Years ago I entertained (briefly) the idea of running a marathon on all 7 continents. The idea of shuffling across 13.1 miles of ice and snow in Antarctica only to turn around and shuffle back was amusing to me. Why not? Well, cost for starters. After that I applied for some random positions with the US scientific research team – which is so sought after that I didn’t even hear back for the cleaning staff req. Wrecked.
Then opportunity struck. Random travel blogs mentioned last minute cruise deals from Ushuaia, Argentina (end of the world) if you had the patience to wait there for an opening and wanted to hand over a small fortune (who wouldn’t?!). Come October, there was no need to wait around. I was able to snag a spot on the first boat departing for the 2012-2013 season about a month in advance, over email, while traveling in northern Argentina. Antarctica! My 5th Continent! Pinch me!
Digs & Eats: I imagined a fishing boat. I was going to travel down to Antarctica on a Deadliest Catch type rig and would be lucky if I had a mattress. Maybe I should have pulled up pictures on the company website before embarking because boy was I far off. The ship held around 130 passengers and around 60 staff. The triple room I was in was spacious, comfortable and cleaned twice daily. Hardly roughing it. And the food was delicious to boot! This was a proper cruise. Total fancy pants compared to the digs I’d been living in for the previous 5 months.
Logistics: The cruise would last 12 days, which includes the 4-5 in-transit days roundtrip across the Drake Passage and the 2 days of embarking and disembarking rigmarole. The rest of the days were spent on land and zodiac excursions, lectures from experts in fields from geology to history, repositioning, movies, reading and lots of eating. On good weather days, we were out of the ship twice a day. There was even a guest photographer there to help us take the best photographs of our life and a polar plunge! We were issued galoshes and snow pants (though a lot of people brought their own). It was cold, but not that cold. Normal winter attire was sufficient.
What is there to see?: It’s the white continent! As the summer season was just starting, our cruise got to experience immense ice that would melt over the impending weeks. Vast, white nothingness. The weather ranged from snowstorms with howling winds to blue sky days. Icebergs materialized larger than our ship (just the 10% portion above water!) and fast ice blocked off entire bays. The penguins were arriving from sea to mate by the dozens. They were busy building their love nests with rocks, defending their primo snow-free spots and swimming at torpedo speed to escape a leopard seal. There was a curious humpback whale and a bay overflowing with killer whales. Several seals and sea birds too. On the way back, even some dolphins.
Overall Experience: Surreal. I’d go back in a heartbeat. So much for a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. I have to go back. There is more to see! Baby penguins, King penguins, other whales! It’s paradise. Round II I’d splurge for the camp and kayak options (something I found out about too late on this trip). Bring plenty of motion sickness pills or patches, the Drake Passage was brutal.
My attempt to capture Antarctica in words likely falls short, but my photos may provide a bit more of a story. You can view my favorite on flickr through this link: My Flickr Photos.
I love talking about this particular highlight of my travels – if there’s anything I didn’t cover that peaks your interest, please ask! Also, check out some of these blog posts from my cabin roomy about what we learned from experts on board, an interesting volunteer position and possibly a polar plunge video (if you’re lucky): GoErinGo.