Five Days in Antarctica

Maryse Gordon

05 Mar 2019

Landing on the Cold Continent

We have flown from New York to Santiago to Punta Arenas, and finally to King George Island, the flight port for Antarctica. We are in the middle of nowhere on our way to explore the end of the world for five days – and I am so so excited that this has finally happened. It’s 0 °C, snowing, and a little windy – but I made it!

My first real life penguin (not the one painted on our plane) was on the beach while waiting for our zodiac boat to take us to our new home for the next five days! There are a bunch of international stations here: Chile, Russia and Argentina. There is a church and a gift shop where my passport will be stamped. I wonder how this trip will change my perspective on life…!

The Landscape

I was 100% visually overwhelmed by the scenery – which only used two colours, blue and white! It was so bright, and the contrast between any visible area of land and the reflection of the mountains and icebergs in the water has definitely made this the most beautiful place I have ever seen on earth. Light absorption created these turquoise splashes in the snow which were really pretty.

Sailing down the Lemaire Channel was a highlight for me and most others. All that sea ice, creating such beautiful shapes. Icebergs – so many interesting formations of these floating structures! Light absorption and reflection in the still water showed some true examples of natural beauty. My favourite icebergs were those that looked almost like they had caves carved inside them, or those home to wildlife as they slept or observed things passing by.

The Wildlife

Whales – this was probably my top sighting. Seeing these elusive creatures in the wild, in this huge blue ocean was extremely special. Watching them at the surface breathing out these huge blows of air, before a deep sea dive, signaled by their flutes flipping out of the sea, was incredible. I must admit I was scared when I saw how big they actually are up close... I was lucky enough to see humpback and minke whales every day. The orcas did not visit on this trip but I will see you someday orcas!

Penguins – everywhere… and they stink! But these are some comical animals to observe. They are very regimented in their daily activity when nesting. Collecting stones to build their nest for their babies. Waddling up and down the penguin highway where they always have right of way, sometimes taking a toboggan slide when it was easier and more fun to get down a slope. There were a few fights from penguins stealing each other’s stones – criminal penguins are real! Laying in penguin poo, which I fell into a couple times, their white tummy is often red... but then they would play about in the water, in their groups, swimming around, following our boat and riding waves, which was pretty cool! We saw Adélie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins.

Seals – they have the cutest little faces (except the leopard seal I saw who looked like a dinosaur) with these big black eyes that stare you down when they want to know what on earth you’re looking at! They sleep a lot and snore, loudly. While out kayaking I got really close to a few, they looked like velvet lumps floating on an ice sheet! Weddell, leopard, crabeater and a baby elephant seal. The baby elephant seal I observed knew he was on camera and posed for a few shots before rolling over and going back to bed!

The Skyline

So the sun doesn’t really go down in Antarctica in the summer. There are around 22 hours of full daylight, but at 11:30pm the sun will lower and colour the sky. It’s back up again at 2am – you are never in darkness so you always have the opportunity to watch the world go by.

Weather in Antarctica is no joke. Things can change literally in a matter of minutes. When I landed it rained, snowed, was windy and then the sun burnt away the clouds for the next four days. It didn’t fall below 1 °C – it was quite warm with all the activities that were going on. You may get chilly on the transfer from ship to land, but that was it! We were VERY lucky with how we experienced Antarctica. I am not sure I would ever get a trip like that again in such a volatile climate.

The Activities

What better way to see Antarctica than from the sea, in a bright red kayak! I kayaked every day, and it was stunning and so much fun! You could get closer to the animals and further away from any sound on land, so you could just hear the ocean and whatever was floating around in or on it! Penguins would jump around right by the boat and you could wander over to the sleeping seals. We didn’t get any whale activity while kayaking... which was probably a good thing! I dunno! Paddling through ice is no joke! Crunching away at the sea, and manoeuvring around or over ice sheets was a lot of work. We were trapped at one point and needed a zodiac rescue! Still, so much fun, great polar exercise!

Another new experience for me was snowshoeing. I did three hikes in Antarctica – the first got me used to the shoes and was very pleasant, but the second was absolutely terrifying. Having no perception of depth, walking on unfamiliar terrain and in these weird shoes... I made it to the top of the mountain and it was well worth the terror! Truly conquered some fear that day! Thankfully the way down we used the snowshoe as a mini sledge, and slid all the way back! The third hike was on Deception Island – it’s an active volcano and was used as a base for whale hunting! We hiked to the peak, again conquering some fears – this time fighting the wind and snow that made you understand the real conditions that Antarctica faces. We were lucky to have blue sky on this trip, but this made you realise the reality of life here – especially in the winter!

What was interesting about this trip was the daily lectures about what we had seen on the day, as well as the details given to us on the incredible history of the 7th continent. So many people visited this place exploring – crossing over horrific sea conditions to see what was at the end of the world. Some were fighting over territory. Sadly, some came to hunt. In Deception Island we got to see some old ships that didn’t quite make it, as well as old stations for whaling. How anyone could kill these or any other creature for oil or “research” is beyond me but it’s a fact of the history of the world. It was so fascinating to understand the history of the 7th continent.

The Polar Plunge

You cannot go to Antarctica without taking part in the Polar Plunge... Yep – that happened! For someone who constantly complains about the cold, it was one thing to go to Antarctica but to actually jump into the sea with all its ice and zero-degree coldness…! I lost all feeling in my feet for about 40 minutes! The guides were instructed to pull me STRAIGHT out as soon as my toe hit the water. I plunged straight in, got pulled out, took a shot of vodka and spent the next hour in the shower. The following three hours or so I was tingling all over, my nerves were still trying to figure out what just happened – this was the best day of the entire trip... we then had a barbecue and danced on the deck to 80s music.

When people say you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I finally connected with this meaning. I have never seen such truly beautiful examples of nature anywhere in the world. Anyone thinking of doing this, I cannot recommend it enough – I travel a lot and nowhere on this planet have I experienced anything like this.

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Comments

ROSS BARTHOLOMEW

11/3/2019 3:21 PM

Thanks for sharing stories and photos about your trip.

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