley -- Expedition Marine Mammalogist
Christopher Wilson -- Expedition Ornithologist
Dr. Marco Taviani -- Expedition Geologist

Marine Mammals of Antarctica with Mary Lou Blakesley -- A long slide show of all of the mammals that somehow manage to live in and around the antarctic waters. The main animals shown were whales (humpback, blue, sperm) and seals (fur, elephant). These animals can survive the extreme cold because they have so much blubber, and because water temperatures below the ice never get colder than -1.8 degrees Celsius, even when land temperatures reach as low as -80.

Birds of The Southern Climes with Chris Wilson -- Chris put on a slide show of all of the birds we are likely to sea on our trip. The main ones are penguins, of course, but we should also see terns, albatrosses, hawks, vultures, and cormorants.

The photo album for this entry is here.