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Old 02-05-2017, 12:19 PM   #101
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Well, that was pretty great. Woke up this morning, mostly clear skies, fairly warm (40F), and icebergs and mountains right outside the window.

This morning's expedition was to Wordie House, which is an old hut the British put in many years ago. (Wordie was someone on Shackelton's Enudrance expedition, but was never here). The hut's now unused, but is maintained as a historic landmark.

Anyway, it clouded up after breakfast, but then cleared off toward the end of our expedition. I fear that my (lack of) photography skills will in now way be able to convey the actual experience. It's pretty awesome.

Did see a crab eating seal (which apparently don't eat crabs?) and a few penguins, the variety of which I'm not sure about, in addition to the fantastic scenery.
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Old 02-05-2017, 03:49 PM   #102
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This afternoon's expedition was down to Vernadsky Base, a scientific base manned by Ukrainians. We went over and Alexander took us around a little bit, showed us the main building, then took us upstairs where we they had postcards, some T shirts & hats, some craftwork made by the people there, and the southernmost bar in the world.

Had a chance to have a shot of Ukrainian vodka at the southernmost bar in the world, so why wouldn't I?

The story is something like, when this base was manned by the British, they sent over supplies to build something or another, and the people at the base decided they would rather have a bar.

The rules now are (not for historic sites like we visited this morning) that a place can't just be abandoned; the owning country has to clean it up back to pristine, and haul off all the junk.

At some point in the past, the British sold the site to the Ukrainians for one pound, to get rid of the clean up problem, and the Ukrainians wanted a place to do their research. So it worked out well for everyone.

We'll find out later on what's up for tomorrow, and even then, it's condition-dependent. Hope the weather holds, absolutely spectacular bright sunshine and warm.
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Old 02-06-2017, 07:27 AM   #103
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One thing I thought of yesterday which I wish I would've done is brought some USB cards. So some advice for fellow travelers.

Right now, I'm getting photos off of my camera and onto the laptop just in case I do something stupid like drop the camera. It would've been a good idea to bring some USB memory, and double-back-up to those, just in case the laptop gets damaged/stolen/whatever. (Internet just not reliable enough to upload).

Anyway, this morning's expedition is a short ride over to Petermann Island. Saw a few seals on ice floes this morning, more great scenery. Starting to cloud up, but looks like it will be nice enough still by the time my group goes in ~90 minutes.
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Old 02-06-2017, 07:24 PM   #104
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Took the zodiacs (inflatables or dinghys) to Petermann, where there's a nice hike up the snow to a sort of saddle or pass, overlooking the other side. Also it's a large penguin rookery, so we walked around that.

Afternoon was a zodiac cruise around Pleneau Bay, where we saw lots of penguins and seals and good ice formations. Now going up the Lemaire Channel, tomorrow's morning episode is something called Neko Harbor, where we'll see more penguins and some glaciers. The afternoon is a zodiac cruise around some area near there whose name I forget.

Pretty awesome weather again today, mostly sun, calm winds. Sounds like that should hold for tomorrow, then the winds pick up for our last day, just in time to head north across the Drake Passage.
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Old 02-08-2017, 09:29 AM   #105
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Neko Harbour in the morning. Kind of overcast, not sure how to pictures will turn out, but a penguin rookery there and a couple of pretty awesome glaciers.

In the afternoon, went on the zodiacs around Enterprise Island, saw some fur seals, some old wrecks from the whaling days. Evening we went into Wilhelmina Bay and saw some humpbacks. Got a couple of decent shots of the moonrise over snowcapped peaks, but the moon is just a yellow ball, no details. Nice, but not great pictures.

Anyway, we're up the Gerlach Strait into the Antarctic Sound today, where the huge tabular icebergs (i.e., the size of small countries occasionally) hang out today.
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Old 02-08-2017, 11:30 AM   #106
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One other thing I keep forgetting to mention. The ship is called Le Soleal, so all the decks are named something French after the sun (Equinoxe, Solstice).

I assume my deck (Le Steerage) is something about using sextants and whatnot to navigate.
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Old 02-09-2017, 01:10 PM   #107
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Yesterday we saw some of the tabular icebergs, but it was too windy to spend much time in that area. Headed north to King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, and sailed around Admiralty Bay for a bit.

Overnight to Deception Island, which gets its name from the fact that it's a collapsed volcano. From the outside, it looks like another of the islands, but there's one small passage into a harbor where the volcano had blown and collapsed.

Abandoned whaling base there with a number of falling-down buildings, and some fur seals.

This afternoon, we're heading over to Hannah Point, where we get one last walk among the penguins (chinstrap this time), then onto a beach where we might see elephant seals.

Then we start the journey back across the Drake Passage and the long trip home.
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Old 02-09-2017, 06:56 PM   #108
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Went to Hannah Point. It was kind of a sleet/rain/snow mix with wind. Not terrible, but not a pleasant day. Finally, today was (I hear) more authentic Antarctic weather.

Went through the penguin colony, which turned out to be gentoos and chinstraps. Very muddy and slick from penguin crap all over, but we got through. Some elephant seals on the beach, but they just laid around.

Also some Minke whale bones and then some fossils available for viewing.

Two more overnights on board, then Ushuaia to Buenos Aires to Houston.
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Old 02-11-2017, 07:46 AM   #109
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Back in SA this morning; just passed Cape Horn. Pretty grey and unpleasant looking. Apparently we get back to port this afternoon, and may have a chance to go onshore, but have one more night on the boat, then bail out tomorrow.

(WTF? If we're here, let's go).

Caught a cold, will probably just hang out on the boat if conditions don't improve.

Last edited by golddog; 02-11-2017 at 07:52 AM.
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Old 02-14-2017, 10:39 AM   #110
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Ugh. Cold got worse, turned into something pretty nasty. On the plus side, on the flight from Ushuaia to BA, I had the entire middle row to myself, so was able to lay down and get an hour's sleep or so.

We went to lunch, where some young people put on an exhibition of dances. I don't remember what they called it, but it was pretty interesting. Not tango, from their costumes and the bolos they used, reminded more of a gaucho-type thing. Some flamenco influences, a lot of use of feet, clapping, and finger snaps to enhance the rhythm.

Anyway, we got to BA's airport just before six, flight at 10, so plenty of time, and I kept sliding downhill. At one point, I'm sitting there in the airport with t shirt, long sleeve T, and a nylon windbreaker, shivering. And it's not as if they have the AC cranked.

Took some NyQuil on the flight, was able to sleep some, but pretty miserable. Got to Houston, through customs/immigration, found that I didn't have anything printed for my rental car reservation, nor could I find anything in my email.

Fortunately, IAH is one of those places where all the rental car agencies are in a single spot, somewhat off-airport. Unfortunately, once I got there, and checked with each one, nobody had a reservation. Not sure how I screwed that one up, but somebody had a car, so off I went.

Went to Tranquility Park in downtown Houston, then to the Beer Can House. Apparently, many years ago, this guy started decorating his house with empties, and now it's a public art thing.

I can say he really liked cheap, light beer.

Took the back roads because I'm still pretty light-headed. Every couple of hours, I'd find a shady spot in some town park or something, put the seat back, and get a short nap.

So I think I only went about 100 miles, but it took me all day to do it. Stopped by the Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner to get T shirts for me and a friend, then ended up in Seguin, TX. Found a motel room just after five. Brought a little bit in, laid down for an hour, brought the other stuff in, called Mom to let her know I'd gotten back to USA#1.

About 6:45, some NyQuil and that was it for thirteen hours or so. Better today, but still not great.
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Old 02-16-2017, 12:21 PM   #111
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Drove back over to Shiner as I missed the tour the other day. It was pretty interesting. Then trundled across SE TX to the very edge of SE LA, turned around and stayed in Beaumont two nights ago.

Not much in the way of scenery. It's not unpleasant, just meh.

Anyway, from these drives I can say that Texas needs to work on getting some country and Christian radio stations operating.

Went down to the Space Center yesterday and toured that. Space Center Houston is more kid-oriented, but still somewhat interesting. I noticed a typo in one of the exhibit's descriptions, they seemed to appreciate being told.

Outside and in the back seemed to be the more adult-oriented things, so that was better for me. Then you go on a tram tour through the actual Johnson Space Center, where you get to see the original Mission Control ("Houston, we've had a problem"), a building where the simulators are stored, and a building where they have Saturn V on its side, with space between the stages so you can get a feel for how it fits together.

Anyway, that part was pretty interesting.

After that, met a guy with whom I'd worked getting my company's software to talk to theirs. We'd worked via email/phone, but never met, so that was a good experience. Real nice guy, we got to know each other a little bit, just a nice evening out for a beer.

At some point during our conversation, Andrew mentioned that Houston has no zoning to speak of, so there might be a house next to a coffee shop next to an office.

When I got out to my hotel near the airport (basic overnight accommodation), just to the north, there is a Super 8. Just to the South is a McLaren dealership. One of these things is not like the others.

At IAH now, just waiting for the flight back to DIA. ON the plus side, I'll get to find some airport food for lunch.
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Old 02-18-2017, 10:39 PM   #112
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Some pictures: Picking up in Ushuaia, the southern Andes from the airport:



Because of the weather, that's about the best picture I have of the Andes.

The sign that tells me I've been on both ends of the Pan-American Highway (why else would they mention Alaska?):



Bahia La Plata:



Argentina thinks they own part of Antarctica:



though I believe the current Antarctic Treaty says nobody has claims, it's also going to expire before too many more years. Maybe they're positioning.

This guy came along. Forget what it's called:



Then we got to walk around Ushuaia in the rain for an hour while the ship was getting ready. Ours in the back one, as I recall.



Tourist town, bars, restaurants, gift shops, etc.



I found the ship to be quite nice. My room:





and we started churning down the Beagle Channel. Le Soleal's sister ship and the new ship were all together for the first time ever, so there was some celebration, a helicopter recording it.



But that night, we dropped anchor, took fuel from the Chilean village of Port William, and really got underway in the morning.
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Old 02-20-2017, 12:12 PM   #113
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Not really a lot to discuss on the crossing. Went by Cape Horn



So goodbye to land for a while.

I didn't feel like I got any really good sunset pictures. I thought this was interesting, the way the opening in the clouds lit up a spot on the ocean surface.



and the moon came out too



After crossing a couple days, we got our first glimpses of Antarctica











next: expeditions to Wordie House and Vernadsky Station.
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Old 02-20-2017, 01:20 PM   #114
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Do you mind discussing the cost of the trip?
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Old 02-20-2017, 09:37 PM   #115
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Do you mind discussing the cost of the trip?
I was on a cruise with Tauck, so looking here should give you a good idea.

Plus airfare to/from Buenos Aires, and spending money, maybe another $2k past that.

I'm sure there are more and less expensive options. Towards the end of the trip, we saw a yacht and a couple of other ships, so there definitely are other options.

On with the show. Sorry, I didn't take as good of notes on this trip as usual.

The next morning, wake up, open the curtains, and see



We're in the Argentine Islands area, pretty great intro to Antarctica









Pretty soon groups started going over on the morning expedition to Wordie House



We kind of toured around a bit. It had clouded up some, so not great light for the icebergs







Some penguins joined us for a little bit



Wordie House is named after one of the men from Shackleton's Endurance expedition. He was never here, just an honor. Inside, they've kept it as a museum (more later). We climbed up this glacier behind it.



for some decent scenery











Here you can kind of make out some of what they were doing







We then took the zodiacs around the other side of the island back to the ship.











These just don't do the shade of blue justice



Back on board, it was time for lunch. Nice, sunny day, sat out on the back deck and noticed this reflection in the big windows.



OK, that's a lot. Next up is the visit to Vernadsky Station after lunch.
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Old 02-23-2017, 09:07 PM   #116
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After lunch on board, we piled in the zodiacs and went over to Vernadsky Station, where a Ukrainian scientist took us on a quick tour. I was at the back of the pack, so didn't catch all of what Alexander was saying about their studies.



As we pulled up, this guy popped out of the water onto an ice floe







Had a shot of vodka at the world's most southerly bar:


and went into the little gift shop



The station had kind of a couple interesting stories.

One was, when the British still ran it, supplies were sent to build something or another, but the workers said, "screw it, we're building a bar", which is how that got to be there.

The Antarctic Treaty stipulates that upon leaving, sites will be returned to their original condition. So, when the British lost interest, they were faced with the cost of having to dismantle and ship away the whole place.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Ukrainian scientists were looking for a place. They were able to come to a deal where Britain sold the site to Ukraine for 1GBP.

This was as far south as we got. The reading on the ship said 65 degrees, 13.64 minutes south.

So not quite to the Antarctic Circle, but a new record for me, and one that will likely remain unbroken.

If we're to believe google (and my calculations) then, I was just over 1700 miles from the South Pole. About as far as Denver to Miami, but considerably more difficult.

Next up, we wandered over to Petermann Island and saw more penguins and seals and scenery.
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Old 02-24-2017, 09:33 PM   #117
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That night, got a decent sunset



The problem with sailing in the Antarctic is that sundowners don't come until 10 or 10:30 PM. They're supposed to be pre-dinner drinks.

The next morning, we wandered over to Petermann Island, where there is a rescue hut provisioned by Argentina (not allowed in). We there there to see the penguin colony. Also quite a few seals about.







Once we landed, we had the chance to hike up to the top of this little ridge for the view (can see some people heading up behind the hut here)



This landing is allegedly called Port Circumcision, because it was 'discovered' on the day which was the Catholic festival to celebrate Christ's circumcision. Pretty sketchy story all around, I thought.

Another really nice morning, sunny probably a little above freezing, calm wind. Great for us, but too hot for the penguin chicks. With their downy feathers still, they just try to spread out to increase body surface to help the heat dissapate.



Though it looked to me like they just passed out.

Here you can see the 'penguin highways'



They go surprisingly far from the water for something with just little stubby legs. Enough of them, going back and forth, over time, create these little paths in the snow.

Here's a bit of an idea of the hike



Here's an adelie penguin



Note no white patch across the head, just white coloration around the eyes. This coloy used to be majority adelie, who like the colder weather and ice. With the warming, the gentoos have been able to come further south.

Of course, eventually adelies are going to run out of water if they have to keep heading south.

Here you can see the nests. They build them out of rocks, since there's nothing else around.



A better perspective on the size of the colony. It's probably 2x this, plus a couple of other smaller rookeries around the island.



There were also some cormorants mixed in. I had no idea I captured that



and penguins sometimes just slide along the snow.



Saw this berg with strip of dirt or rock right through the middle.



Wandered over to Pleneau Bay, where nice scenery again awaited us







OK, that's enough for now. Next, a zodiac cruise around Pleneau Bay after lunch.
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Old 02-25-2017, 09:13 PM   #118
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We piled in the zodiacs and puttered around Pleneau Bay for an hour or so after lunch. Came upon this seal who was molting:



I don't remember the distinction, but it seems to me they said that some seals molt their entire skin at once (like a snake), and some peel off a bit at a time.

This iceberg had a hole in it, and great refraction (which I pretty made failed to capture) which made it really blue.





Some seals got upset when another joined them



Wedell seal



and a Leopard seal



and some cool icebergs





You can see we got a little ways away from the ship



then we cruised up the Lemaire Channel for the night. These two spires of rock were said to be 2000 feet high (if I remember correctly). I don't know about that, but it was terribly deceptive not to have anything like trees or whatever to give a sense of perspective.







Next up, Neko Harbour (on the mainland!), penguins and glaciers.
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Old 02-27-2017, 10:11 PM   #119
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The next morning, we found ourselves in Neko Harbour. A bit cloudy, but a nice glaciated area and a penguin colony.

Also, this is actually on the Antarctic peninsula (as opposed to islands where we were earlier), so now it's official: I've been on every continent on Earth.

From the beach, you can see the 'penguin highways' they use to get to the rookery.





Saw this, which we figured was what's left of a penguin after a skua got hold of it. A little bit graphic, so spoil tags.

Spoiler:


Here you get a good idea of the hike. The rookery is just to the left. We landed below it, then came around and up the hill in back of it.



One of the earlier landings apparently actually got to see some of the glacier come off. It was making a fair amount of noise while we were there, but no iceberg action.





We were to try to stay at least 3 meters from the penguins. It was ok if they came up to us, though, which occasionally happened.



Then, we headed up the Gerlach Strait toward Enterprise Island for the afternoon







Next up, zodiac cruise around Enterprise Island.
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Old 03-03-2017, 10:41 PM   #120
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So we were near Enterprise Island, and took another zodiac cruise. Saw some fur seals



I remember that they had two coats of fur, only one of which was useful back in the days they used to be hunted. Also, that they had ears outside their head, and that their back flippers pointed forward, which you can kind of see above.

I don't remember now why those facts are significant, other than they're different than other seals.

There was a shipwreck from the whaling days we checked out





These were water boats, something to do with whaling. As it's very dry and cold in Antarctica with little bacterial life, even wooden things deteriorate very slowly. these have been there probably close to a century.



We cruised over by this little cove with colorful algae. For reasons that weren't explained, they were handing out paper cups of champagne.



Later on that evening, we got into Wilhelmina Bay and saw some whales











Apparently there were orcas around, but I either didn't recognize them, or was looking in the wrong place. Really the only thing I was hoping to see that I missed.

Got a nice moonrise that evening









Next up, around the north side of the peninsula and some ice sheet bergs.
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Old 03-05-2017, 04:08 PM   #121
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Now I want a pet penguin. Great pics again
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Old 03-05-2017, 05:09 PM   #122
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Now I want a pet penguin. Great pics again
You really don't. They smell pretty bad. Maybe one by itself wouldn't be so bad. It certainly would be a point of conversation...

Thanks for the compliment, I appreciate it.
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Old 03-06-2017, 08:50 PM   #123
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By this time, we're near the northern tip of the Antarctic Pensinsula, and wandering into the Antarctic Sound.

This is the side where the monster icebergs live, having broken off from the big ice sheet.

Unfortunately, the wind was really howling, so not very nice conditions to be out. Also there were some clouds, which made it kind of cool when an iceberg would appear out of the mist.











Zoomed up on one to see some detail







Antarctica had more of this sort of layer of clouds around the shores than any place else I've ever seen.





Another close-up



I remember one of the expedition leaders saying these guys could be around 70 meters above he water, to give some perspective on size.

Taking a picture of the landscape, and a bird happened into the frame



I believe it's a great petrel, but maybe a bird person can correct.



Since the weather and seas were rough, we couldn't do an expedition. Instead, we headed up to the South Shetland Islands and cruised Admiralty Bay on King George island. Next time.
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Old 03-11-2017, 09:27 PM   #124
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So we wandered around Admiralty Bay in the evening. It was nice, but not spectacular (compared to what we'd seen)





Overnight, we headed kind of southwest along the South Shetland Islands to Deception Island. It's called this because it's a collapsed (and still active) volcano. From the outside, it looks like any other island, but there's one narrow passage through the rock wall into a protected harbor (Whaler's Bay) formed when the volcano collapsed.

As you no doubt guessed, this was a former whaling station, now abandoned.



So, several buildings in various states of disrepair from the whaling days. Unfortunately, this was the one day when the weather moved in. Started just kind of cloudy, then really fogged in.

In 1965 and 1967, the volcano erupted, so some of the abandoned material was nearly covered in ash.







One guy made a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome comment, which was a good call.



We had a pretty good hike up to the top. Unfortunately, clouds rolling in meant we didn't get much of a view, but here's an idea of the hike.



After hiking back down, we walked along the beach. by now, the fog's really rolling in.



There were quite a few fur seals on the beach.





On the other end was a short hike up to Neptune's Window, a low spot in the rocks with an overlook.



Then back down to the beach to catch the zodiac to the ship. On the beach, some of the seals were sparring.



The expedition leaders told us these were immature males, learning how to joust for when it was their turn to challenge the big guys in the future.

Next time, Hannah Point on Livingston Island. Penguins and elephant seals.
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Old 03-24-2017, 09:45 PM   #125
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That afternoon was our last in the Antarctic region. We went over to Livingston Island's Hannah Point and landed right at the base of a penguin colony.

This colony was chinstrap and gentoo penguins





Alain walked us on the trail through the colony, answering questions. When you're in the middle of it, the smell is really pretty foul. Not much worse than (say) a state fair, but a different kind of bad. Bad enough some people were really having trouble with it.

It was lunchtime for the chick



It's not that the parents regurgitate the food on their own. The chick will stand there kind of irritating the bottom of the parent's throat with its beak, which triggers the reaction.

In other words, the kids bother them until they puke.

Unfortunately, the weather degraded from Whaler's Bay, turning into a rain/sleet/snow mix. We went through the colony and down the beach, to see some elephant seals.



But they just kind of laid there, and I wasn't in the mood to stand out in the weather much more.

Someone had laid out the skeleton of a Minke whale



and another expedition leader was showing some fossils, but I just wanted to get back to the ship by that point, so just kind of checked them out rather than spending time at those sites.

On the zodiac ride back over, Bob (someone I'd met during the trip) was telling how he nearly got robbed in BA. We'd heard to be careful the first night, apparently it's common enough for word to get around.

Somebody will either spray you with some liquid and blame it on a bird, or 'accidentally' spill coffee/soda/whatever on you. While they've got you distracted 'helping' you, they'll try to lift your wallet or whatever.

In Bob's case, he said he got a good feel-up from the woman, but she tricked him into setting his camera down for a second. As soon as he did so, he realized what was up, and was able to run down her accomplice who'd taken it and was getting into a cab. Bob said he pounded on the roof of the cab. The driver (apparently not in on it) didn't take off, and Bob was able to get his camera back from the thief.

Someone else on the zodiac said they had a similar experience, but just pushed on through the perpetrators.

Anyway, it was this evening I started feeling pretty bad. We took off; it takes two days to sail back across to Ushuaia, so the second day, I just kind of wandered the boat, go back to the cabin and lay down a bit, etc.

The crossing was a little rougher northbound, but it wasn't seasick, it was congestion, like a cold. I tried to capture an example of the waves.



On the afternoon/evening of the second day, we got close to port, and had more clear weather to see the Andes.







Was able to get off the boat and into town a little, but it was cool and windy, and I still wasn't feeling good, so didn't do much.



The next morning, we got up and on buses over to the airport, checked in, flew up to BA. Fortunately, I was alone in the middle of the plane, so was able to lay down and get a little sleep.

As most people's flights weren't til that evening (we arrived about 1 PM I think), they took us to lunch.

Unfortunately for me, I was going downhill fast. After a nice steak lunch, they had some different group than the first night come out and give us another exhibition of a different dance style, but I couldn't focus enough to remember their description. I do remember enjoying it.

Back to the airport, get checked in, I'm getting worse and worse. We get on the plane, I take some Nyquil caplets with dinner and at least get some rest, although I still felt like crap.

Roll into Houston about 4:50 AM. Apparently Houston doesn't open til 5, so we sat on the plane a few minutes. I have Global Entry, so breezed through customs and immigration.

I've learned on my travels to take a break when on a long return, instead of being on a plane for 30 straight hours (or whatever). I'd just been in BA, so I had a break of a few days planned for Houston.

Get out to the public area, can't find my car reservation. No problem, fired up the laptop and connected to their (quite good) wifi. Hmm, can't find anything in email.

Fortunately, Houston's one of those airports where the rental cars places are all together a short bus ride away. So I wander out there, checking with each agency, "Do you have a reservation for me?" At this point, it's probably 6:30 AM or so, so almost nobody's around except the rental car people.

Apparently I'd screwed that up somehow, and didn't make one. Luckily, one of the agencies had a cheap Hyundai Accent or some such they could let me have for the duration. (I didn't think they even made cars w/o cruise control for the US market any more).

OK, next time, just a few things from my days in Texas to wrap up this trip.
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