I have to be honest. When somebody exclaimed "Congratulations! You just swam in the Southern Ocean!" after taking the Polar Plunge, I estimated about ten things wrong with that sentence. First and foolish-me-foremost, I didn't even know there was a Southern Ocean. And yet, my most striking experiences from Antarctica took place kayaking, paddling, and jumping into this frigid body of water that surrounds the continent.
Being a part of the "elite" group of 15 kayakers on board (as our designated guides liked to say) afforded some invaluable privileges. Creating bonds with our guides and fellow group members. Getting to disembark the ship first. Getting to embark last. Learning a whole new sport and its terminology (pogies, anyone?). We also had the invaluable privilege of frequently sweating our asses off in drysuits for about 30 minutes until getting the greenlight to leave the ship. Keep in mind that while a wetsuit lets water in and is used in warmer water temperatures, drysuits seal you in and have heavier insulating materials to keep you dry in cold water conditions. So between a few of the other women and I feeling like we were anxiously getting ready for prom (one actually phoned my room minutes before our first meeting just to, again, go over the clothing line up) and the pre-disembarkation wait, the kayaking suiting-up process was an activity in itself. Add to it the prep demos, safety lectures, morning meetings, SWAT team-like file down to the zodiacs and you'd think the anticipation was more than enough of an adrenalin rush.
Not even close. The calm, 33 degree water. The gentle wind reddening my cheeks. The penguin-lined cliffs setting the course. Concentrating on the distinct calls from those cute critters. And occasionally resting my paddle to allow the bobbing current to carry me in the direction of the next expansive, extraordinary scene it wanted me to see. I winced at the thought of not having this sea-level perspective (five times, mind you, during the course of the voyage) as I remembered the internal debate I had when paying for it months ago. It was worth every red cent.
As was the experience that led to my most favorite morning of this Fall's entire adventure. Stand-Up Paddleboarding around Cuverville Island in the most glassy, most windless, most still, most clear, most wintry, most atmospheric, most penguin-active setting. You can't get any more most than this place on this morning. And in the spirit of it-doesn't-get-any-better-than-this, our guide instructed the small group of us to simply lie back on our boards in utter silence for ten minutes. Even with an enormous fur seal perched on the ice ledge nearby, you could hear a pin drop. Surreal doesn't begin to cover it.
Indeed, the last continent touched every last one of my senses with impressions that are sure to last a lifetime. I may have been dense on where the Southern Ocean was, but I'm abundantly clear now what those waters have brought to my life.
*Note: Due to the almost impossible nature of trying to manipulate a camera/iphone in these settings with bulky gloves and gear on (let alone attempting to stay in the moment), some of these images were taken by Quark crew members and others.
Here come the kayaks lowered down from the top deck of the ship.
Intent kayakers during instruction from our guide, Becs
Up close and personal with the penguins
Navigating brash ice conditions at Danco Island
Spert Island- the choppiest kayaking waters we encountered
The breathtaking scenery, rafts of penguins, and conditions of my SUP morning
Solitude. Minus the packs of penguins under and around my board keeping me company.
Just me. Oh, and that massive iceberg.
Love this shot of the row of us paddling along the iceberg base...
...and into Antarctica's depths.
Exhilarated and proud. What a morning!