Antarctica, the Wildest Place

Dreaming of a White Christmas?
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On Christmas Eve we dropped anchor in Paradise Bay. After exploring ice caverns and conversing with a few chinstrap penguins, we returned aboard ship and gathered on the open fantail deck for a celebratory dinner. It was a combination of a traditional Argentine asado (barbecue) and a Swedish smorgasbord, along with steaming tureens of glug, a pungent, potent hot mulled wine with raisins and nuts.

A circular table bore marinated salmon, smoked turkey, red-bound wheels of Edam cheese, and Scandinavian delicacies such as chocolate-covered Yule logs. In a grill along the ship's rail, a spread-eagled pig slowly turned black above glowing coals. That pig, I was told, had stood upright, frozen solid, for three months outside a nearby Argentine research station in anticipation of this Christmas moment.

As we feasted under the muted midnight sun, icebergs sculpted by wind and sea, radiant blue below the waterline, drifted past in stately procession. A solitary humpback whale waggled his flukes at us before sliding in slow motion beneath the surface of the sea.

In the background, Bing Crosby crooned "White Christmas" over the ship's scratchy sound system. After the crew serenaded us with Russian folk songs, we joined arms and sang Christmas carols in several languages. I felt intimately bound to the international collection of fellow humans with whom I stood that Christmas Eve in Paradise Bay.

Christmas Day began with a visit to Wiencke Island where ribs of a long-dead whale rose from the ice like a picket fence. Nesting gentoo penguins engaged in a territorial squabble with aggressive blue-eyed shags. The temperature was higher than it was in Denver on that day.

That afternoon, we sailed through a narrow gap into the heart of the dark lava cone of Deception Island. Onshore, the shiny carcass of an ancient single-engine plane stood next to a hangar whose weathered boards gleamed silver in the bright sun. Since 1969, when a volcanic eruption half-buried several whaling stations, Deception Island had been free from the strivings of man.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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