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  • Writer's pictureUrsula

Antarctica 12.2.-4.3.23

Finally we're off to Antarctica, my long-awaited dream destination. Thomas thought it would be much more comfortable to visit the penguins in Zurich Zoo with the added advantage of not getting seasick on the Drake Passage. Fortunately he accompanies me despite all the disgusting circumstances.

We have booked a 20-day cruise with Silversea all the way to the south of Antarctica, where only a few ships go. The package includes the first night in the noble Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Santiago de Chile with a generous voucher which we spend in the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant for an exclusive meal.

The next morning we are taken by bus to the charter terminal, where we board one of the two Silversea chartered Antarctic Airways planes without going through security. In Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world, we are taken on a short bus ride to the Silver Endeavour, Silversea's newest and most technically advanced ship. There we move into a beautiful cabin with veranda. Entertainment is provided on the ship: there is a fitness center, spa with sauna and steam room, bubble bath, swimming pool and 4 restaurants with exquisite cuisine. In addition, there are lectures about the animals, geology and many stories about the explorers of Antarctica. There are 100 of us guests, filling just under half the ship and being pampered by 200 crew members.

After almost 2 days of sailing through the very calm Drake Passage we arrive at Wild Point on Elephant Island in dense fog. Here 120 years ago Ernest Shackleton and his crew were stranded for 4 months during the winter. In stormy weather we make a first excursion by Zodiac to visit the place where Shackleton's crew wintered and to observe the penguins.

The cruise is divided into three main regions, which can be explored from the ship by zodiac, canoe and shore excursions.

Weddell Sea

We cross the impressive iceberg avenue of Antarctic Sound, the sun comes out and the landscape appears bright deep blue, turquoise and white. We enter the 7th continent for the first time and take a short hike in an impressive moon-like landscape. On most of the shore excursions we find abandoned huts, which were formerly used as research accommodations.

In Brown Bluff, sunshine, calm seas, pleasant temperatures and a stunning ice landscape await us. With the Zodiacs we are driven to a colony of Gentoo penguins (with red beaks) where we also meet some Adélie penguins (black beaks and bewitching eyes). The young ones are already the same size as their parents, only they still wear their fluffy dress. We also meet the first fur seals that eye us suspiciously.

On the way back we take some time to admire the icebergs and suddenly there is a lot of action right next to our Zodiac: a leopard seal has caught a careless young penguin, which is now repeatedly beaten through the air to the water to skin him. A lot of blood splashes, so nothing for the faint of heart.

On the volcanic Paulet Island we enjoy the many young animals of an Adélie penguin colony with their partly freaky hairstyles and hike up to the crater lake. A picture of the rather ugly giant petrel may not be missing, of course.

Antarctic Island

Because stormy winds are coming up, we drive quite far south to Cierva Cove in snow and fog. During the zodiac tour the weather gets nicer and nicer and we can watch humpback whales, Weddell seals and chinstrap penguins (black beaks and chinstraps) in the beautiful iceberg landscape.

It is especially fun to watch the penguins swimming when they jump out of the water to catch their breath.

In drizzle, we take the Zodiac in Hughes Bay for humpback whale sightseeing. There are over 100 whales in this bay, some of which shoot out of the water very close to the boat. This is a very impressive, but also wet and cold experience and an endurance test for our cameras.

In Cuverville Island we visit a large colony of gentoo penguins, almost all molting which takes about 3 weeks. As long as they shed the old plumage, they can not enter the water and therefore get no food.

At Pleneau Island we sail south through the Inside Passage of the Antarctic, a fantastic mountain world with whimsical icebergs and many leopard, Weddell and crabeater seals which feed mainly on krill.

A Zodiac Cruise in Antarctic weather feels something like this:

And a few hours later, the weather is already a bit more forgiving.

Now we have a day at sea and we sail for hours past white mountains. It feels like sailing through the flooded Alps and little by little there is more and more drift ice and icebergs. This is one of the most impressive passages. In the evening we cross the Arctic Circle which is of course duly celebrated.

Deep South

To reach the south, we pass a narrow strait, the Gullet, where the ship slowly makes its way through dense drift ice, sometimes with a loud roar, and passes frighteningly close to the huge ice blocks.

In Jenny Island we meet elephant seals for the first time, their males are huge mounds of meat weighing up to 4 tons with an ugly trunk face.

In Marguerite Bay we reach the southernmost point of our cruise at the southern latitude 68° 46.2', toast with champagne and turn back.

We are extremely lucky: the weather is also at its best at Stonington Island and the sea is as smooth as glass.

We make some Zodiac excursions through the enormous ice sculptures....

....and meet seals again and again.

A bath in the icy sea water is offered to all guests, but not recommended. Thomas, of course, doesn't want to miss out on this and jumps into the 0.5 degree cold water secured with a rope. As a reward he gets a whiskey and the 'Polar Plunge' diploma.

In Horseshoe Island we hike to a viewpoint with a magnificent view of the bay and one never tires of admiring more ice sculptures.

The last excursion in Bourgeois Fjord is once again dominated by ice, seals and beautiful weather.

This Antarctic voyage is an absolute highlight of the tour so far for us.

It was absolutely worth it to cruise far to the south, because the landscape is simply overwhelmingly beautiful icy. In addition, with a little luck you could meet emperor penguins here, which we unfortunately did not have because it had too little shallow drift ice due to the warm summer. In addition, the weather was probably exceptionally beautiful.

From the season we would go next time rather in November and December, because then all penguins are on land and raise their young. In February many have already left the colony. Now we want to visit the king penguins on South Georgia Island, which we hope to do in a few years.

Now we go back to Panama, where we plan a round trip and a week long sailing trip. We will report about this in April.

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