Trekking Antarctica

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Few sights create such awe as seeing them slip and slide around in their vast numbers on their small, mud splattered rookery, with their impeccable tuxedos neatly adorned. You cannot help but be amazed at the site of them all, seventy thousand breeding pairs, happily sliding about on the ice, rock and mud of their mile square rookery, neatly pressed out in their snug fitted tuxedos.

Preening obsessively, they shoo away their neighbors that encroach on their nests and fend off any chick hunting seals and pesky skuas. Fluffy brown down-covered babies clamor incessantly, thrusting their heads high into their parents' gullets for pre-digested food.

The parents are constantly feeding their young. When the father returns with fish from the ocean to a ritual of pecks and bows the mother heads off for his turn in the icy ocean.

Although people think they are, penguins aren't that cute. Penguins are noisy and foul-smelling but fascinating. But they draw large numbers of visitors to Antarctica every year to stand amidst them. The Antarctic really does feel like the edge of the world.

There is also much more to see than just penguins. There are whales, dolphins, seals, albatross and other sea birds and an astonishingly beautiful land and seascape of icebergs resembling dragons and other mythical creatures and glaciers with spires as tall as those found on the cathedrals of Europe.

This wonderful place has had very few visitors so far, so few that all of them put together might not even fill a football stadium. If someone is keen on finding the holiest place on Earth, it must be Antarctica. It is adventure all the way from the moment you set out on this voyage. Because it is so exotic and exciting, you seem to get more than the money you spend on this trip. Before the sea voyage to Antarctica, tourists from the U.S. need to endure 20 hours of air travel to Ushuaia, Argentina's southern-most port, or Punta Arenas in Chile, Cape Town in South Africa, or Christchurch in New Zealand. All these ports are equally convenient for proceeding to Antarctica by ice-rated expedition ships. Despite the journey lasting several days and the seas being rough, for passengers this is the only option as of now.

Although the visible part of Antarctica must be the size of the U.S. and Mexico, if we add the area of the ice shelves around it, it is about thrice the size. 70 percent of the Earth's fresh water lies within this icy m[censored] that has a thickness of two miles and puts a huge amount of pressure on the Earth's surface.

Come February 10, tour operators will be offering a choice of nine ships and a variety of itineraries right through February 18. 75 to 200 passengers is what most ships carry although there is one that can take 400 passengers. The air on board these ships is that of gathering knowledge about the places to be visited, complete with lectures and slide shows about the natural beauty of Antarctica.

Making landings using zodiac rafts, passengers can visit research stations where they can see scientists at work and also go past penguin rookeries and seal colonies.

The task of maintaining the research stations is handled by the U.S., Argentina, Chile, China, Russia and a few other parties who are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty. Through the Antarctic Treaty, countries agreed to keep Antarctica free of borders, commercial and nuclear activity and to preserve it as an environmentally clean research facility. A few research stations actually welcome visitors but others feel this hinders their normal functioning.

Tourists are free to wander all over Argentina's Esperanza station at Hope Bay comprising a research centre, recreational area, All the children around, the military staff and their dogs, the meteorologists and the penguins seem to be living together harmoniously.

King George's Island has nine bases of which Chile's Teniente Marsh station is the largest and its quiet neighborhood even has a restaurant, a provisions shop and a post office. Tourists can buy stuffed penguins Only selected ships are allowed at specified times to halt at Palmer Station, the largest U.S. base at Anvers Island. Living quarters and research areas are extremely sensitive areas and are inaccessible to tourists.

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