We awoke each morning to Dutch's (our Australian expedition leader) gentle prodding to get out of bed because there was something amazing to look at outside. This morning we threw on some clothes and went out on to the bow, where the crew was serving hot chocolate and pastries.
The ship was moving (barely) down the Lemaire Channel. Looking at the end of the channel, it seemed unbelievable that the ship could fit through it. Small icebergs bobbed on the surface of the water. Rocky black mountains reached up on either side of the ship, creating an unusual and beautiful black, white, and blue palette. We reluctantly left the stunning views to heed the call to breakfast.
After breakfast, we suited up in the mud room and climbed down the gangplank to load 12 at a time into the black zodiacs for the trip to shore. We would get to know the zodiacs really well over the next 4 days. The first stop was at the Ukrainian research station, Vernadsky. Antarctica is the driest climate on earth (all the water is frozen), so fire is a real danger in the research stations.
Our hosts at Vernadsky were great. The Ukrainian government purchased the research station from the British (it was Faraday Station under the British) to continue their research on the hole in the ozone layer. Our tour showed us most of the small station, where 10 to 15 people typically stay for winter. Since our visit was in early summer, it was rarely dark outside and the sun was blinding. It was hard to imagine what living there would be like when snow covered the windows, when night lasts 20 hours a day and stepping outside could be hazardous. No wonder they have a great bar. Many of us bought a shot of the vodka the bar is known for. A couple of women on the ship traded undergarments for a shot, so they accept a barter arrangement as well. You can also buy a bottle to take with you.
At Vernadsky they also have a small souvenir shop. They accepted US dollars in my case. I don't recall if they accept other currencies. The ship's crew arranged to have our passports stamped (yea!), and we could mail postcards from here. We actually purchased the postcards from the ship, wrote them the previous night, and had them ready so we wouldn't have to carry addresses and stuff with us to shore. They said, it could take 4 to 14 months for the postcards to be delivered. It's been just about 2 months, and the one I sent to myself in the US arrived this week.
This was also our first chance to see some penguins close up. After leaving the station, we cruised around the harbor in the zodiac looking for seals, penguins, other birds, and, of course, icebergs. The scenery was amazing. It's hard to take bad pictures because every where you looked was gorgeous.
Vernadsky Station was the southernmost point of the journey. The remainder of the trip would be exploring the peninsula and heading slowly north. We sailed north during lunch and spent the afternoon cruising around the Yalour Islands, checking out the city-block-sized icebergs, penguin- and seal-watching, and snapping pictures of everything.