Friday, March 16, 2012

11 Days in Antarctica: An Icy Fairytale

Wow! Wow! Wow!

How does one describe and summarize the experience of an 11-day trip to and from Antarctica? Pictures will not do justice to the beauty. Words can't capture the grace, serenity and magic of the wildlife, scenery and emotions evoked from this experience. But i have no other option then to stumble through my incapable words to give my best description of the adventure.

BEFORE i do, i need to break the news that while i did touch land on my 7th continent, I did not complete full circle my tradition of puking from food poisoning in each continent. I guess I will have to return to Antarctica in the future...


Morning Routine: Each morning, classic songs, like 'Here Comes the Sun,' play over the loudspeaker followed by the expedition leaders soothing voice lulling me awake with 'Goooood morning' and an update on the morning itinerary. There's no such thing as a set schedule in Antarctica due to the unpredictable weather. I then jumped out of bed and did yoga, which takes on a whole new meaning of stability and balance when you're on a rocking boat!

Food: Let's just say we did not go hungry on the boat. They even made me gluten-free bread.

Lectures: On the days we did not do Zodiac cruises or landings, we had talks on birds, geology, history, whales, etc. I will admit that the rocking of the boat was so soothing that I nodded off during most lectures!

Free Time: Pre-trip, I put 8 books on my Kindle. During the trip, I read maybe 8 pages of 1 book. If i was not at a lecture, staring at the sea, eating or nodding off in my cabin, i was chatting with my roommate and the other fantastic people on the boat from all over the world.

Polar Plunge: With an observed temperature of 0 degrees Celsius (32 degree Fahrenheit), I somewhat fearlessly plunged into the Southern Ocean. I was so invigorated, ready for Round #2, until a Leopard Seal swam by and thwarted those plans.

Sea Sickness: Vomit bags lined the hallways for urgent spews. We hit an Antarctic storm with hurricane winds of over 100 knots that was off the charts on the force scale. Plates and glasses slid, crashing off the tables at dinner. During the infamous Drakes passage, the ship turned into a ghost town, where the majority of the people hugged their toilet or clutched their pillows yearning for the swaying to stop. I, on the otherhand, joined by a few other strong of stomachs, drank my way through the Drakes passage, sharing bottles of wine and home brewed whiskey (thanks Jared).


Seals: Weddell seals, fur seals, crab eater seals & leopard seals, lounged on rocks, floated on sea ice, played in the water & followed our boats. These fat blobs of blubber had such grace as they swam, popping their head in & out to stare at us with massive, unassuming yet mischievous eyes.

Whales: Almost every time we got in the Zephyr Boat, a humpback whale would pass in the near distance or even alongside the boat, waving their fin to say hi and their tail to say goodbye in perfect unison and rhythm in their 40 ton ballet.

Penguins: We saw 5 types of penguins. Sometimes the penguins stood around with limited activity. But as soon as they started moving, their waddling gait amused me so much i could stare at them for hours, even though i was standing or sitting on rocks and soil splattered with red and brown penguin shit (red from the krill they eat). I especially loved when they played, chased, fought or pecked at each other. Molting season made the penguins look like punk rockers with mini Mohawks or awkward teenagers with random tufts of fluffy spots of hair. At one landing site, there was a penguin pool where the penguins splashed around and 'practiced' how to swim. And my all time favorite penguin watching was what appeared as fat flying fish but turned out to be graceful penguins swimming and diving out of the sea. Spotting 'fying fish penguins' always triggered a chain reaction of instant giggles and brought a big smile to my face.

Me: This seems like a perfect place to describe what i wore: 2 wool socks, wool tights, thick running pants, windproof / waterproof pants, sports bra tanktop, thick running shirt, arm sleeves, down jacket, ski glove liners and sometimes ski gloves, headband warmer, hat, neck warmer and finally one massive, bright yellow poncho lined with fleece. I had so many layers i waddled like a penguin, fitting in quite well with the wildlife.


Ice: With icebergs that could be measured in miles, calved from the massive Antarctic ice shelf, beautiful ice sculptures floated in the sea, transplanting you into a winter fairytale. No 2 ice sculptures are the same and if you let your imagination go, you could see llamas, faces, hearts and more. This frozen continent is a photographers dream, surrounded by jagged lines, smooth edges and contrasting colors with bright white ice behind a gray or blue sky backdrop and bordered by bright, turquoise blue water. Picture perfect.

Whaling Stations / Research Centers: Antarctica is full of fascinating history on explorers who dared to traverse this continent before maps were created and with rudimentary supplies. Now there is an array of international research centers with a lot more modern conveniences, but regardless, it seems nuts to be literally trapped on the mainland continent or an island during winter with a few people (only men in the Ukrainian station) and your research until the ice melts, signaling the beginning of summer.

Views: 10 to 30 minute hikes up an icy mountain side revealed 180 to 360 degree views of glaciers, rocks, snow and glowing light. Indescribable. Whether i was doing a headstand (picture to come) or staring out into they abyss sitting directly in the snow, i found peace - both in the external surroundings and within.


Nature is full of mystery, wonder and adventure. It can be harsh and relentless and full of surprises during the battle of survival of the fittest from all of the elements. BUT it also is full of pure moments of nature and grace and one-of-a-kind beauty.

There are interesting parallels with humans and nature. Like wildlife, life too won't stop to let humans prepare or catch up. You never know what's around the corner - both good and bad. There are so many special and unique people and adventures to experience.

SO, if I had to describe Antarctica and my experience in 3 words, I would say:

Life is Beautiful.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What would you do at the 'End of the World'

What would you do at 'el fin del mundo' (at the end of the world)?
  • Get an official stamp in my passport: Ushuaia, La ciudad mas austral del mundo (the southernmost city in the world). CHECK
  • Eat local King crab in a bowl of amazing sauce with tomatoes, green onions and a touch of cream, while sipping on a 550ml bottle of malbec wine and watching the sunset CHECK
  • Walk up to a summit in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia for 2.5hrs with Noone around. Hike included a 1 kilometer ascent, so steep i walked on my toes. However, i stopped 25 meters short of the summit on the side of the steep mountain slope where the trail was covered in snow. I attempted to walk across the snow piled path and was stopped by fear halfway through and i slid my butt back to the dirt trail. i sat there for a good 25 minutes debating whether i was being too in my head or whether it really was dangerous. (video to come) CHECK
  • Enjoyed hot apple tea on the summit brewed by 2 Israeli guys who arrived where i was sitting right when i was about to head down. They convinced me that it was safe to cross the snowy sloped trail. They made 'foot holds' for me to walk in with their boots and sure enough we crossed with no problem. A picture really does not do this view justice. nor do words. it just doesn't. CHECK
  • Went streaking through the town center, down to the port, jumping into the water at the 'end of the world'. Idea processed, considered and REJECTED. (i will save mysef for the Antarctica cold water plunge in a few days.)
  • Space intentionlly left blank for ideas on what YOU would do at the 'end of the world.' I am open to your suggestions........

NEXT STOP: 11 days on a boat to Antarctica!!!