Danco Island provided a 360° view of one of Antarctica’s most stunning scenery in which all the passengers spent most of the morning landing taking in. Of course, Gentoo penguins greeted us along the way. We then cruised through the Neumayer Channel which also has comparable scenery and many braved the cold outside to enjoy it.
The afternoon included a visit to Port Lockroy which included a museum of an Antarctic research station. After touring the research station, a horrific thought came to my mind. What if I were to be stranded here for a winter? Sure, the cold and solitude would be a monumental challenge to overcome. I couldn’t rely on the reading material because I don’t like Readers Digest – the survival stories are a bit boring. The calendar on the wall is of a bunch of women dressed conservatively in bathing suits – must have been eye opening in the 1950’s. Worse of all was the main food staple was Marmite and Vegimite. I would rather be stranded at any other nations’ station for that sole reason. If you ever get the chance, tell your travel mate to load up his biscuit with a generous helping of vegemite and lift your feet up in the air.
Now, Ben and I have done our fair share of camping in the past, but to camp out on an Antarctica ice shelf provided a most unique experience. Due to some confusion during booking, Ben and I ended up using our own gear which allowed us to go, but made for one of the most miserable nights camping ever for me. After another rock-paper-scissors contest, I elected to choose the therm-a-rest/sleeping back/emergency blanket setup so I could sleep outside and look at the stars (if the clouds cleared out), and Ben ended up with his brand new 1-person tent. To quote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “I chose poorly”. Catabolic winds, heavy snow fall, and a torn emergency blanket later, I found myself without wind protection, covered in snow, and 0° F air temperature. One positive that came out of not sleeping the entire night, was that I was awake when the never ending cloud cover finally broke around 3:30am and I enjoyed some fantastic star gazing against the silhouette of ice covered mountains.
SUN! For the first time on our trip, the sun finally appeared in the morning which made the second passage of Neumayer Channel quite amazing as we headed toward our morning landing spot of Cuverville Island. Just when you think you’ve seen just about everything one could on a trip, we were lucky enough to have another encounter with some more Leopard seals. Unlike our previous encounters where they attacked our zodiacs or tried to elude us, these Leopard seals were only focused on catching and killing Gentoo penguins, and there was not a shortage of opportunities to witness this act from close range. Kelp Gulls, Southern Giant Petrels, and Little Wilson’s Storm-Petrels soon appeared to pick up any remnants of what the Leopard seals left behind. We then made a shortened landing on the Island.
Our last excursion in the Melchoir Islands was what many of us on the boat expected we would have throughout the trip. Sleet, steady winds, and increasing seas made us appreciate how lucky we had been with the previous 10 days as we looked upon more Fur seals playing in the water.
It was then time to head home. We would spend the next two days heading back through the Drake Passage and Beagle Channel. Everyone on the ship was amped up from the excursion and trading contact information. The Ukraine was generous and opened his place up to anyone that wanted to travel to Kiev. Ben and I are going next summer after we clear it with the CIA. The Ukey was in the process of buying an Icebreaker ship to sail somewhere and the group thought it would be fun to have a reunion on it at some point. We figure that most of us will stay in touch and reconnect at some point given how amazing this experience was. The trip was successful because we had a great expedition staff, ideal weather conditions, and a great travel group.