Antarctica for Geezers
By Dr. Jeri Fink
Can you hear it? The frozen silence mingles with the cries of Gentoo Penguins? The wind thunders against icy jagged peaks?
Ruled by wind, weather and ice, it's unlike any place on Earth.
At home, it was a cold winter. Snowstorms battered the northeast and snowbirds fled south to sun, condos, and beaches. My husband and I went south too - through Santiago, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina to the "end of the world.”
Not many people go to Antarctica. It's a continent shared by the world - no one owns the land. Every winter, Antarctica is locked in by nearly 120 miles of surrounding ice. Every summer, when the ice breaks up, it becomes a birthplace for seal pups, penguin chicks, tiny krill, and Geezers on expeditions.
We boarded our ship in Ushuaia. The Linblad/National Geographer Explorer is a tough, ice-class expedition vessel designed to navigate tricky polar waters.
The facts are impressive: The White Continent contains 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of Earth’s fresh water. At the same time, it’s the largest desert in the world. The mean annual precipitation barely reaches 2 inches a year.
To see this land of extremes, we paid our “dues” by crossing the infamous Drake Passage, notorious for some of the roughest waters in the world. It was gut-wrenching with 20-foot swells.
Southern white petrels and wandering albatross swooped low overhead, following our progress. There were no other ships in sight. Suddenly Antarctica burst into view.
We were greeted with stark, craggy rocks streaked with ice; blindingly white glaciers, and jagged peaks shrouded in low-hanging clouds. The air was so clear and crisp it left us breathless.
Our first art museum was the endless display of wind-sculptured icebergs.
That was just the beginning. We explored on Zodiacs – small, tough inflatable rubber boats that are the mainstay of Antarctic travel. The Zodiacs hold up to ten people and a driver, zipping through icy waters to offer a seal’s eye view of the sea around us. We saw seals, penguins, whales, and seabirds. Antarctic animals aren’t threatened by blue-coated Geezers so they didn’t bother with us. Of course, there was always a curious critter checking us out, like the playful 30-foot Minke whale or the sleepy Leopard Seal.
Our favorites were the penguins. We’ve seen them in movies, cartoons and zoos. Nothing compares to meeting these comical, compelling critters up close in colonies that number in the hundreds of thousands. Penguins chatter, bicker, and call to their mates in a constant din. They’re noisy and smelly – known for guano (poop) fumes – and endlessly entertaining. The real show was watching them watch us. They’re not afraid of people. Geezers are great to observe – what’s funnier than people pointing and taking photos of a group of chatty Chinstraps?
We watched parents waddle down to shore and hunt food for their chicks. Parents fill their bellies with fish and krill then return to the nest and fed their rapidly growing babies. Nearby, colorful Orcas (killer whales) swam by in pods, thousand-pound seals napped on ice floes, and noisy birds swooped gracefully overhead. Who ever thought there was so much life at the bottom of the world?
Antarctica suffers from the same problems as the rest of the world. Global warming, human poaching, illegal whalers, and tourists who ignore international conservation laws. The night before we left the ship, our expedition leader gave us an assignment.
“Become global ambassadors for Antarctica. The white continent needs us.”
We’ll still working at it.
Dr. Jeri Fink is a proud geezer and the author of hundreds of articles and nineteen published books. Trees Cry For Rain is a gripping historical novel where the past crashes ruthlessly into the present. It can be purchased at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Her new series, Broken, consists of six separate thrillers that follow dramatic, related paths through genealogical time, from the present back to the 15th century. Each novel focuses on psychopaths who lived in the era. Broken launches in Fall, 2013 in the new genre of Baby Boomer Thrillers.