Welcome! Thank you for joining me, Sharon K. Schafer, on my journey to one of the most remote, beautiful, and truly wild places left on our planet: The Antarctic. I am an artist and naturalist from Nevada, USA who will be photographing, sketching, and journaling my experiences in Antarctica for two weeks in November 2007.

05 November 2007

Ushuaia, Argentina: Preparation Day

TIME: 17:00

WEATHER: High clouds with intermittent sprinkles
TEMP: high:46°F low:37°F

SUNRISE: 05:38
SUNSET: 20:55

Today was spent in preparation. Rechecked all my gear. Worked on the onboard presentations I’ll be giving and gazed out the window at the harbor all too much. The highlight of the day was seeing an Andean Condor during one of my harbor-gazing episodes.

The Andean Condor is a big...really big...vulture. With its four-foot-long body, 33 lbs weight, and a wingspan of over 10 feet it looked for all the world like a turkey vulture on steroids. Turkey vultures have a wingspan of only about 6 feet, weigh a mere 3 lbs, and lack the white neck collar and wing markings of the condor. Because of their heavy weight, these enormous condors prefer to live in windy areas where they can glide on air currents with little effort. They live along the Andes Mountains as their name suggests but also along the pacific coast of South America down to Cape Horn where Ushuaia is...and where I am gazing out my window.

I thought I should start preparing you a bit for our trip to Antarctica. No one had ever even seen the continent until 1820. The first landing took even longer. It wasn’t until just over a 100 years ago that the continental beach was marked by human footsteps when Carsten Borchgrevink lead a British expedition there. Imagine that! Just over a hundred years ago, humans first landed on the continent of Antarctica.

No one owns Antarctica. No country has claimed it, no sovereign rights are imposed upon it, and there is no president and no currency. It has no native populations and no permanent residents. It is not carved up into countries, counties, and cities. It is the world’s largest, wildest, and greatest wilderness. By the international Antarctic treaty of 1963 it is a place of “peace and science.” Military activity has been banned on the continent forever as well as all things nuclear: nuclear facilities, testing, and the storage of nuclear waste.

The Antarctic is enormous -- unbelievably vast. It is about the size of United States and Mexico combined but with a summer population of about 4,000 hardy scientists and support staff. In the winter the number drops to only 1,000 really, really hardy souls.

The Antarctic Continent is a place of superlatives. It is the highest, driest, coldest, and windiest continent.

Lowest temperature recorded on earth - Vostok station -89.2°C / -128.6°F
Average thickness of Ice: 1,829 m / 6,000 ft
Highest Mountain: Mt. Vinson - 4,892 m / 16,050 ft
Average wind speed: 37 kmh / 23 mph
Maximum recorded gust: 248.4 kmh / 154 mph at Mawson Station
Average summer temperature at South Pole: -27.5°C / 17.5°F
Average winter temperature at South Pole: -60°C / -76°F

Despite containing 70 percent of the world's freshwater and 90 percent of the world's ice, much of Antarctica classified as a desert, with the annual snow accumulation over much of East Antarctica being the equivalent of less than two inches of rainfall.

Too many facts and figure for one day. I just wanted you to get a feel for the magnificent wild place we will be visiting. If you would like more information on Antarctica there is a wonderful education site you can visit aptly named Cool Antarctica. Visit it at: http://www.coolantarctica.com/index.html

I’m going to wander into town and find myself a nice dinner. The Argentines sure know how to cook.