Aristotle first posited the existence of Anarktikos as a counterbalance to the northern polar regions. Two millennia later, a Russian naval officer confirmed its existence. Despite its vouched-for reality, there remains something abstract and surreal about this otherworldly white desert, the world’s coldest, driest and windiest continent. In summer — December, January and February — Antarctica’s waters are alive with seals, whales and seabirds. Penguins, of course, are a major draw. When visitors walk though their colonies, the penguins sometimes approach to peck at their boots! Mostly they just waddle by. But there is a saying about Antarctica: “The first time you come for the penguins, the second time for the ice.” Icebergs melt faster beneath the water — the sea being much warmer than the air — and after a while, they tend to flip over to reveal extraordinary wave-crafted shapes. An intense neon blue seems to emanate from icebergs of all sizes, the result of air in the ice that has become so compressed that it allows only blue light to escape. Kayaking among the ice formations feels akin to paddling through a vast outdoor sculpture exhibition. Antarctica’s pristine beauty is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, first signed in 1959 by 12 countries, including the United States. Seven nations claim portions of Antarctica to be their territory, but, so far, national rivalries have been kept largely in check.

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