“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.” – Captain James Cook (British explorer who first cross the Antarctic Circle)
It was 2007 when I first joined an online travel community named – Travbuddy. On one TB meet-up in Singapore, we were all talking about how Filipinos are scattered all over the world, that when you kidnap one random person anywhere, by default, chances are he is a Filipino, lol! Kidding aside, one member, Kuya Mike shared his story that he met a fellow Filipino when he went to Antarctica.
I laughed at that time because I thought it was just a made-up story. I never knew at that time that it is possible to go to Antarctica even if you are not on a research trip or that expensive hiking of Mount Vinson Massif (one of the 7 Summits). Since then, I started reading and dreaming about going to Antarctica.
Antarctica as we all know as the southernmost continent on Earth, it is the coldest, driest, and windiest place, so one may wonder who would want live or at least to visit there? Of course, not a lot, but very possible during austral summer season which is from November to March, and there are few people on research stations who stays all throughout the year too. That means only those people who lives in the research stations comprise the population in this continent.
Antarctica is known as the Seventh Continent, although there is no order of continents really, it is often called the 7th continent perhaps because it’s the last continent to be discovered by humans and remains to be barely touched by humans until today because they regulate the amount of non-research tourists who goes to the continent. So it is really a privilege to have the opportunity to come here and witness the breathtaking views and amazing wildlife of this remotest place on Earth!
I started travelling around in 2007, however, going to Antarctica was never on my priority list. Apart from it’s expensive for me, I can never seem to find anyone who wants to go there that is actually making a plan. So I told myself, perhaps I will just go once I visited most, if not all, of the countries on My Travel Bucketlist.
Then in 2013 a TB member organised a meet-up to pay tribute to one of the members who passed away, Mark, because this was his dream. I’ve met him once in a TB Meet-Up he organised in the 200th Oktoberfest in Munich, he was a good man, bless his soul. So when this Antarctica tribute meet-up came up, I immediately joined in because finally I will now have a real plan to pursue and I will be travelling with like-minded people, even if I do not know most of them anymore (as I became inactive member for a long while since 2010).
Since the initial planning, I was just lurking at TB site waiting for any plans but nothing was happening. Honestly, I was not so bothered, in my mind I still believed that perhaps Antarctica will just remain as my dream destination and perhaps it was not meant for me to step onto Antarctica.
Until one of the TB organizers, JR, messaged me if I want to push my plan on joining them because if yes, I need to deposit 10% payment soon, but the trip will still be on February 2017. I treated that invitation as a sign for me that the opportunity is presenting itself already. So I immediately deposited my down payment to get a slot without even thinking if I will still be alive in 2017, lol!
THE TOUR PROVIDER/S
We are very fortunate that it was Poseidon Expeditions who programmed this trip for us because their expedition team really did a fantastic job! They are one of the leading tour providers for polar expeditions aboard their 114-passenger deluxe cruise ship, M/V Sea Spirit.
When they say deluxe, I didn’t expect it to be a 5-star quality service because being an “expedition” ship and not a “luxury” ship, I thought it will be just basic. But the best part of all is their well-equipped expedition team that made our adventure the best we could have! We’re glad and so thankful that Chimu Adventures, who organised this trip for our group, chose to book us in Poseidon Expeditions than any other providers out there.
Chimu Adventures is an Australian based tourist agency which is why 80% of the tourists in our boat were from Australia. It’s only our group, Travbuddy, that are from different parts of this world – UK, US, Canada, NZ, South Africa, Poland, Thailand, and me from the Philippines! (Yay, lol!) It was suggested by our fellow TB, Jane, to JR when he was doing his research on which cruise company we should take, as the amount of choices online are just too overwhelming and if you have no Antarctica experience yet you do not know who to trust that will give you the best Antarctica experience worth your money.
As February 2017 was getting closer, the more my Antarctica dream was getting more vivid. I can’t believe it myself that my dream will now become a reality. Not only I prepare myself for this financially, I did a lot of itinerary planning, visa applications, hiking preparations, and even lots of warm clothes shopping, because I also want to visit other South American countries like Argentina (well, this is where we will embark), Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. I told myself this will be my early 40th birthday gift for myself, indeed a TRIP OF A LIFETIME.
I will not bore you anymore with my stories of my preparations, you can either meet or call me for a chat (not message because obviously I’m lazy to write it down haha!) and ask about it or just do tons of research online too just exactly what I did, don’t be THAT lazy! Lol!
There are so many available infos online now that can help you plan your itinerary around South America, visa applications, breakdown of costs, what clothes to pack, what photography gears to bring, medicines and essentials to bring, what physical training you need, etc. etc. Maybe I will try to write these all down in the future, but not for now. I would rather share with you my experience onboard and off the expedition ship to Antarctica.
THE EXPEDITION SHIP
The best way to explore Antarctica is when you can actually land on it. The people working or guests of the research stations fly to get there but only few commercial tourist flights that goes there and they only fly above the ice for few hours and will never land. Most common way to get there is through a ship.
If you want to land and explore the continent more, then you need to be onboard an expedition ship or charter yachts, because the huge luxury cruise ships do not have any continental landings, this is to preserve and prevent further impact on the continent.
Our expedition ship, M/V Sea Spirit, is a 115-passenger vessel with suite staterooms and amenities like Restaurant, Bar, Outdoor Bistro, Club Lounge, Library, Presentation Lounge, Infirmary, Gym, Outdoor Jacuzzi, and you can even visit the Bridge to mingle with the Captain and Officers!
The staterooms are all equipped with huge window, comfortable beds, sofabed, wardrobe, safe, fridge, TV, and a bathroom complete with toiletries. Our rooms get cleaned twice a day and we eat 4 times a day – buffet breakfast, buffet lunch, afternoon tea and cakes or sundowners, and a 3-course dinner! 5-star quality experience ;)
We boarded the ship from Ushuaia, Argentina for an 11-day Antarctica Peninsula voyage. Our package includes also a one (1) night accommodation at a 5-star hotel in Ushuaia. We arrived a day earlier to avoid any flight hassles and so that we can explore around Ushuaia too. Gorgeous town!
See my separate entry for Ushuaia, Argentina, HERE.
After 3 years of planning, the day that we all have been waiting for is finally happening. Although, I do not know ALL of the Travbuddy that I am going to meet for this Antarctica trip, it seemed that I already know them for years. Well, thanks to social media! Apart from the TB site, we have our own FB group page and Whatsapp group chat to get to know each other and share anything during the planning stage.
We all meet-up at Buenos Aires first (some I met first in Iguazu Falls) and had a good time knowing each other more. By the time we all get to Ushuaia, we are all like family already.
On the day we went on board M/V Sea Spirit we met more people onboard and like I said, 80% are Australians hehe. Apparently because this trip was for a charitable cause lead by Andrew Denton, a well-known TV personality in Australia. He is onboard to with his wife, Jennifer Byrne, to be our guest speakers.
In 10days inside a small ship, you will definitely bond really well with almost all the passengers, especially there is NO FREE WIFI so tendency people talk to each other, and I LOVE it! I came to know other fellow passengers apart from our TB group, the fantastic people of our expedition team, and the ship staff and crews which are I think 50% Filipinos, haha! So the myth is true, we are everywhere, lol!
I thought I was the only Filipina on board because of the nationality list they posted at the info board, but then I met another Filipina passenger too, Ate Anabel.
She’s Australian citizen now that’s why. It’s funny though that perhaps because of this list, my fellow Filipinos (staff and crew) onboard were so curious to find out who is that ONE on the list, I didn’t know this story not until 2 of my fellow TBs, Lucy and Keila, (both Americans but with Chinese and Mexican blood respectively) told me that some of the staff and crews were asking them if they are that ONE in the list! Days have passed but still none of them were asking me, I’m starting to worry they don’t like me haha!
So I introduced myself to one of them, Kuya Ruel, the Restaurant Chief Steward of our ship, and he looked surprised! He said apart from I don’t look like one (because I had my hair dyed in ombre grey at that time, lol!) they stopped asking around when they met Ate Anabel thinking she was that ONE, hehe. Glad I introduced myself because there are days that they will serve Filipino food for me :P
THE DRAKE PASSAGE
It takes 2 days to reach Antarctica from Ushuaia, but before you can reach the continent you need to pass through the roughest seas on Earth, the Drake Passage. It is the convergence of Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans, so the climactic transition makes the waves and currents of the seas the worst part of your Antarctic journey.
When I read about this before the trip it worried me a lot because I have motion sickness and sometimes it can get worst, vertigo. I always get carsick and especially seasick. What worried me more is that knowing I will be on a smaller ship. If the big cruise ships’ passengers can get seasick in Drake Passage, how much more I’ll get with our smaller ship.
Packed with my vertigo pills (not ordinary seasick pills!) and prayers, I avoided alcohol for the first few days too because I cannot get sick just before I step on Antarctica, because once I get seasick, it will definitely ruin the rest of my trip already. I prayed to God to give us a Drake “Lake” on our way to Antarctica so I can enjoy the rest of the days and he can just give the Drake “Shake” on our return if we really have to experience that >.<
And God heard my prayers, on our way to Antarctica the sea was sooo calm I could even go out and watch the wildlife! This were also the times when we see our first Albatross, whales, dolphins, and iceberg sightings!!! But I still avoided alcohol no matter how tempting it was during the first days we were not doing anything but lectures and staying almost all day at the Bar, lol! I like the Bar amongst all the other public spaces in the ship, because apart from it’s the warmest and coziest place there, it’s where the cool people go haha! Of course, I’m kidding!
I wished I had prayed also for a Drake Lake on our way back to Ushuaia instead of bargaining to give us a Drake Shake, because that prayer was answered too, lol! On our way back, to Ushuaia we had the most dreaded Drake Shake that I got seasick for almost 2 days. I’m thankful for my roommate, Alyssa (fellow TB) for taking care of me and Tersia, my other room mate (fellow TB too) during those days! She’s the only one who is not so seasick that day when the waves were 6 meters high! :O
I am also thankful for the staff and crews for making me Sinigang (Filipino soup) to make me feel better, the soup didn’t help but the gesture did, so thoughtful all of them! Actually, when Tersia and I were trying to pay our last laundry service during check-out they did not give us a bill, when we asked why, our favorite housekeeper, Carlos, just told us we don’t need to pay because we were seasick! Not sure if there was a misunderstanding there but Tersia and I were so touched by this we just left tips for all of them. Such a sweet boy, that’s why we, together with my room mates, Alyssa and Tersia, call ourselves, – The Carlos’ Angels :D
Since the weather and Drake Passage was good to us, we actually made our first landing to Antarctica on our 3rd day! Even if it’s not actually at the continent itself yet, everyone was excited to finally wear our red parkas and snow wellies (part of the package so you don’t need to bring these btw) and make our first landing on the 7th continent of the world. I was even pinching myself at that moment, because finally, THIS. IS. REALLY. HAPPENING.
There are no words to describe the marvelous views I was blessed to see in Antarctica, not even my photos can justify it. All the buildup from what I read prior to my trip seems to be true and not an exaggeration just because it is not easy to get there. Actually, what I’ve witnessed all exceeded the hype.
I am actually lost for words every time I wake up and look outside our picture window, every time I go out of the ship, and every time we land there is something different and something to top the previous landing. To think, we are just in South Shetland Islands and not even in the other parts of the continent yet, I can never imagine how much more beauty it will be like to go farther like in South Pole or to the other side or coming from the New Zealand side.
We did a total of eight (8) landings on this whole expedition cruise and we hiked more various terrains than you could ever think of. But none of us were complaining no matter how strenuous our daily activities were because every second of it was worthwhile.
Sometimes when I feel I had enough for the day, I always plan not to join the next landing, but I know I cannot forgive myself if I miss something out. And indeed, in every landing there is always something different from the other landings that you would really thank yourself you got your lazy ass off the bed, lol!
We made our 1st landing at the Halfmoon Island. This is where I saw my first penguins and seals – upclose! And they’re stinky hahaha! Then we went to the Argentinian research station, the Camara Base, to have our passport stamped!
Our 2nd landing the next day was in Hydruga Rocks, the sun was up at that time that some of us had to remove our parkas whilst hiking because we were all sweating haha! Then we made our very first CONTINENTAL landing in Portal Point! (making it our 3rd landing).
When you say continental landing it means you are actually stepping on the continent and not those islands surrounding the Antarctica. This is where we have our group picture and this is also where we went back that night to have our CAMPING!
See my separate entry for Polar Camping in Antarctica, HERE.
I wasn’t able to join the zodiac cruise around Wilhelmina Bay because I was still sleepy after the camping the night before and also I need to recharge myself for our 4th landing that afternoon in
Foyn Harbour at Cuverville Island where huge glaciers has its calving and bluish!
We had a good zodiac cruise around the icebergs too and saw feeding whales literally swam at the bottom of our zodiac! Our zodiac guide that time told us we were very lucky to experience that!
We usually have 2 landings in a day, but that day our expedition leader told us there will be a third landing for the day. I felt very tired already from the night before but I still went because there won’t be any hiking they say. So for our 5th landing, we went to the famous Neko Harbour. It doesnt get really dark in Antarctica so it was still fine to go out after dinner.
Our 6th landing will be my unforgettable one, because I did my very first snow sledding or sliding or whatever you call that hahaha! We went to Almirante Brown station along Paradise Harbour. It is another Argentine research station with a viewpoint that we need to climb.
The snow was very thick and made it too difficult to hike actually, for me this is the most challenging so far amongst all our hiking/landings or perhaps because this is already our 4th day hiking in consecutive days. I am glad that my fellow TB, Brian, is in front of me so I was actually following the stairs-like steps he was creating for me hehe. The steep, slippery, rocky part going to the viewpoint was quite difficult just because we were all wearing wellies! It wouldn’t be that difficult for sure if we were wearing smaller boots, lol!
Anyway, the view up there is very rewarding, but you had to wait for some people on top to come down first because we will all not fit there, but it’s just annoying that some of those people would like to stay longer on top whilst we hold our balance standing on uneven rocks, on your wellies! Grrrr! Haha!
And then going down is the best part for me! Not many did what I did, very few of us only just because we slid already so we just continue it all the way down haha! OMG it was soooo much fun! I had to stop at some point though because I saw a penguin about to cross my path! Remember they have the right of way, always. Dammit haha!
On our 7th landing, our expedition leader advised all of us to bring the postcards we want to send to our family and friends because we are going to Chile’s research station, Gonzalez Videla Station in Waterboat Point along Paradise Bay.
As soon as we landed, guess what? I realised I forgot my postcards! Then I spoke to our expedition team leader if we are going to Port Lockroy, British research station, because I’d rather send my postcards there actually to make my husband proud hehe but he said he is not sure if we can because it will always depend on the weather. I almost hated him already but when he told me he could sail me back to our ship to get my postcards and come back again, wow! I almost kissed him, kidding haha! Anyway, I managed to mail my postcards here but I had no chance to explore around anymore.
Our 8th landing will be at Bond Point at Telefon Bay in Deception Island. The weather is still cooperating so our expedition team leader told us we can have another Polar Plunge here! Apart from the weather, this island is actually a caldera of a volcano so the water here will be a little bit warmer, around 2C lol! I guess that’s already warm here in Antarctica!
See my separate entry for Polar Plunge in Antarctica, HERE.
On our way to Deception Island, we passed through Neptune’s Bellows which is the mouth or entrance to this ring-shaped island which is the caldera of the volcano, there are no more snow here and we didn’t see any penguins anymore.
Our 9th and last landing is at Elephant Point in Livingston Island, it’s called elephant because there are a lot of elephant seals! It was discussed to us the night before by the expedition team that there is a storm coming at Drake Passage on the day we plan to come back to Ushuaia and no one would want to have a storm at the Drake Passage, so he let us choose if we want one more day in Antarctica and do 1-2 landings more or go back to Ushuaia a day early so we can avoid the storm, of course all of us chose the obvious.
As you can see, we could have done 10 or 11 landings if it weren’t for the upcoming storm at Drake Passage. But that does not disappoint any of us because we have seen a LOT already! Better to miss more places and just come back someday (wow I hope so!) than face the brutal force of Drake Shake and may not just wash out good memories of Antarctica but is also dangerous that it may wash out us all in this world too haha!
Antarctica is the land of extremes, so the only living things that can survive here should be able to adapt to the extreme environment. Not only you will be rewarded by the striking views but also astounding wildlife that you can only find all in one place – like 8 species of penguins, 7 species of seals,10 species of whales, dolphins, and many types of birds like albatrosses, skuas, petrels, and even ducks! And they do not fear humans, they would even walk towards you.
Unfortunately, it’s prohibited to get really go too close to them, you have to maintain around 2-3meters away from them, but sometimes it’s unavoidable because they come near you! In as much as I want to hug a penguin, I am not allowed to, that’s fine because I didn’t know that they stink too much haha! They smell like bird poo, well, they are birds after all.
My fellow TB, Alyssa, have seen more wildlife than anyone of us, I believe. Apart from she was always outside our ship braving the wind and cold whilst we warm our lazy asses inside the Bar, she is also very familiar with them, she clearly have done her homework haha! As for me, I may not be aware what kind of seal was in front of me, I am just equally stunned whenever I encounter one!
Here are the photos of some of the wildlife I’ve seen myself in Antarctica:
King Penguin (Halfmoon Island), Gentoo Penguin, Chinstrap Penguin, Magellanic Penguin (Beagle Channel), & Adelie Penguin.
Leopard Seal (Foyn Harbour), Crabeater Seal, Weddell Seal, Southern Elephant Seal (Telefon Bay), and Antarctic Fur Seal (Telefon Bay)
Antarctic Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, and Sei whale
Albatross, Petrel, Skua, etc.
There are no trees or bushes that can grow here so the only flora and fauna you can find here are mosses, lichens, fungi, and algae. We see these in places with no or perhaps melted snow or ice, and again you are prohibited to step on any of it, if it’s blocking your way, you will have to find another way to avoid it even if it’s a cliff you have to go to. Because it will take around 10 years for any of the marks you left to be gone or replaced. Avoid it at all cost.
One of our many lectures in the ship is about conservation of the Antarctic wildlife. Human activities has been a risk to wildlife’s destruction and disturbance. As a mountaineer back in the days, we abide strictly to our rules – Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time, and I carry this with me anywhere I go until now.
Same thing with our expedition team emphasized strictly that not only we are prohibited in taking anything with us from the continent, (even penguin poo I believe!), but we are also prohibited from leaving anything so they discouraged us from bringing items that might get loosen up like if your sunglasses or scarf was accidentally taken by the wind, you have to get it back no matter what.
So they carefully check all of us before we even board the zodiacs to avoid us from introducing species brought by us, our bodies, or even our clothes. We even have a “Vacuum Party” where brought out all our clothes, bags, hats, etc. that is not washed if you have been traveling before boarding the ship for them to vacuum or quarantine it, to prevent us from bringing some species thay may be harmful to the species in Antarctica.
Antarctica is so remote and pristine so let’s help to keep it that way for a longer time. Of course, I am now one of those tourists who contributed from making an impact to the habitat I wasn’t even part of. Despite feeling a little bit guilty of it, I still can never thank God enough for this travel blessing.
I am truly blessed that I was able to fulfill that ambition I have had a long time ago when I first learned that one can easily plan to go to Antarctica and make it happen. I knew people can go there but I’d never thought of myself being one of those people, I thought it will just remain as my dream like anyone else who also wishes to go here.
Everyone has their own ambition. Mine would be to see the world as much as I can, and I believe a lot of people now have that same ambition, now that travelling has become more convenient and accessible (and cheaper actually) than before. Anyone now can easily go anywhere in the world because the amount of information out there is readily available now.
However flock of tourists often leads to further destruction of a one untouched place to another. Sometimes when I go to places like that, I want them to ban tourists from coming, but that will be selfish. Anyone has the right to see the world. On the other hand, no one has the right to destroy it. So my only wish for now is that every traveller or tourist should be a responsible visitor.
As defined by World Summit on Sustainable Development – Responsible tourism is about making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. I’m glad that the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) limits the amount of tourists who goes to Antarctica each year and before it’s too late that they stop anyone from visiting there, we need to do our part as visitors in preserving it. We all have accountabilities with our environment. Not only you have to practice this in Antarctica but it should be anywhere.
Go on fulfill your ambition, see the world as you please. Just be mindful that the world maybe ours to explore but we are all just guests on this planet…
*Some photos grabbed from my friends…*