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Published: February 15th 2013
The White Continent. On The Ice. Antarctica. Whatever you refer to it as, there is no denying the pull that Antarctica can have on a person, way more when you are counting down the days to actually getting there.
We left South Georgia as bad weather set in, and had heard stories of boats recently not being able to reach some areas around the peninsula due to the amount of ice. In fact, one ship had become stuck several days before hand and an ice breaker had to be sent to break them free. Hopefully this was not a fate that awaited us.
Our first stop was Elephant Island, the location where Shackleton’s men had waited for his return for several months under two overturned lifeboats. Ironically, the spot is in fact marked by a statue, or bust, of the captain of the ship that took Shackleton back to the island to save his men, rather than anything representing either Shackleton himself or the hardships that the men must have had to face during their time there. They didn’t even have Monopoly or Scrabble to keep them busy, the poor souls. The water was a little choppy but we
were again treated to a multitude of penguins and seals both in the water and on the rocky shores, as we toured around for a while in the zodiacs. We were also able to get pretty close to a glacier there and once more appreciate the deep blue veins that are present in the ice that is seen in these types of locations.
Our next morning was spent at Half Moon island where we went ashore to see Chinstrap penguins. In the afternoon we then visited Deception Island. The island is actually a volcanic caldera (the middle crater bit of a volcano) and you can see various areas where steam is seeping from the crater under the water, rising to the surface of the sea. The beach is also black, volcanic sand, surely the only reassuring sign that there might be some degree of warmth as in a mere hour from landing we would be conducting a series of polar plunges. A polar plunge is a ridiculous idea where the participant, willingly, runs into the extremely cold water from the beach until their body is submerged and their heart has either a) stopped, or b) reduced their life expectancy
quite dramatically. When it came my turn to strip to my swim shorts many thoughts came and left my head, but the one that most demanded an answer was, ‘Why?’
The answer was simpler than I had realised; I was in Antarctica, therefore when else would I get to risk immediate death by my own hand? We ran, Brian, Tara and I, from the beach down to the water. I ran as fast as I could, my arms a blur of movement and my legs pistons from a machine lubricated the past few nights almost entirely by beer. As my feet entered the water, the nerve endings froze in the process of sending impulses to my brain, which was perhaps my ‘saving’ grace, as it allowed me to continue to run until I was deep enough to Hasslehoff into the water and submerge myself entirely. No doubt my run and dive were as graceful as a piano being kicked down several flights of stairs, and had I have been able to communicate the feeling travelling up my body with sound waves, it would have been much the same audio experience. Then the incomprehensible happened. Somewhere in my brain, I
thought ‘This isn’t so bad’, and swam for around ten seconds in the water (breaststroke, if you’re interested). I have thought about this several times since and can only conclude that I was in shock, for after those ten seconds my survival instincts finally kicked in and I high-tailed it out of the water as fast as possible, to recover on a now seemingly very warm beach. I even got a certificate for my efforts. I should also point out that there is a photo of me coming out of the water in which I am smiling. This was mostly due to a near rigor mortis state that my face was in, where every muscle was clenched tighter than The Cheeky Girl’s hotpants.
We spent some time with Adelie and Gentoo penguins the next day (any red on them in the pictures is not mud by the way, but guano, which is a nice word for poo), before heading to Port Lockroy to have a quick look around the museum and send postcards from Antarctica, the last opportunity to do so since we had sent them from The Falklands and South Georgia. That done, it was time for some
of us, that I will refer to as ‘The Happy Campers’, to grab our overnight gear and head to Damoy Point, where we would be setting up tents and sleeping on the ice – oh yes! We got the tents set up and were thankful to find that the provided sleeping bags were big and thick and looked oh so very warm. As dusk began The Happy Campers headed up a hill from the campsite to look down on Port Lockroy and celebrate Australia Day by waving Gill’s big flag and taking numerous pictures. The evening was unexpectedly quiet after the walk, with most of The Happy Campers heading to bed around 11.00 to 11.30. Climbing into the sleeping bag was warmer than I had first imagined, and I settled in to have an easy sleep amid the ice and light breeze.
The light breeze got worse during the night… We awoke around 6am to calls from the staff informing us of the need to pack up and go. The wind had picked up and we could see from our position the choppy swell of the water that we would have to traverse to get back around the bay
to the ship. Hurriedly, we dressed and began to pack up the tent, weighting down loose items with rocks until they were safely in bags. We then waited for the zodiacs to come and pick us up. At this point some of The Happy Campers appeared to change into Not So Happy Campers and we all endured a choppy and very wet ride back to the ship, where we were greeted with faces glad to see we had all made it alive, and cups of hot chocolate that were very well received. I had four – yum! The weather was pretty foul, and we were drenched through, but I had enjoyed the experience from start to finish and felt very happy that I had been able to take part in something that I will likely never repeat in my life again. A hot shower followed which I was very glad of and allowed my various blue bits to start circulating properly again, which is always nice.
That afternoon, the bad weather lifting slightly to enable us to land, we set foot on the Antarctic continent. It can be argued that we had already landed in Antarctica, and this is,
technically speaking, true, but our final landing was on the Antarctic Peninsula itself. This was what a lot of us had been waiting and hoping for, and there were numerous handshakes, hugs and pictures of the event. We landed at Almirante Brown in Paradise Bay, an Argentinean station. After taking pictures of ourselves at a landmark sign, where it points all over and says how far you are away from things, we climbed the hill to look down upon the bay, base and ship, and then slid on our arse’s down a trench in the hill side like children. A fitting end to an awesome landing.
And then, just like that, we were back on the ship. It was incredible to think of all that we had done, but the Drake Passage allowed us some (mandatory) time in our cabins to do just that. I’ll write a little on that in the next blog, along with the number one wildlife of the trip that we had and that I have failed to mention properly thus far; humpback whales 😊
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