I love that holiday song. And I'm definitely starting to feel the holiday spirit. Maybe it's the anticipation of my favorite feast at home next week. Or maybe it's the warm dulce de leche latte that was enveloped in an annual festive Starbucks holiday cup. Or just maybe it's that I merely returned from 10 days in freezing temperatures counting icebergs.
Welcome to the last continent! The largest area of wilderness in the world. Where seas are unforgiving. Where icebergs drift by in parades. Where snow-trudging penguins belly flop by the minute. And where there’s no such thing as normal.
My Antarctic voyage route
Normal doesn't exist in Antarctica. The powers that be (in this case, my expedition operator, Quark) make you very aware at an early stage that you should get used to nothing. That conditions can and do change in a heartbeat. That every sighting is a privilege. And any encounter should be cherished. Trying to duplicate experiences are simply futile attempts. If you weren't practicing living in the moment before, you are thrust into embracing it in a place like this. Antarctic operators are devoted to preserving this enchanted land. What goes in to Antarctica must go out. And through simple trickle-down, law of association, you too become an automatic custodian. But how could you not be with this kind of untouched beauty?
Traveling solo on a ship for a period of time is a lot like the first week of freshman year at college. You get the lay of the land. You learn the routines. You hang out with people. You learn what people to avoid. And if you’re lucky, perhaps lifelong relationships develop.
The lifelong relationship I’m most excited to have gained is the one with Antarctica. It was amazingly generous during my time with it. Air temps hovering around 35 degrees. Water temps hovering around 33 degrees. Perfectly manageable winds. Clear, sunny days that even the crew was stunned by at this time of year. Wildlife that continued to expose itself. And even our notoriously tumultuous friend, Drake (or the Drake Passage; the waterway between South America and the Antarctic region), kept relatively calm during our voyages.
That’s not to say there weren’t cabin desk drawers slamming open and shut through the night. Although a crew member told me that on a scale of 1 to 10 the conditions we experienced in the Drake were about a 3, it felt like Deadliest Catch material. Around 1:00am on the first night was when it started. And there was no going back to sleep. For anyone. The swells in the darkness were constantly shifting you in bed. Laborious rocking. Continual rolling. Pitching this way. Listing that way. I frequently decided it was just a matter of time before we tipped completely. The rattling and creaking as the ship settled with each movement had me investigating loose items in my cabin, but to no avail. Soon enough, the not-so-distant sounds of toppling, shifting, and sliding cabin items from around the hall could be heard. And definitely made me chuckle when I found my hand lotion, water bottle, and notepad living on the floor across the cabin the next morning. I love how the dining hall chairs are chained to the floor and how everyone walks diagonally around the ship for balance.
This never deterred me though from the perpetual laps around the outer decks. One level down to another. Up to the next. Down to another. The scenery. Was. Unreal. And you couldn’t afford to miss one minute. Sometimes I just hung out in the bridge where you could watch the captain’s crew at work. Quiet prevailed except for the calm commands voiced by the Ukrainian captain. Just by the mere presence there, I felt like a part of the expedition’s navigation.
It always felt like an honor hanging out in the bridge and witnessing the captain and his crew navigate our voyage.
The first iceberg spotted on the horizon
Negotiating slowly through brash ice (a mix of sea ice and glacial ice).
And so the journey went. When not observing the best that nature has to offer outside, I was learning about it inside. It was like a floating school. Did I not say this was like college? Optional lectures everyday on topics like orcas, ice 101, and conservation. Grab a hot chocolate on the way in, spot a friend to sit next to, and you've got yourself a pretty rad hour of education. As long as the ship's continual lull didn't put you to sleep. There were always a lot of heavy eyelids in that room.
The library hall full of resources and quick answers
My favorite reference material!
A rare sighting of a pod of 15-20 orcas straight out of the gates in the Antarctic peninsula
Other on-ship activities kept things interesting when we weren't exploring the environs. Three anticipated dining room meals a day (ask me about the fabulous ginger ale/red wine spritzer sometime). An evening BBQ on the chilly outer decks- hot dogs and all. And perhaps most notably, the infamous Polar Plunge, of which I had no knowledge of happening before the trip and ended up succumbing to the anxious frivolity of it on board. Somehow all the questions (How cold is that water? Will I go into cardiac arrest when I hit that water? Will someone be standing on the edge of the gangway with a heavy robe and portable heater when I exit that water?) seemed overridden by sheer stupidity. But, I did it. And it perma-froze a smile on my face for a few days afterward.
Enjoying the remains of a tasty BBQ and another crisp, beautiful day with fun, new Aussie pals Kalan and Emma and Beth from D.C.
The Polar Plunge waiting line
All harnessed in. It's now or never!
Bravery or stupidity? I'm still not sure.
So I guess I'll continue to take the ol' holiday song's advice to "get over that hold out" and keep jumping into new things. As warned in these parts, it may be the only time I get to. No need to get cold feet now.
Until the next Polar experience...