That Time My Grandparents Went to Antarctica

Today would have been my grampy’s 100th birthday. I can just about hear him spouting off interesting facts about the number 100 and the etymology of the word “century.”

When I was helping my parents get ready to move a few weeks ago, my dad gave me a small stack of photographs from my grammy and grampy’s trip to Antarctica (fortunately labeled on the back in Grammy’s neat handwriting). I’ve been meaning to post them online for other family members to see, and I realized today would be a good day to do so.

We’re very fortunate that Grampy was working on an autobiography of sorts during his later years. I don’t think he had any serious plans to get it published, but he typed up numerous pages (on the computer, because he was hip like that) of memories in first person. In the last section my dad has, Grampy wrote about how the Antarctic trip came about, although it unfortunately stops before they actually went. My dad isn’t sure whether there’s more to the file and he just doesn’t have it, or if that’s where Grampy stopped writing. (Wilson family, if anyone has more of this document, please pass it along!)

But at any rate, my grandparents went on an Intourist/Linblad expedition to the Soviet Union in 1988, and they encountered several problems. One tour to the USSR hadn’t had enough people, so it was canceled and combined with another. The two guides with them weren’t very good — the American had lived in Moscow some decades earlier but hadn’t been back any time recently, and the other was pretty incompetent and seemed terrified of doing anything that would upset his bosses. And they were supposed to take a hydrofoil ride on Lake Baikal in Siberia, the deepest freshwater lake in the world, but when the tour group arrived, they were told no one had made arrangements for this to happen. Everyone in the group had lots of travel experience, and they insisted on getting this ride, even though they were told no several times. As Grampy wrote, “We did, in fact, get the hydrofoil ride and it was very interesting despite the rain which was rather heavy.”

A number of people from the tour group, including Grampy, wrote letters complaining about their experience after the trip, so Linblad made it up to them by offering either $500 off any tour to Asia or 50% off a tour to Antarctica. Because all the Asian tours included places my grandparents had already seen, they elected to go to Antarctica. They went during the northern hemisphere winter of 1988-89 (the winter before I was born), which of course was the southern hemisphere’s summer.

So here are those pictures my dad gave me, with the captions just as Grammy wrote on the backs (except where otherwise noted).

On Paulet Island
Nice reflections
As we landed we put our life preservers in a pile while we walked around.

Zodiac going ashore. Dad [my grampy] (back to camera) in front end.
A stuffed parka! I walked like a penguin with all those layers of clothes on. [This is on Half Moon Island.]

Seals (one scratching), Penguins
Friendly penguin. 3 or 4 seals in background.
Penguin covered hill
Penguins cooling off in snow
Some expedition members near a glacier [That’s my grampy in the foreground; this is Elephant Island.]
Part of a large tabular iceberg. These break off from the ice shelf around the continent.
Icebergs and snow covered island.

Lots of seals in background. Friendly penguin (either Adele or Gentue) [sic] in fore.
Gentue [sic] penguins
And here are a few more photos I have from Grammy and Grampy’s trip. My aunt Kathy emailed these around a few years ago when my cousin’s son (he was five or six at the time) didn’t believe his great-grandparents had gone to Antarctica. (The captions on these are my own.)

Grammy and Grampy on zodiac
Grampy (looking at the camera) on the zodiac
Grammy on Elephant Island
Grammy on Elephant Island
Grampy cleaning his boots
Grampy cleaning his boots

Because of my grandparents’ trip, I’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica too. Hopefully I’ll get the chance before it’s all melted away…

If you’re interested in reading more memories of my grammy and grampy, check out this post.

Happy birthday, Grampy! I miss you.



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