There are two ways to get to Antarctica, by sea or by air. The former is expensive, the latter extortionate! We booked our "expedition cruise" to Antarctica months before coming to South America. We hadn´t really had a chance to give it much thought until we arrived in Ushuaia, suddenly realising we needed to hire parka jackets, print booking confirmations, get some U.S. dollars, etc. However, once we boarded the good ship Lyubov Orlova we were engrossed in our voyage and had a fantastic trip to an amazing place. It is going to be very difficult to write this blog without using over-the-top adjectives to describe pretty much everything we saw and did. And I think it will be too difficult to try to describe the sights in the same way I might describe a weekend city break. Antarctica is simply beyond my linguistic powers. However, I feel that I want to write something and so here are just some of the highlights of the trip...
. Surely the top highlight has to be the penguins. We saw thousands of gentoos, chinstraps, adelies, a king and a macaroni. They were all incredibly cute and fascinating to watch as they
went about their "penguin business" (a phrase used constantly by our expedition leader). I am not generally an animal lover, but I happily make an exception when it comes to penguins.
* The rest of the wildlife
. We also saw minke and humpback whales as well as various seals. One day when we were on a zodiac ride, a leopard seal was swimming around and underneath our boat. He was very curious and on a few occassions even tried to bite the zodiac! Luckily our zodiac driver was able to get us away without any damage. Fascinating to see the wildlife so close to us.
* Ice: glaciers and icebergs
Of course Antarctica is the "white continent" and ice is a fundamentally important part of its make-up, affecting everything from climate to wildlife. From our first sighting of tabular icebergs just after crossing the Drake Passage to the many we saw during our time in Antarctica, I was amazed at how interesting ice can be and how I never got bored just sitting and staring.
* Zodiac trips and cruises
. Zodiacs are basically large re-inforced rubber dinghys with a motor. They were our method of transport from
the ship to land but were also used to give small group cruises around the Antarctic waters. Our last outing in Antarctica was a late evening zodiac cruise near the Melchior Islands. The sun was low in the sky giving the ice a golden tint, but still giving us a bit of warmth. We cruised the waters, saw whales, crazy icerbergs and generally revelled in the Antarctic scenery.
* Fun in the snow
. From sliding down snow slopes to throwing snowballs, the snow certainly helped bring out the child in me! Great fun although apparently some of the older passengers were not too impressed with the snowballs...!
* The geology
. As a "geographer" I knew I was going to enjoy the physical geography of Antarctica and it didn´t disappoint. From volcanically active Deception Island to numerous glaciers I was constantly in awe and it was great to see things in real life which other people only see on TV or in textbooks.
* The weather
. It was highly changeable, we went from gale-force winds to blizzards to intense sunshine within a few days. But, it was never boring!
* The silence
. It was not always possible,
but on some landings we were able to wander off, sit down and enjoy a tranquility that I have never experienced before. On a still and sunny day, the silence was almost overwhelming - until the crashing sound of ice calving from a glacier reminded me where I was and made the moment even more perfect. I hope that in years to come if I am ever feeling stressed I am able to recall the peace I experienced in Antarctica. Well, I can hope...!
* The people
. I was a bit worried before going on this trip that we were going to be the only young people on board and that we would struggle to make friends. I shouldn´t have worried. We met loads of great people (old and young) from lots of different parts of the world who definitely enhanced the experience. I particularly have fond memories of playing cards ("Uno") in the ship bar until the early hours!
* The food and general ´cruise´ experience
. Another worry was that we would not fit in with the "cruise" or it would not fit in with us. Once again, no need to worry. We enjoyed excellent food (4
course lunches and dinners), but the atmosphere was never stuffy or uptight. I went to the Captain´s cocktail party in hiking trousers and a t-shirt and wasn´t out of place!
* The Drake Passage
. This stretch of sea between the bottom of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula is known as one of the roughest in the world. Our two day crossing to get to Antarctica was certainly tough going but also great fun. We were able to avoid sea sickness (unlike a lot of other passengers) and going out on deck became an expedition in itself!
Our experience in Antarctica is one that I will never forget. Even as I write my blog I am still trying to process through all of the things we saw and make sense of them. There were so many intense experiences in such a short space of time. But, what I do know is that it was an incredible trip and I am already thinking of how to return one day...
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