(...................... ) Speechless in Antarctica

Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
Trip End Sep 27, 2011

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Thursday, December 2, 2010




There are no words. None that do Antarctica justice. We are all speechless, unable to describe what we are seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, experiencing. Our American friend tries: "Stupid flabbergasting." It's a pretty good attempt.

The photos don't capture the epic size, the sounds, the smell, the feel or the mood. The engineer in me tries to put a number on exactly how indescrible Antartica is. If a picture is worth a thousand words then
 x = (((1000words)^1000pictures)^1000video clips)^1000imax3D with surround sound.

Ok. So this makes a fairly boring blog entry. So here goes our very best in words, pictures and video clips and we encourage you all to see the imax film before deciding that it's easier just to come to Antarctica.

Day Four: First Landing

Yes. They are called landings, another factor making it feel like we are going to the moon. Also, we have special suits and boots given to us by the (space?)ship. We wash and disinfect our boots and board the zodiac (special landing-mission capsules). We have taken off! The zodiac shoots off suprisingly quickly and a minute later we have landed....

...ashore. The peace is instant. Everything is still, grand, frozen.
Just the quiet waddling of the peguins. (Wings out - balancing them and, incredibly, cooling them from this Antarctic summer heat.)
Also, the soft calling, singing and chatting of the peguins.
Actually, when you get used to it, down to it, immersed in it - it's not so quiet or still.
There is a lot more going on than at first glance, but in an unassuming way. Nature's way - not overpowering - just balanced.

A skua bird has just taken a peguin egg. It's ok. No peguin chases after it: there are two of them. One, the weaker, smaller egg, is the offering for the gods. The other is the "real" one. This is the sort of example that gets me thinking. Antartica is the last place on earth, the only one just for nature, without us destroying the balance. A massive island, islolated and not connected to permanent human occupation.

As previously mentioned: there is no way to describe the awesomeness of Antarctica, so where there should be descriptions of Antarctica I'll put a 
List of cool sightings:
- Penguin ski slopes. They slide down designated ski slopes!!! He he. So cute!!
- Dolphin penguins. Penguins pretending to be mini-dolphins leaping out of the water. (From here on they will be referred to as minipenguindolphins.)
- Beached whale penguins.
- Pretty much everything about penguins.
- Seals lying around like beached whales. (I think I need to revise my impression beached whales. I've never actually seen a beached whale, but now i've seen "beached" penguins and "beached" seals. Probably the "beached" concept I'm after is an animal relaxing in the beanbag of it's own blubber. They look very comfortable. 

Lunch onboard is a Titanic affair (before the sinking). The passengers are laughing and discussing the day's events with wine and classy music. We are all on a mega high - magnified by my first whale sighting, from my comfortable seat on the dining deck, while enjoying our three course hot lunch. I didn't believe they were humpbacks because the fins where so small! But fair enough - their hump/fin position correlates to the diagrams shown at lecture time - the fin being 10% of the iceberg (or less) not giving you a good idea of the massive creature below.

The weather turns bad after lunch, and we have all gone back into Drake Crossing mode. I have slept very little, due to the inability to anchor myself to bed and also because I'd spent the whole night running through the emergency plan with the "abandon-ship" life jackets.

Day 5: Welcome to Winter Wonderland

We wake up to find we have been magically transported out of the storm and straight into David Attenbrough's documentary of Antarctica. It is a winter wonderland. The water is flat, there are icebergs floating everywhere. To complete the magic, there are minipenguindolphins jumping out of the water every 30 seconds

Days 5-10 Magic Antarctica List:

So now you have an idea of our rythm, I will recount days 5-10 in magic list form otherwise this will be a novel of descriptions, not doing justice to the experience. (Think back to all those equations: a 1000 words to the power of 1000 pictures is a lot.)

Landings: The Emperor and the penguin thief 
or If penguins ruled the world....)

- Penguin highways connecting the penguin cities. From the distance they look like ant colonies from a school science project. The highways hit many crises along the way that result in endless hilarity - like when the first penguin stops, so creates a 5 penguin pile up, with the last ones accidently bumping into the penguin in front.
- [Marcos] There are no people and we are meant to be in the furthest and quietest place on earth. But it's bloody noisy! There are millions (not a joke) of penguins in Antarctica and they live in these "polluted" busy colonies linked by jammed highways (pollution = guano = penguin poo that smells like fish).
- Emperor penguin. He shouldn't be there, as their colonies are in the middle of Antarctica, much further south and we are on the Antarctic Peninsula. But he IS here and we see him!!
- The single most entertaining penguin encounter (and penguin encounters are always super entertaining) is watching the penguin thief. He is a little Adelie penguin in a colony of Adelies and Gentoos. We all watch for half an hour while he, very focused and dedicated to his partner,
   - innocently strolls over to a Gentoo nest, 
   - has a good look around to find the perfect rock to steal, right under the nose of a nesting Gentoo, who is powerless to do anything as she can't get up off her egg
   - finds a suitable rock and grabs it - ducking the furious but futile pecks from the Gentoo
   - run as fast as his little legs can carry him, wings out, rock in hand (well, in mouth)
   - put the stolen goods on the growing pile of stolen rocks that is his partner's nest and finally,
   - repeats the whole process.

Landscapes: Beaches to Mountains - & a challenge achieved!

- From the beach, we climb (zig-zag method) to the top of the mountain. Hence I'm going to claim Challenge #41 here. (Being at a beach and the top of a mountain in one day.)
- From the top of the mountain, we take it all in, take silly photos and take a yoga class.
     - 5 minutes silent meditiation while we can hear the constant creaking and growling of the quickly changing landscape.
     - I get in trouble for being too close to the edge (hard to believe I know!) because from here it looks like a gently sloping snow hill, but we are actually standing on a glacier face. I realise my folly from the zodiac later...
    - We slide down parts of the mountain on our butts and get really really wet. Luckily when we re-board the ship, there is always a hot soup or hot chocolate to greet us!
- For the swimming at the beach story - see following blog entry: The Antarctic Plunge

Zodiac Cruise Magic List: Ice Palaces among the mirror water

 - Rediculous scenery. We are tiny, exploring Narnia's ice sculptures. (Think the ice queen's land from the lion, the witch and the wardrobe story)
 - Seals hanging out on icebergs.
 - My favourite: minipenguindolphins breaking up the majestic stillness with a touch of the incredible.
 - Ice palaces, ice beaches on icebergs.
 - Snow drifts on top of icebergs, looking like a layer of cream, perfectly placed sometimes precariously on top of these giant scupltures. As they melt away, whole chunks fall off, changing the centre of gravity so that the whole structure tilts at an impossible angle, with icicles and snow drifts still hanging at the original angle.
 - The tilting also reveals what was below the water - another magic again.
 - The magic blue colour of the ice as seen through the shallow water covering it.
 - [Marcos] As opposed to the rough waters of the Drake, the waters around the Peninsula are amazingly still. A mirror. We can't stop taking "double" photos where the top is real and the bottom is illusion. It makes me think of how rushed we are and how magic it would be to stay there for a few hours after everyone is gone and just listen to the stillness of the place. Although we perceive this environment as incredibly silent and still, I am sure that we are entering it like a elephant in crystal store.

From the ship: Sunsets and Whale Greetings

More than once I blind myself staring into the sun reflected on the water - trying to absorb the scenery.
- Watching hours of slow-mo sunset after dinner. Impossible colours, all reflected perfectly onto the water so you see them twice. I'm always thinking of my sister Ellie, who loves sunsets and needs to see these ones. 

- A pod of orcas who came to check us out.
- As if timed, every lunch there is some sort of whale sighting that distracts us from the desert queue and the entire ship rushes outside to see. We never learn and always end up outside, upstairs and freezing because our Antarctica coats are downstairs in our cabins.
- The humpback whales who spend a full hour saying hello to our ship, including doing repeated passes under our ship so we can appreciate the full size, and the smallest details on these magnificant creatures.
 - Watching the seals hanging out on icebergs who are sunbaking as we pass them on our ship. This is my favourite (non penguin related) moment.
 - We pass by an iceberg the size of Sydney.

For days and days, every time I close my eyes, I see penguins. Like complete scenes with icebergs - like they have burnt my retinas with the images. They march endlessly in my mind sight, just below my eyelids. Just like everything else in Antarctica, it is something unlike anything that I have ever experienced.

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Ari on

The pictures are amazing!!!! You have to tell me what cruise you did... this will be one of my next trips!!!! :))) Take care & can t wait for the next entries!!!

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