After crossing the Drake passage you’ll first reach the South Shetland islands which has large penguin breeding colonies. It’s interesting, it’s worth the visit but it’s not why I’m here. I can see breeding penguins in the zoo and breeding penguin wild life colonies in Argentina, South Africa or New Zealand. I’m here for the 7th continent.
It has always been my dream and finally the expedition leader would announce over the loud speakers that if you looked port side you’d be able to see land. Needless to say the inside of the ship was empty and like a cartoon the only thing left was half empty teacups and clothes and shoes still hanging in the air from people leaving so quickly. Some people rushed for their cameras but the point is that the outer decks were full.
What you see is a large massive wall of ice, it is both impossible to land at and even if you had mountaineering gear, the ice walls are treacherous and might roll around and break away any moment leaving you falling towards icy cold water with an iceberg hitting you moments after. Not exactly safe. In fact, even in places where you could technically land a boat and walk onto land many things such as high winds and packed ice will make the sites inaccessible and you most certainly can not just sail the entire cruise ship to land. This is why we have the concepts of “landings”. For those of us fortunate enough, landing on the actual continent makes a big difference because it allows us to take this very cool picture.
When you “land” you get aboard a “Zodiac” which is a rubber boat with an engine (an extremely sturdy military grade one) that holds about 12 people. These Zodiacs will then transfer the passengers from the ship to the landing sites opening up much more options for landing. However, even with these boats, we only had 2 landings on actual continent. The rest were on islands. Some expeditions don’t even have the chance at all!
Another concept is Zodiac Cruises. That’s when there is no landing sites but beautiful landscapes. It basically means that we’ll cruise around for 1-2 hours on the zodiacs and take pictures. It can be be a relaxing alternatively to a full landing.
Finally, of course there are those of us that joined the sea kayak club, we would go kayaking when weather permitted it and then we would typically land as well when the others landed. This meant that we would have some long days which was great! Full value for your time. Sea Kayaking is another story which I will write a separate post about.
When we weren’t landing, cruising or kayaking we would be on the boat. There would be lectures, briefings, information meetings and lots of whale spotting, iceberg spotting and even a bridge tour. We would also spend a lot of time eating, all inclusive 3 course meals plus à la carte menus. You want a burger with double patty, no onions, extra mayo – you’ve got it!
Since the sun is up pretty much all day, we would have daylight from 5am to midnight and therefore some of the days would be exceptionally long and action packed. A lack of sleep was all part of the fun.
In conclusion, the days while at the peninsula are long, action packed and flabbergasting. You’ll spend your days cruising around unreal landscapes in a black and white world and your evenings trying to copy, edit and backup your photos all while having a beer at the bar, stuffing your face with delicious food and sharing all your experiences with the other passengers-turned-friends.