This journal was kept at the JournalSpace website, in particular at

The first entry - preparing for the trip

posted Thu, 13 Feb 2003 22:18:13 -0800

Hi all -- so begins my Antarctica trip journal. This is mostly a test of the journal entry process. You might also want to take a look at my picture to catch a glimpse of the 'new me'.

I hope this journal will be interesting and entertaining. If my past trips are any indication, then the raw material will be there. It remains to be seen whether I'll be able to transform that into a good journal story, though.

Feel free to make posts to this site! We'll have to all learn together what makes sense to do on here.

The tentative itinerary

posted Fri, 14 Feb 2003 10:47:53 -0800

16 FEB 03 - SUNDAY

Departure: DALLAS FT WORTH 4:44 PM 13HR 33MIN

Meet up with Roger in Buenos Aires at his apartment, then travel together
from that point forward until March 30

17 FEB -- fly from Buenos Aires to Trelew (Peninsula Valdes Reserve) 5:50pm-7:50pm
Peninsula Valdes Nature Reserve: tons of wildlife, including the only place on earth where killer whales (only in feb and March) come directly onto the beach to hunt seals

At some point, take a bus overland from Trelew to Bariloche
Bariloche: in the Andes, seems to be a cross between Banff and Lake Tahoe, with tons of activities, from rafting to paragliding, hiking, mtn biking, etc -- all Argentineans say its their favorite place

25 FEB -- fly from Bariloche to El Calafate (Glacier Nat'l Park) 12:25pm-2:10pm
Glacier Nat'l Park: Moreno Glacier (one of the earth's few advancing glaciers) and many other actively-calving glaciers

27 FEB -- fly from El Calafate to Ushuaia 12:13-1:28pm
Ushuaia: the world's southernmost town

Cruise will include a few stops on the Antarctic continent and will cross the Antarctic circle

At some point, take a bus from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales, Chile
(incl. Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine Nat'l Park)
Torres del Paine: supposedly one of the most beautiful, unspoiled and remote places of the planet

20-24 MAR Chilean Fjords cruise to Puerto Montt
Lots of hiking and glaciers and wildlife

At some point, take a bus back to Bariloche

30 MAR - fly back to Buenos Aires 4:30-6:33pm

(Roger and I likely split up as I fly to Buenos Aires and he goes to
Santiago, Chile)

31 MAR 03 - MONDAY
Departure: BUENOS AIRES EZE 10:50 PM 13HR 57MIN
---------------------------------------------------------Date: 01 APR 03 - TUESDAY

No time like the last minute

posted Sun, 16 Feb 2003 03:13:48 -0800

Since I'm at my computer with six hours to go before departure, I thought I should put in a quick post. All is packed and ready to go. I managed to fit everything into my relatively small backpack I used to go to Europe. There is currently no room for anything else. Maybe I'll find a good place to donate some of the stuff.

My email should be forwarded to
as of now.

Thanks for checking in! By the way, I appreciate all 'Interview Questions'. :)

I´m here!!

posted Mon, 17 Feb 2003 04:52:57 -0800

Not much time to write, other than to say that I have made it safely to Buenos Aires and contacted Roger successfully. I´ll be taking a bus to meet him soon.

The trip was fine -- both of my seatmates on the trip had Bay Area connections. More later.

New half-universe
An exploration begins
Turn the world over.

Off to a good pace

posted Mon, 17 Feb 2003 18:02:06 -0800

Well, it's been one day in the country and if all the days are like this one, it´ll be quite a trip.

The highlights:
- after the previous post, I had to get on a bus to meet up with Roger. As luck would have it, a swimsuit model from Peru sat by me on the bus. Unfortunately, she was going to meet her boyfriend, an officer in the Peruvian Marines stationed on an exchance in Buenos Aires. However, she did bring her portfolio with her and that was quite a treat to look through and get her commentary during it.

- Roger caused a slight traffic incident when he opened his cab door right when a city bus was taking a corner. The bus side grabbed the door, bending the door forward, pushing the cab forward, and making a big scar on the bus. No one was hurt, and once the cabbie made sure that the door would open and close, everyone went on their way.

- As we found out later, the Theatre Colón was closed to tours today because it is Monday. The Theatre is the main opera and performance house in Argentina; like the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, for instance. However, "somehow" Roger and I managed to get inside, and once inside did quite a bit of exploring. We went into the box seats, under the stage, back stage, and on stage. Since there wasn't anyone around, I sang a few a cappella Nat "King" Cole and Elvis songs as loud as I could while standing on the stage. The acoustics were awesome. Roger didn´t know I could sing so well. :) It was thrilling to sing on stage in such a huge place. I wished for my brother John to do some Les Mis with me. The house manager grilled us for a few minutes when we went out the door to find out how we had gotten in. We didn´t understand a word he said.

By the way, Roger is doing a great job as translator.

- I bought some nice shoes in case we go out (I didn´t have any at home) and some nutty sunglasses to go with my new pate. Now I´m styling.

- We took the styling look to the Argentinian version of West Texas, Trelew. Not sure yet what we´re going to do tomorrow from here, but it will involve watching wildlife. Most likely, penguins. Not much use for the shoes or glasses for a while.

- We had an very tasty all-you-can-eat dinner for eight pesos, which is about $2.70. Great! Many varieties of empenadas and flan.

That´s it! Hope to have some more worthy stories in the near future.

Penguin crossing

posted Thu, 20 Feb 2003 07:02:49 -0800

First, the biggest news: my PhD dissertation was officially turned in at 1:52 pm P.S.T on February 18, 2003. Of course, I wasn´t there to do it but my excellent friend Eric went through the end of the submission process for me. So though my record won´t change until the end of the quarter on April 3rd, I am officially Dr. Jones! FINALLY!!

In local news, we´re taking a day to relax in Puerto Madryn, Argentina since we couldn´t get a bus out of here until tonight and we did what there is to do here yesterday.

Unfortunately, I can´t find any way to upload pictures. I´ll keep working on that.

On Tuesday, we went to Punto Tombo, where we saw what is currently the world´s largest congregation of penguins. They were Magellanic penguins, who are also called jackass penguins because they sound JUST like them. Imagine 500,000 jackasses braying, and you´ve got the general idea of the sound. They were crossing the road, walking down the trail with us, and generally were all over the place. We got within a foot of them for pictures, but we heard they have a mean bite so got no closer.

We hired a driver and car for the day. Getting to Tombo meant over an hour on a dirt road each way, and the scenery was completely the same desert-like brush, like West Texas. No trees. Roger agreed with one sign we read that said the area was the Argentinian "badlands". I haven´t been to that part of the US myself.

Before I forget to mention, Roger did not cause the traffic accident in Buenos Aires. He was going out the other door and the cabbie opened the door into the bus.

Next was the "recycled garden" in Gaiman -- this 84 year old artist has spent almost thirty years taking old bottles and cans and creating a truly remarkable garden from them. It was almost an acre in size, with what had to be thousands of cut up and painted cans and bottles. He was a very friendly guy. Even his business cards were recycled from other business cards and cigarette packs.

Roger found out about a paleontological park near Gaiman, where many of the fossils are left in the rock and you walk along and see them. The park is a cliff, and as you walk up to the top you see the various types of life. At the top of the cliff were a huge number of well-preserved oyster shells and shark teeth.

Finally, our driver Alberto took us to a Welsh tea house, where we had a pretty bizarre dinner of all-you-can-eat scones and pastries and tea in a well-decorated restaurant with pictures of Lady Di all over the place. She had visited a few years earlier. This area was originally settled by many Welsh, and though I haven´t seen or heard any Welsh, the customs and the city and street names reflect it.

Long-distance mud boggin´

posted Thu, 20 Feb 2003 07:30:22 -0800

This is the second of two entries I´m making right now. Roger and I are taking it easy today in Puerto Madryn. We´re here because nearby is the Peninsula Valdes National Park. That´s the place where the killer whales come up on the shore to eat sea lions. ( We went there yesterday and although it was not what we hoped, it was entertaining nonetheless.

As Roger was getting us checked into our hotel last night, he met an English couple ( who had rented a car to see the park along with another two couples. We were ready to go the next morning at 6:30am (Roger is not a morning person) and met the others - Arwin and Nadia from near Paris, and Craig and Donnye from Sydney. We were in this Mercedes mini-bus/van thing that would seat more than 10. High tide would be at 1pm and the attacks normally took place a little before that, we were told.

The ride to the park took a little more than an hour, and the driver spent most of the time telling us not to expect to see the orcas (killer whales). He took us first to a point on the southeastern part of the peninsula where elephant seals would be. We weren't able to get too close to most of them but could tell they were huge. The males are typically over a ton in weight.

The weather was very very crappy yesterday out on the Peninsula (which sticks out into the Atlantic). Driving cold rain, high wind (around 40 mph), and cold temperatures. I didn´t pack intelligently but I learned my lesson. Bring more layers than you think you´ll need.

After about another hour of driving, we made it to Punto Norte, where the orca's seal-fest was waiting. Unfortunately, although the seals were there in quantity, the driving wind and rain had whipped up the waves and the general consensus was that the orcas would not be coming. We stayed there anyway over our driver's very vocal objections until high tide came. He was telling us that the rain would be making the drive home difficult. We told him that was not our problem, we were there to see orcas eat seals. Our relationship with him was not good.

He was right. The roads, which were all dirt and gravel, turned into complete mud bogs. And, we had about 50 miles of them to travel. The bus/van was going all over the road, coming close to turning over a couple times. Then, we came up on a BMW stuck in the mud. We slowed down and tried to go around him. The bus/van slid down towards the ditch on the side of the road. We tried to back up. Nothing. We were stuck, on a slant.

Our driver let us know that it was all our fault, and we would need to get out to push us out. So, we did. I ended up with my face about a foot away from the spinning tire and knew I was going to get COVERED in mud. We all thought we would. Somehow, mostly because the mud wasn´t too watery, we stayed pretty clean except for our shoes. And after some struggle we got the vehicle out about the same time the BMW did.

The slippin´, slidin´, mud-boggin´ lasted well over an hour straight. On the way back, due to the caked-on mud, the bus/van had problems of some sort that kept us going in 2nd gear all the way back, even on the paved road. That driver was so glad to get rid of us, he just dropped us off in the general location of our hotel. Dinner was with the Brit couple whose web page I gave earlier. I had a first-class steak dinner for less than $6.

Hopefully I can get a chance to talk about some other things soon, like what it's like to have a shaved head, how inexpensive it is to travel here, Roger's pickup strategies, etc. Those aspects of the trip have been muy interesante, tambien.

Living beyond our means

posted Fri, 21 Feb 2003 09:34:17 -0800

Since we are having a second low-activity day in a row, I thought I´d take a second to fill y'all in on just how cheap it is to travel here.

First, a simple update: we took an overnight bus from Puerto Madryn to here in Esquel, which is in the foothills of the Andes. We will probably be here a couple of nights, it looks like. We planned to do stuff today, but neither of us slept well on the bus and were too tired to do anything. The weather is absolutely beautiful, and the scenery is a welcome change from the desert scrubby stuff of the last few days. We've got northern California-like foothills around us (the beautiful gold of dead grass and a clear blue sky) and off in the distance in one direction are my first glimpse of the Andes, with snowy peaks.

Now, to the prices here. Basically, they are one-third of what we would expect to pay at home, more or less. The prices are usually given with a dollar sign, in which case they might be a little more expensive, but the prices are actually in pesos which are more than three for each dollar. Our hotels have been around 30 or 35 pesos for the room, food has been 12 to 15 for both of us for each meal, and this internet access is a little expensive at 3 pesos per hour. Taxis cost four or five pesos for a typical trip across town, and it cost us 200 pesos to have a car and driver for that entire day, from 9 until 9, when we traveled all over the place near Trelew (miles apparently unlimited). They have ice cream places all over and Roger is almost as big a fan as I am. A simple cone costs 2 pesos. I have eaten a few pesos worth, to say the least. We have heard that it will get more expensive as we go South, and that Chile will also cost more, so we are enjoying it while we can.


posted Sat, 22 Feb 2003 18:09:39 -0800

I'll have more to write about today later, but for now just wanted to let you know that pictures are available. It is taking FOREVER to upload them, so I only sent up a few.

Go to

The login name is
and password is

Look in the South America #1 album, where the following pictures are (in reverse chronological order for the most part):
- the mud-boggin' tour group
- On Lake Verde on today's trip, with the Andes in the background including the Circo Glacier
- a cool street that I found
- finding out that my PhD is done
- Roger and me with the recycled gardener
- Roger taking penguin pictures (see how close we got!)
- one of my penguin photos
- singing in the Theatre Colon (box seats dimly in the background -- the lights were off for the most part)

Hope you enjoy! We're off to get a nap before going to a danceclub that will open up at 2:30 am to celebrate the 97th birthday of this town, Esquel.

Visit Bariloche!!

posted Tue, 25 Feb 2003 18:54:28 -0800

Currently I am in the small town of El Calafate, which would be a small fishing village if not for the nearby presence of the Moreno Glacier. We are going to the glacier tomorrow as well as pretty much any other tourist who is here. From the pictures, I think we'll be overwhelmed with its size and how close we can get to it.

It won't be our first glacier closeup -- yesterday we visited Tornador, the largest mountain near the alpine resort town of Bariloche. El Tornador (basically means "The Train Conductor/Engineer") has many large glaciers on it, but one notable one has picked up lots of soil on its way down and by the bottom has become as black as coal. Tornador dominates the end of a long, green valley with its jagged black face, white glaciers, and silver wisps of waterfalls. Truly beautiful - I would gladly have spent much more than the 3 hours we had there. There are lots of interesting hikes that we had no time for. We did climb up to the base of one waterfall that plunged into the top of one glacier before passing under it. Of course, that meant going beyond the sign that said "Pasando este cartel, su vida corre peligro" or "Passing this sign, your life becomes dangerous." We got some neat pictures of the huge curve in the glacier caused by the waterfall continually hitting it.

Before the glacier and the hike, we took a two-hour sidetrip to see the Alerces Waterfall. In case you ever have that option, pass on it. Not at all worth the windy crappy road to get there. We thought it was only going to cost us 30 minutes, and it would not have been worth that.

In general, the roads here are not that great, even to the main tourist sites. We have been on SO many gravel roads in taxis or cars with poor suspensions. Ugh. Our main highway trip from Esquel to Bariloche even had a few gravel stretches.

A quick recap of the past few days:
22nd: From Esquel, we took a combination bus, boat, and hiking trip to the Los Alerces National Park. The Alerces are the South American version of the sequoia: not quite as big, but older. There are fewer of them, too. We took a bus to a lake, where we got on a boat, which took us to the far end of a long finger lake, where we hiked to another boat, which took us to the end of another finger lake, where we hiked to the Alerces grove. We had loquacious tourguides who spoke fast Spanish, so the background sound of the trip was this steady stream of gibberish as far as I could tell. I usually have done much better with my Spanish. The weather was amazing, though -- not a cloud all day.
23rd: Took a bus to Bariloche, which I was told was a cross between Tahoe and Banff. I would say that is a reasonable definition, or maybe just say that it is in the same class as those places. I really like it. On the bus from Esquel to Bariloche, we sat by another model. She didn't have her portfolio with her, but had her mother instead. Her mom was happy to tell us that Daniella was the reigning beauty queen of Neuquen, the capital of this province. If she wasn't, I would like to know who would have beaten her out. She was also very friendly, offering to share her maté tea drink with us two strangers. We chatted most of the 5-hour trip, and they didn't know any English. We had the front four seats of the top of the double-decker bus. The bus had a stewardess and a small kitchen downstairs. On top of that, the scenery and the weather was beautiful. Much like parts of the American west, with mountains in the distance and plateaus nearby.
When we got to Bariloche, we took some goodbye pictures :) and Roger and I headed for Corre Catedral (Cathedral Peak) ski resort to do some hiking and check out the view. A cablecar and skilift combo got us to the top of the mountain, and I scrambled up to the very top for an amazing view of the area. I could have sat up there all day, really, but instead one of the workers chased me off because they were closing down the mountain for the day.
I had the house special at a pizza place, which turned out to mean a pizza with ham, boiled egg slices, and ketchup/mayo dressing. I probably won't get that again. We watched a 5-acre wildfire on the hills 1 mile outside town as we ate.
That night, there were tons of people out in the street shopping and milling about. Even little kids and older people were out at 11:30pm with an atmosphere like it was the middle of the afternoon. We ran into Daniella and her mom again.

OK, this is way too long already. I have to go now, anyway. More about yesterday and today later. I also want to write about some of the cool and not cool things about Argentina, and the really cool couple we've been hanging out with.

Playing catch-up

posted Thu, 27 Feb 2003 16:56:30 -0800

OK, now Roger and I are in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. If we were this same latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, we would be above all major Canadian cities but not as far north as Juneau, Alaska. It is somewhat rainy and cold here, but the surroundings are beautiful - stark snow-covered mountains rise up just behind the city, and it sits with its port on the Beagle Channel, where Darwin sailed long ago. We flew over the Strait of Magellan today but couldn't see them due to clouds. We'll pass through Drake's passage tomorrow night and the next day on our ship to Antarctica.

What I wanted to add before in Bariloche is that if you like alpine stuff to do, you should visit - particularly while the exchange rate with Argentina is so nice. There are great hikes, bike trails, fishing, touring, boating, shopping, and just looking at the scenery. I definitely plan to come back and spend a few days.

We hung out in Bariloche and in El Calafate with this very cool newlywed couple from Buenos Aires, Lisandro and Juliana. I hope to get more pictures up soon, which will definitely include them. We quickly became friends like we´ve known one another for years. Lisandro and I could talk about techie stuff all day, and Juliana, who is from Brazil, and Roger could talk about her country all the time, too. We plan to see them one more time in Buenos Aires.

On the way back from Tornador on the 24th, Roger and I stopped by the Llau Llau hotel, which is comparable to the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff as 'the' hotel for Bariloche for anybody who is somebody. It was certainly 5-star, though not at the same scale of size and view that the Banff Springs has. When spoken by an Argentine, the hotel is pronounced "Shau Shau".

On the 25th, we left Bariloche and were on the plane to El Calafate with Lisandro and Juliana. After arriving and checking in, the four of us went to some wall paintings by the aboriginal people who were here. Unfortunately, most of the paintings had been destroyed in the recent past. More unfortunately, we had to sit through a video at the start of the tour that spent its first fifteen minutes going over the Big Bang, evolutionary, and plate tectonics theories. We thought they must have put in the wrong video, but eventually it spent about 5 minutes talking about wall painting.

On the way back to town, our taxi driver told us that El Calafate was named after the berries that grow on local cactus plants, and that the berries were in season. We stopped and carefully picked some. They tasted like a cross between blueberries and raspberries, and really stained your teeth and fingers when you ate them. All of us bought some calafate ice cream when we got back to town, and I bought some calafate jelly to share when I get back.

The 26th was our day to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, the sole reason for our stop in El Calafate, and it was worth it. This glacier is ENORMOUS and because of some freak geography, you can stand safely near it and watch pieces calving off. I hope my pictures give it a little bit of justice. We took a boat ride near one of its two main faces, and half-way through a piece the size of a four-story building fell off nearby. The waves it created were much bigger than I expected them to be as the boat turned to ride them out. We were then dropped off near a series of viewpoints, where we had lunch and watched for more calving. It was like a combination of meteor shower and sporting event -- your eyes kept moving all around the glacier, your ears were tuned to the snapping sound of the ice breaking, and then when a piece fell off, the gathered crowd would all stand up and shout. We managed to capture one medium-sized plunge on video, and I hope to post it somewhere online soon. Even the pieces that appeared tiny were actually the size of a bus.

In the afternoon, we got our clothes washed and I got a manicure since my fingers have completely dried up and cracked in this arid and windy weather. I got quite a few strange looks as I sat in the beauty parlor -- probably not too many shaved heads are seen in there.

Today was mainly just getting us from El Calafate to Ushuaia. This city started as a penal colony, and this afternoon we visited its prison museum -- aptly named Argentina's Alcatraz. We also picked up our boarding passes for tomorrow's departure and talked to some people who just returned from the same trip. They loved it and said we would, too. Man, I hope so.

Traveling in Argentina

posted Thu, 27 Feb 2003 17:20:38 -0800

This is the 2nd of two posts I am making in Ushuaia. The previous one catches up on our travels. This one is more of a general commentary on the cool and/or odd things about our travels thus far.

A quick list:
- Strange keyboards at Internet cafes, where the @ sign can be very difficult to find
- With one exception, in each of our hotel bathrooms the shower has sprayed directly onto the toilet. In one sense, you could kill two birds with one stone, but neither of us has felt up to pulling that off. There is one drain in the room and the whole bathroom can get soaked. It's not too fun to share a bathroom in that situation, but we are dealing with it. There has also been a bidet at every place we have been. I just don't get those things at all.
- Salsa Golf -- Argentines love their combination of mayo and ketchup so much it has its own name and comes in its own bottles
- Mayo -- mayonnaise is everywhere, it is sold in these soft pouch-like containers, and there was even a Hellmann's restaurant in Bariloche
- Spanish pronunciation -- even I notice the difference in the double-l or y sounds by Argentinians; the word for "beach", playa, sounds like plasha here. They also use "vos" for 2nd-person singular instead of "tu"
- The Stars! For the first time, I can see the Southern Hemisphere of stars. That means Alpha Centauri, the closest star to us and a very bright one in the sky. Nearby is the Southern Cross, which points toward the southern celestial pole. A very familiar sight is the constellation Orion, with the significant difference that is UPSIDE DOWN! I hope to see auroras on the ship.
- The daily life patterns here -- breakfast is from 7:30 to 9:30 or so. Businesses open at 9 but typically close at 12 or 12:30 for a siesta until 3:30. Lunch is served during that break. The businesses then stay open until 8 or 9, when the restaurants open back up for dinner. Starting dinner before 9 is early; Roger and I have gotten used to 10pm dinners now. Restaurants welcome customers after midnight. Bars start getting populated after that, and discos don't even open their doors until 2 or 2:30. The partying then goes on until dawn. Repeat. This schedule is great for Roger, but it is not for me.
- Globalization -- lots of American music, American products, computers, games, movie stars. I also recognize much of the Latin music that I have become familiar with in California. Argentina is a wonderful place to visit since you can either surround yourself with familiar things or completely foreign things as you feel the need.
- Speaking Spanish is fun! -- People are patient, and I can be creative. I need to learn tenses in the worst way, and of course more vocabularly and grammar would help.
- Beautiful women -- perhaps a little too short in general for my taste, but the number of very attractive women here is up there with the likes of Oxford, Mississippi and Athens, Georgia. I have met three models so far. I have been asked for more info on this subject, and I hope to say more later.
- Roger's traveling skills -- Roger is really great at this stuff. I think he might have found his calling in life. In particular, he is good at negotiating (we never get screwed, and usually get a great deal), planning (we see the important and cool things, in a busy but not hurried way), exploring (like me, he wants to take advantage of every possible opportunity and always take a look at what is over the next hill), and meeting people (especially attractive women). I am able to have an amazingly relaxing trip thanks to Roger. I hope I am returning the favor somehow!

Antarctica, here I come!

posted Fri, 28 Feb 2003 10:24:20 -0800

So, Roger and I are less than an hour from boarding the ship, and we see it out in the harbor. It is a good deal smaller than the cruise ships around it. It looks like a NOAA research vessel, but with Russian writing on it.

When I was in Bariloche earlier this week, I felt like I had already had a fantastic break/vacation. If I was told I had to come home then, it really would not have been too disappointing. I have seen some pretty exotic stuff, including Southpark and King of the Hill in Spanish (they really are missing the boat with Cartman's voiceover) :) . But now, a two-week trip to Antarctica. Just about too much.

I wasn't able to upload any more pictures here, unfortunately. It was quite an ordeal before. I'll try again once the cruise is done.

By request (written in Esquel, which was similar to the California gold country):
Here I am, away
from the familiar,
surrounded by it.

and my attempt at geek haiku humor:
Mountains look on lakes.
GPS tells me, blindly,
I am in Flatland.

I am almost positive that I will not be able to post anything while on the ship -- it costs one dollar per line of email sent or received, and there is no web surfing. Until the 12th!!

What a trip

posted Thu, 13 Mar 2003 17:55:25 -0800

I´m back, and I apologize for the delay. Rather than writing this upon my return to Ushuaia yesterday, Roger and I only got into port this morning and had to go immediately to catch an all-day bus ride to Punta Arenas, Chile.

So, perhaps I will start with the reason why our ship returned a day late. On the afternoon of the 11th, as we were approaching Cape Horn (the southernmost point of South America, where the Pacific, Atlantic, and Southern Oceans meet and perhaps site of the world's worst weather), we were met with some strong weather: sustained winds over 80mph, waves of 25 feet with occasional to 35 feet -- on the nautical Beaufort scale, it was 12 (the maximum - "Hurricane"). We were about a mile away from Cape Horn, with its prominent peak in sight through the mist and spray. At the time, although the ship was really rocking and rolling, we were enjoying and laughing about this real "Drake Passage" weather.

However, around 3:15pm, one of the passengers went outside for a picture and was somehow swept overboard. No one saw it happen, and only because someone happened to see a head in the waves in our wake did we know it happened. By the time we could get the ship back to where we believed he fell over, there were no signs of anyone. Roll call was taken, and Albert von Stekelenberg, an older Dutch gentlemen living in South Africa, was assumed lost. Everyone with binoculars was called to the bridge to look for him, and we looked intently for the next three hours. In the cold waters there, even a young and very fit person would not be expected to live longer than 20 minutes. We contacted the Chilean Coast Guard, as we were in their territory, and by law we were required to continue the search, in conjunction with one of their ships, until 6pm the next day. That required us to remain off Cape Horn through the night. It is doubtful that any ship has remained in that area for as long as we did in a long time. Ultimately, though, no signs of Bert were found and we returned to Ushuaia this morning. To say it put a damper on things is obviously an understatement. I am still having a hard time accepting that we returned to port with one less person than we left with. I had been standing next to Bert on the bridge less than a minute or two before he must have fallen off.

In light of such a tragic event, it is tough to gush about the other 11 days of the trip. However, until Bert's disappearance the trip had been absolutely unbelievable. I was up close and personal with whales, penguins, seals, and icebergs throughout. Writing about it now is turning out to be a little bit tougher than I expected. Hopefully I will give a proper trip report tomorrow.

For now, I will end on happy but unrelated news I just received: while I was gone, the Richton Rebels (my high school) basketball team won its first state championship. Go Rebels!!

More photos

posted Fri, 14 Mar 2003 10:58:07 -0800

I am uploading a few of the pictures that I took in Antarctica. They include a view from our room's porthole, many penguins, leopard seals, and icebergs, and some of the nice scenery and beautiful days that we had.

Go to

The login name is
and password is

The photos are in the Antarctica #1 folder.

What a trip, Part II

posted Fri, 14 Mar 2003 11:57:47 -0800

This is the third of three posts about the Antarctica cruise. Although we were gone for two weeks and every day was packed, I will only talk about the major highlights and maybe throw in other stuff later if there is time. The two main things we wanted to do -- cross the Antarctic Circle and land on the continent itself -- were definitely accomplished.

First, the ship -- the Grigoriy Micheyev held 45 passengers, 19 Russian crew, and 7 expedition staff. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to use my Russian on a daily basis. I got to be friends with the captain and a few of the crew -- I even was invited to eat with the crew and acted as an interpreter for the ship's doctor when one of the crew needed to talk to him. For the vast majority of the time, though, all communication was in English. The ship was around 10 years old, so it was all clean and reasonably well furnished.

Our cabin had a bunk bed, a sink and mirror, and a desk under a porthole looking forward out over the Zodiac loading area and the foredeck. I had the top bunk, which turned out to be quite an effort to climb into when the seas had us rocking back and forth like crazy. For some reason, the cabinets didn't close correctly and we often had to clean up big messes of clothes all over the place.

The other passengers were quite a diverse group: an air traffic controller from the Canary Islands, a female United Airlines pilot, two Everest climbers, a female Finnish deep-sea construction worker, a neurosurgeon from Arkansas, married New York City ER doctors, videographers for the Discovery Channel from Sweden, married English police officers, a Canadian working in Saudi Arabia, students from Israel, Germany, and Scotland, and the ship's doctor had worked at the South Pole.

The best time to meet people was during the meals, which were of a high quality but a little less quantity than typically would fill me. I believe I had at least one good dinner conversation with every fellow passenger and expedition crew. We all knew one another reasonably well by the end. The cooks were Austrailian and Swedish, and I am still amazed that they could make such meals with the amount of movement that the ship was doing.

The other main places to hang out were the bridge, the top deck, the foredeck, and the bar. The ship had an "open bridge" policy, meaning that we were welcome there any time of day. Since it had the best enclosed panaramic view by far, there were usually people there with binoculars looking for whales or other wildlife. The top deck was above the bridge, and had a great view all around but could be very windy (as a couple of pictures will show). The foredeck was only accessible during calm weather, but was awesome for watching the ship bust through the ice. I have some cool movies of that that I need to somehow get onto the web. The "bar" was not very fancy but had some comfortable couches, and grew more popular as the cruise went on and people became bored with their own cabins during bad weather.

The first two and last three days were spent on the Drake Passage, the area between South America and Antarctica known for terrible weather. If you look at a globe, you can see why -- the strong Antarctic current has to funnel through its smallest dimension there. Those of you who know how sick I got during the one-day deep sea fishing trip would never believe that I made it through 5 entire days of far worse pitching and rolling without so much as a gag. Of course, "the patch" is mostly responsible for my non-delicateness. And we all learned to hang on to something at all times and time our movements to go with the ship.

One of the most fun things was the way we used these metal-hull inflatable boats known as Zodiacs to get to land. We climbed down some steps to get in, then usually had to wade a little to get out onto shore. The Zodiacs zipped us around and put us down at sea-level. They took us to cruise through iceberg fields or to get next to whales. The icebergs were FAR larger than anything I expected to see. Many were the size of multi-story office buildings, and the pieces that broke off from the continental ice fields were many times larger than the entire quad at Stanford. I doubt pictures will do justice to their size, but will hopefully capture the colors and the beautiful shapes.

Rather than describe all the days and all the stops and sights, perhaps just one day, one of the best of my life, will be the most useful way to get the gist across:
On March 4th, the expedition leader woke us at 5:45am to tell us that whales were sleeping next to the ship. Roger and I rushed out with our cameras, and indeed four humpbacks were right under the foredeck as our boat lay at anchor. I have certainly never been so close to such big animals in the wild before. They were HUGE and very graceful. Eventually they moved away, after lifting a fluke and a tail in what really seemed like a wave.
The morning expedition was to a sunken whaling vessel where the divers in the group spent the morning, while we moved on to a Gentoo penguin colony. Maybe I'll get a chance to describe their interesting and often hilarious behavior in a future post.
During lunch, the ship moved to Neko Harbour and in the afternoon we landed for our first footsteps on the continent (previous landings were on islands). I climbed a hill through a Gentoo colony and eventually made my way up to a snow-covered mountainside. I just sat down and looked out on the harbor. The sky was a clear sunny blue, the harbor water was completely calm, only broken by small icebergs and the ship, and snow-covered mountains were all around. As I sat, some humpbacks appeared in the harbor and slowly made their way through. Then, the glacier that hangs over the harbor to my right decided to move a little in the sun and send some large chunks calving into the water with a bang and a splash. It was warm, peaceful, and as the Brits said, "crackin' brilliant." Once the whales had moved on, a few other passengers and I made a pathway in the snow to slide down, and I made like a penguin, going down on my stomach and paddling furiously with my arms on the way. Eventually we had to go down the mountain, following a "penguin highway" to the beach and the Zodiacs. There on the beach were a couple of Weddell seals sunning themselves.
We were some of the last to leave, and earlier Zodiac drivers shuttling passengers to the ship had seen some whales. So instead of going straight back, we chased after the whales. We found them and sat next to them for 10 minutes among the ice and the mountains. We finally started back to the ship as the sun dipped down. As I looked back for one last glimpse of the whales, I noticed some movement on the peaks far above. I shouted incoherently and pointed, and thankfully a couple others on the Zodiac then saw the avalanche too and got the driver to stop. We watched the huge thing fall a few thousand meters, create a huge snowcloud, and finally settle.
Back at the ship, we had a big outdoor BarBQ to enjoy the harbour, the mountains, the glacier, and our amazing day. Not all of the days had as much magic in it as this one, but they all had their special moments.

In all, we saw untold numbers of Gentoo, Adelie, and Chinstrap penguins both on shore and jumping through the water, humpback and minke whales up close, leopard, elephant, fur, weddell, and crabeater seals lying around or swimming, the world´s largest flying bird (the Wandering Albatross) and a huge array of icebergs and glaciers. The people were great, and the weather was the best the crew had ever seen over so many days. If not for the tragedy with Bert, this trip would have been more perfect than Roger or I ever dreamed.


posted Sat, 15 Mar 2003 16:21:12 -0800

No, this has nothing to do with Star Trek.

Roger and I are in Puerto Natales, Chile, after catching the bus from Punta Arenas this afternoon. Kinda small town with a big focus on hosting adventure travelers. The bus ride went along the Strait of Magellan for quite a while -- its calm waters were a big difference there with the other alternative for changing oceans: Cape Horn where our ship spent the night. Tomorrow we will get another bus to Torres del Paine National Park, which is supposed to be one of the most spectacular national parks in the world. We will hike for the next few days ("trekking"). Consequently, there will most likely be another gap in journal posts. The weather looks to be less than perfect, but it should be fun in any case. Thanks for your comments about the Antarctica pictures -- it was indeed spectacular. I hope to upload more pictures in the near future.

Thank goodness for yesterday

posted Thu, 20 Mar 2003 08:59:46 -0800

Roger and I are back from our visit to the Torres del Paine National Park, and if not for yesterday there would not be anything positive to report. The weather did not cooperate AT ALL the first three days we were there. Our first day was our bus ride to the park and a driving tour of the southern part of the Park. Normally you can see the tall granite Torres (Towers) that the park is named for, but we couldn't see squat due to very low clouds and rain. We got out for a short hike near a glacier and had to just laugh out loud at how windy, cold, and wet it was and how little we could see.

We spent the night at a "refugio" - a small house with bunk beds - but the weather was so bad that it drove all the tent campers into the refugios too and we were put in the staff housing. The refugio and the staff hut only had one wood-burning heater and it was cold inside. Or at least we thought they were cold. At least I could get somewhat warm.

The next day we would have preferred to hike to the base of the Towers, but the overcast was so low we would have had no reward for the all-uphill hike. So we hiked along between a large lake and the mountains, right into the teeth of the wind, rain, and (eventually) snow. I only have tennis shoes, not hiking boots, so I was constantly dodging mudholes and creatively crossing the streams coming down from the mountains. We planned to hike for eight hours, but upon reaching the next refugio halfway to our destination, we found out that our destination refugio was already filled so we stopped and started drying out. Then the wind really picked up, while the refugio warmth never did -- I slept in all the clothes I had, inside a sleeping bag.

The next day was pretty much the same -- cold, windy, wet, and no view at all as a reward for the scrambling along the not-too-well-defined trail. Again, we got halfway to our destination and found out that not only was our intended final destination refugio full for the night, but the halfway point refugio was too. We had been told before we started hiking that we would have no trouble with staying at either. Exasperated, we caught a boat along the lake back to our original starting point from the day before. We decided to try for the towers the next day (yesterday).

Although it snowed that night, the day turned out to be amazingly beautiful. A clear blue sky, and my hike to the base of the towers was through a snow-covered valley. My pictures of the towers surrounded by snow with a blue sky behind them are probably pretty rare. Unfortunately I won't be able to upload them for a while. I hiked from 8 in the morning until 5 that afternoon since the weather was so nice and enjoyed every minute of it. I just wish we had that kind of weather the whole time! Now that I have seen what the park can offer, I would say it is the closest thing to Yosemite that I have seen yet.

I would like to come back and do the "Circuit" around the whole mountain range, which takes 7 to 10 days. Anyone up for that?

Many more photos!!

posted Thu, 20 Mar 2003 09:19:27 -0800

This is the second of two posts for today.

I was able to upload about 30 more pictures to the Snapfish site which are spread throughout the Antarctica trip. Hopefully I will get more of the photos from before and after later.

Roger and I leave on the NAVIMAG ferry tonight from here in Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt, further north (and hopefully warmer) in Chile. I doubt we will have Internet access until we arrive, on the 24th. Go Cal and Stanford and the SEC in the NCAA tournament until then!

Go to

The login name is
and password is

The photos are in the Antarctica #2 folder.

Going north, getting warmer

posted Tue, 25 Mar 2003 14:23:11 -0800

Roger and I are safely off the ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt, and happy to report that no tragedies occurred this time. We had a good time, though the weather was super-foggy the first day and a half during the area that is supposed to be the most scenic. We met quite a few interesting people from all over the world, though, and that was probably the best part. Being stuck on a boat for four days encourages people to get beyond the normal small talk and get into some good conversations. The big topic was this war, and since we were two of the few Americans we were often required to stick up for what we are doing there, though we aren't particularly fired up about it ourselves.
One of the most memorable parts of the trip had to be the truckload of cows just below our bunk, which serenaded us around the clock as well as provided a mask for any smells that our clothes might have at this point.
I read a lot, talked a lot, ate a lot. Unfortunately I did not see a whole lot, which was our hope with this route up through Chile. We could not have known that, of course. Now we have no more waterborne travel, and I have less than a week remaining in my trip!!

Hank and the Volcano

posted Tue, 25 Mar 2003 14:54:35 -0800

This is the second of two posts for today.

Roger and I are now in Pucon, a small ski town on the shore of a large lake and in the shadow of a large, still-active volcano -- both named Villarrica. Today I climbed to the top of the volcano and looked down into its sulfur-smoking hole in the crater at its peak. It was great!!

The day started at 7 am at the adventure tour office, without Roger who decided to sleep in (and I haven't seen him yet to know what he did instead today). I slept soundly on the bus to Pucon, and he could not.

The seven tourists (two German guys and four British women) were given rigid sole hiking boots, an ice axe, crampons, and a waterproof outfit for the hike. We started on the side of the volcano at around 5500 feet after a short ski lift ride. We slowly climbed through fields of cracked lava flows, piles of igneous rock, and snow-covered glaciers for 3 hours until we got to the top at 8000 feet. We had to use the ice axe to create steps as we crossed the glaciers. The weather cooperated and the view was super. We could see big forest fires many miles away.

At the top, the sulfur smell kept me from eating much lunch. Instead, I walked around the edge of the crater until I could see down into its bottom. There was actually a huge hole (maybe 100 feet across) with fumes boiling out of it! No hot boiling magma, unfortunately. I could feel the heat from the gases, though. A brisk wind kept the sulfur from being too strong. I could see where the lava had flowed down into the surrounding countryside during its last major eruption a few years ago.

Yet the trip was not over -- we had to get down. And then I understood why we needed the waterproof clothes: we went down on our butts on the glaciers! Almost 3000 feet of sliding, some at pretty high speed. We used the ice axes to keep ourselves under control. I got some video of going down one section, and it happened to be one where I got out of the main chute and had to really do the whole spinning, grabbing, digging in with my ice axe to stop myself like at the start of the Everest IMAX. It was really a thrill. I highly recommend it to anyone who ever gets the chance. We got to the bottom and my clothes were FULL of snow and ice.

A hot shower felt great, and I shaved off the bottom of my goatee to entertain the friends we are hanging out with here tonight. There are hot springs throughout the area, and one in particular is open late. We have a big group meeting up there after dinner. The plan for tomorrow is to go white water rafting. I like this place!!

Back in Argentina

posted Fri, 28 Mar 2003 21:20:33 -0800

Roger and I crossed the border back into Argentina today, after a relatively quick stop in Santiago, Chile. We are now in Mendoza, a large city in the foothills of the Andes known for its wine region nearby.

We went whitewater rafting the day after the last post. Although the trip was short (only about an hour and a half on the water) it was a great value at $22 per person. The rapids were intense -- I was thrown out as was our friend Tad. We jumped rocks and had a number of close calls. We also had to get out and jump off a 15' cliff into the river while the raft went down with just a rope tied to it. The wetsuits were required, and well-used.

After that, we went to the hot springs near Pucon. We were rained out of going the night before, unfortunately. That night we took an overnight bus from Pucon to Santiago.

Yesterday morning, we saw the Changing of the Guard at the former presidential palace (where President Allende committed suicide at the end of Pinochet's coup in 1973), visited the floor of the Chilean stock exchange (to see the hectic pace of one trade every few minutes), and climbed to the fort at the top of the Santa Lucia peak (and had a cannon fired right under our feet when we weren't expecting it).

In the afternoon, we took a bus to the Valparaiso, on the Pacific. Chile's 2nd-largest city is built on two levels surrounding its busy harbor, and we took a few ancient inclined railways between levels. The highlight was our visit to the poet Pablo Neruda's house there, which had a fun spirit and interesting decor in somewhat of a smaller South American version of Graceland.

Today we visited Neruda's house in Santiago, which was as eccentric as the Valpo house. We got a cab to take us to the border with Chile, which took a beautiful route through the Andean foothills past a NASA communications center and through a 30-curve switchback stack to make the final climb to the border.

We had a few unexpected issues getting across but made it thanks to Roger's tough bargaining skills. We spent the late afternoon in a tiny town that not only sports a hot mineral spring but the closest settlement to Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Roger and I befriended a single father who took us in his Ford Falcon to get a good look at it and the truly picturesque valley leading to the peak. We also got a good look at the mule train bringing down a dead climber who succumbed to respiratory failure high on the mountain. The sight of the body slung over a mule and bouncing as the mule walked was morbid, to say the least.

We hitchhiked from there down here to Mendoza with a guy from here who drove like a bat out of hell in his new Ford Ranger 4x4 extended cab pickup. He recommended a disco that opens at 2:30 am tonight -- only twenty minutes from now!

Tomorrow, we fly to Buenos Aires, my last stop before flying home. Less than a handful of days left!!


posted Sun, 30 Mar 2003 16:19:43 -0800

Today, just after meeting up with our super-cool friends Lisandro and Juliana (remember the newlyweds from Bariloche and El Calafate?) I realized that my wallet was gone. Ugh. I think I misplaced it while getting out of the taxi, although there is a remote chance it was picked from my pocket. Nothing too important was in there -- all easily replaceable except for my Mississippi driver's license. I cancelled the two credit cards in there and they had not been used. And, thankfully, Roger is available to float me a loan at a very reasonable interest rate until I am back on my feet. :)

Otherwise, I am loving Buenos Aires. We went to a tango class last night and then to a Brazilian disco. We had dinner with Lisandro and Juliana last night and lunch with them and their friend Alicia today. Although my time is running short, I am wishing I had a few more days here in B.A.!


posted Mon, 31 Mar 2003 17:14:46 -0800

It's a longish story, and I am in the airport in Buenos Aires with five minutes until boarding to come home, but I did get all of my wallet's contents back today except for the money and the wallet itself. What a country!!

I'll have to post the rest from the US tomorrow, I guess, telling about my interesting last few days.

The tale of the wallet

posted Tue, 1 Apr 2003 19:37:18 -0800

The flight back home really didn't feel like it took very long.  I suppose because my last few days in Argentina didn't include much sleep, being on the plane was comparatively restful.

So regarding the recovery of my wallet... when we first returned to Buenos Aires, I went for a walk with another tourist from our motel, a woman from nearby Hayward, CA.  It started to rain, so while she was telling me about how it was difficult for a lesbian traveling alone in South America to meet women this older gentlemen welcomed us to Argentina and started a conversation with us.  When he heard I worked with robots, he started talking about workers' rights and how the only way robots were morally defensible were if they were owned "by the people."  This started a long discussion/argument of his Marxism vs my Capitalism that truly was fun for both of us, and he gave me his card, which I put in my wallet.  His name was Dan Garcia, and he was a leather wholesaler with an office near our hotel.

Then, the next day I lost my wallet.  It included all the info I had about Dan.  I didn't even remember his last name.

The next morning, there was a message for me at the hotel saying that my friend Dan Garcia called and said he knew the people who had my wallet.  Huh?  He had left a number, which I called and found out that someone had found my cards in the bathroom of a movie theater near where I got out of the taxi, which included his business card, the only thing with any Argentinian contact info on it.  So they called him, he called my hotel, and then on Monday morning I called this guy who'd found it and picked up my cards from him.

So, if I hadn't engaged Dan in a conversation, or if hadn't been raining hard, or if Sandra the lesbian hadn't been talking so long about women-only clubs, I probably wouldn't have any of my stuff back.  Funny how life goes sometimes.

In addition, Roger and I met up with Dan and some of his friends on the way to the airport.  They are organizing a neighborhood citizens' committee to address the current lack of health care, jobs, and housing for their citizens and demand that the government should guarantee these things.  We had an extremely lively discussion, as expected.  We may disagree on lots of things, but ole Dan is a good guy.

I can`t believe it is over

posted Tue, 1 Apr 2003 20:06:45 -0800

This is the second of two posts from today.  I am back in Silicon Valley now.

Just a quick post to wrap up the trip:

What are some of the main points I am taking away from this experience?
1. I loved talking with people in Spanish!!  By the end, I was having complete useful conversations (though simple, obviously) with people who spoke no English.  I am determined to learn more, which shouldn't be too hard in the Bay Area.
2. Buenos Aires and Jackson, Mississippi probably share many things in common, but one certain thing is that they both have a Hooters.  However, I must make it clear that I honestly have never been to either one.
3. I took a lot of naps on this trip.  I think of all the things Roger learned about me these last few weeks, he seems to have been most in awe of my ability to go to sleep anywhere, anytime.
4. The best part of this trip was probably the number of very high-quality people that I met.  Considering that my PhD process was so solitary, this aspect of travel was truly refreshing and inspiring.
5. Through the course of the trip, I have developed the Theory of Conversation of Ass.  It is extendible to systems with greater energy as well.  If you want to know more, you'll have to ask.
6. The second-best part of the trip was the amount of time I was able to think about life's big questions without having to also think about my PhD research or any other work-related things.  The question now is whether or not I will be able to keep this frame of mind and carry out my life in a manner consistent with the thoughts I have had.
7. Where will I travel next?  I really want to see my friends in Russia, but there is no leader right now.  I want to pick a place soon and start planning.  Any ideas?
8. From the excellent book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, I am going to implement the idea of creating a "To Not Do" list and being as relentless about it as I am about my "To Do" lists.  Those who know me well know the power of my lists. :)

So that is it for the 2003 Antarctica Trip.  I do not expect to make any more posts about the trip itself (but be sure to read the one below that I just wrote).  Feel free to ask me any questions by sending email to

I WILL be making a web page about the trip, including the movies that I took that are very entertaining and not possible to put on Snapfish.  I will make a post here when the page is up, or you can monitor the left side of to see when a link to the Antarctic trip goes up.  That should be a couple of weeks for now.

Thanks so much for your interest!  Let me know if you will be doing something like this yourself!