"If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it." -Andrew Denton
I should mention that this trip was through my favorite travel company, Grand Circle Travel. I have been on 19 previous adventures with my parents on Grand Circle/Overseas Adventure Travel. Without their help, and the help of the dedicated crew of the M/S Corinthian, my special adventure would not have happened.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
The next day, during lunchtime, we were on our way! We crossed the somewhat turbulent Beagle Channel with many of the passengers on deck soaking up the sun, taking photographs and sharing excitement for our journey. We were advised that the trip, once into the open waters of the Drake Passage, would be very rough. There were instructions about "Drake proofing" each cabin. I didn't fully understand what this meant or why this was necessary. I would find out soon! Our expedition team repeated this... "Whether the weather is cold, Or whether the weather is hot, We'll weather the weather, Whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not."
The beauty of stormy weather is the birds! We were treated to an incredible show by many birds. We spotted our first penguins (Magellanic) in the Beagle Channel! (The Beagle Channel was named after the ship with captain Robert Fitz Roy that carried Charles Darwin in these waters in 1834.) Then we saw Imperial Cormorants, Black-browned Albatrosses, Southern Giant Petrels and Skuas.
I'll spare you the details of my not so pleasant evening but will say that the water went from acceptably rough to unacceptably rough (Drake Shake!) and I was officially sea-sick! I then understood what Drake proofing my cabin meant. I could hear the clothes in the closet sliding from one side to the other and the toiletries in my neighbors bathroom flying around. I could barely make it from the bathroom to my bed! Just a note for future reference... when you have had too much to drink, do NOT lie down, when sea sick, LIE DOWN!!!! Anyway, in my room, as in every room, lounge, and dining room, the chairs, tables and even the piano were chained to the floor. I had put most things away as well as set my cello so it was essentially lying down. In order to stay in bed, I wedged my foot between the 2 twin mattresses pushed together. It was quite the ab workout!
Monday, January 11, 2016
We saw many more birds the next day following the ship so closely and so beautifully! It's difficult to describe the fluid motion of these gigantic birds that just floated through the air inches above the raging waves which were pounding on the ship. To watch them was like watching a perfectly choreographed dance. The most impressive were the Wandering Albatrosses, Grey-headed Albatrosses and Northern Giant Petrels. The Wandering Albatross which we were so fortunate to observe for so long on this trip, has the largest wingspan of any bird (up to 12 feet!).
There was an announcement the night before we would arrive in Antarctica... The first person to spot an iceberg wins a prize! After my thoughts wandered to the north and the Titanic, I had the realization that we were going to be among icebergs!!! When I woke up and looked out the sliding glass door and saw my first glimpse of icebergs, I pinched myself! I was here!
The white wilderness...
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
We would make our first two landings today... On Deception Island! We would take our first steps in Whaler's Bay and then we would go for a cool dip in Pendulum Cove. Yes! You heard me correctly.
We cruised fairly closely through the icebergs of Neptune's Bellows into the caldera of Port Foster and felt very thankful for our incredibly skilled Captain and crew navigating the Corinthian. There was a shipwreck which reminded me of the volatile waters and of how fortunate I was to be safe in a place so wild and unpredictable.
We would take our first zodiac ride and step on Antarctica for the first time at Whaler's Bay!! And... it was a beautiful day!!
Then, we had a little hike up to Neptune's Window for a beautiful view out of the caldera. After our hike up, we walked along the beach and watched the penguins play around the injured leopard seal (their arch enemy). We then wandered around the remnants of a whaling station used by Norwegians between 1910-1931.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
We woke up to another incredible, sunny day! We started the day off at Mikkelsen Harbor where we could see glaciers coming right off the mountains into the water. The Harbor was named after Caroline Mikkelsen, the wife of a sealer captain and the first woman to visit Antarctica! What better place to explore and then play the cello. I was able to wander around to observe the seals and penguins. There were many groups of Gentoo Penguins here and I enjoyed watching them and photographing them on their rock nests with their chicks. It was like living National Geographic... We also found evidence of an old boat, an abandoned Argentine rescue hut and humpback whales.
While I was basking in the beauty of this place, I was scoping out the perfect site to play the cello. The photos show the process of getting the cello off the ship.
I settled on a location near the old rescue hut, several groups of penguins and by the water. My program director, Martin, was my Sherpa for the trip and he carried my very heavy travel case over the snow to the location where the concert would take place. It was very cold and the wind was raging! I perched on a rock with penguins behind me and many of my fellow travelers, guides and crew in front of me and I played Saint Saens, The Swan, and the Prelude to Bach's G Major Cello Suite. It seemed that the penguins got quiet as I played... I imagine it must have been a strange experience to hear something like a cello for the first time. I think that it will most likely be the last time as well! I will admit to being incredibly uncomfortable from the wind and the cold. Although I was wearing fingerless wool gloves, I couldn't feel my fingers or hands the whole time and it was a very strange sensation to play the metal strings on a cello in such an extreme temperature. We tried to record the performance but the only thing that could be heard in the video was wind! I guess I would have to try again.
The next adventure of the day was a zodiac tour of Cierva Cove. This was spectacular!!! We were able to see vibrant covered lichen on the face of the rock cliffs, leopard seals on icebergs, chinstrap penguins on the land and ice, a Weddell seal, penguins porpoising in the water and the most incredible icebergs! I thought that this was paradise but... That would be tomorrow! Paradise Bay!
Before bed and during the sunset, we were treated to a spectacular show by a group of humpback whales. This place is unlike any I've ever seen!
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Waking up in Paradise Bay... I had to pinch myself! This scenery and the scenery of this entire trip really is the definition of "awesome"... I have yet to find the unique word that actually does it justice.
The water in Paradise Bay was so calm that the reflection was a mirror image of the scenery around it. After gazing dreamily out my patio door for a while, it was time for a zodiac ride in Paradise! We cruised through brash ice near the glacier as well as visited the nesting site for Cape Petrels, Antarctic Cormorants and Antarctic Terns.
Our landing here was at the former Argentinian Brown Station. There were many Gentoo penguins nesting around the ruins of the Station. We spent our time here climbing up the first tier of the mountain. It was a beautiful view after the somewhat vigorous climb!
(A view from the top and the climb!)
Our last landing of the day would be at Port Lockroy- the most visited tourist attraction in Antarctica. Port Lockroy was named after the French politician, Edouard Lockroy, who helped the explorer Charcot to get funding for his expedition. This place houses a small museum and gift shop! Imagine... A gift shop in Antarctica!
There was also a huge number of nesting penguins. Because the penguins were so close to the building, we were allowed to be closer to them then in all of our other landings. They live with a little less fear here because of the number of tourists visiting. Their natural predator, the skua, is scared off.
I was able to dry off and warm up for my on board recital in the evening. One of my wishes for this trip was to have the incredible opportunity to play the cello in Antarctica. This was only possible because of the generosity and efforts of many people... My program director, Martin, and the captain and crew and expedition team with leader, Claudia. These people are some of the most wonderful, committed, dedicated and genuine people I've ever met. They are purely motivated and driven by their desire to provide the most natural and unspoiled experience of this magnificent and magical place! They made my playing on the continent possible so when they asked me to perform on the ship for all of the crew and the passengers, I couldn't say no. It was a very small thank you to all of them and to the passengers for dealing with my practicing on board, Thankfully, and kind of unbelievably, in my group of 19, there was a pianist! Robert Chauls also agreed to play and accompany me. We did a concert of Bach, Beethoven, Elgar and Saint Saens. It was another first for me, performing on a ship moving quite a lot from side to side! I would say that we had a good time. It was an exhausting day... Amazingly exhausting!
Friday, January 15, 2016
I couldn't believe that it was our last day exploring today. I was sad at the thought of leaving so soon. But, today would be my favorite day...
This morning we made our landing at Neko Harbor. The shore had huge numbers of Gentoo penguins in the water and on the land. The best examples of "penguin highways" were found here! Seeing the penguins awkwardly hike up and down the mountain was so entertaining. Unfortunately, I relate all too well with the waddling of the penguins!
The expedition crew marked a path for us to hike up to the most spectacular lookout point of the trip. These are the images that will remain with me forever... We were allowed to sit there and just take everything in. The weather was idyllic! In fact, I was so warm hiking up that I had to strip down to just my t-shirt! Ironically, I was wearing my Trio Nova Mundi Africa tour shirt... It felt like the girls were with me there. I spent as much time as I possibly could breathing the incredibly fresh air, and at times, sitting in silence just listening... the popping within the glacier, the calving, a small avalanche in the distance, the penguins, the skuas, the incredibly light breeze, the lack of other sounds associated with civilization. I thought about the remoteness of this place and the fact that only 300,000 people have ever been here and how fortunate I am to have had the privilege and honor- a life changing experience. I slowly made my way down with the leaders who were taking down the poles that guided our path. When I arrived again at the bottom, I was able to enjoy some more time with the penguins. I could have appreciated and enjoyed watching them for days on end.
But, we had to board the zodiacs and head back to the ship for our last landing of the trip- Cuverville.
In Cuverville, I again enjoyed the penguins and got to experience more typical Antarctic weather. I was fortunate to see a different type of penguin here! There was an Adelie all by himself... clearly rejected by all of the Gentoos. It was sad to see him alone, but... someone has to be the explorer, the adventurer, the revolutionary...
The expedition team encouraged me to play one more time while here and I brought the cello just in case. Many of the passengers and crew had asked me for a repeat performance but I felt as though I owed the expedition leaders, guides and my parents the final Antarctic performance. After almost everyone had headed back to the ship, I pulled out the cello, found a rock, and one more time played for the penguins. It was snowing lightly and the sky was darker... More typical weather, apparently. It was cold but not quite as windy as the first time. Maybe I just didn't care as much as this was just more icing for me. I played to the ocean and to the penguins and for the people who made this possible for me! We recorded it and it is the video that you can find on YouTube. It was certainly the most authentically beautiful and remote concert hall I'll ever play in. Hopefully it's the coldest performance I'll ever have to experience... It is difficult to play well with frozen fingers!
What better and more inspiring place to make music than in the most magical and mystical location on earth where before your eyes nature performs its wonders.
Saturday, January 16 and 17
We headed back into a rough Drake, although not as rough as the previous crossing... we enjoyed more lectures on history and wildlife and relived our experiences from the past few days. I have a feeling that I'll be reliving them forever! If you have a chance to go... Do it!
It's difficult to put into words what you are a part of... A sight that is ever changing! Never before as it is in this very moment and never the same again! It is a magnificent performance... It is an inspiration!