Another day at sea, so another day of waking up at 7:30 (“late”). The Drake Passage was good to us overnight and for most of today. We got up to a slow start but made it to Nick’s 10a lecture about Tasmanian Devils.
The day overall was loosely filled as many people were packing, exchanging photos by USB drive, and beginning to say their good-byes. Melinda and I’d brought 10 glass penguins for gifts; two we’ve donated to the South Georgia benefit auction, one for the room attendant, and the other seven gifts for staff and guests whom we’ve met on the trip. Folks were pretty happy to receive them, and many wanted to know how we could make something so small. At auction tonight they’re fetching $45 so far (in the silent auction), raised mostly by two people bidding against each other. So I’m pretty happy with that return.
The Drake Passage was pretty mild for us this trip, in large part because the ship itself is pretty stable. We had sea swell of up to 7 meters, and until about 10a things were pretty mild. About 10a the wind picked up to 50 knots, and we had some mean rolling (up to 18 degrees to the right) and big waves crashing over the bow. Everyone in the bridge cheered each time the spray crossed the bow; it was pretty fun. Mid-day we also sighted some dolphins off the port bow. I ducked outside to take some photos, but the gale-force wind was quite the surprise when I tried looking around the corner. I didn’t get any good photos but it was fun to be out in the super strong winds.
The ride through the Drake closed out as we reached Cape Horn and took a right turn to head toward the Beagle Channel. We continued to bob for a bit, but the winds then were to our stern, no longer rolling us. Ted gave a talk on climate change in the afternoon, and we had more unstructured time for packing and such. I have all our things in the two checked and two carry-on luggages; I’m now just worried a tiny bit about weight restrictions on the flights. Worst case, I pay a little for a heavier bag.
Before dinner we posed for a group photo on the helideck; then after dinner we had closing festivities. Thanks were given to staff, crew, and the travelers, and toasts all around. The charity auction for the South Georgia Heritage Trust ran long and poorly; the auctioneer didn’t seem to have ever been to an auction before. All the items were good items and included a lot of handicrafts. Melinda won three items, all identical stuffed mice. The auction had some items in a silent auction and some in a live auction; the glass penguins were in the silent auction. I didn’t bid on anything in the live auction; I figure I’ll make a donation to the Friends of South Georgia when I’m back home. After the auction we watched the photo review of Antarctica, then the group photos. I’m sort of checked out of these things already, though, because it’s going to be an early morning tomorrow (6a) and it’s late already (10:45p). But I’m blogging from the back of the room showing the slides. Oh, and, the contest for guessing frames taken – I won! True number (well, Nick’s estimate based on all data he could get) was 681,000 and my guess was 700,000. Second place guessed 700,500, heh. So I got a nice book on South Georgia as a prize.
Tomorrow, we fly from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires in a group of 69 passengers and staff; we just follow the group. Breakfast at 6:30a, off the boat around 8a, and the flight leaves at 10:30a. We have 7 hours to drive from AEP to EZE in Buenos Aires and check in for the flight to San Francisco (by way of Lima). I expect it’ll be a long day, but traveling in a big group is nice.
I’m looking forward to being back home – I have lots of things I want to do at home. We’ve been gone only for about four weeks but it feels like much much longer. It feels like the Falklands was an entirely separate trip some time ago – it’s kind of odd that way. But I’ve been ready to be home for a few days now – I know that things are progressing at work, and I have tasks at home that I want to get going on. And, in the last couple of days on the Peninsula, the new experiences per day were kind of low – for maybe two days we did about the same things as we’d done before – land somewhere, see Gentoo penguins, see ice, and come back to the ship. It’s still a blast, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve also seen penguins for the past four weeks and yet another Gentoo was just a little old hat. Baily Head and Hannah Point landings were strong locations to end with.
Many people have asked Melinda and me if we’d come back to Antarctica. Yes, we would, but not soon. We want to see more of the world first, and we haven’t been bitten by the Ice Bug to want to come back just here all the time. Also, there’s a consensus that we won the weather lottery on this trip – a return trip almost couldn’t be as good as this first one. So we’ll savor these memories, and 8,700 photos that we jointly took, and think about some new location to go to next. Maybe it’ll be the Galapagos, so we can add more penguins to our collection of species-seen. Maybe it’ll be Yellowstone, an easier destination to reach and a new place for Melinda. Maybe it’ll be Norway to see polar bears and approach the other pole. Hard to know just yet. But first, we’ll enjoy some time back at home.