What it takes to go to Antarctica
Antarctica is not an easy place to get to and thus, off most people’s radars to even think about going. For me it was always a far off dream. Something I’ve thought about, but a big reason for going was to check the 7th and final continent that I’ve set foot on off the list. It’s one of those places that is exactly how you think and dream of it to be, but even better. It’s one of the first places where I feel photography and video can’t do justice to the experience of actually being there. It’s like no other place I’ve ever been. The vast nuclear blue ice scapes that are so dense that the only color of the spectrum that can pass through is a deep effervescent azul. The penguins in their own human like colonies, you can watch them for hours. Antarctica is one of most pristine nature reserves on the planet. It’s a dream.
How does one get to the Antarctic? The first step is to see the value. With a price tag of $7-10K per person(plus another $2Kish for airfare down to Ushuaia) for a 10 day “Cruise” expedition it’s not a normal trip. The costs vary depending on the expedition company, boat, and size of cabin/how many cabin mates you want. These trips are booked at least 3-4 months out and are typically sold out within that time frame. There were a few randoms who hopped on for $5-6K on last minute deals they bought the week of the voyage departure. It’s hard to see the value after not having been there before, but I can assure you it is. While not an ice breaker, the boat is a research boat made to encounter ice and severely gnarly storms. Our boat was a Russian run boat contracted by a Canadian expedition company, One Ocean Expeditions and we booked the journey through Expedition Trips. There are only 100 guests housed on the boat and once you make the 2 day voyage through the Drake Passage, some of the roughest waters in the world, they take you down the Antarctic Peninsula for 6 days of excursions to land, then another 2 days back through the Drake to the end of the earth to fly back home. The crew is filled with knowledge, history and science information that make the trip very educational. Every meal every day is a three course meal. Not too shabby.
My journey started when my friend Frances emailed me and said our friends Janet and George are getting married down in Antarctica do you want to go? It sounded like the perfect opportunity to see the 7th continent with a good group of friends. I mean hell, at that price tag, it’s not every day you can rally that many people to the end of the earth for a wedding. Before we knew it, our group had grown to 50 people. Booking a 2 week trip 3 months in advance was the hardest hurdle to get over, but I committed(maybe I’m slowly getting over my commitment issues). Through all the planning and the three months before we set sail, the day had finally arrived.
All of us from around the world rendezvoused in Ushuaia which is the southern most city in the world, at the bottom of Argentina. I flew from NYC to Buenos Aires, then BA to Ushuaia. One piece of advice to note: DO NOT FLY Aerolineas Argentina especially if you are a photographer. They weigh your carry on and make you check your bags. LAN airlines is another better option. Ushuaia is nestled in the beautiful vast landscapes of the Patagonia. It’s a somewhat creepy little town where they used to send all the criminals back in the day.
Once we set sail, we went off the grid. No internet, or social media. They gave you an email address that you can communicate with people, but you can’t access your own. We lucked out and cruised the Drake passage on about a level 5. Big sways, but enough to walk around, hang out, and have our 3 course meals. Sometimes it gets really stormy and in extreme storms they even strap you to your bed. Dramamine is a definite must.
The day we arrive in to the Antarctic Peninsula, we begin doing 2 land excursions a day. One in the morning, then we come back for lunch, the boat moves, and we go back out for a few hours. For the excursions, they take us out in Zodiacs to make landings because there is no civilization there so the boat has to be anchored away from shore. The first landing was a smelly one. I know we all like to believe the penguins are pristinely clean animals, but contrary to that dream they pretty much shit themselves to the point where it looks like a bloody massacre. Luckily they make their solo and small group ventures down to the water for a little swim and rinse.
We did a polar swim in Deception Pass.(when in Rome?) When else are you going to ever get the chance to say you’ve jumped in the water in Antarctica. We cruised through icebergs. We were surrounded by 15 feeding Humpback whales in Wilhelmina Bay. We camped one night in the snow on land. Quite frankly, our group turned that ship up to a 10 every night.
The wedding was on the most epic landscape I’ve ever been to a wedding on. Janet & George were filming a show for Discovery Asia and had me on the show as a guest which was super fun. We collaborated and shot a portrait story of them and got our creative juices flowing.
It was an epic trip, one to go down in the travel books as unforgettable.