We woke to our first fantastic berg, which was large enough to spot sixteen miles out. It offered a tangible symbol of our proximity to the White Continent. Soon to follow were Cape petrels and southern fulmars, seabirds that move as though carved for and from the sea. Humpback and fin whales spouted on the horizon. We were a conglomerate — cetaceans, humans, and birds alike, reveling in the abundance of life in the cold.

Our morning educational presentations were given by National Geographic photo expert Acacia Johnson who spoke about how to tell stories with photos. This was followed by Middlebury College speakers Bob and Alison with a talk on oceans and bergs.

After lunch, we landed at Barrientos Island and meandered respectfully through a colony of gentoo and chinstrap penguins. For first-timers, the penguins’ cuteness was actually too much. For old friends of the penguins, their memorable fragrance and characteristic waddles made the landing feel like a return home.

We ended with a welcome from the captain and his fantastic team, a visit to a jaw-dropping example of columnar basalts named Edinburgh Hill, and a lovely snowfall. What a way to begin our journey into Antarctica!