In all the writing I’m doing, I realized yesterday that most of the writing has been Antarctic “facts”, like the history of the Antarctic continent, the behavior of penguins, and ecological factors. I think I have been remiss in sharing my impressions of Antarctica and our journey so far, which has involved two days on the open sea, and another three and a half off the Antarctic Peninsula.
You may have heard this before, but let me state it for the record: Antarctica is unbelievably real and heart-achingly beautiful.
For example, yesterday evening, after returning to the National Geographic Explorer from several hours on land at Cuverville Island, home to one of the largest colonies of Gentoo penguins, all I could do is sigh, wistfully, as I stood our on the balcony of our stateroom, looking at the vista in the bay in which the ship was anchored.
In my immediate view was land covered with eons old glacial ice. I also saw a number of ice bergs of varying size formed from calving glaciers, almost shining blue from the purity of the ice. In the water were countless Gentoo penguins, porpoising out of the water in a sort of carefree exuberance.
I could not tear myself away from the view, and just waited for yet another group of penguins to play their aquatic game of leap frog merely dozens of feet away. And I kept sighing, and mumbling to myself about how stunningly beautiful it all was.
However, our ship ultimately did have to leave the bay, and thus our view changed, with icebergs and glaciers slowly getting smaller in the distance. A humpback whale surfaced about 400 yards behind us in the ship’s wake, occasionally blowing out mists of air propelled moisture. But even the whale got smaller as we kept on course. And still I kept sighing.
Dinner was a the time to recap our day and guess at what new things we would experience and encounter the following day. But as it turned out we didn’t even have to wait that long.
After our meal, Bas and I went up to the bridge to get log readings for his science project. The bridge was mostly dark with two crew on duty. It was after sunset, but there was a beautiful soft ambient glow emanating from the overcast heavens above, reflecting on relatively calm ocean waters below.
As I watched the seas ahead of us, two dark shapes appeared, bobbing above and under the water. I watched for a minute or two as they got closer and found they were seals of some sort, frolicking about, even at night.
Another sigh. Nature’s beauty and serendipity just wouldn’t go away. Nor did I want it to.
And then several more, larger but more distant, shapes appeared ahead of the ship. We finally got close enough to determine they were humpback whales. I stood rapt, just watching as their huge but sleek bodies emerged out of the ocean. First the back of the head, then a blow of moisture which quickly dissipated, then the stunted dorsal fin on the curved back that is the trademark of a humpback whale, and then it would disappear entirely below the frigid water, only to repeat it all over again a minute later – sometimes close and sometimes far from where it last dove underwater.
As we passed the whales, Bas and I rushed to port to catch one last glimpse of our leviathan companions, and were rewarded with seeing one of the whales surface, and then bring its tail completely out of the water to give itself the extra push it needed to descend deep into the depths. Almost as if it was waving good bye to us.
Every day so far has been filled with wonder, excitement, and appreciation for the privilege of being able to visit Antarctica before it change much further.
And we can’t even imagine what the following day may hold, as plans are fluid, and opportunities are seized as they appear. And here we are, ready for more of nature’s beauty.