I slept late at 3:30 a.m and guess what kept me up ? Whale watching! Yes, you read that right. So myself and William were up on the deck and suddenly we spot 2 swooshes in the distance and immediately recognised that they were whales. 2 giant humpback whales diving freely into the water at a distance of 30-40 metres from the ship. They usually don’t come so close but since the ship was quite stationary and not moving around, they took the liberty of coming close. What a sight! We got some pictures on William’s phone since I was not carrying mine.
I woke up at 10:00 a.m and had a late brunch before heading to the briefing session by Adam, Ida, Boris and Jan on the day’s activities. The weather prediction for the forthcoming days was a bit gloomy since we were headed to a low pressure zone. Camping activities were rescheduled as per requirement. Around 2:00 p.m we took the zodiacs to Neko Harbour for witnessing some glacier carvings close-up. Unfortunately for us, there was just one small carving which took place but there were numerous sounds of glaciers cracking up.
There was a gentoo colony too and there were some really curious ones! One very nearly came to pecking my hand but decided against it at the last moment and turned back. Needless to say, I got some amazing glacier shots with my zoom lens. We headed back after a couple of hours and had tea on board. After dinner we entered Paradise Bay and whoever named that place did the most apt thing of his lifetime. The campers were doing their nights on a small island in Paradise Bay and the expedition leader had a small surprise in store for the rest. He arranged a small half an hour zodiac ride for the non-campers and the zodiacs took us pretty close to the glaciers. It was a fun ride. Back on the ship I spent my time listening to Johnny at the piano and sipping some JD on the rocks.
Today we had to cruise through Lemaire channel. The entrance to the channel was very picturesque with glaciers on both sides and a narrow passage to sail through. We entered the channel but had to make a quick exit as the captain decided that the surrounding ice was floating pretty heavily and it could trap us inside for sometime. So we touched the southernmost point of our trip and decided to head Northwards towards Port Lockroy. Just after lunch the PE leader announced that there was some real action on sea upfront and guess what the action was? Orkas !!! Better known as killer whales there were 3 of them diving smoothly into the water and coming up after a few seconds. The entire ship along with crew members rushed to the bridge with cameras in hand and we had a great time photographing them. What majestic animals! Absolute brilliance to witness their sheer power up close.
After about an hour we landed at Port Lockroy. Prior to the landing, the team leader of Port Lockroy; Hanna Laura came on deck to share some valuable historical and tourist friendly info with everyone. It is the southernmost post office in this world and is supported by a non-profitable organisation based out of the UK. They receive around 2 ships daily, sometimes 4 if the ships are small with the daily limit of passengers being 350. Port Lockroy received an astounding 17000 passengers last year from Nov to Mar. They sell merchandise to sustain their activities and penguin colony monitoring is also part of their job. We saw some penguin chicks in the colony and needless to say it was cuteness overload! I posted some cards which I bought onboard from the post office hoping that it will reach India and bought some merchandise as souvenirs.
Back at the ship we had a ball with some barbecue dinner on the open deck followed by some music and dance. When it started raining the party shifted indoors in to the bar and we danced away the night like crazy. Some members of PE were just killing it with their moves! To top it all there was Indian music too. I hit the Jacuzzi later around 1:30 a.m with some other guys who left the bar late and went to sleep around 2:00 a.m.
An early morning start to the day with a wake-up call at 7:30 a.m. After a light breakfast we made our landing amidst heavy snow at Danco Island. There was a good Gentoo penguin colony there and I took some photographs. Did a rather high hike up the mountain only to discover that it was clouded all around and just when I came down it turned sunny. Arghh, the frustrations of a photographer. While photographing penguins there, I was penguin mobbed by a few curious penguins. It was a pretty funny moment.
One even came close enough to peck my neck. I am glad it didn’t do so because I have heard they peck pretty hard. In the afternoon, we had a zodiac tour of Deception Island and man, what an hour on the zodiac it was! The weather was windy with choppy seas and we got drenched out there. The ride was a bumpy one with Adam, our driver trying his best to keep all passengers on board. There was no chance of taking photographs in that kind of weather conditions with water splashing all around us. I had an extra pair of gloves with me and that saved my fingers from going numb. I asked Adam to communicate to the guys waiting at the ship to keep an extra set of gloves ready because they were going to need it. It was a taste of expedition and adventure out there taking on 3 meter high waves. We made it back for some warm beverage and never in my life has the warmth of tea felt so soothing and comforting. After dinner we had an Origami session conducted by the beautiful Ida Olsson (PE kayak expert) and after a few drinks at the bar, retired for the night.
We made our last landing for the expedition at the Russian station at Bellingshausen Station. It was a fully operating staton with makeshift modular buildings and even 4 WD cars. It was a pretty amusing feeling to have seen cars after a week and that too on the Antarctic peninsula. There was a church atop a small hill which is probably the southernmost church in this world.
I could finally set-up my camera on the tripod and take a few long exposure shots, not that it was the best location for long exposures but given the fascination I have with them, no trip is complete unless I shoot a few frames with more than 10 seconds exposure. I came down the small hill to photograph a colony of chinstrap penguins. Those were really close to us and weren’t in the least bothered by our presence amongst them. We came back to the ship to do the most awaited activity on an polar expedition – The Polar Plunge! There were 59 people out of 82 who gutted up for plunging into the ice cold water. I got a small video of myself on Abhi’s GoPro. Nibras also got a great aerial shot of me doing the plunge. The chilling sensation which sets in the body parts is something of an adrenaline rush! Many people go into a brain freeze too, so the PE team tied a harness to everyone’s waistline in case someone became unconscious or lost their ability to function in those freezing waters.
People enjoyed it totally and some of us wanted to go for a second dive too, but were denied that opportunity. Later at night, we were taught to tie some useful knots by camping leader Ryan Hope-Inglis which was followed on by a hilarious session of karaoke music late into the night.
The day started off with making our entry into the Drake Passage and man, what a sailing it was! The Drake Shake greeted us. 8 metre high waves and 40 knots of winds, well I fell off from my bed and decided to spend the rest of my day at the Oceanus Lounge which is located on the aft of the ship. My room was the first one from the bow and I was having it the worst if I would have stayed in my room. A friend shot a video from the 4th deck bow and the ship was nose-diving into the water. There were a few lectures throughout the day on whales by Boris, making it to Antarctica on a sailor’s ship by Marta and a recap of the camping and kayaking session by Ryan and Ida respectively. People attended these sessions more as an escape to beat sea sickness, rather than gaining information from them, although Marta’s lecture on her travel to the Antarctic peninsula in a sailing ship was nothing short of being inspirational to overcome all the odds which holds us back. I decided to spend my night at the lounge itself as my roomie was really sea-sick since our room being the first from bow was receiving all the rock, roll, bumps and bangs. A screening of Happy Feet with popcorn took place in the lounge, but I ignored it all and went ahead for a peaceful night of sleep.
Another rocking and rolling day to start with but my 02:00 p.m we were in much calmer and sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel. There was a small Christmas celebration on board by all the PE staff members which was later followed by high tea on the aft deck under the sunny skies. The captain’s farewell cocktail took place at 7.00 p.m and we were shown a movie comprising of videos and images of our entire trip. I stole the spotlight by getting featured quite often! We had a wonderful dinner and I shared the table with the expedition leader Jan Bryde and needless to say, he treated me to the best red wine on board!
The ship docked at Ushuaia port at 9.00 p.m and the staff and crew members got off the ship for a breath of fresh air and to celebrate Christmas in whatever ways they could. Speaking with their families was everyone’s priority and the internet connection at the docks made it possible for everyone to connect with their loved ones. I went out for a stroll and ended up having a deeply spiritual conversation with my friend Turk, who happens to be one of the brightest students at MIT’s B-school. What an amazing guy! We returned to the ship at around 01:30 a.m and I packed my remaining baggage and left it outside the cabin for the staff to pick it up at 06:30 a.m.
I woke up to Jan’s wake-up call and realised that the time for disembarkation has come. Hugs and waves all around us along with promises to meet in the future were made. We left for the airport with smiles on our faces but deep within there was a sad feeling that the wonderful trip of a lifetime had finally seen its end. I clicked some good-bye selfies with the crew members and my new friends.
Very deep emotions played within me. Boarded my flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. The Aerolineas Argentinas staff put me on a different flight which saved me precious time as it took me directly to the EZE International Airport (instead of my original booking of AEP airport thereby saving me 1.5 hours of road transit time). I geared myself up for taking the marathon 19 hours flight from Buenos Aires to Dubai! Ahh man, travelling in Economy is sometimes a pain in the ass (literally). Slept like a baby on the flight from the tiredness of the past week. Didn’t eat or drink much as I had a long way ahead. Crossed numerous time zones and realised that I boarded a flight on 25th Dec and reached my destination on 27th Dec!
Reached Dubai and was left aghast at the sheer magnanimity of the airport! Boarded my flight to Mumbai and reached at 08:35 a.m. Serpentine queues in the immigration took a toll of my patience but I still had to board another flight and reach Kolkata and drive down to Haldia. Damn man, travelling on such tight schedules is not a good idea when the office timings are sacrosanct. Nonetheless, I decided to spend my time at the Aviserv lounge located in the arrival hall of the International terminal. It has a flexible pricing option depending on the facilities which one wants to use which include baggage storage, lounge, food, shower facilities and sleeping pods. I slept for a couple of hours and woke up for lunch. Post lunch I had a nice warm shower and felt refreshed after my marathon flights. Headed down to catch my flight to Kolkata and reached Kol at 8:35 p.m. Went home and was greeted with warm hugs from my ever smiling parents. Had some light dinner and rested for the night at home. Left home early next morning at 6:00 a.m to reach Haldia by 8:30 a.m and that marked the end of my much coveted Antarctica trip. Thanks to everyone for having made it possible and as they say, “God be with it”. Thanks everyone for reading. Please share so that this informative article reaches out to more people. Cheers and stay hooked for my next travels after 6 months 😉