Recently, we completed our final leg of our trip: Antarctica!
We stepped out of our hotel, and drove down to the airport where we would meet the other 104 people on our boat. The computer systems went down during their arrival, so we waited in the bitter cold weather outside while everyone slowly exited onto the buses. When everyone eventually got out of the airport, we drove to a rendezvous point, where we were meeting a catamaran for lunch and a cruise to meet the boat. We walked out onto a small dock, in the middle of Ushuaia wilderness at the tip of Tierra del Fuego, and climbed aboard the catamaran. We had a delicious lunch, and towards the end of our ride, we saw it the first time: the Lindblad National Geographic Orion.
The massive icebreaker was a great site to see, because that would be our new home for the next ten days. We all rushed off the catamaran to get to our boat. It was a tricky route along the loading dock, because a container ship was being loaded while we were getting on, so many trucks carrying big Maersk and Evergreen containers were driving alongside us. After a long, precarious route, we made it to the gangplank.
At the entrance, we met the hotel manager, Ian, then walked down the spiral staircase to our rooms, 315 and 317. We walked in, and found our Lindblad/National Geographic bright orange Parkas and all the other gear was waiting for us. We tried all our gear on and we looked like Eskimos! After settling in, we listened to a briefing about our lifejackets, and what we do if we have to abandon ship, and another about landings. We also listened to our first of many presentation, this one was about cetaceans, better known as whales.
After the presentation finished, we headed up to the top deck to see what was ahead of us. Sadly, we learned that we wouldn’t be seeing anything until around 4:00 PM TOMORROW! Oh boy, we had a long time until we would be seeing anything. For the rest of the day, we relaxed and listened to a few more presentations from the National Geographic experts.
We woke up the next day, and met some other kids on the boat. Since this part of the trip was where we travel through the treacherous Drake Passage, we probably played about eight to ten games of Sorry throughout the day. We also found that the hallways were great places for sliding in your socks.
The boat had seven floors (we weren’t allowed on 1, 2 and 7):
Floor 1: Staff rooms
Floor 2: Mudroom for staff and zodiac boarding area
Floor 3: Restaurant and 300 level rooms
Floor 4: Lounge, outdoor stern patio, bow deck and 400 level rooms
Floor 5: Bridge, lifeboats and 500 level rooms
Floor 6: Zodiac storage, sauna, hot tub, workout room, lecture hall and observation lounge
Floor 7: Dive deck
My personal favorite room is the observation deck, because there are tons of board games, you can see out the front and there is a snack bar! The bridge is also fun, because you can see the GPS and all the other instruments that the crew uses to drive the vessel. After two days of driving through the Drake Passage, we eventually saw Antarctica. The weather was forcing us inside, fierce winds and freezing rain, but we were so happy that we were finally here: Antarctica, continent number seven!
We suited up and boarded the zodiacs that would be taking us to our landing spot.We drove to the rocky beach, and were met by the locals: Penguins! The inquisitive Penguins came up to us and checked out who these giant orange (parkas) penguins that were coming to their island. We walked up a penguin highway to the spot where many paths went different directions. While we were deciding which way to go, we watched many penguins walk up and down the highways that we were sharing with them. We learned that we had to give the penguins the right of way, because this is their island. We could also not walk on their paths, we had to make our own, because if you step on their path, you could make holes that are too big and the penguins could get stuck in your footsteps. We saw many penguins squawking at each other, like cars would honk during rush hour traffic and would fall over when they bumped into one another. We watched the penguins waddle along the penguin highways for a while, and then went to an area where a Weddell Seal was relaxing. The seal could be easily mistaken as a rock, a gray lump that wasn’t moving at all. We also saw an elephant seal, but it eventually go spooked when lots of us came up to look at it. We had a great first landing in Antarctica!
Another experience was zodiac driving. All the kids went onto a zodiac with Shaun, the best expedition leader ever, and learned to drive the zodiac. We began our zodiac experience by letting Shaun do donuts and 90° turns at full throttle, to give us an idea of what we could be doing. The first kid to drive the zodiac was Finn, the first kid I met on the boat. He started by gently pulling the throttle, and we whizzed forward. After he got the hang of it, he began to do the same tricks as Shaun, but maybe going half speed. After a while, it was my turn. When I went up to the steering wheel, I had to tell myself that this isn’t Forza 6, and I can’t crash, or else we would be in the freezing water. To go forward, if you’re in gear, you pull the throttle, similar to a motorcycle and to turn the zodiac, you move the handle counter-intuitively. I slowly drove around some icebergs, but when I got used to the steering and speed, I cranked it up to full throttle and began doing donuts, and riding over my wakes, and I turned our zodiac into and icebreaker to navigate a bit. When Brooke had her turn, she got a small bit out of control, and smashed our zodiac into an iceberg. If Shaun hadn’t pulled the kill-cord, to kill the engine, we would’ve been marooned on an iceberg, soaked. We had a great experience driving zodiacs through the Antarctic ice fields.
Another awesome landing was in a place where massive hills sloped down like a slide. From far away, the hill looked fairly shallow. On our way up, we watched Adam, the Go Pro expert and naturalist go down. I was really excited to do it, and none of the kids were near me, so I went first. Adam told me what to do, as I slowly pushed myself along towards the edge. When I looked down, I saw that it was almost 90°, straight down. My brain was telling me no, but my fun side was screaming: “THIS IS GONNA BE AWESOME!” So, I decided not to chicken out and go for it. I pushed myself over the side, and zoomed down the hill. I hit the bottom, and began to roll really fast towards the bottom of the trail. At the bottom, I met Sarah, another one of my friends. We hiked back up to the top, and slid down again. On our final trip down, we all made a four-person train: Me, Finn, Sarah and Brooke. We also were doing this on a new path that was only fresh snow, nobody had gone down this one yet… We pushed off and had a perfect ride for all of 0.5 of a second, our feet dug into the snow, flipping our train over, which led to us rolling and flipping headfirst down a mountain, with speeds of at least 15 mph! We tumbled down, crashing into each other and creating a very messy trail. At the bottom of the hill, we looked at the three good, and neat trails, and then looked at ours which was a train wreck (literally)! We can all go home and say we fell off a train, off a mountain and lived to tell the tale! Thankfully, nobody broke any limbs, and we all came out with half the mountain’s snow in our clothes. We had an awesome time sliding down the mountains.
My last experience to share, was the Christmas Eve Party and Dance. We began by listening to some Traditional Dances from the Philippines, because most of the staff was Filipino. Next, we listened to some Christmas music, and then we had an awesome dance party. We began with Watch Me, which was fun, and then we ended it with Hit the Quan. We looked at the clock and found out that it was 11:50 pm, so we decided to stay up until Christmas. We stood in the sunshine (the sun doesn’t set in the summer in Antarctica) at 11:59 and counted down from Christmas Eve to Christmas day and all jumped into the air when we hit zero!
This was the best Christmas ever in Antarctica!