We sailed into the aptly named Paradise Harbor in the early morning, and indeed, it was Paradise. The harbor was flat and calm, and we enjoyed intermittent sun in the morning and bright sun in the late morning to early afternoon. It was the perfect setting for our activities: Zodiac cruising, kayaking, and the famous Polar Plunge.
Cruisers slowly meandered among icebergs, bergy bits, growlers, and brash ice…silently absorbing the white wonderland. Images of soaring mountains and tidewater glaciers filled the memory cells in our heads and the memory cards on our devices. Gentoo penguins popped up here and there, some vigorously washing themselves by barrel rolling and flipper-rubbing; others ‘porpoised’ to other places for reasons unknown. Two colonies of nesting imperial shags occupied the cliffside near National Geographic Explorer, which was ‘anchored’ when our skillful captain gently nosed the bow into a small crevice, applying slight forward propulsion to keep the ship stable. A handful of Weddell seals were observed on the ice and snow near the water’s edge, and a blow from a single minke whale was spotted. Cruisers were ‘raided’ by a boat of ‘ferocious’ Viking warriors who attacked not with swords but with hot chocolate (with or without traditional spirits). A delicious surprise, and given the scenery, a drink not likely to be forgotten.
Kayakers gently paddled among bergy bits and growlers near the ship and managed to avoid the Vikings. Both cruisers and kayakers were able to view the now barely used, snow-covered buildings that comprised the Argentine Research Station, Almirante Brown. Built in 1951, the station was burned in 1984 by the resident physician who was tormented by the isolation and thought that burning was a ticket for escape. It was…albeit to a jail cell in Argentina. The station was rebuilt in 1985.
Following the morning spent cruising and kayaking, most of us participated in the traditional Polar Plunge. Judging by the broad smiles before and after, it was a success, and those who participated were rewarded with the coveted Plunge Patch.
After lunch, we sailed in search of wildlife. We spotted humpbacks, but the true attraction was the surrounding mountains. They rise steeply from the sea, covered in parts by deep and highly sculpted snow, and we were mesmerized by the shapes of hundreds of icebergs, bergy bits, and growlers. All in all, today was a most spectacular and memorable last day in Antarctica.