Ice, Ice Baby: Antarctica, Part 1

Since we did not have  internet on board (or rather, I was too cheap to pay for internet on board – and honestly the 8 day digital detox was not so bad) I couldn’t post in real time. But I did sit down while on the ship and jot down some thoughts. Here are my reflections on the experience after we did our first day of landings.

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Guys… I made it!!

antarctica 6

Right now, I am sitting in my cabin (which I somehow lucked into having by myself) aboard the Ocean Atlantic where we have just finished our first day of expedition landing. It is hard for me to put into words how I feel right now. Just a few days into the cruise and I feel like I have already seen so many amazing things that have made this experience beyond invaluable.

Here’s a list of five things I have seen in done on the cruise so far

  1. Seen multiple whale tales – I was majorly bummed at first because I missed the first whale sighting when we were still in the Beagle Channel off the coast of Ushuaia. For me, in addition to the spectacular icy scenery and landscapes, whale watching for multiple days on end was what drew me here. But we are sailing through a veritable whale soup, and since then we have sighted many whales – both from the cruise ship and from the zodiacs, where we are able to get in much closer. These majestic giants of the oceans are somehow the most graceful creatures on earth, and seeing them swim among the ice is truly mild-blowing.
  2. Been hunted by a seal – In addition to the Orca, the king predator here is a rather large seal with a very menacing toothy grin that is called the leopard seal. One got very close to our zodiac boat, and was eyeing us quite suspiciously. We got to see him very well, but I am glad we did not have a swimming with the seals experience in this case. One zodiac got a little too up close and personal with him: the seal bit the boat a few times and the resulting puncture wounds took that zodiac out of commission for the rest of the day. But this is apparently something they tend to do, so nothing to worry about!
  3. Sighted an Iceberg, dead ahead – Rather disturbingly, there have been quite a few mentions of the Titanic on board. No one seems to be superstitious that this will bring bad luck, so hopefully our reinforced hull is strong enough to battle all the ice we are seeing. We have travelled through some pretty dense ice fields, and as we are headed into colder water it is only expected to get icier. Some of the icebergs are easily larger than the ship we are on, which provides a nice menacing beauty to our journey.
  4. Walked through a mess of penguins – Our two landings so far have involved very close visits to penguin colonies. We are not supposed to get within five meters of wildlife, but they do not follow the same rule. Curious penguins will come up quite close to you. A mess is a perfect way to describe it, as the snow turns a sickening color of greenish yellow and brown from all the little deposits the hundreds of penguins have made. And the smell is fierce. But I think if you get tired of watching penguins awkwardly waddle about, then you are tired of life.
  5. Had a snowball fight in Antarctica – for myself and many on board, setting foot on the Antarctic continent is the primary driver of this journey. We accomplished this goal at the Argentinian Brown Station. From here we got to climb up to a scenic viewpoint overlooking Paradise Bay and frolic through the snow. When a snowball flew my way, I joined in on the snowball fight, which is probably the first snowball I have made in quite a few years. The snow was less like snow and more like little granules of ice, but you could pack it into a ball alright. It was less effective for snow angels.

And, just for balance, here are five things I have not done so far.

  1. Vomited – The waves in the Drake Passage are notoriously rough, and about half the ship’s passengers were down for two days with seasickness. Fortunately, I felt totally fine. I got to walk around the ship, staggering like a drunkard with its tossing and turning, but enjoying relatively empty observation areas… and buffet lines.
  2. Become a criminal mastermind – The second night at dinner, a couple organized a version of “Clue.” About twenty of us drew slips of paper out of a hat that told us who our target was, what murder weapon we had to use, and where the incident must take place. The game began at dawn, and by day’s end I had taken out a nice Danish man in the Bistro with a cookie. But I was not the game-winning assassin, as I was struck down while casually strolling by reception.
  3. Kidnapped a Penguin – As both common sense and the various briefings from the expedition team will tell you, visitors should not take any ice, plants, soil, animals, pieces of buildings, or anything from Antarctica. But a lot of people don’t think the rules apply to them, of course. Horrifyingly, I heard there once was a passenger who smuggled a penguin chick onto the ship. The room cleaning staff found the chick, alerted the captain, and attempted to bring the chick home… but from what I heard a reunion was not possible. A penguin family was destroyed, and most probably the penguin chick did not survive, all because people are idiots. I’m sticking by the sage advice given to us by our expedition leader: take nothing but photos and memories.
  4. Become a fan of Chinese karaoke – I am on a Chinese charter cruise, which features some nice Chinese food on board but also means we have been subjected to Chinese karaoke. We have a number of enthusiastic karaokers on board, and most are not blessed with beautiful singing voices. What they lack in skill they make up for in volume. I have to admit that hearing the loud, off-key screeching in a language that I find very harsh to begin with (although I am sure many people feel the same about English), is an experience that I have no desire to repeat again in my life. Ever. The accompanying music videos are pretty dope though.
  5. Cried – Every time I get on a zodiac or even look out the window, I am so incredibly moved by the scenery, the immense beauty of it all, and the fact that I have the opportunity to be here that I feel on the verge of tears. However, they would likely freeze on my face outside so fortunately they have not fallen. But I am often left dumbstruck, speechless, and completely astounded by the experience I am having in this beautiful frozen world.

For now we are continuing further south, attempting to cross the Antarctic circle and get to areas that are colder and full of sea ice. If we sailed home today I would be completely satisfied with my journey, but there are a few things I hope we get the chance to experience in the next few days: orca viewing, a sunny day with blue skies that will throw this world into a totally different light, and perhaps a polar plunge?

2 thoughts on “Ice, Ice Baby: Antarctica, Part 1

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