Thursday, January 21, 2016
It's the Time to go to Antarctica!
Few things provoke the imagination like the idea of going to the South Pole. The worlds of forbidden travels, the walls and mountains of ice, the stories of Shackleton. It's been the subject of movies, and the seed that really started the worries about global warming. Even for those that don't like the cold, there's a mystique that makes us all consider making that trip someday. Well, I think it's time that we worked it in.
Back in the 1980's and early 1990's it would cost you around $20,000 to climb onto a redesigned Russian icebreaking ship and take a cruise to the land of the unknown in Antarctica. You might get to stop at McMurdo Station if the weather was promising. Only around 1,000 people went until sometime in the 1990's. But, tourism has been on a steady climb since that time. Now, nearly 40,000 people go down there each year. Think about that. There's only a couple of months a year that we can even go. That's a lot of traffic.
That's not all. It seems that everyone has some kind of a science station in Antarctica these days. They come in all shapes and designs, and one of the British collection can walk. That's amazing. They build them in all kinds of designs for weather, budget, light reflection and whatever. My point is that it's getting crowded down there. Who wants to go to the world's most amazing frontier and find thousands of people milling about? That's why I say go now before it gets even more out of control. People worry about global warming, it's effects on Antarctica and the hole in the Ozone layer down there, but let's pump it full of people. That will help. Sure.
These days there are a ton cruises that go to Antarctica. I don't know of any way to fly to Antarctica unless you are a visiting scientist. They used to take some tourist flights from New Zealand to Antarctica, but one of them crashed and everyone was killed. This lead to them being deemed to dangerous and discontinued to this day. Some of the cruises leave from other places, but most of them run out of Ushauaia, Argentina. There are a lot of places that you can visit along the way. I've talked about these trips before, so you can look at previous posts and find out some about them. Ushauaia is a fascinating spot in and of itself. This is a huge jumping off point for cruises around Antarctica and the Scotia Sea, but they also have trips specifically to Cape Horn. Ushauaia is the southernmost city in the world, and it has a flavor all it's own sitting amongst the glaciers of the southern Andes of Patagonia in one of the world's most interesting climates.
The cruises of today go to many locales along the Antarctic Circle. The Falklands are a regular stop for cruises these days. These remote islands have been the subject of some of the strangest conflicts I've ever heard of. The British are the proud owners of these remote islands with harsh weather and virtually no resources. In the 1980's they actually went to war with Argentina over the islands. Today they remain British and the Argentinians remain angry about it. They are a pretty set of islands and Port Stanley is the capital and virtually only city. There are things to do in the Falklands. You can see a lot of historic sites, learn all about the war and the conflict between England and Argentina over them. There are also some great nature spots to go and see.
There's not much on the South Georgia Islands, but there are people there. This will be your first big penguin stop on your way to Antarctica, so that's cool. Remember that there are several different kinds of the bird to see along the way, and they each have their own separate area to live in. There are signs of the Shackleton Expedition all along the way, so enjoy the history.
Most likely, you'll visit the South Sandwich Islands. These islands are highly volcanic and they are full of wildlife. You will be taken to see a colony of penguins while in the Sandwich Islands on most tours. It is an incredible experience to see penguins up close. They are a curious bird and want to know about us almost as much as we want to know about them. Just remember, they are wild animals and treat them with respect. If they don't want to come to you, don't force it.
There is no way to cruise to Antarctica from Argentina without crossing the Drake Passage. Bring your Dramamine. This is some of the roughest waters in the world. There are myths and stories from many generations about this body of water. It's fascinating and beautiful, but it will kill you. The waves will come and the seas will be unpredictable. Tourists who take the cruise out to Cape Horn only run about a %50 chance of getting to step on land there, because the waters are so unpredictable.
But the passage is worth it, because oh what an amazing world lies on the other side. Paradise Bay is one of the more well noted spots along the way, but the icebergs are amazing, the water is clear, the whales are there in the winter months and the wildlife is diverse. There are all kinds of penguins as I mentioned, whales, seals, and the monstrous Leopard Seal. This predator was made famous in "March of the Penguins" and is one of the more dangerous animals on that continent. At any rate, there is a lot of wildlife to enjoy. There are the stations to visit too. Different cruises visit different stations, but you most likely will get to set foot on the continent and see some of what goes on there. There are no permanent settlements on Antarctica, but the science stations are mostly staffed year round.
Here's the one that blew me away. Not only are some of the tour companies including chances to take excursions out into the land of Antarctica, but Victory Cruises are offering a side cruise to sail along the coast of the continent. You visit several stops along the way, see the wildlife up close and personal, get to sail a boat and they will take you for a sauna and a swim. I'm not joking. You go with Victory, and you will have a chance to swim in the Antarctic. Beat that.
So, Ushauaia is the spot and there are many tours that you can take these days. Most of them run around 14 days, but the cost has come down and one person can go for under $5,000. I don't normally talk about a subject twice, but I just see it becoming so common that I really think that it should happen before the place looks like Vegas. It's a really good time, because it's still rugged and the animals are still in force and amazing. It's also a good time to go, because the trips have been expanded to see even more amazing places, peoples, animals and natural phenomena. Taking a swim in Antarctica is certainly a once in a lifetime experience as is a cruise to Antarctica. It's that once in a lifetime thing that you will never forget and it is truly an Adventure for Anyone. Enjoy!