In this journal…
- I slide down a snowy hill in Antarctica;
- I watch penguins skip the water;
- I had the best day in my life.
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
windless, 2°C/36°F, sunny
If anything in the world can convince me that waking up early is great, this morning will have to be the one. Simply put, the morning of November 8th, 2016 is the most beautiful morning I have ever seen, period.
When one wakes up to this kind of magnificence, he will not be able to help but wonder whether there is a power higher above, which deliberately shaped the creations on this planet, as its elegance, tranquility and pureness exude a sense of uncontrollable, agitated, and exciting force. This is the world we live in, in its purest form, so untainted that my soul was cleansed of any impurity. The moment I looked into the distance with my dreary eyes, I realized that this was me in my purest form as well, and this kind of transformation is unlike any other. Some meditate, and some others pray, but I choose to be baptised by the ultimate power itself: mother nature.
Enjoying the most beautiful morning in the world with us were other animals, which made the serene scene a bit more lively. Herds and herds of gentoo penguins were on their daily breakfast run in the harbor, and the sheer number grouped them into black clusters of tuxedo clouds.
All of them choreographed a brilliant show, diving and surfacing at the same time, and turning together with surgical precision. They looked like little shuttles of cuteness, much more agile than on the ground.
Each group had more than 100 penguins in it, and they sometimes do have “traffic accidents”, as one clumsy penguins forgot to read the memo and turned abruptly to the wrong direction.
Along with the penguins were a dozen of Weddell seals. These were the most elusive seals of this place, because they are the southernmost seal species in the world! They got so close to the ship that they practically went under it! We had to temporarily shut off our propeller so we would not injure them.
It appeared that they were playing with us, and they particularly enjoyed the attention coming from the cameras. As they surfaced, their movements induced a ripple, slowly propagating in the mirror-flat sea surface…
While we were busy enjoying literally the best day in our lives, the expedition team was cruising in the bay, hoping to look for a place to land on the continent proper. I saw them land on a perfectly snowy-white slope, and then they continued to climb to the top. I would call they were evaluating the situation, but when they proceeded to slide down, I realized they were more having fun than doing their job. But hey, I cannot blame them: I would have done the exact same thing!
We were then given the green light to land at Orne Harbor. The entire young-traveler gang sprang into action, and swarmed the docking bay. Christine, Momo, Charlie, Ulrike, Andrew and Luke all joined me in our private zodiac towards the actual, real, non-fake, for sure not daydreaming, Antarctica continent.
Everyone began racing to the top, completely disregarding the guides’ warning. I was so rushed that I did not even put on my sunscreen. It turned out to be a very bad decision as you may see later as I changed race within 2 days, but logic was jettisoned from the deck the moment I stepped onto our ship Ushuaia.
We were the first to land, and of course, I was the first to reach the top. Thus, I was the first to be completely mesmerized by the unfathomably sublime scenery. I did not even realize at that moment I officially went to all 7 continents, because the view made my spirit fly away from my body, so I was busy chasing my soul instead of counting footsteps. I am at a loss of words here, so I will let the pictures do the talking for me.
Of course, it would not be a mountain in Antarctica without the penguins. These fluffballs love to climb heights too! A pair of chinstrap penguins were cuddling on top of the most prominent rock, which made me extra jealous.
We spent almost 2 hours on top, and refused to leave. The sight was too exquisite to behold, and seriously I would trade that view for any amount of my time. This is the ultimate destination, the nirvana of a traveler, and I reached it at the sweet age of 21. This is my greatest life accomplishment, and on that day, I was born anew.
We finally were forced to depart heaven, and we gladly slid all the way down. The ride down was more than fun: it pushed our over-excited mind beyond human capacity. The entire squad was right by the landing spot within minutes, and by the time we reached the bottom, we were hyperventilating from sheer excitement. Yes, our boots, pants, and coats were filled with snow, but who else can claim he has slid down a snowy hill in Antarctica~?
We were taken on a little zodiac cruise on the way back. Groups of penguins hopped by as we admired the floating icebergs. The rubber boat inevitably hit a few icebergs because they were so densely packed. They looked much lighter than they actually were. As we approached a tiny iceberg the size of a fridge, I expected we would simply push it away, but that was so mistaken. Upon contact, a huge jerk nearly threw everyone off board: it pushed us away.
We were almost depressed to step back onto the ship, but lunch was waiting in the canteen as everyone spent way more time on land than anticipated. Ushuaia raised her anchor, and pressed on, towards even more south.
However, before we depart, we had to celebrate our landing at the last continent!!! This means: champaigne. Momo bought a bottle of the bubbly alcohol, and we shared the bottle with our spirit captain Sir Ernest Shackleton.
What the team decided for the afternoon landing was Cuverville Island. A small island skirted by tall glacial cliffs, it opens to an elegantly gentle beach filled with a quadrillion penguins.
Upon landfall, a few penguins approached, curious to see what was going on, and welcomed us to Cuverville Island. A few icicles hanged from the icy edge formed by high tides, and I gladly grabbed one, and of course, proceeded to taste it.
While the others ran straight up the hill so they could slide down again, I was taking my time to see the island. Thousands of gentoo penguins were scattered everywhere. The came and went as they please, as if we were simply mirages of aliens that were not even real.
I took a short walk towards the penguins, and carefully observed them in their natural state: lying down. As a lazy bone myself, I needed to learn from the master, and store as much fat as I could in my belly through this highly skillful method, so I scrutinized every little move, and scribbled down some notes.
After painstaking research, I was finally able to grasp the tip of the iceberg. I inched in from the distance, and was finally accepted by the penguins as one of their own. Now I just needed to perform the final ritual, so I could be truly one together with the tuxedo-ed friends.
Given this opportunity, I was able to further observe the colony, and how the penguins go on their daily businesses. Some were still eager to mate, and some had already got an egg, and some… uh, were busy making baby penguins.
As I was busy becoming one together with the true purpose in life, another little fella approached our landing gear pile. It seemed to be rather interested in them, as I bet it had never seen any color other than white, blue, grey and black.
I then climbed up the hill, sat down, and enjoyed a cup of tea. This is my kind of relaxation. Some people think sitting down in a starbucks chair, hold on to a $6 latte, and sneak glances of that barista is their kind of afternoon tea; while some prefer a three-tiered scone tower with a few besties in that famous hotel; I, however, believe sitting down on a snowy hill in Antarctica, holding on to my yerba mate, and looking into the depths of glaciers with a penguin is my cup of tea.
Of course, we also took our sweet time looking at the penguins in the water. They were more like well-dressed dolphins than clumsy flightless birds.
After seemingly just 2 minutes, we had to head, since nobody wanted to stress out the penguins. Imagine if you are going to have your dirty little business done, and these giant colorful penguins just roam around and try to take pictures for hours, won’t you be mad as well?
The way back was another zodiac cruise, because the sun was not gonna set anyway, and we were already at the edge of the world! While cruising around in the ice-packed bay, the gang discovered some treasures that could only be seen from a special angle.
The bay was so beautiful that we repeatedly asked the sailor to turn off the engine, so our souls could be immersed in ultimate peace. Everyone completely soaked up the sun and the Antarctic breeze in this quick hop around icebergs, as all swore to come back again in their lives.
We started sailing back north after reaching the southernmost all of us had ever been. The ride back north was not too shabby as well, as the celebration of the greatest day on Earth began with a drink! The twist was: the ice is straight plucked from an iceberg floating next to the ship, in Antarctica!
After a great drink with the people, I stepped out to bask in the late afternoon sunshine in Antarctica alone. The scenery was as beautiful as ever. Even though the temperature was low, my heart was the warmest it had ever been. I finally achieved my dream, a dream that I had been thinking about since the first time I came up with this wild, wild idea. Going to all 7 continents in 1 year, isn’t that absolutely nuts? Well, I am luckily just this level of insane.
We saw many icebergs; Christine and I entertained the idea if we could put a few propeller around them, and sail them to many parts of the world. Given the sea temperature in most of the places, we could legitimately go to Rio, and then Capetown, then Perth, with absolutely no problem.
As clock slowly winded towards 12, the sun was finally setting. The giant fireball brought a hue of orange to the otherwise desolately white-and-blue landscape, lighting up the northern side of the sky with vibrant warmth. Stars had already started to appear on the southern side, eager to push the sun out of the sky dome.
November 8th, 2016. This day will forever be marked on the calendar in my mind. It is not only the most beautiful day we had experienced, but also because it was the day I stepped onto the last continent in my 7 Continents Plan. To see a dream come to its fruition, that is the purpose of existence.
We continued sailing, towards our sweet, sweet dreams.
5 knots northeast wind, -1°C/30°F, sunny/overcast
We began our final day of expedition by landing on Deception Island. The entrance into this volcanic island is extraordinarily narrow, as you can see in the map below. We entered it while it was early in the morning, and most of the people were still burnt out from the astonishing magnificence yesterday, so I was one of the handful who got to witness this dangerous sail. The tall walls formed by the island made the water inside suitable for a natural harbor, but sadly all shores were too shallow.
We landed at Telefon Bay, a small volcanic beach to the northwest side. The island is still an active volcano, so tread lightly! A small hike led to the top of the rim, which looked like an oreo layered cake drenched in sugar and cream.
Walking on the powdered snow was certainly a different kind of fun. The cliffs were completely unprotected, and they were shaped into dunes by the howling winds. Standing on top of one was rather dangerous, as the vehement gust could push you off any second.
On the way back down, I saw a perfectly pristine piece of snow. It looked so white, so fluffy, and so…comfortable. It looked like a perfectly washed and cleaned puffy blanket, and I, I justed really wanted to lie down. So I did.
On the shore, while waiting for transport to the next destination by zodiac, we saw two seals cuddling together, since Antarctica would not be this thrilling without life. The resilience and adaptivity of animals here is just absolutely amazing.
We then were transported to a tranquil bay called Pendulum Cove. Here, one has the opportunity to dive into the literally freezing water, as some people wanted to swim in the Antarctic. Plunging into 2°C water with no exercises prior? Thanks, but no thanks.
Half Moon Island
Afternoon, the final landing site is Half Moon Island. The crescent shaped area was more than just a few hundred meters wide, but also was riddled with penguins. A large rock protruded out of the white blanket of snow, as if it was some kind of alien monument reminding us of an ancient past.
Of course, as anything that is a bit taller than its surroundings, the rock was taken over by the penguins. Chinstrap penguins here were not channeling their inner chi into the natural wonder, but here to make love to each other and make sure this orgy goes on all night long.
There was also some moss growing on the rocks, which was only made possible by global warming, since Antarctica never had vegetation before this decade. A few penguins came to the landing site to see us off, and the gang waved the Antarctic continent goodbye. Thank you, the white continent, for giving us the most valuable experience in life.
Day 17, 18
November 10th, 11th
We left Antarctica, and started our long, long sail towards South America. It was just about the longest and saddest two days in my life. I spent a lot of time on top of the deck, looking into the distance, playing cards with the squad, and pondering. I was never this quiet and pensive, because I was never shocked by a place this much. I came expecting a lot, but this magical place blew my expectations to pieces, and then shattered some more realities.
An award ceremony took place while the ship was approaching the beautiful Beagle Channel. Every one of us had successfully landed on the frozen continent, and reached more south than ever before. Thus, we all deserved a special reward. It was a sentimental occasion, as all passengers were given a special gift from the crew: a collage of our photos taken during the journey!
We then had a champagne toast for this epic voyage south. A lot of us shed some tears, not because it was the end of a brilliant journey, but because it would be our first day being an Antarctican. We now had all seen the unseen, done the undone, and experienced the unexperienced. We were living anew.
We had our last dinner, a cake shaped like our ship Ushuaia, and fell asleep. The silent Beagle Channel gentilly rocked the haul, putting us into a dreamless slumber, because we had lived our dreams to its fullest. There was no more need to fantasize about Antarctica: we had actually been there.
We woke up at the harbor of Ushuaia, finally back to civilization after 20 days at sea. The world looked extremely different after this voyage. Not only did the free world had another new leader, but also did we feel reborn. The images of icebergs and snowy mountains were branded in our brains, and we would never see the world the same way since.
We got off the ship, and hugged the expedition team for goodbye. It was the end. Farewell has never been my forte, but even this time I managed to hold the tears. This trip had taught me so much, and I must live on and continue on strong with it. I would never, ever forget these 20 days, even if I try.
I walked back to my hostel that I left 20 days ago with Charlie and Andrew, and was warmed greeted by the managers. I was rather lost, though, as I could barely find a bearing in a place that was not a metal tube swinging in the middle of nowhere. We gathered again with the rest of the group in a cafe, and caught up with the world with thousands of posts and notifications.
I am sorry: I am at a loss of words here. I originally planned to write a sensational paragraph all about how it feels after getting to all 7 continents in 2016, but when it really comes to it, the page, like my mind, turned out to be blank. This is a feat too great that I still can’t say anything about it. I never thought I would run out of description for a feeling, but the only way I can categorize this sensation is lost. I felt empty, because I was so full of everything.
I did it. I truly did it. I had a crazy dream, and I worked towards it, and it was done. A simple summary, for an epic story. By doing that, I was truly, Forever Young.
-=ForeverYoung|7 Continents Plan=-
However, this journey is not over. Follow the link below to continue exploring the Chilean Patagonia!