On Wednesday 19 December I left the Ushuaia harbour onboard the M/V Antarctic Dream, ready for an Antarctic Expedition. I was one of 69 passengers onboard, varying in age between 14 and 80, but with more younger people than I expected. A great deal of the time seemed to revolve around food: breakfast in the morning, 4 courses for lunch, and 4 courses again for dinner. It is a good thing the portions were relatively small, otherwise I would be leaving the ship with quite a few extra pounds. After getting to know most people onboard a little, I ended up having most dinners together with Michael (Swiss), Patricia (Swiss), Yannis (Greek), Aspasia (Greek) and Shani (Israeli/American/British), all aged between 28 and 32. We had quite a few good laughs together.
It took us until Friday afternoon to cross the Drake Passage, 1000km of Southern Ocean separating South America and Antarctica. We had a very good crossing, with only some china breaking. During the day we had lectures onboard about the penguins, birds, and ice of Antarctica. We got the first sight of Antarctica when huge tabular icebergs passed by in the distance, simply amazing to see. Since we crossed much faster than planned, we already did a zodiac landing in the late afternoon. This meant getting dressed really warm with waterproof clothes and a lifevest on top, stepping into the zodiac from the ship, and out of the zodiac in shallow water. The first landing was absolutely amazing: seeing chinstrap penguins in their real environment for the first time, watching the pristine beauty of uninhabited, snow-covered islands, walking through knee-deep snow, and feeling very small admidst all this.
Saturday consisted of a landing on Aitcho Islands, where we got very lucky to see not only the very common gentoo penguin, but also the uncommon macaroni penguin and king penguin. On top of that there was an entire group of elephant seals. This first two landings were on the South Shetland islands, and it took the remainder of the day to get to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Sunday was a full day with 3 landings. The first one at Neko Harbor, where besides the obvious penguins, there also was a crabeater seal. The main attraction was the huge glacier, and I basically sat on a rock for 2 hours watching it. During that time a few small pieces broke off and plunged into the water, but I felt something big was about to happen. When it was almost time to go, a huge piece of the glacier broke off with a thunderous roar, and it plunged into the water. That meant running for my life, because the resulting wave completely flooded the rock I was sitting on. A unique experience. On the way back I walked down the hill a bit too enthousiastically, and fell down on my knee, which hurt quite a bit.
The second landing on Sunday afternoon was at Waterboat Point, where the Chilean Presidente Gabriel GonzÃ¡lez Videla Station is located. The station was surrounded by a penguin colony, and because of the sheltered location, the smell here was much worse than at the other locations. The station had a small museum and souvenir shop (nothing of interest there). It is hard to imagine how people could spend the winter in these small bases with no supply ship for 6 months, and nothing but bitter cold and snow.
On Sunday evening we did the third landing of that day. Cuverville Island was the location, and there was supposed to be a view from the 275m hill. However, it was quite cloudy and because my knee was still hurting, I decided not to do the hike. Instead, I just sat down among the penguins, and watched them waggle by and approach me slowly. Very funny to see.