Fortunately for me, some stars aligned and the opportunity presented itself.
I didn’t want a holiday, I wanted an adventure, an experience, something that would be challenging as a first time solo traveller in her 50’s, to a destination not yet visited, to see and experience new things.
I was so nervous before departure….. I was popping Kalms like no tomorrow! What was I nervous about? Have I packed everything? Have I got all my tickets, joining instructions, emergency contact numbers, enough money in the right currency.….. my anxiety was mostly about logistics, of transfers arriving (or not), luggage going astray, personal and money/passport safety. I was doing this trip largely on my own, so if something went wrong, it was going to be me that would have to resolve the issue…. daunting and exciting!
Prior and post Antarctic cruise I visited Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires but I’m not really going to touch on these places in this blog. Only to say I did have some logistical and technological challenges which presented themselves at in opportune moments…. suffice to say, I’m pleased I read my travel documents warning about airport transfer scams (I’m one of those ‘read the small print’ people!) and I’ve learned firstly, to travel with two means of communication (phone & tablet), secondly what to do when your phone screen is dead! If you want to know more then drop me a line.
During the first few days of getting to know fellow cruise mates, our initial conversations of bonding were, “why did you book Antarctica?”. For the most part the answers were “ why not”, “because I haven’t done it yet”, “I’ve done the other six continents”….. answers as if it’s some right of passage to tick this final box of conquest. I guess I had some of that in me too. No-one I spoke with said they were wildlife buffs or die hard birdwatchers…… most were there on some kind of ego journey to find some higher experience yet to be achieved, which no doubt would be boasted of on return home.
I was expecting an older clientele on the cruise, that my 52 years would grant me youth status….. unexpectedly the age range was 23-82, the average being 41. By all accounts this was unusually low by normal standards.
Having survived a gentle first crossing of Drakes Passage notoriously the worlds roughest seas, I remember waking and seeing my first iceberg through the cabin portal. I felt a sudden rush of excitement, shot me right back to six years old SJ on Christmas morning. This was the first moment I realised this was not only about exploring a destination, it was also an opportunity to relive the feelings and excitement that course through your veins as a child… feelings that life often dampen down.
Over the 11 days spent cruising between 8 locations and crossing Drakes Passage we were kitted with specialist outdoor wear, learnt about bio-security, informed by daily recaps and briefings, participated in wildlife research surveys, educated on seals, sea birds, penguins and whales, global environmental impacts, Antarctic history, living and working in Antarctica, and IAATO (International Assoc. Antarctic Tour Operators) and the work they do to ensure bio-security with tight tourism restrictions. I had really been looking forward to the lectures but I had no idea how much it would enhance my experience of being in Antarctica.
I’m writing this blog from the cocooning warmth of Compass Lounge aboard Intrepid Travels ship Ocean Endeavour. As I gaze out the window, I see land and icebergs disappearing from view as we pull away from the shelter of the Melchior Islands and head back across Drakes Passage. Unexpectedly I’m completely overwhelmed by a wave of emotion bringing me to tears.
I have felt the wildest whipping winds, the norm for penguins huddling together as seen in an Attenborough program. I’ve eaten the largest, purest snowflakes falling from the skies, scooped handfuls from the untrodden meters deep drifts to quench my thirst. I’ve visited the historical basic huts used by British Antarctic Survey in the 1970’s. Seen icebergs the size of the ship and some. Gazed at the bluest icebergs carved off ancient glaciers. I’ve kayaked alongside Gentoo penguins, seen seals, sea birds, albatross and waited endlessly with anticipation at the fascination of seeing humpback whales blow, breach and display their tails, such wondrous sights and sounds.
Reflecting on my experiences with Antarctica, I depart, not only in tears but in total awe. In awe of the wildlife, the landscape and the deep emotions it has stirred in me. I’ve a new found love and respect for this wildest, most majestic, humbling of continents.
I don’t often give thanks in a blog but I would like to say thank you to UKAHT for all your hard work digging out postcards from Port Lockroy Penguin Post Office stores. Thank you to IAATO for all you do to preserve this beautiful continent. Finally thank you to Intrepid Travel for facilitating my journey with Antarctica, such an awesome team.
Antarctica is no right of passage. Although sad this is over, I am eternally grateful and happy for the joy that is Antarctica. I arrived possibly as an experience ticking tourist but definitely depart as a privileged and humbled Antarctic Ambassador.
Please get in touch if you’d like to hear more or are interested in your own journey with Antarctica.