Happy New Year! Back From Antarctica!
I know January is already about over, but I have just returned from an amazing trip to Antarctica and South America. Antarctica was just an amazing place! Totally wild, totally pristine, and totally magical! It’s the earth’s last frontier in every sense of the word! No one lives in Antarctica, no country owns it, and the continent was not properly explored until only 100 years ago, when nearly all the world was already discovered. Its harsh climate and the very rough high seas and oceans surrounding it have isolated it from human civilisation, and thus preserving all the wildlife in its purest state.
I would like to share with you some of my diary entries about my trip to Antarctica. While each crossing/sailing is always different (due to the unpredictable and very fickle weather), I still hope that this gives you an insight as to what I went through during the 11 days out in the open sea and in Antarctica.
How I went to Antarctica
I was scouting around for great deals to Antarctica, and found really good specials with G Adventures to start with. I heard of a lot of fantastic things about them. I looked at the dates they were sailing and availability, but unfortunately for me, there was no availability. After much searching, I found a voyage with Antarpply, which worked pretty well for me. I’m glad I did, coz the crew were great, and the ship was just the right size, with only 84 passengers on board and is within the limits of the international law on landings in Antarctica. (NOTE: there is an international law that restricts the maximum number of people per landing in Antarctica to 100 people, so 84 passengers, plus around 12 crew of zodiac drivers and guides is just within the limits, and you don’t need to take turns or be in batches when doing landings!).
Most cruise ships to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia in Argentina, though there are some that leave from Punta Arenas in Chile, and also some very few expeditions start from Australia and New Zealand (though they can be longer, as they’re further from Antarctica itself). In my case, I booked a flight to Ushuaia from Sydney, Australia via Buenos Aires, the Argentinean capital.
Day 1 – Boarding the ship
We boarded the ship M/V Ushuaia from the port of Ushuaia, Argentina at 4pm, meet and greet the staff of M/V Ushuaia over champagne and some snacks. Safety briefing and emergency drills were conducted. This was interesting, as we were all told to wear all our cold and wet weather gear, plus the life jacket that goes around the neck and feels very uncomfortable! Lucky this was only in case of emergencies! After the drill, dinner was served, and we all had a chance to meet the people on the boat, who we will be spending the next 11 days with. There were only 84 passengers, so you pretty much will get to know everyone at the end of the trip. At this stage, our ship was still navigating through the Beagle Channel, and will only start crossing the Drake Passage by midnight. Everyone on the ship was gearing up for what is known to be a notorious part of the journey to Antarctica.
Day 2 – Drake’s Passage Day 1
First day in the infamous Drake’s Passage. The sea is remarkably calm, which is unusual for this body of water. Our captain told us that we are very lucky to witness the rare occasion where we have calm seas and sunny days here at the Drake Passage. I was fine the whole time, but my friend Don was totally not feeling well. During the day, there were lectures on board, from the biology of Antarctic sea birds, to penguins and the different types of penguins, to the geography of Antarctica. After the lectures, since the weather was great, the biologists on board would organise bird watching sessions at the very top deck and point out the different types of birds that somehow trailed our ship.
There were Antarctic birds flying behind our boat, particularly the giant petrels, Cape or Pintado petrel, Snow petrel, Albatross, and so much more!
Day 3 – Drake’s Passage and South Shetlands
Second day in the Drake’s Passage and the sea was starting to be rougher. However, we were getting closer to the South Shetland Islands. Our boat managed to travel at a good speed and we arrived at the South Shetlands earlier than expected. We had the afternoon to cruise around the South Shetlands and made our very first zodiac landing on the island of Barrientos, in the Aitcho group of islands. The island had Gentoo and Chinstrap penguin colonies and an elephant seal colony on the other side. Our first encounter of land in 2 days of sailing! And our first encounter with penguins in this trip! There were a good number of Gentoo Penguin colonies and they were just so curious of our presence on the island! If you stand still for a while, the penguins will actually come and approach you! Here are some shots of penguins on the island:
Til the next post…