Vernadsky Station

January 28

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It must have occurred to Bill that people were ignoring his morning wake-up calls, so he started spicing them up. It was no longer only "It's 7 o'clock, get up people" but rather "It's 7 o'clock and you may want to get up because there are two humpback whales playing at starboard." Whales or no whales, we crawled out of bed and made it just in time for breakfast. After breakfast we bought three postcards, one for each side's parents and one for ourselves: today, we will be visiting the Ukrainian Vernadsky research station, which has a "post office" and we will have the opportunity to mail letters with an Antarctica postmark. However, we were told that the mail get to the recipients kinda late, as in, in a year. We will be patient.

The plan for the morning was to go visit a Gentoo and Adelie penguin colony, as well as the antarctic shags. As usual we were overachievers and on the first boat. We hiked up the glacier where we could see the whole bay - a marvelous view. And of course the omnipresent penguins; if you can't see them, you sure still can smell them. But they are very cute and Essan wants to take one home. Don't know how that will work...

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Frozen we made it back to the boat with an hour to spare before lunch, which Essan immediately used for a nap. I don't know why but we are both completely drained, can't get enough sleep. It's not that we do horribly strenuous hikes or are otherwise tortured. I guess for me it's the 6 hours of sleep every day, not the best sleep on top of that. Well rested or not, we were once again on the first boat to go to the Ukrainian Vernadsky research station. Roman was our guide through the station and showed us pretty much every room - and it was rather obvious that most of them were decorated with pictures of more or less clothed women, mostly less. We can only imagine how taxing a 18-month duty call must be.

The station has a gift shop, so we supported the local economy with good old US$: I bought Essan a penguin - a "babushka" penguin that is - six in one, all five kinds of penguin who live here, plus the egg that started it all. Very cute. This is also where our passports were stamped with an official Antarctica stamp; not that it's a nation, but each science station has its own official stamp, which we now have in the passport. After the visit we were transferred by Zodiac to the old, original British research station, which is basically just a small hut - not something where I would like to spend a year, or more, since supply ships didn't always make it here. We got a small taste of winter - Antarctica gave us a small taste of snowfall.

Before dinner the captain navigated the ship through the Lemaire passage further north. This passage is a very picturesque narrow canyon with some floating ice; because we are traveling late in an already ice-less season there is only little ice, but we do get the idea. The weather is your typical Antarctica Grey, but of course it could be much worse. It's just rather windy and cold, and although initially about half the people find themselves on the bow to watch the spectacle, ninety minutes (and two camera batteries) later I am the last man standing - until Annie makes her usual joyful call for dinner - sirloin steak, how could I pass that up!

The experience of the steak was somewhat reduced by the company: across the table from me was sitting an older Canadian / Swiss / East German woman who felt that she needs to defend Switzerland in the most bizarre ways. I learned how important the Swiss Army is in the 21st century, how I am stupid for not going to a Swiss university and so on. Each time I came with some counter-arguments she resorted to amusing rhetoric and swung the discussion to the next topic, which subsequently ended up the same way. I would have loved to drive her even more nuts, but it was distracting from the excellent steak...

Just before bedtime we get a presentation by Graham Charles, our photographer and kayak expert on board, about his trip along the Antarctic Peninsula on a kayak. It's a most amazing presentation about a trip beyond normal people's imagination. You can see some of the pictures on his web site, even though they look like they were scanned with early 1980s equipment. I guess that's one way to prevent copyright violations.

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