The decision of this trip was taken two years ago. The first confusion was whether to bring the family along or not. All the trips so far have been with the family. Therefore, it was decided that if possible, they should also be included. After a lot of searching and searching, I realized that 8 years is the minimum age to take children and my daughter will be 8 years in 2016 so they were included in the list.
Antarctica is the most isolated and coldest region in the world. Although it is a continent, no country has sovereignty over it. Many of the countries closest to Antarctica made claims for this area and eventually a settlement was reached with those 7 countries and the ANTARCTICA TREATY came into being. According to this, no country has sovereignty over Antarctica. Buildings, colonies, any other construction activities, observation or activities for war purposes should not be carried out there. But rights to open SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH stations to study Antarctica’s climate, topography, and fauna were recognized. According to it now there are more than 50 research stations here. (India has 3 Research Stations here) – There are 2 types of Research Stations, one that operates throughout the year and one that operates only in ANTARCTIC SUMMER. The only human presence here is the staff of this research station.
Tourism to Antarctica is regulated by IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators). All Antarctic tour companies are required to adhere to the IAATO’s very strict requirements to protect Antarctic biodiversity. No more than 100 people are allowed to set foot/visit any area/location/island in Antarctica at a time. IAATO will issue tour schedules for the coming year to all tour companies one year in advance to comply with these conditions. Only according to that the tour companies can operate there.
Antarctica TOUR SEASON is only 4 months. From mid-October to February – this time is summer in Antarctica, AUSTRAL SUMMER. (It’s the opposite of our climate there) During the rest of the months, the entire sea is covered with ice, making travel impossible. There are 3 main things to consider when choosing a cruise to ANTARCTICA.
1. ICE CLASS RATING OF THE SHIP, (Capacity to break through SEA ICE) – Class A to D ships can be selected, CLASS ‘A’ being the best.
2. Ship size.
a. A bigger ship will have comparatively more comfort and amenities. But due to its size, the ship cannot reach all areas of ANTARCTICA especially shallow places/islands. Moreover, such ships carry 150 to 250 passengers. According to the 100 PEOPLE LANDING POLICY in ANTARCTICA, the time available for passengers at each location will be very short.
b. Smaller ships have less comfort and amenities. When the sea is rough, the ship shakes more. But small ships can reach almost every area. And since the number of passengers is between 100 and 110, almost everyone can make one LANDING and spend full time in all areas. (In Antarctica there are no port/berth facilities to bring the ship closer, LANDING is done by using small rubber boats called ZODIAC. Antarctica is the windiest region in the world. (World’s Windiest Continent) If the wind is high, the rubber boats cannot operate as close to the shore as possible. (The easier it is to go, the easier it is to land.)
3. Working experience of the ship operating company and its staff, especially the EXPEDITION staff.
A typical ANTARCTICA trip is 8 to 10 days long, but the trip I chose was 18 days long. Because this trip also included the islands of FALKLAND and SOUTH GEORGIA. These islands are home to some of the most beautiful wildlife in the world – and my favorite destination of the trip was SOUTH GEORGIA. Moreover, there are currently no other travel routes to South Georgia.
The cruise starts from a beautiful little village called USHUAIA. (Very few ships depart from CHILE) USHUAIA is the southernmost inhabited place in the world. (Southernmost City in the World) This place is part of Argentina. We start our journey from Dubai. It took a 21-hour flight to reach USHUAIA. Ushuaia is a small tourist village that is very beautiful and scenic. This is where people from Argentina and other South American countries spend their vacations. The accommodation facilities here are better but very expensive. We joined USHUAIA a day before departure. Spent the whole day hanging around there. The sun sets after 10.30 pm and rises around 3 am, the length of the day is much longer here.
The next day at 4 pm we boarded the ship ORTELIUS for the sea voyage. ORTELIUS is a relatively small ship built by the Russians for their Antarctic/Arctic expedition. It is now operated by a Dutch company called Oceanwide Expedition. If it was the Christmas and New Year seasons, the ship was full of passengers. There were people from almost every region of the world like Australia, China, America, Russia, etc. But most of the people were from the European region. There were only three of us Indians. A total of 110 passengers and 50 crew members. After the ship’s EMERGENCY BOAT LANDING drill, which everyone must attend, the ship proceeded through the BEAGLE CHANNEL towards the DRAKE PASSAGE.
BEAGLE CHANNEL is a very narrow ship channel. One part of it is Argentina and the other part is Chile. This is the sea route that connects the PACIFIC and ATLANTIC oceans to the land.
In the ship’s LECTURE room, the ship’s crew gave very detailed explanations about SAFETY, things to be followed during the journey, and the route we are going to take. The most important of which was the DRAKE PASSAGE, which the ship would enter after 3 hours. – The DRAKE Passage is the most difficult shipping route in the world. It is the area where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. As there are no other LAND OBSTRUCTIONS in this area, the FLOW of seawater is very high. The water here has 600 times the FLOW of the great river AMAZON. It is a very windy area. Wind can blow at a speed of 100 to 150 kmph. Because of that, the waves are more than 10 meters high and sea travel is very difficult. As soon as the ship had set sail, he gave many of the most valuable suggestions to the little party with the ship’s CAPTAIN. These were the main ones.
1. Regardless of how rough the sea is or not, the ship will continue to sail. (These are special types of ships built for the world’s most dangerous journeys)
2. Make sure you always have one hand on the ship’s handrail when walking inside the ship – handrails are located all over the ship, both inside and out. As the direction of the waves changes, the ship will suddenly sway in another direction. So it was very important to follow this to ensure our safety. )
3. Still keep our valuables like laptops and cameras on the floor of our room. (This was to prevent them from falling off the table due to the rolling of the ship)
The next two days are continuous sea travel. A warning has been received that the sea is slightly rough in the coming days. Those who need MEDICINE to avoid SEA SICKNESS have also received instructions to contact the ship’s doctor immediately after dinner. As it was my first cruise, I took SEA SICK TABLETS as per the doctor’s advice. When I woke up the next morning, I felt a slight discomfort. By noon the sea became more turbulent and the ROLLING of the SHIP increased greatly. It became impossible to walk without holding one hand somewhere. About 60% of the people on the ship started vomiting. Some had to be given an injection by the doctor. The next day was the same experience.
Throughout the journey, there were LECTURES by EXPEDITIONS STAFF. These were at various times in the morning and evening. Each class was about a variety of topics related to ANTARCTICA. They were very informative classes, (we got to see a lot of birds and dolphins during these two days. But due to the ROLLING of the SHIP, we didn’t get to stay long on the DECK or take pictures)
When I woke up on the third day, I saw a very clear and calm sea in front of me. It was announced that it will reach FALKLAND ISLAND within an hour and as the sea is calm, there will be a LANDING as per SCHEDULE. (The next day’s programs and SCHEDULE were things to be timed in the party which met every evening at the ship’s BAR. The cameras had to be kept in special waterproof bags. – We were greeted on the shore by Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. Magellanic penguins live in small burrows on the ground.
We were instructed to avoid such potholes while walking. Gentoo Penguins live at ground level next to the sea. They live together in large groups. These are known as Penguin Colonies. They spend 9 months of the year in the sea. They come ashore only for breeding. They were freely roaming around the beautiful WHITE SAND beach and surrounding areas. They were not afraid of us because there was no human habitation and they were not hunted by humans. Ignoring us, they kept walking and swimming in the sea.
It was an overwhelming experience. In the afternoon the visit was to Saunder’s Island. We got to see Rockhopper, (their colonies are on top of rocks, hence the name) Macaroni Penguins and their chicks and lots of birds and their chicks. The time allowed for each landing is 3 to 4 hours. All the time the EXPEDITION STAFF had to struggle to find us and bring us back to the ship.
Our landing site was PORT STANLY the next morning. PORT STANLY is the capital of FALKLAND ISLAND. It is the only inhabited place in the FALKLAND ISLANDS. FALKLAND ISLAND IS AN OVERSEAS TERRITORY OF BRITAIN. Less than 3000 people live here. Very nice neat and orderly clean area. To visit the beach, museum, souvenir shop, WAR MEMORIAL (Argentina once invaded this area and dominated it for less than a month. They had to retreat after UK’s counter-attack. After that UK declared this place OFFICIALLY as “OVERSEAS TERRITORY OF BRITAIN”.) We got the chance. A small airport, two or three flights a week. All other transport facilities are available here. TOURISM is the MAIN ACTIVITY here.
In the afternoon, the ship started heading for SOUTH GEORGIA. The ship started entering the SOUTHERN OCEAN. It’s a two-and-a-half-day trip to SOUTH GEORGIA. The ship began to cross the flow of the DRAKE PASSAGE. It got colder. The sea became very rough and the waves rose. Entered inside the FRONT DECK of the ship. Access to the fore and aft decks of the ship was prohibited. The TOP DECK and CAPTAIN’S BRIDGE are the only way to get outside views. 80% of the passengers got SEA SICKNESS. But MEDICINE helped. Had to stay in bed most of the time. (These two days were like lying in a cradle as a baby. One difference – the ROLLING DIRECTION kept changing according to the direction of the wind).
A day before arriving in SOUTH GEORGIA we received a very clear description of its methods. South Georgia is home to some of the rarest biodiversity in the world. The species found here are found nowhere else in the world. Here we have to follow strict BIOSECURITY MEASURES to protect these species. Shoes should be washed and cleaned before going to each area here. Make sure that there is no dirt, dust, seeds or plant leaves on the clothes. No food items other than water should be taken here. Nothing from other places should be brought here or collected from there. All our clothes and bags had to undergo VACUUM CLEANING. South Georgia is also an Overseas Territory of the UK – in short “to leave only our footprints”. But there are no permanent residents there. Fewer than 50 government employees are permanent residents here. Unlike FALKLAND ISLAND, the government officials came on board our ship, checked the travel documents, and took a class on the things that had to be followed. Only after that, we were allowed to enter the island.
After two and a half days of travel, in the morning we received our first SOUTH GEORGIA LANDING notice. The landing site was Stromness Harbour. The first four ZODIAC men went ashore. But not only did the LANDING not take place due to the rough sea waves, but they also had to struggle to re-enter the ship.
In the afternoon, an announcement was made that a landing would be possible at Gold Harbour. It was -3 degrees outside. It will be cold like seawater. Wind speed was close to 100 Km/Hr. The crew operating the ZODIAC worked hard to get us ashore. FUR SEAL and ELEPHANT SEAL were lying on the shore too close to ZODIAC. EXPEDITION STAFF worked hard to guide us through them. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen in my life. Elephant seals and their babies, fur seals and their babies, white-colored birds called SNOW PETRELS, birds of various colors, and the last word of beauty, KING PENGUINS, were seen there too many to count. The beauty of King Penguins is indescribable. Their every look, walk, stand, and swim is beautiful. Sometimes they walk by and listen to us closely. Sometimes you will look at it with your lips. Our presence was not a problem for them.
Allowed time is up. EXPEDITION STAFF had to walk behind us with notices to return, to escort us back to the ship. We didn’t find the continuous snowfall or the wind blowing at a speed of more than 100 Km/Hr a problem for us. (Not 4 hours but 4 days was not enough for us. The views here were so beautiful and could not be seen anywhere else in the world).
The next 2 days were the most beautiful days of the trip. Each day our LAND EXCURSIONS ended at 11 pm. Visited several King Penguins colonies and Gentoo Penguins colonies. Each place was better than the other. The cold and wind were too much to bear. One day it was snowing completely. I had to wear 3 layers of clothes to go out every day. But each LANDING was an unforgettable experience.
The next morning we went to the largest KING PENGUIN colony here. It is a very large breeding colony with more than 2 lakh penguins and their babies. The largest of the penguins is the EMPEROR PENGUINS. Just below KING PENGUINS. KING PENGUINS are undoubtedly the most beautiful to watch.
Penguins are generally found in Antarctica and Sub Antarctica Regions. (They are not found in the North Pole and Arctic regions), of which King Penguins are found only in South Georgia. Travelers to Antarctica will not be able to see King Penguins. If you want to see them, you have to come to South Georgia. All penguins come ashore only for breeding. They are seen on land only for 3 to 4 months. By then the eggs will hatch and the babies will be big. They spend the remaining 8 months in the sea. But like fishes, they cannot breathe in water. They can breathe only when they come above the water. But they can stay underwater for 5 minutes to 20 minutes and dive up to 500 meters deep. Their main food is marine fish called KRILL. (a fish like shrimp in our country). KRILL are abundant in the Southern Ocean.
Each type of penguin is found in a different region. It is based on cold. Emperor Penguins are found in the interior of Antarctica. They can only live in the climate from -20 to below, King Penguins are found in areas from 5 degrees to -5 degrees, and their outer skin is made of 4 layers, it helps them to resist the cold and keep their body heat, LEOPARD SEAL and KILLER WHALES are the only penguins’ Animals that attack and eat, so it can be said that their lives are not in great danger,
The EXPEDITION STAFF had given us a very detailed class about the things to be kept close to penguins and other creatures, according to which the distance we should keep from the penguins is 5 meters, but because the penguins do not know this rule, they are not afraid of humans and because of curiosity, they often come close to us. It was common to touch our lips to ourselves, our camera, etc.
The sea looked very calm, and the scenery outside became almost indescribable as we approached Antarctica, and penguins were always seen in groups and singly on the drifting icebergs, and these were very few in number. Over the next 2 days, we visited several islands in Antarctica. Throughout the journey, we could see the gigantic iceberg. In one day the ZODIAC was able to travel around the icebergs and make an adventurous LANDING on top of them. Each landing felt better than the other. Every moment was someone’s experience. Every sight and beauty cannot be described in writing.
In the evening we went to an area where many whales were seen. We traveled to the area on the ZODIAC with the aim of seeing the whales up close. Whales are usually found in pairs or groups. Although they are marine creatures, they cannot breathe from the sea like fish. They have to come to the sea floor to breathe. But they can stay under the sea for 30 to 120 minutes with each breath. Whales are also the best divers in the world. There are whales here that DIVE up to 3 km down. Their enormous size, the sight of their mouths opening above the sea, and the sight of their tails rising above the sea as they DIVE to the depths are indescribable. They do not eat for six months of the year. This time is their breeding season. At this time, they live in Brazil, Argentina, and the Indian Ocean. They come to the Antarctic region only for food during summer. For this, one has to swim more than 8000 km through the cold ocean. Their main food is KRILL. The KRILL collection in the Southern Ocean is what drives them to swim this far.
Except for killer whales, no other whales attack or eat other whales or animals. Similarly, other whales have no way to prevent the attack of killer whales. The only way to escape is by swimming far or downstream in the sea, and they are generally calm creatures. During the trip, two whales surfaced right next to our ZODIAC and dived back into the water as soon as they saw us. (If they had come completely above water, our boat would have capsized. (Unlike penguins, whales are also common in the Arctic)
On the last day, the expedition staff prepared an opportunity to swim in ANTARCTICA for those interested. Of the total 110 passengers, 22 people were ready. My daughter and I are ready for anything. But I could only swim for less than a minute in 1 DEGREE cold seawater. (A Frenchman swam for 12 minutes!!!!)
All these past days the length of the day has been much longer. Day length is 23 to 24 hours. There really is no night. You can see the sun even at 11 pm. Each sunset was an experience. Undoubtedly, there is no better sunset to be seen anywhere in the world.
December 31 arrived, our last night in Antarctica. – We welcomed the New Year in 3-degree cold, amid the snow, witnessing the red and black horizon on the top deck of the ship, sipping champagne despite the wind. A New Year’s Eve moment that few people ever get to forget.
After 10 minutes due to the extreme cold, the rest of the celebration was moved to the bar inside the ship. The ship had begun its return journey.
Two days later, our 19-day cruise ended at Ushuaia Port in the morning. (Luckily for us the weather was very good. DRAKE PASSAGE looked very calm. The ship had very little rolling.)
My mind was filled with the feeling of having gone to heaven and come back. Although I have traveled to many countries and places, this was the first time I had such a different travel experience. 27 days, four continents, three great oceans, and more than 40,000 km, a concept-changing experience. A place to visit at least once in your life. If you decide to go, make it a South Georgia trip at all costs. That’s where you’ll love it the most.
Best time to travel:
December and January months (this time is the coldest time in Antarctica and also the time when life nets are found the most, November and February months can be chosen, but due to the presence of ice in the sea it will be difficult for the ship to proceed, because of this it is not possible to reach all the islands)
The easiest way to travel: From India to Dubai, from Dubai to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and from there to USHUAIA.