Antarctica: Dodging the Drake!

Tripoto
15th Dec 2013
Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

This main reason why I had made a strong commitment to definitely blog about this trip, unlike failing to even publish a crude journal from all other previous exotic travels, is because never had I felt so anxious about a journey and almost consumed by such an intense feeling of Adventure even before I started it. I had not felt this nervous before embarking on a trip – at least not since we did our adrenaline-rush inducing trip of rafting down the mighty Zambezi River in 2006! That is probably because though I have done a lot of travels in the past, I had never actually gone on too many tours or on a programmed itinerary. And all of a sudden, here we are ready to set sail – literally – on a very unique voyage that the folks at Quark – our tour operator – proudly labelled as The Expedition of a lifetime.

Expedition travel is not for everyone and by nature, is for curious travelers who would like to embrace the unexpected in their journeys. Especially, Polar expeditions are for global travelers who are thrilled by places far away and revel in the magical experience of exploring unchartered & uninhabited destinations that can be reached only by going through extreme & unfriendly conditions. It needs us to, not only pack our bags but also pack a strong sense of adventure along with a flexible attitude. Probably that is one of the main reasons why the expression on the faces of everyone we mentioned about the travel to, changed the minute we mentioned that we were headed to Antarctica. Independent of who we mentioned our travel plans to, it was followed by a seemingly endless list of questions around how and why we were travelling to Antarctica, with a very obvious spark in their eyes even as they heard us talk about our potential itinerary in the icy seventh Continent .

I have to admit, that though I had a sense of adventure it was not strong enough to make me withstand the most dreaded oceanic passage in the world called the Drake’s passage [fondly referred to as the ‘Drake Shake’]. So we opted to go for the ‘Fly the Drake’ package which would help us dodge Mr. Drake and start our Antarctic journey from King George Island. Just as the destination we were travelling to was a killer, the route we took to arrive at our destination was even more of a killer! We flew from Hyderabad -> Chennai -> Mumbai ->Amsterdam -> Panama City -> Santiago -> Punta Arenas -> King George Island. This marathon of a flight-chain involved changing five different Airlines (Indigo, KLM, Copa, LAN, DAP) and almost five long days!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! 1/1 by Prasanna Vee
The Insane Route we took to Reach the White Wonderland!

December 17, 2013

After a night of partying in Santiago – thanks to a brilliant plan of changing our flights in the last minute and gaining some much deserved rest after a few sleepless nights- we caught the 9:00 AM flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. We reached Punta Arenas - Fin Del Mundo or End of the World as they refer to it – around 1:00 PM. As we were driving from the airport towards our accommodation– the world famous Dreams Hotel, Casino & Spa J - it really felt like we were at the End of the world! The landscape was so different from any other city we had been to that was located close to the water. After an amazing meal at La Marmita we went down to the orientation center and collected our Parka, Boots and weighed our luggage to make sure we don’t exceed the very strict weight limits they impose for a polar flight. At around 6:00 PM, the whole group convened for the Expedition Briefing. As the guides started going through the set of instructions and slides, it slowly started sinking in that we were well on our way to embark on the voyage of our lifetime!

After the briefing we hit the wonderful Sky Bar, at the hotel, with sprawling views of the ocean and the city. We treated ourselves to some divine craft beers that were all from the local region. From the minute we landed in this city we could feel a vibe that is very typical of an Adventure launching base camp town – like Kathmandu, Arusha etc., Even the names of the Artisanal beers here were named after famous adventurers and explorers like Magellan and Shackleton. I can’t think of anything else that could have driven home the point stronger than these! :-)

Delicious Craft Beers In Punta Arenas Bar

Photo of Punta Arenas, Chile by Prasanna Vee

Though we decided to have a nice evening enjoying the local beers, there was a looming anxiety at the back of our heads due to the fact that we had been allocated to the first group that was scheduled to leave the hotel at 5:30 AM and catch the 7:00 AM flight[as opposed to the second group – lucky devils! – who were allocated the 12:00 PM flight!]. But it didn’t bother us too much as sitting there at the bar looking at the powerful waves hitting the shore, we already started slowly transcending into an expedition mode and anxiously waiting to see what was in store for us as we cross the mighty Drake passage

December 18, 2013

Contrary to all our apprehensiveness about having to wake up very early to catch the 7:00 AM flight, getting up and getting ready was not that much of an effort – thanks to our gradually receding jetlag. The excitement started amplifying as we boarded the bus to the airport and joined the other expedition travelers. The first thing that caught our attention as we completed our check-in and walked towards the boarding gate was the Departures signboard. Though it looked exactly like every other departures board that you might see in other airport across the globe, the fact that it had a very interesting destination called Antarctica made this one of the coolest departures board ever! Not every day do you get to see a Departure board calling out a destination as exotic as this!

Departures Board at Punta Arenas Airport

Photo of Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport - RN9, Punta Arenas, Chile by Prasanna Vee

Much to our surprise, the DAP Airways flight to King George Island – our drop off point in South Shetland Islands – was so commercially operated, it felt like any other typical flight. It was a 100 seater BAE aircraft with in-flight magazines, a fully loaded beverage service by Flight attendants and all the works. For some reason, this kind of stole the ‘adventure quotient’ of the trip and started to smell a bit like any other travel. Just as I was starting to hope that the tone would change once we land, we were treated to one of the most spectacular flight landings ever.

Arrival at the 'Seventh' Continent!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

The runway at Frei air force base [Chilean base] was nothing more than a simple strip of land which had just enough space for a landing and parking. Calling this airport Spartan is kind of glorifying it as it had no facilities or any sheltered building – not even a honey bucket to handle unexpected bladder bursts! Since we were instructed to don our Boots and Parka while we were still inside the aircraft – just before the descent- we were saved from the punishing cold and stinging wind that greeted as we got out of the flight. As soon as we landed we were escorted into a tent to get the approval to walk over the runway. Once we got that we started making the 2 km trek to the other side of the island where we were to board the Zodiacs. Though it was only 2 km, the trek was a nightmare thanks to the thin ice and highly slippery downhill conditions. Nonetheless, the walk seemed painless as we were completely captivated by the incredibly beautiful landscape all around us and the sight of our voyage ship afloat in the blue water at a distance

Adventurer? Explorer? or just a Crazy Traveller?!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

We did eventually make it to the Zodiac boarding spot after a slow – and careful – trek and were given a briefing around Zodiac safety. Now, the almost lost adventure travel excitement returned with full force and we were nervous about jumping into a craft we were so unfamiliar with and lending ourselves to the full trust and capability of our guide! The Zodiac ride turned out to be so much fun and we absolutely enjoyed our first bite of this fabulous continent and couldn’t believe we had actually landed and set foot in the continent of Antarctica! We were surrounded by snow covered peaks and glaciers couldn’t see anything else in any direction we turned around.

Getting a first glimpse of this fairytale wonderland while cruising through icy through icy waters made it even more enchanting. Once again, the docking of the Zodiac and Embarkation process turned out to be much simpler than how it sounded during the briefing. The interesting part about the disembarkation [and the embarkation] process was how everyone had to scrub and dip their boots into disinfectant solution – so that we don’t potentially contaminate the pristine continent. Nice job, Quark!

Boarding the Zodiac!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

Once we arrived onboard the ship, we checked in at the Reception, like we would do in any typical hotel and got our assigned Cabins. We had taken a twin bed room in the main deck, which was slightly better than the lower deck cabins with porthole window [which would have probably made us even more claustrophobic!]. Though it felt a little bit confining, we were able to adjust and get used to it over a period of time and in-fact started tripping on how were optimizing the use of the provided space and storage options.

The Cozy Cabin that was our Home for almost a week!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

Though there was a Television [quite unexpected] and a DVD player, the entertainment was restricted to a couple of channels primarily running adventure based shows and a nightly movie that had a touch of adventure and polar travel to it like Whiteout, Life Aquatic etc., Lunch was served around 12:30 and We had our first meal aboard the ship. The diverse staff members of the ship[though the staff primarily comprised Filipinos, there were folks from places far away from here like Guatemala, Guyana, Africa etc.,] demonstrated highest levels of hospitality and kept pampering and indulging us throughout our stay – not that we needed indulgence and were taking care of ourselves very well!

Since I already started feeling a bit lethargic and not yet acclimatized to ship-life, decided to hit the ‘Gymnasium’ and get a quick workout. It turned out to be one of the most difficult workouts in my lifetime as the Gym was so claustrophobic and rocking constantly thanks to the mild waves. Probably, I should have chosen the smarter option of walking around the deck which Sangeetha did since though she had to battle with freezing cold/sub-zero temperatures, she was breathing the purest form of oxygen and enjoying every minute she was outside. Got back to the cabin just in time to take a quick shower in the honey bucket sized bathroom and assembled at the Clipper lounge along with the other ‘explorers’. Opened the evening’s festivities with a few cold Beagle Golden Ales – the beer of Tierra Del Feugo. This region is starting to surprise us every day on the beer front! We spent the next few days aboard the ship on a staple diet of Beagles.

The briefing on board was a lot more interesting – and also intriguing – than the one offshore as it was conducted by the Expedition Leader. The expedition leader emphasized on the fact that though we had cheated a bit by skipping the Drake Shake, we were not completely out of the woods yet as crossing the Bransfield strait was another big hurdle we needed to get over as it was also notorious to be rough and shake up the boats that pass through it on bad days. So we started praying to our travel fairy to take care of the proceedings! As the briefing got over and we resumed our celebration of ‘The Feugian beer’ – that’s what the Beagle beer is labeled here J - we didn’t realize that the ship had started sailing, while the briefing was going on, until we started feeling the mild wobble and took a look outside the window to notice that the vessel was cruising at full speed! The excitement multiplied all of a sudden and a strong dose of travel-romantique got added to the mix. We came down to our cabin to take a shot of the Mexie cocktail [a tablet for handling sea-sickness called Mescaline mixed with a Golden Ale!] and nibble on the choicest south-indian snacks we had stocked up on during our stopover in Chennai! They tasted like the most heavenly snack – thanks to the backdrop of the glacier mountains/ice formations we were treated to from our cabin window while we were gorging on them – and may probably never tasted this delicious anywhere else in the world!

Dinner was served in the main dining room at around 7:30 PM and we downed a few more cold Beagles while enjoying what, in my opinion, could have been one of the finest gourmet food aboard an adventure ship. And thank god, it was not a buffet affair – like the lunch was – we could have some quiet time and make a romantic dinner out of it. Though we hit the sack at around 9:30 PM, hoping to catch some rest finally after all those short-circuited nights, I was tossed out of my bed by the rough waters we were sailing through at around 2:30 AM. It seemed almost impossible to go back to sleep again, thanks to the frequently opening doors and moving items in the cabin floor. Nonetheless, I somehow forced myself to sleep again and managed to get a decent night’s rest. But then again, rough seas or not, the fact that I was actually in a vessel that was breaking through icy waters of Antarctica made me smile deep inside as I lay in bed and the thrill and sense of accomplishment turned out to be the best sedative that knocked me out into a deep sleep.

December 19, 2013

After experiencing one of the shortest windows between Sunset and Sunrise [Sunset @ 12:15 AM; Sunrise @ 1:45 AM] - we woke up at around 7:30 AM. Have to say that sleeping through bright daylight passing through your cabin window all through the night was not an easy task! Had a hearty and magical breakfast - how many days do you get to relish your meal while viewing a seemingly endless slideshow of mystic snow covered mountains and glacial formations! After the breaker, we went on a tour around the ship deck and were blown away by the almost surreal scenery all around us.

Mother Nature's Black &White Art!

Photo of Melchior Islands, Antarctica by Prasanna Vee

As per our itinerary, the plan was to do a Zodiac cruise and a have a potential landing at Melchlor Islands – which apparently is the home of the Argentine station. While we were quite excited about the fact that our first landing of this expedition was on the cards for today, and getting ready for it, the Expedition leader came on PA system to announce that due to an abnormal levels of low temperatures a lot more heavily packed ice was on our course and so had to turn around and head towards an impromptu landing at a different site known as Orne Harbor. After all, isn’t that the coolest part of this voyage – that nothing is predictable and you have to get creative and improvise at runtime very often! However, the silver lining was that this newly charted out landing was supposed to be a very special one as normally you don’t get to land on the mainland of the Antarctic continent very often – but only dock close to the islands when you go on an Antarctic cruise. So this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us J

We boarded the Zodiac and went for a cruise before doing the landing, during which we got our first spotting of penguin colonies [Chinstrap Penguins]. Cruising around waters scattered with thick sheets of ice and ice boulders with an almost unreal backdrop of glacial mountains was too spectacular to describe in simple words. Though we landed in a not so straightforward spot, the landing process itself was not difficult. We spent around 30 minutes at the site. Just sitting there and reflecting on the fact that we were actually in Continental Antarctica – which is beyond even their dreams for a huge majority of travelers- seemed like too magical to be true. And the icing on the cake [pun intendedJ] was that we ‘managed’ to do all the seven in the same year! #TravelGrandSlam

The Afternoon Landing was at Danco Island, where we had our first close encounter with the Penguins – Gentoo penguins to be specific. The first part of the excursion was to trek up a cliff that was around 800 feet high. Though the climb was a bit steep it felt effortless as our attention was constantly diverted towards the Gentoo penguins that were nesting almost all the way up to the top. Very rewarding views at the top and it felt like I was in another world. Another unique thing was that it did not look like any other summit I have been on top of – Like Rainer, Baker, Helens etc., it was white, white and nothing but white all around and no sign of any other color but a bit of black/grey here and there. This is was so different from other alpine treks/climbs I have been in and just by that fact made it a very unique experience!

Photo of Danco Island, Antarctica by Prasanna Vee

On the way down from the top of the summit I got the first glimpse of a typical Penguin Highway. But what was more memorable in this excursion was what happened on the shore close to the Zodiac landing. A cute little clueless penguin popped out of the water and started walking towards us and put on a mini show. Undoubtedly the best experience of the day, of course not counting the fun Glissading Sangeetha decided to launch into on her way back!

A Solo little Fella contemplating Life in the Lonely Continent!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

The excursion ended with a truly spectacular Zodiac cruise around the ice-choked channel. Once we got back to the ship, a few crazy – and insanely brave – souls decided to take on the Polar Plunge Challenge, despite the weather turning cold all of a sudden and a mild breeze kicking in. Though sangeetha was too tempted to take the plunge – literally – she held back in the last minute. Smart Move! Even if didn’t participate, just watching the folks jump into the ocean and being pulled back through a harness seconds after they hit the icy cold water [1.5 degrees!] was entertaining enough. The evening was kicked off as usual with a few cold Beagle beers. After the scheduled briefing from the Expedition Leader, we had a Captain’s welcome event where the key members from the captain’s crew as well as operations were introduced and champagne was served. Closed out the day with a quiet dinner along with a very sweet Japanese couple – from Hong Kong – while exchanging a lot of opinions and viewpoints on Asian geo-politics.

December 20, 2013

After a good night’s sleep – finally – we woke up to a splendid sunny day. The best part of this cabin – as opposed to a usual hotel room – was that every day we were treated to a different scenery, from our cabin window, each of them turning out to be more gorgeous than the previous one! According to the guides, we were being backed up by some unbelievable amount of luck if not for which we wouldn’t be witnessing such awesome days – with still waters and glorious skies! Keeping our fingers crossed and hope this streak of luck continues through the trip!

After Breakfast we did our usual morning walk around the deck to drink up on the intoxicating scenery. The ship was anchored right in front of a wall of icy mountain with such artistic glacial formations that we couldn’t stop clicking pictures. Our expedition leader described this magical land in the best possible way – Nature’s Art Gallery. How else can you label a place that was scattered with sculptures of mini icebergs that were so pretty and gorgeous that you could easily mistake them for artwork of skilled sculptors.

Magical Million Year old Frozen Ice Landscape

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

Our first stop for the day was at Neko Harbor – a continental landing deep in Andvord Bay. While the place looked magnificently pretty under the bright blue skies and the shining sunlight, there was a very subtle danger that was lurking around – like the potential carving of an iceberg/sheet of ice from the nearby cliffs that would result in a sudden surge of waves and flood the shore! It is such unpredictable outcomes that makes a place like Antarctica even more delicious for an expedition traveler! The guides were pretty aware of this and were very careful throughout our mini zodiac cruise. The trek up the Hill today was much easier than the Danco Harbor trek, was coming down was a bit tricky due to icy conditions. However the views from top were, as usual, mind-blowing. Once again, I was so impressed by all the elderly people pushing themselves so hard to make the trek up to the top without bothering about how old they were and what health conditions they had. Hats off to them and I hope I would be like them when I turn 70 or 80!

View from Hill on Neko Harbor

Photo of Neko Harbour, Antarctica by Prasanna Vee

This morning we were lucky enough to catch a few penguin groups trekking along a penguin highway as well as completely un-skilled climber of a penguin who was struggling his way through the top mostly on his belly! J Very entertaining experience. On our way back to the boat, our guide was sweet enough to take us through a mini zodiac cruise around the area which was so worthwhile since the strong sunlight was orchestrating a wonderful show using the ice-berg musicians scattered all around the place.

Making use of the wonderful weather, Lunch today was served on the outside deck and have to say this was one of the most memorable barbecue lunches that I have ever been to and probably would ever experience in the future! Open Air, Great music, Yummy food, Cold beer and weather so warm you could be hanging out in T-shirts while dreamily cruising through the Andvord Bay, made this such a dreamlike experience , it would easily go on our blue list of best travel experiences

A Surreal Barbecue Experience on the Deck!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

Our Afternoon landing was in a relatively more popular place called Paradise Harbor. True to its name the whole bay was like a paradise, in another planet. And we felt like we were travelers from planet earth who just landed there to explore and do a recon of the place for human migration! We felt like were almost acting in a science fiction fantasy movie. With its Majestic icebergs and reflections of the surrounding mountains in the water, Paradise Harbor was undeniably beautiful

The agenda for the landing included a quick trek up another peak for a view of the glaciers, walking around the Argentine Brown station and a Zodiac cruising around the ice calved from the (receding) glacier at the head of the bay.

Ice Trekking in Paradise Harbour

Photo of Paradise Bay, Antarctica by Prasanna Vee

From the last 2 days of cruising around the waters of Antarctica what amazed me the most is that anywhere else in the world if we had found even one glacier like the hundreds we saw in Paradise harbor or Neko harbor people from all around the country would be flocking to view and snap a million pictures of it. Where as in Antarctica you find a dozen of them around every bay going almost unnoticed because of the abundance! The only analogy I can think of is that how in most towns far away from the United Kingdom every ‘English Pub’ would be celebrated so much and almost always crowded as compared to London where you could find a dozen of them in every street!

After adding a few more beagles to our damage list and one more excellent dinner, we retired to our cabin at around 9:30 PM while a few brave souls decided to Camp out on the icy shore for the night! Since the ship was anchored for the night, due to the fact that campers were on shore, we decided to brave it out by avoiding the Mexie cocktail[Sea sickness pill] for the first time on this voyage and not so surprisingly still slept well through the night. Sangeetha was enthusiastic enough to set an alarm for Midnight and wake up to see the glorious sunset. Nowhere else in the world we would have needed an alarm to be up at Midnight. Compare that to back home, where even the most wimpy travelers or older folks like my in-laws won’t be in bed by midnight!

December 21, 2013

This morning we decided to skip the now repetitive and boring breakfast and instead hang out in the lounge over a hot coffee while admiring the surrounding scenery that had almost engulfed our vessel. As I completed editing the pictures from the first three days and updating the journal, the ship pulled into Wilhelmina Bay which was sprinkled with almost azure blue glaciers. The outing for this morning was restricted to Zodiac cruising as there were not good landing spots. However this Zodiac cruising was quite unique as we managed to drive past a few Ship wrecks left behind by Whalers almost a century ago. It was a welcome break to see something historical along with the supernatural landscape and wildlife that occupied it.

Ship Wreck of a different kind!

Photo of Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica by Prasanna Vee

One of the interesting observations from this morning was how some of our non-english speaking co-passengers were travelling. The entire Japanese group always chose to cruise in the same Zodiac. They were such a liability and a Guide’s nightmare that we actually caught some of them trying to board the Zodiac without a life vest, taking a cat-nap and almost falling off a Zodiac during a cruise etc., It was quite shocking to see why they would travel like this in an alien land where only a foreign language they didn’t understand was spoken. But on the flip side, you still have to admire the intense wanderlust these travelers must have to explore even with all the lingual limitations. Nonetheless, what was not cool and a bit disturbing was the fact that our Guides didn’t really take such things critically and organize the groups accordingly. For example, for most landings a few zodiac cruises were so heavily filled with very old – and highly unfit – passengers that god forbid, if an emergency had occurred the guide would have been completely lost on which side to jump and whom to save first! In my opinion, they should have taken enough care to balance the distribution of travelers according to fitness levels, age and language understanding.

Changing topics and getting back to the travel part – what was quite fascinating about this voyage was no matter how many times you saw or did something similar, they always seemed like a fresh/brand new experience and almost had the exact same impact on you as when you went through it the first time! For example, no matter how many times you have embarked on to the ship from a Zodiac, every time you approach the ship after your zodiac ride, the sight of the ship against the background of the majestic Antarctic landscape looked astonishing. We have never felt like this in our past travels. Meaning, we have gotten bored very quickly in a city filled with ruins after checking out the first few set of ruins, or ready to leave a historic art gallery after browsing through the first few pieces of artwork. But not here, not in the imposing Antarctic peninsula.

Are we in this Planet still?!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

After lunch we sailed further north through a mine of mighty icebergs before eventually dropping the pick at Portal Point. This is another wonderful aspect of this Voyage. You can pay thousands of dollars to get a great view out of your room window in any exotic location around the world. However to have a million dollar view like these stunning icebergs floating past along with the regularly shifting background, shapes and colors of scenery is nearly impossible to get in any luxury accommodation ashore. One must do an Antarctic cruise just for this one reason!

The View from our Cozy Cabin!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

The stop at Portal point was a landing only excursion and didn’t include Zodiac cruising. The trek up the hill here was very different from the rest of the treks we did until now since it included walking through crevasse filled snowfields that could easily compete with terrains you might find on a climb up Mt.Baker or Mt Rainier in the Pacific Northwest. But the scary part was not so safety-conscious expedition guides were allowing anyone and everyone to trek up the slopes without any proper instructions – let alone being guided with a rope, ice axe and crampon etc.,! Another red-flag of the trip. Since I had done a few climbs up glacier mountains, I was well aware of the looming danger and risk of going up such slopes without proper training and actually playing around on top of them! In any case, what vacation would be fulfilling without doing something crazy, stupid and impulsive!

A Snow Trek that was as interesting as my Glacial Climbs in the Pacific Northwest!

Photo of Antarctica: Dodging the Drake! by Prasanna Vee

Came back to the ship around 5:00 PM – as usual – to get ready for the evening proceedings. By now, most of the travelers have become so trained in the process of embarking and disembarking the ship, the guides and helpers at the zodiac boarding platform of the ship were pretty lightweight and were rushing through the process. I have to admit that more than the zodiac cruise and the landing I started loving the process of actually embarking and disembarking the ship and am going to miss that the most once we get off the expedition!

December 22, 2013

We had to wake a bit early this morning – at around 6:00 AM – as we dint want to miss viewing the spectacular entry into the Deception Island- a beautiful ‘restless volcano’ which was the site of a whaling station and the first Antarctic flight. To reach this secret haven, however vessels must navigate a tricky 230m wide break in the volcano’s wall known as Neptune Bellows. A British sailor called the Bellows ‘a veritable death trap to the uninitiated’ thanks to the hull-piercing Ravn rock which lies just 2.5m beneath the surface in the center of the narrow channel. Passing through this narrow channel was what we woke up for and was totally worth it. It has been almost 5 days since we started this voyage and I still can’t believe where we are. The level of excitement that is running through my mind – as I am typing this journal entry while parked inside the caldera of an Antarctic volcano – is still the same if not more, as it was when we started this journey!

During this morning’s landing the Expedition staff decided to divide the trekkers into Long trek and Short trek groups. I opted for the tougher and longer trek to the top of the caldera and it was well worth it. We made it to the top in a bit under 1 hour. The howling wind and freezing temperatures at the top of the ridge were so insanely unbearable, it finally felt like the Antarctica we watched in the the old black and white in-cabin videos -of early polar explorers! The place had a kind of otherworldly charm similar to Ngoro Ngoro Crater in Tanzania. On one side there was a stretch of Black volcanic soil kissed by lashing waves from the almost Turquoise blue ocean water and on the other side was the super white snowcapped Caldera wall. It was a cocktail of very interesting colors and a feast for photographers.

Neptune Bellows

Photo of Deception Island, Antarctica by Prasanna Vee

As we were sitting down for Lunch today, we started feeling very sentimental already about having to say goodbye to this fairytale wonderland very soon and that our life on board a ship – which has now become a home away from home for us – is going to end as early as tomorrow morning. And as we started getting a bit light-headed emotionally, Mother Nature made us feel oozy physically by throwing some rough seas our way! Just when we thought we had seen and experienced it all, the Antarctic continent seemed to be showcasing all the talent she is notorious for within a few hours! Freezing temperatures, bone chilling wind and now mini-rogue waves! The excitement in this trip doesn’t seem to stop, even as we are on our way out of the Bransfield strait.

This afternoon’s landing – at Half Moon bay in Livingston Island was our final landing of the voyage. Cant believe the trip was coming to an end so soon! Though the landing by itself didn’t have much to offer, the fact that this was the last exploratory trip of this trip made it very special and we decided to spend some time on the land just soaking in that feeling and take a long deep breath of Antarctica. Sadly, the smelly chinstrap penguins didn’t allow that to happen! The rookeries here were so much larger than any other rookery we spotted in this trip and they sure underlined their presence very well through their unique ‘fragrance’. I have to say, that though the penguins are the cutest little creatures in the planet, they stink to high heavens! But still as we depart from our last landing it seemed like they were bidding us a sweet farewell…

A sweet Goodbye from our Little Local!

Photo of Bransfield Strait, Antarctica by Prasanna Vee
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