Antarctica: there and back
"Tongue and pen fail in attempting to describe the magic..." Ernest Shackleton 1908
Ernest Shackleton, one of the early explorers on this white continent says it well. In attempting to describe the sheer scale, remoteness, unforgiving beauty, and stunning wildlife surviving in its midst, I cannot do Antarctica justice in this brief space. But I will add my voice and vision of Antarctica...a continent remote yet connected to us all.
Departing Ushuaia, Argentina at the tip of South America, Mark and I board our French expedition ship crossing the Southern Ocean in rough windy seas with much staggering, scopolamine patches, and little white bags placed strategically along the deck rails and hallways just-in-case. Waves were recorded by Satellitte rising 30 feet, the highest on the planet at that moment and lower deck windows were awash.
After two days, we reach our first stop and get our land legs back at the Falkland Islands where we meet these colorful characters, the Rockhopper Penguins. It's not the camera - their eyes are indeed red.
Leaving the Falklands for two more days at sea we arrive in a wonderland called South Georgia Island where we board zodiacs and spend several days immersed in the company of thousands of King Penguins who are cradling an egg in their feet, tending to chicks or checking out their visitors...
South Georgia Island
Being protected and having no fear of humans the King Penguins are relaxed and curious as they go about their business. Kings don't make nests, they cradle a single egg on their feet covered by a flap of abdominal skin called a brood patch. I got a peak at some of the eggs when they lifted their brood patches to tend the eggs. It's a unique experience being with wildlife in their natural habitat when fear is absent - on both sides. Respect is all that is required.
Bidding farewell to the wonders of South Georgia, the anticipation of reaching Antarctica becomes palpable as we begin scanning the horizon for our first iceberg. Over the days ahead we are enthralled with the size and color of the multitude of icebergs carved in fantastical shapes by the wind and waves, calving in thunderous explosions. The icebergs are as blue as you see in the photos.
Boarding zodiacs to explore the marine rich waters that's part of the Antarctic ecosystem was magical. The icebergs could be in the form of huge tables miles long - suitable for giants - or blue saturated floating sculptures. Humpback whales and Orca encounters added to the excitement.
We not only see penguins on land but porpoising in the water like this Chinstrap with the Orca.
Then there was the fun of being with more penguins. This time aptly named Chinstraps, Gentoos with their red beaks, and Adelies with their black faces and white eye rings.
Hiking on the continent itself was magical. The sheer magnitude and panoramic setting of the snow covered mountains and glaciers made one feel small and vulnerable.
13 years ago we explored Antarctica for the first time and I fell in love with it all over again. I say a wistful goodbye as we head towards the infamous Drake's Passage and home. Asked what changes we observed I can say it hasn't lost its magic, but the warming of the Antarctic Peninsula is effecting the physical and living environment of Antarctica. Tangible effects of climate change are apparent and these changes, if not stabilized, will ultimately reach far beyond this white continent.
Until next time....Go well.