Journey to Antartica Aboard the National Geographic Explorer – Days 8 to 10
I felt someone woke me up from my sleep. I looked at the clock and it was only 2:30 am. I laid my head back on the pillow and then bolted right up. It’s 2:30! It’s sunrise time in Antarctica! I ran to the window to see if the sky was aglow with the rising sun. It was ablazed!
I tried to wake up Keith but sleep won over. It would have been nice to start his birthday with this stunning sight. Alone, I appreciated this beautiful show in the sky while thanking my angel for waking me up for my last chance to see the Antarctic sunrise. You see, it was our last morning to wake up in this amazing continent.
That morning, our expedition ship docked in the protected harbor of Port Lockroy. Whalers of long ago traveled here during summertime harvesting whale which was in great demand in the settled world.
The British established a military base here in 1944 to secretly monitor the German shipping movements. The wartime initiative was code named Operation Tabarin, after a popular Paris nightclub, because the team members would be staying here during the very dark, and very cold, Antarctic winter months.
After World War II, the base continued to be in used as a scientific research facility until 1964. This historic base was restored in 1996 by a British Antarctic Survey and is now open to the visitors as a museum. Operated by UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), it has a post office and a souvenir shop, the proceed of which goes toward the upkeep of the site.
Inside the museum called the Bransfield House is the Penguin Post Office. Originally established in 1944, about 70,000 postcards are posted here each year for delivery to more than 100 countries. No express delivery here! The postcards are ferried to Falkland Island and then to England before making the journey to their final destinations. The postcards we posted arrived in New York in two weeks and in the Philippines in a month.
One of the historic importance of Port Lockroy relates to it pioneering scientific work on ionospheric research (the study of the upper atmosphere) which was critical in understanding high frequency radio.
The rest of the museum gave us a glimpse and a feel of the living condition of the workers in this facility from many decades ago.
Nowadays, the research being carried out in Port Lockroy revolves around the population of Gentoo penguins and the impact of tourism in their environment and breeding success. Half of the island is off-limits to visitors and reserved for penguins.
The Nissen Hut behind the Bransfield House was used as storage during the bases operation. Today it is used as accommodation for four volunteers who come to Antartica during the Austral summer months to man the historic site. We understand that they don’t have running water.
Each time National Geographic Explorer dock in Port Lockroy, the volunteers are invited to the ship for hot showers, to have breakfast with the expedition staff and guests, to talk about their mission and to share their experiences.
The sky got dimmer and the wind got blustery as we were leaving the island. It felt like a true Antarctic weather. We admire the tenacity of the volunteers who live and work on the island and those who came long before them for the sake of research and of service to their flag.
The Final Sea Ice Walk
After dinner, we were treated to a lively musical performance by “Spice Boy,” a group composed of expedition crew. Everyone was up and dancing – celebrating the amazing journey we all had .
The next two days were spent crossing the sea back to Ushuaia. Those days were filled with fun activities. There were lectures, film showings, culinary treats, and photography presentations from both expedition staff and guests. It was great to see everyone’s perspective of the trip through their photos.
It was an incredible trip – our best one by far. The white wilderness of Antarctica is beautiful beyond words. We feel so privileged to have witnessed and experienced its magnificence and its pristine nature.
The experience of traveling with the team and vessel of National Geogrpahic and Linblad Expeditions far exceeded our expectations. We knew it was going to be good but it turned our better than great. We highly commend the staff and crew of National Geographic Explorer whose immense joy and passion for what they do deeply touched and inspired us. We wish to travel with them again in the future.
And Antartica, thank you for the great memories. We hope to see you again…..
*We dedicate this post to the memory of Cotton Coulson, a legendary National Geographic photojournalist, a wonderful soul. He recently passed away in a diving accident. We feel so privileged to met him on this expedition and cherished the time with spent with him. We thank him and his wife for making our trip extra special, for their kindness and for inspiring us with their their passion for life and creativity.