Dispatch: Voyage to the Bottom of the World -- Pendulum Cove

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).

Though we are still a couple of thousand miles from the South Pole, it doesnt get dark anymore. The official sunset on Wednesday was 10:37 p.m., but it didnt come close to being dark. Sunrise on Thursday morning was officially at 3:18 a.m., but since the sun never strays far from the horizon the darkest it gets is like dusk.

At 7:30 p.m. the clouds vanished and the sun blazed over the ocean, changing it from gray to bright blue with sparkling white caps. It may have been the Caribbean, except for the brilliant white icebergs. Sunshine poured through the window behind the shiny grand piano in the ships Shackleton Bar, transforming the nightlife ambience into a sort of afternoon Club Med festivity. It was hard to think about sleeping -- only a few hours before 64 passengers had been swimming in the geothermal waters at Pendulum Cove.

Our ship made three landings earlier that day. At Half Moon Island we saw a penguin colony of hundreds, maybe thousands of birds perched high on a rocky hill and honking and yipping in an ongoing, varying roar. I let my video run to capture the thumping rhythmic crowd noise, which was eerily similar to the cheering roar you hear at sports events and political rallies. I had to capture the sound for evidence.

I walked over a ridge where a lake was bounded by a huge glacier. It was hard to judge the size and distance of the towering ridge because the atmosphere is so clear here things seem closer than in the real world.

A young leopard seal rolled languidly around on the snow; no one seemed to know why. One of the biologists thought he was just having a good time, or maybe it was part of the molting process. Maybe he was itchy. Another biologist wryly pointed out that animals dont read the manuals -- so their behavior cant always be explained.

Our second landing was on Deception Island, where a massive volcanic crater creates an inland sea. We sailed through Neptunes Gate, the single entrance, and rode Zodiac craft to a gravely beach where steam rose steadily from the volcanic springs beneath the surface. If you dug your boot into the gravel, steamy warm water would rise to the top.

The beach was littered with rusted metal structures from early whaling expeditions; the settlement here was abandoned after a volcanic eruption flushed everything out of the buildings with muddy water.

Later some of us went to that volcanic beach at Pendulum Cove for a swim in the steamy water. The geothermal waters were not as warm as we were hoping, but the group was keyed up and intent on breaking the record of the number of passengers who would go into the water.

Though the shallow water near the edge of the beach was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface, you could dig your hands into the gravely sand and find warmth. It was a mad, threshold-busting moment.

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

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