Our last morning in Antarctica dawned with extreme grogginess. Aiming as usual to pack in as much fun as possible, we started the day at a crisp 6:00 AM, nibbling old pastries halfheartedly for breakfast and stumbling exhaustedly into our parkas and expedition pants. Judging by the widespread fatigue, P³ had been hugely successful.
An Argentinian research station as seen from the ship. Can I have that job, too?
The Sea Spirit, which at that point had begun to feel like our home, stood anchored in a wintery panorama of sweeping mountain peaks blazing in the morning sun. We had reached Half Moon Bay, a name I thought fitting. It seemed we had entered an in-between place, a realm between planet Earth and another universe entirely. The landscape was just that surreal. We ambled wearily ashore among penguins, spires of colorful rock, and snowy, glaciated mountains in every direction. Literally everything seemed to sparkle in the sun.
Despite our exhaustion and lack of real breakfast, Verity, Alex, Tom, Josh, Wendy, Jasmin and I decided to make the most of the morning and hike up a mountain on the other side of the bay. As we made our way over beaches and snowy slopes, past penguins and sleeping seals, the intense beauty of our surroundings refueled our energy. Soon enough we were bounding ahead with enthusiasm, in absolute awe, jumping around and taking as many pictures as we could. It was nearly hot enough at the top of the mountain to sunbathe! We lounged at the top and made snow angels, admiring the great expanse of snowy, glittering wilderness visible from the summit.
After sliding down the mountain backwards on the slippery backs of our parkas, we spent the remaining time laying in the snow near a bunch of slumbering Weddell seals, throwing snowballs and goofing off. It was so ridiculously beautiful, there was nothing more to do than simply sit and absorb it.
The moment before a snowball attack!
…And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our second-to-last landing in Antarctica. Our very last took place that very afternoon, much to the despair of pretty much everyone there. We wandered a green, grassy hillside amongst nesting Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, guarding their adorably fluffy chicks against skuas lurking nearby. We froze in the bitter cold of the ocean wind, scattering momentarily across the landscape to contemplate nature on our own before rushing back together to huddle for warmth. The birds were absolutely amazing, but the general atmosphere amongst the passengers was one of sadness, of never wanting to leave, of missing Antarctica before we had even left. We eventually returned to the ship, desperate to get warm, but without first getting some awesome photos of the penguins and their chicks and enjoying the landing to the fullest possible extent.
Although melancholy was in the air that afternoon, I didn’t feel like it was over. More than anything, I felt absolutely sure that I would one day return – it seems somehow, inexplicably unavoidable. I will return to Antarctica. This reassuring thought made our last landing less of a goodbye than a “see you later, alligator”.
As the ship’s motors started back up and that ever-familiar rocking of the ocean swells began, we remembered with slightly nervous smiles that the adventure was far from over. Not at all – for our ship turned slowly away from the Antarctic continent, and set sail for the Drake Passage.