At the half-way point of the voyage, participant Fern Hames lets us in on the rich sensory experience of being in the Antarctic and the unexpected wonders that present at this very moment in time

If you could choose one word to describe today, it might be ‘unexpected’.

I never expected that we would get to walk on fast ice in Antarctica. A slightly surreal experience, to land a zodiac directly at the edge of an expanse of flat white ice, connected to the coast, and step directly on to this. Apparently this sheet is a couple of metres thick; we can see the deep blue of the ice underneath the layer of fresh white snow on top. A pair of seals doze; a pair of penguins waddle.

We crunch our way across. We are totally thrilled.

I never expected to climb to the top of a tiny snowy-domed island (Danco Island) and be surrounded by sea, steep granite mountains, thick snow, and glaciers tumbling into the sea. There are ‘penguin highways’ leading to and from several rookeries; our path looks a little like one of those too; we climb up, but then slide down; slow at first but then scooting fast down the slope, looking directly out across a vista of mountains, ice, boulders and contorted ice in a calm sea.

We talk about how timing is everything and how, on any scale (hourly to geological), this place will be different at any other time. We have been hugely lucky with weather on this journey; today the sea is serenely calm again and the air incredibly clear. Penguins are nesting, the gin-clear shallows are thick with krill, and seals are resting on the sea ice. On another day, and another week, the weather and access will be different. In another season, the light will be different, the cycles of biodiversity action will be different. In another year or so, the glaciers will be different. In another lifetime, what will the impacts of climate change be here?

Today we also celebrated Christmas; we returned from walking on the fast ice to glasses of hot mulled wine, we exchanged Kris Kringle gifts, and dressed up in costumes for a bit of a party on board our little ship – marking half-way through the journey of a lifetime. It was a bit unexpected to see Hawaiian skirts in Antarctica. To see possum-skin boot innersoles reinvented as ears. To dance outside on the deck, at midnight, in ‘daylight’. All perhaps slightly unexpected, and all completely fabulous.

Read more about Fern Hames on our Participants page.

(Image by Songqiao Yao, arriving at Wilhelmena Bay)

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