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  • Dawnelle Salant

Paradise At The End of the World


I’m awakened by icebergs. The ship is moving and I can hear and feel ice crashing against the sides. Sadly, the Neumayer Channel is blocked by so much ice that we can’t get through. This happens a lot on Antarctic expeditions, and the team comes up with another, equally as exciting plan for the day. Our first excursion is a zodiac cruise around Cape Willems and some of the most beautiful icebergs we have seen. There is one that is almost spiked, and one with an arch big enough for a small boat to get through. We find a crab eater seal on an iceberg and as we are watching it, huge cracks and groans draw our attention away and we watch as huge chunks fall into the ocean. We also see penguins on icebergs. The icebergs we are seeing are grounded and they call it an iceberg graveyard as this is their final resting place. I’m averaging about 1000 photos a day but I can’t stop trying to capture the uniqueness that is Antarctica. It’s colder today, and the wind bites at my face. I can’t help thinking about Shackleton and his men who crossed the Drake Passage in a boat not much bigger than I’m in. I’m freezing and I’m dry. They were soaking wet, fighting storms with very little food and water. And it’s also 2 degrees Celsius. They dealt with temperatures far lower than this and I can not imagine what that would have been like.

While we are cruising to our next location, someone spots a pod of Orcas off starboard. Even though they are far away, I am excited as Orcas are hard to find out here.

Our afternoon stop is Paradise Harbour. This turns out to be one of my favourite spots. We land near an Argentinian research center. The highlight is a hike to to the top of a rocky outcrop which overlooks the bay. It’s probably the most difficult climb yet as the snow is soft and slippery. But the views are worth it. Looking down on the bay, with its icebergs, penguins, our ship and deep blue water, I can understand where it got its name.

We are treated to another cruise around the bay and see a sheer cliff that is home to cormorants (or blue eyed shags). They nest here and we can see babies in the nests. The babies look bigger than the parents. We manage to find several Crabeater seals and a Weddell Seal. My favourite part of the cruise are the glacier that line the gigantic bay. It takes us about an hour to cruise around the entire thing, and even thought it’s raining a bit, I am in awe of what I am seeing. Everywhere you look in Antarctica, you see something you never could have imagined. The water here is almost turquoise from the run off of the glaciers. It’s hard to know where to look. Every time I turn my head I see something new - something amazing. Glaciers that look like broken pillars just waiting to crash into the ocean. Penguins on the beach. A seal on the snow. An iceberg floating by. It’s overcast but the low clouds and fog give the bay an unearthly feeling, and it does feel like I’m on another planet. As the zodiac takes us back to ship we run over huge chunks of ice in the water - bergy bits or brashy ice. We glide over them and it reminds me of driving in a parking lot with speed bumps.

After dinner we are treated to a spectacular whale show for a good half hour. Several pods of pack ice orcas play in the waters around the boat. I see a few spy hopping and am lucky to catch several tail sticking out of the water. They are so close we can hear them breathing through their blowholes. The water is so clear that we can see their entire bodies. Three orcas swim under the ship and come up just meters off the back of the boat. The crew tells us that this is a rare sight. There were so many orcas that I lost count. At one point a humpback whale joins them and I don’t know where to point my camera. I stand on the deck and just take in this extraordinary experience. What a nightcap.


***Sadly I have had some issues with my hard drives where I've been saving my photos and the ones from the morning zodiac cruise and the climb up Paradise Harbour are missing, the ones from my phone are all I have until I can get home and hopefully sort them out. These are mostly from the ship and the zodiac cruise around Paradise Harbour. The orca photos were taken really late at night so they aren't the clearest, but I was happy that I captured how many there were and how close they were!

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