The Antarctic weather was unpredictable and often inhospitable throughout our 1-week expedition cruise. Dramamine came in really handy the last day as we sailed the Gerlach Straight. I popped them like candy before cautiously eating dinner. Just a third of our 42 shipmates were at the tables; most took just one bite of their delicious Argentine steak before calling it an early night. But just the day before, the sun was beaming, water was glassy smooth, and I comfortably shed my upper layers down to a tank top during a hike to a viewpoint over Paradise Bay. Our captain joined us and mentioned that it was the most beautiful day he’d seen in at least 10 years. It was a beauty so vast and still, that the exuberant sense of joy of that moment felt deeply imprinted within me.
One of the last truly wild places on Earth, Antarctica is at once brutal and beautiful. Separated from the rest of the world by the Southern Ocean, which circles the globe, Antarctica has never had a native human population, though managing the increasing human impact on the environment is a complex and difficult issue. Getting there can be a challenge: most visitors arrive via shipboard group tours.
Visiting Antarctica is on many people's bucket list. I am fortunate to have traveled there to witness first hand the awesome beauty. My trip on a small expedition ship included stops in Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia Island. There were so many highlights on a this 2-3 week adventure, but none as exciting as seeing penguins at play on the giant icebergs near Point Wild. This is very near the place where Shackleton's men spent four cold and miserable months in 1916, while Shackelton sailed for help. The trip to Antarctica in a small ship made it possible to do two zodiak raft excursions nearly every day. That is not possible if you visit Antarctica in a big cruise ship. It was from one of these zodiak trips that I was able to witness the spectacle of marching penguins on city-block sized icebergs. Truly an amazing sight to see. If you want to see wildlife in a largely untouched setting, a trip to Antarctica is the thing to do. There are many companies that run tours to Antarctica, and prices vary greatly, so check out several operators and compare the itineraries and prices. I visited in January, and believe that December to early February is the best time to visit. It offers warmer weather, and you also get the chance to see many Penguin chicks during this time.
Brisk winds whipped the chill factor to 11 degrees and below as shifting ice, spastic snowstorms and remote conditions readjusted itineraries daily on the Antarctica expedition. But no one seemed to mind when Mother Nature took the helm. Every unexpected change created unbelievable moments. Around every corner, ice sculpture masterpieces floated in a sea of silence. Lone penguins stood sentry on icebergs and peered toward the sea. I long to return to Antarctica some day. Perhaps nowhere on earth can you better understand an important life truth: What lies below the surface is often the most important.
I was mesmerized by the icebergs in Antarctica- each unique like a snowflake. But in addition to beautiful looks, they also had a personality which is what I think drew them to me the most. An iceberg is a large piece of freshwater ice that has broken off a glacier or an ice shelf and is floating freely in open water. They move slowly, barely detected – slowly following the currents and winds. Sometimes their center of balance is disrupted, and all hell breaks lose and they flip, thrash, and roll in an effort to find that beautiful balance again. They may subsequently become frozen into pack ice and not move for a while. Surprisingly only one-ninth of the volume of an iceberg is above water on average. The shape of the underwater portion can be equally beautiful, but hard to decipher. How do you see these cold beauties? Cruise to Antarctica! More information on how it works: http://www.ottsworld.com/blogs/how-to-cruise-to-antarctica/
Ah yes the Emperor penguins. They may walk funny on land but at sea they can dive up to 1,850 feet (565 meters) deeper than any other bird, and stay under for more than 20 minutes. They are the largest of their species standing about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall. The males keep their soon-to-be chick's eggs warm by balancing the eggs on their feet while Mom is on a food feast some 50 miles (80 ks) away. She must journey this far to open water.
There are few places with as much ambiance as the Coffee House at McMurdo Station. When you drum up your ideas of what a coffee and wine bar in Antarctica should look like, this matches to perfection. I enjoyed my time there so much that I also spent numerous hours behind the bar serving up bottles of wine and lattes with an occasional biscotti to scientists, contractors, and several notables who traipsed through the Station as "distinguished visitors." The building was once used as an exclusive Officer's Club, but has since been opened up to the summer population of as many as 1100 people. After a cold day of work or weeks in a field camp, folks can warm up with a coffee or hot cocoa; often with a spot of Amaretto, Baileys, or whiskey thrown into the frothy mix. The fact that dry milk is the staple on station is usually secondary to the use of a 'real' espresso machine, and it also makes special deliveries of fresh New Zealand milk by friends in the Air Force all the more special. The coffee house culture runs deep here where people come to play a game of cribbage, socialize over knitting, chat with the bartender/barista, listen to live local music, watch a movie, or just escape from the weather.
This little slice of life was captured on 35mm red scale film (manufactured by Lomography) to give it an added twist. I originally wanted to enter this photo into the CATCH contest under the 'Unlikely Art' theme but I asked the Digital Team at AFAR if I could do a print giveaway for the online community and they approved. The first commenter to correctly identify what the item is in the photo will receive one free print (of the photo above) from me, Colin. Hi.
After arriving to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, when temperatures are still cold early in the summer season, an unassuming hiker can unknowingly catch the only moisture in the air from his breath and hold it on the tips of his eyelashes. The only indication of the ice build up to him is a slight 'sticking' of the eyelids if he blinks for too long. But for those around him, it is a frosty sight!
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Antarctica made my list of ‘wow’ travel moments, it’s one of those few destinations that seems to inspire everyone who visits. The signature moment for me while on a fly-cruise to the seventh continent was when I got to see massive icebergs in person. Of course everyone expects to see endless ice when visiting Antarctica, but to witness the stark and powerful icebergs floating by just a few meters away is truly a personally transformative experience. I experienced Antarctica on a fly-cruise, a way to see Antarctica without sailing through the Drake Passage. The advantages are that passengers save considerable time and avoid most of the nausea inducing moments that make the Drake so infamous.
They own this part of the globe, and maybe that’s why it’s so special. It may be one of the last places on earth where man hasn’t taken over. A world where humans are not the center of attention – that’s exactly what draws me here. The wildlife in Antarctica is vast and certainly special. You are entering their world - from birds to seals, to penguins, to krill, to whales – they all go on in their circle of life hunting each other in the freezing cold waters they have adapted to. A ferocious animal in the water, this Leopard Seal and young baby nursing on an iceberg barely moved as we pulled the zodiak up close for a look. When humans step into their world, they barely blink. A penguin may stop and stare, and then move right on by you within inches knowing that you are no threat. Go enter the animal kingdom of Antarctica while you can! How to get there: Cruise through the Drake Passage and set foot on the 7th Continent. There are lots of options for Antarctica cruises - I used Expedition Trips. http://www.expeditiontrips.com/
I have said repeatedly that I have no interest on being on a cruise. The confinement and mode of travel just don’t fit my personality and desires. However there have always been a few exceptions to this statement – Antarctica is one of them. Cruising on an expedition style ship is really the only main way to get to Antarctica, so I was willing to make an exception to my rule and tackle the world of cruising. The most frequently asked question I have received after returning is “What exactly do you do on the ship all day?” After spending 10 busy activity-filled days on the ship I can now answer that question and more for those of you interested in cruising to the bottom of the world. And if you aren’t interested in it – then you should be – as it was one of the most spectacular regions I’ve ever experienced on this globe. More information about the ship, activities, food, cabins, landings, temperature and wildlife here: http://www.ottsworld.com/blogs/how-to-cruise-to-antarctica/
A popular option for those who want to avoid the time and nausea associated with crossing the Drake Passage, fly-cruises to Antarctica feature the best of Antarctic exploration. Passengers fly from Punta Arenas, Chile directly to Frei Station, Antarctica where they meet their cruise ship for a five-day exploration of the icy continent. This is a fantastic option for people short on time or for those who want to skip the dangers associated with crossing the Drake Passage.
The first two days on the ship I think I went to at least 5 kayak meetings; safety briefings, mud room loading and unloading, gear fittings, and a ‘weeding out’ meeting. I didn’t have the experience required and I was ready to back out. The last time I had done real sea kayaking was about 8 years ago, I had no real training or experience and had never done a wet exit. But Ian, the boat's kayak master, took pity on me and allowed me to still participate as long as I was in his kayak. And thanks to his kindness – I was able to experience the best thing about a cruise to Antarctica – kayaking. The first time we went out I was excited and nervous, but the moment I got in the kayak I realized why it was so special – you were at a whole different perspective – at water level. As we paddled away from the ship my senses were heightened as it felt like my whole view of the landscape had changed. One of the most beautiful things about kayaking was the fact that it was quiet – super quiet. You were able to get close to the shore and cliffs where the other boats couldn’t go and it was then when you realized just how massive the icebergs, glaciers, and mountains were. I felt small. But I felt wonderful. More Information on Cruising Antarctica with a kayaking supplement: http://www.expeditiontrips.com/antarctica-cruises-peninsula/antarctica-cruise-t3061.html
Getting to the White Continent isn't easy. Ask anyone. So after a 3 day sail from South Georgia Island with nonstop 30 foot waves and seasickness that had me begging for mercy, this little guy welcomed me into his world of solitude and stillness. What struck me most about this place is that it's truly a natural paradise, but one I wasn't expecting. I've seen animals, I've seen landscapes, I've seen what the planet can do. But here there are no paths drawn by humans, only animals. This is their world, not ours. This adorable penguin, who I'm quite certain has no twitter page nor tumblr account, showed me for the first time that we people, in our puffy red parkas, were the insignificant ones.
They say after a winterover in Antarctica that the human brain does not operate quite as clearly as before. While I felt pretty sharp after my winter on the Ice, I had to think twice when I walked outside on a Sunday morning to see the bronze, orange, purple, pink, and green streaks across the horizon from horizon to ceiling. Nacreous clouds are gaseous clouds that form high in the upper atmosphere above Antarctica during the 'springtime.' They catch the sun's rays long before they reach the terrestrial island where a few lucky winterovers can witness the surreal brushstrokes in the sky.
No one could have ever imagined that one day there would be a tourist shop here, selling T-shirts and maps, fleece jackets and bumper stickers. But today there is, at this renovated former British refuge hut. Roughly half of the 30,000 who visit the Peninsula each year by tourist ship comes to this shop. Its post office processes nearly 20,000 postcards every summer season! Surrounded by a beautiful bay, home to a whale skeleton assembled by one of Jacques Cousteau’s crews some years back, Pt. Lockroy is the go-to place along the Peninsula.
In my work at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, I was fortunate to take a Sea Ice Survival Class. Luckily, my instructor felt adventuresome and instead of conducting boring ice core tests, we climbed to the top of an Antarctic island and explored the Ice Caves of the Erebus Ice Tongue. A photo cannot picture and words cannot describe the beauty that I witnessed. All shades of the color Blue were present. As we sat in awe inside the cave, our instructor asked us all to remain silent. It was the quietest time I have ever experienced. I could literally hear the heartbeat of the person next to me. Truly, an experience of a lifetime!
Working at McMurdo Station offers no promise of seeing wildlife. However, one amazing summer weekend, a crowd of Adelies came to visit and observe the human contingency posted at Ross Island, Antarctica. Humans are prevented by order of the International Antarctic Treaty from approaching, touching, or altering behavior of wildlife in Antarctica, but that does not keep the penguins from curiously waddling in the midst of camera-toting, parka-clad people and altering their behavior.
During austral winter in Antarctica, it will stay dark for six months. We met & fell in love right before the longest sunset in the world whilst watching slowly shifting iridescent nacreous clouds roll in. They are formed by tiny ice crystals and have the color of bathtub bubbles.
Wish I could have picked one and brought it home just to show the color! Amazing what nature "grows"! The small ship experience is the way to see Antarctica. Exploring through the icebergs in a Zodiac raft on a clear day is some unforgettable moments in time! Sensational!
Climb into a sturdy kayak for a polar safari, where you encounter the ice and its creatures such as the Crabeater seal, up close. Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic experts were the first to pioneer kayaking in the polar regions, which means you are in good hands as you paddle through the berg fields. This expedition is particularly satisfying as you’re bound to experience a slew of sightings in this amphitheater of ice, snow and sea life. You may make eye contact with an Antarctic tern plunge diving for krill or hear the cheerful sound of “ice krispies,” or glacier-trapped gas that crackles as it escapes from floating bits of ice. Discover more: http://www.expeditions.com/destinations/antarctica
All that remains of the whaling station at Whalers Bay in Deception Island are some rusted out buildings, and whale skeletons. It’s strange to walk around the buildings and imagine what the area was like in it’s height of operation. Big boiling vats have since sunken into the ground, machinery has rusted, buildings are buckling, and a ‘memorial’ cemetery was erected to honor the cemetery that was destroyed in a 1969 volcanic eruption. Whale Oil was a growing industry in the early 1900′s. The oil was used in oil lamps and to make soap and margarine. Because of the demand Whaling ‘stations’ were popping up in Antarctica and one of the booming ones was at Deception Island. Deception Island was the perfect place to set up a whaling operation since it’s unique horseshoe shape provided great shelter for the ships and since it was volcanic it actually had the chance of being warm at times. The perfect place to take photos. http://photography.ottsworld.com/Antarctica/Deception-Island-Abandoned/
This might not look like a happy housewarming, but given a flat white field of snow, these tools and a couple bags of survival equipment provide exactly what you need for reliable and potentially life-saving shelter in Antarctica. "Happy Camper" (aka, snow school or outdoor survival training) was one of the requirements for my contracted work supporting the US Antarctic Program. We learned all sorts of skills including sawing snow blocks for quinzee huts, building trenches to quickly get out of the wind, melting snow for water, setting up tents, understanding the symptoms of hypothermia, and all sorts of survival techniques to stay warm and healthy until help arrives. This course was critical to learning how to STAY protected from the harsh continent. I still cannot understand how Shackleton and his crew survived so long in the frigid outdoors, but I am confident that I could make do for a week or so!
Unforgettable. The first steps onto the frozen continent of Antarctica will be embedded in my mind forever. Not just the picture memory, but the feel of the place: The dry cold that entered my airways so fast that my nose hairs froze. Thin air absent of smell beyond a touch of the lingering C-17's jet fuel. The crunch of groomed ice beneath my feet. An awareness that I wasn't really supposed to take photos and hold up the transport from the plane, making my my initial photos cockeyed and irregularly composed; sort of like the Continent itself. The incredible expanse of whiteness and emptiness. Inner giggles that I, of all people, was in such an unusual location that few ever touch. And, wondering how this would become my second home over the course of the next five months.
Penguins, penguins, penguins. They are everywhere in Antarctica and it doesn’t take long to become immune to their cute and almost human ways. But what is never lost is the magic of standing in the midst of a massive penguin colony, listening to the shrill cries and observing heart-warming scenes of parental love. One of my favorite penguin encounters was on Orne Island, home to thousands of chinstrap penguins. Named for their unusual coloring, chinstraps are amongst the most recognizable penguins species.
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