My Trip To The Edge Of The World: Antarctica

By Jennifer Patterson

Forget standing on the top of Mount Everest in the Himalayas or daring to go white water rafting down the Zambia River in Africa (which I’ve done before)- I decided to do the ultimate adventure: an 11-day Antarctic expedition. If you're looking for a typical tourist trip, this is not it. 

Antarctica is the Earth's southernmost and least-populated continent. It's a place more cut off from the rest of the world than you could even imagine. I am fortunate to have visited the Antarctic not once but twice, and I can tell you that it is one of the most riveting places you will ever encounter. 

Curious? Keep reading. 

By the way, if you think Antarctica is only for a certain kind of traveller - it's not. The second time around, I went with my friend Lorraine, who brought along Marjory, her 82-year-old mother. They both had a blast! 

Akademik Sergey Vavilov 

We set out on our journey in November, which is springtime for the Antarctic region. The vessel that would be our home for the next 11 days was the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a Russian ice-strengthened research vessel. While it's not particularly fancy, it's comfortable, immaculate, and heavy in the water, and let me tell you - when there's a chance you're crossing a stormy body of water like the Drake Passage, all you care about is safety. A relatively small ship, the Vavilov holds less than 160 passengers, including 104 guests, 43 crew members, and 11 expedition staff. And away we went! 

Crossing the Drake 

The first two days were spent crossing the Drake (also known as the Drake Shake) to the Antarctica Peninsula. We spent the first few days on the deck watching the many beautiful seabirds soaring around the ship. When we were ready to relax, we'd attend one or more of the lectures offered each day to prepare us for what was ahead. Learning about exploratory history, marine biology, geology, glaciology, and birds (including penguins) was fascinating and one of the trip's highlights. There was also plenty of time to read in the library in between meals while getting to know our fellow Antarctic voyagers. For some, it was their first time ever experiencing snow and cold, and their reactions ranged from adorable to hilarious to priceless. 

 A Day in the Life of Antarctica 

Once we reached Antarctica, our days typically started at 7 am for breakfast before a short orientation from the expedition leader with the plan for the day, who always reminded us that plans often change without warning due to weather, ice conditions, and other opportunistic encounters. 

Our two daily excursions included leisurely Zodiac cruises around icebergs while taking in the dramatic landscapes and looking for whales, seals, and birds. Or we might do a landing near a penguin colony to spy on the quirkiness of this unique bird, of which there are four species. On other days, we'd go to one of the research stations in the hopes of learning about some new scientific discovery that was unfolding right before our eyes. Some adventurous guests chose to go 'cross-Antarctica-skiing', mountaineering, and even kayaking. After returning to the ship for a hot lunch, we'd go back out and do it all over again. 

Meals were a family affair where everybody ate together. Everyone is excited and chatty, making it surprisingly noisy for an otherwise quiet continent. After the evening meal, we'd gather in the bar area to hear gripping tales about the Antarctic region and its history from the expedition staff. The expedition staff were a group of very interesting people who always had fun stories to share. They all joined the ship from various countries and shared the same passion for the world's Polar Regions. 

The Fellow Passengers 

The other adventurers were very well-travelled, including several guests who had been to every continent! An older gentleman from New Zealand was travelling with his daughter. He used to work on a tall ship that sailed from the UK to the South Pacific. His dream was to sail around the legendary Cape Horn once more, so our Captain did his best to get the ship within a few miles of this iconic landmark. 

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