Archive for January, 2010

Antarctic Preparation – Done!

January 29th, 2010 at 2:40 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The various members of The Traveling Richters have spent the last week or so staging our luggage and carry-ons for our upcoming trip to the Antarctic, and I’m pleased to report that we are pretty much done. We’ve also watched a couple of movies/documentaries about Antarctic exploration to help get us in the mood.

Several situations have overlapped to make our packing complicated, including the fact that we will be spending almost two weeks in tropical climes (Aruba and Chile – temperatures from around 70°F / 21°C to 88°F / 31°C), and over three weeks in cold to temperate climes in the vicinity of the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia Island, and the Falkland Islands (temperatures from about 20°F / -4.5°C  to  50°F / 10°C). And also, as I have been bemoaning, the restrictions on carry-on and checked luggage.

Our art gallery floor serves as a staging area for our Antarctic luggage

Our art gallery floor serves as a staging area for our Antarctic luggage

However, with Linda’s excellent planning, and Bas’ willingness to carry much of my camera gear as his carry-on, we have tackled and conquered all of these factors.

My Antarctic-only bag, unpacked so I could inventory it

My Antarctic-only bag, unpacked so I could inventory it

Each of us has two pieces of luggage. One piece contains things we will only need for the cooler portion of our exploration – we’ve dubbed this the Antarctic bag, and it is limited to 33 pounds of weight. I’m the only one that has reached that limit. Everyone else seems to have come in below that.

The absolutely best travel tool ever - the Balanzza luggage scale - showing a perfect 33 pounds for my bag

The absolutely best travel tool ever - the Balanzza luggage scale - showing a perfect 33 pounds for my bag

The second bag is our multi-destination bag, and includes clothing and other items that apply in both sets of climates we’ll be frequenting.

My other piece of luggage, with things for both warm and cold climes

My other piece of luggage, with things for both warm and cold climes

We are each also allowed one carry-on. Mine consists of my computer, a GPS, and my Kindle DX and not much else. Bas has a bag with all my extras (camera gear mostly). Linda has my small VAIO P notebook computer, which she plans on using as her computer during the trip, and Krystyana has her own set of camera gear.

Not ever having been pretty much ready with our luggage more than a week prior to a trip, the current situation is a bit weird. We feel like we should be doing more, but there’s not much more to do for the trip. Instead, we are merely focusing on wrapping up various projects that cannot wait until our return in mid-March.

Jake models a balaclava he plans on wearing during his Antarctic exploration

Jake models a balaclava he plans on wearing during his Antarctic exploration to stay warm

With respect to the research we’ve been doing on the Antarctic, in additional to some interesting books on the subject, we have also watched three movies/documentaries, as well as reviewed various web site. Some of these items are listed below:

Movies/Documentaries:

  • The Last Place On Earth – Mini-series about the rivalry between Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen to reach the geographic south pole. For those that don’t know, Amundsen was the first human to reach the South Pole, on December 14, 1911, 35 days before Scott. Amundsen and his men survived, while Scott and four of his men died on the return. The series provides a fascinating insight (don’t know how true) of how Scott’s autocratic behavior and poor planning doomed his mission, while Amundsen’s slightly more democratic approach to his men, along with much better preparation allowed him to succeed. Ironically, Scott’s death made him a hero, and vilified Amundsen at the same time. The mini-series is based on a book of the same name by Roland Huntford.
  • Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure – 40 minute documentary narrated by Kevin Spacey on Ernest Shackleton‘s unsuccessful and harrowing expedition to attempt to cross the Antarctic continent on the Endurance in 1914-1916. Beautiful video footage, and a reasonable summary of Shackleton’s incredible adventure, but we found the presentation of the adventure less dramatic than what the diaries and stories of Shackleton and his men portray. Was a bit too pat for our liking.
  • March of the Penguins – Tells the story of a year in the life of emperor penguins (which we will not see on our trip). Great documentary both in terms of explaining the overwhelming natural challenges facing emperor penguins during their annual attempt to create and raise their offspring. There are some nice extras on the Blu-ray version of the movie we watched, including a section on how they used the National Geographic CritterCam to get an idea of how emperor penguins feed underwater.

Books:

  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. First published in 1959, it’s the account of Shackleton’s voyage in the 1914-1916 time frame based on the diaries and oral reports of the members of Shackleton’s expedition, every single one of whom survived (which, considering the ordeals they faced, is what’s truly incredible).
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander. Great complement to Lansing’s books as it provides a large number of photographs taken during the expedition as well as many more personal excerpts from various crew member diaries. I would highly recommend reading both books on the subject.
  • The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica by David G. Campbell. In depth explanation of the climate, flora, and fauna of Antarctica. I have not read it yet (it’s next on my list), but Linda gives it a thumbs up. If you want to learn about Antarctica’s natural history and ecosystem, this is the book to read.
  • An Adventurer’s Guide to Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands by Marilyn J. Landis Flanigan. Covers the human history of the region in extensive detail, interleaved with a large number of photos by the author (an admitted Antarctica-addict), and includes information about the Falkland Islands as well. Only available on the Kindle, apparently.
  • Perishing Poles – Horrible Geography by Anita Ganeri & Mike Phillips. Part of the excellent Horrible Histories series for kids, published in the U.K. This was Bas’ favorite book about Antarctica because it has all the facts, plus all the gore.

Web Sites – these are only a few of the dozens we have visited (we didn’t keep records):

That’s it for now. Unless some other cool travel thing pops up, the next message will be from Aruba in a week.

 

Antartica Preparations Continue – Muck Boots and Custom Luggage

January 20th, 2010 at 3:04 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The surprising and distressing news last week that we each needed to pack ourselves into two smaller bags of no more than 33 lbs. each instead of one 66 lb. bag for our flight from Santiago, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina to connect with our boat, the Lindblad National Geographic Explorer, caused us quite a bit of consternation. We personally have tons of large luggage, but not enough mid-sized bags without wheels or other weight-increasing features to manage under these newly disclosed requirement. If we lived in a place with ample shopping options it would not have been a big deal, but here on Bonaire our luggage selection is severely limited – after all it’s an island with only 15,000 people on it, and not much shopping diversity of any sort. That was evident after stops in several local stores, none of which had anything remotely close to the sort of luggage we needed.

As a last resort we went to visit our friend, Marlis Seelos Schmid, who runs Marlis Sail & Canvas to see what she might have for us. We found a dive gear bag that was the right size, but of the wrong material (it was a mesh to let water drop out). As it happened, Marlis had just been to the Antarctic within the last couple of years and gave us great advice on what we would need. The end result is that we are having her make four custom bags made in the same dimensions as a dive gear bag, but with colorful umbrella cloth so we can spot the bags a mile away. Should be taking delivery of them today. They will be shown in a future post about our packing and staging efforts.

Speaking of colorful, one of the items we have been told in no uncertain terms that one of the most important pieces of gear we need to bring on our trip to the Antarctic are high, waterproof, warm boots, and that there are none better than Hi Arctic Sports boots from Muck Boots.

Hi Arctic Sport Muck Boots

Hi Arctic Sport Muck Boots

However, we realized that everyone on board the boat would have the same boots, and while my size 13s might stand out a bit, even that might not be enough to find our boots after they get hosed down upon our many returns from landings in the Zodiacs.

Fortunately, living on a scuba diving island, we have an advantage when it comes to marking aquatic sports gear. One of the local dive shops, Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn carries special paints that folks can use to mark their fins. And, as it turns out, those paints work pretty darn well on Muck Boots as well.

Linda and the kids decorate our Muck Boots for our Antarctic trip

Linda and the kids decorate our Muck Boots for our Antarctic trip

So, without further ado, below are our now truly unique and identifiable Muck Boots for our Antarctic expedition.

Linda's Muck Boots feature frogs, as Linda is a major frog fan

Linda's Muck Boots feature frogs, as Linda is a major frog fan

Jake's Muck Boots - Yin Yang

Jake's Muck Boots - Yin Yang

Krystyana's Muck Boots feature elegant design

Krystyana's Muck Boots feature elegant design

Bas' Muck Boots are a cacophony of symbols of a video gaming youth

Bas' Muck Boots are a cacophony of symbols of a video gaming youth

And here are the special paints we used in case any of you are similarly inspired.

The special paints we used to decorate our Muck Boots

The special paints we used to decorate our Muck Boots

 

Antarctica Packing Woes

January 14th, 2010 at 11:02 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We just finished participating in a one hour “Webinar” put on by Lindblad Expeditions about our upcoming Antarctic trip. Very informative, and the images shown by the staff photographer were breathtaking and inspirational.

What’s troubling us now though is confirmation that our flight between Santiago, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina has severe luggage restrictions:

Two 33 pound checked bags and one 17.6 pound carry on per person.

Eek! (this coming from the 6′ 3″ person whose clothes weigh a heck of a lot more than those of his 5′ 3-6″ family members – never mind all the photo gear I am taking with me).

We’re going to start staging our luggage and carry-on deployment this weekend to see how we can fit all we need, and trim back the stuff we thought we needed but don’t really need in order to fit the weight limits. Photographers jackets with well-stuffed pockets are part of the plan too.

Photos to follow in a few days, no doubt.

 

New GPS Tracking Feature

January 12th, 2010 at 7:18 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

In preparation for our trip to the Antarctic circle, as documented in my previous post, I purchased a Garmin Oregon 550 handheld GPS a couple of months ago and have been playing around with it, tracking my location on planet Earth. The idea of the purchase was that using whatever Internet connection I could find en route, I would post updates as to what path we had followed since the last post using latitude and longitude information. The missing bit was finding a simple way to display that information on one of our multitude of web sites in a comprehensible form.

Last night I stumbled across a wonderful plug-in for WordPress (the software used to generate most of my blogs), written by Patrick Matusz from Switzerland. The plug-in is called “XML Google Maps“. The brilliant thing about this plug-in is that it takes .GPX files, such as those generated by my Garmin GPS, and displays the captured tracks and waypoints in Google Maps. That in turn means you can zoom in and out, turn on and off satellite views, and do pretty much anything else that Google Maps permits. Kudos to Patrick! I will note that since tracks and waypoints appear to be stored in separate GPX files, I use a program called EasyGPS to consolidate them into a single .GPX file which I can then submit to the XML Google Maps plug-in for viewing.

Below is an example of a track captured today while the kids and I went to a presentation at CIEE Bonaire on how to help the Bonaire National Marine Park capture lionfish:


If you click on one of the two pink light bulb things above, you will see a pop-up of the waypoints I stored at those two locations, including the latitude and longitude, and the elevation. Very cool, even if I say so myself.

For those of you who were notified about a Test GPS Map on the blog last night, my apologies – I accidentally published a test map, which I then later deleted, resulting in an error if you tried to pull up the link in the e-mail notification.

 

How to Plan for a Visit to the Antarctic

January 11th, 2010 at 12:23 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Some of you may be aware that the next expedition for The Traveling Richters is to the southern-most climes of planet Earth. We won’t quite make it to the South Pole, but we’ll be spending a couple of weeks in February in the vicinity of the Antarctic Circle, a week of which we’ll actually be making landings on various parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.

People have been asking us why we’re going there. Simple answer is that we are helping outfit a school for underprivileged penguins and to see the polar bears. Oh, so you say there are no polar bears in the Antarctic? Perhaps that’s because the penguins ate them?

Seriously, though, the Antarctic has been a dream of ours for decades, and with global climate change charging onward without a reversal in sight, we figured we had better pay our respects now before things change too much. Furthermore, even if global climate change does not materially affect the Antarctic in the next 30 years, we’d rather go now when we’re hearty and hale instead of when joint pains and older age potentially inhibit our full exploration and enjoyment of this natural wonder.

We booked our trip with Lindblad Expeditions last summer, to travel with them on their vessel, the National Geographic Explorer. Lindblad started a brilliant partnership with NatGeo several years ago, and the naming of their vessels is part of the deal, as is the inclusion of National Geographic’s experts as docents, photographers, and guides on these journeys.

Of course, being that we live in a tropical climate (the Caribbean island of Bonaire), one of the most interesting challenges has been to gather all the gear we think we will need to stay warm and relatively dry on our Antarctic journey. Lindblad has a list of recommended things to pack (PDF) for the expedition. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s taken us several months to get everything we need down to Bonaire, ensuring it all fits. One complication has been that Bas is a growing 12 year old boy and we’ve had to try and guess how much bigger he might be by mid-February, including how big his feet will be. Just one unexpected growth spurt could leave him buck naked in Antarctica (or wearing my clothes, which would be over-large on him). But we think (or hope) we have it under control.

The other issue we’ve been facing is that several of our flights have restrictions on luggage and carry-ons. Considering we’re planning on taking several computers, several DSLR cameras, a video camera or two, and who knows what else in terms of technological equipment, we’re having a heck of a time trying to figure out how to get it all on a plane with us. We’ll definitely be donning photographer’s vests on the smaller planes, and hoping that we can carry some of the bits and pieces we need that way.

In the next few weeks as we start actually packing, I will post photos here of what all is coming with us, for your amusement. And another project I’m working on is some web-based software which will allow me to upload data from my Garmin Oregon 550 GPS so that our fans can track our path on a daily basis. That of course will be contingent on two things: 1) That GPS satellites are functional that far south; and 2) that we will have a passable Internet connection that far south (there’s on-board satellite Internet on the ship).

In the meantime, we’re reading up on Chile, Easter Island, and the Antarctic, and watching the few documentaries we could find at Amazon.com.