I had to excuse myself from school for 2 weeks and a day. This was because the best time to go to Antarctica is as close as possible to the summer solstice, and since Antarctica is in the southern hemisphere this occurs during our winter. It took a very long time to get to our final destination. Usually it would take about 4 days of travelling; but for us it took 5 and a half because of various delays and cancellations of flights. We went first to Buenos Aires via Vienna and then we had to fly to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Here would be our last chance to call anyone back home, as for 10 days we would have no internet and no cellular connection. From Ushuaia we departed on a 1,600 km voyage through the Drake Passage on a Dutch "semi-icebreaker" named the M/V Oretlius. The problem with the Drake Passage is that it is very, very rough and often people become seasick. During dinner drinks would spill and plates would fall. Showering was nearly impossible and you often felt you would fall on the floor. It was interesting looking out for any whales, dolphins or seabirds from the deck, though, or talking with the captain on the bridge.
After you cross the Antarctic convergence you immediately feel the colder air, and soon after you see the wonderful tabular icebergs. These greet you as you move even closer to the South Shetland Islands and, finally, mainland Antarctica. In our program the part we visited was the Antarctic Peninsula. While we were going through the Shetland Islands it was stunning to see penguins on the icebergs and in the sea. Once we finally reached the peninsula we made some scenic flights with the onboard helicopters and stepped on land again with the Zodiac boats. With the helicopter we saw Emperor penguin colonies and on land we got to see seals, seabirds, glaciers, volcanic formations, various types of penguins and their corresponding colonies and simply breathtaking views. The average temperature there was around –5°C (in summer) but paired up with the strong winds and low humidity it felt much lower. Due to this extreme climate the vegetation in Antarctica is limited to a very minute amount of flowering plants and the only inhabitants are scientists; of which even three-quarters leave before winter sets in. As we were very close to the Antarctic Circle the days were very long; the sun set after midnight and it rose at 2:30 AM. As a result of the incredible amount of snow and ice in the area and its high albedo, which was around 80%, the environment was extremely bright and without proper eye protection you would get severe snow blindness.
On the way back we stopped at an old whaling station in Deception Island of the South Shetland Islands and then later saw Cape Horn; the southernmost part of South America and the spot where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans converge. Some of these sights can be seen in the accompanying pictures.
I would like to finish by thanking the school for excusing me from classes so that I could experience this fabulous trip.