Sunday, February 23, 2014

Antarctica Day 5: Landings Around Marguerite Bay

Posted via email from satellite phone on-board the Ioffe. Photos will come
when the voyage is over!
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ANTARCTICA DAY 5: LANDINGS AROUND MARGUERITE BAY

After all of the jaw-dropping scenery, we were finally let out of the boat.

Wake-up call was at 6:30, and our kayak group meeting was 10 minutes later,
when we were told that the winds were too strong to go out. Damn. But it was
incredibly beautiful out. We were cruising through Marguerite Bay en route
to our destination at Horseshoe Island at ~67.7°S, at the end of a
spectacular fjord near the SE end of Adelaide Island. There were towering
mountains everywhere. Standing on the bow and watching the scenery go by
made me tear up.

By the end of breakfast we had arrived and it was time to suit up into our
Wetskins and Gumboots (bright red waterproof gear), load into zodiacs, and
get driven to land. To land! On Antarctica! Aside from the achingly stunning
scenery, there were Fur Seals, Weddell Seals, Leopard seals, and Adele
Penguins, beautiful bright green copper deposits leaching from the rocks,
and an abandoned but perfectly-preserved British Antarctic Survey base,
complete with cupboards still stocked with Uncle Ben's Rice, tea, and
Marmite. Hew our historian was out of his mind with excitement: his
grandfather had flown helicopters there and his father-in-law had once
worked there, and it was his first landing there despite writing books about
the people who had worked there. For him, it was like coming home, and a
sweet thing for the rest of us to witness.

After taking approximately two thousand photos until my battery was
exhausted, we returned to the ship for lunch and to motor to our next
destination at Stonington Island, even farther south, our southernmost point
for this voyage at around 68.3°S, within spitting distance of the mainland
of the Antarctic Peninsula. It used to actually connect to the mainland via
a glacier, but the glacier has retreated and stranded the island.

There, we actually got to load up into our kayaks. What an experience!
Kayaking through the thick Brash Ice (mini-icebergs), the ice cracking and
scraping against the kayaks as we paddled toward towering glacier-capped
pyramids with penguins at their shore. Getting up close to the blue ice
sculptures (but not too close, we saw one flip over, releasing a
mini-tsunami as the great condominium-sized mass of ice beneath the water
flipped up and the iceberg bobbed while it re-stabilized) was...how many
words for incredible are there?

We joined the rest of the ship on land at the site of both British and
American bases on a beach flanked by Adele penguins and guarded by seals
singing in weird, alien-like whooping voices. The light reflected off of
blue icebergs and glowing from the glaciers and purple mountains was
indescribably Perfect. The day was perfect. Magical. Breathtaking with every
turn.

It really is hard to describe how incredible it was to land in this world of
snow and sea and ice. This place where summer is a cold, clear winter, and
winter is bitter howling darkness. Where the sea is littered with the
spillage of glaciers pouring off of the continent, where the mountains gleam
with blankets of pastel-colored ice, where the sky glowed softly with a sun
that was never high on the horizon and that filtered through thin clouds
with a light that was simultaneously romantic and foreboding of the
bitterness of which this end of the planet is capable. The air smelled like
nothing except where it smelled like guano. The only sounds were the
cracking of ice and the blowing wind except close to shore, where penguins
squawk impatiently and seals bark and growl, then whoop with their alien
songs.

I feel deeply, deeply blessed to have experienced this day, this place, here
at the nearly sterile white underside of our beautiful globe.





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