When people ask me have I traveled overseas before, I tend to reply with; “Not really.” I suppose that’s not a very clear answer as I try to dodge the question. I think because saying I have been to Antarctica as a 12 year old, is a little unbelievable, even for me. Anyhow, from the collections of faded memories I try to recover, I recall it as a life changing, two week adventure.
I Voyaged with my Mother and Auntie to the Antarctic Peninsula. As a pre-adolescent I was slightly naive and I designated all the technicalities of reaching our destination to my mum. We flew to New Zealand for a brief stopover, then to South America; Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a culture shock, humid and I experienced my first feeling of jet-lag. As we later explored the angelic city, we saw a street magician who babbled some Spanish words and insisted for me to surrender my woolen jumper to him. He then scavenged a box of cigarettes from a spectator, where he proceeded to light a handful of them up and puff them into my jumper. I would have sworn that my beloved, colorful clothing item would have combusted into flames, but fortunately it had not a hole! Only the stench of tobacco laced within the fabric. He handed my intact jumper back to much relieved me. I later discovered wool isn’t flammable anyway, some sort of magic trick… At least the shock value was there for an Aussie child tourist!
I took a lot of interest in learning the Spanish language as we proceeded to Ushuia, known as the end of the Earth. The contrast to Buenos Aires was most certainly the temperature, despite it being Summer. I built a snowman out front of our quaint little motel atop a hill. I loved waking up to steaming hot croissants with jam and butter in the morning and the people who own the little B&B were so lovely. The misty snowy mountains surrounding the bustling, wharf-side town were breathtaking. Some of the Adults who were to be boarding the tour met us for a few fancy restaurant visits. I remember everyone raving about one restaurant called Kaupe, where we went and ate lots of bread and ordered lobster! This was rather thrilling, wining and dining, minus the wine… though I felt quite sophisticated as a kid in amongst this adult world. Speaking of food in Ushuia, I adored the delicacy of french fries drenched in creamy Mayonnaise, and Helado de Chocolate. My souvenir for my trip was a rather expensive Grey Alpaca wool Poncho that I couldn’t part with.
We boarded the Polar Pioneer ice-breaker, with Aurora Expeditions as we set off for the next few days along the rough, stormy and treacherous Drake Passage, toward the Peninsula of Antarctica. I had a stomach of steel and only threw up once in the dining hall after attempting to stomach breakfast. Most of the time navigating the Drake passage I would sleep in our bunk-bed room. When I was brave I would attempt to walk down the swaying hallways laced with brown paper sick bags for those queezy, unfortunate expeditioners. Or the best view was from the Bridge of the ship. Watching the bow of the icebreaker thrusting high and low into the deep blue, casting magnificent sheets of white waves, heavy against the glass of the Bridge platform.
Once we had concurred the rough seas, waters calmed and we sailed into the Weddell Sea in search for land. Glistening icicles formed on the ships Port and Starboard. Humongous icebergs came into sight and once the mighty vessel anchored, clean gumboots and not so trendy sunglasses were sported to avoid the harsh, white glare of snow-blindness. We boarded the zodiac rafts which fit approximately 10-15 people and we were transported around ice sheets to set afoot on the wondrous land. The Snow was so crunchy and powdery. This time, I was unable to make a snowman as there is little water content in the Antarctic snow, it simply doesn’t stick together so snow angels was the best bet for me.
Penguin colonies echoed with the chatter of these unique, waddling birds. Chinstraps and Gentoo’s were common. I never saw Emperor penguins, but apparently they are very large. I viewed Antarctic Albatross, Petrels and Terns in flight. Leopard, Crabeater and Weddell seals bathing on the pebbly shoreline. Back aboard the Polar Pioneer, an announcement over the speaker was that there were a pod of Hourglass Dolphins frolicking afront of the ships bow. I raced to the bow to witness the amazement of dozens of inquisitive, black and white dolphins, leaping and diving along side us. Comparably amazing was seeing an enormous hump back whale breaching the cold depths under the boat and leaping into the air right in front of us. I was in the Bridge and I was fretting that the hefty mammal would land on the bow.
The bow of the boat was not too cold surprisingly. I wore shorts and a tee-shirt outside on the occasional days. It was Summer in the South Pole therefore the Sun would never entirely set, only during the night hours was a temporary sunset/sunrise.
Other highlights that come to mind include, visiting the Historic Mawson’s Hut, standing atop an iceberg, swimming in hot springs in Deception Island, camping on the ice overnight, wasting time in the cinema room, as well as sitting at the bar, eat pretzels whilst writing and illustrating comics.
Not so highlight’s included, missing the onshore visit to the scientific weather station, because I was asleep and mum didn’t wake me up! That would have been the only opportunity to meet people who actually live in Antarctica! Another annoyance was being too young to use the ship’s sauna room. Ah the hard life of a youth. Although I admit being a kid among adults and traveling had its perks. I did get a little spoilt with my giant Toblerone from the airport and my Toy Gund horse Cisco to cuddle with on my return flight.
The Aurora Expedition crew put on a final BBQ for us 60+ voyagers on the stern of Polar Pioneer. After a group photo we bid farewell to each other, our unique travels and the icy, blue Continent, known as Antarctica.