WE FINALLY REACHED ANTARCTICA!!! I know Frozen is supposed to take place somewhere Nordic, so more Arctic, but it’s snow and magic, so I’m running with it. Also, apologies in advance to anyone who knows me, but this is about to be my entire personality for the foreseeable future.
It was so amazing. I can’t really even put into words how beautiful it is. It is the most awesome place I’ve ever been in my life.
Days 1-2 of our trip were crossing the Drake Passage. My friends and I are, of course, already two-time veterans of this crossing, so it was smooth sailing for us. This was aided by the fact that we banned anybody from taking a shower for two days, but hey. Gotta do what you gotta do.
Day 3 was when we had our first land sighting and landings. Our trip itinerary took us first through the South Shetland Islands, where we disembarked at Yankee Harbor and Half-Moon Island to see the respective Gentoo (with one wayward Adélie) and Chinstrap penguin colonies. The penguins are super cute but the smell is definitely something else! We even saw a leopard seal lying in wait at the Gentoo colony – some of the penguins came walking over, saw the seal, and looked at us like “are you crazy??? move so that we can avoid this dude!!” It was cool to see predator and prey interact like that.
Day 4 was insane – first, we hiked an active antarctic volcano at Telefon Bay in Deception Island. Then we did a polar plunge in the volcanic cauldron (I mean seriously, that sentence. What even is my life!!!) and sailed through the Gerlache Strait with some incredible icebergs. And finally, we had a snowball fight aboard zodiac boats in Foyn Harbor.
Day 5 had some issues with the weather, so we ended up sailing around a bit trying to find somewhere sheltered from the wind and ice. We covered 120 nautical miles in one day, passing through Bancroft Bay, Canal de Plata, Danco Island, Neumayer Channel, and Cuverville Island. The views though were amazing. We saw so many glaciers and icebergs. I always thought that the aquamarine color that they spray paint the polar bear exhibits at the zoo was fake – but nope, it’s real. We finished day 5 with a continental landing at the Argentinian Almirante Brown Antarctic Base, where we proceeded to have another snowball fight and hang out with some Gentoo penguins.
Day 6 we crossed from the continent to Fournier Bay. Around this time, we were notified that there was going to be a massive, hurricane-strength storm passing through the Drake. So we needed to leave early in order to not get caught in the storm, which would bring 12 meter waves and wind speeds up to and around 80 knots. But before we left, we got to do something really special – we explored some unexplored, unnamed islands just north of Fournier Bay. And it was like Antarctica was sending us off – while on our zodiac cruise, we saw a leopard seal and a humpback whale (both within 50m of us), had the most beautiful sunset ever, and had an albatross flying so close you could touch it. We were all stunned afterwards – how is that even real???
Day 7-8 were again crossing the Drake Passage. We got ahead of the storm thankfully, so it wasn’t too bad. The waves, at the worst, were only about 6 meters. I was even able to get some work done for my research project that is due in a couple weeks.
Day 9 we anchored in the mouth of the Beagle Channel. We had to wait for our scheduled port time and for our scheduled pilot captain to guide our boat through the channel waters. But while we were waiting, we saw dolphins!!! How crazy is that??
Day 10 we finally ended our trip. I’m going to miss all of the crew on board as well as the other passengers. There’s nothing like an Antarctic exploration to bond people together.
To recap this expedition: we saw 3 types of whales, 3 types of penguins, 3 types of seals, and so many birds; we did six zodiac cruises and four landings (including one on the continent!); explored both known AND unknown Antarctic territories; and have overall crossed the Drake Passage (aka one of the most treacherous passages in the world) a total of four times! As I reflect on my time abroad here in Ushuaia, I really don’t think there is a better way that I could have ended this trip. It might have taken a month longer than planned, but I’m officially an Antarctic explorer!
Until next time 🙂