As National Geographic Explorer navigates north, we leave glaciers, snowy peaks and penguin processions in our wake. We cringe against biting winds as we squint to see through the homogenous fog that hovers over nearly freezing, turbulent seas. We are delighted at the sight of a light-mantled sooty albatross alongside us.

Not only does this magnificent bird break up the monotony of the horizon, it is also a wonderful reminder. We are still immersed in the waters that define the White Continent this morning, and we know we have not yet left Antarctica.

As we transitioned within the Antarctic Convergence and crossed the Polar Front—the boundary waters and gradient that mark the edge of the Southern Ocean—pintado and giant petrels joined the albatross. It seemed the albatross was passing the torch to the pintado and the giant petrels, naming them as escorts for the final leg of our journey.

We spent the afternoon reflecting on our expedition by sharing stories, images and deeper insights. We encountered so many wild, historical and natural wonders during our time on the Antarctic Peninsula through a series of presentations by natural history staff, as well as through conversations with travel companions and new friends over coffee, tea and delicious food! As the light waned, we toasted to a shared experience that has and will continue to shape our perspectives on the value of this remote landscape. Tomorrow, on our final day together, we will contemplate what we can do to conserve this land to which we are inherently connected…