Several years of meticulous planning, discussions, and organization, came to fruition as 190 delegates of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) Families and Friends from across the United States and India embarked on the Ocean Atlantic Ship operated by Albatros Expeditions on November 30th, 2019 from Ushuaia, the southernmost town on Earth in Argentina on a voyage to Antarctica, the seventh Continent, known as the Last Horizon on Earth.
The voyagers were welcomed on board by AAPI’s young and dynamic President, Dr. Suresh Reddy, who has been along with Dr. Vandana Agarwal, Chair of AAPI’ Cruise to Antarctica, working very hard, coordinating the efforts with Vinod Gupta from the Travel Agency, ATG Tours, the crew and leadership of the Cruise and the AAPI leaders and members with varied interests and ages ranging from 10 to 90, who had flown in from around the world for this once in a lifetime memorable and historic voyage to the White Continent.
The Ship carrying the sailors began its journey on November 30th, 2019 from the Ushuaia Sea Port with a prayer song to Lord Ganesh, chanted by Dr. Aarti Pandya from Atlanta, GA. Later in the evening, the voyagers sat down for a sit down dinner at the elegantly laid tables at the Restaurant with delicious Indian Cuisine, prepared by Herbert Baretto, a Chef from Goa, India, specially flown in to meet the diverse needs of the Indians who are now the exclusive Voyagers on Ocean Atlantic.
As the sun was still shining beyond midnight, members of the voyage were seen posing and taking pictures on board the ship with the background of the mighty ocean and the scenic mountains of Argentina at the background.
On December 1st morning, AAPI members were alerted to be mindful of the most turbulent Drake Passage, where the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean merge, through which our ship was now sailing with winds gusting through over 50 kms an hour from the south west. The rough with fast moving sea currents contributing to a turbulent weather, several voyagers took shelter in anti-nausea meds.
Throughout the day, there were special safety classes periodically, helping the voyagers on ways to navigate the zodiacs, the kayaks, the walks on the ice and snow once we reach our final destination. They were lectures on different aspects of wildlife on Antarctica, the species, especially the varieties of penguins, the mammals and the birds that inhabit the Continent. The participants were educated on the Antarctic Treaty, Climate Change and Impact, Whale Hunting, and many more relevant topics with scientific data by the Expedition Crew.
The evening was special for the voyagers as the Captain of the ship welcomed the delegates to the Ship and to the Expedition to Antarctica. He introduced his crew leaders to the loud applause from the delegates, as he toasted champagne for a safe and enjoyable journey to Antarctica.
On December 2nd morning, we woke up to milder weather and calmer ocean with the winds subsiding to about 20 kms an hour and ship sailing smoother with the temperatures below 7 degree Celsius. The crew on the ship described the sail to be the smoothest and the weather and wind conditions to be one of the calmest they have ever witnessed. However, the entire day was cloudy with the sun hiding behind the thick clouds upon the ocean.
After sailing across the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans and through the turbulent Drake Passage, and the South Ocean, finally, the day arrived for the Voyagers. The one they had been eagerly waiting for. On December 3rd, our ship, the Ocean Atlantic anchored on Danco Island, off the coast of the 7th Continent, Antarctica, officially discovered in 1820, although there is some controversy as to who sighted it first
The excitement of the voyagers had no bounds as they dressed up in their waterproof trousers, navy blue jackets, with hats and glosses and mufflers. They set out in groups marching off the Ship into the Zodiacs in tens in each Zodiac.
The wind and the ocean were calmer. The sun continued to hide behind the thick clouds. We headed off in Zodiacs to view icebergs, the glaciers, the land on a beach studded with penguins, as the Expedition Crew from the ship drove the AAPI delegates to the shore on the Danco Island, off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, for the first time.
The glaciers, mighty mountains covered with pristine and shiny snow, the icebergs in multi-shapes and colors, floating on the Bay, made the Zodiac ride to the shore a memorable experience for each one.
As the voyagers walked to the shore on a narrow path on the soft snow surface, leading up to the snowcapped mountains, it was a dream come true for all. The fresh water melting from the glaciers and the ice and snow on the one side and on the other little rocks and mountains filled with snow, the Danco Island was picture perfect.
Penguins in small colonies of their own seemed unaffected by the voyagers landing onto the Penguin land. Hearing their unique and enchanting voices for the first time, as most of them sat steady, while a few walked from one end to the other, it was a scene everyone long dreamt to be part of, as it was another memorable experience in the life of everyone.
Penguin behavior is endlessly fascinating. We learnt that, in the Antarctic spring, hundreds of gentoo penguins as paraded before us, reestablishing their bonds, mating, staking their claims, and thievishly stealing stones from one another for their nests.
In the afternoon, after lunch and a lecture on the history of Antarctica, the Ocean Atlantic ship, travelling about 25 nautical miles, for the first time ever, landed on the Antarctic Continent as she reached the shores of Paradise Bay, a beautiful island, where the famous Brown Center, the Argentinian Research Station was located.
Trekking up the Hill on the snow and ice filled terrains, even as the serene and picturesque glaciers in vivid shapes and texture, it was mesmerizing and the Bay on either side, was breathtaking.
The following morning, the voyagers got onto the Zodiacs and sailed to Port Lockroy, a sheltered harbor with a secure anchorage on the Antarctic Peninsula since its discovery in 1904. The Port also is home to a Museum and a British Post Office, where the early visitors to the Continent lived and explored the wildlife of the last Horizon. The Museum has preserved the antiques used by the early voyagers, who are an important part in the history of Antarctica.
Bright sun light flashing on the Lamoy Point on our way south towards the northern peninsula of the White Continent greeted us all this morning on December 5th. The announcement over the microphone at 6.15 woke us all up, letting us know of the mild weather conditions with 7 degrees Celsius and 27 km s wind speed with bright sunny day was a welcome change from yesterday.
The wind made the waters of the Bay mildly rough as we set out from the ship. For the first time during the voyage, to the much delight of the AAPI delegates, the sun chose to come out from behind the clouds and shone brightly on the voyagers, making the snow shining and glowing with the rays of the sun filling the surface of the earth. It was delightful to see the Penguins close to the AAPI delegates, some of them walking beside them crossing their pathway.
Upon landing on the shore across from the tallest mountain on the Peninsula, Mount Frances with the height of 2,300 meters high, our zodiacs elegantly cruised through the calmer waters to the mountain range called the Princes and the Seven Dwarfs. We were fortunate to find penguins resting on ice floes, and sometimes had the opportunity to approach closely in Zodiacs for excellent photo ops.
The stunning views of the glaciers and the mountains, and the soft and shiny snow spread across the shore, led us all to the snowy hills, as we trekked to the top.
The opportunity of a lifetime for bird lovers, as we watched the blue eyed Antarctic terns, beautiful black-browed albatross, and other pelagic birds, including fulmars and petrels, nesting, resting, flying above us and trying to reach the bright blue skies. The wandering albatross, with the largest wingspan of any bird, is one of the many wildlife spectacles South Georgia affords.
We found ourselves at the top of the spectacular colony of penguins, and black-browed albatross. Brown Skuas flew over the colony while penguins, albatross, and shags took care of their eggs. We spend a good bit of time photographing the birds and generally taking in such wonderful experience and close views of the wildlife.
Colonies of penguins greeted us with their enchanting voices. We watched in awe as some of the tiny penguins walking up, from the bottom of the hill to the top, flapping their feathers occasionally.
Many of us waited patiently to have an opportunity to view the eggs upon which the Penguins were sitting to hatch their eggs. Some were lucky to photograph a few couples mating while we were trying to figure out the male from female.
Leaving the breath taking landscapes was not an easy choice as we were soon called to embark on the zodiac cruises and return to Ocean Atlantic, our ship, as she was patiently waiting to take us to the next destination of our expedition to the Last Horizon.
After a lunch Barbeque on Deck Seven of the Ship, the Ocean Atlantic took us through the beautiful Lemaire Channel on the Continent. Braving the cold and gusty winds, the voyagers got together for a group picture of the entire voyager group on Deck Eight of the ship, as they were awed by the beautiful glaciers, the mighty snow-caped mountains, and the floating ice bergs.
After journeying about five hours, we reached in the evening at the Melchiors Island, as the bright sun continued to shine upon us. During lunch and on way to the Island, the voyagers were thrilled to spot whales showing up their heads periodically.
The journey through the Bay was another memorable experience with the stunning landscape all along the route especially as the sun continued shine brightly on the snow peaked mountains turning the waters closer to the glaciers from blue to green. We had over an hour of Zodiac cruise exploring the sea life on the Antarctic’s South Ocean.
We climbed up to the top deck of the ship to have yet another amazing experience as the Ocean Atlantic Ship sailed through the Bay filled with Ice Sheet Rocks that are nearly a meter thick, slowly and steadily, slicing the Snow Ice, marching forward towards the Plenau Bay.
It was here at Plenau Bay, 39 brave AAPI members had the unique experience of taking “Polar Plunge” in the Atlantic Continent, which was 0.7 degree Celsius, while the rest of the AAPI delegates watched the brave men and women, taking a memorable dip and swim back to the ship, in the freezing cold waters of the White Continent.
We woke up this morning on Friday December 6th to a bright and sunny day, calmer ocean with 9 kms of wind speed. A picture perfect day for expedition. We went on zodiacs, cruising through the blue waters of the Half Moon Island, a cluster of snowy mountains shaped as a half moon.
Searching for wild life in the ocean with the voyagers looking out eagerly for any seals or whales did not seem to result in success as the sea animals and those on the shore seemed to hide in their resting places. Members of a Zodiac cruise reported of spotting a Leopard Seal swimming not too far from the Zodiac.
Finally, the zodiac captains took us to the shore where for the first time we landed on dark stony surface full of rocks, stones and pebbles. Our expedition crew leader reported that the shore was completely covered with ice and snow in the beginning of the season, barely a month ago.
At the backdrop of the glaciers and the imposing mighty mountains around us, we hiked up the hill intruding sometimes into the Penguin Highways, where we saw colonies of penguins resting under the bright sun. It was delightful to watch a few hopping on tiny rocks from one to another, unnerved by the visitors from the Other Continents on earth.
For the first time we were delighted to watch different kinds of Penguins, Gentoo, Adelie, Chinstraps, in the thousands sitting on a single rock glazing at the ocean waters. The photo ops for the voyagers were simply incredible. And while penguins are delightful in films and nature documentaries, watching the penguin life being lived around you is simultaneously uplifting and humbling.
We spotted a few huge Weddell and Crabeater seals, as well as Antarctic fur seals, whose populations have rebounded since the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and the 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. They were resting on the rocks unmoved by the voyagers in several zodiacs watching them in awe. The bright sun and the gentle breeze embracing the voyagers, it was a perfect day to cruise and explore the White Continent.
In the afternoon while back on the ship, we were invited to climb up to the Decks 8 and 9 of the ship to view the entrance/passage to the famous Deception Island. And the ship sailed through this narrow path into the Island with majestic dark mountains on our right side, while on the left were the snowcapped mountains overlooking the Bay. As the gusty winds made us shiver, the voyagers standing on the top deck of the South Ocean, posed for pictures. We were lost in the stunning beauty created by the Mother Nature, for all of us to enjoy and cherish forever.
The final landing on the Last Horizon on Friday December 6th afternoon was at the Deception Island for the AAPI Voyagers. An unusually bright shining sky with gentle winds welcomed us to the shore of the black soft sand with little stones spread all along the 36 kms wide island.
The volcanic eruption here over 50 years ago, which reportedly continues to be active event today, has turned the island and the mountains into dark colored. Saw a huge seal on the shore resting with birds and few penguins of the Continent enjoying the mild weather, the voyagers trekked up the hill on the dark sand while the panoramic and breathtaking views on the snowy mountains beyond the Bay hovering over the blue waters of the Last Horizon.
On the Ship, immediately after settling down in each one’s cabin, the voyagers were invited to learn about safety on the ship and participated in a safety drill. Shelli Ogilvy, the Veteran Expedition Leader introduced the 22 Expedition Members with extensive maritime experiences from around the world, and over 60 other crew members to the voyagers.
Nine hours of Continuing Medical Educations (CMEs) were a major highlight of the Cruise to Antarctica. Led and organized by Dr. Krishan Kumar the informative and interactive sessions by experts was much appreciated by the voyagers. AAPI provided a hands on CPR Training on board to the crew of the ship, Ocean Atlantic, educating them on ways to help passengers in case of emergencies.
Each evening at cocktail hour the entire expedition community gathers in the lounge for a ritual, we call Recap. As you enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, various naturalists gave talks, showed videos, and our expedition leader would outline the following day’s schedule.
The evenings were fun filled with members spending time together with their select friends and families, singing, playing cards games, discussing politics to medicine to healthcare and sharing jokes and snippets with one another in smaller groups. The cultural events included live music sung by Dr. Radhika from Chicago, Dr. Aarti Pandya, Dr. Dharmija, and Dr. Madnani, in addition to several local talents of AAPI’s own, leading and vying to win the Anthakshri contest.
On December 7th evening, the voyagers had Black Tie Nite with many of them learning and playing Pokers until the early hours of the morning. As the ship began its return journey back to the shores, Dr. Aarti Pandya led the voyagers in a prayer song dedicated to Lord Hanuman, God of the Winds for a safe and smooth sailing.
After toasting Champagne with the Captain of the ship, the finale on December 8th was a colorful Indian Dress Segment, where the adorable AAPI women and men walked the aisle in elegantly dressed in Indian ethnic wear depicting different states of India.
Earlier, the AAPI delegates had toured the beautiful and serene National Park in Ushuaia, on the world famous Route 3 that runs from Alaska to the southern tip of the world in Argentina. At the Park, Dr. Reddy led the AAPI delegates carrying the AAPI banner, spreading the message of Obesity Awareness, which is a major objective of Dr. Reddy’s Presidency, taking the message of Obesity Awareness Around the World.
Dr. Suresh Reddy thanked Dr. Vandana Agarwal Chair of the AAPI Cruise Committee, Dr. Ravi Kolli, Secretary of AAPI, Dr. Ranga Redy and Dr. Ravi Jahagirdar, both past President of AAPI, Dr. Krishan Kumar, and several Regional Chapter Presidents for their hard work and dedication for making the Expedition memorable for all.
Memories of relaxing and rejuvenating morning walk across the island with breath taking views in abundance of Mother Nature, will last a life time for everyone who has been part of the historic expedition to the Seventh Continent. For more details on AAPI and its next voyage to Antarctica in January 2020, please visit; www.aapiusa.org