People often ask me what the highlight was from my recent once-in-a-lifetime journey to Antarctica, the seventh continent—the most remote place on the planet. I tell them it’s hard to choose just one!
Was the highlight the thousands and thousands of king penguins on the beach at our first landing in South Georgia? Nothing but colorful penguins extending from the beach to the foothills as far as the eye could see. And those fuzzy brown chicks that followed their parents around, begging to be fed. Watching them chase after mom and dad looking for a meal was a definite highlight.
Our first day also introduced us to two-ton elephant seals guarding their harems. They were massive and looked quite menacing, especially when they opened their mouths to bellow a warning to a fur seal that got too close. Watching them from a safe distance was absolutely fascinating.
Another highlight was visiting Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave in Grytviken on South Georgia. Our adventure had a special emphasis for the centennial of that amazing journey.
We spent a morning visiting Shackleton’s grave and the long abandoned whaling station nearby. Stories were recounted of his bravery and leadership skills and we raised a glass to his memory. One of the crew members even dressed up as Sir Ernest and greeted us as we took a walk along the same path that he walked when he arrived on South Georgia after his epic journey. I am still in awe when I think of this accomplishment.
The amazing iceberg formations that dotted the sea near the Antarctic Peninsula were another highlight. Massive tabular icebergs bigger than my house floated a safe distance from the ship—close enough to get great photos but far enough away not to worry about any unforeseen meetings. Oddly shaped bergs also floated along with penguins perched on their side, which caused us all to wonder how in the world they got up there.
Certainly the chinstrap, Adélie, and gentoo penguins we got to know during our time on the Peninsula are worth mentioning. I spent hours watching their antics as they stole rocks from other nests and took them to their own nests. When they were caught with the stolen goods their neighbors nipped and pecked at them as they scurried by. Sometimes one would run crazily around the group in what seemed like utter confusion. We watched these antics on several stops we made on the Antarctic Peninsula.
In retrospect, perhaps it was the new friends I met on board that I will remember as the biggest highlight. After all, we had bonded during this amazing three-week journey. Even though we were all at the same sites, we each had our own personal experience while there. We celebrated birthdays and special occasions on board with our fantastic crew. Kayakers enthusiastically shared their activities gliding along the smooth waters and we all marveled that even though we may have seen different things that day, it was nonetheless a magical experience for all.
I still keep in touch with several of my fellow passengers, whom I consider good friends now, even months after the cruise ended. At the end of the day, it’s the human interaction I shared with a few other travelers lucky enough to visit this remote place that always brings a smile to my face when recalling this amazing experience.
-Photos and text by WT Cruise Manager Carmen Gomez, Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands.