Port Lockroy and camping out El fresco!

After pulling up anchors again and sailing through the night, we awoke to another spectacular day and passed through the beautiful Neumayer Channel,  where we reached Dorian Bay with a planned landing on Damoy Point.

Strapping on the snowshoes again, we went for a long morning hike, led by one of the guides. We hiked up to the ‘ski way’ where the British Antarctic survey teams used to land their planes when transporting staff and freight. At the same time we enjoyed breathtaking views from the ridge while we were up there.

In the afternoon after returning to the ship and freshening and resting up, we all split up to enjoy various activities of our choice. I chose to visit a large colony of Gentoo penguins on Jougla Point, followed by a stop at the British Base at Port Lockroy, which was complete with a souvenir shop and a post office. Some of us decided to send a post card back home to our loved ones. It’s not everyday that you get to send a post card from the most southerly and probably one of the most remote post offices in the world. Other passengers took the opportunity to go back out on the kayaks again. I chose to stay on board the ship after our outing to spare my energy. I was still feeling somewhat worn out by the mountaineering the day before and besides, I didn’t enjoy the kayaking as much as others due to the fact that I was constantly afraid we’d fall into the water. There I was letting fear stand in the way of having a good time. That however was one of the lessons I walked away from this expedition with…to not let fear stand in the way of achieving your goals and experiencing and living life to the fullest. Back then however, I sat in the observation lounge in the sun, sipping on a cup of Earl Grey tea, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and nibbling on ginger biscuits. Compared to yesterday…bliss!!

Later that afternoon we were offered the opportunity to really take in the lovely surroundings, by going zodiac cruising around the area  with a brief landing on a think layer of sea ice.

camping out

Our beds for the night on the iceberg.

Later that evening, we enjoyed a lovely barbeque on the deck of the ship. We were joined by guests from Port Lockroy who were from the HMS Protector. Our group however, didn’t have time to socialize much, as we hurried back to our cabins to get ready for camping out El fresco on Lefevre Point, Doumer Island. With backpacks crammed to the hilt, we set off on the zodiacs. After landing, we huddled around our guide, Andrew who was to stay the night with us on the iceberg. We all had to create a shallow cradle for ourselves in the snow that we would be sleeping in. All that would be protecting us from the elements was two thermal mats and two thermal sleeping bags.

Whilst following specific instructions on how to lay the mats down and put one sleeping bag inside the other, I was particularly grateful for the fact that I had decided not to eat or drink too much before leaving for our camp out. Our guide informed us that there would be a toilet available, but it would be a simple and rustic set up to say the least, not to mention that fact that in order to relieve yourself you had to pull your pants down! In that cold…no sireee, I wouldn’t be using that loo. Even if I needed it, I decided that I would somehow hold it in until we got back to the ship the next morning. We all slept in pairs and I slept with a fellow South African. One of our team mates had brought along a small Christmas tree and we had a little ceremony where we all hung a bauble with a persons name on it that we knew, that had lost their battle to breast cancer. It was a somber and somewhat emotional experience, but at the same time it was cathartic and comforting, knowing that we were honoring those who no longer had a voice.

camping out 2

A quick photo before hunkering down for a very cold night!

While setting up camp, we were also paid an unexpected visit by a Gentoo penguin who boldly enough proceeded to waddle through our campsite as if to exercise quality control. We then settled down to go to sleep. Before climbing into our sleeping bags, we had to strip off our top layers that were protecting us from the elements because we were warned that we would become too hot inside the sleeping bags if we didn’t shed some clothing. To say it was cold was the understatement of the century. I quickly ripped off my Gortex jacket and pants and, gasping for breath from the cold leapt into my sleeping bags, only to discover that they were somewhat more tricky to zip up than expected. I cursed under my breath as I grappled with the zips until I finally got them closed. I then proceeded to shake and shiver inside the sleeping bags that to me, just didn’t seem to be warming up what was now my frozen, jangly bones. Eventually I pulled my thermal and Gortex jackets into my sleeping bags with me and covered myself with them as best I could. I then started to warm up and surprisingly, went to sleep. Others didn’t have quite such a peaceful night and some even had to get up to use the toilet. Thank heaven I didn’t have to. The next morning after packing up camp again, we were all somewhat relieved and happy to be returning to the ship.

One thing I was really looking forward to, being in Antarctica was seeing all the beautiful stars. I think in the winter despite the brutal cold and snow, the views of the heavens must be spectacular. Being there in the summer however, it never got dark. It was perpetual daylight and none of us ever got to see one solitary star.

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