When I told friends we were visiting Antarctica, the first question was WHY? Let’s cast aside the fact that this was my 7th and final continent to visit — in the coming blogs I hope the answer to WHY is evident.
On our flight from Atlanta, a lady sat next to us and told us she had flown over 1 million miles. We didn’t think much about it but later overheard her say she was going to Antarctica. We then learned that she was a National Geographic photographer and would be aboard our ship! Her name was Susan Seubert, an awarding winning photographer. We became fast friends and came to appreciate her savvy with the camera and her incredible gift. Her pictures have graced the covers of many magazines. We knew this was going to be an epic trip.
We started our trip at the end of the world — Ushuaia, Argentina — at the bottom of South America. We boarded the Lindblad Explorer | National Geographic ship and set out for our 2 day journey across the infamous Drake Passage. The Drake Passage can be a perilous journey due to high waves but we were lucky to have relatively smooth seas.
Geographically, Antarctica is at the bottom of the earth and is directly south of South America.
Here is how it looks if you tilted the globe looking directly into the South Pole:
You won’t find hotels, homes or shops in Antarctica — it is only inhabited by scientists, researchers and support staff from many countries. Signed in 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was put in place by 12 countries who agreed to keep Antarctica peaceful and open to scientific research. This is where much of the studies regarding global warming are conducted.
After 2 days of sailing, we reached Iceberg A57a — 10 miles of floating tabular ice.
Icebergs are created as they slide off land’s surface into the sea. They are named by the area in which they came (Antarctica is divided into 4 quadrants; A/B/C/D) and are sequenced based on the number of icebergs from that quadrant. So A57a represents the 57th iceberg to slide off land in the A quadrant. Why the small “a” at the end? This particular iceberg slid off the land in a huge chunk and then divided into 2 pieces larger than 10 miles wide — therefore it became 2 icebergs (A57a and A57b).
A few hours later, we reached False Bay in the South Shetland Islands. We hopped on a zodiac and encountered our first Leopard seal. This place was teaming with them — we saw at least 5 or 6. Leopard seals love to eat krill and wait for it — penguins.
After celebrating our first Antarctic experience, we awoke to a new adventure — we had reached the Antarctic peninsula at Paulette Island. As we anchored off shore, we could hear loud squawks and could faintly see over 200,00 small dots on the island.
Look closely at the dots on the land — it’s over 200,000 Adelie penguins!
We made our way to Brown Bluff — another island just off the Antarctic mainland.
Here we encountered a new species of penguin — Gentoo. They are curious and will walk right up to you.
Just looking around – we were surrounded by glaciers, icebergs, penguins and incredible beauty — very surreal.
As we traversed from island to island, we saw whales, albatross, penguins and icebergs. We reached Snow Hill Island where a group of scientists were camping for 2 weeks to study the impact of an iceberg that broke away from the island about 20 years ago.
In 1902, a group of scientists built a wooden hut known as Nordenskiöld House and the group of Argentine scientists were reinforcing the hut. We were able to go in and visit the inside of the hut — this small space slept 6 people! As the iceberg broke off, thousands of 20 million year old fossils emerged and they were still uncovering them as we visited.
After leaving Snow Hill Island, we spotted our first blue whale. Blue whales are the largest whale on earth and we had an up-close encounter.
After sailing for a few hours, the ship captain revved the ship up and pointed the bow of the ship towards a huge ice sheet on Admiral T Sound. The boat penetrated the ice sheet and came to rest about 50 yards into the ice sheet. Now that’s not something you experience every day!
We jumped on the zodiac and made our way to the ice sheet where everyone spent a hour exploring. In the picture below, that is Susan Seubert (the award winning National Geographic photographer) in the middle. She took the picture of us jumping in the air using my iPhone.
After reembarking the ship, we had a BBQ at the stern of the boat. How cool is that?
After 2 days of traversing the Drake Passage and 3 days visiting islands, we still had lots more in store. Keep following our blog and we will continue the story.
This trip was epic and was the first trips we’ve taken where most of the people on trip were as well (or better) traveled than us. For most of the passengers, this was also their 7th continent to visit and we were able to share stories about common trips we’ve taken. It’s as if we were with “our peeps” — adventurers and wanderers.
Here a quick video that gives you more of a sense of what we discovered in our first 5 days: