Hello fellow travelers. As promised, this week’s column has been written by one of my clients and very good friend, Jane Roeder. Here is Jane’s recap of her travels to Antarctica.
Not too thrilled about winter/snow/wind? Does the idea of putting on your gloves again make you a tad nauseated? Me too. However, when I saw the description of the Tauck cruise to Antarctica, I was in. Instantly. It had never occurred to me to go to – that you could go to—Antarctica, but this tour offered five days on the Antarctica peninsula, four days of cruising through the Drake Passage and a couple of days in Buenos Aires. The concept of visiting the farthest, coldest place on earth captivated me.
The trip began with a long flight from NYC to Buenos Aires (BA) in February – which is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. After two days in BA, it was on to a 3.5 hour flight to Ushuaia (Uu-sway-uh), in Tierra del Fuego – the end of the world and southern-most tip of Argentina. A few hours wandering the small, touristy town of Ushuaia is enough, and our tour included a trip to the Tierra del Fuego National Park with lovely scenery, rushing streams, lakes and views of the Andes Mountains.
And then the real adventure began. We boarded the 200 passenger “yacht”, Le Boreal, for the two day trip through the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica.
Let’s talk about the “yacht” for a minute. It was beautifully appointed; luxurious without being gaudy. With only 200 passengers, and two dining areas, each seating 200, you have the opportunity to easily meet other guests and make friends. There’s a tiny theatre where the crew gave daily updates and nature-based talks. (Each Expedition Leader had an area of expertise: birds, ice, whales, geology. They were each fascinating and informative.)
A real value of a small ship (and our nature-loving captain) was that when whales (minke, humpback, orca) were sighted near the boat, the captain could follow them. Nothing gets a group of 200 eating dinner to run to the whale-side of the boat faster than a pod of whales swimming nearby. Spectacular!
On the third day we were in the seas of the Antarctic Peninsula. Recall that Antarctica is not a country, it’s a continent, and travel is governed by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators. (IAATO). Under this agreement, no more than 100 people are permitted on land at one time, and the basic rule is “take nothing, leave nothing”, and don’t annoy the animals. Each of the five days on the peninsula our tour visited two locales, moving in 10 person groups from the ship to Zodiac boats, guided by Expedition leaders, and landing on the peninsula. We always had on life vests, got off the Zodiacs (usually into the water) facing the waves (to avoid surprises) and then were free to explore.
Wherever we landed, there were penguins, penguins, penguins! (we saw four different kinds), different types of seals (leopard, crabeater, elephant—elephant seals stink, from hundreds of yards away) and endless birds. Pretty much everyone thinks penguins are cute; they are. And although they are birds, they don’t fly and they’re not so good on land. But watch them swim! They swim in pods and look like tiny porpoises jumping out of the water.
There is ice. And snow. Antarctica is basically black and white (with blue in the sea/sky and some icebergs/glaciers.) You’d think black and white would be boring. It is not. It is fascinating. Beautiful. Majestic. The enormous glaciers are awe-inspiring. Icebergs float through the sea in amazing shapes, with blue stripes running through them, in every size and shape you can imagine – and some you never thought you’d see. Sometimes I just had to STOP and look and remember how beautiful each place was. I have, literally, 1,000 pictures – none are as gorgeous as the actual sites. Randomly an iceberg floats by carrying some resting seals – just out for an afternoon ride. There are giant petrels and albatross and a thousand birds I would never be able to identify (Did you know there is a tern that migrates from Antarctica to the Arctic every year?) We climbed on solid snow and snow that crunched as we broke through. Sometimes there were black pebble beaches. One day we climbed a narrow path of soft dirt with spectacular views out to sea. We saw fossils proving that a zillion years ago there were trees on Antarctica. In fact the only flora we saw (and the only flora there is) were some small patches of green lichen, and both red and green snow algae. That’s it.
It was not particularly cold. February is summer in Antarctica, and I don’t think it ever got much below 32°. Dressed in long underwear, sweater, parka, jeans, waterproof pants and good boots, it was sometimes too warm. It snowed some, but not as much as it snowed in NY during the same time. This was not the time to use the outdoor bar area – but it was clearly warmer than it was at home.
After five days at sea, it was back through the Drake Passage and to Ushuaia, and the long trip home.
Would I do it again? I’m not sure. It was wonderful, but there are so many other places to see. But Antarctica called to me, as it did to everyone on the ship. We all had friends who thought we were crazy to go so far “just to see snow”. We thought it was the best thing we’d ever done. If this has any appeal to you, call Andy and he will find you a small ship, with a tour that guarantees time on the land and go. Antarctica is like nowhere else.
Andy Arluck’s Cruise Planners can be reached at 516-822-0204. Email him at aarluck@
cruiseplanners.com or visit www.andyslandandseatravel.com