The Far South: Antarctica
Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is playing behind the bar and I don’t think I ever imagined listening to Blonde on Blonde in such a setting. This morning we set anchor at Neko Bay, and hiked to the top of a rocky outcropping flanking a steep, precariously perched glacier. Gentoo Penguins roosted along the slope, and from my spot on top of the rocky mountain the whole bay, and seemingly the world, laid out in all directions reaching farther and farther until the last white peak blended into the pale blue horizon. A humpback whale came up for air just along the shoreline, sewing a thread of bubbles across the still water. This was the actual continent of Antarctica, right beneath me.
In the afternoon we sailed through the Gerlache Strait to Whilhamina Bay, fondly known as “Whale-hemina Bay” by the staff, for it’s guaranteed abundance of cetaceans. We didn’t set anchor until 4 PM, and by then I had already lost count of the number of whales I spotted. We got into our kayaks and headed toward a burst of mist coming from a humpback whale. We had been paddling for about five minutes when all of a sudden an enormous whale emerged from the water immediately beside my friend Roy’s kayak, her massive body less than a foot from him! She blew out a big breath and then dove right under his boat, Roy cried out and the rest of us all yelled unintelligible exclamations. Then the next whale, the calf, popped up right on the other side of Roy, this time his rostrum poking up, he gave the kayak a curious look and headed back down.
Here were were, watching whales, all the while the whales were watching us! This just kept on going, whale upon whale, including one absolutely massive male which surfaced just to the stern of my Dad’s boat, letting out a deep, cavernous trumpet, sounding like something between an elephant and a dinosaur. The cow and calf joined, snorting loudly. Occasionally a fluke would make an appearance as they dove, and the whole kayak team would cry out with joy. We stayed on the water till it was nearly dark, shivering but refusing to admit we were cold. We chased the whales until the very end, each sighting eliciting laughter until I actually cried. It was unreal and as close to magic as I could fathom. And that is how I would describe Antarctica in one word, magic.