After 5 long days of sailing through the dreaded Drake Passage, one of my wildest travel dreams became a reality – I set foot on Antarctica. We anchored near Barrientos Island, one of the Aitcho Islands. Everywhere around the ship, I saw penguins jumping out of the water. I couldn’t contain my elation. I was like a child brimming with excitement. When the dinghies took us ashore and I came face to face with Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, I took hundreds of photos and videos. I wanted to capture every second of the experience.
The beach was full of penguins and their babies and they were all moving about as if we were part of their environment. Like little robots, they followed paths or roadways and stopped if we were in their way as if to say, “Error. Error. Halt mission. If we stand really still, they can’t see us.” They would wait until their path was clear and continue on about their business of collecting stones or making their way to the ocean.
They were curious too. A small group checked out our bags while we weren’t looking and one little guy walked up behind me and nipped at my backpack when I had my back turned to him. Two younger penguins leaned over the edge of rocks to get a better view down below. Their playful nature was highly enticing.
I’ve taken a lot of selfies during my travels but this was the first with a penguin next to me. It’s a moment that will be ingrained in my memory for life. I wasn’t at a zoo or somewhere where the penguins were out of their natural environment. This was their home and I was a guest. From their reaction, I was a welcomed guest too. I didn’t want to move. I wanted the moment to last. I welled up with tears and smiled for the camera. It was more than I dreamed possible.
The crew on the ship kept telling us that each day gets better than the one before but I found it so difficult to believe. How could it get better than the first penguin landing? What beauty awaited us? We set sail again at 4 am and I quickly learned that there was much more to come.