There aren’t many places that can get my adrenaline going these days, but today was one of them, as I finally got to set foot on my seventh continent – Antarctica!
When you travel a lot, you can become a bit blasé about where you’re visiting; but just looking out of the window and seeing the thick ice shelves ahead of us and the lumps of blue ice floating in the water, was enough to get us over-excited about a place that we knew well from the TV programmes, but didn’t quite dare to think we’d reach.
I’d had a lengthy build-up to this long-awaited visit. I’ve had two previous trips to the White Continent not come about through cancelled flights and cancelled cruises; plus we had the will-we/won’t-we because of Covid; and then onboard, you have so many briefings and bio-security checks that you can physically feel the excitement building. Then, in the morning, you dress in all your many layers of Antarctic gear and anxiously wait for the call to go down to the zodiacs before you pass out from heat exhaustion.
But, it didn’t disappoint. Our first stop was in the South Shetland Islands and Yankee Harbour – home to a Gentoo Penguin colony and various seals. Actually, from some angles it didn’t feel like how you’d expect Antarctica to be. We were dropped off on a bleak shingle beach with scarcely any ice in sight – that’s until you turn around and see the hills covered in thick glacial ice.
Some people who’ve been here before commented that it had looked better on their last visit (blue skies and more penguins), but all that was going through my mind was, “I don’t care - I’M IN ANTARCTICA!” – a cloudy day and 30 penguins was more than enough for me.
What struck me most was what an alien environment this was. That beach had a (quite literal) end-of-the-world feel to it – the pebbles were littered with the bones and carcasses of penguins, seals, and goodness-knows-what creatures. Seals would lumber across our path like we weren’t there, and the penguins stood still as statues like they were waiting for something exciting to happen.
After 2 years spent behind face masks, the air felt so incredibly fresh and pure. While, the sounds were strange too – lumps of ice hitting the pebbles as they washed against them; fur seals barking like dogs; and most strangely of all, a fat weddell seal lying lazily on the beach singing like a chirping bird.
To me, this was one of the highlights of my life of travels. People in the know tell me that this was a low-key day in Antarctica – if that’s so, I can hardly wait for more.