FOR A place that seemingly has nothing — no cities, no hotels, no restaurants — Antarctica sure is full of sights unlike anywhere else in the world.

1

When the captain announced through the PA system that there would be an ice island floating by soon, I finally emerged from my cabin after nearly two days. The captain’s earlier predictions of “some stormy weather” felt like a massive understatement in retrospect - I would have called the raging 10-12 meter waves something else entirely. The enthusiasm that the passengers exhibited on their way to the deck was palpable and contagious. Excited chatter filled the hallways as everyone was bundling up in preparation for the frigid air waiting outside. It wasn’t the ice island itself that we all were so excited about, it was what it signified; we were getting close to the Antarctic Peninsula.

2

I don’t normally get excited about something as trivial as ice. I’ve lived most of my life in countries with harsh winters so I’ve seen plenty of ice in my life, too much, I might have argued. When my friends and family wanted to know what was the best part of my trip to the White Continent, I knew they fully expected me to squeal “penguins!” as the answer. To their surprise and mine, it was the different ice formations that impressed me the most.

3

Nowhere in the northern hemisphere had I seen such ice formations ranging from millennia-old crystal clear fragments to icebergs with an unrealistically blue glow. Neither had I ever imagined I would witness an iceberg capsizing while I sat at sea level in a zodiac, truly feeling the power of nature.

4

Of course, I would be blatantly lying if I said seeing penguins wasn’t one of the highlights of the trip. Several years before my visit to Antarctica I had been to a zoo that housed penguins, polar bears, and lions - all of which were very far removed from their natural environment and climate. That day I decided it would be the last time I visited a zoo and made a pledge that if I wanted to see wild animals, I would travel to their natural environment. Seeing colonies of tens of thousands of penguins in the wild was infinitely more rewarding than seeing ten of them performing at a ‘penguin parade’ on the concrete streets of a zoo.

5

And what wildly entertaining creatures penguins are! My trip took place in November when these birds were in the nest building phase, trying to find rocks for their new accommodations - and occasionally stealing some fine rocks from their neighbour. We were instructed to keep a safe distance from the penguins in order not to disturb them but the birds weren’t aware of any such restrictions. They would curiously walk close to us to check us out and then went on about their busy lives ignoring us completely.

6

The Antarctic spring was warmer than I had expected but it’s hard to imagine just how resilient these animals need to be to thrive in the ever-changing weather on the coldest, driest, and windiest continent. Our zodiac excursions took us to see some places twice but it was impossible to tell because the weather changed the scenery so drastically. One day the clouds were hanging so low I could nearly touch them from the zodiac and the next day the bright and sunny weather revealed the towering mountains that surrounded us.

7

After a few days of exploring the seventh continent, it was time to navigate our way back to the southernmost town in South America, Ushuaia. Antarctica is said to be once-in-a-lifetime destination but that is just untrue - there is no way to see all that it has to offer on one short visit.