March 8, 2017
I woke up early, hopeful to catch the sunrise and first sightings of an iceberg. There was a thick cloud covering and no signs of the sun, nor signs of land. I took a walk around the ship and up to the bridge where the captain and crew navigate the vessel. I stood at the bridge for an hour. From here, we could see humpback whales, penguins, and seals leaping across the water, along with several species of birds. I’ve been surrounded by people who are truly passionate about wildlife and can name the specific species from 200 yards away, just by seeing a quick glimpse of a portion of their body. It’s impressive and I’m surprised by how envious I’ve become of their knowledge, especially of birds. I tend to dislike birds and slightly fear them. I blame Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “The Birds.”
After much anticipation, and more than an hour of watching the horizon, we finally caught our first visual of the South Shetland Islands, merely shadows on the cloud covered horizon. This was an exhilarating moment. The crew told us it would be another hour until we were sailing through the islands, so we left our post to meet up with the 2041 group for an International Women’s Day photo. All I could think about were the strong women in my family, my mom especially, and the intelligent, powerful women I’m lucky to work with at SAP, so happy belated Women’s Day to you all.
After breakfast, time passed slowly as we waited to approach the islands. And then, without warning, the moment arrived and I was speechless. I won’t forget the feeling I had when seeing my first iceberg. The whitest white contrasting with the clearest blue, a fascinating structure perched above the sea. Soon enough, we were surrounded by the Antarctic terrain, a white winter wonderland. The sky was grey, but the scene was beautiful and serene.
We sailed to our landing location on Half Moon Island and finally an announcement came over the PA system that instructed the first group of people to put on their gear in the mud room and head out on the zodiacs. It’s difficult to remember the last time I felt that amount of anxious joy, but I couldn’t wait. I rushed to my room to layer up, but ultimately had to wait 45-minutes until our group was called, for which I found myself pacing and overheating quickly.
Heading out on our first zodiac ride was exhilarating. We weaved through the configuration of rocks just off the coast of the island while we waited for our turn to land. In Antarctica, only 100 people at a time are allowed on the land, so we explored by zodiac until they signaled us to shore. Once on the island, we found seals lounging on the beach and penguins completely covering the rocky hillside. This was my first up close and personal penguin experience. It’s going to be tough to describe my experiences from Antarctica in words and I’m learning that pictures won’t do it justice either, but I’ll do my best.
I could have sat there for hours watching the penguins interact with each other, and even with humans. They are smaller than I imagined, extremely awkward, and very curious. One nearly sat on my lap as it walked by leading a few fellow penguins. I have a great video to share once I’m able to upload it. If you have not done so, read my post on penguins for more information about these adorable creatures.
The rest of the day was spent socializing and listening to three inspiring talks from women in the 2041 program. Rob Swan also spoke to the entire ship about his first trek to the South Pole nearly 30 years ago, which I had not heard in such great detail. He had the room on the edge of their seat with anticipation and as always, laughter.