“Layers, layers, layers” was the chant from the 2041 staff members. Years of Scout training (and a few mistakes) prepared me for dressing warm and comfortably in the chilly Antarctic. I was ready for our first zodiac adventure and to finally step foot on Antarctica. Question of the day: “what if you need to go to the bathroom while on the ice?” Answer: “Leave no trace. Hold it until you return to the ship.”
The iceberg graveyard at Pleneau Island in the southern end of the Lemaire Channel is our destination. We were surrounded by spectacular blue and white icebergs rising from the sea like huge ice sculptures. These icebergs, which melt in about ten years, broke off glaciers more than 10,000 years old.
Signs of Antarctic life are buzzing all around us. Birds were flying overhead, Gentoo penguins were “porpoising” (leaping out of the water like dolphins) and leopard seals were swimming and basking in the sun. One team even reported seeing humpback whales.
The afternoon zodiac cruise took us to Port Charcot where we were met by hundreds of penguins! We weren’t allowed to touch them, but they would come right up to us and walk across our boots as if we were invisible.
Later we hiked the mountains, practiced rope skills and learned how to self-arrest in the event of a fall by a team members who was daisy chained to our group. The obligatory snowball fight capped off our first landing on Antarctica.
I marveled at the penguins and seals walking, playing and sleeping side by side. This wingless bird can be fast-swimming prey in the water and the mammal can be a vicious predator, yet they live in harmony on land. It was like nature’s lesson in tolerance. There’s a right time and place for competition, but peace comes from respect and understanding. Antarctica has a lot to teach us all.