When my spouse suggested a trip to Antarctica, I was apprehensive. It’s so far away and uncivilized. Not to mention, cold. But, KC is an adventurer at heart, and I’m smart enough to know not to pass up a once in a lifetime trip. Plus, her world traveling 85 year old cousin, Rita, said Antarctica was the best place she’d ever visited. So, more than a year ago, we booked our trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. As an aside, I’d travel again in a heartbeat with Quark. They are a top notch environmentally conscious company that kept us riveted with adventure and education from start to finish. Bravo, Quark!
Antarctica is the coldest, highest and driest continent on earth. It has no permanent human population. Yet, many countries lay claim to its various territories. Thankfully, those countries have agreed to disagree by signing the Antarctic Treaty. The thrust of the treaty is to ban military activity and to protect Antarctica for scientific and conservation purposes. I hope the treaty holds and that Antarctica remains a land owned by no country. Yet, protected by the world for peaceful purposes.
Our journey to Antarctica began in Ushuaia, Argentina. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world situated at the tip of South America. The city is nestled between the Martial Mountains of the Andes and the Beagle Channel. The Beagle Channel is a 150 mile long straight that ends at Cape Horn where the Drake Passage begins. The Drake Passage is a narrow 500 mile wide stretch of wild water where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. There are no land masses to impede the wind around this stretch of the globe and the water funneled through the narrow passage make this the most violent ocean on the planet. Needless to say, I was more than a little worried about crossing the Drake Passage.
We embarked on the Quark’s Ocean Diamond around six in the evening. The Beagle Channel was fairly calm and my confidence was high that the sturdy vessel would handle the waves of the Drake just fine. The ship’s physician, Doc Ryan, advised us not to wait to get sea sick. That would should medicate ourselves regardless of the calm. As we motored through the Beagle Channel, we ate supper, got to know our shipmates and became familiar with the ship that would be our floating home for the next ten days. We took Doc Ryan’s advice and loaded up on the seasick medicine. The barf bags stacked on the tables in the dining room and stuffed every two feet along the railings of the hallways were an ominous harbinger of things to come. Shortly after we fell asleep, the ship began to rise and fall, shudder and creak. Anything in our room not secured went flying. Doors opened and closed and I remember hanging onto my mattress worried that I’d go flying too. The good news is that the seasick medicine worked. The not so good news is that it’s powerful stuff that left me groggy with blurred vision and a wicked dry mouth.
The next morning at breakfast, the Drake got worse than the night before. Waves crashed against the windows and dishes slid from tables crashing to the floor. Walking was an exercise in balance. I’m sure we looked like drunk zombies weaving to and fro along the hallways of the Ocean Diamond. For two days, our vessel rocked and rolled, creaked and groaned in the chaos of the Drake. Truth be told, I kind of liked it after a while. Maybe it was the drugs, I don’t know. But, I got used to the rolling of the ship and liked how it felt as though I was being lulled and rocked to sleep. When my eyes weren’t closed, I attended the various lectures held by the amazing expedition staff teaching us about the wonders of Antarctica.
On the third day of our voyage, the waters calmed and the South Shetland Islands came into view. They were snow covered mountains in the distance lying like quiet beacons beckoning us to them. Sea birds swooped behind the ship and the occasional whale blew at the surface. Our first taste of Antarctica came at Deception Island. The island is the caldera of an active volcano. We entered the narrow slit in the caldera and sailed into the bay. It was like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. My brain didn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. A world unlike anything I’d ever seen. An icy watery landscape of various shades of blues, grays and whites. So quiet, powerful and rare. The only sound came from the ship’s purring engine. I think we were all dumbfounded into muteness at the sight. Mountains covered in snow and ice. Icebergs dotted the surface of the water. The sky was cloudless and the bay as calm as a hush. The sun illuminated the ice in otherworldly blues. I’m at a loss to describe any better what my eyes saw.
We spent the next several days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula. Chin Strap and Gen Too Penguins greeted us at various stops along the way. Unafraid and curious, they delighted us with their close presence. Every chance I got, I’d sit quietly and listen and watch them. Antarctica is their home and we just visitors. I wanted to be a worthy guest. In return, I was rewarded with their closeness. Every time I think about them, I smile or laugh. We also saw a few whales, seals and loads of sea birds. All going about the business of life in a harsh yet beautiful and amazing place. That brings me to the lessons learned from pristine Antarctica.
Life is fleeting and precious. We only get to be here a short time. Embrace the sun and your ability to live life to its fullest in spite of the setbacks and difficulties. Jump into life without hesitation. I fell in love with Antarctica. I didn’t expect to love a place I thought was so cold. The truth is that it warmed my heart in many ways and made me so much more excited about the preciousness of this life. Thank you Antarctica. I love you.
This is the first among many blogs I hope to write about Antarctica. Thank you for reading. Cheers and peace.