28/03/2015 We finally arrived in Antarctica after sailing through the oddly calm Drake Passage for two full days. Woken up early by our expedition leader Anna at 06:30, I quickly got dressed to head out on deck as we were navigating through the famous Lemaire Channel. The narrow wide channel is a famous stop for tours to the Antarctic Peninsula and despite the bitter cold in the morning, I could not help but staying outside to soak in the majestic sights around me while the sun desperately tried to break through the thick layer of clouds around us.
The sky on our path through the Drake Passage during the last two days was mostly dominated by a thick layer of clouds, making us doubt a bit if we would ever really see anything. In fact, going to Antarctica at the end of March is a bit risky in terms of the weather. You might not see a lot, you might also be stuck in ice and the wild life could hide from you as well. The clouds were still present when we arrived in the Lemaire Channel, but everyone was heading out to deck anyway despite the extremely low morning temperatures around 07:00 AM. About an hour later, the sun actually peaked out for the first time and turned the scenery into incredible orange colors. Snow and Ice covered peaks could be seen all around us and it was our first real sight on Antarctica, a moment that will stick in my memory for the rest of my life for sure. Slowly loosing the feeling in my hands, it was time to get out of the cold and warm up during the nice breakfast buffet.
Finishing the breakfast, we had to change into our zodiac gear for the first time as our first landing to Pourquoi Pas harbour was up! Most of the other people on board looked like they would climb Everest, being completely covered in at least three layers of clothes. Myself, on the other side, just equipped with my light weight trekking gear lead me to believe that it could get a bit cold out there. At least I had three layers of socks to keep my feet warm while wearing the gummy boots they provided. Those would need to be cleaned before and after each zodiac landing as well, making sure that no bacteria would be put on Antarctica. Everyone was ready to go in their complete outfit, including a life west as well, when Anna suddenly made the announcement that our first zodiac landing would have to be cancelled. The weather did not permit a landing and there was too much ice to guarantee a safe trip in the boats. Disappointed, we went back to our cabins to change into normal clothing again – waiting for lunch to be served.
After we filled up our bellies once again, we would finally be able to get out in the zodiacs on our second attempt. The crew prepared three locations for us and we were split up in groups to reach them. My first stop was Wordie House, a shelter that was used by the brits during the second world war. Part of the hut was originally built by James Wordie, a member of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition in 1921. Inside, we could see original items from that time while outside, the penguins were curiously awaiting us. Antarctica boasts different kinds of penguins and the ones here were Gentoos. Just observing their quest of either standing around or getting from A to B was pure entertainment on it’s own and never really gets boring. We also had seals hanging out, some of them which needed to be observed from a safe distance. Our crew members would make sure that none of the tourists would get too close.
Up next, the zodiac was waiting for us and ready to drop us off around the corner at the Ukrainian station Vernadsky. Handed over from the brits to Ukraine in 1996, the station is populated with a few scientists, engaged in research about the High Atmosphere and the Ozone Layer, as well as biologists working on mosses, skuas and the underwater plants and plankton. They also have a bar in there and it seemed to be a ritual from female visitors to leave their bra’s there. Very interesting. The most southern souvenir shop in the world rounds up the package and we were headed back into the cold to the waiting zodiac boats.
On our way back, the crew brought us close to some ice bergs floating around in the area. I was familiar with oddly shaped ice bergs from my trip to Greenland, but seeing them in Antarctica was a bit more special. Unfortunately, the weather was not optimal this day and some sun light would have made the experience even better. We would still have some time here though and for now, I was really happy with what we saw. The zodiac returned us to the M/V Ushuaia at 5:30 PM and while we enjoyed our afternoon snacks, the captain navigated us out of the Argentine Islands again.
I really enjoyed the times in between our activities as well. Just hanging out in the lounge, reading a book (or playing settlers II in my case) or attempting a round of chess was a really nice contrast program of watching the incredible scenery around us. I actually spent most of the time for the latter and would not really care how cold it was outside, but just like the rest, I would have to eventually retreat in the nice heated lounge or my cabin again to warm up. We had a nice mix of interesting people on board as well, mostly aged above 40 but also with a few “youngsters” like me. I quickly made friends with a few Germans and we would spent most of the meals together. Talking about the meals, I have to say they were absolutely delicious and I could get as much as I wanted. Happy to have recovered from my upset stomach, I was now making full use of all those meals and fruits provided while wondering what the next day would have in store for us.
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