It is hard to put into words my Antarctica experience as so much of it was about the visual sights, the smells (those penguins are not the most fragrant!) the rush of the zodiac landing on isolated barren soil or snow, the exhilaration of kayaking past two thousand year old icebergs, but I’m going to try!
This was an adventure unlike no other that I’ve done before and with it came the added excitement of completing travel to all 7 Continents and after leaving Argentina, my 80th country – so it was a huge milestone for me that a fellow traveler captured well when I finally touched the ground there.
Even though the anticipation of the trip started long before we got onboard, it was intensified when we finally boarded the Seabourn Quest in San Antonio, Chile and found our parkas, penguin hats and backpack on our beds. It seemed a bit strange to be trying these on plus unpacking snow pants, gloves, thermal underwear, etc when the temperature outside was a sunny 27c/80f but we knew that wouldn’t last very long so we enjoyed the sunshine while we could.
After a day at sea we arrived into Puerto Montt, Chile which was founded during the German colonization of southern Chile. The neighboring city of Frutillar had quaint German style wooden buildings and a beautiful glass fronted Concert Theater situated on the lake with spectacular views of Osorno Volcano.
Castro Chile, in the province of Chiloe is the third oldest city in Chile and a pretty little place where our walking tour took us past their famous colorful houses on stilts. We wandered through their local market where there multiple vendors selling fresh salmon plus other interesting vegetables and of course potatoes where I was informed that they boast having over 400 varieties of potatoes. Puerto Montt & Castro are often referred to as The Salmon Capital of Chile as fresh catches are flown daily to world markets and frozen salmon is shipped by sea to many destinations.
The next couple of days were spent at sea cruising through the scenic Chilean Fjords in the Sarmiento Channel. We were able to get very close to the spectacular El Brujo Glacier which at times can be up to 2km wide. It was such a fun atmosphere on deck with everyone out taking pictures and getting creative using mirror images from the windows.
Our last stop in Chile was Punta Arenas, the largest city south of the 46th parallel and third largest in the entire Patagonian Region. We visited the Nao Victoria Museum which contained a life-size replica of Ferdinand Magellan’s ship plus the HMS Beagle, both vessels circumnavigated the globe. We were allowed to climb into the ships which really gave a great appreciation for how rugged the conditions must have been and how determined these explorers were.
The next afternoon we had a beautiful day sailing into Ushuaia which is commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world. One of the stops on our tour was the Plaza Islas Malvinas where they have a memorial to the almost 700 soldiers who died in the 1982 Falklands War
After a day of crossing the Drake Passage (which was nice lucky as had calm seas) we finally made it to Antarctica! It was so exciting however our green group had pulled the 2pm landing time so we had to wait patiently watching the others come and go to Half Moon Island where we were anchored in the South Shetlands.
When our time came, it was so exhilarating to leap out of the zodiac and touch the ground !! (as shown in my first picture) But the best part was the thousands of Chinstrap penguins who entertained us waddling and scurrying about. It was hard not to take hundreds of pictures of them as each were so different. There were also a few seals who were squabbling at each other like a couple of siblings would.
Our next island in the South Shetlands was Deception Island which was previously a Norwegian whaling station in the early 1900’s. They used to cut the blubber from the whales to boil into oil which was used for lamp fuel, soaps and for explosives in the first world war but after a slump in whale oil prices in 1931 it was closed but the boilers still remain. In 1944, the British took over the abandoned buildings and created a scientific research station but due to two eruptions of the active volcano nearby, most of the area was destroyed and they left after 1969. The cemetery which was the largest in Antarctica held graves for 35 men along with a memorial to 10 more presumed drowned.
It was an eerie day that felt like walking through in a black & white painting with only a bit of color here and there.
Our 3rd day had us landing on Cuverville Island which lies in Errera Channel between Arctowski Peninsula and Ronge Island and enjoying our first icebergs !! It was so funny because we were so excited to see the first ones but it wasn’t until we saw the huge ones later that we laughed about the little ones. We saw our second breed of penguin here as the Island has a breeding colony of approx. 6500 pairs of Gentoo Penguins.
Our 4th day in Antarctica was in Paradise Bay and although we didn’t do an actual landing, had a long zodiac tour with one of the Naturalists around the area who provided great commentary about the history, the ice and the Cape Petrel birds who return to breed in their nesting cliffs.
On day five we anchored in Neko Harbour which is an inlet on Andvord Bay. We climbed to the top of the mountain in the morning and had amazing views of the ship and the active glacier nearby. It turned to be such a warm day that we had to take our parkas off! Then in the afternoon we had our second kayak adventure where we had to board the kayak from the zodiac. We were quite nervous about it to start but it ended up actually being easier to get in than from shore.
Our final day in Antarctica was at Torgersen Island which is an area slated to study the impacts of tourism that has been divided into two area where one is open to visitors and the other closed off. They will then look at the data to determine the different results between the two. Did a zodiac tour again and got to see the Adelie, our 3rd species of penguins plus some very large elephant seals.
Claire was our Naturalist this day and she gave us one of our more memorable moments of the trip. While we were surrounded by over two thousand year old ice in the water, she cut the engine of the zodiac, asked everyone to turn off their cameras and be silent for 2 minutes to take in our surroundings. Immediately ones senses were heightened and you could hear the waves slapping against the icebergs, the far away cries of penguins or seals, plus the popping of the ice in the water that reminded me of a bowl of Rice Krispies going snap, crackle, pop. To top it off it started snowing on us like the credits were rolling at the end of a movie. It was so peaceful just floating around in that zodiac and those few minutes will be forever a wonderful reminder of our time in Antarctica.
That evening during our wrap up briefing, the Captain joined expedition leader Iggy to explain our return crossing on the Drake. He showed up weather maps which at first showed all red (which raised some anxiety as he said Red is Bad!) but then went on to show how he was going to wait for the storm to pass and go around it which would take longer of course but be much calmer. So we had another relaxing two days at sea heading towards our next port. We said farewell to our rental boots, watched a very interesting demonstration of an emergency life boat test, plus two more rounds of trivia!
Arriving into the Falkland Islands was another bonus because all ships have to tender far from the Port of Stanley, many times they are unable to get close due to the waves but we kept our fingers crossed and luckily had a fairly decent day there. Our local guide told us that there are approx. 3,000 residents that live on the island plus 1,500 British Troops stationed there. Stanley had suffered quite a bit of damage during the Falklands War in 1982 and there are still some marked minefields since the area was heavily mined by Argentina.
We did the most intriguing shore excursion as our goal was to make it to Volunteer Point to see the King Penguins where they inhabit the same area all year long. (you can only find them here or the South Georgia Islands)
However, it is a 2 hour very, very, bumpy off-road jeep adventure to get there but we survived the ride and rewarded with a massive amount of penguins were in various stages of life. We saw newborns, fluffy brown young chicks, a few molting ones and some very noisy adult ones. The King’s were our 4th species plus there was a colony of Magellan penguins too so ended up seeing a total of 5 species
Back on board the Seabourn Quest we had two more days at sea and they hosted their famous Galley Market Lunch which is an event it itself.
It is held in the main dining room galley where you pick up your plate at one end and basically fill it to the brim with the specialties from the chef of each area which gives you a great behind the scenes tour while picking out your food!
Another bonus of a small ship is that the Captain opened his bridge for all of us to tour and I had some fun with one of the First Officers.
Our last port of call was Montevideo, Uruguay and we had a great ½ day tour with a local guide who had lived there her whole life. She drove us around while giving us the history of this capital city. We drove past the soccer stadium and a good trivia fact that is that Uruguay was the first place the World Cup was held in July 1930 (The host country Uruguay played Argentina in the final and won!)
As we disembarked in Buenos Aires, our entire travel group agreed that it was an amazing adventure and we felt so lucky that we were able to take in everything that we did which I know for me will be remembered forever.
To find out more about upcoming Antarctic cruises, click ANTARCTIC CRUISES 2020
For more information on Seabourn Cruise Line, click https://www.seabourn.com
For more information on Antarctica Tour Operators, click https://iaato.org/home