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sailing

A typical “Sea” day aboard an Antarctic cruise Expedition

note: picture gallery of entire trip here
note: full itinerary of cruise here 

penguin looking at cruise ship
Photo Credit: Yiwen

This blog is going to be a little different. It’ll be more of a “Captains log” style of post. I chose captain to keep a nautical theme. It’s simple a log of what would happen on a day at sea with no landings. I’ve described a landing day here.

On the way out we had a drake shake and it meant that about half the boat was seasick come the next morning.

01:00 (night): Woke up with stuff falling down from the shelves and serious rocking of the boat. I took another seasick pill, just in case, so as to get some sleep. The pills I took also had a drowsing effect (like allergy pills) which is great when you’re trying to sleep.

01.30: Fell asleep but only after being annoyed that sleeping on the side was impossible. I would wake up on and off many times that night

08.00: Woke up and went to get breakfast. The boat was rocking and it was hard to get your food. I’m amazed at the waiters and kitchen staff. How do they do it? There were now barf bags everywhere hanging on the side of the walls and railings so people could go and get them.

09:00: Visited the bridge. Somehow it feels like more rocking up here but it’s nice that you can see the horizon. Crew didn’t speak much but it’s nice with a ship with an open bridge so you can watch.

09.30: Bird lecture by Georgina, a local from the Falkland Islands. She told us about the Wandering Albatross, a bird with a wingspan of 3.5meters. I saw Aegean Condors in Patagonia and with a measly 3m wingspan, they’ve got nothing on the albatross.

South polar skuas are noisy bad birds that steal food and penguin eggs but at least their chicks are adorable! They take food from other birds in the air – bullies of the air.

The Antarctic tern can take a bite off your scalp if you don’t watch out. They’re aggressive birds

11:00: Falcon Scott, grandson of Captain Ross gives a lecture about Captain Ross’ expedition (Albatrosses are flying around the ship and when you look out the windows during the lecture you can see them).

Captain Ross’s expedition had been deemed “the worst trip in the world”. The mission was to recover 3 emperor penguin eggs. In minus 70 degree Celsius.

One expedition member had perished earlier to frostbite and when Captain Oates (the expedition leader) later had frostbite in his entire leg he left his tent at night as he knew he was going to die; Famously saying “I’ll just go out for a walk. It might take some time”. He did so to avoid his team members having to chose between carrying him or letting him die.

Eventually they all perished, although the eggs were later recovered. This was mostly due to -40 degrees weather towards the end and warm weather (slush) in the beginning. Warm weather was bad as well as the snow turned to slush making it very slow and very hard for them to walk and pull their sledges.

This lecture gives perspective on the danger and fearlessness the early explorers must have had to endure in this dangerous and inhospitable continent

12:00: Since I was joining the Kayaking Club I would have my briefing here. Safety, what to expect, etc. It was really exciting to go kayaking so I gulped it all up but also felt a little anxious, shy of the two hour lesson I had in Denmark, I had never been sea-kayaking. And never in actual sea – let alone the antarctic sea!

12:45: Finally some lunch. Lunch aboard is phenomenal!

14:00: Lecture on the geology of the South Shetland Islands. They are the first islands you meet after crossing the Drake. Voice of the lecturer was like hypnotic sleep but trying to stay awake. Thickest ice is up to 5km thick and there are two parts of the Antarctic peninsula – the Graham land and the Palmer Land.

14:30: Fell asleep…

16:00: Teatime with muffins and tea. What a treat!

16:30: Safety and IATTO. They went through all the various things you have to be careful about when going to Antarctica. Both for our safety but most importantly for the safety of the fragile eco-system there. Foreign bacteria, animals and seeds threaten the ecosystem and therefore we have to wash carefully every single thing we bring on land and between every landing!

17:45: Lecture on Photo Composition. It was interesting and very helpful!

19:00: Meet the crew

As you can see a day like this is fully packed with hardly any time to just do your own thing. With lack of sleep and many people sick it can feel like the lectures are a bit empty but I managed to (almost) go to all of them and got a lot of interesting information. It also helped me get excited for the coming trip!

Crossing the drake passage to Antarctica

cap horn in calm conditions
Picture of the drake sea at Cap Horn taken in “calm” conditions

The Drake Passage

Crossing the Drake passage from South Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula is something you’ll inevitably have to do if you dare venture to this elusive seventh continent by ship.

The Drake passage is a large body of water south of Cap Horn in south Argentina. This passage is particularly rough as on this latitude the water can flow freely all around the world without being slowed down by land. This is the only place in the world where the water flows unhindered without any land mass stopping it.

Furthermore, due to the shape of South America and the Antarctic peninsula this passage becomes very narrow (compared to the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean) and acts as a funnel where the two oceans meet, creating very rough conditions.

Many sailor stories feature ships crossing south of Cap Horn to get to the other side of the Americas and many of those ships end up as wrecks. Now, with the opening of The Panama Canal in 1914, they don’t have to go there anymore (although many ships continued to do so for a while after). Unless, of course, you want to go to Antarctica.

Another way is to fly to Antarctica but even that requires special conditions and planes can be grounded for days, weeks and even months waiting for the winds to change.

 

Drake lake and Drake shake

Depending on the conditions, your trip across the Drake can range from anything from a relatively calm experience to one of the roughest passages in the world. Colloquially, these are known as either a “Drake Lake” or a “Drake Shake”, respectively.

By “calm” we’re talking 2 days of 2-3m waves – not more than most people will be fine with rest, some fresh air and a couple of seasick pills. It’s still a rough time if you’re not used to it but you’ll survive. This is what we had on the way back.

On the way out though, we had a “Drake Shake” with 5-meter waves coming from the side. This is enough to slide plates off tables and it’s enough that you can’t sleep on the side. It was also enough that half the ship was sick in their cabins, even with pills.

Although, it was hard for me to sleep properly (because I was constantly rolled around), I felt fine and a few seasick pills kept me in ace condition.

It takes two days to cross the Drake Passage in a cruise ship and those days can be the longest days of your life if you do it in the wrong conditions. Luckily, in modern times we have charts and weather reports that help us avoid these conditions – in fact, as this post is being written dozens of modern ships are waiting in port in Ushuaia due to weather conditions. They simply can’t cross it without putting their passengers in danger.

Back in the old days, the ships were weaker and they didn’t have proper charts. I wouldn’t want to cross the drake during those times – let alone be the first adventurer to explore south.

One good thing, though, is that when you get to the other side – a new world awaits!

Irkutsk – Near the great Lake Baikal


Presently its 6am and I’m sitting in Ulan-bataar (Chingis khaan international airport). But lets go back – back to when we arrived by train to Irkutsk near the great Lake Baikal.

DAY1 – July 31st, Arriving at Irkutsk

We arrived safely to Irkutsk in the evening and quickly found our homestay (arranged through a hostel). As it was late in the evening  all we did was grab some food and withdraw some money from a nearby atm followed by a quick shower and then straight to bed. The food was terrible.

DAY2 – August 1st, Listwyanka

In the morning we made our way to another hostel as the homestay was booked out. As the pros we have become at finding very unmarked hostels in russia (often in completely anonymous residental complexes) we found our new hostel and had checked in around noon.

This is where we met Kurt – an australian that had been spending the last 40 days camping and trekking the mountains of Mongolia. He also just arrived in Irkutsk. He decided to join up on a trip we planned going to a lake city called listwyanka near lake baikal – and eat breakfast their.

We bought 2L beer, a bottle of vodka, some cucumber, some tomatoes, some pepper fruit, salami, bread, butter, cheese and got on our way. The breakfast of kings. We then got on our way to Lake Baikal. After about 1h of driving in their marshutkas (minibusses) we walked around and quickly found a nice spot at the beaches of Lake Baikal.

View from the Marshutka (minibus)
View from the Marshutka (minibus)

<Picture pending of breakfast>

But first a few facts about lake baikal – It is the deepest lake in the world. It is 600kms long and 60kms wide. It contains 20% of the worlds combined water resources – more than the 5 great lakes combined! Also it is so clear than you can drink directly from the lake. Quite impressive.

Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal

Anyway, this day was one of those, “we don’t really have any plans but I’m sure we’ll have fun” days and so we did. Our original plan was to see the lake and take the last boat home at 18:30. That didn’t happen. After having eaten our breakfast we asked a random boater on the beach if he would take us on his boat and since lady luck is constantly behind us, he said yes.

View from the back of the boat
View from the back of the boat
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Happy days while the captain did donuts on the lake
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Boating on lake Baikal
Our Captain
Our Captain
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj
Kurt the Australian and Nikolaj

After the short boatride of about 15minutes (and half a bottle of vodka) we just walked down the road along the lake to see what was going on. As it usually does something quickly happened: Nikolaj spotted a banya (russian bathhouse) sign with a phone number. We stopped the first stranger and asked him to call the number.

This guy was a young russian who had just bought booze to meet up with his friends. He didn’t meet up with his friend – instead he joined us for the most of the day. I’ll spare you the details but we swam in lake baikal and tried some very cheap food:

The russian
The russian
The weird food right after we got out of the water
The weird food right after we got out of the water

I high fived a bear:

Me high fiving a bear
Me high fiving a bear

met alot of new friends and of course went to the banya:

Outside the banya
Outside the banya

On a side note: Being the danes we are, we ofcourse wanted to skinny dip in the lake but our russian friend told us “no no no no”. The women will called their boyfriends, the boyfriends will call the police (and beat you up), and finally the police will beat you up again (and throw you in jail). This is not just because they don’t like nudity but more particularily because they don’t like MALE nudity (we were 3 guys that wanted to do it) as it is basically too gay’ish. Two bottles of vodka down we were this close to doing it but still opted for keeping the boxers on.

Around 8pm we took the marshutka back to irkutsk and had a crazy night… we went to bed around 2am.. or 3am.. 4am.. I don’t really remember. Honestly I don’t remember much after we got back… it rained.

DAY3 – August 3rd, Hiking around Lake Baikal

We got up at 8:30 am (YES!! after that day/night). That was probably one of the worst hangovers and most confused times on this entire trip so far. Furthermore, we had planned a 12 km trekking trip.. and we only had flipflops to wear. Getting picked up by the tour staff (and Mirko the german we met earlier in Moscow who had joined up with us again… great, huh? :)).

Mirko was fully prepared with trekking gear, bugspray, water and food… we had… uh… flipflops and a hoodie. We got the driver to stop at a market and got some food and water and after an hour of driving, best described as attempted suicide, we got to the start of our trek. We quickly got to talking with two russian girls who was going camping and they joined us for the rest of the trip

Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Nikolaj, Alena, me and Lucy (Luda)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face :)
Mirko and Nikolaj tyring to have a serious face 🙂

One of the stranger things that happened was a bikini dressed russian girl in the forrest named Nastya. She was there alone and she had a tent, some food and a whole lot of Samogon (russian home-brewed booze) that she had made herself. We did a picnic there pooling all our food and also tried some of the samogon. It was very home-brewery.

We also got to hide under the railroad tracks when the rain started pouring having a little camping there for about half an hour.

Under the tunnel: Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena
Under the tunnel:
Nikolaj, me, Lucy, and Alena

We also skipped stones at the shore of Lake Baikal, tried “moutain energy tee” that the russian girls had brought from home. Talked alot about alot of things and I learned a few new words.

At the shore of lake baikal
At the shore of lake baikal

Another thing to mention are the tunnels. For some reason the russians decided that tunnels were bad karma and opted for leading the railroad tracks AROUND the tunnel instead. I have no idea why.. but on the plus side the tunnels doubles as excellent shelter for those less fortunate.

The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels
The tunnels + bed and Mirko
The tunnels + bed and Mirko

Below are some pictures of the trail

Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail
Some pictures of the trail

At night we just got home, ate food and went to bed.

DAY4 – August 4th, Leaving

We got up early, and took the train. How that went is for the next blog post