PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Antarctica Journey, Day 6

After a superb sleep, which I can’t help but think was the result of a nice hot tub and sauna before bed in Antarctic temperatures, we woke up a bit more leisurely than we had in the past few days because our cruise around Port Lockroy wasn’t until the second grouping.

I’ve had a few questions about clothing and temperature, so this might be a good place to answer them. Organizers provide us with the red expedition jacket, which I suspect is not just to give us a windproof outer layer but to make us easily identifiable. Hard to lose someone wearing a red jacket in the white snow. We are also given waterproof boots that we clean before getting on and off the continent. We step in a disinfectant before leaving the ship. And when we return, we go through what basically looks like a car wash for boots. The rest of the gear we had to bring with us.

We dress in layers, with a Marino wool base, building up from that. I am using Sealskinz waterproof boots and under gloves, a superb recommendation from the good folks at Recreational Equipment Inc. before I left. And then have a layer of Under Armor, and depending on how cold it is, another set of long underwear, fleece pants and my waterproof North Face pants. The top layer is a turtleneck over my marina wool with a fleece vest and my dual-layer Columbia jacket. I have a gator for my neck and a thin facemask worn to Ian’s football games with a toque and Steve’s old fur and leather cap. Plus a good set of gloves.

At times, it feels a bit like overkill because when we’ve been cruising, the temperature hasn’t been that cold — around freezing. But it’s a REALLY cold freezing. It does not at all feel like a similar temperature at home. But the real issue is the wind, which is fierce and ferocious and bitter. Yesterday, I was wind-burned and don’t recall ever being windburned. I have to take off my gloves to take pictures, and my arthritic hands get cold as well. But other than that, I am completely prepared for the weather. If I get to go camping, we’ll see if I say that when I get back.

This morning, our cruise was around the bay where the post office for Port Lockroy was located. It had fallen into disrepair 30 years ago, and an English trust was developed to support its preservation and renewal. We were able to look at the outbuildings and also saw abundant wildlife, including a magnificent Weddel seal. He waved at us!!! OK maybe he was stretching but I can think what I want!  The weather was quite balmy for Antarctica.

One of the fun things we learned when we retrieved some ice from the ocean was that researchers placed some ice in whiskey. Then the ice began to pop. And they discovered that the popping was contained oxygen so that you could tell how old the ice was. Another example of how some of the best ideas can occur over drinks.

When we returned, we had a chance to purchase some postcards from the post office. They used to go on shore but due to avian flu, they may only come onto the ship. They also did a presentation. There is a group of six who live together in a single room in a small building on a property the approximate size of a soccer field, half of which has been taken over by penguins. And they cannot touch that area. They live there for five months without running water or bathroom facilities. So when they come on board ship, they take advantage of the shower afforded to them. They do a variety of work for the trust and also hand-stamp any letters or postcards that are mailed from the ship. It is a huge fundraiser to promote the trust.

They also do other research work in preservation of the site and also of the continent. One of them is a penguin-focused researcher, and my favorite anecdote was that they had a baby penguin that was born on Christmas who they named Jesus. They informed us Jesus is still alive. Of course, he is!

At lunch, I had my only encounter with someone I did not immediately vibe with. We were sitting together because Janel and I had different schedules at that time, and we chatted politely. But I realized when she was talking about her trip to South Africa why we weren’t connecting. We were both there around the same time. She was there in 1989 and I was there in 1988. However, her story centered on visiting a diamond mine and holding the diamonds because she knew the owners. After some reflection, I decided to tell her that I was there at around the same time, but I smuggled for the ANC. It was at the end of the meal, fortunately. But my naughty side came out. Gladly she is the ONLY person I haven’t liked.

After lunch and a bit of a nap, we headed out for our landing for the day in Dorian Bay. One of the unique features of the stop was to see the inside of Damoy Hut, a small outbuilding that scientific researchers used as recently as 1995. It was a chance to take a peek inside and see what their living conditions were. However, not all groups were able to see the area because penguins had taken over the under part of the building as a nesting site. That was quite neat as we were able to get a very good view of the penguins nesting.

After viewing the cabin, I took a walkabout to see several of the rookeries with penguins that surrounded the area. The wind was not as bad, but the walk was a bit more treacherous because the snow was so deep and wet, and even if people had gone before you, your boots still sunk in quite a distance. I decided my dancing must’ve made me a bit more fitter because I seemed to respond to it better than many other people, which is rarely the case for me. However, by the end, I needed to be careful as the return to the boat concluded walking through water. I just didn’t want to slip. And gladly did not.

Watching the penguins was great fun. We saw one penguin that had returned from the sea and was planning on taking over nesting duties for the egg, as that task is shared by the couple.  But he approached a couple of female penguins that were not as happy about his attempt to join them. I don’t know if the male penguin forgot what his partner looked like or if no one told it about the Me Too movement. In any event, it was rather amusing.

Our evening meal was less eventful, however. We did get to see a leopard seal on an iceberg and later on ice float with blood on it. I tried not to connect the two.

I missed the afternoon program on seals, which I plan to watch in the room later as all of the programs are recorded. I was able to catch a rather amusing program about penguins and their projectile poop, which I witnessed. It is quite impressive. Apparently, a couple of physicists did a study on it that earned the honor of an Ig Noble Award —kind of the opposite of a Nobel Prize. The presentation was hilarious!!!  One of the things I love about the lectures is how amusing  they are and how they are able to leave science and humor together so well.

I ended the evening with a delightful conversation with a couple of Winnipeggers in the hot tub. We were the last ones there, which seemed fitting. And then off for a sauna, where I saw the midnight sunset, and bed, ready for a good night’s sleep after another full day!!

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