Most people dream of someday having the means and ability to travel to certain destinations; their travel wish lists are generally centered around the desire to spend time lounging on pristine beaches of the Tropics, or taking in the sights and sounds of many great cities of the world.
I can’t say that the idea of dipping my toes into the crystal blue waters off the white sandy beaches in Bora Bora doesn’t appeal to me. And the notion of a month-long excursion to soak in the culture and atmosphere of a beautiful, historic city like Florence, Italy also sounds like a worthy “bucket list” item.
However, my travel fantasy includes coastal waters that are a bit chillier, where what passes for civilization is a tad less refined. I aspire to take a journey to an arid wasteland unfit for most plant and animal life, where the only residents possess supremely curious temperaments and the heartiest of dispositions.
I want to go to Antarctica.
Call me crazy, but the extreme nature of Antarctica carries a tremendous allure for me. I have been obsessed with the arid, frigid and unforgiving continent ever since I read the haunting memoir The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, which recounted the tragic 1911 expedition to the Antarctic interior led by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who met his icy demise on the ill-fated excursion.
I was riveted by the epic and traumatic saga weaved by Cherry-Garrard – a survivor of the expedition – which described in harrowing detail the party’s doomed attempts to recover the eggs of the Emperor penguin during the heart of the Antarctic winter, which is characterized by 24 hours of darkness and temperatures that rarely rise above negative 40 degrees.
I found Cherry-Garrard’s account to be spellbinding, as it luridly described the inhuman suffering undertaken by the expedition’s survivors – not to mention the five men, including the group’s leader, that were found frozen solid in their tent, dead from the combination of exhaustion, starvation and hypothermia. Agonizingly, the survivors were able to make it home with the prized penguin eggs, only to learn upon their return that their scientific value had been diminished and that advances in technology would soon make their traumatic on-foot journey seem pointless.
It’s funny how such a morbid story of misery would lead to a desire to travel to Antarctica, but the book fascinated me in such a way that I began to eagerly devour other literature on Antarctic travel. I soon learned that, while the conditions are harsh and hardly suitable for normal human subsistence, travelers who are willing to withstand the elements and the rough sea passages are treated to some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet, and some of the most unique species of migratory birds and penguins found on Earth.
So right now my journeys to Antarctica are imaginary trips reached only through the power of literature, but I have made a commitment to myself that once I have obtained the means, my lifelong dream of trekking to Antarctica will be fulfilled.
For others that are intrigued by the possibility of Antarctic travel, here are a few things to know:
- Travel to Antarctica takes place only in the austral summer season, which is November to March. During this period, the sea melts enough to be passable, and coastal temperatures get as warm as 50 degrees, and there are 24 hours of daylight.
- Most Antarctic visitors travel there by vessel, which often are available in cruise and guided tour form.
- The most common launching spot is Ushuaia, Argentina, but Antarctic departures also can be made from Chile, New Zealand and Australia.
- International travel restrictions mandate that no more than 100 tourists step foot on the ground in Antarctica at any one place and time, so a boat tour that has fewer passengers will give you a better chance of spending time on the ice, as opposed to in the boat.
- Many tours include naturalist-guided hikes and sea kayaking right from the ship, which will appeal to active travelers
- There are a limited number of scenic air tours available, that whisk you around the continent, enabling you to observe its splendors from above.
- There is much, much more to learn before you are ready for an Antarctic excursion, but there is plenty of travel guides and tour information available.
- And… I almost forgot: dress warmly!
About The Author: By Charlie Bennett, an aspiring travel writer who someday hopes to be able to afford an Antarctic Tour. His work appears courtesy of GAdventures.com.
Photo Credit: Flickr cc – Polar Cruises