Today we felt the exquisite new feeling of accomplishment, achievement, and long-harbored dream as we stood upon the Antarctic continent for the first time. We are following all procedures we have learned the previous days, gearing up in our rooms, checking in our names, and hopping on our zodiacs to head towards land. We are about to step foot in Antarctica, and more specifically in Neko Harbour, a secluded bay, first discovered by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache, in the early 20th century.
As soon as my group arrives on land, we are welcomed by Andrew and the team for a short briefing on safety. Phil, a Viking-looking American crew member points toward a glacier on the other side of the bay, while Andrew continues his briefing on the danger that such glacier can cause to us in this very moment. We need to talk quietly and avoid producing any loud noise. If a block of ice detaches and falls into the water 300 meters away from us, the little beach we are currently standing on will be almost instantly washed away by a mini tsunami. So the only thing we’ll need to remember is that, in the eventuality that something goes wrong, when one of our crew members guarding the glacier will scream danger, we’ll just have to walk inland instead. Nerve-wracking briefing to listen to on your first minutes in Antarctica. In all this, I did not even realize we were surrounded by hundreds of Gentoo penguins, all staring at the red jackets among us.
This was a colony of young penguins who had just ended their molting period and seemed to be playful. The first thing you notice is how indifferent penguins are to human presence. Bruce tells us how that their only predators in Antarctica hunt them in the water, elucidating why penguins all around us feel safe in our company. We play with a few of them and observe others with incredible personalities. These birds don’t act like birds, but more like mammals. It’s quite surprising.
As we trek up into the snowy mass we keep encountering chilly, feisty, and always cool Gentoos. The ice strewn beach whipped our spirits into shape as the climb up the crevassed hill overlooking the bleak, beautiful, and wild landscapes where the sea meets ice upon the Antarctic wilderness showed itself true. After spending around 30 minutes on top the hill, we slowly head back to the zodiacs to make our way back to Plancius for lunch.
The second part of the day was then dominated by the views and clarity of the second landing at Stony Point. Here, we are far away from any danger caused by a glacier but can admire a couple of Antarctic shags, a unique species of marine cormorant. We take a few pictures around the ice-cold water, before getting into groups to hike up an ice-dome. What an incredible experience, hiking in Antarctica while being surrounded by a few chinstrap penguins. On our return, we patiently observed a leopard seal getting out of the water right in front of us, to simply scratch his belly. A few hours exploring the area around us later that afternoon and it was Antarctica who chose the schedule just right for us, for the blue sky shines and the clouds clear, to show in a way words could not, why it is named Paradise Harbour.
As the day rolls on, we find it hard to leave. A few of us even regret not putting on sunscreen, for the glorious sun radiates off the ice and gives any explorer among us, a feeling of otherworldly glory. The ice is singing us a song in the sun and we are there for it.Many of us are sitting quietly to listen while others wander in circles, snapping photos that memory won’t allow to fade, with a backdrop of a light which characterizes a changing season. The Antarctic summer is over, and the ice is slowly regaining its presence. As my spirit is buoyed by not only the views but the realization of where I was and what is happening, I find it hard to make any sense of my surrounding reality. Antarctica is so incredibly different from anywhere you have been that you will have a seriously hard time finding the words to describe it.
We rolled out and found that another glorious sunset awaited us, peppered with icebergs and floating wildlife, penguins and seals dotting the ice and the views along with Antarctica’s most famous resident, the humpback whale. In the end, for the first day of many firsts, wherever I come from or wherever I end up going next, I’ll always have this day to remember when the Antarctic love affair started properly within me.