And so the journey begins……Debra, Ivan and myself all met in Ushuaia, Argentina the day before our ship, the Hondius was set to depart for Antarctica.
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world. Essentially, we were standing at the bottom of the earth. It is approximately 680 miles (1000 km) from the coast of Antarctica. And yes, water does flow in the opposite direction than in the Northern hemisphere. It flows counter clockwise in sinks and toilets. A bit disconcerting.
We boarded the Hondius and were very pleasantly amazed. Even though it was a new ship because it was for expeditions and not just cruises, we would not have been surprised if it was bare bones. It was a great ship very well appointed, with lots of space and room to roam around. The best part of the ship for all of us were the kayaks, zodiacs and of course the time we actually spent roaming around Antarctica.
The crew of the Hondius was very experienced. Because it was tourist season in Antarctica, they knew the best times to go on land and the best landings. It meant getting up very early so that the travelers on our ship could be on land before all the other people showed up.
It was most extraordinary to be standing on Antarctica with a just a few people from your zodiac. We had great weather karma the entire trip. The sky was so blue and the land was so white that it seemed unreal. The photos that are posted do not have filters applied. That is the truly the colors that were in front of us. And let’s not forget the penguins crossing right at our feet totally fearless, the seals floating on icebergs of hanging out on the beach and of course when we were lucky seeing the whales swimming off shore in their pods.
Being on the ship floating around Antarctica provided another “Conquer Your Fear” moment for me. I love being on and around water but am not a strong swimmer. The crew and Ivan convinced me that the best way to see the icebergs was to do it in a kayak. It truly was one of the most memorable experiences ever in my life.
If you look at the photo of the iceberg with zodiac in the center of it, you can get a better understanding of the size and scale. And that is supposed to be only 10% with the other 90% underwater. Add in whales swimming around and under the kayaks, leopard seals who can be aggressive, and heaven forbid you capsize into water that is so cold that your expected survival time with protective clothing is under 15 minutes. I felt quite justified in being a bit fearful.
The Honduis was incredibly well equipped with the necessary equipment for kayaking and also the zodiacs. After putting on the wet suit (with long underwear underneath) special mittens and boots we were off. Me with much trepidation and Ivan with much glee. Debra who is very smart preferred the zodiacs.
I really do not have adequate words to describe the kayaking experience. Ivan and I shared a kayak. I was in the front. He did the hard work. You are floating on the water paddling around the icebergs, up close and personal to the seals that are floating or swimming by and watching humpback whales wondering what they are thinking of these weird creatures paddling around in their space. The entire landscape is surreal. The icebergs are so clear. The more the air in them is compressed the bluer that they appear. Some are the size of huge skyscrapers. Others are pieces that have gone through the calving process and are fairly small.
One of the guides on one of the days said he wanted to take us to a very special place in the kayaks. We paddled over to an area that was near a beach. It looked like there were thousands of small crystals floating on the water. He asked us all to be silent and shut our eyes and just listen. It was truly a meditation. All that we could hear was the air popping from the small crystals. It is a magical silence that I will keep with me forever.
Friends and family and strangers always ask me where is your most favorite place that you have traveled too? I would always respond with the same answer. It is where ever I am at the moment. Now my answer has changed. It is sitting in a kayak in Antarctica listening to the silence filled with popping ice crystals and looking out on a land so pure and beautiful that the view will never get old.