After a hot buffet breakfast, a true novelty after two months living out of a tent in Patagonia, I hastened down to my room to prepare for the mornings activities. A zodiac ride from the ship was required to reach our landing site, so waterproof pants, jacket, a life vest and boots were essential. After one final clean of my camera lenses, I gathered my belongings into a small rucksack and headed to the lower deck. I was ushered down a narrow, retractable staircase to the small rubber zodiac that would ferry me and nine other passengers to the landing site. I sat in the front corner of the inflatable black boat, holding tightly onto the rope that served as my only safety. As we pulled away from the ship I looked down into the freezing waters and could not believe what I saw. I kid you not, check the photo! There, just below the surface, was a huge humpback whale, heading straight for us. A second later it surfaced in the ten-meter gap that now separated our tiny rubber zodiac form the main ship, shooting a thick stream of air from its blowhole. Everyone, even our Zodiac driver, sat stunned, unable to comprehend what was happening. Finally, the captain of our mighty rubber vessel gathered himself and slowly guided us a safe distance from the curious whale. And off we went, into the icy wilderness.

After a hot buffet breakfast, a true novelty after two months living out of a tent in Patagonia, I hastened down to my room to prepare for the mornings activities. A zodiac ride from the ship was required to reach our landing site, so waterproof pants, jacket, a life vest and boots were essential. After one final clean of my camera lenses, I gathered my belongings into a small rucksack and headed to the lower deck. I was ushered down a narrow, retractable staircase to the small rubber zodiac that would ferry me and nine other passengers to the landing site. I sat in the front corner of the inflatable black boat, holding tightly onto the rope that served as my only safety. As we pulled away from the ship I looked down into the freezing waters and could not believe what I saw. I kid you not, check the photo! There, just below the surface, was a huge humpback whale, heading straight for us. A second later it surfaced in the ten-meter gap that now separated our tiny rubber zodiac form the main ship, shooting a thick stream of air from its blowhole. Everyone, even our Zodiac driver, sat stunned, unable to comprehend what was happening. Finally, the captain of our mighty rubber vessel gathered himself and slowly guided us a safe distance from the curious whale. And off we went, into the icy wilderness.

For ten minutes we weaved between the bays enormous icebergs, now glistening white in the mid-morning sun, as we made our way towards the penguin colony of Cuverville Island. As we floated through the water silently taking in this surreal environment, we passed all manner of ocean mammals and ice sculptures. Finally we made it to the shore and clambered one by one onto the hundred-meter stretch of pebble beach that we would explore for the next three hours. Here we were, a handful of people on a beach entirely populated by Gentoo penguins. As I removed my lifejacket and placed it in the pile that sat on the shore, I was urged by Ralph, our expedition leader, to listen to the instructions. I tried, I really did, but I simply could not concentrate. I don’t think I heard a single word he said. Instead, I stood in awe of the site on front of me. Hundreds (yes, I know, this seems to be the unit of measurement for animals in Antarctica) of penguins filled the beach, diving in and out of the icy cold water. Standing nearly two feet in height, the small, black and white birds waddled amongst the rocks, seemingly oblivious to our presence. As Ralph’s pep-talk came to an end, we were released to explore the tiny island.

For ten minutes we weaved between the bays enormous icebergs, now glistening white in the mid-morning sun, as we made our way towards the penguin colony of Cuverville Island. As we floated through the water silently taking in this surreal environment, we passed all manner of ocean mammals and ice sculptures. Finally we made it to the shore and clambered one by one onto the hundred-meter stretch of pebble beach that we would explore for the next three hours. Here we were, a handful of people on a beach entirely populated by Gentoo penguins. As I removed my lifejacket and placed it in the pile that sat on the shore, I was urged by Ralph, our expedition leader, to listen to the instructions. I tried, I really did, but I simply could not concentrate. I don’t think I heard a single word he said. Instead, I stood in awe of the site on front of me. Hundreds (yes, I know, this seems to be the unit of measurement for animals in Antarctica) of penguins filled the beach, diving in and out of the icy cold water. Standing nearly two feet in height, the small, black and white birds waddled amongst the rocks, seemingly oblivious to our presence. As Ralph’s pep-talk came to an end, we were released to explore the tiny island.

Whales pass between our zodiac and the ship

Whales pass between our zodiac and the ship

A pair of Weddell Seals laze on icebergs

A pair of Weddell Seals laze on icebergs

A Gentoo Penguin surveys the bay

Punta de Lobos Rocks

My partner, Katharina, takes in another perfect sunset at Punta de Lobos

An Iceberg, 100s of meters high, fills the ship's front window

A Gentoo Penguin surveys the bay

Punta de Lobos Rocks

My partner, Katharina, takes in another perfect sunset at Punta de Lobos

An Iceberg, 100s of meters high, fills the ship's front window

Sensory overload is the only way to describe my time on Cuverville. After wandering aimlessly for around an hour, I decided that the best way to take it all in was to find a spot on the beach to set up camp. As I sat, watching the icebergs float through the bay, a small penguin began to approach me. He looked like a young bird, still with visible patches of juvenile fluff around his head. As I watched, he began to inch closer and closer to me. It was only when he was within a hands-reach that I realised he was hypnotised by my camera strap. Hot tip if you ever go to Antarctica – Take as many dangling straps as you can. Penguins love them and they will surely try to get a closer look. My newfound penguin friend nibbled at my camera strap for nearly five minutes, tugging at the leather strap with his tiny orange beak. He then turned his attention to my jacket, poking at it with his head. And all the while I sat there, trying my hardest not to move, unable to comprehend that a juvenile penguin was trying to eat me. This was unreal. Incomprehensible. Indeed, one week ago, the thought of being in Antarctica was only a distant dream. And now, I was sitting on a beach, in the middle of nowhere, fending off the advances of an adolescent penguin.

Sensory overload is the only way to describe my time on Cuverville. After wandering aimlessly for around an hour, I decided that the best way to take it all in was to find a spot on the beach to set up camp. As I sat, watching the icebergs float through the bay, a small penguin began to approach me. He looked like a young bird, still with visible patches of juvenile fluff around his head. As I watched, he began to inch closer and closer to me. It was only when he was within a hands-reach that I realised he was hypnotised by my camera strap. Hot tip if you ever go to Antarctica – Take as many dangling straps as you can. Penguins love them and they will surely try to get a closer look. My newfound penguin friend nibbled at my camera strap for nearly five minutes, tugging at the leather strap with his tiny orange beak. He then turned his attention to my jacket, poking at it with his head. And all the while I sat there, trying my hardest not to move, unable to comprehend that a juvenile penguin was trying to eat me. This was unreal. Incomprehensible. Indeed, one week ago, the thought of being in Antarctica was only a distant dream. And now, I was sitting on a beach, in the middle of nowhere, fending off the advances of an adolescent penguin.

Gentoo Penguins line the shore of Neko Harbour

Gentoo Penguins line the shore of Neko Harbour

Curious adolescent penguin takes a nibble

Curious adolescent penguin takes a nibble

Incredible power of the rough Antarctica Sea

Our ship pushes through a sea of 

icebergs as we cross the polar circle

Incredible power of the rough Antarctica Sea

Our ship pushes through a sea of 

icebergs as we cross the polar circle

After three short hours that felt like only a handful of minutes, we were ushered back onto the zodiacs for our return trip to the ship. Again, we passed all manner of wildlife on the journey. I took one of my favourite photos of the trip – a group of four fur seals perched uniformly on top of an iceberg, basking in the sun. As a climbed back up the retractable staircase of our ship, The Ortelius, I had to pinch myself. What an incredible experience. Entering the wilderness these creatures call home. To have enjoyed the briefest taste of life on the world most remote continent. ‘Antarctica, you are amazing’, I said to myself under my breath. And as I bent down to wash the thick layer penguin poop that had collected on my boots I caught a glance at my watch. All of the amazing things I had already seen today.... and it wasn’t even lunch time. 

After three short hours that felt like only a handful of minutes, we were ushered back onto the zodiacs for our return trip to the ship. Again, we passed all manner of wildlife on the journey. I took one of my favourite photos of the trip – a group of four fur seals perched uniformly on top of an iceberg, basking in the sun. As a climbed back up the retractable staircase of our ship, The Ortelius, I had to pinch myself. What an incredible experience. Entering the wilderness these creatures call home. To have enjoyed the briefest taste of life on the world most remote continent. ‘Antarctica, you are amazing’, I said to myself under my breath. And as I bent down to wash the thick layer penguin poop that had collected on my boots I caught a glance at my watch. All of the amazing things I had already seen today.... and it wasn’t even lunch time. 

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A MORNING ON THE PENINSULA

I was woken at 7am, as I was every morning during my stay on our Russian Icebreaker, by the buoyant voice of Ralph, our expedition leader. ‘Good morning, good morning,’ he recited over the ships PA. ‘I hope you all slept well and are ready for another beautiful day in Antarctica.’ His jolly Dutch accent was a welcome way to rise from a deep, Antarctic sleep. Indeed, I slept soundly every night of our 13-day cruise around the peninsula, simply due to exhaustion after back-to-back days filled with activities. Ralph continued for a minute or two, mentioning the type of exotic bread the baker had prepared that day. After 6 days on the ship, I had already become accustomed to the ceremony of our morning wake up call. However, as his routine speech approached its end, he paused and said, almost as an afterthought, ‘And, if anybody is interested, the ship is currently surrounded by a pod of 80 humpbacks. Feel free to join me on the deck for sunrise.’ You didn’t have to tell me twice! I threw on my jacket, grabbed my camera, and raced up the eight sets of stairs to the deck – my shared bunk cabin sat in the bowel of the ship, nestled amongst the “cheap” seats. 

As I flung open the door to the outside world, the cold Antarctic wind stung my face, immediately waking me from the slight daze I still had. And there, right in front of me, numbering nearly 100, was the biggest pod of humpback whales I could ever have imagined, swimming gracefully through the water as they wove between colossal icebergs. These bergs were not white, as one might expect, but coloured bright blue by the early morning sun. Scattered amongst the huge mammals were small rafts of penguins that tore through the water, jumping to catch a breath ever fifty meters or so.

 

During the night we had sailed into a large bay near Cuverville Island, our destination for the morning’s landing. The ship was now surrounded by an enormous mountain range made up of sheer black cliffs that seemed to spill into the water, each capped with shimmering white glaciers. As the sun rose, the reflections of the mountains began to appear in the glassy water, the surface of which was broken intermittently by the rhythmic bounding of penguins and the occasional breach of a whale. I must have stood mesmerised for around half an hour before I even thought to take a photograph. It was hard to comprehend that this natural spectacle was to be shared by me and only 140 other passengers and crew. Not a single other ship in sight. Not a single trace to be seen of the human world.

 

After a hot buffet breakfast - a true novelty after two months living out of a tent in Patagonia - I rushed down to my room to prepare for the morning’s activities. A Zodiac (inflatable boat) ride from the ship was required to reach our landing site, so waterproof pants, jacket, a life vest, and boots were essential. After one final clean of my camera lenses, I gathered my belongings into a small rucksack and headed to the lower deck. I was ushered down a narrow, retractable staircase to the small rubber Zodiac that would ferry me and nine other passengers across to land. I sat at the front corner of the boat, holding tightly onto the rope that served as my only safety from the icy blue depths. As we pulled away from the ship I looked down into the freezing water and could not believe what I saw. I kid you not, check the photo! There, just below the surface, was a huge humpback whale, heading straight for us. A second later it surfaced in the ten-meter gap that now separated our tiny vessel from the main ship, shooting a thick eruption of vapour from its blowhole like some living aquatic geyser. Everyone, even our Zodiac driver, sat stunned, unable to comprehend what had just happened. Finally, the captain of our boat gathered himself and slowly guided us a safe distance from the curious whale. And off we went, into the Antarctic wilderness.

For ten minutes we weaved between the bay’s enormous icebergs, which glistened white in the mid-morning sun, as we made our way towards the penguin colony of Cuverville Island. As we floated through the water, silently taking in this surreal environment, we passed all manner of ocean mammals and sculpture-like icebergs. Finally we made it to the shore and clambered one after another onto the hundred-meter stretch of pebbled beach that we would be exploring for the next three hours. Here we were, a handful of people on a beach entirely populated by Gentoo penguins. As I removed my lifejacket and placed it in the pile that sat by the shore, I was urged by Ralph, our expedition leader, to listen to his instructions. I tried, I really did, but I simply could not concentrate. I don’t think I heard a single word he said. Instead, I stood in awe of the site on front of me. Hundreds (yes, I know, this seems to be the unit of measurement for animals in Antarctica) of penguins filled the beach, diving in and out of the subzero water. Standing nearly two feet in height, the small, black and white birds waddled amongst the rocks, seemingly oblivious to our presence. As Ralph’s pep-talk came to an end, we were released to go and roam across the tiny island.

Sensory overload is the only way to describe my time on Cuverville. After wandering aimlessly for around an hour, I decided that the best way to take it all in was to find a spot on the beach and set up camp. As I sat, watching the icebergs drift along the bay, a small penguin began to approach me. He looked like a young bird, still with visible patches of juvenile fluff around his head. As I watched, he began to inch closer and closer to me, and it was only when he was within a hand’s reach that I realised he was hypnotised by my camera strap. Hot tip if you ever go to Antarctica; take as many dangling straps as you can, because penguins love them and will be more eager to approach you to try and get a closer look. My newfound penguin friend nibbled at my camera strap for nearly five minutes, tugging at the leather strap with his tiny orange beak. He then turned his attention to my jacket, poking at it with his head. All the while I sat there, trying my hardest not to move, unable to comprehend that a fresh-faced penguin was trying to eat me.  It was a surreal experience. Indeed, one week ago, the thought of being in Antarctica was only a distant dream, and now I was sitting on a pebbled beach, at the southernmost landmass in the world, fending off the advances of an adolescent penguin.

After three hours that felt like only a handful of minutes, we were ushered back onto the boats for our return voyage to the main ship, during which we passed all manner of marine wildlife on the journey. I took one of my favourite photos of the trip – a group of four fur seals perched uniformly on top of an iceberg, basking in the sun. As I climbed back up the retractable staircase of our ship, The Ortelius, I had to pinch myself to ensure I was awake, and not in some otherworldly dream. What an incredible experience it had been to examine the wilderness these creatures call home, to have enjoyed the briefest taste of life on the planet’s most remote and inhospitable continent. ‘Antarctica, you are amazing,’ I said to myself under my breath. And as I bent down to wash the thick layer of penguin poop that had collected on my boots, I caught a quick glimpse at my watch. All of the amazing things I had already seen that day... and it wasn’t even lunch time. 

I'm George and this is my blog.
I'm currently exploring Latin America on my motorcycle, traveling to some of the world's most remote communities to work with local nonprofits and share their stories through Grassroots Collective.

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