I have officially stepped foot on all seven continents of the world.
As odd as it may sound, going to Antarctica had been on the top of my bucket list over the last decade. It started with my senior trip in high school, when I went on an Alaskan cruise with a group of friends instead of traveling to traditional teen destinations such as Hawaii or Mexico. For a California girl who hates the cold, I became oddly captivated by the remote, icy wilderness—untainted by people but a sanctuary for animals you would never be able to find anywhere else.
I wasn’t aware that going to Antarctica was a possibility until I was in college, after hearing a friend tell me about all the exotic places his parents would travel to, including Antarctica. I secretly added it to my list of “Things to Do Before I Die” which eventually became “Things to Do Before I Have Kids.”
Traveling to Antarctica isn’t cheap, especially if you actually want to step onto the continent. It’s not a journey that the typical cruise line makes, so Mr. Wonderful and I joined a company called Quark Expeditions, along with scientists, researchers, and other travel enthusiasts. It was a smallish ship of less than 200, with a surprisingly high number of passengers in their 20s and 30s, looking for an adventure and wanting to step foot on their seventh continent.
But what if Antarctica isn’t all that great, I wondered, as our ship set sail through the infamous Drake Passage. This was to be the biggest splurge of our Round-The-World trip and I was worried it would end up being a big waste of money. But as we made our first landing, and a little Gentoo penguin waddled towards me, Mr. Wonderful and I grinned at each other. This wasn’t just great. This was frickin’ awesome.
The wildlife on the trip was simply incredible. I loved that the animals were unafraid of us, as Petrels and various species of Albatross birds flew overhead, letting the wind carry them forward. Elephant seals drifted by as they slept on their personal icebergs. Orcas were spotted in the distance as immense humpback whales swam so close to the ship that I could count the bumps on its back.
But the highlight for me, of course, were the penguins. I had expected to spot one or two, but instead we saw entire colonies of these adorable birds and witnessed their various life stages as individual stories unfolded before us. Mating, nesting, battling for rocks, death.
On a whim, Mr. Wonderful and I joined a climbing group and learned how to use an ice axe to make our way along the ridge of a mountain. As we paused near the summit, breathless from exertion, we took in the surreal landscape that surrounded us. Miles of white ice stretched out before us in every direction. Icebergs rimmed with turquoise floated serenely below. The world seemed so peaceful, so quiet, except for the occasional avalanche from the mountain next to us. With our fellow passengers looking just a millimeter tall from our perch, I suddenly realized how very small we were in this remote place. And yet strangely, so complete.