An interview with Mandy Page on her experiences in Antarctica.

Penguins getting ready for the plunge

I hear, you have slept on the ice. What was that like?

First, I must tell you I wasn’t in a tent or igloo – just me on a thin foam mat inside a sleeping bag. The first night I slept on the ice the sky was full of stars and the night air was tinkling like small bells. I didn’t sleep much as it was so exciting to be there. The sky got dark but not black – more deep blue.

The second time I slept on the ice there was a loud rumbling in the middle of the night and the ice began to rock. My first thought was a tsunami but it was actually a massive ice carving. The sound of thunder but for a long time and very close.

If you can I would recommend sleeping on the ice – it is quiet (apart from neighbours snoring) and you do feel in a completely alien place.

A group of Albatrosses dancing

What creatures do you see? And what are your favourites?.

Albatrosses flying can take your breath away; they are so graceful and effortless as they ride the wind currents. I could watch Albatrosses for hours.

Whales, are the clowns of the ocean. If you are out in a zodiac and they come to spy-hop (poke their heads up above the water and look at you) that has all the elements of an encounter never to be forgotten. I was once in a zodiac near the front when a pod of minke whales came to spy-hop. They were so gentle with us and would come up very close, then sink down under the zodiac and appear on the other side. All the time they made sure that the zodiac didn’t rock and they never bumped or nudged us.

I call them clowns as I have often seen whales playing. Once we were in Wilhelmina Bay and the whales were circling the perfect crescent which makes up the bay and in the exact centre they would rise above the water to boom. This sound caused an avalanche of ice into the water… and around the whales went again to cause another avalanche. Another time we were aboard the ice-breaker when a pod appeared and so we followed them as they breached and fluted in the water. I looked back to where we had been and could see curves in the ship’s wake – in other words the whales were taking us in circles – playing with us. Penguins, of course. So many penguins especially in the Adelie colonies. These smaller birds come rushing down the pink hills (Penguin poo is pink due to the krill they eat) and look like a river of black. If they are stressed they flap their wings and this is a sure sign we need to give them space. Of course in Antarctica there are rules about how close to the wildlife you get – and these need to be

observed but the penguins haven’t read the rule book and if you are quiet and still they can come up to you. The most endearing thing a penguin can do is bring you a stone, which means build a nest with me.

Then there are the mammals: fur seals, Sea-lions, Elephant seals and Leopard seals. These animals are not so friendly and especially the Elephant Seal can be very vocal and smelly. The Elephant Seals I encountered were lying in a hollow of their making, shedding skin and smelling quite awful.

Macaroni Penguins on parade

My favourite penguin, are the extraordinary Macaroni Penguins with their outrageous facial yellow feathers. These penguins are rare and if you come across one it’s a very special day.

What do you wear in Antarctica?

Nothing too special; you can probably buy what you need at the Warehouse. Several layers of socks, thermals, trousers and water-proof trousers, gumboots on your feet (provided by the ship), singlet, shirt, jumper and water-proof jacket, gloves (2 layers), a woolly hat, sunglasses and sun-screen.  So its all about layers and keeping your inner core warm.

What are the Russian Crew like?

Big, usually quiet and very knowledgeable about the polar regions. I usually call the one at the end of the gangway who helps you in and out of the zodiac Boris, the captain Sir. Because of their experience in the Antarctic they are good at making sure you see the wildlife, are kept safe and get back to the ship on time.

Iceberg on the move

What about those Icebergs?

Oh, my goodness who knew there was so many types of ice: Pack Ice, Sea Ice, Black Ice, Iceberg and Ice for drinks. All that plus the ice has multiple shades of blues which you have to see to get a handle on. When you are out cruising in a zodiacs amongst the icebergs; they are mountains of ice and each one a piece of floating ice.