Antarctica, the number one place you need to go before you die, Part I

Ice vistas galore
Ice vistas galore – booked through the absolutely brilliant Abercrombie + Kent and operated by Polar Latitudes

Antarctica. The only place left on the planet reserved, under an international treaty, for science and exploration only. A utopia of sorts.

And, after 28 years of travel, hands down the location of my all-time favourite trip ever.

I went expecting to be the only person under 40 – a situation my travel agency had prepared me for – and so I packed plenty of books, a stockpile of patience, and boarded the ship eagerly anticipating some solo time with the icebergs.

IMG_3037
Utopia

Little did I know that by some strange stroke of luck, I would share my 10-day voyage almost surgically attached to a gaggle of four fellow lone travellers, all American males, all in their 20s, for almost every waking hour.

The combination of these humans, plus the hugely entertaining expedition crew, plus the penguins, plus the seals, plus all the ill-advised but well-received booze, plus the total detachment from the internet and thus the rest of the world, PLUS the icebergs… formed to create an experience that was nothing short of earth-shattering.

It’s probably best I start by introducing the cast of characters. 

From left to right, Frenchy, Raechel, Andrew, Steven, Bill, Ruda, Yours Truly
From left to right, Frenchy, Raechel, Andrew, Steven, Bill, Ruda, Yours Truly

TEAM AMERICA

Ruda: Eccentric and dazzlingly bright New York-based entrepreneur of Indian decent, with a penchant for obscure sex-related humour and with an equal appreciation for restraint (7-hour yoga marathons, meditation, fasting) and excess (raves, six-course meal orders, reckless consumption of alcohol). 

Ruda
Ruda

Steven: Wholesome personal trainer slash trapeze performer slash Ben Affleck-lookalike from San Diego who laughs a lot at all the right moments and has excellent taste in hats; and who just managed to reach all 7 continents before his 30th birthday, which was on day three of the cruise. 

Steven
Steven

Andrew: Extremely witty ex-marine with a bear-like gait and a deep voice, who could always be counted upon to keep morale high, however prickly the hangover, and who was very adept at keeping the in-jokes alive on an hourly basis. 

Andrew
Andrew

Bill: Giggly, animated Atlanta-native of Chinese decent who possesses no inner-speech and is therefore hilarious all the time. Bill’s job has something to do with technology, which he appears to be very good at, and he says ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah’ a lot. 

Bill
Bill

THE ORBITING CLAN

Raechel and Frenchy: Warm, charming, funny newlyweds from Austin, Texas, who were on their honeymoon, and who we shared 32 mealtimes with. The rest of the time they were probably shagging.  

Raechel and Frenchy
Raechel and Frenchy

Ashley and Justin: Raucous, gossipy best friends from Canberra, Australia, who work in the travel industry and who we played cards with and dominated the bar with towards the end. 12345640_10208290745646058_2655453029997495402_n

KEY ORBITING STAFF

Geology Bob: Sparky, delightfully un-nerdy Colorado-based geologist who is good at swearing and who somehow manages to make the topic of rocks and glaciers not-boring. Wears black-rimmed glasses, one earring, would make an ideal character in Jurassic Park. 

Geology Bob
Geology Bob

Dashing Daniel: Lanky, quick-witted Australian expedition leader who handled kayaking and camping. Shock of wavy dark hair, dimples, gap-toothed, would make an ideal character in Great Expectations. 

Dashing Daniel
Dashing Daniel

Captain Hannah: The leader of the whole ship (but not actually the captain). British, poised, headmistress-like, with a deadpan sense of humour that developed gradually throughout the trip in the most English of ways. Would make an ideal character in Harry Potter.

The woman on the far left, with the glasses
The woman on the far left, with the glasses

It all started in Ushuaia, which is the southern-most city in the world, and where all the Antartica-bound ships must leave from.

I was very tired indeed, having spent the last 48 hours in transit, so spent the entire day wandering alone and listless around the quaint shops until I found a restaurant which reminded me of a ski chalet. For this reason alone, I staggered inside. The owner was very friendly and allocated me a good spot, some good food, and some very good wine.

Finally, around 4pm, it was time to board the ship (Sea Explorer I – sort of a small, 80s version of James Cameron’s Titanic), up the rope gangway and past the line of grinning, uniform-clad crew into the lounge – somewhere I would soon come to know very well. 

Soon after boarding
Soon after boarding

Around 100 passengers filed in, mostly in pairs, mostly over the age of 40, as I perched myself on a chair and sipped my champagne.

“Are you travelling alone?” enquired a stranger (Ruda) from across the room.

Ruda is a man who wastes no time. He’d already rounded up the three other same-aged lone rangers on the ship (Steven, Bill and Andrew) and they had already established their corner of the room (front left cluster of padded chairs).

“Yes,” I respond blearily.

“Come join,” he states, so I do. And from that moment on, less than half an hour into our maritime voyage, these yanks form my family.

The Sea Explorer, and the little Zodiac boats that ferry passengers to land
The Sea Explorer, and the little Zodiac boats that ferry passengers to land

To get from Ushuaia to the Antarctic peninsula, you have to cross a wedge of ocean called the Drake Passage, which takes two days both there and back, and is notorious for being the most tempestuous wedge of ocean in the world.

All the furniture on the ship, therefore, is chained to the floor, and if you leave anything at all out on counters or desks, it will inevitably go flying across the room. This sort of drama is what I live for.

During our crossing, the waves tipped five metres, which is pretty mild, but enough to render most of the 100 souls on board bed-bound for the entire two days, sedated with seasickness. 

Abandoned deck
Abandoned deck

I am blessed in that I don’t get seasick at all, not even a bit, ever. Because of all the other ways in which I am pathetic and wimpy, this unlikely resilience made me feel like a Superior Human Being.

So I turned into an annoying twat and talked at length to whoever would listen about how totally fine I felt, and how I wished it would get even rougher, because the ‘drake shake’ is so much fun.

And if you are one of the few who happen to be impervious to seasickness, it really is fun.

You get to march along the deserted passageways as the ship is flung from side to side, and every time a major wave hits, it sounds like a bomb and you shoot into the air and momentarily achieve zero gravity, like an astronaut. 

The drama begins to clear
The drama begins to clear

On day three, we bid the Drake goodbye and thundered defiantly into clear, calm waters.

Passengers started emerging from the belly of the ship, rubbing their eyes and clutching their cameras, gazing out as we slid past an increasing concentration of majestic icebergs.

And herein, the real fun began… PART II.


2 thoughts on “Antarctica, the number one place you need to go before you die, Part I

  1. Wow, what an experience. I feel like I’ve just watched an epic adventure movie with a great cast of main characters. PlusI’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica. Fabulous post.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s