Antartica: the continent at last

14 Feb 2004 9:25 pm

The day was overcast as the Ushuaia sailed into a bay with many HUGE icebergs, several much bigger than our ship. The day was overcast and the feeling mysterious. The ice glowed in so amaizing shades of turquiose and blue. Across the bay gigantic blue glaciers met the water. Such a volume of snow and ice, it’s breathtaking. We loaded up into the Zodiacs at 8:00 a.m. for Portal Point, our first stop on the continent! Zodiacs are fiberglass bottom rafts which transport us from ship to land. The scene was exquisite. I´m sure I’ve never been to a more extraordinary place in all my life. In contrast to our many rough days at sea, the water at Portal Point was smooth as glass and perfectly clear. The zodiacs dropped us off and we wandered around on the snow. I felt I was in another world. I sat alone on a rock quietly taking in the view of the cloudy sky, and blue ice all around. Later we boarded the Zodiacs again for an iceberg cruise and saw several weddel seals naping on flat icebergs. A piece of ice broke free from one iceberg and disrupted the erie silence with a sound like a canon. For some time we rode around in the zodiacs admiring the abstract shapes of the icebergs and the shades of blue, blue, and more blue. Depending on the density, icebergs show 10 to 25% of there volume above the surface of the water. In the bay around Portal Point we could clearly see the icebergs beneath the water. As we began to head back to the Ushuaia we saw two whales surfacing near a couple of the other zodiacs. We sped up in our zodiac but we were too late, they were gone. The other zodiacs departed and we hung back a bit. Soon two humpback whales appeared right under our raft! The water was so clear and calm we could watch them under the surface. Their bodies are huge and black but their fins are mostly white. Screaming with excitement we searched the water below, the white fins would first appear and then the huge black whales would surface for a breath just 2 meters from the rafts. So fantastic.

Portal Point 1

Portal Point 2

After lunch the Ushuaia left this sureal bay got moving again. From the bow we enjoyed the glaciers and icebergs as we sailed by. A pod of about 16-20 orcas were spotted.

We landed at another large penguin colony in the afternoon. This time Gentoo penguins. Once saturated with penguins our guide Pablo guided us on a hike up the mountain. At the top we found a great and super long slide already tracked out to take us back down. Yip whoop! FUN! On the way back to the ship we spotted a few Minky whales but they weren´t so playful and we lost them. While searching for the Minkies we passed a huge and fierce leapard seal hanging out on his iceberg. Leapard seals are carnivores and eat other seals for lunch. Shit, that seal really had a fierce presence. Once we passed into it´s territory that seal let us know by getting into the water and circling our zodiac. We could clearly see him under the water checking us out. I think he was looking to see which was the best place to take a bite. This guy was the size of a large cow with black spots and a HUGE head. I can only assume that inside the huge head are huge teath. Chilling.

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