PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Antarctica Journey, Day 8

Sometimes the best laid  plans don’t pan out and even better plans take their place. That is what transpired today.

The intent had been to land at a site and do quite a steep walk to the top of a vista where there would’ve been many many Chinstrap penguins and had yet another chance to get a good workout in Antarctica.

However, it quickly became apparent that this plan would not work out. There was considerable ice in the water this morning. More than we have seen at any time on the trip. This ice, plus high tide, made it impossible to land in the area to which we were traveling because the site was encased in ice. As such, we moved to Plan B.

I suspected it might be an amazing day for whales at breakfast. While sitting in the dining room, we saw countless whales, including one that may have been an orca. Most of the whales we are seeing are humpback, but all at once you literally could see dozens of penguins fleeing across the water in search of a nearby iceberg swimming with great force and power.

I am delighted to say that I did not see a whale near them, and they finally reached the iceberg. Nor did I see the circle of life enacted in dramatic fashion. I am adventurous, but there are certain adventures of others I would like to avoid.

Watching the penguins swim reminded me of what my sister always says about swimming with sharks. It’s fine as long as there is someone slower than you. I’m glad I grew up with that kind of altruism around me.

In the afternoon, rather than doing a landing, we did a cruise. Our group was later and so we were able to see the people get off before we got on. The looks on their faces exhibited an absolute unbelievable joy. When I asked a man how it was, he just looked at me and said. “Oh, you wait and see.” When we got out there, we were literally surrounded by many many whales. They were communicating with each other, they were playing and they were basically creating a spectacle, in the best possible way.

The hardest part was figuring out which way to turn to see whales doing what when we wanted to see. At one point, I simply put down my camera, since Janel’s camera is considerably better than mine, and just took in the majesty of it, listening to their songs  and becoming enthralled.

We literally saw at least a dozen whales or more in close proximity from our boat, so much so that we had to back away on a few occasions because we were in the track that they were traveling, and our objective was to observe and not be intrusive. I spoke to several of the expedition leaders afterward and they said they had never seen so many humpback whales in one place at one time for so long that were so unaffected by the boats.

I did notice one thing. Our boat driver was a female. She was considerably less aggressive in getting as close to the whales as possible compared with some of the male boat drivers that were near us. While that may have frustrated some of the folks on our boat who I think would’ve liked to have been the closest boat at all times, it instilled me a great deal of respect for her and the seriousness with which she undertakes the task of observing nature. Her first priority was not our enjoyment but the nature that surrounded us. Even so, no one could complain that we were not close to whales. And if they did, they are stupid. (Sorry, sometimes I can’t hide my opinions. You may not have noticed that up until now. )

Thankfully, except for a small group of older folks from Florida, who I occasionally overhear complaining about the fact that the crew does not speak proper English, that their accents are difficult to understand and wondering why there is so much German on the ship, I would say the ship is almost exclusively filled with people who are broad-minded and truly delightful. As for those individuals, I would suggest next time they not choose a Norwegian cruise line.

Because of the change in itinerary, we had some really wonderful presentations that were added to our time. Not that we needed to fill our time because we could’ve spent the entire time on the outer deck, looking at humpbacks as they breached, waved and basically entertained us.

I attended a class on feathers. Birds are set apart from all animals and creation by their feathers. They are the only species to have them. Interestingly, I learned that the dinosaurs had feathers, and such evolutionarily birds are descendants of the dinosaurs. A T-Rex with feathers? Utterly fascinating.

Listening and hearing how all of the intricacies of a bird’s  feathers work together so perfectly to provide insulation, protection, camouflage, waterproofing and other characteristics convinced me again of the perfection of God‘s creation. I truly cannot understand how one cannot see intelligent design in the way that the world works together. It also reminded me of why it is so vital for us to care for this Earth and not take our responsibilities as stewards for granted.

One of my purposes behind this trip is that I was determined to learn more about climate change and its impact on our society, which has made me an even more ardent environmentalist. I am also glad I used a cruise line that is so committed to sustainability from its use of fuel to the food that is served.

I attended a lecture about the explorer after whom this boat is named, Fridtjof Nansen. He was an amazing human being who was a tremendous, skier, explorer, oceanographer and was the first person to cross Greenland. He also won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with refugees following World War I. He worked to develop a passport that was available to stateless people.

At the turn of the 19th century, he was a man who advocated for an understanding of the intelligence of listening to the native people of the lands to which he traveled to gain a greater understanding of how to learn and explore. The fact that a man so brilliant did not rely on his own knowledge and arrogance but rather humbly learned is a lesson we can all take to heart.

My absolute favorite story about him, however, was that as a child, he would disappear for days at a time to go off exploring. His parents would not get worried even if he hadn’t been gone for two or three days because that was just Fridtjof. He marched to his own drummer, and that march made the world a better place.

After that lecture, we listened to one of the excursion staff tell the story of her own re-creation of Nansen’s journey across Greenland with a crew of four other people. Looking at the pictures and hearing her describe the arduousness of the journey as they pulled their own pulkas on skis was truly incredible. I love the part about the end of the trip when she had to wash her hair for the first time. It took almost a full bottle of conditioner to get through it. She made exploration come alive!! Like so many of the expedition team, she has a PhD. So many brilliant scientists and historians.

My friend, Joe, the ophthalmology professor, also did a lecture. He decided to do it after I mentioned this was my seventh continent. He decided it would be neat to say that he had done presentations on seven different continents. His presentation was on why we see the color blue when we look at icebergs. It creatively was called spilled milk, fairy dust and rainbows. He discussed the phenomena of color, and that helped me understand some things that have often baffled me.

I wish I could explain them here as a tightly and succinctly as he did, but I guess that’s why he’s a professor of ophthalmology and I am a pastor. The short version is that blue is the most often seen color when all colors come together and the reason ice is blue is the same reason that sky is blue. I know, I know, it is clear I’m not a professor of ophthalmology.

My day also also included a relatively sound nap to catch up after a long night camping.

Our dinner entertainment was watching several baby whales show off by the boat. They were breaching and flapping their tails and rolling around. I know I should not anthropomorphize animals, but it is hard not to feel like these were kids trying to show us all the things they could do.

Our cruise was late, so our dinner was late as a result. Afterward, I finished my camping blog, took a hot tub, sauna and trundled off to bed ready for whatever tomorrow would present us. Whether it is Plan B or even plan Z, I have no doubt it will be another wonderful day in Antarctica.


Leave a Reply