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Matt Chesterton has returned to Jaunted with tales of his latest trip cruising around Antarctica. Every day this week, he'll be enlightening us on this luxury ice capades adventure. Enjoy.
Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
-- Recruitment poster for Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition.
For Antarctic Shipping S.A., it is a great satisfaction and pride to share with you the M/V Antarctic Dream, an Antarctic passenger ship reconditioned with the best available technology and comfort.
-- Advertising blurb for Antarctic Dream cruise ship.
There's a tendency among people who have had the good fortune (in all senses) to go on an Antarctic cruise, to ceaselessly brag and bluster about their 'unique' trip to friends, family, pets, impressionable children, and complete strangers in remote realms of the blogosphere.
On and on they bang about cornflower-blue bergy bits, giant seabirds, playful penguins, and perpetual daylight. They will be picking at a lemon sorbet at a dinner party when they will suddenly lapse into a reverie and exclaim: "You know, this reminds me of the snow I ate while climbing the bluff overlooking Paradise Bay while the perpetual daylight lit a blue flame beneath the entire icescape and…"
I say this by way of a warning, dear reader, because you shouldn't expect anything better from me. Since my voyage to the ice continent in December, I've become a world-class, authoritative bore on anything related to the world's southernmost latitudes. Feeling tolerant? Then read on.
The scientists who will brave the brutal polar winter at McMurdo Station in Antarctica have one thing to brighten their days: 16,500 condoms. The massive shipment of prohylactics was one of the last things delivered to the research base before the four-month-long season when the entire continent gets no sunlight.
During winter, McMurdo is home to a skeleton crew of only 125 researchers and, naturally, there's loads of sexual tension between the staff during the endless evening. The manager of the station, Bill Henriksen, told reporters:
Since everybody knows everyone, it becomes a little bit uncomfortable.
The staff will have to use the condoms sparingly. The shipment amounts to just more than one condom per day for each scientist. The ones who aren't getting laid should be able to make a tidy profit selling their unused rations.
· Antarctica Base Gets 16,500 Condoms before Darkness [Reuters]
· Antarctica Travel coverage [Jaunted]
· Sex coverage [Jaunted]
Of course, to be featured on the Lonely Planet YouTube channel you'll have to compete with a bikini'd man swimming in Antarctica, a "Hills"-worthy tour of Paris and (above) a belly-dancing, ghost-riding cabdriver who confidently declares, "I am not normal."
One bit of advice: Videos of you guzzling cachaça and popping pills in a Brazilian hostel while on assignment, we'd imagine, won't earn you a five-star YouTube rating from LP.
· Travel Videos coverage [Jaunted]
A trip to Antarctica is like the real-life version of Animal Planet: Where else in the world can you sail past seals sleeping on icebergs or plop down on a snowy beach where curious penguins climb right onto your lap? For most of our trip, wildlife spottings were of the warm and cuddly kind--until our zodiacs landed on Cuverville Island.
The rocky island is home to a rookery of gentoo penguins, so we settled on a hill overlooking the ocean to watch nature's show. Fluffy baby penguins frolicked in the icy waves and put on live performances akin to Happy Feet.
The movie moment quickly ended when an enormous leopard seal tore into an unsuspecting gentoo--throwing it up in the air and catching it with its teeth. It was an instant reminder that, despite the Hollywood-worthy scenery, we'd definitely landed in one of the wildest places on earth.
Jaunted Field Trips / Jaunted in Antarctica / Antarctica Travel / Active Travel / Holly Corbett / Animals / → All Tags
Maybe we were on a natural high after surviving the Drake Passage or maybe all that cold air went straight to our heads, but almost every passenger on our voyage took a (polar) plunge and joined the Antarctic Swim Team.
As our ship headed to Whaler's Bay near Deception Island, we scored our first big wildlife as humpback whales flaunted their acrobatic skills by breaching more than twenty times. Penguins shot out of the water all around the ship like shiny black-and-white bullets.
We watched from the bridge as our captain skillfully navigated the narrow crossing into Neptune's Bellows, which was formed when the walls of a volcano collapsed. As we boarded Zodiacs to go ashore, our expedition leader announced that the volcano was still active--but that he didn't think it would erupt the day we were there.
We weren't exactly convinced: Mother Nature and Antarctica were proving to be anything but predictable.
Antarctica's remote location isn't the only challenge to setting foot on the continent: It's also protected by the 500-mile wide Drake Passage, home to the world's most turbulent waters. But ignorance was definitely bliss for all the Antarctica virgins on board as our group of about fifty passengers set sail from Ushuaia on the Akademik Shokalskiy.
It ain't a Carnival Cruise. The research vessel's ice-strengthened hull can navigate between floating bergs and fit into nooks and crannies that larger cruise ships can't. The vessel is more cozy than luxurious, with a bar/lounge, small library, dining room, lecture hall and enclosed bridge for spotting whales, albatross and penguins.
Ushuaia is known as both el fin del mundo and the beginning of the journey to Antarctica. Convicts helped construct its streets, bridges and buildings when the Argentinean government built a jail there in the early 1900s. Officials figured wannabe escape artists wouldn't have a chance to make a getaway, thanks to the city's location in Tierra del Fuego: The waters of the Beagle Channel don't make for an easy swim.
Today, the town's population balloons to almost 65,000 during the high season from November to March. After the jump, find our guide on what to do and see in the City at the End of the World.
For our journey to the South Pole, we signed up with a group called People To People, which essentially offers study abroad programs for adults. In addition to whisking us to the seventh continent, People to People lined up top experts to lecture on board our cruise. We got schooled in everything from glaciology to marine mammals to the politics of Antarctica.
Group or no group, if you're among the .05 percent making the trek to the bottom of the world, mastering the f-word is essential. (That'd be "flexibility.") Our trip to Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth and the gateway Antarctica, involved flight changes, lost luggage and botched travel plans.
With National Geographic quoting an explorer who says accidents are "inevitable" and tourism officials advocating for safeguards, potential Antarctica travelers could get mighty spooked. Luckily, there won't be many economic consequences if tourism does drop off--except for the companies providing the trips. We're still of the mind that all travel involves some risk, and we think that's part of the fun.
· Misgivings Rise Along with Antarctic Tourism [NYT]
· Cruise "Disaster" Raising Tourism Concerns [National Geographic]
· Ship Accident Highlights Dangers [ABC Australia]
· Survivors Recall Their Rescue [ABC News]
· Awaiting Rescue, Survivors Cracked Titanic Jokes [Mirror]
[Photo: AFP/Chilean Navy]
After the MS Explorer sank this holiday weekend just off the coast of Antarctica, we got to thinking about other bottom-of-the-Earth tourism options. Just because one ship goes down doesn't mean that touring the frozen continent is extraordinarily dangerous--though it's probably more risky than heading to the kitchen for another Sprite. It bears repeating that all 154 passengers and crew of the ill-fated Explorer were safely rescued within hours.
Lindblad Expeditions, the company that originally commissioned the Explorer, is still offering its trips south, with 15, 20 and 25 day itineraries available. Australian outfit Aurora Expeditions also has plenty of options to tour Antarctica, and overall these companies are very safe. While you're definitely taking a risk by going, there's no place on Earth like Antarctica.
We admit our experience of Antarctica is limited to the kinds of cruise-ship-hits-island stories that we like to chuckle about. But we'd really love to check out the great southern continent and just haven't yet because nobody's offered to pay our way there.
Second best might be reading the latest offering from Travelers' Tales: It's a collection of travel essays called Antarctica: Life on the Ice. Featuring plenty of penguins, a few dinosaur bones, hefty blizzards and places where your footprints will outlive you, it'll surely whet your appetite for more freezing experiences. Just be sure to invite us along when you go, k?