In the early morning hours, the gentle sloshing of the Drake Passage gave way to smooth waters as we sailed through fog on the northern waters of the Antarctic Peninsula. Eager to stretch our legs after a long crossing, we piled ashore at Half Moon Island. A sizable colony of chinstrap penguins greeted us. The stark gravel banks and guano-stained snow of this landing offered us an introduction to classic Antarctic ambiance. Guests diligently adhered to the IAATO guidelines, scrubbing their boots with great concern upon returning to the ship. In addition to keeping invasive species at bay, we are also keeping the hotel department happy; penguin poop makes a terrible addition to the ship’s carpets.
The daily program assembled by our expedition leader promised doughnuts in the afternoon…as a complement to the large rocky doughnut we found in the form of Deception Island. A sea-filled volcanic caldera, this island is a natural escape for ships from harsh Antarctic weather. A small channel, or “bite,” in the rocky circle allows entrance for most ships; this refuge harbored the only active whaling station on the Antarctic Peninsula until it closed in the 1930s. The rusty, moldering remains of the whaling infrastructure—combined with persistent steam from shore side volcanic hot springs—cause a thrillingly apocalyptic landscape. Colossal rusty oil drums lilt at odd angles. Old barrels stick out of the sand like gravestones. The old whaling station showcases the lives of the people who worked there. It is hard to imagine the labor, revelry, ritual or even mundane tasks of people in what seems like such a silent and desolate place. Many of us used this opportunity ashore to marvel at both of Antarctica’s plant species, featured next to each other on the long hike.