Deception Island, Antarctica

Photo: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

How brave are you? Would you travel to Antarctica? Of course. Can you spend days at sea dealing with uncomfortable conditions? No problem. Could you hike across a glacier on a barren island? Bring it on. Are you willing to shed your layers and soak in a thermal pool once you arrive? Wait. What?

You didn’t expect to be digging a hole in the sand, stripping down to your bathing suit, and lowering yourself into bubbling water during this trip. But that’s exactly what you’re about to do in Pendulum Cove. You’re surrounded by rough black sand. It—and the water filling your growing hole—is heated by continual volcanic activity. You have a view of Port Foster, a wide caldera, that was also created by lava flow and eventually flooded by the rough sea. High cliffs surround the natural harbor. While Neptune’s Bellows, a narrow channel named after the Roman sea god, is the only entrance to one of the safest landing spots in Antarctica.

The port, the cove, and your hole are all on Deception Island, one of the South Shetland Islands. The archipelago’s 11 islands are located 75 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula and nearly 600 miles south of the Falkland Islands. They’re actually the same distance from the equator as the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, though Antarctica has a much colder climate. Glaciers cover 80 to 90 percent of the islands. Ice shields the surrounding water for at least nine months of the year. Many of the research stations, manned by scientists from around the world, are just open during the summer months. Only seabirds, including chinstrap penguins, call the island home year round.

That’s right, penguins. It’s you, an active volcano, a handful of Argentine and Spanish researchers, and 100,000 pairs of breeding chinstrap penguins on Deception Island. You dip a toe into the hot water and slowly lower yourself into the bubbling hole to take a thermal bath in Antarctica. You’re braver than you ever realized.

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