The Seventh Continent
Trip Start Apr 09, 2006
148Trip End Jun 09, 2007
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Honestly, I never had a good response to them. I didnīt really know why I wanted to go either. Maybe they were right....am I a stamp whore?
In any case, as I came closer and closer to Patagonia and an ultimate decision whether to go I did a bit more research. Mostly I simply read other people's journals here on Travelpod to see what others had experienced. Every single traveler had raved about their Antarctic experience and I decided that was enough selling for me. I was in. Yes, the $3,660 USD was extravagant and could last me months in countries down the road, but I didnīt care. This is my chance. I'M GOING!
We were to embark our boat, the Ushuaia, on Sunday afternoon at 4PM. I had talked with the travel agent at length about the boat I chose and was happy that the Ushuaia had a maximum carrying capacity of only 80 passengers. Antarctic rules are quite strict on tourism: not more than 100 people may be on land at any site at any time; no one may visit a site within 24 hours of a previous visit; boots and pants must be disinfected before and after each excursion to limit the spread of disease. As a result, larger ships severely limit the number of excursions taken. If a ship has 1,000 passengers, you're likely to only get one or two landings in the entire voyage. What's the point? We were scheduled for ten excursions, time and weather permitting. VAMANOS!
Walking down the pier towards the boat got me a bit nervous. I looked around at hundreds of older travelers with canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Buses were bringing them well down the pier for health reasons. SHIT! What have I done? I'm going to be stuck with a bunch of blue-hairs for ages. Luckily for me, there were a number of ships leaving the same afternoon, one of them being a monstrous specimen. This was the floating retirement home and I was glad to see it.
So, I boarded, unpacked my things and got ready for a few days at sea. I started mingling with the other passengers and was very happy to get to know some amazing people. Helen (UK) just finished her PhD in Mathematics at Oxford and had recently cycled across Bolivia. John and Diane (USA) boarded their sailboat in Houston three years ago and have taken a little holiday away from Central America to fulfill their dream of seeing Antarctica. A Japanese couple have just completed their 18-month overland journey from northern Alaska to the tip of South America....on a single scooter. One of the reasons I travel is to meet amazing people. The Ushuaia was packed with superstars and I was set for a fantastic voyage.
The first few days we were crossing the infamously rough Drake Passage. Luckily for us, the wind was calm and the waves were slight. It was an Easy Drake, according to our crew. Many passengers were taking anti-seasickness medications as a precaution and only a few felt mildly unwell. I chose not to take any medication....just to see if I could handle it.
We filled our days getting our sea legs and attending seminars. The crew included experts in many areas including Biology, Geology and the history of Antarctic exploration and we learned a great deal before our arrival on the continent. For instance, Antarctica is the highest, driest, most pristine land mass on Earth. It is estimated that Antarctica contains 89% if the Earth's supply of fresh water (as an aside, another 10% is on Greenland and we use the remaining 1% that is not locked in ice). A recent British examination of the continent revealed that only 0.4% of the 14 million square kilometer land mass is ice-free. During winter, sea ice expands the continent dramatically to roughly 34 million square kilometers. The thickness of the ice has been measured as deep as 4.8km - I can remember when I couldn't run that far! Most amazing to me is that all that ice has sunken the overall continent. If the ice were removed today (and not melted to be added into the sea) the vast majority of the continent would be 800m below sea level! Despite this fact, all that ice increases the average height of the continent so much that it is by far the highest continent.
Science lesson completed.
Iīve decided not to go through a lengthy day-by-day summary of events during our five excursion days. This entry is already becoming long enough. It will suffice to say that we had spectacular-to-average weather each day which allowed us to make all ten landings successfully. Three of our excursions were continental and the remaining were on the countless islands that dot the peninsula.
We were treated to many kinds of wildlife throughout the trip:
Our whale sitings were extraordinary. Although the voyage previous to ours yielded only a few sparse sitings of orcas (killer whales), we were delayed on nearly every transit because whales were everywhere!
The fun wasn't limited to the wildlife though. I had been looking forward to a swim in the Antarctic and I got my wish! Deception Island was once a typical-looking volcanic island until it blew its top ages ago.
I could go on and on and on and ON! The desolate beauty of land and ice is something that I won't soon forget. I refuse to say it was a once in a lifetime experience as I would love to return some day.
The Rodster in Antarctica:
Our Path Through the Antarctic Peninsula:
Some of my shipmates also have logs....check 'em out:
Isabella de Jong