It had been, without our realizing it, an exhausting afternoon– not necessarily in the physical sense but in an experiential sense. Earlier in the day, we had already braved the aforementioned guano stench, navigated the jagged, slippery, guano-covered rocks most awkwardly in our rubber boots (looking uncannily like overgrown penguins as a result), and trudged up the icy hills.
The penguin highways in themselves are worth hours of entertainment. Once every so often, when a penguin finds a human standing in the way ahead of them, it would pause and hesitate in the middle of the highway, intimidated by the imposing figure. Inadvertently, an Antarctic traffic jam builds up as other penguins pile up behind the first penguin. The 5 or 6 of them would crane their necks left and right, trying to see what’s causing the hold up at the front. They look exactly like a bunch of people held up in a supermarket queue, craning their neck to see what’s holding things up at the till. On one occasion, the second penguin took decisive action after a while and simply whacked the first fellow aside with its fins and carried on its merry way.
Weathered by the elements, glaciers tumble like fallen Greek temples
Fast-forward to this afternoon, when we landed at Paradise Bay amidst brooding, gathering clouds. Paradise Bay is exciting in several ways– it’s attached to the Antarctic continent proper and so marks our official landing in Antarctica and there’s a hill to climb. The adventurers in us rejoice– after all, we’ve all been cooped up for the past few days with nothing but drowsiness or seasickness for company. Hurrah! We plow towards the hill with Gustavo our geologist in the lead.
“This can’t be too hard,” I think to myself. We follow a tight trail, the threat of falling into crevasses quite soberly real if we stray off the path. At first, I am the ever enthusiastic Explorer of the Last Frontier, the Brave Soul of the South, Ernest Shackleton Reincarnated. But on and on we climb, around one corner and then around the next. The will begins to waver and the temptation to climb the hill on all fours becomes stronger (if the penguins did it on their bellies, why can’t I? As they say, when in Rome…)
Then, suddenly, comes the breaking point and I am mumbling less impressive things about the great polar explorers of the past. “What was Scott thinking? And how did Shackleton and his men scale the mountain of St. Georgia? Those men just weren’t right in their heads!”
* * *
As the snowflakes turn into heavy rain, the initial gratefulness of getting a taste of the famous explorers’ journey turned into muted horror. I turn around and balk at the steep hill we had (unknowingly) scaled and again at the path ahead that seemed like nothing but precarious loose rocks on jagged cliff edges. There is no more snow to cushion our fall, and my rock-related acrophobia begins to manifest itself. At long last, with a helping hand from fellow “expeditioners” (because heck this is no cruise in any rational sense!) I reach the top.
And the sweeping vistas below is breathtaking, making it everything worthwhile.
We go back down Libe Slope Style, surfing through the snow on our bums, veering sharply to the left and right because there isn’t that wide of a berth between the edges of the impromptu snow slide and the vertical drops down the hill.
We tumble back into the zodiacs for a zodiac cruise around Paradise Bay. The wonderful hotel team surprises us around the corner in a zodiac of their own, passing out hot chocolate and rum! Back up on Paradise Bay, Steven proposes to Krista and of course she says yes. (You’d have to be pretty certain on an Antarctic expedition that the girl’s going to say yes, or else it’s going to be pretty darn awkward in their cabin for the next 8 days.)
On a more serious note, we sail through the Lemaire Channel today! Though it’s not all sunny and bright, the low hanging clouds create another type of magical atmosphere. The water is so black it is almost as if we are sailing through liquid coal. The mountains play hide and seek behind the mist, and our whole group falls silent as we take in the scenery at the bow. Tonight, only imagination can tell how tall the mountains really are.