This is it. The END! That’s exactly where we began our tour to Antarctica – at the very end of the world! Ushuaia is the island capital of ‘Tierra del Fuego’, the land of fires, so called due to the fires lit by the indigenous people, which were seen by European settlers when they arrived here. Ushuaia, Argentineans claim is the southernmost city of the world.
With a lot of excitement we boarded the Cruise for Antarctica. “Welcome aboard. First the Good news. There is Wi-Fi on board. And now the bad news – it’s really expensive and very slow!” Alex our expedition leader welcomed us and introduced his team of biologists, geologists, kayak team leaders and photographers.
What followed was the mandatory safety briefing on how to use life jackets and lifeboats in emergency situations. With the formalities taken care of we moved to the deck to raise a toast as we bid farewell to the last glimpse of land. The only piece of land we would see now would be Antarctica itself two days later.
The next 2 days were spent in attending lectures and learning about the environment. “Remember, if you come across a penguin highway, simply cross it and give the penguin the right of way! It’s his home, not yours”, reminded Alex. Penguin highway was the name given to walkways in ice used by Penguins, he explained.
After all the preparations we were finally ready for our first excursion. We boarded a zodiac raft with Niko, a marine biologist who explained all about the wildlife, geography and history of the land. As we listened attentively, a splashing sound distracted us and out came our cameras as we got the first glimpse of a magnificent humpback whale in the distance. Hoping to see more we looked around and caught an elephant seal enjoying a nap on a floating iceberg. The shimmering white icebergs floating in the dark blue sea all around us made a pretty picture and now we couldn’t wait to land on Antarctica.
Our first landing at a place called Portal Point. As we set foot on the icy land it felt extra-special as we landed in Antarctica on our republic day and we were very proud to unfurl the national flag on this special occasion and that too in the 7th continent. Every new landing was a discovery in itself and as we hiked up the glacial mountains with layers and layers of clothes on us, taking care to give the Penguins the right of way, we were rewarded by some of the most spectacular panoramas all around us. Soon, we could identify the gentoo penguins from the chinstrap penguins, proud mamas and papas who fiercely guarded their young ones from the birds circling above.
Our most memorable evening was a full moon night, when the moon was up just as we were watching the sunset. The sky was bathed in pink and purple and the snowy mountains and icebergs basked in the golden glow of the setting sun. We heard Jimmy, our whale specialist call out to us as he stood on the deck. The cruise was surrounded by about fifty whales from all sides. That’s when we spotted the Orca whales, also known as killer whales. These three whales put on a spectacular show as they swam along with the boat for over an hour. Days turned into nights on this magical journey, and soon it was time to say goodbye to our newfound friends.
We did not meet any people in Antarctica, but I learnt some invaluable lessons from the wildlife here! The albatross who always returns to the same partner however far it flies, taught me about eternal love. The penguins reminded me of my parental duties as they do not leave their eggs and chicks alone even for a moment. The Orca whales taught us that unity is strength. Not only do they hunt for food together, they first offer the food to the young and the elderly whales in the pod.
With a prayer in my heart that may the pristine beauty of Antarctica be preserved forever, I bid adieu to the last continent but only with a promise to return again!