Tagged: Nature

The Seventh Continent: Antarctica in Photos

Panoramic of Portal Point, Antarctica

I recently traveled to Antarctica spending about 10 days aboard the Ocean Nova, a Danish-built vessel with an ice-strengthened hull. The journey took us across the Drake Passage and along a segment of the Antarctic Peninsula. There’s so much to share about the Seventh Continent that I’ll break the content into a couple blog posts. This one covers the big picture in photos. The next couple posts will cover some of the portraits I made of expedition staff and things you should know when visiting Antarctica, especially with photo gear.

I’ll preface this post by saying I have more photos from this trip than any trip I’ve ever taken, and these images only scratch the surface of what I experienced.

Two special thanks: First, the crew and expedition team of the Ocean Nova and Antarctica XXI. They kept us safe, well-fed, educated, and exploring. Most importantly though, a special thanks to Lina for dreaming big with this trip and making it a reality.

Penguins mate for life (sort of) photo.“Why Antarctica?”, most people ask. Going into the trip I didn’t really have a clear answer. In some ways I still don’t — At least not in words. Articulating an experience with language is not my strong suit, but more importantly words don’t do the Seventh Continent justice — For that matter, neither do photos.

Looking back on my trip (which took place in the last two weeks of November this year), I tend to remember the experience as a series visuals and feelings that are difficult to translate. It’s hard to describe a place with language when it’s so vastly different from anything else that I (and most people) have experienced. Most places are comparable to somewhere else in the world — Antarctica is not.

When I try to talk about Antarctica, it mostly comes out as a unsorted list of my experiences, facts, and feelings. There are too many things to cover, and all of them feel so important — I feel like I’m always leaving something out. Nothing I saw is more important than anything else and I have no specific “favorites” from the trip because everything stood out. Everything was so different and impactful.

Hiking to the view point at Port Lockroy, AntarcticaAntarctica is more than just a place to visit, it’s a self contained experience. Visiting is like entering a different world, much like an extraterrestrial visiting earth only for a short time, knowing that you cannot interact with its inhabitants and you cannot leave any evidence of your own existence.

It’s an entire ecosystem of animals, land, sea, and ice joined together by the serenity of a frozen paradise undisturbed by man — An homage to what the planet once was before we made our presence felt. Words don’t do it justice, and neither do photos from a single trip.

I did my best to curate a selection of photos that convey how vast and impressive the land and ice is, and how much fascinating wildlife there is to see. Here are just a few of the images that I captured:

Penguins: They are everywhere. They come up to greet you with curiosity when you land on shore. Though absolutely adorable, their colonies are smelly and most of the penguins are covered in communal excrement. They are fascinating to watch — Their colonies feel like a complex civilization with social constructs, partnerships, and subgroups. I don’t know enough about penguins to say for sure what’s going on in any of the moments I captured with the camera, but it is very easy to personify them and imagine up back stories for their actions.

Mates for life: Two Gentoo penguins keeping warm.
Two Gentoo penguins mating during a snow storm
Penguins watching the ocean during a snow storm
Chinstrap penguin trying to stay warm with his colony
A Gentoo penguin defends its next from a skua.
Chinstrap penguins charging into the water at Deception Island, Antarctica
Chinstrap penguin retrieves a rock to woo a mate.
Elegant Gentoo penguin.

Whales: They appear without notice and leave just as quickly. As beautiful as they are spontaneous, they are difficult to photograph and exciting to watch.

Humpback whales fluking in Foyn Harbor, Antarctica
Whale fluking at Deception Island, Antarctica

Orcas: Followed the ship just to figure out what it is. We spotted a group of rare “Type D” Orcas (shown below) that have only been spotted in nature 13 times since they were discovered in 1955.

Rare Type D Orcas Spotted in the Wild

The Continent: When no person is moving and the snow stops crunching under your feet, there is the most deafening silence you’ll ever know. The landscapes are vast and dramatic. The weather changes from clear to stormy within minutes.

Sunrise at Half Moon Island Antarctica
Warm weather and a dramatic landscape at Port Lockroy, Antarctica
Snowshoeing back to our zodiac boat at Pleneau Bay, Antarctica.
Full moon as we pass through the Lemaire Channel
View point of Whalers Bay after a long snowshoe trek at Deception Island
Abandoned whaling station at Whalers Bay, Deception Island

Icebergs and Sea Ice: The ice is dynamic and moves quickly. Icebergs glow like emeralds below the water. They play an important part in Antarctica’s ecosystem, from the microorganisms and krill in the water all the way up the food chain.

Adelie penguins drifting at sea on an iceberg
Adelie penguins on an iceberg as we pass them on our ship, the Ocean Nova
Adelie penguins dive off an iceberg into Antarctic waters
Zodiac cruising through the Christiania Islands
Zodiac cruising through the Christiania Islands
Iceberg in Foyn Harbor, Antarctica
Icebergs at Portal Point, Antarctica

Seals, Sea Birds, and Other Critters: They go about their business as if humans aren’t even a factor. Something I’ve never witnessed before in the wild.

A Blue-Eyed Shag
A skua patrolling for food. Deception Island, Antarctica.
Wandering Albatross, largest wingspand in the world, flying in the Drake Passage
Weddell Seal waking up from a nap at Portal Point, Antarctica.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua: A Long Overdue Blog Post

I’ve been back for MONTHS and have been struggling to find time to edit photos from Costa Rica and Nicaragua and post them online—sorry to all my new travel buddies that I promised photos to!  They’re coming, I promise. Consider this post a brief synopsis of my travels, with photos coming soon!

If I had to describe the trip in one word:  BREATHTAKING.  The biodiversity and natural beauty of Costa Rica and Nicaragua are unparalleled by any place I’ve experienced.

I started the trip in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica to photograph Kacee and Jeremy’s wedding.  That was a lot of fun and really sold me on why destination weddings are such a terrific idea!  This was a fun group of guests, and for me it was more like a vacation than a photo assignment! When I wasn’t photographing the wedding I was out nature hiking, river rafting, and photographing a plethora of animals including three toed sloths, poison dart and red-eyed tree frogs, howler monkeys, toucans, and iguanas.

Howler Monkeys
Howler monkeys in Cahuita.

After the wedding, I traveled down the Caribbean coast to the town of Cahuita, where I enjoyed fantastic Caribbean style Costa Rican food (they’re a bit lighter on the rice on beans in this region) as well as the fabulous Parque Nacional Cahuita.  The national park was loaded with capuchin monkeys, sloths, basilisk lizards, and much more.

From there, I traveled to the northern Caribbean village of Tortuguero, renown for the troves of green sea turtles that come ashore at night to nest.  I got up the gall to ask the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), a group of scientific conservationists that monitor and track the turtle population in Tortuguero, if they would allow me to photograph their nocturnal work–cameras are rarely allowed on the beach at night, and the use of flash is prohibited as it may scare turtles away from nesting.  They agreed and asked me to photograph them capturing a green sea turtle, attaching a satellite transmitter, and releasing it back to sea.   In those couple days with the STC I learned more about sea turtles and their nesting habits than I ever expected.  The STC staff and research assistants were incredibly warm and educational, and my experience with them may have been the highlight of my trip.

After making a rushed morning sprint to my water taxi and connecting through Pavona, I spent about 20 hours in an unfortunately overcast and gloomy La Fortuna, which is usually quite nice for it’s view of Volcan Arenal.

Red-eyed tree frog
Red-eyed tree frog chilling out.

Making haste via jeep-boat-jeep, I found myself in Monteverde and Santa Elena, two distinct biological cloud forest reserves located less than five miles apart.  I stayed specifically in Santa Elena, a small but well traveled town that offered a mix of Tico food and international cuisine (I did not try the sushi but hear it’s good).  Both cloud forests were truly amazing and I saw a variety of wild life including the resplendent quetzal, one of Central America’s most famous birds.  Besides ziplining over the cloud forest (one of the lines was a kilometer long!), I really enjoyed getting to know the locals and tourists.  Monteverde is a place that really attracts positive and intelligent people, I’m very glad I made the trip.  Plus, I took my favorite photo of the trip here at the Renario.

After three days I finally parted ways with Santa Elena and Monteverde and headed north of the border to Nicaragua.  Swayed by a resident of Monteverde who grew up in Nicaragua, I headed unexpectedly for San Juan del Sur, a surf town town and tourist spot that is both scenic and festive (it’s quite the party town).  My new Tico/Nicaraguan friend showed me around and we had a really fun night out on the town–for next to nothing in cost.

My final stop was in the Nicaraguan city of Granada.  When I arrived at my hostel, I befriended a group of people headed for a day trip to Volcan Mombacho.  Within 10 minutes or arriving I dropped my bags, grabbed my camera, and headed out for an unexpected day trip–and I’m sure glad that I did.  On that clear day, Mombacho offered the most amazing view of the entire trip.  The view looks eastward toward the northern section of Lago de Nicaragua and the southern tip of Lago de Managua–it felt like we were standing on top of the world.  I don’t think any of us expected the view.

San Juan del Sur
The coastline near San Juan del Sur.

Granada otherwise is a beautiful city with wonderful architecture and culture.  It was photogenic in every way, during good weather and bad, and I really enjoyed the time spent there. After two nights I headed to the airport, ending my 17 day stint in the region.

As a whole, this trip was amazing.  It gave me more material to photograph than any previous trip, and pushed me out of my travel photography bubble toward the “nature photography” genre.  I learned so much about the flora and fauna endemic to the region, and was constantly in awe of the natural beauty of the landscape, culture, and wildlife.  17 days was not enough time to see everything, and I will definitely be traveling back to see areas that I missed and revisit sites that deserve a second look.

As for photos, I mentioned that I have many more to post and I will hopefully accomplish that goal soon!  For now, look out for more photos here on my blog or visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jasondixsonphotography to catch my “photo of the day!”

Below is a gallery of photos that I’ve posted on Facebook so far from the trip.

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