Visually stunning. Those were the words used by one of our ship's guest lecturers to describe the two days we spent in Antarctica.
The sky was clear and we had miles and miles of visibility. We saw Leopard seals basking on an iceberg, Emperor penguins porpoising near the ship, Minke whales gracing us with their presence above water. Floating along were masterpieces formed by ice, with accent lighting just below the surface. While all this was euphoric, I did expect to see it.
An unexpected and pleasant surprise was the mirage. Mirages occur when there is a difference in air temperature near the sea surface. The effect was bizarre to see, yet intriguing. Now, it makes sense to me. Mirages usually occur in the desert, where the air is pure. Antarctica is exactly that.
While on the trip, I was reading "Endurance", by F.A. Worsley (the captain of the Endurance). This is the story of Shackleton's shipwreck in Antarctica. The very day I saw the mirage, I read Captain Worsley's description of the same phenomenon: "Most interesting, too, were the mirages... Bergs and pack-ice are thrown up and distorted into fantastic shapes." There's a 97-year gap between my trip and Shackleton's voyage. We may be fleeting, but the earth is constant.
There's no place to pick up souvenirs on this continent. So, we bought a toy penguin from the ship's gift shop while we were sailing through Antarctica. If anybody asks where it came from, I simply say, "The gift shop in Antarctica."