It’s always been a dream of mine to go to Antarctica. I admit I’m a bit of an adventurer; my marine upbringing, wilderness walks and a love of travel has moulded me.
It’s not a cheap trip, and in a way that’s good because it protects it. The white continent is governed by the Antarctic Treaty, of which some 12 countries are the main signatories. The area is to be used only for peaceful purposes, scientific cooperation and conservation. As a result only a certain number of people are allowed to visit.
Armed with a common love of nature, 180 people boarded the ice breaker “Ocean Diamond” at Ushuaia, Argentina, the closest Port to the Antarctic Peninsula. The boat is setup with neat cabins, a Dining Room, the Lounge Bar and an array of wonderful staff to assist.
Visitors are allowed in the warmer months so the season typically runs from November to February. I travelled early, at the end of November, so there was lots of snow and ice. It’s a 2 day crossing the Drake Passage. This notorious stretch of water. One day its calm and sunny, the next raging gales and high seas. We were lucky on the way down – bright skies and fair winds.
A team of knowledgeable naturalists, geologists and historians gave us insights and expectations as we crossed, excitement was building and the days got longer. Finally, our first sight of land! .. and the first of many penguin colonies. You hear and smell them from a fair way off. These extroverted cuties are completely in tune with what nature provides. A diet of fish was the cause of the smell. And they are busy too - they sometime travel 200 metres or more uphill, to get from the water to their nest.
As we were there early in the season, they had just laid their egg and were noisily defending their rocks, which make up the nests. Beware the penguin who doesn’t pay attention! Little thieves quickly sneak in and steal the best looking rocks!
Apart from catching dinner, they have set areas for getting into the water, bathing (they are so cute washing themselves), and then getting out of the water. We got into the small boats and went ashore to see the nests up close, visited working research huts, look at the amazing vista’s and catch glaciers calving. Some took to kayaks for a more leisurely experience
On water we saw Killer whales, humpback whales, seals, amazing birdlife and even a very large group of penguins “porpoising” along with our small boats. They are quick!
With almost 24 hour daylight it meant that the enjoyment continued on board in the evening. The Staff and crew made sure we were entertained with lectures, a disco night, fancy dress and of course, wonderful food.
The Captain allowed visitors on the Bridge, which was especially interesting for me as my passion is all things marine and boats. A very professional and safety conscious team gave me a great sense of security.
With our time coming to an end it was time to travel back across the Drake Passage.. and it was quite different than our first experience! Large seas, high winds and overcast conditions saw many take to their bunks; laying low to avoid sea sickness. One swell was measured at 11 metres!
The Beagle Channel hove into view to herald our return tocivilization, and soon we were berthed in Ushuaia.
Every view was a picture, each experience a permanent memory. The love of nature and learning formed a bond with each of the guests – the bond of having seen and known the Antarctic Peninsula