Day 273: m/v Plancius – Antarctica – Mar 17th

Its extremely hard to believe, but today is the last day of our stay in the Antarctic! With our expedition slated to return to Ushuaia on the 20th, and needing about 2 days to cross the Drake Passage (not looking forward to this), we only have one last chance to disembark, and see this one last time.

And as a stroke of bad luck, the winds were too strong in the morning for us to disembark. So far, we’ve been EXTREMELY lucky as the ship has not experienced much weather driven changes, and that’s not common at all down here! We’ve heard expeditions making ABSOLUTELY ZERO landings onto the continent because of weather!We were lucky…. And it was quite crazy, standing outside on the deck as the captain tried several times to lay anchor, only to be blown away while dragging anchor. As much fun as it was standing in 60km winds, you only need to try it once before getting the fuck back into the warmth of the cabin and drink a hot cup of freshly grounded cappuccino…… oh my how spoiled we are.

So with the morning winds, we ditched our plans and started north again, and the expedition leader in a stroke of genius (or possibly as an attempt to squelch the complaints made by spoiled passengers), we made a second attempt at our first failed attempt, the coolest name for an island ever, Deception Island.

Deception Island: So cool, this place deserves its own description. An ACTIVE volcano that last erupted in 1960s with a side that collapsed and let in ocean water, it was used as a harbour, a whaling station and an (another) abandoned British base with an airplane hangar! If memory serves us correctly (thanks to Jim, the historian who made Antarctic history interesting), the first Antarctic flight was taken here in Deception Island!

Sailing through the narrow channel that takes us into Deception Island, it is a bit scary this being an active volcano, and the fact that we’re in Antarctica, means there’s little we can do if anything happens! Another first for us now, sailing into an active crater in a ship! The landing here is extremely different, as the landscape is mainly driven by the geology of the location, and the remains of human settlement are extremely visible as we reached the inside of the caldera. Everyone was excited about our last landing, and the fact that there is so much history surrounding the island, throwing on the fact that we missed it the last time we passed by, everyone was much more giddy than usual. Before we landed, our expedition leader made a special advisory about the fur seals that dot the shores. These guys are rather curious, territorial, and really massive. There’s no chance that you’ll outrun them on land on a rocky beach, and that sparks them into their predator mode, so we were told to stand firmly on our ground and tell them to talk to the hand while yelling “STOP!”. This would later be used to comical effect.

The moment you step ashore, the mists blanket you with the smell of sulphur (?), a constant reminder that yes, you’re in an active volcano. Making a small trench with your feet, warm water oozes out of the sands and the water from the waves are no longer -2C but warm to the touch. Then you think, you’re inside one massive pot of hot water, boiled by a volcano!!! The towering, corroded vats and the machinery used to extract whale bones lay there, haunting. The remnants of the British base lay close-by, and the airplane hangar dots the end of the possible ‘tourist’ area. No, humans aren’t meant to live in Antarctica, and this is about the last bit of reminder we needed. Turning right from the landing zone, a short walk up the inner wall of the crater, there’s a collapsed wall of the crater giving a great view back out into the Antarctic waters. We took it all in, feeling like a great explorer of sorts, except having suffered nothing detrimental to our body than serious sea-sickness (but the worst is yet to come).

Coming down the hill and attempting to return to the landing zone where the buildings were, we can see from afar some over-friendly seals as they scramble towards walking tourists. Whenever a group of tourists walked by, that one seal would stand up and chase after them until greeted with the hand and cries of STOP, at which point it would turn around undecidedly back onto its resting place. About 5-6 groups walked past, and from afar it was rather comical seeing that seal trying so hard to make some new friends? Then, it was our turn.

Alan walked first, leaving Jiajia behind him in the safety of his broad shoulders and muscular biceps. The seal, anxiously waiting at its resting spot for us to walk by, stood up and did a stare down with Alan from about 20m away. At that time, Alan looked behind him, and saw Jiajia still back at a safe distance, taking pictures! Before Alan can get back to her, the seal came hopping friskily towards him, mouth slightly open similar to a dog as it runs happily towards its owner. Unfortunately, after seeing two penguins getting destroyed, and standing there as a 600lb animal running after you with its mouth open in the middle of the Antarctic is, well, a bit scary!! Alan stood his ground, looked it right in the eye and with his arms out, stopped the animal in its track with about 2m before getting tackled by a 600lb seal. Alan continued on safely past the eager seal with Jiajia following shortly behind. She wanted to take a video, but failed at the last attempt and said “Hey! You should try it again!”. As cool/fun as it was, you really won’t want to do that twice in a day.

The other part of Deception Island is the history. Whalers left their machinery, and some remains of old whale bones as the machinery was used to extract oil from the bones themselves. The abandoned British base lays nearby, as they were rocked by the volcano twice and decided Deception Island should be left on its own? Human history, is what it is. The whole place was very photogenic, with misting clouds in the horizon, dark beach sand, the warm water ashore and abandoned buildings give off a feeling of being frozen in time.

Before we left, we visited a few penguins one last time, basking in their presence and just enjoying their comical actions, as two groups of penguins did a face-off, street gang style. These guys never ceases to amuse…..

Wallowing around until we were literally forced off the island by the expedition leaders, we boarded last Zodiac and zipped back towards the ship with the shores of Deception Island, and our last piece of ground we’ll set foot on in Antarctic.

Back aboard the ship, everyone’s in high spirits once again with St. Patrick’s Day kicking around the ship (No green beer, though). People gathered, shared stories and pictures of their eventful last day in the Antarctic, and conversations about the next leg of everyone’s journey went on. Some had to return home (suckers!), while a couple from the States were hopping onto a boat the next day for another cruise, this time an 18-day endeavour to the South Georgian Islands, and then back up to Uruguay!!!! That’s insane…. but they also manage to convince 6 other backpackers in the crowd to see if they had any last minute specials to join them!

As we sailed out of the Neptune’s Bellows, the 200m wide channel opening to Deception Island, we stood on the deck, and watched it all sail by. Watching as the island disappears behind the ship, it was a sad moment knowing that we’re leaving this continent for now….

And also the fact that having to sail back into the Drake Passage means it’ll be rough seas for TWO days….

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