— Dane Creek


(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

The weather today is even worse than it was yesterday. Around 11am it was actually snowing outside with big fat flakes. What happened to summer?

Overnight we made it to the start of the Lemaire Channel. It really looks and feels like Antarctica. It’s pretty narrow with tall mountains and glaciers on each side of the boat with icebergs going by. Even though it was raining everyone ran for their gear and stood out on deck to take photos. I shot a bunch of shots in less than 1/2 an hour, plus a whole lot of video.

They scrapped all landings and zodiac tours for today due to weather. We’re just going to keep pushing for the Antarctic Circle. We have to come through this channel on the way back anyway so the hope is the weather will be better on the return. The smallish bergs we saw in the Lemaire was all to see today.

Since the Lemaire Channel we’ve essentially been back in the Drake Passage and the boat is rocking like it. We are hauling ass (11 knots) for Marguerite Bay and the Antarctic Circle. Current ETA is midnight and most folks, including the crew, are excited. Our expedition leader has never made it to Marguerite Bay in seven years of doing Antarctic cruises! The weather report is still iffy. If all goes well we’ll be in the bay by 6am with tons of huge icebergs and floating glaciers. Since it’ll be 24 hour daylight if the weather is good we’ll all be woken up and the crew will drop zodiacs for some shots.

To help pass the time today I took Minky out for a trip around the ship. I got a pic of him with Jeff Schewe, hanging out with Renee the hotel manager, sitting on the Captain’s lap on the bridge, sitting on my lap on the bridge, and writing e-mail on the ship computer. Still to come is a trip to the infirmary for a check-up from the doc. He’s a huge hit with the other photographers and we’re going to see if we can get a survival suit out for him to dress up in for a photo.

Yesterday I went out on the bridge to take a look around and Joey the assistant captain was there. He’s a nice guy and asked if I knew computers. When I said yes he whipped out his iPhone and asked me if I could help him get it connected to the ship’s e-mail server. *laugh*. It took a little bit of futzing but I got it up and running. In exchange he’s going to see if he can get me into the engine room to take some photos. I went through an entire wall jug of Purel on my hands after touching the iPhone though!

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(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

I slept through the night easily and was woken up by the morning announcements. While sleeping the ship chugged along to Aitcho (pronounced H.O.) Island. We dropped anchor and were in zodiacs by 8:30. I was in the first zodiac again, and unlike last night I remembered to bring my rain cover and tripod.

The island had several chinstrap and gentoo penguins. Since the island is so far north most of the chicks were already off on their own. They’re pretty cute and puffy! Except for the ones covered in penguin poo. The island is unique because it has grass on it. There were entire swaths of hills that looked like early summer Mount Rainier. We also saw elephant seals. They’re big and they make amusing fartingburp sounds. The inside of their mouths are insanely disgusting though. I’ll try and get a good shot sometime during the trip but they are just filthy gross.

Did I mention penguins stink? Because they do. Watching them crap is rather entertaining though. It’s no little dribble. Oh no. They go for distance. I wonder how many more landings before the entire ship smells penguin poo. Our room is already starting to funk up.

I shot another roll of B&W, but again the lighting is overcast and very flat. I’m so glad I did film testing to find N+2!

After lunch we went through a passage between two islands and it really started to feel like we were in Antarctica. There’s blue ice on the cliffs and small chunks in the water. Very cool. But it’s raining again, so our shore landing on Half Moon island in the afternoon was quite wet. I found some little icebergs near shore away from where everyone else was and took some shots with the 6 stop ND filter on. It blurred the water but the composition is pretty bad. It was also raining far too hard to get out the black and white film. It was a shame since the scene was exactly what I wanted to shoot on film.

In other news, my main harddrive for the trip is busted. I don’t know what’s wrong with it exactly but it’s S-L-O-W. I’ve tried everything I know to fix it and have given up. Jeff (not Schewe) lent me one of his extra 320GB drives. WOOT!

The weather’s been pretty crappy so far. Always overcast, sometimes rain, and sometimes heavy fog. We’ve scrapped plans for tomorrow morning (it was going to be another landing) and instead we making a dash for the Antarctic Circle. Our expedition leader has done 80 Antarctic trips over 7 years and has only made it past the Circle twice. Assuming the ice cooperates we’ll get there sometime late tomorrow night and have 24 hours of daylight. Crazy! On the way we’ll go through a fancy channel that has sheer cliffs on each side and (hopefully) tons of icebergs.

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(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

I slept through the night just fine and woke up at 6:30 very hungry for breakfast. We’re still heading towards the peninsula at around 11 knots. Open ocean is BORING. Did I mention it’s boring? Because if I didn’t, it’s boring. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the trip overall (it’s fantastic) but there’s only so many times you can look out the window and see water and clouds and be entertained.

To help pass the time today we had a number of lectures. Bronwyn from Quark did a presentation on the geology of AA. Steve did a presentation on white balance, exposure, histograms, and composition which was mildly interesting. Jeff Schewe did a presentation on Camera Raw, which was also mildly interesting.

The highlight of today was sitting next to Jeff Schewe at both breakfast and lunch and giving him little digs on the side. Anne will appreciate this: I managed to leave him speechless. I was eating plums next to him when JP reacted to something Jeff said and wanted to throw something at Jeff. I offered my fresh, uneaten, plum, to which Jeff said “That’d be a waste of a good piece of fruit”. My reply? “Not necessarily”.

Oh. Snap.

We had our mandatory safety briefing on doing zodiac landings. By late tonight we expect to be able to see the South Shetland Islands and basically be out of the Drake Passage, hopefully around 8pm. We finally saw our first whale today too, although all I got to see was its back as it made a dive below water. I’m not sad though there should be more.

I’ve got my sea legs figured out. I can reliably walk down the 4th floor hallway from one end to the other without needing to hold onto any railings or crashing into walls. It’s all about leaning against the lean of the boat. I will try and get someone to do some video of it. It is quite fun!

It’s 6:15 and we can see land!!! Two lumps on the horizon. Yay!

We did our first landing today! At 8pm we anchored off the coast of Desolation Island. I went out in the first zodiac with a backpack full of gear and high expectations. It was rainy and cloudy. Not great picture taking weather at all. But we saw moss (wooo!), Weddel and fur seals, and chinstrap penguins. Penguin poo smells like zoo. I doubt I got any good shots here but it was great practice for what works and what doesn’t in my camera bag. For the landings tomorrow I’ll leave my 24-70mm lens behind and make sure to pack my rain cover!

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(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

Last night we entered the Drake Passage, world renowned for its choppy waters and nauseating, 45 degree tilts.

I hate to spoil the excitement but the Drake Passage is boring. B-O-R-I-N-G. You’re out in the open water with nothing to look at except the occasional bird. Yes, we’re rolling around, but I don’t think we’ve hit any tilt higher than 20 degrees. Although the one that just hit us did drive my head up against the wall. People seem to be doing ok and there don’t appear to be many folks with motion sickness. I’ve been largely immune to the problem either due to my magic legs or my magic patch of medicine. I had a bit of a headache at lunch today but an ibuprofen took care of that quckly.

In an attempt to pass the time there’s been occasional presentations on things like the birds of Antarctica, the history of its exploration, and how to manage your Lightroom catalog. I missed the bird one because I was asleep. You do a lot of that when crossing the Drake. Eat, sleep. Get up, eat, sleep.

Late tomorrow evening we should be through the Drake Passage and if we’re lucky we’ll be at our first landing site.

I’m definitely getting my sea legs. I’m at the point where I can walk from one end of the boat to the other down a hall without having to use handles to stand up. You just have to lean the right direction at the right time!

Lunch was chicken kiev, salad, bread, etc. I ordered the chicken kiev but left before it came because of my headache. At dinner the serving lady gave me grief for not eating the kiev 🙂 Dinner was duck or fish (I had duck), minestrone soup, salad, and chocolate mousse for dessert. I thought tonight’s food was better than last night’s. Oh, and I discovered they have fantastic sweet plums in the fruit baskets. YUUUMY!

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(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

After far too much waiting (1.5 years worth) we are finally on the move. The boat, Ocean Nova, is a converted ferry boat. It’s great fun to walk up and down the little corridors. Our three person room is a total score. It’s HUGE by comparison to the other 2 berth units. I’ve got a top bunk, Paul’s got the other, and Steve has one of the lower bunks. The other lower bunk is a permanent couch for us and right now Minky is sitting on it relaxing. I hope he took his seasickness medications.

After getting on the boat we had a quick tour and then convened in the Panorama Lounge for staff and crew introductions as well as a safety discussion. I have 95% of it on video, but you’ll have to wait until I’m back to see there. Just one segment would cost $11,530 to upload at the current data pricing, and likely wouldn’t finish until I’m back in Seattle! Two of the Quark expedition folks are from Vancouver Island and do marine/bird science in the Canadian summer up north, then come down here in the winter. All the service staff in the dining room are from places like Honduras and work these trips until March, then get a month at home, then turn around and work trips to the Arctic. Wow!

Dinner tonight was empanadas, lobster bisque, choice of pan fried filet of barramundi (fish) or smoked steamed kassler (ham) or vegetable lasagna, and chocolate cake for dessert. I had the fish and it was vastly overcooked but still tasty.

I shared the table with a couple from Hamilton that I’ve chatted with a few times and are nice. We sat down with three other guys, and it was a bad mistake. Two of the three were grumpy and bitched constantly about the quality of the wine on the ship. I will make sure never to sit at the same table as them again. Blah.

After much trial and error those of us with GPS trackers seem to have found two places in the Panorama lounge that get adequate reception. It seems to vary which point is best depending on where they’re at, but I’ve labeled both places with “GPS Corner” signs and they are taped down in anticipation of the Drake Passage.

Speaking of the Drake Passage our ETA for entering it is at midnight. According to our expedition leader the weather report calls for 25 knot winds which are supposed to not too bad. But then they followed that up by reminding us that the captain laughs at everyone who has a scopolamine patch on.

They just came onto the intercom to remind us to secure all valuables before going to bed and to “always keep one hand free for the ship”. Hmm. That’s the third reminder about that today.

At any rate I’m just wrapping up copying a bunch of videos to the backup drives and then I’m going to head down to the room to get the lappie charged up for tomorrow. Hopefully I won’t be seasick!

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(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

Paul is nice but he snores and breathes like Darth Vader when sleeping. I gave up after a while and shoved earplugs in which helped enough that I could fall asleep. We’ll have to see if this is a regular nightly occurrence, and if so I’ll likely say something.

The hotel is hot. Not in a “wow, that’s a damn fine looking hotel” but more like a “hey look at us we may be in the middle of nowhere but we can produce heat!” way. We slept with the window open all night and it was still far too toasty. Breakfast was fine. They had peanut jam. Not badly translated peanut butter, but actual peanut jam. Huh.

Ushuaia is at about the same latitude as Flin Flon in Manitoba. It’s… quaint? There are some massive fancy houses here and a lot of rundown places that approach shacks. There are several places where I can’t tell if the building is going up or coming down.

Today there were two tours we could optionally sign up for, one a trip to a local national park and the other a 4 mile hike. Both cost $50 (that’s dollars, not pesos). Um, no thanks. So I dumped my bags at the front desk (along with EVERYONE else!) and went into town with Rami (from Finland). We walked around downtown Ushuaia which looks like a costal town in Nova Scotia, but with crap shops like Jasper. Man there are a lot of crap shops. We bumped into Jeff Schewe, Kevin (from Phase One), Seth Resnick, and a few other folks at the wine shop and took photos of them while they stocked up on three cases for the boat. Funny.

I stopped in one of the crap shops and got a neck gaiter thingy. Then Rami and I headed over to some random restaurant with Michael and his crew and had lunch. I ordered local trout and got farmed salmon. Oh well. I sat next to a guy who’s a federal prosecutor in Toronto. Neat! Oh, and for some reason, I’m reminded about something regarding my BA dinner from last night: along with the sweetbread I had lamb ball. That’s actual lamb ball, not balls made of lamb. Well, they are made of lamb since they came from the lamb, but you get what I mean.

Over lunch I let Jeff get all his Microsoft and film stuff off his chest. He’s a funny guy. I believe “horse hoof” was mentioned a couple of times in relation to film. He’s hilarious. Really.

We saw our boat in the harbour while walking around. It’s small and looks nice. Can’t wait! The bus leaves from our hotel at 3pm. We have to go through some sort of security at the port (more x-rays, wonderful), I think we have to get our passport stamped (since technically we’re leaving the country) and then we’re on our way. YAY!

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(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

I got to bed at 1:30am and slept wonderfully until about 7am. Then I managed to roll over and fall asleep again until 9am. Dare I say I’m time adjusted already?

After a quick breakfast I grabbed my digital gear and headed back to the Ricoleta Cemetery to shoot for a Photosynth. It is the perfect place for it: lots of interesting things at all levels of the scenery, and lots of obvious edges and differences that should synth well. I took 303 photos for a Photosynth of the full main corridor, we’ll see how it works. After shooting the synth photos I switched to the Lensbaby. Those shots were for you Roberta! The Lensbaby and the cemetery were made for each other. I shot with it for about ½ an hour and easily could have gone another couple of hours more.

While at the cemetery I saw a guy shooting with a 5D Mark II, 70-200 2.8 IS and a microphone on top. I figured he had to be Chris Sanderson who is on our trip documenting the whole thing for a video later. I said hi, turns out I was right, and he was there with Michael the leader of our trip. We chatted for a bit then went on our separate ways.

Late checkout at the hotel meant I had time to offload photos from the cemetery and post a few to Facebook. A quick lunch in the lobby café and it was time to head to the airport.

The domestic airport is far nicer than the international one. As you might expect there were people from our trip crawling all over the place, mostly fretting about whether they’d get dinged overweight fees on the checked baggage. Mine clocked in at 22 kilos, about 8 over the limit, but there was no charge. Others were not so lucky: one lady was charged $65US!

About 15 of us hung around a café area until it was time to go through security. The moment I was dreading: how do I explain without Spanish that I want my film hand-checked. Turns out it wasn’t a problem. Until the guy decided to open one of my IR film canisters to look inside. ARGH. $10 roll of film down the drain. I stopped him before he ruined the rest and caved and let him x-ray them. It’s only their second time so they should still be ok for the return trip.

Boarding for the flight was a free-for-all. While standing around waiting a few of us did a quick estimate and figured there was at least $500,000 of photography gear on the plane between the 30 of us. The more I think about it the more I think that’s low since at least three people have medium format systems where the backs run upwards of $40,000 each. One guy is the VP for Phase One and he had at least three medium-format backs. Wow.

The plane is, to put it nicely, a relic from when Ian was a child. It’s an MD-80 that looks like it’s never been refurbished. The seats don’t stay upright and locked. The tray tables have busted latches all over the place. At check-in they asked me if I wanted a window seat, and I said yes. Seat 32E is indeed a window seat, with a lovely view of the engine. Ha. At least they served real food on the 1 hr 40 minute first leg of the trip to Trelew. It was some weirdo sandwich with ham and cheese that was grilled once long ago, and an incredibly dry square of something with an approximation of fruit jam on top. I was (un?)fortunate enough to have Chris and Michael in the seats behind me, so we chatted a bit. As soon as the plane cleared out in Trelew the two of them made a beeline for open seats farther forward. Was it something I said???

The jump from Trelew to Ushuaia is another 2 hours, and again they served food. This time a ham and cheese sandwich on a real roll, and a very dry lemon dessert thing. I am very glad I know how say “dos agua por favor”. By this point in the flight I’d changed to a new seat. Bad idea. Someone in the row in front of me smelled bad. Like, WTF is wrong with you dude???

Anyway, we’re in Usuhaia which is cute, just the right amount of cold, and the sun won’t set until 11:30pm. I’ve got my hotel room (A triple! And I have the middle bed. Again, WTF???). Seven of us (including my two roommates) went for dinner at a seafood place recommended by our bellboy. We joked that his parents must run the place. King crab is the touristy thing to eat here, and they had a few in the tank. They are tiny compared to what we see in Richmond. I had crab cooked in a light broth with tomatoes, carrots, and other veggies. It was just so-so. The crab was overcooked and tough. Oh well.

Anyway, Paul and Steve (my roomies) seem nice. Time to try and get some sleep.

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(This is part of a series of re-posts from my trip to Antarctica in 2009)

Arriving in Buenos Aires was cool. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. The city is sprawled out, but not like LA where all you see are buildings to the horizon. There are so many tress in the city it’s amazing! It looks more like Atlanta or something. From the air it looks stunningly beautiful. From the ground… eh, the buildings are covered in graffiti but again, the trees are EVERYWHERE. I’m impressed.

The international airport is dinky, around the size of the Winnipeg airport if I had to guess. And it looks rundown. Not at all what I expected either. Immigration was a breeze, the lady said hi, stamped my passport, and waved me through. Bags showed up fine, and then through a customs xray machine. I stuck my film through it for the first (and likely only) time on the trip rather than try and explain that I wanted a hand scan. I’ll save that debate with a security guy for the flight out of BA tomorrow.

There was a guy waiting for me with a sign, and he called a car for me, and the car came. The driver was nice, spoke a bit of English, and whisked me to my hotel. On the way he whistled at “beautiful ladies” and cranked up a B.B. King CD.

The hotel is fantastic. Great front desk staff, beautiful lobby, beautiful breakfast/pool area. Since my room wasn’t ready yet I sat outside in their courtyard for a couple of hours nibbling on breakfast and watching kids play in the pool and napping. The room is great too: just the right size, beautifully decorated, and very hip. Oddly I’m in an accessible room so the turlet is way high up of the ground and the shower has no curb. They clearly don’t have a water shortage here either. The water coming out of the shower head is like a monsoon! The floors throughout the whole room are concrete and I’m sold. Our next house is all concrete floors with radiant floor heating.

After a great two hour nap in the room I met up with Dirk (from Germany) and Steve (from the UK) at the Recoleta Cemetary. I took my black and white camera, some film, and my wide angle lens. It’s a black and white photographer’s dream. Everything is stone in black, white, and all shades of grey in between. Lots of really good stained glass around too. Jason, you’d go crazy shooting here with your MF body. Roberta, you’d have a blast with the Lensbaby. I shot a roll of N-1, and wanted to shoot more at +1 but I felt like I was holding the others up. I’m going to go back tomorrow with the digital body, more film, and the Lensbaby to shoot on my own before I have to go to the airport. Yes, I did stumble upon Evita’s tomb. No, it wasn’t that impressive.

To get to/from the cemetery I took a taxi. The taxi drivers here are hilarious. They honk when traffic slows down even just a teeny bit. The stop signs are optional. My second cabbie yelled at me in Spanish for slamming the door to his car. Funny guy! But man, are the cabs cheap. $15 (that’s an Argentinean Peso sign there, not a US Dollar sign, be careful!) each way, which works out to about $5 (that’s a US Dollar sign there, not an Argentinean Peso sign there, be careful!).

Dinner was with 18 other people from the trip at Spettus. Lots of meat brought out on big sticks that they carve at tableside for you. Oddly, the sweetbreads were the best of the bunch. I’d never had them before, but it’s hard to go wrong with something deep fried and tasty. I had caramel flan with dulche de leche for dessert. Oh. Yeah. Yuuuuuumy! By the way, if you think splitting a cheque is rough when you go out with four people, try splitting one for 19 and people are paying using two different currencies ($ or $). Somehow I got appointed banker. And somehow we were only 3% over the final total!

Oh, on the way to the restaurant the cabbie was pointing out sights for me. The presidential palace was a highlight (“the president lives there. We don’t like him.”). I drove by the Microsoft building too, which I thought was hilarious. I took a picture, which got me a lecture from the cabbie (in Spanish) about not having a wrist strap on my camera.

After dinner six of us walked down the road for a beer. It turns out that of the six of us four had ties to the software industry. One couple now lives in northern California and raises grass-fed cattle and lamb and sells it locally. They have about 12 heads of cow. Oh, and 24 chickens. So I talked chickens for awhile.

Now I’m back in the room way past my bedtime, but apparently just when people start to party in BA. The menu at the bar was for happy hour even though it was 11:30 at night!

Anyway, time to go to bed. Tomorrow I’m going back to the graveyard to shoot more pictures then checking out and heading to the airport for the flight to Ushuaia. There was some crazy rumour that the airport there is closed and we’ll have to be bussed in from somewhere two hours away. I hope that’s not the case. Blech.

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(This is the first in a series of re-posts of trip notes I took on my 2009 photography trip to Antarctica)

Those of you looking for high excitement will want to look somewhere other than today’s report. Starting with a 4:30am wakeup the entire day consisted of planes, waiting areas, and more planes.

Shan drove me to the airport for my 7:20am flight. Unlike when we tried to go home for Christmas there was no snow. Yay! Security was a breeze, and they hand-scanned my film with no questions. While I was waiting for that I saw someone have an entire unopened bottle Asian hot sauce confiscated. Why on earth would you take that as carry-on? Oh, and my checked bag weighed in at… 49lbs! Woot!

The flight from Seattle to Atlanta had Delta’s fancy in-seat entertainment system which was actually pretty cool. They had 18 channels of live Dish TV, a 3000 song music library (mostly albums from their onboarding music at), and a trivia game! I played against others on the flight and won one game and lost two.

During the safety video Deltalina wagged her finger at me. I almost fainted from excitement. Oh, and good thing I had my sunglasses on for the tooth glint.

After flying small Air Canada Jazz jets for Christmas the 767 from Seattle to Atlanta was HUGE. The wings went on forever!

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