As I’m sitting here typing these words on my laptop, what I remember most clearly about Antarctica is neither it’s wildlife, not the icebergs and the snow, but rather, how everything there was a shade of black, white and blue.
The black mountains covered in veils of white, the silvery-grey seas and the icebergs varying in colour from a dirty grey to a vivid, sparkling blue. Other colours, of course, did make an occasional appearance; the light brown of a Fur seal, the red of blood on the face of a skua or the orange of a Gentoo penguin’s beak.
But, these colours didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Antarctica was dominated by those simpler colours and yet, in spite of this monotony of colours, the Antarctic world was far from dull or lacklustre. The opposite, in fact; nature had somehow managed to create the greatest spectacle on earth using very little colour; as if in its simplicity laid the key to it’s true grandeur.
And the following is the story of that grandeur.
Day 1-3 Ushuia to Drake Passage
Following a series of misfortunate events, I had somehow ended up on a 15-day cruise to the planet’s elusive seventh continent. Of course, depending on who you talk to, there are 5,6 or even 8 continents on our planet. Humans can’t even agree on the number of those big, obvious things on a map.
As our ice-breaker vessel sailed ever Southward, leaving Ushuaia and Patagonia behind, I liked to think we were following in Scott’s and Amundsen’s footsteps. But of course, we possessed very little of their bravery or spirit. But I took comfort in the knowledge that even those bigger-than-life figures had probably felt as miserable as us during the 3-days long crossing of the infamous Drake Passage.
Considered as one of the most turbulent seas in the world, the passage reduced the majority of the ship’s population into a heap of light-weight alcoholics, stumbling and swaying around as the winds and the waves toyed with our ship.
Most of the passengers onboard were well-off, middle-aged couples and rich families. But to my delight, a sloppy group of 14-15 backpackers had somehow managed to find their way onto the vessel. Used to roughing it and with resilient stomachs, we laid claim to the ship’s bar and common areas as others struggled with nausea and only left their cabins during the meal times.
Our ship had 5 decks and we spent most of our time on the outer decks, binoculars in hand, and were occasionally awarded incredible sights; the Wandering and Royal Albatrosses gliding majestically alongside our ship, their enormous wings lifting them effortlessly across and over the waves and the gales.
Oh, and the first iceberg. I don’t suppose I will ever forget that first iceberg. I was standing out on the deck. It was very foggy. The sky and the sea were the same moody grey. And then, a silhouette appeared out of the mist in the distant horizon like the ghost of the Flying Dutchman.
It was there and it wasn’t. Staring at it in wonder, I had a peculiar feeling as if we were peeking into a world to which we didn’t belong. The iceberg never got any closer, as if reluctant to reveal its true identity, and eventually faded back into the cold mist from which it had come.
I have been to many of the world’s most breathtaking places. I have seen its vastness, its secretive ways and its remoteness. But never before had I seen a place to which humans seemed to be such complete aliens…