By Joan Larsen
The waves of the world’s Southern Ocean had turned into a rare mirror-like calm as our ship glided into Antarctic waters. The passengers, strangers still, were out on the decks or bridge, watching the first icebergs stand tall on the horizon – looking like city skyscrapers that had mysteriously lost their way. The morning sunlight dappled the waters with flickers of light. No one took notice that the clock had not yet struck 3 AM.
No one spoke. No one ever seems to speak when we are approaching Antarctica – for it truly is a sacred place that touches each of us in our own way. Much later, I will hear the words: “How could I ever describe this place to anyone?” said by one and all.
You can’t describe Antarctica. No words will ever do it justice. There is no way.
The ship seemed to drift. . . but up ahead the first group of stunning glacier-clad mountains appeared. There was a pureness, a serenity here that could not be matched anywhere in the real world. Real time was gone. Our eyes could not believe what we were seeing.
But now – as if it were planned – the icebergs had caught up to us and – like floats in a Rose Bowl Parade –seemed to vie with one another for the title of largest, most other-worldly, most populated with adorable penguins in their black-and-white head-waiter garb.
To say that we were captivated would be an understatement. Breakfast went by and we did not care. Cameras at the ready, we were out to not miss a single one in the passing parade. In most cases, passengers were the size of ants in comparison to the height and size of the gorgeous icebergs. We actually were at a loss for words.
And the iceberg photos below are but a few that seem to touch my mind and heart in an indelible fashion that first morning. It was then that we had our first Zodiac raft excursions as well to see the icebergs up close – but not too close as we found they could easily flip!
Suddenly appearing – in pods most often – – killer whales having play time would always add to the eye appeal.
And, as this was early in the season, the passengers fell in love with the babies – seals, sea lions, and penguins – that populate Antarctica in numbers by the millions. On shore – and we were on shore many hours a day – the curiosity of some of the young penguins and seals was too much. We were not to touch them, BUT when we humans were sitting on the beach watching the passing parade, we might find a penguin or more wanting a closer introduction. Let’s just say that our own hearts melted. These were moments never to be forgotten.
As you can see, the snows were pristine . . . and inviting to climb. And so we did. Reaching the heights, being the king of all we surveyed was surreal. But sitting down at the top – one after another and – in a row – slip-sliding down the mountain on our seats while laughing like we were young kids, was something that forever after will stand apart.
My family is often asked how many times we have returned to Antarctica. To be honest, we have lost track I believe. But together, it has to have been 14 times or more; the longest expedition was for 2 months. Of the 90 passengers of all ages on our wonderful ship – that was to take us on a semi-circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent, –no passenger was a newcomer. All had been on many expeditions to the ends of the earth.
You see, this heaven on this earth that is Antarctica had performed its magic on all of us. And yes, we will return once again.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”