Dispatch: Voyage to the Bottom of the World -- Paradise Bay

Travel Weekly senior editor David Cogswell departed for Santiago, Chile, Jan. 3 to begin a two-week adventure to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent. Hell be transmitting on-site reports to Travel Weeklys New Jersey headquarters on a daily basis (weather and Internet access permitting).

Russ Manning, the expedition leader who piloted the Zodiac around Paradise Bay, reached over the side of the boat and pulled up a chunk of ice two feet long and crystal clear. 

"This chunk may be thousands of years old, from snow that fell thousands of years ago," he said. "Thousands of years of pressure from the glacier pushed out the oxygen bubbles to get it to be that clear. Scientists are sectioning pieces like this and doing analyses of the air trapped in the ice to study the climate of up to a half million years ago." 

It was the kind of factoid you hear often in Antarctica, the kind that bends and stretches the mind. This particular chunk, however, was not destined for any laboratory. It would instead be taken on board to be used in gin and tonics that night, for a sort of Jurassic Park special. 

Thursday morning, after a sunny evening and a luminescent night, the direct sun had come blasting over the horizon again before 4 a.m. Early risers woke to the sight of the silent majestic peaks and icebergs reflecting blinding sun as we cruised through the Gerlache Strait, which separates the Palmer Archipelago from the Antarctic Peninsula. 

We docked in a naturally sheltered area called Neko Harbor, then rode Zodiacs through smooth waters cluttered with ice chunks and icebergs to the shore. Stepping carefully around a couple of huge seals that were sleeping on the beach and past a large penguin colony, we hiked up a snowy incline to a point high over the harbor where we could capture a vista that included the harbor below and mountain peaks many miles in the distance. 

Around lunchtime the ship glided into Paradise Bay, which that day seemed aptly named. It was hard to believe we were in Antarctica, and yet it wouldnt have fit anywhere else. The midday sun burned intensely through the clear Antarctic air. People hung out on deck in shirts and light jackets. The water in the bay was mirror smooth, creating crystal clear reflections of the peaks and glaciers along its edge. 

By the time we did our Zodiac cruise of the bay, the sun had gone behind fluffy gray-blue crowds again. It was much more characteristic weather, Manning told us.

Tomorrow, Friday, is our last day in Antarctica. 

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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