Our trip to ANTARCTICA was nothing short of incredible. The trip of a lifetime is an understatement. My obsession with ANTARCTICA started after taking a cruise to Alaska. The serenity of the “Blue Ice” and glaciers haunted me. It was my mission to convince Bobby to take me on a 4 day trek to literally the bottom of the Earth. We traveled within 700 miles of the South Pole. We crossed the Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees. It was the first time the ship was able to get that far south in years due to ice and weather. It is summer in ANTARCTICA and the ice moves, so we were very very lucky! If you are interested in what it was like 100 years ago…I beg you to read Ernest Shackleton. He was a British explorer who went on a expedition that was supposed to last a few months but got caught in the ice with 27 brave men and survived the brutal winters, (as low as 100 below zero at times and total darkness for months) for almost 2 years lost at sea. Reading the book on the ship made it all the more real for me but I promise you will literally feel like you are there.
I could go into such detail that you will fall asleep so I will try to keep it simple.
We flew out of JFK on an 11 hour flight to Buenos Aires. We arrived a few days early to explore the city. If you don’t care about Buenos Aires…you can skip this section and go below. The highlights were visiting Eva Peron’s grave and visiting the Opera House. We strolled SOHO, the waterfront and of course explored the area where we stayed (Sofitel Hotel). OK…here is the real deal. All of the international brands you would expect to see from Europe and the USA are gone. They all left! It is a long and complicated political explanation but I wish someone would have told me before we went there 4 days early! It is true there is a black market for exchanging money. The banks and credit cards will give you 8.5 pesos for 1 dollar. BUT…there are hidden CAMBIO locations that will give you 13 pesos for $1 US. Make sure you go to a trusted exchange place or concierge recommended one (off the record) or even ask your flight attendant before you land. So…if you can…PAY EVERYTHING IN PESOS. Do not use your credit card because you will only get 8.5! That includes your hotel, taxis and restaurants. Unfortunately there is not much to buy otherwise. Of course I did find a fabulous high end leather designer and bought 2 gorgeous bags at a great price.
We were traveling with 100 people through Exclusive Resorts and we chartered the entire National Geographic Orion ship. It always feels like you are traveling with old friends so it makes it more fun. We all flew on a private charter another 5 hours to Ushuaia. It is the southern most city in the WORLD, near Patagonia, bordering Chile. After boarding the ship we were ready to go. When we arrived in our suite there were orange polar jackets and waterproof boots. One of the things I love about a small ship is the coziness. You give up the casino and shows but they had an unlock door policy. All of the rooms were left open unless you decided to lock it. I loved that. It felt more homey. They also had an open bridge policy, which is unheard of on a larger vessel. We spent hours and hours hanging out together with the captain, ice master and our fearless leader, Tim from Eyos Expeditions.
At 3PM we started our voyage to the bottom of the Earth. You have to travel 700 miles through what’s called The Drake Passage. Drake Passage is known to have the roughest seas with up to 50 foot waves. The water surrounds Antarctica with no land blocking it so the winds can blow up to 100 MPH on a regular basis. Everyone was prepared with patches and pills. I can’t say I made it to dinner but I made it to Antarctica!
FAST FACT: Before we were allowed to walk on the island, all of our clothing we would be wearing needed to be sanitized so that humans didn’t transfer anything like seeds from grass etc. There are very few humans exposed to the penguins so it important we don’t cross contaminate… and there is a 15 foot rule. You can’t go within 15 feet but if they walk up to you its OK. Also, penguins always have the right of way!
Its all about the penguins! Our first landing was on the peninsula in Neko Harbor. We anxiously boarded black zodiacs and within a few minutes it felt like we were doing our first lunar landing! We could hear penguins as we approached. The squawking is loud and regular. The smell is potent too. There is penguin poo everywhere. We get sanitized again when we return to the ship. Our first visit was surreal. There were hundreds of squawking penguins sitting on top of their baby chicks. I won’t get into detail but Google the reproductive process of penguins or watch March Of The Penguins. Grab a box of tissues! It is one of natures wonderful wonders. They are so cute you want to take one home. I swear if I could I would have.
We headed through the Lemaire Channel for some beautiful sightseeing as well as whale watching. If you saw one, you told the captain who then announced it. We passed though the Grandidier Channel on the way to Crystal Sound which is below the Antarctic Circle at 66’33’ south of the equator. The highlight of the trip for me was when we finally ran as far as we could and the captain decided to ram the ship onto the ice so we could make an ice landing. The photos speak for themselves. I even brought a Zarin Fabrics bag with me for a fun photo for the store!
Throughout the trip we made landings on Petermann Island and Adelaide Island to see more Adelie and Gentoo penguins. Along the way we would see seals, whales and lots of birds. Luckily the weather was fairly mild and we were able to make an unscheduled stop at a working Ukrainian base. Twelve men live there for 6 months a year with very very very few visitors. It is usually blocked by ice so they were very excited for us to come. We brought them some fresh fruit and vegetables and took their mail for them. On our last landing we went to Port Lockroy which is now run by Great Britain as a tourist site. It was a working base years ago but now they have a cute little shop and the only mailbox in Antarctica. I still haven’t received the postcards we mailed. How long do you think it will take to get them?
At last we started our 4 day journey home. Through the Drake Passage and past Cape Horn…we arrived in Ushuaia on January 25, 2015. We were ready to re-enter society and get home to Ally and Ginger. Below are more photos from the trip. If you have any questions about our trip or want more details about anything at all, please email me at jill@Jillzarin.com
Next stop? Las Vegas!
Love, Jill XO
WHALES, SEALS AND PENGUINS