The Time I Found a Recipe for Seal Brains in Antarctica (Part 2)
When you're on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and it's so amazing that you're plotting on how to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime trip.
Photo Credit: Siegfried Bruck, our official photographer on the trip
This is a continuation of The Time I Puked My Way to Antarctica (Part 1). Read that first if you haven't already.
The Day I Went Climbing on Antarctica
After a sleepless night, we packed up our tent, cleared the campsite and returned to the warm and comfy ship around 5 am. I went straight to bed to catch some shut-eye as the ship sailed to yet another destination: Argentina’s Brown Base Station.
Argentina's claim on the White Continent
We arrived there a little too soon, in my opinion, and I considered skipping the trip to land in order to sleep some more. My roommate, Tania, greatly disapproved. “You are on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica, and you want to sleep???”
Properly admonished, I dragged myself out of bed and put on the ten million layers of clothes for the journey outdoors.
The Brown Base, true to its name, was more brown than white – once again, there was more penguin poop than there was ice.
All that brown goodness
I arrived half-asleep on a Zodiac, and proceeded to put on my snowshoes in order to explore the deserted buildings. Antarctica is only inhabited 3 months out of the 12 months in a year, and mostly by researchers and an assortment of crew members who conduct scientific research. It was still too early in the summer for them to come down from up north, so we had the place to ourselves.
Wandering around the place
I then jumped into another Zodiac with a group of passengers, and we went on a leisurely cruise around Paradise Bay, weaving through oddly-shaped icebergs and translucent chunks of ice with penguins swimming all around us.
Later in the day, I joined another group of passengers for a mountaineering expedition. I had splurged on a pair of hiking boots (those that could fit crampons) just for this purpose, and was determined to put them to good use. We were ferried to shore by a particularly surly Zodiac driver who, after dropping us off, threatened to leave us there and never come back.
For someone who barely exercises, I constantly overestimate and overinflate my fitness level. I did manage to climb Mount Kilimanjaro earlier that year without dying, so I figured: how bad could this be, right?
My mountain-climbing group
It was bad.
Climbing on ice requires a set of different skills that I didn’t have, and uses muscles in my legs that had never before been put into action. I thought I would have gotten the hang of walking after 25+ years of doing so, but clearly that was not the case.
There was also the additional danger of slipping and of accidentally falling into a crevasse (a deep crack in the ice).
Most of us were first-timers, and we moved at a snail’s pace up the icy front of a small mountain. We were all tied to one another with a long rope that would help save our lives if one of us stumbled. And of course, I was the one who tripped over my ankles and tumbled down the mountain, dragging at least 4 people down with me.
Not a good idea to be tied to a klutz like me
We didn’t go very high, but even then, I felt as though I had just climbed seven Kilimanjaros. Everything hurt, and I was freezing down to my bones. I had entertained the idea of one day climbing Mount Everest, but I was seriously rethinking that notion now.
Two Weddell seals were waiting for us at the bottom when we came down. I figured if the Zodiac boat didn’t come back for us, we would at least have something to eat. What did seal meat taste like?
Time to discover how yummy seals are...
I never got to find out. The Zodiac and its cantankerous driver came for us after all, and we headed back to the ship for a proper, civilized dinner.
The Day I Went Kayaking in Antarctica
The weather had taken a turn for the worse the day before, and kayaking and camping was cancelled, which was unfortunate for the groups that were scheduled to go.
I was scheduled to go kayaking this morning, and prayed and prayed for the weather to cooperate. And it did!
We sailed to Port Lockroy, the British base, and the only place with a touristy shop and a ‘post office’ that you could mail postcards from - in case you wanted the thrill of sending mail from Antarctica or give family and friends the thrill of receiving mail from Antarctica.
The Penguin Post Office, where you can send postcards from all the way down south
[What they really do is pass the big bag of mail to the next passing ship that will take it back to Argentina to be mailed out.]
While others went ashore to empty their wallets, send mail, and look at more penguin poop, my group put on funky-looking wetsuits with an unflattering skirt that would help keep freezing water from splashing into the kayak.
Donning the ugly kayak skirt with a motherly passenger who, the first time we met, lectured me about the cold before even saying 'hello'
I was partnered up with the doctor onboard. He was twice my size and ten times stronger, which meant I barely had to do anything as the kayak zoomed from one end to another.
Explorers on kayaks
It was great to see Antarctica from that level. We were so close to the water, and so close to the penguins and the sea birds, plus we had the freedom to go wherever we wanted. This was definitely my favorite activity during the trip.
Front-seat VIP view
Once we got our fill of kayaking and had stowed the kayaks back onto the ship, we belatedly joined everybody else on shore while still wearing our ridiculous outfit.
A quick trip to Port Lockroy after kayaking, still wearing the skirt
I had just enough time to check out the museum, get my passport stamped and to breeze through the shop before we were all called back to the ship. I also had time to discover this gem of a recipe book:
A recipe book on how to cook various seal body parts. Would have been useful the day before.
We had one more stop for the day – Damoy Point. We did more snowshoeing and interrupted a few more mating sessions between penguins before we all returned onboard for the BBQ party in which one staff ended up dancing to the Spice Girls in a penguin suit.
The calm before the storm, i.e. before the penguin suit made its appearance
The Day I Experienced What True Silence Was
We were now in New Harbour and got to spend the first half of the day on a leisurely Zodiac cruise, weaving in between crystal-like chunks of ice as well as bigger icebergs from which penguins would jump into the water from.
We went further and further away from the ship, letting it disappear from sight until there was nothing else but a bunch of humans in a small rubber boat, floating on a gentle cold sea dotted with pale blue ice structures.
Just us and a rubber boat
At one point, our guide turned off the Zodiac engine, and we sat motionless on the water, experiencing the incredible silence of an alien continent that had managed to avoid being overrun by humans and honking cars.
Coupled with the other-worldly scenery, it was an almost overwhelming experience – one that I don’t think can be replicated anywhere else in the world.
Discovering silence and utter peace
Had it been physically possible to withstand the cold for more than an hour, we would have done so, but it got harder and harder to appreciate beauty when your butt was freezing, and so we turned the engine back on and glided back to the ship in search of warmth (and cookies).
Later that afternoon, against my better judgment, I signed up for another mountaineering expedition, somehow suffering from amnesia on how difficult the first time was.
Me happily thinking I could handle a second time
Only 3 people showed up, including me, making me wonder if the others knew something I didn’t… On the bright side, it meant less people to be chained to, and it also meant we can move easier, faster and further.
We hiked up a different mountain this time, and made better progress than we did in the previous hike – partly because we had less people, but also partly because we were now more accustomed to the process of climbing on ice.
Up and up and up...
I still found it hard, but being the only female in the team, my pride wouldn’t allow me to complain or slow the others down in any way, so I endured the pace and the pain, hoping that the cold would numb all of my senses (as it eventually did!).
We made it as far as it was deemed safe to go, reaching the point in which the snow gave way to ice too frozen even for our crampons to dig in, and the slope too steep we could barely stand upright without toppling.
Leaning against the steep slope so we don't topple over
The ship was the size of a toy from where we stood, silently waiting down on the waters below.
The tiny ship down below
It was too cold to stay up there for very long, so we headed back the same way we came, awkwardly crawling and sliding down the slippery slope.
At one point, one of my climbing companions gave a yelp – he pointed to a hole in the snow that had been stomped on and punched through by our boots. The hole revealed a crevasse, a deep and hidden crack in the ice that stretched to our right and left and all the way down into the darkness below.
We had been happily and obliviously crossing a daunting chasm, separated from a terrible fall only by a thin layer of snow. We looked at each other in shock and doubled our pace to get down to the bottom of the mountain where there were no sneaky cracks in ice lying in wait like a trap.
The stick figure could have very well been me!
When we arrived by the shore, we found everybody else queuing for the Zodiac to get back to the ship after having snowshoed around the area.
The queue for the Zodiac
A select few were huddled near the water, half-naked in their bathing suits. These were the people who were attempting the Polar Plunge.
A Polar Plunge is exactly what it says: a plunge (and maybe even a swim?) into the freezing cold water of polar Antarctica. We were due to leave the next day, and this would be the last chance for those who wanted to test their body’s endurance.
No pictures of half-naked people doing polar plunge, sorry.
I thought about testing my own endurance, but then calculated the amount of time it would take me to get from the shore to the boat in dripping wet clothes… nah. I think I’d tested my endurance enough by almost dying on the mountain climb.
The Day I Left Antarctica
We were due to start sailing up north. The plan was to spend half the day on shore before finally leaving, but news of an ice-sheet blocking our return path meant we had to factor in additional time to take the longer route home.
Instead of half-a-day, we now only had 2 hours maximum. So, at 5 am in the morning, we made our last landing on D’Haunolt Island in Mikkelsen Harbor.
The last shore landing
I fully intended to make the most of the time we had – I would sit by the penguins, stay perfectly still and observe them like a proper scientist instead of tramping about like I’ve always done.
The idea sounded really good in my head, but I discovered that it wasn’t quite so in reality. After I was unable to feel both my legs and my butt, it occurred to me that the only way to stay warm was to keep moving. And so I went back to my tramping ways.
A penguin waving goodbye
At 7 am, we said our goodbyes to the penguins and the continent in general, and started our sail northward, towards the dreaded Drake Passage. Learning from my previous mistake, I bought a seasickness patch and immediately put it to use.
Time to leave
We spent the next two days sailing, and sailing, and sailing, and not once did I puke.
Score - Atiqah: 1, Drake Passage: 0
The Day I Returned, Very Reluctantly, to Reality
We arrived in Ushuaia early in the morning, and I was very reluctant to leave the ship.
"Fin del Mundo" = The End of the World. Sure felt that way.
Having been cocooned in the ship for two weeks in a fantasy land so different from what I was used to and being fed on a regular basis with good food and endless cookies, going back to shore made me feel like I was a baby being forcibly ejected out of the womb and left to fend for myself.
Where was I going to go? What was I going to do? Who's going to feed me??
I hardly ever get homesick, but on that day, I was very ship-sick and forlornly watched as it sailed away from port.
Some of the passengers flew out that very day (including my roommate, Tania), but I and a few others stayed on in Ushuaia. And because it is such a small town, we kept bumping into each other throughout the day – in the restaurant, on the hike to the nearby mountain, in the shops…
At the airport the next day, while waiting for my plane to Buenos Aires, I bumped into a few more, including my kayaking partner. That helped to wear off the ship-sickness I was feeling, and I finally accepted that my trip to Antarctica was over.
Nearing the end of my travels and leaving Ushuaia on a jet plane
It had been a long time coming, a childhood dream, and it was over. It was time to end my 2-month journey and head back home (where I would discover an unexpected souvenir residing in my skin that had to be surgically removed).
It was also time to go make more money so I could come back again to Antarctica.
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