Rev Neal Reports from South America and Antarctica
Aboard the ms Rotterdam
January 24 -- February 18, 2008
Dr. Gregory S. Neal


No words, no pictures, no nothing can ever capture the glory and majesty of the bottom of the world. The Antarctica Continent is amazing. It is a complex of contrasts -- freezing cold wind, ice and snow on the one hand, wild life and the indescribable beauty of stark desolation on the other. It was everything I could have ever imagined it to be, and a whole lot more. Our 3 days Cruising along the Antarctic shore , visiting the outlying volcanic islands and the continental mainland itself, went by so fast that I find myself still wondering "where did those days go?" They were glorious, joyous, awe-inspiring, and breathtaking. My memories of these three days will be highlighted by the amazingly fresh air, the refreshing yet bracing cold wind, the blessedly calm seas, the cute and engaging penguins, the lazy seals, soaring birds, and the breaching whales ... all of whom appeared to be putting on a show for our benefit alone! And, through it all, I was repeatedly finding myself being overwhelmed by a clear sense of being in the immediate presence of the Almighty Creator of it all.

Words and photographs cannot possibly touch on the totality of the glory which is Antarctica. But, perhaps a few selections from the massive volume of the photos which I took will suffice to provide a little bit of an impression of what it is like.

Our first approach to Antarctica was at its northern-most boundary along the Western hemisphere -- Elephant Island. In many respects the sights here were underwhelming -- the only place on the trip that this was true. Sadly, the reason for this was because the cloud layers were so low that we could only glimpse the shoreline ... and then, just barely. One of my fellow passengers asked where the Elephants were. I nearly came unglued, laughing so hard. "No mam, there are no Elephants on Elephant Island."

It was along the shore line of Elephant Island that we passed our first major icebergs. Throughout the next 3 days we would be traveling among the bergs, often within just a few hundred feet of the big ones ... and rubbing our hull up against the tiny ones (which our Ice Pilot and commentator called "Bergy Bits."

This view is about as good as Elephant Island got as we passed it by in route to the South Shetland Islands.

And, as we moved on into the Shetlands the bergs got bigger and more numerous!

Deception Island, at the southern most end of the South Shetland Islands is truly a deceiving island ... from the north side it appears to be solid cliffs of nothing but ice and rock. Round its southern most end, however, and one discovers that the island has a huge bay in its middle. Nearly all of the Islands along the Antarctica coast are volcanic in nature, and Deception Island is certain that ... its central bay is the submerged caldera of a massive volcano that blew its top and south-side into the upper atmosphere and (apparently) all over the West Hemispheric side of Antarctica..

This far south, and cruising toward the Antarctica Circle, we had very short nights, indeed. This photo was taken after midnight on our first evening in Antarctic waters. The sun would set about 11:30 pm, and it would take until about 1:30 am for it to get dark. Then, by 3:30 am the horizon would already be lit and the sun would begin peeking its face above the horizon by 4:30 am. About 2 hours of dark was all we got.

This, and the follow photos, were taken during our sailing along and among the many channels and bays of the Antarctic mainland and the shore-hugging islands.

Human occupation is evident in the many national and University sponsored research stations visible along the shore lines. Some are small, some are larger, and some (like Palmer Station) are huge. The above station is -- I think -- a Brazilian climate research center

Yes, it was cold.

But, even despite the cold wind and the occasional snow, most of my fellow passengers and I could be found out, on the forward decks, taking in the view.

The USA maintains several bases in Antarctica ... this one is the famous Palmer Station

The cloud formations were often stunning, particularly in how the enrobed the snow and ice-capped mountains that soared above the narrow, deep channels along the Antarctic shore.

Ruth, such a dear and hearty soul ... I spotted her out on the forward Observation Deck (Verandah Deck forward), trying to catch the snow in her mouth!

The only way they would have been more welcome would have been if they were chocolate-covered snowflakes!!

In the midst of one of the channels, with heavy snow following, I posed for a shot (take by RuthC, of course!)

The Rotterdam was often surrounded by thin ice-flows as we traversed the channels.

And some hearty (or crazy?) souls -- like Adele and Karl! -- decided to go swimming in Antarctica! It was 30 degrees outside, the pool was heated ... and they were nuts!

This is one of the Argentine Bases on the Antarctic mainland.

When the sun would come out the sky would be bright and beautiful, even though it was still cold out on the ship's bow.

The Penguins showed up in huge numbers to say hi! Yes, they were all well dressed for Formal Night!

After three glorious days of cruising in Antarctica, we set course across the Drake passage to the Horn and South America ... and more tours on the continent. We leave Antarctica with many photos and many more glorious memories of the beauty of God's creation. I look forward to returning here, again, and sharing this experience with others.

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