January 30

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I was among the people who slept in and woke up around 5:50. At that time Essan had her pack already nicely collapsed and stowed away, and actually had to rescue me because I got entangled in the outer sleeping bag layer. I was cold, and Essan was frozen solid. Some people were still soundly asleep, snoring like a seal, while others were already all packed up and lining up for the first Zodiac heading back to the ship, desperate for the facilities. Being efficient we got onto the 2nd Zodiac and didn't have to wait in a queue for the on-board facilities. Remember, we lived in steerage and thus didn't have a private bath/shower. It was just at this time that I actually realized what time it was, and so we went to bed immediately, trying to squeeze in a nap before breakfast.

The breakfast announcement came as usual at 7:30, and it felt as if we just fell asleep. Essan skipped breakfast altogether while I rolled into the dining hall on my last leg, very much to the amusement of the people at my table, who correctly observed that I must be sleepy. To make things more interesting right after breakfast we were to go on our next excursion, our third continent landing at ***, with the usual option to go cruising before or after the landing. A quick look out of the window told me that there was a lot of ice out there, and since my attempts at some ice pictures so far failed with my Zodiac drivers, I decided that we should first go cruising with Fishbone, as everyone calls Phil, who has never shown any fear of ice. We waited in line patiently until his Zodiac arrived at the gangway, but he was expected to go landing as well; his recommendation was to wait for Scotty, a long time veteran guide who would not be afraid of anything, ice nor whale. So we waited, and waited, and finally caught the last Zodiac driven by Scotty - with only four passengers on board. This was a whole new experience, not being squished with 12 passengers on this small platform but rather to have the space to do pretty much what you want. I got my ice, lots of it, and we even got to watch two Minke whales from up close and personal. Scotty impressed us all with his whale attracting skills - rubbing his rubber boots against the rubber surface of the Zodiac, which made squealing, maybe whale like sounds. It was again one of these situations where my lens - 98-280mm - was too long: they were swimming underneath the boat and because of the very clear water we could clearly see them, just before they emerged on the other side. The whales played with us for a little while, blowing nearby our boats, making it quite obvious that they didn't use any mouth wash as their breath was rather pungent.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (45 pictures)
Images shown below are a small selection.
In slide show, click on image to return to index.

After a 2-hour boat ride we did a quick landing on the continent, where we saw more Gentoo penguins. Personally I could hardly walk, or even comprehend what was going on around me; I was ready to fall asleep in the middle of a sentence standing up, so after only a short stay on land we took the Scotty ferry back to the ship where we both went straight to bed, in my case after surviving a ration of Thera-Flu (night time). This helped me to sleep through lunch, which I didn't really miss much as it was a seafood buffet.

In the afternoon we were scheduled for a quick Zodiac cruise in the Wilhelmena Bay. Many people were already so tired and / or sick that they didn't even bother getting into the boats, but what a mistake. We barely got into the water and three Minke whales showed up. If we thought that the whales from the morning were playful and getting close, we have not seen nothing yet. These whales really wanted to play, and kept surfacing right around our boats. Several times they would blow right by a boat, making the passengers wet and covering people's expensive cameras with whale snot. Our boat didn't get sprayed but we had a whale stick its mouth out of the water right in front of my face, literally at petting distance. We followed them for about an hour, until the whales lost interest in the bigger Zodiacs and rather went for the small kayaks.

With the whales gone we departed and headed towards some glaciers and ice flows. There I got another chance at shooting one of my favorite subjects, brash ice (and I managed to screw it up big time). However, the ice flows seemed rather mundane and lacking compared to the whale adventures, and since we heard over radio that the whales have found new interest in the Zodiacs we headed full steam back to the ship. It was amazing to see the whales at such a close range, swimming under our boat with their silhouette clearly visible, just to surface right alongside. Unfortunately Bill called an end to this so that we could continue our journey even remotely on schedule, so we said goodbye to the whales and headed for a hot shower, as after more than two hours in this freezing weather it was not just our camera batteries that suffered frostbite.

As usual towards the end of the trip the staff organized an auction, the proceeds of which go towards a fund to save the albatross which is endangered because of long line fishing; this fund pays for modifications to the fishing lines so that the albatrosses no longer get caught in them. Several items were for auction, and while there were a few items which I wanted to bid on, I soon realized that this was out of my league as most of the auction was between Dr. A, MD and Dr. B, MD. Some of the items were:

Akademik Ioffe Crew shirt - $400
Breakfast in bed - $210
Signed guide to Galapagos Islands by Barry Boyce (crew member) - $330
Recipe for our chef's "Pavlova" dessert - $240
Opportunity to drive a Zodiac - $400 (which went to a 75 year old lady)
3-hour private powerboat whale tour around Vancouver island with Fishbone - $1000
Official map of the trip - $1300

You get the idea. After dinner even the poor among us had the opportunity to attend a presentation by our very own ship's doctor David, who talked about his two trips to Macau and Everest, which have clearly left him many experiences richer and unfortunately two friends poorer. After the talk Essan went to bed and I caught up with the image selection and travelogue notes, just as we were proceeding further north through a snow storm and a small ice field towards the last stops of our journey.

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