PHELPS — “Simply awesome.”
That’s how 13-year-old Parker Foster described his recent Antarctica trip to a roomful of people at the Phelps Community Historical Society, where he gave a March 25 presentation about his travels.
Foster, a parishioner of the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva, was one of more than 120 teens who visited Antarctica last December through the People to People Student Ambassadors program and Students on Ice, a Canadian program that offers student-learning expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica.
Parker is an avid traveler who’s been all over the globe, but he said he’d never been to Antarctica. He said he decided to go on the expedition because he eventually wants to visit each of the world’s seven continents — and because penguins are his favorite animal.
He left Rochester at 7 a.m. Dec. 17 and arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, at 6 p.m. the next day. He was still far from his destination, however.
“Getting there involved flying from Rochester to Miami, then to Buenos Aires, Argentina, then into the southernmost city of the country, Ushuaia,” Parker said.
After spending the night in Ushuaia, Parker and the other teens then boarded the M/V Polar Star, an icebreaker ship that would become their home for the next two weeks, and began their day-and-a half-long journey across the infamous Drake Passage. The passage is the body of water between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica’s Shetland Islands, and it’s where the southern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet.
“All there is to see is sky, water and more water,” Parker said.
The waters of the Drake Passage are known for being rough, he said, and the days spent bouncing from wave to wave brought “a whole new meaning to rock and roll.”
“Most of us were under the weather. I just slept for most of the time when we were in the Drake Passage,” he said.
Although it wasn’t exactly pleasant, Parker said he’s glad he was able to experience the crossing.
“You can fly down, but I think that’s the cheating way. Why go down to Antarctica without going through the Drake Passage?” he asked.
As they drew nearer to the Antarctic Peninsula, the teens began to see huge icebergs so large they dwarfed the 283-foot-long M/V Polar Star. When Parker realized that the large ice formations he could see were only 10 percent of the icebergs’ total mass, he said he began to fully understand the old saying about the tip of the iceberg.
“This simply makes one stop and stare in silence. What keeps grabbing your attention, though, is the view of the wildlife. I was overwhelmed,” Parker said.
Among the wildlife Parker saw were thousands of penguins in an island rookery. He even got very close to one penguin, who appeared to be so stunned by all the people that he froze and briefly let Parker pet him. He also saw seals, whales and albatross.
Parker and his friends even swam in the frigid waters around Antarctica, an activity his parents didn’t know about ahead of time.
“When I told them, they were actually a little worried,” he recalled.
Parker said he had brought swim trunks because the expedition brochure mentioned something about a hot tub. He later learned the brochure had been referring to “a geothermal hot tub,” which the teens created by digging down a few feet into the land at the water’s edge. The area where they went swimming is near Mt. Erebus, an active volcano, so the water beneath the land’s surface was actually about 100 degrees, Parker said.
“The (temperature of) the ocean water is in the negatives. After we ran into the water, we came back into this geothermal hot tub,” Parker said. “My second time doing it, going from such hot water to the cold water, my arms actually went numb so I had to get out as fast as I could.”
Parker was grateful for the warm water created by the volcano and shrugged off any concerns about spending time close to an active volcano.
“It could have erupted at any time, but luckily it didn’t,” he said.
Parker was enamored of Antarctica’s “sheer beauty, jaw-dropping beauty, awesome beauty,” he said during the presentation, which concluded with a photograph of Parker sitting on a large rock on his last day in Antarctica. He said the picture reminds him of his favorite moment during the trip, when he absorbed the natural beauty and stillness of his surroundings.
“We just sat up there and there was like 10 minutes of silence. We just listened to huge avalanches falling and big waves crashing. It’s so quiet there,” he said.
Parker, who began traveling with his parents as a youngster, has participated in other People to People trips before. He’s visited Australia, Russia, Venezuela, Sweden, Denmark, Haiti and the Caribbean islands, and this latest expedition will hardly be his last.
So what’s next on this adventurous teen’s list of travel destinations? Africa, the only continent he has yet to visit.
“I want to go to all seven continents,” he said, noting he’ll probably accomplish that goal through a People to People excursion to Africa in the next year or two.
Of all the exotic locations he’s visited, however, Antarctica has been his favorite so far.
“Traveling to Antarctica was the trip of a lifetime,” he said. “Being on top of the world at the bottom of the planet Earth somewhat says it all.”