Life’s journeys play host to the constant battle of expectations and delivery. Antarctica was no different except that our expectations of it were within inches of the stratosphere given the mystique and the cost of the trip. However, we did not carry a must-see checklist outlining this bit of wildlife or that bit of landscape, this scene or that moment. We could not really quantify our desires — we had simply hoped to be overwhelmed.
Then, on that first Antarctic morning, we stepped foot off the gangway of the MS Expedition and into a zodiac. It was clear that we were about to be blown away — but in a way that none of us had quite expected.
We were in Hanusse Bay, a few clicks south of the Antarctic Circle. Just before, Mother Nature had tested us on the Drake Passage by sending 35-50 foot waves our way. (A polar navigation veteran with 35 years of experience rated the difficulty of our passage as 8 out of 10). Everyone was anxious to see and feel the place for which they had traveled all this way.
Mother Nature began that day by painting the sky with gray primer touched by steel wool. She offered no postcard cliché, no azure blue skies with popping white mountains. Her opening display was about honesty. On her canvas of truth, she dropped in shrouded glaciers and brushed in water that was ink-black. But amidst all this dimness, she placed massive hunks of turquoise blue ice that appeared to be illuminated from within and reflected them in the water in electric shades of light green.
We could only wonder: from where the light?
Jared, our zodiac driver, quit the motor. We sat suspended, swaddled by the immensity of our surroundings. It was fiercely quiet. Although we were not the first to ply these waters, the scene evinced freshness and mystery, a kind of infinite natural virginity.
A few crabeater seals and seabirds sitting on icebergs dotted our vision, but the star of that morning was ice, pure and simple. All we could hear were the occasional plunks and scrapes of glacier fragments glancing off the side of the zodiac. When the floes thinned, the silence was punctuated with the snap, crackle, and pop of melting brash ice in the water that surrounded us.
We began moving again. Behind each giant piece of floating ice, the light shifted with the Antarctic wind and the whites and blues of icebergs and glaciers took on a new character. It played stunning and eerie as we glided through the water. Like a land conceived of in the imaginations of inventive science fiction writers seeking to teach us a lesson, this Antarctica was solemn and otherworldly.
A few times, giant hunks of ice separated from calving glaciers and fell into the sea, setting off waves that would have toppled our zodiac had we been too near. This was Mother Nature’s way of saying, “You can look, but you can’t get too close.”
For a first impression, Antarctica opened for us like a prizefighter that moves with ballerina-like elegance, only to deliver a knockout blow. Most passengers returned to the ship stunned and exhilarated by both the beauty and the mood of what they’d just experienced.
A land harsh and brutal, graceful and serene, Antarctica makes clear that visitors are voyeurs — guests at best, interlopers at worst. On this trip, she would eventually treat us to a taste of the stereotypically dramatic that she has to offer – the blue skies, jagged peaks and wildlife that she is known for.
The Antarctica tour we took with G Adventures was paid for by us and went south of the Antarctic Circle. We highlight this feature as most tours to Antarctica do not go this far south. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad above. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!
Article Series - A Journey to Antarctica
- Antarctica Update #1: The Drake Passage, From Killer Waves to Killer Whales
- Antarctica, Part 2: Honest Antarctica – Gray Skies, Blue Ice
- Antarctica, Part 3: Penguins, The Key to Happiness and World Peace?
- Antarctica, Part 4: An Audio Slideshow