Antarctica: On a Magic Carpet Ride

“I can open your eyes
Take you wonder by wonder
Over, sideways and under
On a magic carpet ride…”

© Alan Menken & Tim Rice

We queue up, bundled in layer upon layer, and wait our turn. I am a zodiac riding rookie, and I’m nervous.

A rubber raft with metal floor and outboard engine, just getting in and out requires the small bit of coordination that I’m doubting I possess. I survey the vessel and see no seats, just the rounded rubber edge, and no handles, just a loose rope laced across the sides. I wonder how cold the water will feel – and whether my waterproof backpack holding all my camera gear is really as waterproof as advertised – when I fall in.

We’re seated, the motor is started and we are off. Miraculously, within seconds I become fairly confident that I’m not going overboard, and my heart pounding with fear is now a heart pounding with thrilling anticipation.

Sometimes the zodiac is simply a shuttle to transport us from ship to shore. Other times the ride itself is the destination. We never know exactly what we will encounter when we step inside, but we always know we are in for something magical…

“I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid…”

We weave our way slowly through an ice sculpture garden. Illuminated from below by blue neon spotlights, each a chiseled masterpiece of immense proportions. I am Alice, floating through a frozen Wonderland.

“A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view…”

Two humpback whales, mother and calf, are spotted. We motor toward them, and as their curiosity is a match for ours, they approach. They playfully surface, showing off their flukes to the rapid-fire click click click of our cameras. They dive far below, and we count down until they resurface and the show starts again.

“A whole new world
A dazzling place I never knew…”

Hundreds, thousands, seemingly hundreds of thousands of penguins. Everywhere we look. Chicks nestled underneath their mothers, reaching up with all their might for nourishment. Fathers unabashedly stealing stones from neighboring nests. The smells and sounds startle our senses; the energy of abundant new life invigorates our souls.

“Unbelievable sights
Indescribable feeling
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling…”

To think that I once hesititated before stepping inside. Now, I hope this magic carpet ride lasts forever…

“A whole new world
A hundred thousand things to see
I’m like a shooting star
I’ve come so far
I can’t go back to where I used to be.”

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