MY CHEEKS STING. I MEAN THE SLAPPED – IN – THE – FACE – WITH – A – SHOVEL KIND OF sting. Icy waves are breaking over the front of the kayak. Headwinds at 15 knots push against the three of us as we labor through the Beagle Channel between Argentina and Chile. It seemed like a fun idea to kayak to islands that few people have seen. But then our guide, the supremely fit Dany Urizza, told my husband, Douglas, to sit in the middle and me to sit in the front. And now I’m being pummeled. The winds are so strong that I can’t hear Dany shouting from the back. “What?” I yell. Behind me, Douglas shouts, “Aggressive leopard seals! Paddle harder!”
To a leopard seal, I’d be vac-packed chorizo. I’m swaddled in a wetsuit, neoprene hand protectors and booties, balaclava, fleece and a waterproof skirt. On top of all that are foulweather gear and a life jacket. And I need every bit of it as we claw our way toward a lofty island view that promises to be like none other. Lunch will be served there. How nice.
Dany? Our rugged rock of a local guide? Can’t see him. Can’t even hear him. I’m thinking he’s sitting back in the rumble seat, licking a lollipop. All while buckets of glacial seawater are hitting the little woman up front, flush in the jaw.
“I’m not sure why those seals are so far north,” Dany shouts.
“They’re Antarctic carnivores.” Meat eaters. How comforting.
I have no idea how close they are. But the thought of them sniffing around us has me worshiping the kayak. It, and the strength of our trio, are the only things keeping me from i) full submersion in 30-something-degree water and 2) becoming a leopard-seal …