Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Touched by the luminous shades of the ice continent

I'm not sure how to start this post off – how to begin to describe the beautiful experiences and memories I've just had the privilege of having through 10 days visiting the Antarctic Peninsula. I think the easiest way in true Susan style is just to rattle these off.....starting with my most treasured memory of the beautiful subtleties of the luminous light of the glacial snow rising up out of clear water tinged with blue icebergs, towering towards a bright blue sky with dotted white clouds. The way the water and snow catches and throws the light, the subtleties that the eye starts to pick up and the glow of a nearly never setting sun is something that has marked me forever. Not just on those clear bright days, but especially as the ship make its way slowly through icebergs floating between towering mountains of snow and rock with clouds and mist rising. Spectacular. Oh and those sunsets. Breathe Susan breathe!

The pure majesty of the landscape is something that even surpassed all the very cute (and smelly!) penguins diving through the water and rushing up through their highways up to their colonies (we visited numerous Gentoo, Chinstrip – definitely the most characterful and Adelie colonies), lounging seals on precariously thin slabs of ice (including Leopard, Elephant, spotty Weddell), the poetic serenity of a humpback whale diving in a glowing 2am sky, beautiful spotty cape petrels (or pretzels as I called them), albatros and other sea birds dipping their wings around a rocking ship and hiking up the snow to a panoramic view to whip off layers of clothing and being rewarded by a giant snowslide back down!

The pics are pretty self explanatory – but to give a bit more on the actual journey – after leaving Ushuaia and feasting on an open buffet of goodies (yes after hostels and camping, it was a glorious sight to behold!) we sailed into the Drake Passage – some say the roughest passage of water in the world, and 2 days later emerged (me proudly with no throwing up!) at the South Shetland Islands. A short trip like the one I took would normally average about 5 days of 2-3 landings a day – meaning that for the start and end of the trip you lounge around, listen to lectures, and there are 5 days when you actually explore the islands and set foot on the 'continent'. Out of about 10 landings, 3 were actually on the Antarctic Peninsular, and the others on islands along the Peninsular and on the Shetland Islands.

The landings were mainly to visit penguin colonies, to see research stations and historic sites, and often combined with 'zodiac' (the rubber boats you launch on) cruising around icebergs to see (and taste!) the icebergs up close, see seals and other animals. Some of the most glorious scenery however was sailing through channels – for instance the Lemaire Channel which we were lucky to go through as the ice often prevents entry.

The Expedition staff presented us with a very detailed log of all our activities, as well as a fantastic slideshow of us (rather than all our pics which are of what we were seeing!). So if you are interested in more detail check out the Ship's log or the map of where we actually went.

On board I met some wonderful people – many on long travels, some on short breaks, a couple of people who had been dreaming and planning such a trip for 8 years, others that decided at the last moment to travel, honeymooners, groups of friends travelling and quite a few single travellers. A broad range of ages – not all reitirees, and from countries all around the world. Ours was an Argentinian ship (others are Russian, American etc) so when we visited some of the Chilean and Argentinian bases there were eager crew and warm welcomes. Also we were lucky to visit a US research station, Palmer Station (they only receive 12 ships a season) so got to have a look around a functioning research base which was very cool!

There are many many photos (sadly they tally in the thousands) but I've tried to pick out some that try and capture my lingering memories of this majestic place. Something to leave you with – a quote that I pinched from a fellow traveller Josh (check his blog out) who helped convince me to do the trip! I think it goes some of the way to summing up how this majestic continent leaves you feeling...

Antarctica left a restless longing in my heart beckoning towards an incomprehensible perfection forever beyond the reach of mortal man. Its overwhelming beauty touches one so deeply that it is like a wound.
- Edwin Mickleburgh

1 comment:

  1. You've seen a leopard seal!
    That's one of the things on by bucket list is to see one and take an underwater pic of it.
    They are absolutely one of the scariest animals I can think of, but so beautiful.