There is a phrase we all know: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. These last few weeks are filled with moments I will not forget, they took my breath away. You did not want to go to bed because you didn’t want to miss a moment — and it never really got dark so it made it all the easier to watch.
The Antarctic Continent is called “the land of snow and ice”; the Continent is literally covered with a thick ice sheet that reaches up to more than a mile thick. The average temperature was 30 degrees Fahrenheit along the coast without the wind chill. The extreme cold, strong winds and dryness in Antarctica have created one of the most severe natural environments on Earth. At times the wind would send you ripping across the bow, unable to walk back to the original spot you were standing. So you just hold on to the handrail for a few minutes.
When you cross 60 degrees south latitude, you fall under the Antarctic Treaty Area, and the laws imposed by that treaty. We were so impressed by the way the cruise ship self imposed environmental constraints, and the restrictions on guests. The areas south of 66.5° South Latitude have days without the sun in winter and days with sun light for 24 hours in summer. We reached 65 degrees south, so there was a couple hours each night of dusk. We were limited to the Antarctic Peninsula during our visit and to 65 degrees south, the ice was to dangerous for us to go further south. We did thread our way in and out of various bays and were successful to see Paradise Bay, the ice opened up 3 days before we got there.
Overall, we saw 10 Antarctic stations from several different countries. We stopped at Palmer (US) station and rotated out some personnel there, and in return, the returning staff gave lectures on the ship on current news at Palmer – a bit of science, a bit of history, a bit of first person account. In addition, Holland America brought on professionals to enrich this journey with daily presentations. The presentations were by specialists and naturalists in the following areas: sea ice and icebergs; penguins; facilities and research centers in Antartica; and Antartica now and then. The lectures were a highlight of the cruise giving us a better understanding of Antartica and surrounding areas
The scenery was bigger than expected. It was like Alaska but on a bigger scale. In Alaska, you enter an area of ice and snow for a couple hours, we only saw a small part of Antartica and it goes on for days. There were weather changes, of course, one day with the bluest sky ever, another with fog and snow, making the moodiness of the landscape all the richer.
The next post covers Antartica icebergs and penguins.