Trip to the end of the world: Antarctica

A week ago we already showed Greetje’s images of the trip to Antarctica she and her dad took after her mum died. Father and daughter decided to fight the grief with a grand, unforgettable adventure. This is the travel diary of Greetje, in which she shares her thoughts and impressions during the trip of a lifetime. Put your thermic underwear on and come with us!    

February 21st: Ushuaia

It took us a full year before we could finally take off. Tickets, special clothing, meetings, medical check-ups (because no, you can not go to a hospital when you are in the middle of Antarctica). After a long flight from Brussels we arrive in Buenos Aires. In the Argentinian capital we enjoy the warm weather and the opportunity of Skyping with the people back home. In the following weeks, we won’t even be able to send a mail. After a last flight we finally arrive in Ushuaia, the most southern city of the world. Our last day on land before we take the boat to Antarctica.

Ushuaia

February 24st: Drake Passage

It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Before getting to Antarctica, we have to pass the wildest sea in the world, the Drake Passage, where it’s almost continuously storming. It’s also a test to see if we are going to need the custom made medication against seasickness in the three weeks te come. Fingers crossed…

But first we board the Norwegian ship, the MS Fram. It’s a brand new ship with an ecological mission, which means nothing is dumped in sea. We drop our luggage in our tiny cabin, with tiny beds and tiny bathroom, but with a porthole. Not that we were planning on staying inside, while sailing through this spectacular landscape.

On the other hand it seems like a real challenge to me, to live so closely in such a small space. Will we talk a lot in the weeks to come? Will we argue? It promises to be an intense trip, and both of us are ready for it.

Ushuaia

Respect for nature

Before we can land, we get a lecture on respect for nature. These islands are protected as ‘Important Bird Area’ and of course we want them to stay like that for many generations to come. The only thing that we are allowed to leave behind, is our footprint. Clothing, bags and material are meticulously stripped of everything that belongs to our climate: not a single seed or dust gets through.

We wear special boots, that are disinfected after every visit. Our life jacket stays on at all times, because we have to be ready to leave as soon as the boat wants us. The weather conditions here can change very quickly. And we are urged to keep our distance with the animals. As cute as they are, we ‘re only allowed to watch them, not touch them.

Ushuaia

February 26th: Half Moon Island

After two days of navigating the so called ‘Drake lake’ (we got lucky and had no storm, otherwise it would have been the  ‘Drake shake’)we finally arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula. What a glorious feeling! The coldest area on earth, only populated by the most amazing animals.

Neko Harbour

Today is a sad day for us. Three years ago mum died. I can sense the grief in dad. He is nervous, doesn’t know how to handle it. Fortunately we have some good laughs when we change for our first landing. All those layers of clothes make us look like penguins.

Our ship keeps its distance, while we are transported to the island by a special polar boat. But before we land, a group of biologists and geographers evaluates the situation. Only if they say it’s safe, we can land. The last thing we want, is to disturb or damage this pristine nature and the animals living here.

Hurtigruten

It sounds weird, but travel organizations like Hurtigruten are very important for Antarctica. Because the continent is not inhabited, there is no permanent control possible. That’s why ships like MS Fram take over this responsability. They check up on animals, nature, climate, but also keep an eye on other visitors. We may be respectful in our way of dealing with this precious environment, but are others as well? What will happen if tourists start dumping garbage or cuddling penguins? This continent is too precious to take risks and must be protected.

Half moon Island

Our first stop is Half Moon Island. The Pygoscelis antarcticus, a penguin with a sort of helmet, spend their summers here. They are so incredibly cute! But as fast as they are in water, on land things are a bit less flexible. They put their young offspring on top of the rocks and stumble up and down from the sea, to bring their cubs all the food they need.

February 27th: Curverville Island and Neko Harbour

This is home to the Pygoscelis papua, a remarkably fast species of penguins (speeds up to 40 km/h). In this picture you can see their ‘highways’. They are known for always taking the same route.

Curverville Island

Neko Harbour was discovered by Adrien de Gerlache with his ship the Belgica. He left the port of Antwerp with his international crew on the 16th of August 1897. But soon his ship got stuck in the ice and de Gerlache and his team had no other choice than to spend that winter in Antarctica. From May to July in total darkness…

Neko Harbour

February 28th: Almirante Brown and Port Lockroy

Today is our last day on this continent. The weather is perfect, the sea completely calm. I put on a waterproof, thermic suit and glide into the kayak. What an experience, this total silence. Until all of a sudden… our guide hears the singing of whales. Not much later a minke whale shows up. It measures 10 meter and weighs 10 tonnes.

Our visit to Port Lockroy is cancelled because of a sudden storm. The captain decides to go through the Lemaire Channel and so we reach the most southern part of our journey.

March 1st: Deception Island

Deception Island is actually a volcano, which is still active. Scientists think it might erupt again in about fifteen years. Who knows?

Deception Island

March 2nd and 3d: Scottia Sea

Two days of sailing. That means time to rest and to digest all these experiences. You don’t get bored on a ship like this. Each day you can listen to lectures by scientists about different subjects related to Antarctica.

March 4th: South-Georgia

South-Georgia is an uninhabited island, belonging to the atol of the Sandwich Islands. This group of islands is supposed to be a paradise of nature and animals. But to be honest, after seeing Antarctica, it can’t get much better than that for us.

Drygalaski Fjord

Today we have to get up early, because we’re arriving at 6.30 in the Drygalski Fjord. This Fjord is located on the edge of the island, in the cold part. We can feel the cold, we’re freezing! The other side of the island is protected by a mountain chain. Unfortunately men came to live here and hunt whales. We head over to Grytviken, our first stop.

Grytviken

The first thing we see is a whalestation. The name Grytviken means Potbay in Norwegian, named after the pottery that was used to make cod liver oil. Once upon a time, around 300 men lived and worked here, in this secluded corner of the world. Only when we land, I can imagine how it must have been here.

Whales were hunted till they were on the brink of extinction. The sea was red with blood, the smell of rotting flesh everywhere. The whales were killed not only for the cod liver oil but also their fat was used as lamp oil. Amber was extracted from their bowels and used for the manufacturing of perfume. As a result of this, many species are extinct now.

Grytviken
Grytviken

The island is known not only for its whale station but also for the grave of explorer Ernest Shackleton. In 1914 Shackleton set up an expedition with two ships to Antarctica. But even before he and his team reached their starting point, they got stuck in the ice. Because of the pressure of the ice, the ship went down.

Shackleton tried to reach the nearest island with three lifeboats. After five days they set foot in Elephantisland, where they improvised a small basecamp on the beach. Since the island was not inhabited, Shackleton was forced to look for help elsewhere. Together with five men he built a small boat and set course to South-Georgia.

It took them two weeks, with a small improvised boat on the wildest ocean in the world, without any modern equipment, but they managed to get to the south coast of the island. Only after 36 hours of climbing the mountains there, they got to Grytviken. Shackleton immediately started a rescue mission and managed to safe the entire crew of 22 men.

On our way to the small graveyard where Shackleton is buried,  we have to pass dozens of fur seals. They look cute, but make no mistake, they are not. ‘If they approach you, just make a lot of noise’, says our guide.

After dinner we saw the most amazing starlit sky we had ever seen. So many stars, one of them had to be mum, we figured. It was a very precious moment.

Fortuna Bay

March 5th: Fortuna Bay and Stromness

We walk around this island for more than two hours. First we encounter lots of fur seals (yep, them again), afterwards we see a colony of king penguins. Temperatures are rising till a very comfortable 21°C. How do we explain this at home? We’re in Antarctica!

In the afternoon we land in Stromness. Gorgeous landscape that reminds me of Scotland. Only the inhabitants are slightly different: sea elephants.

Homesick?

We’re two weeks away from home by now, no phone calls, no e-mails possible. Is this the ultimate tranquility? I start to miss my husband and my daughter. Traveling with my dad is awesome, we have a lot in common but at the same time we’re so different. Since mum is gone, I miss being together as a family. A mother holds the family together, takes care of everyone, can mediate. In moments like this, I miss her like crazy. Although my dad is my hero. Maybe I expect to much of him?

Port Stanley

March 8th: Falklands

Happy birthday dad! Today he’s gonna be 76. We’re going to make it a lovely day.  The Falklands consist of hundreds of islands, and are mainly known because of the war. Port Stanley is our first stop, it’s the capital. for the first time we meet inhabitants: Brits more British than the whole of Great-Britain together. I wonder who wants to live here. Temperatures never rise above 15°C and never go under 0°C. You cannot leave the island easily and people live in… garden sheds.

March 9th: New Island and West Point Island

Yesterday we saw no nature at all, today there’s lots of nature. These are private islands, where only ten people live, completely closed off from the world. By boat it takes them seven hours to get to the capital. Luckily there’s a monthly delivery: meat, vegetables, fruit and mail are all delivered by boat once a month.

New Island

We hike and are lucky enough to see Rockhoppers, a species of very cool penguins with yellow hair and we also get to admire albatrosses.

For the second hike, my father has to bail. This trip is quite heavy and requires good physical health. I enjoy the hike on my own, surrounded by magnificent nature.

After three weeks it’s time to go home. Slowly but steadily we come closer to Buenos Aires, closer to the hustle and bustle of society. I realize I have missed my husband and daughter tremendously. It was good to be away from the world, but now it’s time for my own world, my home.

I’m very grateful to my dad I have been able to make this trip with him. What an experience, the two of us at the end of the world. It was so precious, that neither of us will ever forget this.

Want to find out more about us? Here you can read a bit more.

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