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Published: December 27th 2017
Here we come!
These little guys never failed to make me laugh!
When one thinks of the continent of Antarctica, many things come to mind. Imposing icebergs, cooooold cold temperatures, brave explorers, comical penguins, and perhaps even spouting whales. And yes, all of these things correctly represent this beautiful place. But for me, at the end of a 14 day adventure to the true “land down under”, I am left with awe and appreciation for the pristine nature that permeates every experience. Visitors to Antarctica are required to disinfect all equipment and clothing prior to stepping foot on the continent. Of course, nothing is to be removed from or left on the continent. Even deep footprints need to be “filled in” to avoid becoming a death trap for the wobbly little kneeless penguin. This is perhaps the last of the 7 continents to have avoided the corruption of terrorism. In fact, the Antarctic treaty, signed by 12 nations mandates that the continent be left open to all nations for the purpose of scientific and peaceful activities. Now how about that!
Standing on a high lookout, surrounded by glaciers, reflective waters with bits of sea ice here and there, colors of whitest white and glacial blues, and breathing in
Humpback whale tail and spouting amidst the frigid water and snowy mountainous backdrop.
the crisp clear air (sometimes permeated with the unforgettable smell of penguin rookeries), it’s hard to worry about new tax laws, Christmas preparations, or personal strivings. The sounds of penguins chattering, occasional boom of an avalanche echoing, and happy muted voices of our fellow adventurers are ones I hope not to forget. And yes, there was much to learn during our expedition with National Geographic. There were daily naturalist talks and nearly hourly new sightings. Aboard the good ship Explorer, Matt and I navigated ourselves quickly between different outdoor viewing platforms on the ship as we cruised the Antarctic Peninsula. My personal favorite was the bow – yes like the Titanic “King of the World!” location. I learned to follow where the Nat Geo pro photographers and naturalists were running to catch the closest view of enormous humpback whales, or the sleek killer whales, penguin flocks squirting out of the ocean, gliding sea birds, and the fast bow riding Peale’s dolphins. One even turned on its side and I met it eye to eye for a wonderful, joyful moment. Matt was a bridge junkie who quickly became one of Captain Wood’s groupies. Unbelievable that we were not only welcomed on
the bridge at any time, but also allowed to engage with the crew who patiently and cheerfully answered a barrage of questions. And what a talented crew they were. The Captain often detoured from our destination to skillfully maneuver the ship around to take in views of whales. He used several interesting techniques to park our ship in difficult places, including resting the bow on rocks or beach, and riding the anchor in areas with a current. Having a ship with icebreaking ability was soooo cool when passing through the spectacular Lemaire channel. With a deep scratching sound, the icebergs cracked and parted for us, one of the first ships of the season to make it through.
We were truly blessed on this journey with a few unusual happenings. But then in Antarctica, is anything ever really “the usual”? Our first blessing came in the form of relatively calm seas for crossing the Drake passage. We narrowly missed two storms that could have raised our seas to 9m swells. They actually said we experienced the “Drake lake”! This blessing gave opportunity to the most incredible fortune of witnessing one of the only sightings EVER of rare Type
D Killer whales. And boy did we witness! Several pods surrounded our boat and we were even able to launch a zodiac filled with scientists to photograph them underwater for the first time ever. Our whale expert, Dr. Connor Ryan, informed us that whale specialists have cruised these waters for years and NEVER seen them – a bit like the Lochness monster I suppose. Now we all have photographic evidence. A favorite memory occurred when a brave little gentoo penguin, porpoising beneath our kayak, squirted out of the water and plopped right onto the edge of our kayak. Matt shrieked, the penguin shot into the water like a rocket, and the whole incident now is just a laugh inciting snapshot of a memory of a wonderful day out on the waters around Neko island. And then there was the warm (30’s), clear skies that enabled us to have daily landings, hikes, zodiac cruises, kayaking among glaciers, and a frigid polar plunge for our new family plunger, Matt. There was even a proposal of marriage atop a continental vista on a bluebird beauty of a day! In between activities, the staff on board the ship kept us always stimulated with presentations
Several times the length of our ship, one of many imposing ice bergs. This one at the end of the Lemaire channel.
about everything from icebergs to whales to birds to life at an Antarctic research station. The photographic presentations were my favorite. I hope to always remember Michael Nolan’s points of ensuring that in every shot I consider lighting, composition, and moment. And most of all, thank you Jasper Doest for your poignant story reminding me to use photography to convey emotion and tell a story. Thank you also to Greg Treinish, our guest adventure speaker, for reminding me that nothing good comes easy and that in the end it will all work out. Something so clearly exhibited as we endured delays in returning home due to a power outage in Atlanta followed by a general transportation strike in Argentina. So now, here I sit in Plymouth at my messy table, piled with warm Christmas cards from family and friends, feeling the hopeful anticipation of family times together over the next week. Indeed, though we are always “on a journey” of some sort, in the end it will all work out!
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