Voyage to the Bottom of the World: Visiting Antarctica
It was mid-December and I traveled to the coldest, driest, and windiest continent where there’s no permanent human residents or any evidence of a ny pre-historic indigenous population. It lies in darkness at the bottom of the world. It‘s a vast unknown like an afterthought of creation. Antarctica would prove to be an adventure that makes life worth living. At 63 years of age I wanted a different kind of experience knowing I‘ve lived more of my life than I have left to live. I got it.
“Antarctica is Earth’s southern most continent, overlying the South Pole. It is situated in the southern hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. It is the fifth-largest continent in area after Asia, Africa, North America and South America. Some 98 percent of Antarctic is covered by ice, which averages at least 1.6 kilometres (1.0) miles in thickness”. (Source: Wikipedia)
Getting ThereGetting to the Antarctica is no mean feat. Depending on where you leave from North America to Buenos Aires, Argentina it’s about a ten to fifteen hour flight. After overnighting in this Argentina capital and self proclaimed City of Cool it was another three hour flight to the Tierra del Fuego and its capital Ushuaia (Pronounced: you-sway-ah) where I embarked on a ten day trip aboard the MV Discovery to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula.
The Drake Passage -- The Roughest Stretch of Water in the WorldThere is the body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn and Antarctica. It’s called the Southern Ocean and is the ocean that circumvents the Antarctic. It’s the fourth largest ocean in the world (after the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean, but larger than the Arctic Ocean). This passage held up to its reputation as the roughest stretch in the world.
Zodiac Cruising, Penguins, Ice Bergs, Seals and SunI was mesmerized from the first moment I set eyes on the continent. It is a place that expanded my sense of time. I listened to the silence outside my porthole and experienced delicious peacefulness. The skies were flawless blue with marshmallow clouds. The sun shown for 22 hours a day and the temperature about +3C (+39 F). It was truly another world. I found what I was looking for.
When weather permitted, as it did for most of this cruise, I took shore excursions (zodiac cruising) to the continent itself. We cruised among icebergs. Some were the size of a piano and others to the dimensions of a 10-story building.
It was Saturday, December 22 at 1 pm that I first stepped foot on Half Moon Island, part of the 7th continent of the world, Antarctica. I became one of the approximate 35,000 people to do so each year.
There was a sizable rookery of Chinstrap and Adelie penguins, and an abundant population of terns, petrels, comorants, and wandering albatross as well as whales. I saw stunning views of surrounding volcanic mountains.
Another highlight was to cruise off of ice-covered Elephant Island -- named for its sizeable colony of elephant seals. Another day I set foot on King George island where the Arctowski Polish Research Antarctic Station is found. Managed by the Polish Academy of Science it is manned year-round and researches things like biology, glaciology and oceanography.