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The National Geographic Explorer is dwarfed by the size of the icebergs. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

This jaw-dropping journey is about to get even more awesome as we head towards the Drake Passage and for Antarctica, and a whole new world.  Now sit back, close your eyes, and put yourself in my Muck Boots as the voyage continues…

DRAKE’S PASSAGE

Reality still has not quite set in for what lies ahead and sleep this first night is fleeting at best.  The first leg of our trip takes us through Drake’s Passage.  This is where luck comes into play.  Some trips have very calm seas and sail right through, but most have it very rough (15+ foot waves) and passengers spend the time in bed treating sea sickness.  We, fortunately, fell into the calm seas category, so much so that the crew called it Drake’s Lake.

Our first day on board is spent at sea.  This is our chance to get to know both the ship and our fellow passengers. People start to form “groups” and we are no different.  We have formed a bond with four other couples; one of which we continue to see and just did this summer.  We have more classes on wildlife and on Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition, spend time on the bridge chatting with the Captain, and attend a photography class. We step outside to take it all in and you can tell the temperature has already really dropped.  While all the passengers are freezing, but happy, the crew feels it’s so warm, the jackets come off.

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Approaching Point Wild on Elephant’s Island. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

The day ends with a Captain’s Welcome cocktail party and dinner and we are gifted with a giant surprise.  Due to the calm seas, we will reach land much sooner than expected and will be the first group to land on Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s expedition spent months waiting for his return.  A bit of history – The expedition was an attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent.  But, instead, their boat was crushed and sunk and the men drifted on makeshift camps on the ice until reaching Elephant Island.  They remained here while Shackleton left in a lifeboat to seek help.  He amazingly was successful and rescued all the men.

ELEPHANT’S ISLAND/POINT WILD

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Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

As we approach the island the next morning, we are greeted with unbelievable sites – Killer Whales travel alongside the ship; Wandering Albatros and Petras fly overhead; Leopard Seals rest on sheets of ice; thousands of Chinstrap Penguins cover the rocky points; a monument sits at the tip of the island on Point Wild in tribute to the 22 men who were stranded; not to mention, we see our first massive icebergs lining the horizon.  Someone pinch me.  Reality is so much better than the brochure pictures…

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Chinstrap penguins swimming outside our balcony. Photo credit Sherry Wernicke, Triathlon Traveling Mom.

We gather in the mud room on the lower deck and put on all our gear that is stored in lockers.  We then board Zodiac boats to get a better look, but can’t land as there’s no place to walk around.  A cruise ship passes by, but has to stay far away and can’t get the close-up views that we do.

That night, we get a lecture on penguins, so we will be able to recognize the four different varieties we will see – Chinstrap, Macaroni, Adelie, Gentoo, and maybe Emperor (think March of the Penguins), a recap of the day’s activities, and a mandatory briefing on how we must behave when we land on the islands; like not touching the wildlife!  We join our “group” for the buffet style dinner, chat about how in awe we all are, and then, it’s off to bed to dream of tomorrow’s big adventures aboard Lindblad’s National Geographic Explorer…

Next Up:  Part 3 – Paulet Island and the Wedell Sea.