Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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When I tell my friends I spent 19 days on an ice breaker in Antarctica, they don't quite know what to say! But how to explain the romance and excitement of an expedition trip to one of the most pristine places on earth...?
From the moment I stepped aboard the ship, I was impressed by its clean and easy style, the wonderful reading room, functional wet-gear room, and best of all, the observation lounge -- doubling as a lecture hall with large screen projections and ample seating including comfortable chairs facing the wraparound windows. This would prove to be the hub of all social and academic activity on the ship and my favorite place to sit with cup of hot chocolate, watching the icebergs and birds with my camera and jacket, ready for that perfect back-deck shot!
Our trip began in the Falklands with sunny skies and mild temperatures that continued throughout the trip. I was taken by the subtle beauty of this remote outpost of England and our first taste of rock-hopper penguins and cormorant colonies dotting the cliffs.
After a thorough exploration of the region, we set out and arrived in South Georgia in short order -- the much anticipated and stunningly beautiful home of sea lions, gigantic elephant seals, wandering albatross and, of course, vast colonies of king penguins. The landscape was mountainous and rocky, with hills of tussock grass interspersed. The real star was the incredible abundance of wildlife and their unique features. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer bulk and presence of a sleeping bull elephant seal, or the rolling 'ocean' of more than a hundred thousand king penguins -- so regal with their smooth lines and yellow cresting. We stood and observed them for hours, until the sun was soon to set and dinner was ready back on board. To cap off our experience at South Georgia, we visited the grave of Shackleton and two former whaling stations. Each of us was moved by the rich and sometimes tragic history of this region.
Such a life-changing experience left me wondering... how could this possibly be surpassed? Luckily, Antarctica itself did not disappoint! From our first sighting of a massive tabular iceberg the size of 2 football fields, to our last view of Peterman Island surrounded by ice shelves and snow capped mountains, we were treated to a once-in-a lifetime exploration of the last Frontier on earth. The potent silence, the pristine whiteness and the incredible blue of the sea, the sky and the ice -- these will stay with me forever. But again, it was the wildlife that stole the show... From the charming adelie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins bustling about, building nests and nurturing their eggs, to the impressive leopard seals so stealthy, so dangerous and wild, reminding us that here, as anywhere, nature keeps it's balance. And let's not forget the whales, birds of all sorts, crab-eater seals, and even a lone emperor penguin.
Whether cruising around in Zodiacs, hiking snow capped ridges, visiting penguin colonies and research stations, enjoying a hot soak in the volcanic waters of Deception Bay, or simply taking in the singular beauty of Antarctica from the ship, there was no shortage of wonders and exhilaration. So perhaps I will simply send my friends these words, and attempt to describe the indescribable!