Exploration of the Antarctic

Your stare becomes locked as you observe their great numbers, seventy thousand or more breeding pairs all happily waddling around on their mile square rookery of mud and rock, wearing their tidily pressed tuxedos.

Shooing away neighbors that come close to their pebble nests, they preen as they keep watch for a skua or seal that might cause a chick’s untimely death. The chicks, scrambling around forcing their beaks into their parents’ mouths for predigested food.

Penguins work hard to feed their young. As soon as one of the parents returns with fish, the other parent dashes off into the icy sea.

Contrary to belief, penguins aren’t that cute. Penguins are rude, foul-smelling and noisy. Even so, they draw huge numbers of visitors to the Antarctic who wish to stand amongst them. It really is the vast frozen continent at the bottom of the world.

There’s much more in the Antarctic to see. There are seals, and icebergs, albatross, dolphins, whales and a beautiful landscape with spires as tall as those found on European cathedrals and icebergs resembling mythical dragons.

The capacity of a football stadium is much larger than the number of people who have ventured to visit this wonderland. Antarctica is like the most wonderful holy place, the best place anyone would want to visit. Getting to this place from where you are is a thrilling experience in itself. The trip is as exciting, exotic, exclusive and expensive. From the U.S., the journey to Antarctica has two legs; a 20-hour flight to Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile, Cape Town in South Africa, or Christchurch in New Zealand followed by a sea voyage to the icy continent. Depending on their convenience, people can select any of these ports as their transit point and board ice-rated cruise ships. This happens to be the only option for reaching Antarctica despite a travel of several days through rough seas.

The visible part of Antarctica is as we see in maps, is roughly the size of the U.S. and Mexico put together; but considering the icy shelves adjoining the continent, the area is actually the double of that. This continent is quite fascinating because it holds about 70 percent of Earth?s water resources and at the same time this two miles thick chunk of ice causes a massive dent in the Earth?s surface.

With nine ships plying, there is a choice of itineraries for visiting Antarctica from February 10 to 18. Ships carrying 75 to 200 passengers are the norm and only one ship carries 400 passengers. Rather than enjoyment, the emphasis on these voyages is on learning the nuances of life in Antarctica.

Making landings using zodiac rafts, passengers can visit research stations where they can see scientists at work and also go past penguin rookeries and seal colonies.

Besides the U.S., Russia and China a few other countries including Argentina, and Chile are parties to the Antarctic Treaty and maintain research stations. As a result of the Antarctic Treaty, participating countries have voluntarily kept Antarctica free of borders, have stayed away from commercial and nuclear activity and are using the place as an environmentally clean laboratory. Many research stations are quite comfortable having tourists visit their facilities but at other locations this is seen as hampering smooth functioning.

Hope Bay is virtually a small town full of orange-colored bungalows that constitute Argentina?s Esperanza station in which tourists are free to visit work areas, recreational facilities, the church and a school. All the children around, the military staff and their dogs, the meteorologists and the penguins seem to be living together harmoniously.

A restaurant, a convenience store and a post office are some of the facilities that exist on Chile’s Teniente Marsh station which happens to be the largest base out of the nine that exist on King George?s Island. China’s Great Wall Station offers tourists the chance to buy things like T-shirts, stuffed penguins and other souvenirs. Anvers Island poses a unique problem in the sense that the United States’ Palmer Station allows only certain pre-selected ships to stop by at specific times. Tourists are not permitted inside laboratories and residential areas.
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