Published: February 7th 2013January 9th 2013
Magellanic penguin colony
Over the years I had wondered once or twice how difficult and costly it would be to go to Antarctica. I never looked into and never really considered it to be achievable. It just wasn't on the radar. I can tell you now that it’s within more people’s grasp than you might think.
The way it began was fairly innocuous. I met two different people in Santiago who had recently been to Antarctica. After speaking with them and listening to their stories I decided to do a quick internet search into costs for the hell of it. I looked up the companies they recommended to me but I could not find any ‘deals’ that were supposedly available. Everything was full price. I either wasn't finding the right companies, or there were no deals. After a couple of days of fruitless searching I was almost ready to give up this wild possibility as I needed to finalise my next plans.
Then I got lucky when I stumbled across a blog where the guy provided a list of local contacts in Ushuaia where the ships depart. This is what I’d needed as these ones were able to provide the last minute
End of the world
(in Argentina's mind anyway)
deals for impending departures. After making some inquiries I had a decent looking offer on the table which left in a week. I took a day to consider my position, and then threw caution (and money) to the wind. I was going to Antarctica… I had a week to get down to Ushuaia and be ready to go.
My next thought was, ‘So… what exactly is in Antarctica?’
When I talked to people in hostels over the next week the usual things were discussed – where I’d been, where I’m going… I had the strangest feeling of apprehension when it came to telling them I was going to Antarctica. I even felt a little embarrassed. Why was I one of the lucky few who got to go? Making people jealous isn't a very friend-winning strategy. But everyone I told was genuinely excited for me.
On the way down to Ushuaia I stopped in at Punta Arenas in southern Chile. Here I got to take a boat ride out to two islands and see a Sea Lion colony and walk around a Magellanic Penguin colony. This was pretty cool. I’d seen the fairy penguins at Phillip Island when
I was young, but this was something else. The colony is over 100,000 strong, though not all of them are on the island at any one time. These particular penguins make burrows and some were right next to the path. Penguins were crossing in front of me constantly and I tried to maintain a decent distance. But they seemed quite unperturbed by humans.
To get to Ushuaia from here I needed to take a 10 hour bus ride, crossing into Argentina. We had to put the bus onto a ferry and cross the Strait of Magellan that would signal we had arrived in Tierra del Fuego. We also got held up at the border for a long time and the trip ended up being 14 hours. But I’d made it and had a day in town to wait.
The boat I was to travel on was called ‘Sea Spirit’ and is supposedly the best ship in the Quark fleet. The boat wasn’t departing until 6pm so I took a taxi up to see Martial Glacier less than 10km from Ushuaia. A short chair lift ride took me up to the bottom of the hike, then it was 30
minutes of very steep walking. There were nice views but I was a little disappointed when I reached the end as there was no glacier to be seen. If there was actually one there, it was covered in snow. Still it was a nice short hike and afforded fantastic views of Ushuaia and the Beagle channel.
After packing my things I headed down to the port. Most of the staff were there to welcome us onboard and it felt a like checking into a hotel (there is a hotel manager). Once I saw inside the ship and the rooms it definitely confirmed that feeling. The ship was amazing. Talk about comfort! No bunk beds here, small comfy single beds, 3 people to a cabin. I shared with a Brit and a German, both younger than I. As a matter of fact, there were quite a large proportion of people under 30 on the boat which I wasn’t expecting. A number of them were even backpackers who like myself made a spur of the moment decision to go to Antarctica.
After settling in and meeting the staff we set off. The water was calm all the way out through
the Beagle channel. I decided to take sea sick tablets as the next 2 days were to be spent crossing the notorious Drake Passage, which can be notoriously mountainous. Did I say it was notorious? The adventure had begun.
There are more photos below