A trip to Antarctica has been on my bucket list for the longest time. I pictured stunning scenery, loved the “frontier” nature of an exploration, and I own up to wanting the moniker of having travelled on all seven continents. The big challenge was convincing Irene to go. Not because she didn’t want to experience it, but, as an experienced cruiser, she was terrified of the crossing of the Drake Passage, which had a reputation of being some of the roughest waters on earth.
She decided a deluxe voyage would make her feel a little more comfortable and I jumped at the opportunity and booked Tauck World Discovery — one of Alice Travel’s most popular and preferred suppliers.
Our first order of business was outfitting for the trip based on the laundry list of must haves. I noticed Irene did not take any of the labels off until we were on our way to our first excursion. Was she still thinking we would turn back?
We flew to Buenos Aries and stayed at the beautiful Caesar Park. We had several days of sightseeing that included the famous Ricolleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried, the colorful Boca, and a tango show. The city feels very European.
Let me tell you that the Tauck tour directors who were with us the whole way were great … we couldn’t have asked for more. Thank you Big Bill, Little Bill and Carla.
Leaving Buenos Aires, we flew to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, and the gateway to Antarctica. We totally enjoyed our tour of Tierra Del Fuego National Park and boarded the beautiful 132-cabin Le Boreal late in the afternoon. We set sail at 5PM, unpacked, had the mandatory safety drill followed by a delicious dinner.
Our charming captain then warned us to get ready for a rough night…the dreaded Drake’s Passage. Little did we know how rough it would get. About 3AM we heard a loud crash and the ship rocked a lot, but we went back to sleep. At 8AM, the captain came on the intercom and told us that a rogue wave, at least 30 ft. high, had crashed over the side of the ship and broke a verandah. The woman was thrown out of bed and had severe cuts from the broken glass. The captain and ship’s doctor made the decision to turn back to Ushuaia … the woman needed medical attention that could not be provided on the ship. We returned to Ushuaia and the unfortunate passenger was unloaded on a pilot boat. Need I tell you, to Irene’s malcontent, we went back through the Drake Passage for yet a third time! We had a rough two more days until we reached the Antarctic Peninsula. But when we awoke to a magnificent sunny, cloudless day with breathtaking mountains of ice all around us, we quickly forgave the difficult passage.
The routine we followed for the next five days was early breakfast followed by a zodiac excursion with a naturalist to a landing on either an island or the peninsula. Most of the landings were “wet” landings — we stepped out of the zodiac into about a foot or 18” of ice cold water. (The high boots we rented protected us from the water.) These excursions usually lasted about 1½ hours and included visits with various species of penguins who turned out to be as curious about us as we were about them. We were told to keep about 15 ft. away but often the penguins walked right up to us.
The temperature for the most part was in the high 20s or low 30s with very little wind. It was actually warmer in Antarctica than back home in Parsippany NJ. Walking on ice and snow was challenging but we were aided with walking sticks.
After the excursion we returned for lunch and often a lecture. After lunch there was a second excursion, a zodiac ride with a naturalist for about 1½ hours, without a landing … interesting and exhilarating stuff. We saw whales and various species of seals and of course lots of penguins and other birds. The enormous icebergs were breathtaking, with shades of blue.
Our five days in the Antarctic Peninsula were wonderful, with a different adventure on each excursion. On the last day the captain told us he would try to get the ship close to “pack ice — ice not very thick but considered safe. We did land but the ice started to break up, so we had to quickly get back to the zodiacs and back to the ship.
As some of you may know, I am an enthusiastic photographer. It was challenging to get good photos on cloudless, sunny days. The bright sun, water, ice and snowcapped mountains posed very difficult light conditions to take good photos. Many would have been overexposed except by manually changing some controls.
Leaving this wonderland, we had to do our fourth sailing through the foreboding Drake Passage and two more days of rather rough seas. Late on the second day we got back to Ushuaia. The following morning we flew back to Buenos Aires.
We had no clue that there was another adventure awaiting us. We learned there was a big snowstorm in NY and our flight was cancelled. We returned to Caesar Palace Hotel for yet another night. We were lucky to get a flight back to NJ the following day and returned home tired but exhilarated. Would I call our trip to Antarctica a vacation … perhaps not. But it was an exciting adventure and if that’s what you’re looking for, by all means!!!