Journey to the last continent

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Mabel Kabani, opinion editor

“Antarctica is the windiest, coldest, most inhospitable and dangerous environment on this planet.” Those were the first words spoken by the ship crew to us passengers aboard the Ortelius, a former Russian icebreaker ship.

The ship departed from Ushuaia, Argentina, on Dec. 21 for a 10-day cruise to the Antarctic; however, six of those days would actually go into travelling through the waters and across the Drake Passage.

The Drake Passage, discovered by Sir Francis Drake during the age of exploration, has been deemed the most dangerous body of water on the planet. The Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans meet at this passage and cause high waves and rough winds, which resulted in a multitude of barf bags that have collected in the trash bins of the Ortelius.

While crossing this passage, most passengers of the ship were confined to their bunk beds, leaving the rest of the ship free for my brother and me to explore. However, the exploring of the entire ship didn’t take long. The Ortelius was a modest sized ship, though considered big by those who take this journey to the South Pole. Ships that venture to Antarctica tend to be smaller than a regular cruise ship, in order to be able to move at a quicker pace. There were two restaurants, one bar, a first-aid corner, two floors of storage, two floors of rooms and a top floor that contained the deck and helipad. The ship also contained a lecture room, which was used by crewmembers to teach passengers about the terrain, animals and environment of Antarctica, as well as give pre and post-landing briefings and entertain passengers with movies.

The passenger rooms were modest too; each had a bathroom as well as two sets of bunk beds that had rather small bars to protect one from falling.

The journey to Antarctica wasn’t particularly exciting; however, the time spent on the actual continent made up for the six days of dullness and Dramamine. Antarctica was, by far, the most enchant- ing place I have ever visited. The beauty, peace and exotic nature of Antarctica superseded anything I could have imagined. In little speedboats, called zodiacs, we observed the clean, fresh, deep blue waters that sheltered whales, who came up for air every few minutes. We explored huge, sparkling, white-and-turquoise glaciers, icebergs and mountains that extended for miles and miles and spotted lazy sunbathing seals and colonies of penguins waddling or sliding on the snow. Above all of this ethereal and untouched beauty was an unpolluted pink, purple and orange sky with fluffy white clouds and flocks of birds in search of food and shelter. The four days we were on the continent, the weather ranged from 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, despite the fact that it was technically summer there. Worse than the actual cold, however, was the wind. In order to survive outside, we had to don layers of thermals, wool sweaters, ski pants, large snow jackets, gloves, scarves, multiple layers of socks, hats, ski masks, sun screen, a life jacket and rubber boots; this was the minimum. However, the time spent jamming on all these layers was worth it.

Not only did we climb mountains and glaciers and learn about the life on the four days we were on the continent of Antarctica, but we also got the opportunity to hike up active volcanoes on some of the islands, as well as visit a few scientist stations that were on the continent.

This trip is not for the faint hearted. The turbulent journey through the Drake Passage and the long hours of hiking on the continent itself were very tiring, but the trip was one of the best experiences of my life. The stillness, beauty and plethora of life in such an inhospitable environment was shocking and amazing.

When your families discuss potential family vacation destinations, mention Antarctica; it is an experience of a lifetime and worth the sea sickness and cold. Just be sure to bring along plenty of sweaters.

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