In addition to landings, we often took zodiac cruises along the coastline to get up an up-close look at the icebergs, bird rookeries and glaciers. Occasionally, we spotted seals sprawled across the glowing ice structures. Massive in size, they rarely moved from their frozen Barcaloungers. And then there were the whales. Sometimes we were lucky to see them while we were in the zodiacs; other times, we intently observed them from the ship as they spouted or fed on large amounts of krill. These small crustaceans are abundant in Antarctic waters and virtually all of the animals in Antarctica are dependent on the enormous populations of krill for their food, directly or indirectly. When a large pod of humpbacks went by, it was akin to whales on parade – a magical Disney-like moment that felt unreal.
Depending on the cruise itinerary, Quark offers other optional activities, such as a one-night camp-out on land, kayaking, crosscountry skiing and even stand-up paddleboarding. There’s also the opportunity to do a polar plunge. I joined 50 brave folks for this challenge that involved jumping into the icy cold 28 degree water from off of the ship’s lowest deck. The shock to your system when your body makes contact with this freezing aquatic milieu is indescribable. The good thing is that you are quickly pulled out, given a shot of vodka and wrapped in a towel before the whole experience actually registers. Those who successfully accomplished this feat are given certificates attesting to their insanity and have eternal bragging rights.
Back on the ship, there’s no time to be bored. Quark values the educational component and the expedition team is passionate about sharing its wealth of knowledge about everything Antarctica. They are enthusiastic, fun and caring individuals that have a deep, abiding respect for this wondrous continent. In addition to the daily lectures, there are films, books about past explorations, maps, charts, photos and many resources for passengers. And, of course, there’s time to just try to soak it all in and treasure this dramatic place – the only spot on earth that is still as it should be, untamed and untouched.
If you go:
This article originally ran in October 2015.