Antarctic Excursions with Minky Whales, Icebergs & Penguin Highways

As we motored along to Neko Harbour, the sun slid behind the clouds, the wind picked up, and the sky took on a more ominous appearance. We truly did waste all of our good weather coming across the Drake Passage. At least the heavy snowfall had not mobilized yet. The Endeavour came to a halt a good distance from the shoreline in Neko Harbour in a large expanse of open water. We gleefully watched as the zodiacs were offloaded into the dark drink. We all anxiously awaited our group to be called to begin the arduous process of getting layered in waterproof clothing. Finally, our turn had arrived and we descended into the bowels of the ship.

Once settled into our watercraft, our first driver, Steffi the Geologist, was our pioneer through the abundant ice floating throughout the bay. She would motor through one enormous iceberg just for the zodiac to become surrounded by several others. We all watched on as another zodiac puttered to a halt as the fuel line ruptured, rendering the vessel useless. We, however, kept slowly cruising through the ice. When we came to larger gaps in ice, the water looked like glass, providing stunning mirrored image of the snow-capped land. The landscape in Antarctica really is out of this world surreal.

As we were floating along listening to the ice creak and crack, the most incredible thing happened… a Minky Whale became enamored with our boat. The porpoise gracefully circled us, dove directly beneath the zodiac, and nimbly navigated the indigo waters for quite a while. It was a hell of an experience! Once the Minky finally departed, Steffi snuck up to the landing site first.

The guides had already staked out our pathway on land, this time being forced to cross a penguin highway. They warned against crossing the aforementioned avenue if there were tuxedo clad waddlers passing through at the same moment. Of course that occurred multiple times, and we all had to try to come to abrupt stops, nearly face-planting into the deep snow. Several hundred photos later, we were told to hurry to the zodiacs. The weather had taken another turn for the worse, and we needed to get back to the ship as quickly as possible. The ship that we could no longer see.

We hopped aboard a zodiac with Suzi, the Contractor/Irish-Ukrainian/Canadian that lives in Alaska. Again, the female operator took home the win, as she heckled one of the men for getting his float stuck on the ice. Her win was short lived, and she temporarily got us lodged on a chunk of ice. Never fear! Suzi muscled her way out, and began our bumpy, wet jaunt back to the Endeavour. Yet again, I was perched at the front of the raft. Why do I continue to sit at the front? I’m insane and stupid, that’s why. Isn’t it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Nick, the traveler sitting next to me, thanked me for keeping him much drier than he otherwise would have been. While he was still quite damp, I looked as if I had decided to take a leap into the frigid waters around us. Just to add to the discomfort, an iceberg almost kept us from boarding the ship and its warmth.

Once back on the safety of the ship, we retired to the dining room for another meal with Heather and Mark, our nightly dinner mates. We watched as the ship captain gingerly navigated the Gerlache Strait. While we had spent that morning and afternoon dodging icebergs by zodiac, the pathway the Ocean Endeavour had originally forged to enter Neko Harbour had largely shrunk and was now littered with mounds of ice. Loud groans emanated from the cruise liner as it attempted (and thankfully succeeded) to muscle its way through the ice. The thrusters screamed as the captain tried to maneuver around larger icebergs. We sat in the Polaris Restaurant in awe of his accomplishments avoiding the massive channel obstructions.

Since nightfall was much later than our usual bedtimes, we lost track of time and did not retire until 9:30 that evening, all while teasing Mark for his late night photo review he had to stay awake for.

Hubs and I have discovered we have a “type” when it comes to our friendships, both while traveling and at home. I have decided he and I were born in the wrong generation. We gravitate towards couples that are generally a generation (or two) older than we are. Heather and Mark were both retired and had grown children and even a couple of grandchildren. While some people like to claim I am a millennial, even with 40 looming just around the corner, my work ethic, jadedness, and ability to write in cursive, beg to differ. I smirked typing this since the other day at work I handed my notes off to a new colleague, who immediately remarked, “Uh oh, this is cursive…” His eye widened, and he glanced around nervously. Mind blown. I would love to see the little squirt encounter a rotary phone. Since I have now gotten thoroughly sidetracked… enjoy some swimming penguins.

Next Antarctic Takeaway: Invest in adequate waterproof pants that are actually waterproof, not the cheaper variety. Save yourself from sporting frozen under garments.

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