Antarctica

Leanne and Michael enjoying the view after snowshoeing in Antarctica

This is a long overdue post about our Antarctica experience. I went into the trip with some reservations despite having heard from people who had been and have raved about it, and it has a lofty position in the top ten (#8) of the top hundred world wonders. There were phenomenal parts to the trip and parts I could do without. We travelled over 3,600km by ship over 11 days and spent close to five of those days in open waters of the rough Drake Passage. I’ll be honest, crossing the Drake is not fun whatsoever, and we were very fortunate to have had reasonable conditions. Most of the time was spent lying down, getting up for meals and then returning to bed. I wasn’t comfortable reading or writing while the ship bobbed in four meter swells across the ocean, so it wasn’t even productive time. Just before we left Ushuaia and just after we reached Antarctica there were hurricane force winds in the Drake. One cruise ship was severely damaged and made headlines across the world. Ships that left a couple days after us had to return back to Ushuaia and we heard stories of significant passenger injuries. We couldn’t have been much luckier with the weather we had.

Chinstrap Penguin

Our ship was a nice size with around one hundred passengers, plenty of outdoor deck space, and we had as good a room as one could ask for. We had a big suite next to the library and observation lounge. We liked the people on board and fell into a bit of a group with fellow travellers from New Zealand, Australia, the US and Germany. The amount of travel some of the people on this ship have done is impressive and a reminder that I’m young and there is a lot to this world I haven’t seen. I spoke with people who have done ridiculously expensive expeditions to the North Pole, and others scheduled to do orbital space flights when they start in a couple of years. Fascinating people and it was great to spend time with them.

a young crab eater seal

Our time in Antarctica was sensational and truly a life highlight. I tried to capture some of the special moments as best as I could with my camera, but there is just no way to convey the majesty and enormity of the landscapes. Another thing that is missing from those photos is the atrocious smell of the penguin rookeries. The sounds are part of the experience as well. Those of ice cracking, penguins yelling, seals wailing, and birds cooing, all of which contributed to the atmosphere. We spent plenty of time on shore and travelling through icebergs on zodiacs. We did a four-hour hike at Deception Island on some dangerously steep hills. We did a lot of snowshoeing at other locations and had plenty of freedom to explore around. We even attended the wedding of a couple from Hawaii who got married on shore.

camping in Antarctica

A couple of unique experiences included me camping under the stars for one night. Leanne was far to smart for this and stayed on board and took a photo of the camping area from the distance. I should point out that it is actually impossible to see stars from Antarctica in December as it never gets dark. The conditions were perfect and I opted to not use a tent. There are no bathroom facilities and we aren’t allowed to go outside. Additionally we could spend no more than ten hours on shore in any particular place, so we arrived in the evening and were picked up exactly ten hours later to go back to the ship. It was cold, but not too bad. During the whole trip the temperatures ranged from about -4C at night to about +6C during the day.

dangerous zodiac conditions

Another moment that we will long remember was taking a zodiac trip into a bay off of the Lemmaire Channel. The water was so calm it was mirror-like. We felt miniscule next to the mountains and ice fields that we passed. When we finally left the bay back to the channel we discovered sheets of ice flowing extremely fast towards the ship, and it looked like getting back might be difficult to impossible. We were a little tense as we navigated back into the channel. At one point ice sheets moved together so quickly we couldn’t follow the zodiacs in front of us. At another point we lost the ability to steer when we were caught on top of one of the huge pieces of ice.

We saw countless penguins, seals, and whales. Penguins are so incredibly entertaining: waddling through their penguin highways, coming up close to check us out, and jumping out of the water as they swim along. We visited one of the research stations and had our passports stamped. We also were unable to land on three occasions, once due to too much ice, and twice due to wind and snow.

Would I recommend this trip for others? Yes. I absolutely loved it and will never forget it. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this experience, however, it is not fun getting there and is not inexpensive either. It is in my top ten favourite trip highlights but there are others I’d recommend ahead of it.

Our photos are posted here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=260156&id=673382190&l=34dd1cd69d

penguins swimming toward our boat, the m/v Plancuis

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