Our last day in Antarctica. My, how time flies! We are woken up a bit earlier than usual this morning so that we can be out on deck as we approach the notorious Deception Island, one of the three active volcanoes in the world that one can sail into. Yes, I have sailed to Antarctica, and now I am sailing into the crater of an active volcano.
How's this even possible?Neptune's Bellows, ho! Far off on the horizon, we can see the ominous silhouette signifying the entrance to Deception Island. A fresh dusting of snow has transformed this usually monochrome vista into a textured landscape. Once inside the caldera, the patterns on shore are breathtaking. The gentle undulations of the volcanic remains are powdered with snow, revealing outlines and forms just as varied and creative as patterns on an iceberg. Old rusted whaling silos complement the white, red and brown hues of the snow, sand and silt on shore.Deception Island’s last eruption in 1969-1970 buried large parts of the whaling infrastructure that was in place when the island was evacuated. Nowadays, the eerie remains are slowly fading into the landscape as they are continually eroded by snow, sand, wind and water.
As we set foot on this circular volcanic-black beach, we walk around a large colony of wild seals. It's a surreal environment. I can't make sense of what I am seeing. There’s a hundred of them. Andrew has taught us how to scare these pups away in case they come up too close. As they inch along and approach you with their ferociously teeth-wide smile, your adrenaline levels transform your voice into a loud “Argggh” that sends them a clear message. I’m not a penguin, am I?An energetic group follows Elena up to Neptune’s Window, improving how to stand our ground against more fur seals on the way. Looking south into the Bransfield Strait, the group is caught in a quick five-minute snowstorm where it seems that everything surrounding us disappears into a white cloud.
Back onboard, a four hour steam to the South Shetland Islands is next on the agenda. As we reach the snow-covered Half Moon Island, the wind dies down and the sun pokes out, setting up perfect conditions for our final outing. One last landing on the seventh continent. Moulting Chinstrap penguins take centre stage for most of the afternoon. Though active male fur seals and colourful lichen are a close second. Bruce leads the way up a steep narrow path to view Macaroni penguin that ended up stealing the show. A solitary Macaroni penguin that seems to be lost and disoriented among hundreds of Gentoos. The massive glaciated slopes of Livingston Island across the water shine brightly in the sun and we relish this incredible and powerful landscape one last time.
I can’t believe we are about to leave this place. As the afternoon progresses and we begin to sail north, some of us start to review our many, many photographs taken on our expedition. Yet we are now part of a privileged group that knows that Antarctica is a place that is so much more than can ever be captured in a simple image or blog post. And although words are also often inadequate in describing one’s experience of this icy continent, these ones may just resonate in some way:
If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart.Art, and it would be Michelangelo.Literature, and it would be Shakespeare.And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be.May we never tame it.— Andrew Denton