By Joann Deutch
[Read Part I of An Antarctic Adventure series here.]
Antarctica, the 7th continent, is a land mass the size of Europe and the United States combined, an improbable desert beneath ice, and inaccessible outside a small window of time during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. I had read about the remote destination and prepared for my visit for months, but from the moment the Poseidon Expeditions’ Sea Spirit left port, I knew this would be an Antarctic adventure with a surprise at every turn.
Just out of Ushuaia Bay a wandering albatross with a 10-foot wingspan joined us, diving and skimming the ocean waves and floating on the updraft from our wake. Albatrosses have always had a grip on sailors’ imaginations – and mine was in overdrive. What could it have been like, the first crossing of the Drake Passage aboard a wooden hulled sailboat?
Refrains from poems like Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the story of winds pushing a ship southward toward the Pole, kept playing in my mind:
“Water, water, everywhere”
and from Columbus by Joaquin Miller,
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight,
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
With lifted teeth, as if to bite!”
While my passage was on a capable modern ship, it was the same wild sea that still spoke, as it did to the mariners of yesteryear.
I had intentionally kept an open mind. On our first landing south of Drake Passage at Deception Island, more surprises were in store. I instinctively exhaled in response to the overwhelming serenity of the scene. It was a primordial reply. Soon the sounds and smells kicked in and I paused to take inventory of all the sensory information bombarding my brain. It took a few minutes to understand, sort and organize what I had the privilege of seeing.
The first thing that struck me was the quiet. There was no background noise, only the special silence akin to when snow lays down its blanket. Then I started to pick up on the animals, adjusting my gaze and spotting penguins jumping in and out of the water near the shoreline, or popping up to take a gulp of air. The creatures were very quiet when we first came ashore.
I expected the beach on Deception Island to be sandy. Instead it was composed of pebbles of granite up to 2 inches across, rounded by the surf and the steady creep of the moraines and glaciers. Here is the only land which mankind has not sought to master. The importance of its being undisturbed for hundreds of years was palatable. It struck me as an improbable outcome for a land that got off to a rocky start with man, subject to excessive whaling and sealing. It could have been a tragic story.
Was I seeing what Darwin saw hundreds of years ago? Quite possibly.
This was going to be a humbling and exciting adventure.
Disclaimer: California News Press and its contributors may have received goods, services and/or other professional courtesies to facilitate this review. All opinions are those of the author.