My own globetrotting had already included
part of the North West Passage during the
Arctic summer, so I had experienced the
strange hold that ice landscapes have over
you. The Antarctic, however, always seemed
so much further away. This year, I finally
made it – at the height of the Antarctic summer:
Forget the luxury cruise ship with its endless
supply of food, drink and entertainment
and all the waste that that entails. Here
aboard MS Explorer we strictly observe
the terms of the Antarctic Treaty: no waste
dumped anywhere, not over the side and
definitely nothing on shore. We even need to
make sure we “go” before we land.
Just getting to the ship was an adventure.
We flew via Buenos Aires – with all its passion,
heat, tangos, courteous and kindly
people, and the inevitable ‘light-fingered’
brigade. Luckily I didn’t get relieved of my
cameras, laptop or valuables as befell some of
my fellow travellers. But I lost my baggage
on the flight to Ushuaia, the little port near
Cape Horn. Luckily, it turned up an hour
before we were due to sail.
Off into the notorious Drake’s Passage
with all its unpredictable weather and violent seas, Explorer’s
shallow draft and small size enable us to savour this to the full!
Our albatross and giant petrel escort, however, find the wind
entirely to their liking.
Our first sight of our destination, the Antarctic Peninsula: nothing
can prepare you for the serene beauty of this land, the stillness,
the calm and the clean air. The temperature, too, is a surprise: the
Antarctic summer is far more pleasant than an English winter.
Squeezing our way through the ice choked
Lemaire Channel we land on the Pleneau and Peterman Islands eager to
introduce ourselves to the penguin colonies, observing the etiquette
of a five-metre buffer zone of which the penguins are blissfully
unaware. On to the Gerlache Strait to meet the Chinstraps and more
Gentoo at Neko Harbour.
We find lots of barnacled humpback whale families tossing around in
Wilhelmina Bay, Macaroni penguins at Livingstone Island and, of
course, seals everywhere – crab-eaters, Wedell, Antarctic fur,
leopard, and elephant seals. The latter are distinguished by their
appalling manners; belching and breaking wind as they loll around in
groups (just like a lads’ night out!).
Arrival back at Ushuaia signals our re-entry to civilisation. But we
return as members of a rare and privileged band – ex- Antarcticans -
with our ideals and love of life refreshed, having experienced a
and amazing land; a land yet to be spoiled by man.