Antarctica from My Perspective

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Written by Sarah Tucker who travelled onboard One Ocean Voyager/Akademik Sergey Vavilov on a 10 night Peninsula Adventure departure in December 2013.

Fortunately we were on the other ship – the one that didn’t get stuck in the ice. It was December 20 when we set off on the Vavilov from Ushuaia in Argentina – the world’s southernmost city – for a two-day voyage across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, the most mysterious and untouched continent.

Antarctic, Cape and Snow Petrels escorted us across the Passage, with Antarctic Terns and both the Wandering and Grey-headed Albatross also in attendance. Albatrosses – legendary birds of Coleridgean fame, often said to carry the souls of lost sailors – have a wingspan of herculean proportions: up to 130 inches. Yet so vast was the backdrop that today they seemed small and insignificant against the endless watery expanse.

On board was Sunniva Sorby, part of the four-woman team that trekked 1100 kilometres on skis to the South Pole in 1993 while pulling 200-pound sleds. During her trek, she contracted bronchitis and suffered tendonitis and nearly died and still didn’t complain. She was one of the most self-effacing people I have ever met.

Mid-afternoon on the second day, and our first iceberg came into view off the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Soon bergs dominated the scene, like huge Henry Moore sculptures in the ultimate wilderness gallery. We were awestruck as we approached the bergs in our 12-person zodiacs and attempted to take photos without falling off or losing our hats, attended all the while by seals and whales.

Oh, and the penguins! We saw about 24,000 during our trip. With the hatching season in full swing, Antarctica swarmed with Adélie, Gentoo and Chinstraps…oh, and one lone Macaroni Penguin. None of them tap-danced or sang, as in Happy Feet, but their waddling was a good approximation.

A varied program of excursions reached its zenith on Christmas morning when we landed on Deception Island, a live volcanic isle and the most incredible place I’ve ever seen. Through Neptune’s Bellows we went; it is a channel so narrow that it seemed as though the Sea God himself might emerge from the waters, as he did in Jason and the Argonauts, to hold back the mountains on either side while our ship sailed through. On the island itself – a former whaling station – the old buildings and oil containers stood out against the white background like sleeping giants, making the landscape look even more mythical. The good weather and calm seas that we experienced earlier vanished and yielded to snow that fell silently and heavily like a blanket upon us as our ship came sailing in alone.

This is the ultimate in experiential travel and a prescription for emotional fulfillment. Antarctica will touch your soul and make you sob in wonder, though hopefully not on deck, as your tears will freeze. Images of icebergs, whales and penguins jostle for space on the mind’s screen.

Perhaps one shouldn’t be too sentimental about the penguins. Noisy and smelling of fish, they are tremendously practical in how they protect their stone nests with tenacious diligence, checking constantly on the egg to make sure it’s still there, like human mothers with a firstborn in the cot.

But then you look again at the endless chorus line of Charlie Chaplins – waddling and falling over and looking around to see if anyone is looking, then sliding on their bellies and swimming on their backs in the sea – you know that here at the bottom of the world is a scene that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Discover more about Antarctica at this year’s ideacity conference, where Dr. Michelle LaRue is set to take the stage. During her six trips to Antarctica Dr. LaRue has been chased by Adelie penguins, watched Orcas on the hunt and been tossed around by a particularly cantankerous crabeter seal. Dr. LaRue will be speaking at ideacity 2014 with a new perspective on Emperor Penguins. If you can’t make it to Koerner Hall in Toronto, June 18-20, you can always watch the free webcast!

Local tour operator Worldwide Quest and One Ocean Expeditions are giving away an Antarctic Expedition for two valued at $13,500 per person.