March 11th – Mikkelsen Harbour/ D ‘Hainaut Island, spert Island, Cierva cove

With a morning PA announcement, you wake to the calming voice of ‘Laurie’ our expedition leader who gives you a full rundown on the schedule, weather & conditions before making your way to breakfast. (If you were not up already that is)!

Early start and it was time to hit the zodiacs for our first full day out exploring the ‘Palmer Archipelago’. We had 3 excursions planed for today because operations and conditions were yet again great!  When heading down to the mud room to board our zodiacs we are called up by group. We had 4 groups (penguins, seals, whales and Albatross).These groups are continually rotating for the first boats to go out and this prevents congestion while gearing up, Good Job Quark!

Excursion 1: Not even 50 metres out on the zodiac and we came across a small piece of iceberg with a very curious Leopard seal guarding it. Territorial behaviour from a Leopard seal is a natural behaviour along with curiosity. Wonderful swimmers in the water, he passed under us and around us, always popping his head out for a peak! A beautiful creature to watch, but you certainly do not want any limbs hanging over the zodiac or he might just see an opportunity for lunch!

It was a calm, cloudy mystical day today. Often thinking, where on earth am I… this can’t actually be happening? We cruised the ice walls and surrounding mountains and really took in how grand this place really was! We could see the layers of algae forming in glaciers by the waters edge, pretty pink and green layers would form.  We could also see in the water something that looked like some kind of jelly fish…. When in fact they are called ‘salp’. These can form enormous swarms and are becoming more abundant than krill in certain regions of the Southern Ocean.

Back to land we put foot on D’hainaut Island where there was a permanent emergency rescue building, a colony of Gentoo penguins and a gravesite to the ‘mighty’ bones of some whales who fell to hunters back in the ‘whaling’ days.  The sheer size of a whale bone really puts into prospective just how huge they really are. Once you have been ‘touched’ by a penguin…All you want to do is see another…… every encounter becomes better than the last! And if you are not careful you will find that all you are taking photos of are funny little penguins.  Feeding their chicks, building their nests, chasing each other or just playing in the shores of the waters edge. You do need to keep reminding yourself that you are actually in Antarctica and stop and enjoy the wider magnificent views as well.

Excursion 2:  Another rare treat, the captain took us to ‘spert island’. Often the waters are too rough to visit, and many expeditions do not make it here throughout the season. With calm waters on our side we circumnavigated this unique place. Huge Rock Mountains towering up out of the ocean, this was a good Hub for Beautiful odd shaped/patterned Glaciers to gather.  Again, the sheer size of these ‘beauties’ hard to capture! With 90% of the glacier being under the water…. this gives you a little perspective!  We saw some Weddell Seals snoozing on some rocks and to finish this excursion off we got to raft through a natural Arch and cave in the rock mountain. Water turbulence was high as the different direction of waves came smashing together against each other onto the walls. Our driver ‘Jess’ made it look like a piece of cake to navigate through safely!

And the treats keep on coming!  With everyone back on the ship it was time to head to Cierva cove. And guess what…On the journey there were whales everywhere…We watched them from the top platform of the ship while they were Bubble and lunge feeding. Bubble netting is an advanced and necessary feeding method developed by humpback whales to feed multiple mouths at one time. This was extraordinary to watch!

Excursion 3: Arriving into Cierva cove, I really started to feel like I was in Antarctica. As we made our way out for a 16:30 sunset (no sun at all) cruise, it was the coldest I had felt the air and there was ice gathering around everywhere. We spent our zodiac ride getting up close to small icebergs and drifting between all the other pieces of ice forming floating around us. While we did not watch the sun go down over the horizon, we did spend another hour watching ‘whales be whales’ in this great pristine wilderness…by this time our hands were frozen and it was time to head back to the ship. Dusk had arrived, the ship lights shining, and it looked spectacular with the glacier backdrop!

March 10th – Shetland Islands, Robert Point

Ooooo and it begins….so much to share.

Importantly when on an expedition, you must understand that mother nature is a powerful beast and each day we adapt to what weather is being offered. Your itinerary is constantly changing to work with this, the captain of the ship and the expedition leader make important decisions each day to enhance your experience in the region. And for me…mother nature could not have been more kind.

Today was a good day! We sailed past our first iceberg’s and survived a smooth Drake Passage crossing (something everyone hopes for)! This is a deep waterway, (1,000 km) wide, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between Cape Horn (the southernmost point of South America) and the South Shetland Islands, situated about (160 km) north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Renown for being some of the roughest waters around the world. BUT NOT TODAY!

This enabled us to gain valuable distance and arrive so early at the South Shetland Islands we could fortunately start our magical journey at 2pm today and explore ‘Robert Point’. It was time to put our ship training into real life and gear up for our 1st Zodiac cruise and excursion. Each lasting about 1.5 hours. The 199 guests being split into land and cruise excursions. This method keeps our protected continent pristine, only 100 humans can be on a landing at a time.

March 9th – out to sea

With a full day out to sea we had left the Beagle Channel and straight into the Drake passage South bound we go! Full swing into our adventure now and no turning back.We were super fortunate and experienced very calm seas. Magnificent body of water as you look out to the horizon of nothing! Today was filled with presentations educating us on the wildlife and science of Antarctica. Very interesting and experienced staff who have so much knowledge to share with us on board. Each evening we have a debrief on the days events and talk about the schedule for the following day.

Throughout the day we saw Southern Ocean whales and multiple types of sea birds.

In the afternoon we would perform a safety drill with our life jackets that have been allocated and later that evening Quark would fit us with our incredibly warm jackets and boots for our excursions. These are fantastic quality and a gift for you to take home. The process was seamless, fun and exciting!

March 8th – Quark Expeditions, and we set sail!

The excitement levels are high! An early morning charter flight to Ushuaia, you have the whole day to arrive and board the ship. (And do not forget to put on your motion sickness patch at this point, it needs to be 12 hours before sailing). This is the beginning of ‘Antarctic explorer – discovering the 7th Continent’:

Before boarding onto our new home, we were once again tested for our health and sent up the gang way to join our fellow sailors and settle into our cabins. Quark staff were very welcoming and guided us through the ship to make us feel at home. They put on an incredible afternoon tea ‘spread’ in the Polaris lounge for arrivals which we later learn is part of the daily schedule.

Tonight, we set sail at 18:30 and leave the port of Ushuaia, a beautiful port to leave as we watch the surrounding mountains disappear into the distance and start our adventure!

Tonight, we sit down to a wonderful dinner and are welcomed on to the ship with open arms.  Afterward we meet in the Nautilus lounge and are introduced to the Expedition Team and head crew. Presentations start and we learn about the schedule for each day. Today is about meeting the staff, other sailors and getting to know your surrounding.

March 7 – Tango Time (Rojo)

Today I moved into the beautiful Hotel Emperador and started my ‘Quark Expeditions’ experience. Excellent staff and services at this lovely hotel. Today we would meet and ‘check in’ with Quark before taking our charter flight to Ushuaia the next day. While Covid 19 was something that the world was aware of, there were no cases in Argentina at the time.  Precautions were taken and each of us filled out a health form and had our temperatures taken.  I was set to start my Expedition!  Until then, it was time to check out the local community of ‘La Boca’ and by evening one of the best Tango shows in Buenos Aires: ‘Rojo Tango’.

La Boca is a working-class area with a cluster of attractions near the Riachuelo River. Steakhouses and street artists surround Caminito, a narrow alley flanked by brightly painted zinc shacks that evoke the district’s early immigrant days. A cauldron of noise on match days, La Bombonera is the home ground of Boca Juniors soccer team. Modern art museum Fundación Proa has temporary exhibits and views of the old docks.

Rojo Tango, a more cabaret style show, was the perfect way to spend an evening in Buenos Aires. Take a stroll along the beautiful waterways of the elegant Puerto Madero before making your way to the spectacular Faena Hotel. This property is a favourite of mine and absolutely takes your breath away. Host to Rojo Tango, as soon as you walk into the long hallway with a red rug and black horsehair bench, you know you’ve entered Faena’s fantastical world. From the Library Lounge, with its tufted leather sofas and crystal candelabras to the white-and-red Bistro Sur, with unicorn heads adorning the walls, the hotel’s restaurants and bars take theatrical design to new heights. Oh how I loved this property. Stay there or just visit. A glass of wine in the Piano bar is enough on its own for those who do not have the time to indulge 😊

March 6 – Arriving in Buenos Aires

YYC to Toronto via Santiago (Chile) for a quick stop I was now only hours from Argentina. As I flew over the Andes, I couldn’t stop thinking how very different they are to our own Rockies. Dry, baron and a rainbow of earthy colours.

On arrival into Buenos Aires I decided to start my adventure with a trip down memory lane.  We all have memories of being young and vibrant backpackers once upon a time.  This experience grows us and makes us into the people we are today. So I decided to spend my first night in the hostel I once loved so many years ago.  It was a humbling start to my adventure and had not changed one little bit….Apart from the fact their was no longer a computer room or line up to send an email Haha

All freshened up now and  it was time to find Luis’s home. A wonderful steakhouse experience in the home of a local Argentine. Always on the hunt for a unique experience to share…this is not your average steak experience. While it’s no secret what Argentine beef is worth around the world, visitors to Buenos Aires don’t always get the chance to experience an Argentine asado and its many rituals and traditions. Here at ‘Steaks by Luis’, they not only focus on high quality cuts grilled to perfection but also the entire experience. You participate in a typical Argentine asado and feel like you’re at Luis’ home. All while sitting around a big family table, and joining Luis alongside the grill or just kicking back, relaxing and enjoying the 5 course meal and wine  pairing event.

March 5 – Reflection

This is where the journey truly begins 😊  I was dropped off at YYC airport with time to spare.  I found a cozy little spot to watch the planes fly in with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Here is where I reflect and fathom where in the world I was actually headed…… 14 years ago I almost jumped on a ship to Antarctica, now the dream is really coming alive, the emotions are high and feelings of excitement all over my body!

Antarctica

After 3 days crossing the Drake passage, we made it to the seventh continent. I was about to start a new adventure in the majestic Antarctic.

Kayaking in the bay was very exciting; being there, immersed in the silence, just you and Mother Nature all around. We watched as seals swam by and penguins jumped out of the water to appease their curiosity. Leopard seals and albatross were everywhere.

Large chunks of ice made the paddling difficult and the abundant wildlife viewing slowed our kayaking team. Then we spotted humpbacks! Being alone in the kayak with this gentle monster close by gave me a boost of adrenaline and made the whole kayaking experience even more exciting and well worth taking the kayaks out.

One morning I woke up believing that a strong wind was blowing outside. I opened the window but it wasn’t the wind. There were hundreds of Humpbacks surrounding our boat. As far as you could see there were whales and flukes.

I will never forget that day, it was snowing with poor visibility and after kayaking all day we were ready to return to the ship. Suddenly, two humpbacks approached us and started putting on a show. They both flipped upside down, showing their bellies. In a matter of seconds, one of them was under our zodiac. We heard the sound of the animal pushing us from underneath… boom boom boom. The whale was content with its belly rub and continued on its merry way.

It was the most exciting, wildest and closest encounter I have ever had. If you like whales spending a week in March in the Antarctica will not disappoint!!

Thanks to One Ocean Expeditions and Civilized Adventures for this experience of a lifetime!!