Lot of people asked me how the days in Antarctica was spent. Lack of roads, hotels or restaurants make it an unique experience. Here is a snapshot of my experience in Antarctica.
A regular day in Antarctica
Every evening, the expedition leader shares the itinerary for the next day. The day starts with a wake up call at 6:45 AM where the expedition leader briefs about the situation in a public announcement system. After breakfast, it was time to get into Zodiacs to venture into the land. As there are no ports in the places we visited, the ship anchors some distance away from the shore. The distance from the ship to shore is covered via Zodiacs which can carry 8-10 people. We come back to ship for lunch. While we are having lunch, the ship moves to another location. Post lunch, after resting for sometime we again go out and come back by evening. A round of tea/coffee and snacks is followed by a short session on how the day went. The itinerary for next day is shared.
There were exceptions to this rule. One day we were out on deck at 6AM when we crossed Lamraie channel. There was a day when we landed in midnight!! Changes were common even after itinerary was shared due to changing weather conditions and sea ice. On couple of instances, while we were resting after lunch, announcement was made to immediately get ready for landing!! I will write about it in next posts. In general, the days in Antarctica were quite busy. Being an expedition ship, the recreational facilities were limited to bar, watching Antarctica movies and reading books. Whenever there was sightings of whales or beautiful sceneries, captain would also announce so that we could go out to see it.
The M/V Ushuaia had open bridge policy. We could go to the bridge and watch the captain and his team commanding the ship.
Dress while going out
The temperate during my visit was around 0 degree. The wind also adds to the chill factor. I used my traditional 5 layer formula to make myself warm while venturing out of the ship. Since we were going on Zodiacs, wearing life jackets was compulsory. We had to wear rubber boots as most of the landings was on ice, snow and water. Life jackets and rubber boots were provided in the ship.
The climate in Antarctica changes rapidly. During our period of stay we saw excellent weather with clear skies, snow, rain and zero visibility conditions. For example, it was hot with 8°C on one of the days (a rare condition in Antarctica) but after sometime it started snowing!!
There are some rules after landing in Antarctica. Before we land, expedition leaders would set up the path on which we need to walk. It was to ensure that people do not wander on their own and get lost. It also ensures that people do not fall into crevasses that are present at many places. We have to maintain 5 meter distance from penguins. Penguins do not know these rules and they can come near us!! Also, we need to maintain longer distance from seals. Expedition leaders ensure that we adhere to the rules.
The main attraction after landing in Antarctica is Penguins, seals and scenery. Penguins were present in most of the island. There are 5 species of penguins in Antarctica but we could see 3 of them – Gentoo, chinstrap and Adelie penguins. Nearly 95% of penguins we saw was Gentoo. We could not see Emperor penguin as they live further south in Antarctica and breed in winter.
It is fun to watch penguins. It was mating season during out visit and most penguins were busy!! Few had already laid eggs and incubating it. Occasionally, we used to get chance to see the eggs. Penguins are very careful as skua bird tries to steal them for food. It is common sight to see penguins trying to chase skua from their colony.
The best way to observe penguins is to sit at one place and just keep an eye. Actions definitely follow. It could be penguin fetching stones for nest, mating or even trying to steal stone from another nest!! They could even get curious and come very near to you. They are amazing creatures.
All landings involve walking in ice and snow. At some places, snow was knee deep and it took some effort to walk on it. Our group was a mix of people of all ages, ranging from 7 year old kid to 80+ year person but everyone managed it well.
Zodiac rides provide a different perspective of Antarctica when compared to walking on land. Zodiacs can go where big ships cannot. It is the best way to see the iceberg in various shapes and form. Since I went during early summer where sea ice was still present in Antarctica, providing stunning views.
Zodiacs are good way to see the seals. We saw leopard seal, crab eater seal and weddell seal. All seals we saw were lounging on ice. Leopard seal are top predators that can eat pups of other seal species and penguins. Interestingly, crab eater seal eats krill, squid and fish but not crabs!!
Of course, it is possible to spot whales if we are lucky. A humpback whale jumped out of water in one of the rides but unfortunately I missed it.
In general, days in Antarctica was quite busy as we wanted to make use of every minute we spent in that beautiful continent.