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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

A Silent Ice-clad World

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

Antarctica is breathtaking, magical and other worldly; these descriptions and many others, shamefully do not do it justice. It has always been out there, but we give little thought to the South Pole. There are few places on Earth where there has never been war, where the environment is fully protected, and where scientific research has priority. The whole of the Antarctic continent is like this. The Antarctic Treaty came into being in 1961 after ratification of twelve countries that called for a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. Hopefully, that will never change.

After a friend got me excited to travel to this wonderland, I started researching and dreaming of this place at the end of the earth – yet nothing prepared me for this other planet I was sailing into. Staggeringly beautiful and ever changing, the show never ended, even at sunset which was close to midnight and sunrise at 3 am. Even in the changing light, every moment is different and breathtaking. The weather and the skies change at such rapid speeds so that you cannot turn away. Lowering clouds dusted us with snow, then high winds started and just as suddenly, blew off to leave startling blue skies and bright sunshine. We traveled really through a glacier alley skirting in and about the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula making three continental landings…now, I long to go back and explore further into this white continent.

The silence was shocking, something that most of us are not used to…it was so quiet that you could hear a logging whale just quietly breathing. I was amazed and now totally understood how easy it was for whalers more than 100 years ago to decimate the whale population in Antarctica by killing up to 2.5 million whales for their blubber. Populations then, depended on this blubber as a primary ingredient in soap, margarine, candles and oil-burning lamps. The whales migrated there to just feed on krill, only for approximately 120 days, putting on another third of their body weight. Thus they just logged on top of the water sleeping and digesting. They were just an easy target to pick off. Where normally their lives are 95% underwater where we have so little knowledge of their behavior no matter how many scientist spend years and careers studying them. Actually the most detailed information comes from the whalers themselves written in log books a hundred years ago.

Being down on the water sea kayaking was an exceptional pleasure to be surrounded at eye level by icebergs, bergy bits, growlers, tabular icebergs and of course, bergy seltzer (where the ice melting makes a bubbling sound). The silence was only broken by my oars slipping into the water or the by the penguins porpoising above the water here and there. Now and again you would hear a crevassed glacier echoing off the mountains…but I never saw it, as the sounds came later.

I have taken more pictures than on any other adventure and I cannot make a selection to ‘widdle’ them down. And even though these photos take me back, for someone who hasn’t been there themselves, they do not show the magnificent scale or impact being immersed in this massive wonderland, seeing no one. We may have seen four other ships and the Tara, the world’s biggest polar sailboat doing research. Otherwise it is just open vastness.

On board we had an amazing team of naturalists and scientists who were sharing their knowledge. I, like many others, really knew nothing about our South Pole, yes, stories of Shackleton and maybe the female explorer Ann Bancroft who I just saw interviewed during Covid and most recently a British young lady, Preet Chandi who skied 700 miles solo to the South Pole in December. But I really had no idea of who, why or what was going on there except for scientific research in exceedingly cold temperatures that few air-breathers could survive in. And yet there are so many stories.

One that rocked me off my feet was Hitler’s secret expedition to Antarctica in 1938. Hitler had a four year plan prior to going to war; it was a “German Fat Plan” to improve the efficiency of its domestic consumption of butter, milk, cream, lard, cheese, bacon, margarine, salad oils, detergents, candles, linoleum and paints. The idea was to find substitutes for these oil- and fat-based products in case imported sources were cut off. At the time, whale oil was one of the main ingredients for margarine, and Germans ate a lot of margarine. Germany were purchasing it from Norway and wanted to cut them out. Thus, the plan was to have a whaling station in Antarctica and to lay claimed New Swabia within the Norwegian territorial claim of Queen Maud Land. This secret expedition was sent out and on January 19, 1939 the Nazi flags were placed along the coast naming it Neu-Schwabenland. When the ship returned to Hamburg the plans were scrapped, but that didn’t damper multiple conspiracy theories that ran for decades about military bases, storm troopers, and escaping Nazi war criminals.

Do you blame me for wanting to go back to do my own research? This is a place that I think about and rewind in my head that give me chills but its not the cold.

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