Published: December 2006
Maria Stenzel

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

This place is so wild and untouched. So many tourists and scientists go to Antarctica—particularly the Antarctic Peninsula—that on the radio in that area you hear the cruise ships coordinating their landings. But here, you're really off the track.

There were eight of us, and we didn't see another soul for five weeks. Just wildlife. It was a very freeing experience, intense and beautiful. I got a sense of what the Earth was like before humans colonized and changed everything. It was pure. That's something I'll always treasure.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

Landings in the inflatable Zodiac boat were difficult. On Zavodovski Island, we had to land on a cliff face. The boat pilot would gun the engine, ride in on a swell, and pin the bow of the boat against the cliff face. Then we had to jump off the bow onto the wet cliff and climb up the rest of the way. We had to jump out right away because, within seconds, the Zodiac starts falling with the swell and the tide. The bow is still hinged on the cliff face, so it gets more vertical.

One day when the crew was departing the island, the Zodiac went vertical in the surf and two people were thrown out into the ocean. Luckily, Leif, the pilot, was able to haul them in quickly. By the end of the trip, four of the eight of us had joined the penguins and seals on accidental swims.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

Our captain, Jérôme Poncet, saw a beach where he thought we could land and climb up a very steep slope to a penguin colony and fumaroles, steaming vents from the volcano. So he put us in the Zodiac and told us: When the boat guns the shoreline, jump out quickly, grab hold of the boat, and pull it to shore as fast as we can. So I jumped out and immediately tripped and fell in the water with my daypack. I rolled over in the water and stood up again, but it was too late. Everything was wet.