As our existing clients will know- we do not sell anything that we have not experienced ourselves. So it fell on me to visit the bottom of the world – the frozen continent of Antarctica. I will be honest & admit that it was a trip that I was not at all sure about.. It is a big trip, to visit a place where there has never been any civilization, somewhere I perceived to be extremely cold & as it is so big- 58 times bigger than the UK, how much wildlife would I really see?
Well I should never have worried, my trip to Antarctica was absolutely amazing & I would go back like a shot – given the chance. Like many people I watched David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet series on TV & was bowled over by the programme. But I was a little cynical & thought it would not be like that in reality these guys were there filming for months. I was so wrong. The wildlife was phenomenal. I saw; Gentoo penguins, Chinstrap Penguins, Adelie penguins, Weddell Seals, Leopard Seals, Crabeater Seals, Antarctic Minke Whales, Humpback Whales, Orca Whales, Hourglass Dolphins & too many types of birds to mention – the highlight being the 2 types of Albatross we saw.
Apart from the amazing wildlife so easily seen on the trip, the facts about this continent fascinate me.
It is the least known of the earths land masses & fewer than 200,000 people have ever been there- that is as many people that visit the special Galapagos Islands in 1 year!! & now I am one of those lucky people!!
Antarctic is the 5th largest continent based on size but the smallest in population with a population of zero!
From October to February the “summer” months there is 24 hour sunshine & the other 6 months is 24 hours darkness. How strange is that??
Antarctica is technically the largest desert in the world- as dry as the Sahara Desert. I still cannot quite get my head around that one!!
Only 2% of the land is not covered by ice & in the winter months Antarctica doubles in size as the ocean freezes in the 24 hours of darkness.
So lets start at the beginning of my trip.. I needed to be in Southern Chile & a small city called Punta Arenas – where the flights to Antarctica depart from. All passengers need to arrive by 3pm the day before so that we can have a briefing on safety, what to wear etc. then the very important boot fitting. Knee high thermal wellie type boots are included & I wore mine everyday for all the excursions, so getting a comfortable pair in the right size is important. Overnight @ the hotel is included as well as dinner in a local restaurant – which was a great way to meet my fellow passengers.
The flight to Antarctica does not always go as scheduled & the decision about take off is 100% the pilot / captains. Safety is paramount & the weather conditions in Antarctica can delay flights. We unfortunately were delayed by 1 day but once we were on board our ship- the Ocean Nova, the Captain & expedition team made sure we did not miss anything. When we arrived at the Chilean Frei Station on King George Island we had to be fully dressed with hats, scarf’s, water proof trousers etc to get off the plane.
We then walked across the “runway” & down through the middle of the Chilean station on our right & the Russian station to the left – or was it the other way around!? I was too excited to remember.
In the distance we could see our ship (you are not supposed to call it a boat as the Captain gets offended!!) & on the beach the Zodiac boats & the expedition staff waiting to take us to the Ocean Nova- our home for 6 days 5 nights. So we get our life jackets on & we are off on the zodiacs- all very excited to be there. Our bags had been tagged with our cabin numbers back @ the hotel in Punta Arenas, so we make our way straight to the lounge / bar area for a welcome from the staff & crew. By the time this finished our bags were in our cabins so we could freshen up for lunch. The food on board was wonderful, lots of choice & the Chilean wine served with all meals (except Breakfast perhaps!) was very popular. I should say at this point that it is a free bar on board so although I am not a wine drinker I was kept happy!! No-one drank too much at lunch times as we were not too sure how difficult it would be getting on & off the zodiac boats!!
Our first landing was after lunch at Yankee Harbour. We were met by the cutest inhabitants- thousands of penguins, many with their chicks. They are so lovely & cute but let me tell you – those years of frozen penguin poo that has defrosted in summer makes for a horrible smell!! So a big tip to all clients, especially those like me that are very smell sensitive – have a nice perfume sprayed on your scarf & cover your nose with it!!!
As we had missed 1 day with the flight delay, & as it is 24 hours daylight, one day we had 4 excursions; 1 before breakfast, then the normal morning excursion, then we were off again in the afternoon, finishing the day with an evening trip on to the glacier & seeing heaps of Weddell seals. Generally there are 2 excursions a day & as the team told us this is not a holiday but an expedition they were so right. But I strangely never felt tired. We saw so much each day & even visited an Argentinean station as well as another Chilean station so we could see how the research staff live & learn about what they are researching. Everyone was in awe of the icebergs & how they look so blue in colour- an optical illusion. They are massive & they can just roll around as they are not fixed to the sea bed. One of my most favourite & memorable excursions was the zodiac trip around Spert Island– the icebergs were so beautiful.
As I needed to experience the infamous Drake Passage I took the last cruise of the season & therefore experienced the flight to Antarctica & then came back with the ship to Ushuaia in Argentina via the Drake Passage – which is described as the roughest stretch of water in the world. I had to do it so I could advise clients correctly. As you can imagine I was definitely not looking forward to experiencing the Drake Passage. It takes 2 days & there is nothing to see apart from waves crashing over the boat. We were lucky -allegedly (my friend on board- Australian Lyn would definitely not agree with the term lucky!) as using the official Beaufort Scale – which measures wind speed at sea – we only experienced 4-5 & close to a 6 on the 2nd night, out of a top scale of 12, which is a Hurricane force!! Out of the 50 or so passengers I think there were only 3 or 4 of us that were in the bar having a drink!! Several people (poor Lyn included) were not seen for 2 whole days as they could not leave their cabins. I did not feel ill but even I vomited a couple of times – trying to read or work on an iPad are not recommended as I found out!! So my conclusion was that even if you do not get sea sick it is a boring 2 days so to sail there & back would take 4 days!! A complete waste of valuable time. Plus I can imagine that if you were ill on the way to Antarctica the thought of coming back that way would spoil your enjoyment of the fun stuff..
The program for 2012/13 will be a fly – cruise – fly program, so our clients will not have to sail through the Drake Passage at all.
After the Drake Passage we made a stop @ the southern most southern town in the world- Port William. The ship had supplies to drop off so we had some time to walk to the yacht club- an old boat, for a drink or 2. We met 3 British guys in there that had just sailed through Drake Passage in a small sail boat – complete madness if you ask me!!
Back on board we set sail for Ushuaia. When we woke up in the morning we were in Ushuaia- no penguins to be seen but lots of other boats, roads, cars, people, noise etc- talk about a shock to the system.. But all good things have to come to an end & I was to visit Tierra del Fuego that morning- will blog about that separately!/
Now I have been on the “expedition” I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Antarctica to our clients. It is a paradise for anyone interested in wildlife. The feeling of being somewhere so unique & un-spoilt made it probably the most special place I have ever been. It certainly was the trip of a lifetime. I also met some incredible people on board, the staff & fellow passengers were there for all the right reasons & it was a joy to have met them.
So to summarize, my trip to Antarctica was more than I ever expected & I feel privileged to have been there.