Note: This expedition now operates aboard the Clipper Adventurer.
"Why, why WHY would anyone choose to go to Antarctica?" was the question I was asking myself when I first started with ExpeditionTrips.com. I pictured whipping cold winds, uninteresting desolate landscape and frostbite. Oh, how I hate being wrong! December 2004 was my "month of reckoning", and I faced what turned out to be one of the most fantastic, interesting, and above all, fun trips of my travel career.
I flew to Buenos Aires, and then on to Ushuaia, Argentina to board the M/V Orlova for an 11-day voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship was basic, but cozy and comfortable, with incredibly friendly staff who were looking forward to the trip with contagious enthusiasm. My fellow travelers were a great mix of people - all ages and all interested in Antarctica!
Our crossing of the Drake Passage was rated a "4" on a scale of 1-10, by our Expedition Leader. I had heard the horror stories about this, and I definitely noticed that I was on a ship; but all in all it wasn't too bad.
We had pretty fantastic weather (sometimes temperatures were in the mid-40s), and we averaged about two Zodiac landings a day. The expedition team would load us into the sturdy, rubber inflatable boats (10 people per boat) and motor us to shore where we were able to interact closely with Adelie and Gentoo penguins, and Weddell Seals. Each landing was different from the last - some areas were covered in four feet of snow, which we would power through on our (voluntary) hikes; others were incredibly steep inclines that we would scurry up just to have the opportunity to sled down - screaming all the way; and then others were rocky shore areas where there were penguin rookeries and we could sit and watch the penguins stealing pebbles from their neighbor's nests and sitting on their chicks to keep them warm. I realized that I could be perfectly happy for 3+ hours just observing a couple of Gentoos, and the dynamics of their rock nest!
On the day we were unable to do any landings, we spent time cruising in the Zodiacs through what the expedition team called "iceberg alley". With the only noise being the hum of the Zodiac motor, we were surrounded by this overwhelming stillness, and massive hulking chunks of ice - some bluish, some transparent, some shaped like very big molars. All made for outstanding photo opportunities.
Onboard life was great as well - when we were not being regaled with tales of our naturalist's experiences at the South Pole, discussing the variety of wildlife we had seen that day, or being prepped for the next days events, we were enjoying incredibly delicious meals or playing cards or board games in the lounge, or just hanging out on the decks watching the midnight sun set.
After this truly astounding trip, I have decided to make it my personal mission to encourage EVERYONE I know (and many whom I don't) to take a trip to see the White Continent. You will never be able to answer the "Why why WHY?" question if you don't.