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Antarctica at Last

We reached the white continent, the last of our 7, Antarctica at last as we shared a moment of land ho! And oh what a land it is! There is grandness in the size and scale of Antarctica, but also in the simplicity. Water, snow, ice, and rock. Four elements that create endless variety and resplendence. Add in the wildlife, and you have a place like no other. Perfection to my eyes. Great, white, vastness. Antarctica at last. The date was February 8, 2022.

We woke up early, or at least early for us around 7:15. Thankfully CJ was feeling better again since we had set an anchor, and we were both able to get ready to enjoy the day. The seas were calmer now that we were near land, and were also going more slowly now that we reached our destination. The continent was everywhere in sight, and we got dressed quickly and then flitted about across the decks snapping pictures here, there, everywhere, as everything was worth photographing since we were seeing Antarctica at last.

We’ll start getting into a pattern of a rundown of food for the day, so here was the menu for February 8th:

We started out the morning in the Neumayer Channel, named by Gerlash after a sailor on the Belgica who believed in international scientific cooperation.

We were expected to be able to make our first landing here, and the anticipation and energy onboard was palatable. For all our landings, the expedition team goes out first to scout everything before we head out. Here was our agenda for the day, starting at Damoy Point at the entrance of Port Lockroy in the Neumayer Channel:

Unfortunately upon their scouting they found that there was just too much wind for us to safely go out to Damoy Point. We watched from the decks as the expeditions made multiple attempts in the rough seas to return to the ship, often having to circle back around multiple times, and getting drenched in the process.

In Antarctica they say it isn’t the cold that gets you, it’s the wind (much like the saying about it not being the heat, but the humidity), and the katabatic winds were definitely roaring down upon us. While everyone was disappointed, upon seeing the struggles of the expedition team, the consensus seemed to be that they had made the right choice.

Instead we enjoyed a lovely mochachino in the Expedition Lounge, watched the scenery scanning by, and frequently ran out into the wind to capture the beauty.

At one point what appeared to be a scientific research ship sailed past, who knew there’d be “all this” traffic in the Antarctic! We were just thrilled to be in the waters of Antarctica at last.

Here are some of the best pictures CJ captured with her DSLR.

As we were having lunch we came into Paradise Bay, and oh how aptly named it is. The weather calmed down, and we were able to even see some sun poking out here and there. CJ was even able to capture a crabeater seal lounging on the ice as she headed into the restaurant, and during lunch we saw a raft of penguins in the water porpoising (jumping in an arc out of the water) away from the ship. Here are some of CJ’s best shots:

We ate quickly and started to prepare for kayaking in Paradise Bay.

This was an add-on excursion we paid quite a bit for, but we thought it would be a unique experience. We got fitted in an underlayer of fleece, dry suits, and adjusted the sitting of all our kayaks. Fully dressed and quite frankly sweating up a storm in our gear, we got our kayak paddles, and were just about to head out when the expedition crew judged that the seas were just a bit too rough for kayaking. We were dismayed again, but our hearts were still beating “Antarctica at last.” If there was one truth in Antarctica it was not to make any plans, because they often (always!?) changed. The morning had gone from plan A, to plan B, to ultimately plan C, which was no landing. Much the same was happening with our kayaking. 

With our kayaking dreams blown away with the wind, the crew thankfully was still dedicated to getting us on the continent. Antarctica at last was back on the table. We quickly stripped down out of our sweltering kayak gear, changed into our slightly less thermal (thank the Arctic gods!) normal gear, and were off the ship by 3PM. We took a smooth zodiac ride to the shore, swung our legs over the zodiac, and took our first steps onto the rocky shore of our 7th continent! Antarctica at last!

The white continent was all that we had hoped for, and after hiking up a bit, we paused for a moment to bask in the feeling. We were then distributed some hiking poles, and started following a path of flags up a fairly steep hill to gain a better vantage point. The snow was surprisingly slushy, but was still firm when compacted. We also noticed that it gained a deep blue color as the water collected in our footprints, a brilliant azure we had also noticed in some of the glaciers. The hike up was a bit of a fun challenge, but not too difficult, and it was great to see how many people, often with 20 or more years on us, were also making the trek up, or at that time, back down.

At the top of the hillock we had pristine views of the much taller surrounding mountains, and looked down on our ship in Paradise Bay. We then half shuffled, half skied our way down the hill and visited a rookery of Gentoo penguins next to Brown station. Their honking and bleating often filled the air, and they were a joy to watch waddling along here and there. We also saw one fastidiously placing stones as it built its nest. Our time was up way too quick, but it had been time well spent, and we headed back to the ship, hearts full and spirits fulfilled. 

Here are some of CJ’s best Gentoo penguin shots (by the way, Gentoos can be easily identified by their seeming earmuffs wrapped around their head):

A warm shower after felt great, and then we lounged a bit in the Explorer Lounge, thrilled with our accomplishment of reaching Antarctica at last.

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