Paradise Bay and the Antarctic Peninsula
We finally made it… Antarctica! The real deal. No more islands; rather, the actual continent. The journey down here was incredible, and the last few days were especially nice, but being here has made the trip all the more special. The scenery was impressive, to say the least. Icebergs, mountains, varying shades of whites and blues, even more penguins and animal life… Nice! Some might wonder why anyone would want to visit this cold, barren place. It is hard to explain, and words unfortunately cannot truly express how magnificent it is to be in the middle of it all. To top it all off, this would be a day full of expeditions for me…
The morning started off with a mountaineering expedition to cross one of the nearby glaciers. The guides could not tell me the name of the glacier, but I can tell you that it was gorgeous. We began by getting our gear from the guides and suiting up. As our trip in the morning would be longer than the other land visits we were the first to leave the ship and arrive and Brown Station, an Argentinian station which is clearly unoccupied by people at the moment. In its place were at least 100 Gentoo penguins! After landing we got our gear on and snow shoed to spend a little private time with the penguins on shore before other people from our ship arrived.
Then we began hiking up towards a nearby peak. We were able to navigate ourselves to the very top which provided striking views of the bay. From there we tied ourselves up with rope and trekked our way towards the other side of the glacier. We had a pretty intimate group of only 5 mountaineers and 2 guides. We were all by ourselves, away from the ship and the rest of the passengers / crew, and it was wonderful… very peaceful. Once we reached the end of the glacier we took a seat and enjoyed a minute of silence. The radios were turned off and we sat, still and silent, for a moment. Moments like these can be rare, and it allowed us to take in the awesomeness of Mother Nature around us. Nature, might I add, is not silent. Once we stopped being noisy we could hear loads of animals, the water moving below us, and avalanches happen every so often.
Below us on the coast line were 4 seals, one of which was a cub. His coat was still much lighter than its parents and he was moving around way more than mom and dad who must have been trying to take a siesta. After returning to Brown Station we also saw an iceberg roll around and a big piece of it break off… sweet! Penguins jumped into the water from glaciers hanging over it and we got a very close look at an adolescent seal who was checking us out from the shallow part of the water. A pretty eventful morning.
The afternoon finally brought an opportunity to get out into the water, aside from Polar Dipping. Weather conditions were good enough that we decided to do some sea kayaking, which was the activity I was most looking forward to. We were provided wet suits, boots, waterproof jackets and life jackets. We helped lower the kayaks from the back of the boat into the water and then set off on the Zodiac towards calmer waters.
We mainly used double kayaks, and Pete and I partnered up for the day. I took the rear and was the first person on the Zodiac to get into the kayak. We had to get in from one boat to the other, and it was not nearly as difficult as I was expecting. Once in the water we cruised along the coast, checking out the 4 Desert runners, followed some seals around, saw tons of penguins jumping out of the water, and avoided icebergs big and small at all costs. It was a truly lovely experience which did end up getting cut short because the wind started picking up and the rain was coming down pretty hard. Despite this, till this point the kayaking has been (without question) the most enjoyable activity I have participated in so far… and I was not even done for the day yet.
After dinner we had a quick debrief about our camping trip on the Antarctic Peninsula. This would not be a normal camping trip. We would not use tents, for example; rather, we would dig a gravel-like hole in the snow, build a little wall around the hole, and then set up our sleeping equipment in this refuge from the wind.
I picked a sleeping location close to the water to ensure an unobstructed view from my bed. The weather was pretty calm and the snow was easy to dig up and manipulate. In 10-15 minutes I was all set up and decided to explore. The camping location happened to be the same location where the 4 Dessert runners ran for the day, so I decided to do a lap of their 1.4km course. This course, mind you, was not flat. It was basically a circle which climbed up 60 meters and then looped back down again. Aside from making me appreciate what the runners went through all day long, I was the only person at the top and being able to spend some time with myself in the middle of the Antarctic was a special moment. Some time after others decided walk this look, too.
Once back at my camp site we broke open some wine, had some whiskey on the rocks using ice from the Antarctic, and enjoyed the fact that the sun basically never set at night… there was always light. All I can say is that I have never had to put on sunblock going to bed before, so there is a first time for everything. I was able to get a solid 5 hours of sleep that night, and with all of the gear it was a comfortable sleep. According to other campers we had some penguin visitors during the night, but honestly I slept through all of it.
This was a truly wonderful day and pretty much what I had been waiting for since I booked this trip all the way back in February – 2016. We finally got to see the continent and were privileged to be able to explore the area in many different ways. I am very glad that I signed up for an expedition as opposed to a cruise as coming this far to only see the continent from a ship would not have been the same as experiencing it from the top of a glacier, from a kayak between icebergs, and from my sleeping bag right on the ice.