Silver Explorer, Antarctica: Day 4 — Destination: Mainland Antarctica, It Only Gets Better
This morning would mark yet another milestone on our Antarctic cruise. We would step ashore on the mainland of the White Continent.
Yesterday, we landed on one of the islands, impressive enough indeed. But today, our boots would tread ground on the Antarctic Peninsula. Theoretically, you could walk from here to the South Pole.
While at Barrientos Island yesterday, Claudia, one of the Expedition Team staff, had told me that tomorrow would be ever better. I could hardly believe it. Had she been jaded by too many visits to Antarctica? It was hard to imagine as I stood with her yesterday that anything could top the experience on Barrientos Island.
We will see, I thought.
An Early Start, Destination: Mainland Antarctica
During last night’s Recap and Briefing (where members of the Expedition Team elaborate on what we experienced during the day and inform us of plans for the next day), Kara, the Expedition Team Leader, told us that today’s landings would begin at 7 a.m.
No groans among those in the packed room on deck 6. Rather, there was a sense of excitement. Our time on Barrientos Island had gone so well, and the experience so satisfying, that no one minded having to rise at the crack of dawn (well, actually well beyond the crack of dawn as the sun nearly stays aloft the whole night during the Austral summer here in Antarctica).
With a bit of work ahead of us processing photos and video (and posting here daily), Chris and I ordered room service from the restaurant menu, served course by course by our butler (yes, we have a butler in Antarctica) and complemented by a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. As on all Silversea vessels, all beverages, including wine, are served free of charge.
It’s worthwhile to take a moment to remark on the dining experience on Silver Explorer. With the exception of room service, all meals take place in the main restaurant on deck four. Dinner is open seating, starting at 7:30 p.m. on our cruise.
Silver Explorer’s head chef is Christian, a hearty and jolly Bavarian who works wonders in the galley. He’s fortunate in that much of his food stock is provisioned locally, from Argentina and Chile, thus he uses only top quality ingredients that are pretty much from farm to table. The dining experience in Antarctica is in keeping with Silversea’s Slow Food philosophy, a belief that food should be experienced, rather than just consumed.
At the captain’s table a few nights ago, a Swiss couple who had been traveling in South America for more than a week remarked that Christian’s rendition of Argentine beef was the best they had had so far, which is quite a claim in a nation that it known for its beef.
It’s also worth noting that Christian is preparing food for many nationalities, catering to the tastes and customs of each. We have a significant number of Chinese on board — as well as Australians, Europeans, Americans and Asians. Thus far, we’ve met people from as far as Singapore and Shanghai to Manhattan and Moscow. The diversity of cultures aboard makes exploring Antarctica all that much more exciting, and we are a bit like the continent itself, multinational (though Antarctica has no government, more than a dozen governments work together to preserve the region).
Stepping On The Mainland
This morning’s landings started at 7 a.m., as Kara had promised. An hour earlier, Silver Explorer had arrived at Brown Bluff, an apt name for the towering rust-colored flat-topped mountain. Stepping out onto my expansive veranda on deck 7, I surveyed the landscape. It was absolutely stunning, pebble beaches and exposed rock, flanked by glaciers — and all set against a backdrop of calm sea and icebergs as far as the eye could see.
About 98 percent of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages a thickness of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers). The volume of ice is even more amazing when you consider that Antarctica is twice the size of Australia. It is estimated that the ice in Antarctica contains more than 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. Take a moment to reflect on that the next time you fill your bath with water.
If all of Antarctica’s ice were to melt, sea levels worldwide would rise nearly 200 feet (60 meters to 70 meters), according to Luciano, an Argentine scientist who is one of Silver Explorer’s Expedition Team members. If the same were to happen to Greenland, not a small land mass by any means, sea levels would rise by only a little more than 20 feet (seven meters).
Somewhat ironically, while Antarctica can be cold (I’ve not found it unbearable by a long shot), it is typically dry. In fact, the continent is considered to be desert, with annual precipitation of only 8 inches (200 millimeters) along the coast and even less inland. Of course, this works well for tourists who can pretty much count on staying dry when traveling in Antarctica.
As was the case yesterday, our four groups went ashore in intervals. Immediately upon arriving at Brown Bluff, we joined a one-hour hike to explore a glacier. We were, in fact, walking on the glacier. “If you have a choice between stepping on ice or snow,” one of the expedition team members said, “always go for the ice. You never know how deep the snow may be.”
Again, I am breathless, not from exhaustion, but from trying to absorb the sheer beauty of what we were seeing. Antarctica is a place that causes you to use all available superlatives, Kara told me. She’s right. While it sounds a bit lame to say Antarctica is a place that you simply cannot put into words — that you must experience for yourself to fully appreciate it — that is exactly how it is.
Antarctica is grandeur, amplified a thousand times. How do you describe that — or capture it in photos or in video?
I am extremely fortunate to be here. Antarctica receives only around 40,000 visitors annually. Most come on the 20 or so cruise ships that operate in the region. Silver Explorer is the smallest luxury cruise vessel operating in Antarctica. The vessel’s size allows for multiple landings each day. Larger vessels, by contrast, can often only execute only a single landing each day because of the IAATO’s regulation allowing only 100 passengers ashore at a time.
At Brown Bluff, we saw thousands of Adelie penguins, many nesting. We stayed around for a while, taking picture after picture of the penguins, before heading back to Silver Explorer for lunch.
Icebergs, Sculpted By Nature
We would do one more activity in the afternoon, a one-hour zodiac cruise in Kinnes Cove. Zodiacs are seldom at full capacity, and with only four of us in our zodiac, and with Kara as the driver, we not only explored icebergs but also snapped dozens of photos of Silver Explorer, looking downright regal against a backdrop of mountains, icebergs and glaciers.
We zipped around Kinnes Cove. I’m sure I was not alone in feeling a sense of euphoria. The sky was blue, the water flat, the icebergs gorgeous, a scene sculpted by nature. With the wind and sun in my face, I thought back to Claudia’s remark yesterday when she told me that today would be even better. She had been right. As I reflected on her words, I wondered, what will tomorrow bring?
|December 12||Ushuaia, Argentina||Charter flight from Buenos Aires; Embark Silver Explorer||5:00 PM|
|December 13||Sailing The Drake Passage|
|December 14||Crossing The Drake, Day 2|
|December 15||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 16||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 17||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 18||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 19||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 20||Sailing the Drake Passage, Redux|
|December 21||Sailing the Drake Passage|
|December 22||Ushuaia, Argentina||8:00 AM||Disembark Silver Explorer; return charter flight to Buenos Aires.|