I distinctly remember these words from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as Prince Caspian tries to wrap his mind around the concept of a round world, and thinking disappointedly that such a place does not, in fact, exist. Still, the lure of this mystical ‘end of the world’ never quite left my 6-year-old mind, but was instead relegated to the section of brain that stores thoughts such as going to Mars or riding dinosaurs.
You can imagine my sense of disbelieving excitement when Sara and I saw how close (relatively, at least) we were going to be to Antarctica and thought that maybe, just maybe, it might be possible. Several very-long-distance phone calls and humorously mistranslated emails later, we had secured a cabin on the M/V Ushuaia on its first Antarctic voyage of the season.
The first two days of the journey were spent crossing the Drake Passage, which is known among sailing types as the roughest water in the world. We all memorized the crew’s motto of “one hand for the boat” (meaning, “don’t even try to carry your drink and your plate of food at the same time, or they’ll probably both end up on someone’s head”), and I remain forever endebted to my dear wife for thinking to bring so much Gravol. We would stand at the windows and watch in horrified astonishment as the ship tipped so impossibly far on its side that the horizon disappeared completely from view. As Monika, one of our expedition leaders, reminded us: You have to earn your way to Antarctica.
On the third morning, however, we awoke to find we had arrived at the end of the world. Icebergs the size of office buildings drifted by with no regard for the eighty-something people struck dumb by their presence. The deafening silence and the eerie calm of the water are the only ways to describe the magnificence that otherwise speaks for itself.
What follows is a brief tour of our visit to the end of the world:
A warm ¡Buen viaje! from Claudia, our travel agent extraordinaire! (Leandro, the ship’s hilarious biologist, is in the background)
Paper bags conveniently placed along every railing by the crew. (What was disturbing was how fast they got used up… :S)
First iceberg spotting!
The incredible view from the mountaintop of our first continental landing (that’s our boat, way down there!)
A face-peeling polar windstorm that drove all but the hardy Canadians indoors.
‘Zodiacs’, large inflatable rafts that were our means of landing on and exploring the iceberg-ridden bays of Antarctica (keep in mind that the shore is made of ice, and is therefore far too unstable to drop anchor!)
One of the hundreds of aforementioned icebergs.
Possibly the best reminder of the hazards of messing with nature: the remains of a Norwegian whaling ship that blew itself up in 1915 (exploding harpoons = bad idea all around).
My birthday party on the boat (along with a sampling of some of the ridiculously interesting, hilarious, and friendly people we met).
Once a top secret British military outpost, this shack at Whaler’s Bay is now a great place for kids like us to do photo-ops!
Farewell, beautiful Antarctica, until next time…