“Antarctica, Antarctica, it’s cold and full of ice. Antarctica, Antarctica, you’ll freeze your balls off!”
This was the anthem invented by a crazy bunch of travellers with whom I bonded over the course of the 10-day expedition to the coldest and most isolated continent on the planet. My trip to the final continent was not originally bookmarked in my South American travels. It happened approximately six weeks in, after I had landed in Ushuaia and made myself at home in La Posta Hostel. A fellow traveller who had just returned from his trip to Antarctica merely questioned whether or not I had come to Ushuaia for the final tour scheduled in a week’s time. With luck as my faithful companion, I managed to get in touch with a tour operator as well as sort out my finances for the trip. I was able to book one of the last places on the final expedition for the season – little did I know, I had just booked the best trip of my life.
My Journey to Antarctica: The Drake Passage
The first two days of this trip were spent at sea; the first day was a lot better than the second. The trip began by setting foot on the expedition vessel known as the Ushuaia. After dropping my bags into the cabin and spending some time mingling with the other travellers, we were given welcome drinks and a short introductory presentation by the crew. Our boat eventually left the port, and we had to do a safety drill as the sun started to set behind us. After dinner, we mingled for a bit longer before hitting the sack for the next day, which ended up being a memorable day at sea.
For those of you who do plan to visit Antarctica, prepare yourselves for the second day. This is the day that you will enter Drake Passage. Now, I for one do not recall ever being seasick or even getting a queasy stomach whilst being on a rough boat journey. But then again, I have never been on Drake Passage.
Drake Passage is the quickest route to Antarctica. This fearsome stretch of ocean took down the majority of the passengers on the ship. Even though we were lucky with the weather (apparently) and the sea was relatively calm (or so the Captain said), I still stayed in bed for the majority of the day, rolling from side to side in sync with the ship.
I had always imagined Antarctica to be a snowy place filled with rock and ice. So on the third day of the trip, when it was our first zodiac excursion onto the island of Aitcho, I was somewhat let down. There was no snow or ice, only plenty of rocks. However, when I actually stepped foot on Aitcho, I was greeted by hundreds of penguins scattered across the island, my brief disappointment quickly disappeared and was replaced with excitement. I had never seen so many penguins before, that too in the wild. These friendly creatures are one of my favourites among sea creatures. Whether they were waddling along going about their business or accidentally walking onto ice and slipping all over the place, their comedy was constant throughout the trip – this gave the trip a good start.
Antarctica: Day 1
The next day I woke up and saw the snow outside – I finally felt that we had reached Antarctica. I woke up to a snow-covered ship and whales swimming beside us. Massive white icebergs surrounded our ship as the Captain navigated through such a beautiful landscape. The view was simply breath-taking.
Antarctica: Day 2 – The Perfect Day
During my tour of Antarctica, there was one particular day that I will always recall as the perfect day. On this day, I experienced Antarctica in all her beauty. I woke up on this day to watch the most stunning of sunrises. With clear blue skies and a snow-covered landscape; this view was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Cruising through, I could have spent hours just watching and getting lost in all of nature’s beauty.
After breakfast, our itinerary for the day was similar to that of the day before. We made our way to various islands with awe-inspiring views. After exploring the islands, we took an hour-long zodiac cruise around the icebergs. This part was particularly enjoyable as it was the perfect way to soak in the views. With the wind in my face on such a beautiful day, going around multiple icebergs of all shapes and sizes, I was enjoying the moment – this is when I realised that I am one of the few lucky ones in the world to have ever visited such a majestic place.
Our afternoon excursion allowed us to visit the Ukrainian Antarctic centre. We spent some time exploring the base and talking with the crazy/genius folks who spend up to 8 months here by themselves. After checking out the place, we went to a different island, climbed up the hill and absorbed the view from the top – a bright blue sky and an ocean filled with plenty of icebergs. One particularly-massive iceberg actually turned upside down, causing all the nearby penguins to jump into the water. We eventually made our way back to the ship, cruised in between icebergs and then made our way back for dinner.
This day ended with a sunset over the horizon; the untouched beauty. The water was so clear that it looked serene and magical. As the sun was setting, we assumed that the perfect day was coming to an end. While the Captain navigated through a channel with a cliff close by, we were all admiring the sights on the bow of the ship when suddenly, the top of the cliff beside us broke off. As the block of snow came hurdling down, it caused a mini avalanche. It crashed into the ocean and the impact caused the wind and the snow to travel in our direction at high speed. The moment drew closer, the moment in which we were about to be swept away by the winds filled with snow. Instinctively, every single one of us on the bow of that ship were raising our hands in the air, shouting at the top of our voices and dancing around. We were living in the moment. In that moment, we were all alive. It was one of the greatest moments that we could have lived. Such an experience would never happen again. The emotion ran through me as the wind began to freeze my body (I was wearing shorts at the time) – it was simply epic.
The perfect day ended with the perfect night. We took a walk outside, looking up at the clear sky above. The dark sky above us was filled with the brightest of stars. It was a fitting ending for the perfect day. A day that I will never forget.
Antarctica: Day 3
It was difficult for this day to follow the previous one. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a memorable day. Among the beautiful scenery and the wildlife that Antarctica had to offer, there was an island on which something occurs that I was not aware of previously. Penguins, as funny as they are, do not know that they can swim. On this island, I witnessed a group of about 70 penguins, standing next to the water. They wanted to go in but looked afraid. It wasn’t until one brave little penguin slipped into the water and unleashed its latent talent, that the rest of his kind followed. One by one, they all jumped into the water and swam elegantly. Zipping in and out of the water, these beautiful creatures were enjoying their first swim. It was certainly a sight, and not something you would be able to see anywhere else.
The afternoon trip was spent cruising around a shipwreck that had happened many years ago. Due to the weather, the ship was in great condition but we were not allowed to climb aboard it. Afterwards, we visited this cove. After spending some time walking up the steep hill, I found a nice spot and planted myself there. I looked out and imprinted the image into my memory. At the top, we watched some blocks of snow break off and fall into the water. When it was time to go back for dinner we sang the anthem with pride before sliding down the hill on our arses (multiple times). We then made our way back to the ship for a barbecue. Yes, that’s right – a barbecue in Antarctica.
The night ended with a crazy toga party with the group of travellers who I had bonded with. The party started in the bar, moved into a staff-only area (in which the crew used to hang out) and then finally outside onto the deck. It was certainly a night to remember.
Good Things Must Come To An End
After an epic few days we were stuck due to some bad weather. It was unsafe for us to go out onto the zodiacs and we could not visit any islands. This particularly sucked as I was looking forward to sitting in the hot springs in Antarctica. The rest of the day was spent playing a mixture of games, sorting out photos and lying on the sofa at the bar – all due to the rough tides.
With no possibility of seeing any more islands, it was finally time to make our way back to Argentina. Remember the ‘peaceful’ Drake Passage I mentioned earlier? Well, the Captain was correct about it being peaceful on our way there. On the last day before we reached Ushuaia, we had to go through Drake Passage once again. But this time, Drake was pissed and came back with a vengeance. Our small ship against the fearsome Mother Nature. Going outside onto the deck was out of the question, unless you wished to be swept away and never to be seen again. As I looked out the window through the Captain’s room, it felt like I was in the perfect storm. It was a surreal experience to watch the ocean engulf our boat with its massive waves crashing against the ship. We could barely move forward due to the intense weather going against us. In these moments, the cool and composed looks of the Captain and the staff made us feel at ease and allowed us to enjoy the experience. Even though this was quite a manic storm, this was something they had experienced before and we knew that it was their experience that would get us back to Ushuaia. Not much else was happening outside apart from the storm, so we all decided to play games and cards to pass the time whilst enjoying our final moments together as a group before we all went our separate ways the next morning.
Going to Antarctica was a trip that exceeded my expectations in every single way possible and will be remembered for the good times that were had. It was a trip filled with views that I had not seen before and experiences that I have not felt before. It was truly a beauty like no other and will never be forgotten.
Food – 2
People – 2
Ambience – 2
Sights & Activities – 2
X-Factor – 2
Total – 10