January 1, 2015

Antarctica: Deception Island

Expedition leader update:
Happy New Year!! Our New Year was welcomed in by an early morning call, at 0730 hours our sturdy little vessel passed through the narrow passage named Neptune’s Bellows and entered the flooded inner caldera of the volcano of Deception Island. Breakfast was then taken before the Captain anchored in Whalers Bay. Close by was the Royal Navy ship HMS Protector. She was carrying an inspection team on behalf of the Antarctic Treaty parties. From our anchorage we could see the abandoned buildings and tanks lining the shore from the early century Whaling industry, as well as other old buildings from the former British Antarctic Station which were abandoned after the devastating eruption of 1969. Steam rising from the shoreline reminded us very much of the active volcanic status of Deception Island.
After breakfast we all had a chance to stretch our legs! To start we explored the old buildings, boilers and tanks finishing one end of our hike at the old aircraft hanger. Beyond this there is a site of special scientific interest at a hot body of water known as Kroner Lake. From here the hike took us back along the beach past wrecked buildings and abandoned water boats then a short uphill hike to the gap in the volcano wall known as Neptune’s Window. This provided us spectacular views over the enclosed Port Foster and outwards across the southern end of the Bransfield Strait the distant mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was then back to the Zodiac landing site where the braver, or crazier, joined the Antarctic Swim Team! This is a fun SOI tradition that involves a Polar Dip into the Antarctic Ocean. Many students and staff dove into the frigid waters before returning to the ship for a nice warm lunch. Invigorated and a bit tired, we took the next hour and a half to work on our journals and other ongoing projects.  I think a few snuck in a quick nap!
We passed once more through Neptune’s Bellows and sailed along the east coast of Deception Island to an impressive cliff called Bailey Head. Immediately beside Bailey Head is a long black sand beach that gives access to an enormous Chinstrap penguin rookery. Normally, because of the swell, this is a very difficult place to land but today conditions were excellent and the opportunity was taken to get the Zodiacs ashore. The sight and sound of hundreds of thousands of Chinstrap penguins surrounding you in this vast amphitheater is simply breathtaking. It is one of the greatest wilderness sites on the Earth.  We were all left speechless. Back on board for a 19:30 dinner that was a perfect end to a truly memorable day. Except the day continued well into the Antarctic night and was wrapped up with workshops, a recap and briefing, whales and a stunningly beautiful sunset. What a start to 2015!  Tonight we sail further south down the Gerlache Strait. We hope to explore several bays and channels and landing sites along the Peninsula tomorrow
Our wonderful team is really in the groove now.  Our good karma and family dynamic could not be much better. We are full of joy, awe and wonder.  Good night…
In the expedition spirit,  
Housekeeping: Check out the ‘video’ page for the latest addition!
Une photo publiée par Students On Ice (@studentsonice) le
“Yesterday we landed on the continent of Antarctica. I loved observing the penguins and exploring the land of Antarctica. I spent most of my time lying on the beach observing the environment and taking pictures. After spending most of the morning on the beach. We came back for lunch and set out again to an Argentinian research station. This was not only a research station for scientists, naval families also come and live here. We got taken on tour to most of the buildings. One of them that interested me the most was the school that they had for the children there.
“Today we ventured out to Deception Island where we explored an old whaling station from 1911. This was my favorite place so far. I loved looking at the old historic buildings. Deception Island has an active volcano that has erupted multiple times in past years and destroyed many of the buildings that were there. You could see the steam coming off the water at the shore. If you stuck your hand in the sand on the shore it was surprisingly very hot. One of the other exciting things about that Island was that we did our polar plunge on the beach. Although there was steam coming off of the water along the shoreline the water was still freezing cold. I ran in and jumped into the water and then ran out as fast as I could. My feet went numb immediately and I couldn’t feel anything under them. Once I ran out and wrapped myself in a towel it wasn’t that bad but it was still very very cold. After that we landed on an island called Bailey’s Head. We were fortunate to land here because it is a very hard landing spot and the weather was in our favor. There were over 500,000 penguins on this island and it was one of the most amazing experiences so far. It was unreal to see all of the penguins on this island. This was my favorite day of the trip so far.”
~Brady Buckley, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
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“What a day to start the New Year. Wow. Today was definately a once in a lifetime expierience that I will rarely, if ever, participate in again. The plunge into deep ocean around the geothermally heated Decepetion Island. Arguably the hardest part of my trip to explain to reporters/friends, it was exciting to finally take a swim into the Antarctic Ocean.
“We stared down the waves at the beach. Deception Island is an alien terrain, lifeless in form and nature. Looking back through my photographs I thought that I was shooting in black and white. There was no green, no orange, none of the hues and colours of more temperate areas. Instead, two elements rule this bleak terrain ice and rock. Their stark contrast sets the stage for a simple but striking contrast. It feels foreign, distant and otherworldly. It is not a place that can fathomably exist on Earth. We are a planet of life, of colour, of flourish. This polarity felt more appropriate for the moon.
“Another puzzling contrast involved the beach. As we sailed in on our zodiacs, we noticed something peculiar about these stretches of beach. They were steaming. As in there was hot, gaseous water rising from the beach into the air above. Deception Island is actually an active volcano, and is a hotbed of tectonic plate activity. So the black sand beaches end up being surprisingly hot – all the way up to 40-50 degrees celcius. While digging into the sand, we quickly drew our hands out with pained yelps because of the intolerable heat. And the steam of this hot sand created a most stunning illusion of fog sweeping across the beach. Penguins drifted in and out of this sweeping veil, creating the environment of a sandstorm across the Sahara. This warmth was surprising in a place where just 5 metres from the beach, the temperature went down to near zero degrees. Hot and cold, ice and rock. These motiffs rule Deception Island.
“In line with these juxtapositions, we decided to go swimming into the Southern Sea from this beach. As I stripped off my five layers of warmth into my bathing suit on the beach I thought to myself – am I crazy? Am I going to go swimming in a latitude below 60 degrees? I guess so, because we sprinted in. Not stopping to further question, or further doubt our decision we just jumped in. Wow. Wading in from my waist up, it didn’t feel that terrible. I might as well put my face in too right? Slipping in, my body went totally cold. But it was alright…until I got out of the water. Wow. My muscles froze totally – the cold was so intense I couldn’t move a single muscle. It was freezing – both in my mind and physical body. What finally shook me out of it was the realization that any longer and I would literally get frozen into an ice cube. So starting to panic, I sprinted out of that water as fast as I could. Though literally my entire body felt as if it was going to succumb to frostbite, and though I couldn’t move my fingers for forty minutes afterwards, I felt a special kind of warmth on the inside. Because I had done something that seemed impossible, something that was beyond the total scope of normal behaviour. I had taken on the inhospitable frozen seas and won. This sense of accomplishment made the entire ordeal worthwhile.”
~Robert Adragna, Toronto, Ontario
Wow. Bailey head is the easily the most fascinating place on the entire Antarctica Peninsula. Its landscape is quite formidable, with jagged mountains and rolling hills,introduced with a fine black sand beach. But the most fascinating aspect of this place are the creatures which love in the beautiful landscape – penguins. Penguins, penguins, penguins. Everywhere. As our zodiac approached the beach, groups of penguins were watching us!

The beach was a massive rookery, with more penguins than pebbles. And these were perhaps the most friendly birds I have seen before in my life!!!! Unlike penguins yesterday at Brown Bluff, today they carried on with their regular business as if you weren’t even there. I sat in wonder as a few meters away from me, they waddled, squabbled, and picked up rocks. It was fascinating to finally see these birds from a truly intimate perspective.

Just as it seemed that I would be content to lie forever on the beach with my newfound Chinstrap friends, we were pushed along up the hillside to see the “big rookery”. I thought this proposition was ridiculous, no place could have a higher population of penguins than the beach right? Wrong. When we finally managed to reach the hillside, it was a spectacle. Thousands of penguins – hundreds of thousands of penguins- sat upon the hillside. They were the centre of a cornucopia of sensory experience – they infiltrated my sight with their white bellies, they assaulted my ears with an overwhelming cacophony of squaking penguins,they ventured into my nose with the smell of guano. These birds are glorified and idolized within our society – to see the power of their rookeries was spectacular.

In the midst of the penguins, it was time to make the most of my opportunity. I had come to this continent with the dream of taking a picture with a penguin, and it was about to be realized. I lied down and waited. And waited. Many passed by me – some going out of their way to go in the opposite direction. But then one stopped. It just stopped and stared, looking at me through it’s big black eyes. One step forward, then another. My heart skipped a beat. This was actually happening. I could see it in perfect detail, every single inch of it. Water droplets hung serenely off it’s feathers, while its big eyes quavered from one side to another. Then the final step. With a big squawk, it pecked my boot. Then again, a soft gentle nudge against my foot. With this accomplished, I whipped out my camera and turned it high above my head. The picture snapped and I finally did it. My penguin selfie was complete!

It’s amazing, how these fascinating creatures can shape the insides of our hearts. These civilizations of penguins are fascinating, and many think they are cute. And I think I can see why. The rookery is an embodiment of the best parts of what makes us human. Regardless of the weather, the skuas or the rough terrain, the penguins remain the same. In a constant state of bustling, noisy activity. And while we may not be able to ask them ourselves, I am certain that these penguins are truly happy. They have an aura of goodwill, cheer and the ability to be merry regardless of circumstance. Even though they know they look ridiculous waddling, they are okay with it. Even though the water is freezing cold (as I found out earlier today) they’re okay with it. And they sing their happiness through their cacophonous, merry squawks. To keep squawking, to keep merrily singing in the face of danger,is an art that the penguins have mastered. And it is that which makes us fawn over the penguins. As great Canadian band Rush once sung, “I’ve seen the middle kingdom, between heaven and Earth”

Ps. To be honest, I really don’t want to go home. This place is much too beautiful for that. If this ship happens to run aground at some point during the remainder of the trip, don’t come looking for me. I’m going to become a penguin and spend the rest of my days gazing in awe at the mountains. Sorry mom!!!”
Robert Adragna, Toronto, Ontario

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“Ola Familia. Esta a correr tudo bem. Ja tenho saudades. Gostava que pudessem ver o que eu tenho visto porque e unico e nao ha muita gente a ter a oportunidade. Ainda temos que celebrar o comeco de 2015. Desejar um melhor ano mentalmente e fisicamente. Conheci muita gente de tudo o mundo mas ha muitos americanos e canadianos. Os primeiros dias as pessoas da europa estavam um bocado a parte. Grande diferenca de culturas.
“Today was a special day not only because it is the first day of the year but because we got to swim in the ocean of Antartica. We went to Whaler’s Bay which is an active volcano and it was where sailer would kill and get the oil from the whales. Of course most of of the building are destroid but still very interesting to watch. After we got to swim and we run out to the water. It was the cooldest water I have swam in. Also I never been so cool in my life. Something that I learned was that you can never regret for doing something but on the other hand you can always regret for not doing and miss an amazing experience. In the beginning I was totally not going to do it because the weather was not as good as yesterday. I end up changing my mind by watching everyone being brave and jumping in to the water. In the afternoon we got to watch penguins for a whole afternoon. It was amazing and I love penguins. Today I became a Canadian and it was really unique.”
~Sofia Dionisio, Baar, Switzerland
“Yesterday morning we finally set foot on the Antarctic Continent! It was an incredible day. The day began with our first landing at Brown Bluff, a rocky beach surrounded by mountains and glaciers; it was breath-taking. We were greeted by rookeries of Gentoo and Adele penguins, I have never seen so many penguins together before, I was speechless. I spent most of my time simply observing the penguins, the penguins were fascinating to watch; some were porpoising through the water, others were feeding their chicks or sleeping.
The second landing yesterday was to the Argentinian Research Station in Hope Bay, also known as Esperanza station. The station was initially used as a military base until the 1970’s, when it became a research station. We walked around the station for a while and also visited the school and church. There are many families that live at the base, but most were away for vacation. It was a wonderful experience visiting and meeting the people at Esperanza station, they were all so kind and welcoming. After dinner, we all gathered to celebrate New Years eve. There was lots of dancing, singing, a poem recited by Lee (our photographer), and even a debate.
Today also began with a frenzy of actives, we did two landings in Deception Island. In the morning we visited Whalers Bay, an active volcano off the Peninsula. On shore, we explored the abandoned buildings, walked by old rusted industrial sized barrels and even came across some whale bones. Whaler’s Bay was used as a Norwegian whaling station and then a British research base.
We also hiked up to Neptune’s Window, a view that could only be described as beautiful. Finally, we ended our visit at  Whalers Bay by taking a penguin plunge (swim)in the Ocean. It was freezing, but so thrilling at the same time; It was an incredible way to start off the new year.
 Our second landing was to Baily Head, I thought that Brown Bluff had a lot of penguins, but this was just something else. Baily Head is home to the largest chinstrap penguin population on the Antarctic Peninsula. There were penguins literally everywhere, from the beach to the highest peak on the mountains.  I saw penguins fighting, waddling, feeding their chicks, porpoising through the ocean and stealing pebbles for their nests. It was an experience that cannot be captured by pictures, it was unlike anything that I have ever experienced, I was in awe. The day ended with various workshops, I got to look at some phytoplankton and other organisms with the microscopes on board. Then during our briefing at the end of the night we listened to Olle and David Fletcher told us some stories about Whaler’s Bay.
Collapsed huts, rusted industrial-sized barrels, and small broken boats dotted the vast panorama of mountainous rock and ice. This was a Norwegian whaling station, which was closed in 1931 due to a lack of demand for whale products. It it was then converted into a British research base until the late 1960s, when many of the buildings were destroyed by mudslides following a volcanic eruption.

Lastly, I want to wish everyone a prosperous and happy 2015! As well as a huge thank you to my parents for supporting me through this journey, I love you both so much . I’m only halfway through this expedition and it has been completely life changing, I’m having such an amazing and exciting time.”
~Jasveen Brar, Medicine Hat, Alberta

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“Feliz anno nuevo! Our polar dip was an awesome start to the new year! My head feels slightly clearer now and I can start to digest the last few days on the ship. We have landed on the continent, hiked a glacier, witnessed penguin colonies, visited a research station and are now anchored in a caldera! The scenery is breathtaking to say the least and every turn seems to present new and wonderful experiences. We have seen so many whales now that often people don’t respond when someone calls out a sighting. Penguins porpoising alongside the boat is as commonplace as a petrel flying by. All this is suplemented by lectures and stories about exactly the places we are visiting and the history there. In all of this awesome wonder, I can’t help but think about my family at home and those closest to my heart. I hope that they too are elated at the possibilities of the new year. May 2015 be an adventurous, exciting, momentous and most of all shared with loved ones, new and old.”
~Stephanie Dowdall, Port Moody, British Columbia
“Well, we are back on the boat from an exciting morning! We reached Deception Island today and I am extremely happy. I’ve been looking forward to Deception Island since I saw it on the itinerary because my sister and I play Nancy Drew games and one of them happens to be called Danger on Deception Island. The actual island wasn’t anything like the game though, but the volcano was really neat. The black sand beaches were awesome and the ruins from the old whaling station really brought the history to life. We hiked up the hill to Neptune’s Window and we were actually able to see the mainland of Antarctica from it! The view was spectacular.
“After the hike back down to the beach, we pscyched ourselves up for our big finale on Deception Island: the polar plunge. Standing on the beach, staring at the menacing blue water, I started to feel resistant to plunging into the freezing water. But, we took off our nice warm layers, took a deep breath and ran into the water. When we came out, the frigid air almost felt warm. It was quite the experience. We loaded up a zodiac and took a shivering ride back to the boat where I took a nice, hot shower. Now I can say I’m officially part of the Antarctic Swimming Team.”
~Kelly Esenther, Madison, Wisconsin
“Happy New Year! What a way to kick off the new year: really chilling in Antarctica. The excitment started at 7:00am with the news that we had arrived at Deception Island, it was non-stop. The zodiacs landed us on a beach of black and rusty sand. This was an old abandoned whaling station. The grand boilers were still standing (although much of it was covered in snow). Walking along the vast and dark beach, the ruins of other buildings could be seen poking out of the sand and snow. Most of the buildings were only about halfway visible. After walking all the way to one side of the beach by the hanger, we trecked back the other way up the sideo of a great formation. The entire area was actually a volcano caldera, thus, the valley we explored was shaped like a fishbowl. In one of the mountain walls, there was a great opening from which (after climbing/hiking for a while) you could see the ocean mainland on a clear day over the cliff.
“Finally, Kelly, Branden, and I began to mentally prepare ourselves for the a dip in the Antarctic ocean. There was no other way to approach the situation other than to just strip fast and run fast. This experience was only hightend because I was the first to reach the near-freezing water. The moment my knees reached the water I went into a dive into the icy water. Coming out of the water, every single inch of me was tingling. I could barely feel any part of me, and it felt as if every part of my body fell asleep.
“All in all, it has been a pretty great day, and it is only 12:30pm.”
~Grace Broedrick, Chicago, Illinois
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“This morning we arrived by zodiac to Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island, an active volcano off the Antarctic Peninsula. We noticed steam rising from the shoreline as the ocean met geothermal activity below. On shore, we explored dilapidated relics of human activity in the Southern continent. Collapsed huts, rusted industrial-sized barrels, and small broken boats dotted the vast panorama of mountainous rock and ice. This was a Norwegian whaling station, which was closed in 1931 due to a lack of demand for whale products. It it was then converted into a British research base until the late 1960s, when many of the buildings were destroyed by mudslides following a volcanic eruption.
“After investigating an empty aircraft hangar, we trekked past multiple Gentoo penguins and mounds of whale bones to Neptune’s Window, a viewpoint from which we observed both the bay and the open water on the other side. We could see the Antarctic Peninsula in the distance. I sat with Eric, an explorer and expeditioner from Iqaluit, Nunavut, and chatted about the incredible resilience of those living or venturing in extreme polar environments. It was clear from the remnants of the buildings below that Antarctica is not a continent where humans can easily dominate the environment they depend on. This place is deceptive indeed, as its undescribable beauty is tempered by the fact that it is entirely unforgiving. Crews of explorers and whalers spent long winters here, enduring gnawing hunger, whipping winds, and bitter cold. Many did not survive. It is humbling to walk in the footsteps of those who came before, with the knowledge that Antarctica takes no prisoners.
“So what pulls people in to this hostile land time after time? Perhaps it is the fact that Antarctica is unlike any other continent on the planet. I find the boundaries of my perception being stretched as I step away from my comfort zone to drink in the strange beauty of this environment which is both vast and delicate. Antarctica, pristine and full of complexities, has reminded me both of human perseverence and of the destructive behaviour we continue to inflict on our planet.
“We finished off the morning by peeling off our winter gear down to our bathing suits and running to the shore for a quick dip in -1 degree Celsius water. The stinging cold was first shocking then invigorating. On the first day of 2015, I feel truly alive.”
~Sadie DeCoste, New Westminster, British Columbia
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“Happy New Years!! After having a ‘New Years Eve Talent Show Party,’ we all were hesitant to wake up. Once we were up, we sailed into Deception Island. We started the day by exploring the island and then hiking up to Neptune’s Window. The island was so cool looking. It seemed like we were in a completely different world. Neptune’s Window was gorgeous. It dropped off about 100 feet into the ocean and you could see so much-including the Antarctic continent. After the hike we all decided to join the Antarctic swim team by jumping into the freezing southern ocean. After we were back on the ship and had recovered from the initial shock, we spent some time hanging out and then went to the other side of the island. We rode the zodiacs into Bailey’s Head- a land completely covered with penguins. There were approximately 500,000 chinstrap penguins, as well as a few gentoo. They were everywhere you could look. It was such an experience. We spent a few hours on the island, just watching all of the penguins. After that, we had a few more hours on the ship, had dinner, split into workshops, had a few stories told, and then saw an amazing ‘sunset’ over the Antarctic continent. It was a great end to the first day of the new year!”
~Alexis Dibenedetto, Auburn, Alabama
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“Antarctica has been everything yet nothing like I had imagined. No words can descirbe this place, this feeling, what you’re seeing; almost like a daze. It’ss breathtaking. We just came in from Deception Island where the polar dip took place with many purple/blue/white bodies to be seen. What a wonderful way to start the new year as well as to end the old one! With the comfort of almost looking and feeling like home, yet on the complete opposite side of the world. I feel like i could write a whole novel on just trying to describe and explain the beauty of this place. My favourite thing so far has been just soaking it all in, sitting with the penguins, birds, the land. Drawing and doodling as much as possible. Also the privilege of having so many inspiring, amazing and talented people to share these moments with. I was so nervous to have come aboard, knowing no one but come to think of it now, we are all a family in a way. I know one day I will have to come back here. Lunch! until next time.”
~Kyra Flaherty, Iqaluit, Nunavut
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“Our first landing of the day was on Deception Island. The island is actually the peaks of a live valcano which is deep beneath the ocean floor. We enetered the bay through Neptune’s Window. Penguins could be seen along the coast of the island amongst a huge amount of steam which was coming off of the water. Apparently the steam was due to the ‘hot’ water close to the shore which was heated by the volcano deep below the ocean; however, the water felt rather freezing when we went swimming there after spending a few hours exploring Whalers Bay- a small bay inside of Deception Island.
“Whalers used to inhabit the bay we visited to day in efforts to harvest whales for their oil. The old equpiment the whalers used to use could still be seen along the coast. I decided to walk around the half a dozen huge tanks that whale oil used to be stored in and I happened to come upon an interesting sight. A skua was feasting on a dead penguin. I watched until the meal was over and the bird flew to a small body of fresh water (which was the result of the melt from a glacier) to wash itself from the penguin remains.
“We all proceeded to go on a short hike to a brilliant lookout into whalers bay and out onto the ocean. All of the bay could be seen one way, and opposite of Deception Island the Antarctic Continent could be seen. We assembled a drum set from long, thin rocks and proceeded to have a ‘rock’ concert at the lookout.
“The landing concluded with a polar dip. We all stripped down to our bathing suits, jumped into the ocean and jumped out twice as fast. The water had a terrible taste and smell of sulfur from the volcano below. It was refreshing to say the least. The water was measured to have been one degree below zero before we dipped.
“A warm shower and a hot bowl of soup was greatly appreciated upon our return to the ship. We have a free hour now before we try for our second landing of the day at Neptune’s Bellows on the perimeter of Deception Island.
Happy New Year.”
~Patrick Hickey, St. John’s, Newfoundland
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“I haven’t written many blog posts, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying my time here in Antarctica. There aren’t enough hours before curfew to truly take in all of Antarctica’s majesty, but I’ve been trying, and that’s the explanation for the lack of blogs, and I’ve been keeping a personal written record before I fall asleep. Anyway, there are so many experiences that I could share in depth, from looking through Daniele’s microscope to being on the deck, watching penguins porpoise across the water with incomprehensibly gigantic mountains behind them.
“The one experience that still sticks in my mind, however, happened ten minutes before curfew. I was out on the deck while the sun was setting with a beautiful orange and peach color, which was amazing enough on its own. At the very end, I could see a white landmass in the distance, and the sun lit up this island above it. It was one of the most interesting, mystifying sunsets I had ever seen. I took a picture, but for the most part, I quietly enjoyed this end to the evening. I was late to curfew, but it was worth it.”
~Alec Beljanski, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
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“Happy New Year!! Ok so it’s currnetly the New Year, and I’m totally wigged out about it. I can’t believe that an entire year has gone by since we’ve been in New York, but somehow I’ve survived with the help of my close family and friends. Ups and downs and ins and outs.
“Soooooo it’s been a CRAZY past two days. I HAVE OFFICIALLY SET FOOT ON THE CONTINENT OF ANTARCTICA!!!! Six continents down officially. OMG IT’S ABSOLUTLY CRAZY AND I’M LIKE FREAKING OUT. This continent is beautiful, and I just cannot wait to get home and show y’all the pictures. Oh by the way I’ve kind of developed a southern accent from being around it, so it’s just really weird. Just be wary of that when I come home I may be talking all southern and such.
“Yesterday began like all other days, but you could just feel a different aura in the air. We all were excited to step foot onto this beautiful continent. We all go aboard the zodiacs, and we take off towards the shore. Me being me, I chatted with our zodiac driver, and I believe it was Santi. He was the gentleman who put me on a question limit the other day. Anyways, I asked him tons of questions, of course, and we landed. Right when I stepped foot onto the ground, I could feel the magic this place holds. It is an indescribable feeling of being on a place this beautiful, this secluded. I boarded a zodiac to do some researching and learning about the salinity, depth and temperature of the ocean around us. It was weird because everything is metric, and me being from America was soooo weird to see this. We also saw a lot of penguins, and then we went back on the zodiacs and returned to the ship. Later that day, we went to the Argentinian research station, Esperanza, and we met the scientists that live there. They have a rotary sign there, and I took a picture with it. I then had to explain Rotary International to everyone and that was quite the adventure, but it was all alright :). After we got back, we had a New Year’s Eve celebration. I got to MC it with this kid named Patrick from Canada, and that was tons of fun. I guess that he’s the quiet type and I’m loud and crazy, so we complimented each other well. After the celebration, we got ‘champagne’ (orange juice) in pipets, and we had a toast. We then retired to our cabins, and to sleep we went.
“Today began with the lovely Geoff calling on the loudspeaker ‘Goooooood morning Students on Ice. Geeeeet up’, like normal, but today was pretty groggy because of the late night last night. We got up, and we were instructed to put on our swim suits if we wanted to take a polar plunge. I got so excited, and we went and got all bundled up with the plethora of layers, but with our swim suits on. This cove was the past home of a large whaling place and the UK Antarctic Survey. It was interesting to see the ruins, the old boilers, the homes and the hangar, but the view at the top of this hill was by far the best. We took a long hike, one of which I talked the whole way up because it was buring, to the top of this hill. We looked down, and there were waves crashing on rocks and the cliff near us. Then, it was time for the polar plunge. It was fine at first. I stripped down to my swim suit, and I honestly wasn’t that cold. I was running around talking to everyone, and then it was time to take the plunge. My friends and I ran out to the ocean, and we took this plunge. It was fine at first, but then the cold hit. As soon as my head went under the surface, my muscles froze up. I thought I wouldn’t be able to move again because I was frozen, but I willed myself to get up and get out of the ocean. I lugged myself up to the beach, and I wrapped the towel around me to get dry. We all were freezing, but it was nice because we were freezing together, you know? We then got all bundled up again, and we went back to the ship. We are currently about attempt another landing to this volcanic ash beach, but we are just waiting.
“Mom, I’m fine and I still have friends. It’s all ok, and I’m perfectly fine. You have no need to worry about me. I’m fine, I’m well, I just have a big bruise, and that’s the only thing that’s remotely wrong with me.
“I’ll see you soon. Happy New Year everyone. Today was truly a hilarious day from what you read, right?”
~Sarah Johnson, Phoenix, Arizona
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“Yesterday was New Years and most of what happened was a blur between visiting various Antarctic places, New Years, and an Argentinian research base. The base was the highlight, considering I was finally able to actually get trinkets and shirts for the friends and family back home. They had schools that went from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and being devoutly Catholic; Pope Francis had his hat sent to that particular station. It was nestled in a small and easily missed chapel, but something with such relevance seemed out of place.
“Today was an even more memorable day. We visited Whaler’s Bay, an old whaling station established by Captain Larson. The entire area was surrounded by an active volcano and while the weather was just as inhospitable, sticking your fingers yielded a surprise. The geothermal energy was enough to heat up the sand and going any deeper would have burned me. The water was lukewarm near the shore and to me it was like sticking my hands in a hot tub.
“The real interesting part came with the polar plunge, where anyone brave enough would shed all their clothes (save swimwear) and go wading into the FREEZING Antarctic water. It was a mix of emotions when I submerged my head underwater, but the most pervasive and intense feeling was a chilling fear of my imminent death. There have been times where I’ve been in some sort of mortal peril, but it was absolutely nothing compared to this experience.
“A few seconds into the water and your muscles tense up, your entire body tenses, and the splash created by your submergence fogs one’s vision. In those few seconds you have no idea if you are even moving or if you have underestimated the water and now the chilling cold will swallow you whole. As soon as you wade into the shore you feel two intense emotions, one is a bliss that you have not indeed died and the other is an extreme compulsion to find a towel before you freeze to death. It was an intense and absolutely amazing experience that I would never repeat for the sole purpose of keeping that amazing memory intact and undiluted.
“The plunge honestly changes how you view the animals around you, the systems they develop to survive that cold must be incredibly intricate because there is no doubt in my mind that a human would die of shock or hypothermia in maybe two minutes tops in the water. The second thing we did was visit one of the biggest penguin rookeries on the island, and I was able to witness the food chain first hand. A giant Petrol swooped from above killing a penguin and devouring it. I was not disturbed in the slightest but rather intrigued by it. It was one of the moments where you sit and reflect and truly appreciate the beauty and conversely the ferocity of Mother Nature.
“These were our first steps on the mainland and we still have many days to go. I hope that I get such in depth experiences and insights into the habits and systems of nature around me. After that plunge my entire perception of the wildlife has changed, and in the best way that I could have possibly hoped for.”
~Aalekh Kaswala, LaPlata, Maryland
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“If you ask me the place that I wish I could be at right now, Bailey Head is definitely the second place on my wish list. Although I just got back from there, I couldn’t wait to watch all the videos I shot on my GoPro as soon as I got on the ship and see all these pretty penguins’ faces. Well, of course, the first place on my wish list is my home. Today is the first day of the new year and I remembered last year I spent the first day of 2014 in my aunt’s house. I ate plenty of delicious Chinese food and saw my grandparents, my aunts and uncles. Since I go to college in the U.S., I don’t get to go back to my aunt’s house during Chinese New Year (because there’s no break during that time), but instead I go there during the universal new year. Time at my aunt’s house is always the best of the year to me. Right now, even though I would love to go back to Bailey Head, watch chinstrap penguins hatching their eggs, and secretly hug three penguins in my imagination, I still wish I could be with my family.
“Now back to penguins. What was so special about Bailey Head was that there were lots of hills. Chinstrap penguins could be seen everywhere on the hills, like grasses growing on them. Penguins that were standing, walking, sliding down hills, hatching eggs, warming up their chicks, stretching their necks, shouting at each other and tripping by the snow, could all be seen within ten squared meters. Their calls were loud and hoarse, like a huge and old saw cutting a thick tree trunk. Standing on one of the hills, all you could hear was their screaming coming from every part of Bailey Head.”
~Joanne Li, Beijing, China
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“Happy New Year! So far on this trip, I’ve always thought that there was no way that the day that followed was going to be able to follow the day that came before it, but so far, it’s happened each and every day. Today was another day of two landings, and I could not think of a better way to start my 2015! We started by going to Deception Island where I became a part of the Antarctic Swim Team. The water was absolutely freezing for the about twenty seconds that I was in it, but as soon as I was out, it was surreal how warm the beach actually felt. I can’t say that I ever thought that it would be possible to feel so warm in Antarctica, but it definitely is. Deception Island was such an incredible and mystical place, so I’m thrilled that we got to make that landing and that I got to go for a bit of swim.
“However, my favorite part of the day (and my favorite part of the trip so far) came in the form of our landing Bailey Head. Though we weren’t initially sure if we were going to be able to land there, conditions held up, and we made the landing possible! From the moment I set foot on the beach, I found myself at a loss for words, and I’m still not even sure how to describe it now. There really are no words to describe how it feels to be completely and utterly surrounded by wildlife, but there we stood, a Chinstrap penguin rookery as far as the eye could see. It was something that felt like it came straight out of a dream, and it’s incredible for me to think about the fact that it was even real. This entire trip has been everything that I expected and several million times more. I absolutely cannot wait to see what our next few days along the Antarctic peninsula have in store!”
~Serenity McKenzie, Abilene, Texas
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“As a wonderful way to start off the new year we visited the amazing and mysterious Deception Island. This one day alone has been able to open my eyes to a whole new world of history and wildlife.
“In the morning the ship cruised into Deception Island through Neptune’s Bellows, a small opening that leads to the center of the active volcano currently filled with water. There we learned about the history of whaling in the archepeligo with Dave and Olle. Personally, this really moved me regarding the changes that have occurred in the past hundred years. Back in the days the whaling station in this bay was able to slaughter up to five thousand whales per year, solely for their blubber to make oil. This ended up driving the blue whale to near extinction and unbalanced the surrounding ecosystems. Luckily, the volcano erupted and this era of whaling was ended.
“To me this really makes an impact. Should the eruption had not occurred the whaling stations would have kept operating and the Antarctic environment would have been extremely different from the majestic ecosystem we have so far witnessed. Our generation and those to come would not be able to experience this world through which we now sail.
“Today was probably only a tiny facet of our expedition, but I can already see the ways that Antarctica has infected me with its sublimity.
“Also in the afternoon we went to the outer side of Deception Island and there were at least half a million chinstraps lining the sides of the mountain. There was a bit of a smell.
“PS. Sorry Mommy and Daddy, I don’t want to go home. You can give all my possessions to Emily. Nah, I’m just kidding.”
~Eva Wu, Toronto, Ontario
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“The past five days of being on the ocean has been amazing. Making new friends and being welcomed into a new climate that that is much colder than at home in Switzerland or Sweden. The first two days were really chill because we just sat and had presentations learning about the different animals and explorers who had been on Antarctica. On the third day I remember seeing land for the first time in two days. It was absolutely amazing, the first glimpse of Elephant Island just shocked everyone. We expected much less than what we actually saw. What especially amazed me was the tabular icebergs that were floating on the water. I was basically standing for 20 minutes just looking at an iceberg in the middle of the sea. Our first Zodiac ride was pretty amazing, getting to see penguin rookeries and our first seals. It was a relaxing way to start our tour of the south. The fourth day, 31st of December we finally stepped foot on the continent Antarctica. It was absolutely amazing, such a quiet place but with so much wildlife. I spent the morning looking at penguins and luckily we saw baby chicks that were newly born. On the afternoon we went to the Argentinian research station Esperanza, and it was really cool to see how differently people live in Antarctica, so small but still very welcoming. Today is finally new years, and the 1st of January of 2015 is going to be very memorable, going to a whaling station and doing the ‘polar plunge’, it was very cold but well worth it in the end. I swam in the southern sea. In the afternoon we went to a HUGE rookery of chinstrap penguins, seeing a penguin embryo, seeing a penguin being eaten by a huge bird and even getting nibbled on by a penguin. The last week has been absolutely amazing, and I am looking forward to what is to come.”
~Evelina Nordin, Baar, Switzerland
“I haven’t written for the past few days, and I have a lot to say. I am in such shock about everything that’s happened on this trip so far, I can’t wait to continue my journey across the Antarctic. Yesterday was our first official landing on the continent, and it was so hard for me to believe that I was actually in Antarctica. Our first landing spot was Brown Bluff, and penguins greeted us as we all got off the zodiacs. Honestly, I have never seen so many penguins in my life. I sat with a couple of friends and observed the penguins jumping in the water and communicating among themselves. It was absolutely breathtaking. After we stayed at Brown Bluff for a couple of hours, we ate lunch on the ship and went to an Argentinean research station. I was so surprised at the amount of places there were at this place. There was a museum, a school, a church, and more. What surprised me even more is the fact that families actually live on these research bases. I couldn’t imagine being raised in Antarctica, and I’m interested to know what the children’s lives are like on a daily basis. We went to a shop at the research station, and I was able to get the chance to buy a couple of things to take home with me. It didn’t really register that I was actually walking on Antarctica yesterday because it didn’t feel real. But today, I finally felt like I was actually in Antarctica.
“Deception Island is the most indescribable place I have ever been to. Never have I felt such a connection to a certain place in my life. I don’t even know how to use my words to describe how incredible it was. When we first arrived earlier today, steam stretched out onto the black sand on the shore. There was such an eerie feeling to the place, I felt like I was on another planet. I isolated myself for a period of time and I wandered around the place to really take everything in. I found a spot that looked out on the ocean and the rest of the Antarctic continent. This place reminded me why I love to travel. Certain places and experiences you take throughout life are so rememberable. Everyone should be able to experience what I experienced today. We need to get out in the world to remind ourselves that the world is in our favor.
“I also did the polar plunge today (sorry mom and dad) and I immediately regretted it because I could not feel my hands for a good two hours. I didn’t really dive into the water, I just fell in and a lot of salt water went straight up my nose. Though I regretted jumping in the water, at least I can say that I fell into the water in Antarctica!
“Not only did I have this amazing day, I also became an honorary Canadian! I got a pin and everything! There was an oath and it included maple syrup, moose, Timmys, hockey, maple syrup shots, and a lot of other Canadian things. I have a pin with the Canadian flag and I now wear it proudly. It was the highlight of my life.
“In conclusion, today was one of the best days of my life. There is so much more for me to write, this is only a summary of the things I’ve done in the past few days. I’m having the best time in Antarctica with friends from all over the world.”
~Ryan Peete, Los Angeles, California
“Ein gutes neues Jahr an alle!! Mein Silvester dieses Jahr war einfach ueberragend: gestern haben wir das erste Mal den antarktischen Kontinent betreten. Es ist eigentlich unmoeglich zu begreifen wo man gerade ist und was man hier erlebt, aber allmaehlich klappts und ich geniesse jeden Moment hier. Da wir so viel Glueck mit dem Wetter haben koennen wir oft an Land fahren und gestern haben wir sogar eine argentinische Forschungsstation besucht – mein Reisepass hat jetzt einen Stempel von der Antarktis bekommen! Eigentlich war es mehr ein kleines Dorf mit Kirche, Schule und Dorfkneipe. Abends gabs wie immer leckeres Essen auf unserem Schiff und danach eine Talentshow und schliesslich eine kleine Party fuer die Erwachsenen hier. Allerdings ist man echt sehr muede, weil man so viel unterwegs ist und frueh aufsteht. Heute Vormittag sind wir auf einer kleinen Vulkaninsel gelandet, Deception Island. Hier wurden vor hundert Jahren tausende Wale getoetet, hauptsaechlich um Oel zu gewinnen. Die Ruinen der Haeuser und der ganzen Maschinen ist immer noch hier. Da es hier durch den Vulkan etwas “waermer” ist, nutzten wir die Chance um endlich mal schwimmen zu gehen. Das war das verrueckteste ueberhaupt. Wir hatten unsere Schwimmsachen (Bikini sozusagen) unten drunter, aber allein meine 3 Schichten an Kleidung auszuziehen war schon mal nicht so leicht. Und dann schnell ins Wasser , tauchen (nur wer taucht wird Mitglied im Antarctic Swim Team) und wieder raus. Draussen war es dann eigentlich ganz “warm” und gemuetlich, deshalb bin ich gleich nochmal ins Wasser – nicht die beste Idee, da es dann echt mega kalt wurde. Aber wir sind dann auch schnell zurueck zum Schiff und nach heisser Dusche und Suppe ist mir schon lange wieder warm. Ganz viele Gruesse nach Passau, Muenchen und sonst ueberall in Deutschland und natuerlich an alle anderen, die das lesen!”
~Barbara Peutler, Germany
“I woke up to a new year today, dreading the Antarctic swim team tryouts that awaited me. While waiting for my turn, I kept busy by exploring Deception Island. We looked at old buildings left behind by the whaling industry that once kept the island busy–before the island, or volcano, erupted, and the damaged infrastructure was abandoned. The combination of industry and nature, meeting each other in such a harsh way, is so interesting to observe. The wood, metal, water, and bones just swept the landscape, forming bits and pieces of a rich story I hope to delve into further today on the ship. This was an acceptable way to pass time, I suppose, but it soon became time for me to swim in the Antarctic Ocean. My swim was quite short, but that’s actually really good for my time trials at the next Olympic Games. I think I ran out of the water faster than I ran in. The water wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, and upon resurfacing from the salty sea, I was proud of my ability to feel my hands and feet! I am feeling a lot warmer now–perhaps because I know how good I am at swimming. If that is the case, however, I better drink copious amounts of tea, and wear another layer or twenty.
~Tiffany Quon, Vancouver, British Columbia
“What a way to start the new year. We woke up around 7:00 and we all got up on the deck and watched as we approached Deception Island. Deception Island is an active volcano with a very interesting shape. Over the years through frequent eruptions it has formed a large bay surrounded by a huge caldera. The only way to enter the cove is through a small opening in the caldera named Neptune’s Bellows. Once we entered the cove inside we dropped anchor in Whaler’s Bay, which was the center of Antarctic Whaling. The station is now totally destroyed due to a massive eruption in 1969, but the remains of large oil tanks and other buildings are still on the beach. We then got into the zodiacs and went ashore where we could explore the old stations and talk with some of the Expedition staff who told us about the history of the station. There was also another ship in the cove, which contained an inspection team from the British Antarctic Survey. They inspectors came aboard our ship and also observed our behaviour on land, Personally I was happy that there was some sort of inspection because constant inspections make sure that all countries are following the Antarctic Treaty. We walked around the beach for an hour or so and then we walked up to Neptune’s Window where we saw an amazing view of both Deception Island, and of the Antarctic Peninsula in the distance. Upon returning to the beach we took off our warm clothes and went for our Polar dip. The water was very cold, but it was definitely worth it! The beach was so interesting because but due to the geothermal activity you could dig a 4 inch whole in beach and the sand was too hot to hold in your hand. After getting back to the boat we ate lunch and we are now heading to another possible landing site. Weather permitting we will be heading further south down the peninsula over the next few days.”
~William Sanderson, Perth Road Village, Ontario
“First day of the new year, and an early wake up in order to witness our little ship passing through Neptune’s Bellows! I think people were quite tired from our silly celebration talent show (which went off wonderfully! I laughed a lot, and people even joined in singing with the song I played!). A lot of us still dragged ourselves out on deck, huddling in the lee of the wind, and watched the huge rocky cliffs drift past. The geology had all sorts of wonderful colours, and it was explained that Deception Island is actually a caldera; an old volcano that has eroded down to just a ring of mountains. A small section of the ring has fallen into the sea, and the middle of the ring of mountains had filled with seawater- thats where we sailed into.
The island itself had been used as a whaling station for a while, and it was a bit spooky to see the old whalers boats, warehouses, plane hangers and other miscellaneous rusted bits resting on the beach. The station is abandoned now, partially because of the collapse of whaling, and partially because the island is, er, still actually an active volcano. Aaaaand it exploded while they were on it. Would have been pretty scary to be there at the time- the explosions happened underneath glaciers, so they couldn’t tell where everything was coming from, there were huge mudflows and avalanches and volcanic bombs raining down on the fleeing men. The houses are still filled with the mud, and one of the lakes was inundated, so they’ve sectioned off that area for studying its recovery. Apparently they found daisies growing on the island a few years ago, so we were extra careful to check our clothes for seeds and scrub our boots to prevent microbiological contamination (although based on my most recent uni assignment the boot washing technique isn’t always that effective).
We climbed up to Netpune’s Window, which was a section of rock wall a few metres across, where you could look on the inside of the island and out at the sea. It was pretty cool, but I think a few people got vertigo. I took a bunch of photos, and I’m trying to make watercolours of them. I’m trying to make watercolours of everything, actually. We have a bunch of art supplies on board, and I’m taking advantage of it. I think its looking really pretty! I tried drawing pictures of faces earlier, because I was in a mood for that after doing a few really good ones.
“After walking back down accross the beach it was swim team tryouts!
“I was in the first three or so to strip down to swimmers and run down the beach. I had so much adrenalin that the cold wind didn’t really feel bad at all. Even the first couple of steps into the ocean weren’t too bad, because the beach still has volcanic action and thus the sand was warm and the shore was normal temperature. The next couple of steps were cold, but I was in a rush so I didn’t spare a thought to feel it. Apparently we didn’t get into the swim team if we didn’t put our head under- so I did! 
“I tried to film it, but I forgot about what I was doing halfway down the beach, so I have a hilarious video which is super shaky. My skin felt very…uh…. it had a lot of FEELING! It was cold for maybe 3 seconds, and then it was just numb but tingly at the same time. How does that work? They gave us towels and we had to pull our layers back on again. I did it as quickly as possible, because when I looked down at my feet I didn’t recognize them. I knew they were mine, but I couldn’t make the toes do stuff, and I couldn’t feel them, and they looked all grey and strange and alien. Don’t worry! They’re ok! We bailed back onto the zodiac boats and jetted back to the Ushuaia, and all had wonderfully hot showers.
“Lunchtime, and then a nap. I’m not sure what everyone else did, but my roommate and I were completely passed out for about two hours, while the ship sailed back out of Deception Island and peeked around its outside shores. There was a landing out there that they hardly ever get to do, but they did today because SURPRISE SURPRISE it was super calm again! So much for the raging Antarctic seas! We’ve been practically welcomed with open arms!
“We did a second landing, and I was a bit unsure about it because all of my thermals were wet, so I was just in stockings and shorts. I got loaned an extra pair of pants and some mittens, by wonderfully wonderful kind people, and then lounged about, watching more penguin drama. These penguins were chinstrap, and I think they all look like little mafia bosses, waddling about and trying to to ‘take over this place, seee?’. Their babies were a lot smaller, and most of the penguins were still just sitting on eggs. We even found an egg with a baby still inside! Dead, of course, but it was pretty cool, regardless.”
~Jemma Sweeney, Mount Waverley, Australia
“Happy New Year to all my family and friends! What an incredible way to start a new year! Today we experienced a unique part of this region – Elephant Island, formed by a volcanic eruption and historic site of a former whaling station and British Antarctic Survey base. Not a particularly beautiful place compared to what we have seen but fascinating geologically and historically. I am also excited to announce that I joined the Antarctic Swim Team! Following in the footsteps of many SOI alumni before me I bravely (or insanely!) jumped into the Antarctic Ocean at Whaler’s Bay. I could feel ice forming on my legs as I raced back to shore. An experience I will never forget! This afternoon we had the very rare opportunity to visit Bailey Head. This is home to hundreds of thousands of Chinstrap penguins and what a sight! I loved watching them waddle between their rookery and the sea, all along their ‘penguin highways’ in perfect lines. It was yet another exciting day and I can’t wait for what tomorrow brings. To Joel, Ava and Katherine, I hope you had a wonderful New Year’s and are having lots of fun while I am away. I love you and miss you so much!”
~Ashley Brasfield, Ottawa, Ontario
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! We started the new year out by sailing through Neptune’s Bellows into Deception Island. Deception Island is an active volcano that last erupted 1969-1970. When it erupted, the middle collapsed, and water filled into the crater that was created. Beside the crater, there is an old whaling station. After walking around the station, we hiked up to a break in the mountains called Neptune’s Window. It was pretty much a rocky ledge that ended in a hundred foot drop to the ocean. We then hiked back down and ‘swam’ in the cold water.
“After swimming, we got on the boat and headed to the outside of the island. There were so many penguins (someone said about a half million). We got to walk with the penguins into a valley where they were all nesting. We spread out, sat down, and just watched. If we sat down long enough, the penguins would come right up to you. One penguin came up and plucked at my rain pants. It was amazing.”
~Sydney Williams, Kendallville, Indiana
“Happy new years Mom and Dad. I’m having the time of my life here. I really was in need for this trip. We went swimming today and it was a blast – and it really cold. During all the fun my phone was broken – but the story of how it happened is a story worth hearing. I will call you as soon as I am at the airport. I hope your break is going really well for you guys and I love you.”
~Branden Wade, Flint, Michigan
“Happy New Year! We spent New Years on Deception Island, which is an active volcano. Steam and the smell of sulphur rose off the shores of the island. After a short hike to Neptune’s Window, we plunged into icy cold water to tryout for the Antarctic swim team. We also visited a Chinstrap penguin rookery and were surrounded by countless penguins. I look forward to what the rest of this year will bring!”
~Kailin Yang, Guelph, Ontario
“The morning started with an early morning wakeup call and every student hitting the deck of the ship as we drifted slowly into an erie landscape. The cliffs were tall, sand blown, and red brown, with weathered protrusions piercing the sky. What appeared to be a large black fortress gate drifted by on our starboard as we went into the mouth of the collapsed caldera that is Deception Island. We moored our boat and set our sights on the old whaling boilers and oil tanks rusting away on the shore — the last remnants of a once prosperous whaling station that operated in the bay. A quick zodiac ride brought us to the shore where we explored old British magistrate posts, and an air hangar. Everywhere there were signs of the last eruption of the volcano.
“Old whale bones lined the shore as we made our way up to Neptune’s Window, the black fortress gate that we had seen coming in. At the top of the hike, a group of students and educators had a creative moment playing tunes on rock slates of different sizes and thickenesses producing different tunes. At about 11am, having just really got going on the day, we decided that it was a good idea to jump straight into the Antarctic Ocean. I can tell you, this was the coldest water I have ever been in. My body turned instantly numb, except for the bottom of my feet, which felt like they were being stabbed by knives as I ran back up the shore to a towel.
“The next part of the day saw us landing on a steep beach lined with chinstrap penguins in our zodiacs, a beautiful sandstone formation to our left, and at the back of the beach a glacier covered in volcanic silt and lined at different layers with ash. And then, sandwiched between the edge of the glacier and the rock formation, lay one of the largest penguin highways in the world. Folllowing it up, alongside thousands of hundreds of penguins lead to one of the noisiest and incredible places I have ever been. Here I found myself in the middle of a big bowl, surrounded by 500,000 penguins in their rookeries. A giant petrel fed on a dead penguin in the middle of a large group, but the penguins went about their daily business, stealing rocks from each others nests, breaking out in squabbling fights here and there, caring for their fluffy newborn chicks, and even hatching chicks. The concentration of large animal life is something I have never seen before. I was truly in the middle of a city.
“After a long stay here, soaking up the experience, we had to make our way back to the boat as evening was wearing on. Dinner and a brief respite, with a story on the history of Deception Island and how an evacuation happened 50 years ago lead to the end of the evening. Another beautiful Antarctic sunset and a surprise visit by a pair of humpbacks rounded off what was definitely a good start to the New Year.”
~Patrick Soporovich, Whitehorse, Yukon
“Yesterday morning we finally set foot on the Antarctic Continent! It was an incredible day. The day began with our first landing at Brown Bluff, a rocky beach surrounded by mountains and glaciers; it was breath-taking. We were greeted by rookeries of Gentoo and Adele penguins, I have never seen so many penguins together before, I was speechless. I spent most of my time simply observing the penguins, the penguins were fascinating to watch; some were porpoising through the water, others were feeding their chicks or sleeping.
“The second landing yesterday was to the Argentine Research Station in Hope Bay, also known as Esperanza station. The station was initially used as a military base until the 1970’s, when it became a research station. We walked around the station for a while and also visited the school and church. There are many families that live at the base, but most were away for vacation. It was a wonderful experience visiting and meeting the people at Esperanza station, they were all so kind and welcoming. After dinner, we all gathered to celebrate New Years eve. There was lots of dancing, singing, a poem recited by Lee (our photographer), and even a debate.
“Today also began with a frenzy of activities, we did two landings in Deception Island. In the morning we visited Whalers Bay, an active volcano off the Peninsula. On shore, we explored the abandoned buildings, walked by old rusted industrial sized barrels and even came across some whale bones. Whaler’s Bay was used as a Norwegian whaling station and then a British research base. Later in the 1960’s the base was destroyed due to a mudslide caused by a volcanic eruption. At Whaler’s Bay, we also hiked up to Neptune’s Window, a view that could only be described as beautiful. Finally, we ended our visit at Whalers Bay by taking a penguin plunge (swim) in the Ocean. It was freezing, but so thrilling at the same time; It was an incredible way to start off the new year.
“Our second landing was to Bailey’s Head, I thought that Brown Bluff had a lot of penguins, but this was just something else. Bailey’s Head is home to the largest chinstrap penguin population on the Antarctic Peninsula. There were penguins literally everywhere, from the beach to the highest peak on the mountains. I saw penguins fighting, waddling, feeding their chicks, porpoising through the ocean and stealing pebbles for their nests. It was an experience that cannot be captured by pictures, it was unlike anything that I have ever experienced, I was in awe. The day ended with various workshops, I got to look at some phytoplankton and other organisms with the microscopes on board. Then during our briefing at the end of the night we listened to Olle and David Fletcher told us some stories about Whaler’s Bay.
“Lastly, I want to wish everyone a prosperous and happy 2015! As well as a huge thank you to my parents for supporting me through this journey, I love you both so much . I’m only halfway through this expedition and it has been completely life changing, I’m having such an amazing and exciting time.”
~Jasveen Brar, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Happy New year! I could not have imagined that I would great 2015 from the opposite end of the world on the beautiful continent of Antarctica! On waking up at 7:00AM, Geoff Green, our expedition leader, had announced that we would be in ‘Neptune’s Bellows’ located in Deception Island very soon. I went on the deck and was greeted by magnificent view of Deception Island. The island is a ring shaped and is easily identifiable by a satellite. It is the place of an active volcano and an abandoned whaling station. Although, the volcano has not erupted since 1969, there is a Spanish station in close proximity to the volcano which monitors its seismic activities on a regular basis. As we entered Neptune’s Bellows, I could see remains from the abandoned whaling station including carcasses and huge vessels which were used to store whale oil. When we landed on shore via zodiacs, we were greeted by gentlemen from the UK British Antarctic Survey who were on inspection in the Antarctic Peninsula.
“Our main purpose today was to explore Deception island and understand the history of whaling stations. Soon, we all headed to Neptune’s Window were the American sealer: Nathaniel Palmer had seen the Antarctic Continent for the first time. On a clear day, we could still see it. We all hiked up the mountain and were greeted by a wonderful view. Although, I did not seen the Antarctic continent as explorers 100 years ago had seen, I did witness an incredible and breathtaking view. Finally, it was time for the must awaited Antarctic swim! What a swim! I ran in the water with Ashely and Eva and on my return I could barely feel my hands, feet. In short, I had no sensation! Our next landing was also on Deception Island. A place called Bailey’s head which is not easily accessible and where the zodiac landings are all weather dependent. Due to all the positive energy flowing among all people we were able to make a landing. Bailey Head has a huge colony of Chinstrap penguins. It was a close encounter with penguins. One had come within a few centimeters from my camera and gazed widely at the lens, other penguins were busy with feeding their new born chicks, keeping their eggs safe while others hurriedly collected pieces of stones for making their nest. All my five senses came to life! Antarctica is an amazing place to observe wildlife in their beautiful natural habitat. As the sun sets over Antarctica, our vessel: the MV Ushuaia is cruising at 13 knots on a strait between Shetland islands and Antarctic Peninsula. At this very moment I just took a deep breath. Every day is special and every moment is unique in this spectacular continent!”
~Zareen Cheema, Pune, India
“Hello Everyone, we’ve had what seems to be a very long day after the New Years celebration. We woke up early this morning to observe Neptune’s Bellows a passage that leads us to Whalers Bay on Deception Island. It was beautiful high mountains brown in color contrasted against the white mountain peaks. The interesting thing about Deception Island there is an active volcano that is monitored by the Spanish Station. The last time it irrupted was 1970, because its an active volcano, steam comes from the water up the beach gives it a cool ominous look especially today as it was overcast and the clouds were grey. Whalers bay used to be an old whaling station, you can see whale bones that have been left semi-buried on the black pebble beach. We climbed to Neptune’s Window an opening in the cliffs that over look the Southern Ocean. It was an awesome sight a two hundred foot drop to the shore down below. We walked back to the beach and tried out for the Antarctic Swim Team…And I officially want to say I am a new member completing the initiation of the polar penguin plunge. We took off all the layers and then ran into the cold water of the Antarctic I can’t believe I did it, but I was smiling ear to ear afterwards definitely worth the experience and who knows I might make it a New Years tradition wherever I go.
That was only the first half of the day, after Deception Island we made it to Bailey Head on the other side of Deception Island. Where we were surprised by hundreds of thousands of penguins. We got off the zodiac and made our way up and over to a wonderful rookery of chinstrap penguins. An amazing sight there was said to be half a million penguins there from nesting mothers, to waddling males, to the chicks grey and puffy with new feathers trying to keep warm. Everywhere I could see there we penguins. We walked through the penguin highway as it was called and went up into this opening surrounded mountains and penguins were everywhere. An awesome sight I have no words to describe it other than I’ve never seen so many living things in one place at one time it was truly a breath taking experience. As well as a humorous one too, as I watched the penguins jump and waddle, as they do not move as gracefully on land as they do in the water. They all have their personalities and I was just happy and grateful to observe them today. I am now sitting as the ship is chasing the sun as it dips into the cold Antarctic waters. I saw a whale and it was kind enough to show off it’s tale and for that I will be eternally grateful.
~Kalyn LeBlanc, Brunswick, Maine
“Another breathtaking day! We made two landings on Deception Island; the first was in the center portion of the island where we were able to explore the old whaling station and hike up to Neptune’s Window! We also joined the Antarctic Swim Team by completing our Polar Plunge! The water was freezing, and we jumped out even quicker than we jumped in! But we can now brag that we’ve completed THE polar plunge near (ish) the South Pole. Our second landing was a unique landing at Bailey Head that the team has been unable to make for the previous four SOI expeditions. Here, there were thousands upon thousands of chinstrap penguins on the outer portion of Deception Island. We then took the “penguin highway” up to an “amphitheater” with penguins and their nests with eggs and chicks! It was a truly unforgettable sight and there aren’t adjectives to describe the feelings that come to mind when you sit while chinstrap penguins waddle right up to you, so I’ll just use one: speechless. (Of course) I am now sick and my voice is completely gone, but luckily you don’t need to speak to experience everything we have been fortunate enough to experience. But let’s hope I will be able to at least talk tomorrow, because we’ve got another wonderful and busy day ahead!”
~Olivia Sayer, Littleton, Colorado
“Day 8: What an extraordinary day to kick-off the start of the 2015 new year! This was by far the best day of my life. Today we woke up at 7:00 am and rushed out to the deck to watch the ship enter Neptune’s Bellows into Deception Island. Deception Island is an island that is a ring that is filled with water on the inside and is an active volcano. We then headed to breakfast at 8:00 am for a breakfast buffet. Afterwards, we geared up and loaded the zodiacs at 9:45 am. We landed at Whaler’s Bay at Deception Island where we met a few British navy soldiers. We walked around learning the history of the island and Whaler’s Bay. It was once heftily used for hunting for thousands upon thousands of whales. The last eruptions of this volcano was in 1967, 69, and 70, resulting in the ocean to jerk up and down by 2 meters; forcing its inhabitants to flee. We then hiked up to Neptune’s Window where the view was magnificent. We hiked back over to the zodiacs and took all of our gear off to do the Polar Plunge. Emily, Olivia, and I all striped down to our swimsuits, held hands, ran, and dove together into the FREEZING Antarctic water. Let’s just say we ran faster going out than we did going in. That was an epic experience! I’m extremely happy that I did it; It felt so refreshing! We then dried off and put some of our clothes back on for the zodiac ride back to the ship. Once we arrived back on the ship, I got undressed and took a shower before heading to lunch. After lunch and having some time to our selves, we geared up for another landing; this time at Bailey Head which is on the outside of Deception Island. The landing onto the island was extremely difficult; our zodiac went full speed onto the island where we had to basically run out of the zodiac because of the island’s steepness and movement of water. We were extremely lucky to be able to go to Bailey Head because of how difficult it is to get into. We were able to go here because of the nice, calm day we experienced. Once we arrived to Bailey Head, everyone was speechless. This island of rolling hills was astonishingly covered with about a half million of chinstrap penguins. And when I say a half million, I literally mean a half million! Oh, and the island stunk of penguin guano. Yuck! While we were here, I had the opportunity to see penguins mating, a mother feeding its chick, parents switching spots on the nest, and a egg hatch! We stayed here for about 2 hours before departing the island. The zodiac ride back was much easier getting in and out, but was still choppy on the way to the ship. Once on the ship, we took our gear off and went to dinner at 7:30 pm. After dinner, we were given some free time before workshops started at 9:00 pm. This time I chose to do wilderness first aid with the ship’s physician, Dr. Kate. At 10:00 pm, we had a recap and briefing. This also included a life story from Olle and a life story from Dave. Once we finished, we had a small amount of time to go out on deck before heading to bed. There was a beautiful orange sunset, and all of a sudden huge humpback whales appeared! When the whales disappeared, we went to our rooms for room checks. I stayed up to watch the sunset and the sunrise almost immediately following afterwards.”
~Suzanne Zeid, Longview, Texas
“I apologize for not writing in a couple days. Since crossing the Drake Passage and landing on the Antarctic continent, I’ve had limited time to take in this other-wordly place; and I must admit, I’ve used that time to whale watch. In those past couple of days I’ve seen and done enough for it to feel like it’s been weeks since we first saw Antarctica. At the beginning of this expedition I would rush to the deck to watch porpoising penguins in the water, now I have stood at the epicenter of a 500,000 chinstrap penguin colony. It seems that a theme becoming more and more widespread in Antarctica is that things here are dealt in extremes; whether that be gigantic penguin rookeries or the change from sea to towering coastal mountains.
“Today was dedicated solely to an island known as Deception Island. The reason for its name is slightly speculative, but most believe that it’s because it’s actually an underwater volcano whose center collapsed to create a toilet seat-shaped piece of land. We started the morning sailing through Neptune’s Bellows, the small entranceway between towering cliffs into the center of this toilet active volcano. It was an ominous beginning to the day as we had our first overcast, chilly grey day on this desert-like island. The area was a whale oil production site in the early 20th century and then became a British Magistrate later on to assert British claim to the Antarctic. What made this island unique, was the geothermal activity on the black-sand beaches or this desolate place. As we approached the beaches that lined Whaler’s Bay, steam rose off between the crashing of each set of waves. This made the otherwise -1 degree celsius ocean water a tepid 3 degrees warmer: making it a wonderful swim spot (relatively speaking). So after jogs down the beach and jumping jacks, many of us stripped off our wool socks for the water that was calling us. Michael Vernon, that one was for you!! Look out for the video when we get back at the beginning of January!
“As per usual, every minute of the day was memorable and I am absolutely exhausted but at the same time invigorated! Maybe a 2 degree water swim will do that for you?”
~Sabrina Clarke, Whitehorse, Yukon