After sailing through the night, we woke up to yet another beautiful sunny day. In between all the frenzy of activities on land, we had been learning a lot about the wildlife and geology of Antarctica. Since setting sail, we had already seen many bird species and had even been visited by a group of dolphins as well as Humpback whales. We had also been told by staff members that we were very lucky indeed to have experienced the good weather that we had so far. They explained that there had been expeditions in the past where passengers had not been able to get off the ship for days at a time once reaching Antarctica due to awful and challenging weather conditions.
After breakfast, we were just on time to reach the outside deck again as we sailed through the breathtaking Errera Channel. Everywhere we looked on all sides, we were surrounded by large, imposing and majestically beautiful snow capped mountains. Shortly after passing through the channel, we arrived at Water Boat Point. After lathering on sunscreen and throwing on all the protective layers necessary, we excitedly boarded the zodiacs to go on land for snowshoeing. Once on land, we put our snowshoes on over our wellington boots and set off on a moderately steep but very pleasant climb. Once we reached the top of the hill, we turned around to look down at the M/V Plancius docked far down below on the water, that was mirror-like in it’s calm and serene state. Absolutely stunning…it gave me the opportunity to stop and catch my breath and savor the moment, realizing how lucky and privileged I was to be there, and just to observe the heart stopping scenery. One of my team mates described it as such breathtaking beauty that is was impossible to capture on camera.
After making our way down again, we boarded the zodiacs again for a brief journey to the Presidente Gabriel Gonzalez Videla Chilean base, which is a research station today that amongst other things, monitors the ice cap movements, water and weather conditions. Right after struggling off the zodiacs and balancing perilously on sharp rocks to arrive on land, we were greeted once again by a huge colony of Gentoo penguins and together with that, a pungent whiff of their excrement. Mmm, that one I couldn’t get over it was so strong and after taking a few photo’s, I was relieved to go inside the research station itself to meet the personnel that worked there, who were men from both the Navy and Air Force. One of the men working there soon revealed to us that his mother was also fighting breast cancer. After talking to him, he expressed his gratitude at our words of encouragement, hope and support. While exploring the base, we came across a section of it that had been turned into a museum which was quite an eye opener for all of us. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, researchers and explorers had to endure great hardship for the cause with no heating or everyday luxuries that we are all used to today. They lived in cold and very austere conditions which was more than enough for me personally to really appreciate the sacrifice that these men made, and how grateful we should all be for what we have.
On the base was a small souvenir shop where we all obtained a certificate for achieving a landing on the continent of Antarctica. Today it has it’s pride of place on the wall above my desk.
After saying goodbye, we returned to the ship to rest and enjoy the amazing views that Paradise Bay was boasting. Soon it was time for lunch. We were due to go mountaineering in the afternoon. The big moment was finally on top of us. This is what many of us had trained for many months and travelled thousands of miles to achieve…the crowning glory of all our efforts and what our hearts most desired. Just to make it to the top of the mountain. At lunch I had an extra helping of carbohydrates in a last ditch effort to try and give my body the fuel it needed. This was it…in a few hours it was crunch time.