I grew up in a small town in India where water and electricity supply were very limited. Even today, the city has direct water supply only for 2-3 hours every alternate day. The locals store water and use judiciously to ensure the supply lasts. So, conserving both water and electricity were somehow en-grained in how I was brought up. However, I could never see the big picture until I relocated to bigger tier 1 cities in India many years ago. It was very heart-warming for me to experience first-hand that resources get abused where there is surplus. Most people in big cities are oblivious to how it would be like without these resources since they never experienced shortage. It made me uncomfortable and I often landed myself in debate on why I was paranoid about these little things which were not “little” for me in any way.
It was co-incidental that 5 years ago, I met Sir Robert Swan, first man to walk to both North` Pole and South Pole and a pioneer in the field of environmental conservation. I was inspired by what Robert could do almost single-handedly to create a worldwide movement and awareness about climate change. Since then, it became a dream to join him for the expedition which came to reality this year in March 2018.
The journey upto the expedition challenged me in many ways. I was required to raise a lot of money as the expedition cost was beyond my financial capacity. Facing lot of rejections during the process and finally being able to raise the funding for the expedition, was a unique ride in itself.
The Drake & Crossing of the Antarctic Circle
The expedition was extraordinary. I remember each and every day of this 13-day expedition. When we started our expedition, we were given safety instructions about Drake Passage. Drake Passage is known to be the roughest seas on the planet. It is a body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. The crew showed us videos of how it could be like and I felt the blood freezing in my body. The amalgamation of giant sea waves, vigorous currents and hurricane like winds can challenge the most avid and experienced sea explorers. During the first night in the ship, the sounds of the things falling off my table and chair moving away from it position due to the high intensity of sea waves kept me awake. I had to pull myself out of bed, hold whatever was fixed to avoid falling down and place almost everything on floor to avoid any damage.
By the end of 2nd day, I had swallowed more than 14 seasickness pills. I was nowhere to be seen except my cabin. Entering into the 3rd day was more comforting which also marked our entry into the Antarctic Circle: latitude of 66° 33′ 39″ south of the Equator! Crossing the Antarctic Circle with wine, champagne, music, merry making and a beautiful speech by Sir Robert Swan made the experience truly memorable.
The Detaille Island
The ship continued inward through the Crystal Sound and we enjoyed the first views of the Antarctic Mountains. We made our first cruise and landing at the Detaille Island, off northwestern side of Andersen island. My eyes dilated to consume the beauty of this place and behold the wildlife in their natural habitat. Seeing the Adelie Penguins and Crabeater Seals enjoying their natural habitat was extraordinary. Little do they know that their habitat may or may not remain the same in the decades to come. The human impact on Climate Change can radically shrink these splendid bio diverse landscapes and cause irreversible changes that our future generations will pay for.
We also visited the British Base ‘W’ which is now abandoned.
Prospect Point and the Fish Islands
The next day, we set ourselves to explore the Fist Islands, located west of the Prospect Point. The islands were low lying and occupied by Adelie Penguins. I saw stunning glacial scenery and tabular icebergs derived from ice shelves in Bellingshausen Sea.
While I was fully consumed by the beauty of this pristine continent, I was equally concerned about these disintegrating ice sheets at Antarctica. While we can continue to “act” ignorant, we as individuals are already experiencing the dramatic effects of changing climate. Many coastal cities are disappearing due to rising sea levels, lands are becoming barren due to lack of rains, temperatures are rising and no more white winters in many colder countries.
Berthelot Islands and Petermann Islands
We cruised through the islands in a zodiac, off the Palmer Peninsula. 20 mins into the ocean, our zodiac leader killed the engine. All I could hear was ocean waves, and water splashing against ice bergs until the silence was broken by the puff of a humpback whale!
The afternoon landing was at the Petermann islands, just below the Lemaire channel. For the first time I saw human beings at an Argentine base. 6 Argentinians were spotted here, who had been there for 2 months to repair and renovate the base so it can be used for research purposes.
We also got the first glimpse of the Gentoo Penguins in their southernmost colony in Antarctica.
The Yalour Islands, Port Charcoat and Plenau Bay
The Yalour Islands are located east of the Argentine Islands in Penola Strait. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this island and the surroundings. Seeing the penguins run around and jump in the ocean, the magnanimous glaciers, the sound of ocean water hitting against the ice bergs, Antarctic birds chirping and the sheer grandeur of the ecosystem was an experience that I feel very privileged to have. I really hope we can retain these natural wonders of the world be it the Arctic, the Antarctic, the Great Barrier Reef and many other beauties in their natural form.
Port Charcot lies on the northern coast of Booth Island. Jean Baptiste Charcoat’s army spent the winter of 1904 here and established a shore station for scientific research and emergency shelter. After a quick look at this historic place, we cruised through the beautiful channel, the Pleneau Bay which lies south of Lemaire channel, separating Hovgaard Island and Antarctic Peninsula. This Bay has some of the most beautiful Iceberg Gardens where both large tabular icebergs and rolled icebergs can be found. Many of these icebergs have originated from as south as Ross Ice shelf. All these icebergs had a personality of their own and I was fully consumed by their magnanimity. Only 1/8th of the iceberg is actually visible above the ocean! I can only imagine how big it would be if we picture the entire iceberg.
Enterprise Island & the Portal Point on the Antarctic Mainland
We cruised through the enterprise islands today in the Whilhelmina Bay. It was a clear sky with snowy Antarctic mountains adorned by a soft sunlight. As we cruised, we were greeted by a big group of fur seals. They were curious to see us and gave us a warm welcome. As we ventured further in the deep seas, the leader killed the engine of the zodiac and we kneeled down to feel the openness and peace all around us. In no time, a big group of humpback whales were all around us. At one point time, we had whales in front of us, Antarctic fur seals on the sides and penguins behind us. They were all as curious about us as much as we were about them! Seeing these magnanimous and lovely creatures and observing their social interactions with one another from so close, was an experience of a lifetime. All of them living and playing together in this unreal place that they call home!
During the second part of the day, we made landing on the Antarctic mainland. I had shivers of excitement and anxiety rolling down my spine. As I got off the zodiac and stepped on the mainland, I felt as if I was in heaven. There was a foot high fresh snow cover due to an overnight snowfall. Fine flakes of snow were falling from the sky with a gusty wind. Despite of being surrounded by so many explorers, I felt alone with the nature and was completely zoned out. It almost took an year to prepare for this journey mentally, physically and financially and now that I was here standing on the continent of Antarctica, the emotions were rolling all over me. In a flash, the entire journey of last 1 year slipped through in front of my eyes.
I sat on the thick snow cover and looked at the wide open space in front of me. I wrote a postcard for myself here today which I hope to receive sometime in the future. These few moments of peace in heaven will be in my memories for the rest of my life!
Whaler’s Bay, Deception Island and Half Moon Island
Deception island, a part of the South Shetland Island Archipelago. It is a crater of an active volcano and was the home for a whaling station a few decades back. The remains of the whale processing units and an airbase can still be seen on the island. Sadly enough we also saw numerous whale bones lying around the island. This island is full of Antarctic fur seals today. The seals were quite aggressive and were chasing us around. The weather was bitterly cold with strong winds in excess of 30 nautical miles.
We also hiked one of the peaks on the island in a climate change hike to experience the impact of increasing temperatures on the Antarctic mainland. We were amazed to see barren hills with scanty snow cover. This was not the case a few years back.
In the afternoon we landed on the Half Moon island at the entrance of the Moon Bay. The memory of this landing will be fresh in my mind for years and decades to come. This would probably be the last time in years to come that I saw the penguins (Chinstrap penguins) in their natural habitat. This was our last landing and I took this opportunity to immerse myself in the Antarctic nature one last time. I sat at one end of the island right next to the sea and heard the sound of silence one last time before starting the return journey to the chaotic world!
And finally it’s time to bid farewell to Antarctica. What an amazing journey it has been to learn about Climate Change and Sustainability. The last wilderness has many lessons to offer to mankind. It taught me compassion, being empathetic and sincerely appreciating what nature has to offer to us. It is high time that we start to worry about our Planet to Make Life Better for our future generations. For the next two days, we were over the unlimited seas.
We crossed through the Drake passage and finally had the first sighting of the land on our way back to Ushuaia! This was the infamous Capehorn. 30,000 men lost their lives here due to storms and rough seas in the past. I went out to the deck and spent a moment of silence to pay my respect to these brave sons of seas!
The voyage came to an end but a new journey has begun. This will be the journey for inspiring communities for the fight against climate change and sustainability to Make Life Better! We can each do our part by saving energy, just using enough water and by saying no to plastics.