The world is a huge place. How will you know where you fit in unless you explore beyond your comfort zone?-Ernest Shakleton
Our third day in the Antarctic brought with it a lesson in patience and acceptance. The storm that had been approaching the night before had overtaken us, and when I pulled aside our blackout curtains to get a glimpse outside in the morning, all I could see was a blanket of gray fog. Not a good sign. I began to go through the motions of getting ready for another day of scenic cruising anyway, but I was stopped short when our captain’s voice crackled over the ship’s PA system. He gravely informed us that the storm was too severe for the ship to enter any bays that day, and that we would instead spend the day avoiding the worst of the weather as we slowly made our way north toward the Drake Passage.
I felt defeated as I looked at my pile of coats and mittens that I’d laid out on the bed. I wouldn’t be needing them after all. Of course, with any journey to Antarctica, there is a chance that you will encounter inclement weather. That’s a risk you take when you sign on, but you do hope that it won’t be on your sailing, that you’ll be able to skate through without missing out on any sightseeing. I tried my best to swallow my disappointment as I shifted gear from donning jackets to fishing through my luggage for the embroidery kit I’d packed just in case we had days like this. Then, trying to force ourselves to be cheerful, Vince and I left our stateroom in hopes of finding some friends from our group to spend a subdued day with.
We caught up with our friends, Braeden and Diane in the ship’s library, and then the four of us moved over to the wheelhouse bar where we ran into Rachel. This kicked off a day of playing board games while Rachel and I intermittently worked on our stitching projects (we’re both in a crafting group together back home, so we’d come prepared for a trip with so many sea days).
Eventually we ventured out of the wheelhouse bar for a change of scene. It had been snowing and Vince and I had a snowball fight on Lido deck before meeting up with the rest of our group of twenty to play another game together. All in all it was an uneventful day, but we certainly tried to make the best of it, and to reset our expectations going into our fourth and final morning in the Antarctic.
That day I woke up, feeling somewhat more trepidation. Either we would get one more crack at seeing Elephant Island, or we’d be sailing straight into the Drake, without so much as a goodbye to the frozen continent. To my great relief, my peek outside of our stateroom window revealed (to my great surprise) blue skies. That was all I needed to see to set me on a frenzy to get dressed. Vince jumped out of bed alongside me and we were shivering on the Sapphire Princess’s bow within a half hour. This time, although miles away, we could see the silhouette of Elephant Island clearly, the exact vista we’d all been hoping for on our first day in Antarctica.
Having only seen a small sliver of it on that first day, I was shocked to find out how big it actually was. Measuring just under 30 miles in length, the island now sprawled across the horizon, its many glaciers glistening in partial sunlight. As the ship approached Elephant Island, we were joined by our same companions from a few days ago, the fin whales and the chinstrap penguins. By this point I’d learned that it was almost futile to try to get good pictures of porpoising penguins. My camera was full of hundreds of pictures of little splashes of water, and only two penguin shots that were even halfway usable. With this in mind, I decided to work on getting video of the chinstraps instead, and this worked out much better.
As we neared the island though, my attention was torn from the wildlife to focus instead on the landscape, a rarity for me since I’m known to typically abandon all other thoughts when there is wildlife around. In this case however, the commanding mountains glistening with ice begged for my appreciation. The way the sun illuminated the blue glaciers was nothing short of magnificent.
I was so happy that the weather cleared up enough to allow us some time at Elephant Island before we sailed back across the Drake. As I looked at the snow-covered peaks of the island, I couldn’t help but feel awed as I remembered that this was an important location from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt at making the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. While this stated mission failed, Shackleton and his crew made history in an arguably even more impressive way.
After their ship, the Endurance, became beset in ice in the Weddell Sea, Shackleton and his men salvaged the ship’s lifeboats and against all odds, managed to navigate to the shore of Elephant Island. After months on the ice, they finally made this daring journey to place themselves in a better position to receive rescue. Once they reached Elephant Island, Shackleton selected five other men to accompany him on an 800 mile journey by life boat to South Georgia where they could arrange rescue to come back for the rest of the crew. The men camped at Cape Wild for four months until they were finally rescued. The entire 27 man crew survived this harrowing misadventure, firmly setting this among the ranks of the greatest feats of survival in human history.
It was hard for me to even imagine what those men went through as I took in the same sights they saw more than a century earlier. My perspective from the deck of a lavishly apportioned cruise liner couldn’t be more dissimilar from their journey of survival when every odd was stacked against them. Still I like to think that the insatiable urge that compels humans to explore passed the bounds of what should be survivable is a common link that joins us together beyond the scope of time and circumstance. Our experiences may have been vastly different, but perhaps our incentives for undertaking our respective expeditions were similar.
When we left Elephant Island, we were officially leaving Antarctica, which filled me with mixed feelings of sadness to be leaving, and extreme gratitude to have been there. I’ve dreamt of going to Antarctica for decades at this point, and have tossed around the fantasy of finding a job on an Antarctic base more times than I can count. I find ice incredibly enchanting, which is also what drew me to start ice climbing back in 2016. It’s amazing to me how a place that is so inhospitable and unforgiving can be so intoxicatingly beautiful. It is my deep hope to return to Antarctica some day and set foot on it, but whether I ever do or not, I will always cherish the memories of the time I spent at the bottom of the world.
Clouds shrouded the island as it shrank on the horizon, closing this chapter of our journey. For the moment, it felt like we had come to the end of something, but as we sailed through the Drake Passage with southern giant petrels, and wandering albatrosses drafting behind the ship, our trip was actually only about halfway over.
In two day’s time we would be disembarking at our next port of call, provided the weather cooperated with us. As we moved further north, the storms of the Antarctic became a distant memory. It was summer where we were headed after all, and there were still four destinations ahead of us. So far we had travelled through the arid Andes, down to verdant Patagonia, and on to the icy Antarctic, and I was more than ready for all of the adventures that were waiting just around the corner.
Thank you, Kaiti, for the continuation of your fascinating trip to the end of the world, and the beyond-praise wonderful pictures! Your writing talent takes my breath away as you describe the wildlife and the scenery in words that cling to my memory. I think that you should seek a suitable publisher as the book of your travels would make you a world-famous travel writer, and add considerably to your funds for more discoveries on our beautiful planet, Earth.
Thank you for the albatross, a hero bird, an inspiration for writers and painters.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Joanna! It would definitely be a dream of mine to have my writing published. I’ve been plugging away at a novel for a while now, but I’ve been woefully unsuccessful at finishing long form content. Still I’m hoping that someday I can make that dream a reality!
Why don’t you just put together all your posts, and pictures, and with a letter sent to an agent asking to find a publisher?
A novel can wait, this is ready and perfect.
Wow I never really thought about doing that before, but I will look into it!
Good! I will be first in the queue to buy it!
Beautiful ~ this is a stunning post with such great descriptions of this majestic place.