Typical southern Antarctic scene
I just returned from the true end of the world!! My cruise to Antarctica was incredible! My friend Barbara and I set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina through the Beagle channel and into open waters of the Drake Passage. The Drake is affectionately known as the Drake Shake or the Drake Lake. Just days before we left a much larger cruise ship had become disabled in the middle of the Drake in over 30 foot waves - the dreaded Drake Shake which left nearly everyone aboard sea sick. Luckily for us, we got the Drake Lake on both of our passings so no sea sickness!!!!! Although everyone on board, myself included, did wear the sea sick patch which left us drowsy and sleepy for the 2 days it took to cross the Drake Passage each way - but certainly much better than the alternative!!
During the crossing there wasn´t much to see other than waves and some beautiful southern birds - a few types of albatross and numerous types of petrals and terns. But as we approach the outer barrier islands of Antarctica we started to spot humpback whales!!! We saw quite a few of them and they were HUGE and very graceful as they made their surface sweeps for food and air before jack knifing back down to the depths. Although I didn´t see any breach, we saw lots of beautiful tails/flukes as they made their dives. We also started to see floating ice and were on the look out for our first ice berg sighting. Our ship´s crew catagorized ice bergs into 2 sizes, small and large, with large being - literally - bigger than a house!
Amazingly, our first real ice berg sighting was not only huge (it was probably as big as a brooklyn brownstone!), but included a colony of penguins floating along for a ride!! Although it is hard to capture the scale of all items in Antarctica, here is a pic!
This sighting got us super excited for the next 5 days ahead. We spend time exploring a number of the barrier islands and getting onshore to the Antarctic mainland. By far my favorite parts were watching all of the penguins!! They were everywhere and were really funny to watch waddle around from their nests and walk amount the colonies and head out for swims. Many of them made "penguin highways" in the deep snow that they all used to walk around. It was even great to see them swim as they like to torpedo out above the water to avoid the seals and get some air. In addition to the penguins we saw mostly sea birds, seals and whales. But by far the penguins were the most prolific and fun to watch. When we were on shore we were able to get within feet of them! It is late spring down here and for the most part all the penguins were sitting on their eggs, but we did manage to see some chicks that had clearly just hatched!
Penguins hiking up their track
Penguins on the nest with a chick
One other fun item to note is that I went for a dip in the Antarctic sea!! How you ask. Well, one of our stops was a volcanic caldera that is sunk to sea level, but is still active and as such there is heat coming up through the black volcanic sand on the beach and our crew dug us a little pool with sea water that quickly got to hot tub temperatures. So a quick dip into the ocean and then into the hot tub!!
We made 2 stops to "populated villages" during our trip. The first was Port Lockroy, a musuem supported by the british government preserving their base there that was established during WWII. There are 4 ladies there that spend the summer months accepting visitors and preserving the one cabin! The second stop was to the 10 guys that spend 9 months each year at the Ukranian research base Vernasky. Luckily for us the Ukranians in their wisdom decided a bar was necessary to pass away the long lonely months down here. So we got to enjoy a home made vodka at the southern most bar in the world!
Here are a couple more pics to give you a general sense of sights down in Antarctica. I loved all of the pristine snow, ice, icebergs and animals. It was truly a trip of a lifetime.
Barb and I arrive to the Antarctic continent!
Sadly my south america adventure comes to an end today as I fly back to OH for the holidays and some babysitting. I am really looking forward to get home for the holidays (and to see my sweet little Finn!!!). I will make at least one more post with a link to my photos once I have them all organized and edited so be on the look out.
Thanks so much for following along with me and thanks for your posts. It is so fun to hear from loved ones when I am traveling!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!!