The Land of Ice & Snow

Officially, visiting Antarctica means I have now set foot on all seven continents.


However according to my mate form the USA (and actually, pretty much any North American I’ve ever spoken to), Cleveland doesn’t count.
Since I’m not much of a box-ticker I’m not really fussed either way- Antarctica was still one of the most amazing, surreal and unique places I’ve been.

 

  

Our home for the 12 night cruise was the 98 passenger Akademik Ioffe, a Russian research vessel that is leased by the Canadian company One Ocean Expeditions for epic adventures to the Arctic and Antarctic. We were one of the first departures to the Antarctic Peninsula of the season- 10 November- so were looking forward to a pristine, white landscape and some major icebergs.
On boarding in Ushuaia we found that most of the staff and passengers were almost entirely English-as-a-first-language-speaking (Brits, Yanks, Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians) though we did have a few Swedes, a Chinese couple who lived in Taiwan and an Indian couple from Mumbai.  Far from being the youngest people on board, we were probably around mid-range; the youngest was probably 21 and the oldest person 70 or so. Because of the amount of activities offered- skiing, snow-shoeing, kayaking and overnight camping…the demographic was probably a little younger than the average Antarctic cruise.

 
Our departure from the port in Ushuaia was held back by 12 hours or so due to two serious storm systems passing through the Drake Passage. Since a lot of people were a worried about sea-sickness, this announcement was greeted with glee and gave the welcoming party a bit of an extra boost (and gave our bar tab the healthy kick it needed to get going). We mingled on the top deck, drinking beers and meeting our fellow passengers and then slept like the dead with the calm port waters beneath.

The following morning we set off sailing through the Beagle Channel, with stunning views of Tierra del Fuego and a gentle introduction to our sea-legs as our first few hours were spent in enclosed waters. Late afternoon we hit open water and the fun started. We had loaded up on TravaCalm tablets before leaving Australia, and taking nothing to chance, I’d been steadily chewing my way through them since the lines were thrown at 8am. 
Taking sea-sickness ills is probably the closest I will ever come to enlightenment. They put you in a seriously zen state of mind- I was able to watch thoughts drift aimlessly across my mind without really pausing to dwell on them. It was a curious sensation but not unpleasant. Buddha would have been proud.
The seas got steadily choppier overnight until we were at around 40 knots and 6 metre swells. According to the Beaufort Scale this puts us in the ‘Gale’ category, which was probably comforting to those who were cabin-bound and puking (hey, it would be embarrassing to be bed-ridden with a ‘Light Breeze’). Despite not feeling amazing, we were still able to make it every meal. And managed to get a Moosehead or two down us at Happy Hour…salty old sea dogs that we are J
Thankfully the crossing was the worst weather we would experience and the next 8 days of landings were mainly calm (with the notable exception of horizontal snow and biting winds that accompanied the polar plunge at Deception Island). 
Even the penguins looked miserable at Deception Island
Though admittedly, not as miserable as Martijn
Although it was cloudy and overcast for the first few days, the sun broke through at Damoy Point and stayed with us until we returned to Ushuaia.
Before sun. 
After sun. 
Rather than bore you all with a minute by minute description of the full 12 days how about a few highlights?
On our very first landing we saw a leopard seal hunt and kill a penguin just offshore. All up we saw 4 species of penguin, including the photogenic adelie, star of Happy Feet.
Happy Feet!!!
Chinnies chilling on Orne Island
 We snow-shooed for the first time at spectacular George’s Point.
We set foot on the Antarctic continent (though declined the offer of an overnight camping expedition, opting to ensure the bar staff were kept busy with our fellow barfly and Manhattanite Kim….many, many high fives were thrown as it started snowing in earnest around 11pm)
We drank Mount Gay over thousand-year-old- glacial ice. We also drank an impressive number of Moosehead beers but narrowly missed taking our the “biggest bar tab” award (I know, we were surprised as well).
We were treated to one incredibly long and gorgeous sunset that last for about 4 hours.
We realised that there are more shades of blue than we ever thought possible and they can exist in a single iceberg.
I took approximately 35,000 photos of penguins torpedoing through the water and managed to get one good one.
Much as I loved the dramatic landscapes and incredible wildness of the trip, I realised that I am not a polar-person…having seen Antarctica once I have no desire to return every year. I blame the lack of trees to string a hammock from.  It seems my natural habitat is somewhat closer to the equator. Those penguins are cute though J

Gratuitous penguin shot

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