During our three day sail from the Falklands to Montevideo, we have had plenty of time to reflect on where we have just been and how it felt to be there. We have seen countless videos about Antarctica and its animals over the years and as always there is never a substitute for actually being there and seeing things with your own eyes. Everything is so huge; the scale is immense in Antartica. Man-made items can provide some sense of size, but most of the time there was nothing man-made there. You see an iceberg in the distance, sail toward it, and spend an entire dinner sailing past it and there would still be more. The lack of color began to play on my mind. Everything was black or white, mostly white. Even when the sun was out, more than I expected, the bluish hue of the water and eerie aquamarine emanating from the deep fissures in the ice added to the palette, but not enough. I missed green. Often we try to take photos without people in them, but those bright red jackets the ship issued us all were a welcome break in the monotony.
Being here gave me renewed appreciation for the brave, but foolish men who try to hike to the South Pole. On a side note I was surprised to learn that those who hike to the pole do not hike straight across. Most of the coast is lined with high cliffs and/or walls of ice. They start the hikes where they can land on the shore of the Ross Sea, hike to the pole and turn about 50º to hike out to the Amundsen Sea ( or vice versa). I’m not trying to minimize their achievements; it’s just not straight across.
As it turned out, coming here during the end of the season was a good idea. The weather was as warm as it’s ever going to be, hovering around the freezing mark. The peninsula was ice-free and the captain could sail into nooks and crannies that would have still been iced-in earlier in the summer. If we had come a bit earlier, the penguin rookeries might have been fuller of animals, but this way it was easy to focus on the stars remaining. Just like in Africa, we enjoyed seeing the animals in their natural environment. As a kid I was a zoo aficionado, but there is no substitute for seeing the animals where they really live. If we had been here longer we could have traveled to more rookeries and seen more different types of seals and penguins, but overall the fauna in Antartica is not diverse. Biologists and bird-watchers would appreciate the subtle differences, but they would be lost on me.
Wearing all those layers kept us warm and comfortable, but they were a real pain. I had mittens the size of pumpkins, which flipped down so I could get a few fingers out to turn on my camera and click the shutter. With three pairs of socks, my ankles were so tightly packed that my agility was severely curtailed. Cutting back to two sock layers helped a bit, but the rubber boots were stiff and almost came to my knees. I brought along a back pack to so I could take off a layer or two when I got hot and sweaty hiking and I did, but it would get tangled in my life jacket and hood and by the time I would get it all off and on, it was time to move back to the cold winds of the zodiac ride back to the ship. And then there were the icy days when I also had the straps from the hiking poles wrapped around my wrists. And then the icy winds got my nose running, running, running. One kleenex was not enough for one blow. And I was just out enjoying myself, not trekking across the entire continent or working at a research station for a few months. I really admire the people who spend months here.
I have included a short video our guide made of the trip here, but have to reduce the size of the videos so dramatically to get them to mount on mytripjournal, that it may be better watched at this link