Note: This expedition now operates aboard the Clipper Adventurer.
I knew I was in for an adventure like no other as my plane made its final approach into the Ushuaia airport, in the middle of the Beagle Channel with the Andes mountains of Chile and Argentina all around me. What an incredible welcome, and only the beginning. My trip to Antarctica was one of the most incredible journeys of my life! Never have I been anywhere like it. Its vast remoteness was apparent the moment I stepped on board the ship that would take me there and the two-day journey across the Drake Passage.
Once there, I was overwhelmed by the amazing wildlife all around us, the vast ice landscapes and the peaceful quiet. Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins were our constant companions, but we were also graced with the presence of one King penguin, a Macaroni penguin, and it was rumored that some even saw a juvenile Emperor penguin on our last day in Antarctica. How fortunate we all were to see and spend a little time with so many of these amazing animals. Some of my favorite moments were observing these feathery friends going about their daily lives, sitting patiently on their eggs, stealing rocks from other nests, climbing up and down the snow covered hills to get food for their newly hatched chicks or for themselves. They have so much personality and didn't seem to mind us there at all. Additionally, I saw many Weddell, Elephant, and the ominous Leopard seals. And then there were the whales. One of my last experiences in Antarctica before heading back across the Drake Passage was a Zodiac cruise alongside two Humpback whales. Our Zodiac driver turned off the motor and soon found that the whales came to us. Curious to see us and observe us before carrying on their journey, they surfaced their noses right in front of us, appeared to look around at us, and then waved us goodbye. They are such curious creatures! That was definitely the closest I've been to these gigantic mammals.
I traveled with 57 other passengers on the Ocean Nova, an adventure ship. Besides the amazing shore visits, this ship also offered a smaller group of passengers the opportunity to participate in kayaking, camping, mountain climbing and cross-country skiing. The passengers ranged from young and old, all with a very adventurous spirit. It was the perfect trip for me and I loved being with so many people that were so excited to be exploring this amazing place. The folks that signed up for the extra activities were constantly on the go, and it looked like they were having the time of their lives! For me, the shore visits alone were wonderful active adventures to see wildlife and majestic scenery, often with active hikes up to high points or to the other side of an island. Of course, I was thrilled to make two Antarctic continental landings!
I only have glowing things to say about my experience on this ship. Recently refurbished, it is simple yet modern, and very comfortable. The Panorama lounge was the perfect place to "hang out" and watch the scenery go by or talk with other passengers over hot cocoa. The crew was so friendly and gracious, the food was terrific, always with a great breakfast buffet. Lunch and dinner always had three delicious options, including one vegetarian choice. The expedition staff was just excellent, very safety conscious and extremely knowledgeable, always happy to answer questions or take time for that extra special encounter along the way. Everything always seemed so organized and ran like clockwork, even when the itinerary had to be adjusted at the last minute.
We hiked up to the top of Danco Island, after encountering multiple penguin colonies along the way. Once at the top, one of the expedition staff had the fine idea that we should all sit in the snow and look out at the scenery all around us, and be completely silent for about 15 minutes. Once we were all situated and comfortable, Jimmy said "go" and started his watch. I was in awe of the complete and total silence all around us. Amidst all that majestic scenery, ice and snow, there wasn't a single sound for minutes. The air was calm, the water was still. Then, across the water we would hear the calving of ice from one of the glaciers. I could hear it so clearly. It turns out that we sat there for almost 30 minutes in total silence. What a great experience. I highly recommend it.
The Lemaire Channel is a very narrow channel of water, bordered by steep mountains on either side, often so choked with ice that ships have a hard time getting through. Luckily nature had cleared a path for us. We entered the channel at about 11:30 p.m. Once in the channel the water was so calm and the reflections of the steep cliffs of rock and ice just awesome. The sun peaked out of the clouds far off in the distance for the first time on our trip and created this beautiful evening light. Views of Mount Shackleton were far off in the distance. A truly magnificent experience!