We are now at latitude 59 degrees south and longitude 62 degrees west, in the middle of the Drake Passage - some of the nastiest waters on earth. A few hours ago, we passed through the Antarctic Convergence, where two oceans meet, and warm(er) waters hit cold, creating conditions for life to flourish beneath the waves. We had birds again! This afternoon I saw many of the iconic ocean birds from this region, including the cape petrels with their lovely speckled black and white wings, the small, fast Antarctic prion, and my favorite - of course - the albatross. We had a few black-browed and brown-headed albatrosses following the boat this afternoon, just after we passed through the convergence, and it was marvelous.
I am very glad to be out at sea. Ushuaia was a pretty cool city for the end of the world, and I had a good, long four-hour trek along the Beagle Channel during my one day there, but I wanted the sea, and now I have about as much of it as anyone could wish for. The Drake has not been so bad, with 6-8 meter waves to start and less now, but most of the boat has been seasick anyway. This morning at the bird lecture, half the audience looked like corpses and there are some people who just walk around with barf bags. I have been completely fine, so one of my favorite activities is sitting around in the lounge or bar watching everyone else stumble around, getting their sea legs.
There is a large party on board from China, and I am rooming with two of the women from their group, including the leader. This has been a wonderful opportunity to begin learning Mandarin. So far I have learned the staples - hello, how are you, thank you, and goodbye, but also some nice context-specific vocabulary, including "penguins" and "many penguins." Tomorrow I will learn iceberg, whale, and albatross. I have not yet asked the word for seasickness.
The one aspect of this trip that I do not yet know how to classify is the eating. After all my first class plane rides and several meals on what is basically a luxury cruise, I feel like a goose being stuffed for foie gras. I sit in confined but humane spaces, and people continually serve me rich meals, and then before I have had a chance to digest, it starts all over again. But my brother told me that as soon as we arrive in the actual Antarctic, my body will want every calorie it can get, so I guess I should just be glad for the chance to stock up now.
We have made such good time through the Drake, going at or near the boat's maximum speed of 14 knots for most of the journey so far, that the captain is hopeful of reaching the South Shetland Islands tomorrow by lunchtime. It's possible we might be able to make a landing as soon as tomorrow afternoon. It is almost too exciting to even think about, but we could see our first penguins (chinstrap) by tomorrow!
This blog alone has used up 25% of my alloted megabytes for this journey, so I think pictures will have to wait till I am back on land. But I will send wildlife updates as soon as we have some good ones. Till then, zai jian!