There was plenty of ice floating past outside, of course, and we spent a lot of time looking at it. Because I'm obsessed with food, I was interested to learn that ice formations are named after breakfast options. There's porridge ice which is a slushy, lumpy stratum that sits on the surface. Then there's pancake ice; transparent panes that bob on the waves, like windows recently dropped from heaven.
Icebergs proper cover the gamut of shapes and shades. Some are as small as iMacs, others as big as football fields. They are simultaneously delicate and imperious, and seem to bathe in gently rippling pools of aquamarine or turquoise. Penguins clamber over the smaller bergs: from a distance they look like ants crawling over a sugar cube.
After crossing the Gerlache Strait (almost as puke-inducing as the Drake Passage) we reached the Antarctic Peninsula itself. Snow-covered mountains seemed suddenly to spring from the ocean, each jagged peak separated by smooth glaciers that ran like frosty ramps down to the coast.
Every so often a cry went up: 'Whales on the starboard bow!' We ran to one side of the boat or another. Those who had guessed correctly which side starboard was were rewarded with a flash of tail flukes and mushroom clouds of spray pushed out from blowholes. The rest went back to trying to memorize the difference between port and starboard. (Clue: port has the same number of letters as 'left'.)
We made several landings on the continent itself over the next two days. The snow was deeper here than it had been on the South Shetlands but the sun shone until long after midnight, reflecting off the ice like a studio klieg light bouncing off the bald pate of a news anchor.
These were our landing sites: Charlotte Bay, Rongé Island, Cierva Cove, and Trinity Island. Because the snow on these beaches is several feet deep, the penguins construct so-called 'highways', compacting the snow by waddling repeatedly along demarcated routes. These coves are also littered with the skeletons of century-old rowing boats, preserved for posterity through the combined forces of extreme cold and stringent conservation rules.
At the end of the sixth day, the captain turned the boat around and we began the long trip back to civilization. It was around this time that the ship ran out of beer. The Germans on board sank into a deep depression from which they were only occasionally roused.
The return voyage may have begun but the most memorable excursions were still ahead of us. Tomorrow we'll talk about the volcanic netherworld of Deception Island.
Insider Tip: Don’t be like me and go to Antarctica woefully underpowered in terms of photographic and video hardware. Expect to burn through between 3 and 5 gigabytes of pics and film every day. So you either need to bring a bag full of memory cards or – better – a laptop.