Our Journey to Antartica aboard National Geographic Explorer – Day 1 to 2
We hope you enjoyed the preview of our journey to Antarctica. As promised, here’s the first installment of the day-to-day detail of our expedition.
We were surprised to have received so many questions about our experience on this trip – How did you get there? Did you get sick? Was it scary? Where did you sleep? What and where did you eat? Did you get off the boat? What did you wear? Etc., etc.. etc. We will try to answer the questions as we go through each post.
“How did you get there?” Our exciting and well-anticipated journey began when we flew to Buenos Aires, where all expedition participants stayed for a night as part of the pre-expedition itinerary (we arrived earlier and stayed for 2 nights) and where we enjoyed meeting our fellow travelers at a reception hosted by National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions.
The next morning, we all flew on a private chartered flight to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world and is where most expedition ships to Antarctica sail from.
As we cruised closer to the port of Ushuaia, we finally caught sight of our expedition ship, the National Geographic Explorer, for the first time She’s a beauty!
And finally embarkation time! We’ were excited to finally be on this expedition ship we dreamt about for so long! It felt so surreal.
Many have asked: “How was the ship like?” National Geographic Explorer is considered one the world’s ultimate expedition ship and is described as”part 5-star hotel and part floating research center. It is a state-of-the-art ice-class vessel, fully stabilized and purpose-built to explore the wildest places on earth while providing exceptional comfort.”
The focus on Explorer is enrichment. We traveled with National Geographic photographers, scientists and naturalist who gave us lectures, workshops, and presentations throughout the expedition.
The 148 guests aboard the Explorer enjoy many amenities that include a library, an Observation Lounge, Bistro Bar, restaurant, a lounge with a bar and state-of-the-art facilities for presentations and slideshows, a chart room with 24-hour coffee service, a gym with scenic view, a spa with massage therapy services and a sauna, mudroom with lockers for expedition gears, internet café, paid Wi-fi access, laundry service, etc.etc.
“How was the accommodation like?” Our lovely stateroom was spacious with queen bed, oversized picture window, seating area, modern roomy bathroom stocked with botanic toiletries, ample closet space, flat screen TV, a large desk, individual climate control, and reading lamps. Fluffy bathrobes and slippers were also provided. We were very comfortable.
“How long was the expedition? ” We spent 10-days aboard the Explorer – 2 days at sea to reach the White Continent, 6 days in Antartica and 2 days to sail back to Ushuaia.
Crossing the Drake Passage
Here’s where we got the tons of questions. How rough was the Drake Passage? Did you get sick? Did you take anything before crossing the Drake? Was it scary?
The excitement we felt upon embarkation was soon clouded by our worry about crossing the Drake Passage. Lying between Cape Horn and Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage is one of the most tumultuous bodies of water in the world. If we had any qualm about taking this trip, it was the concern about the “Drake Shake.” But then it’s part of the intrepid travel experience. As our Nat Geo itinerary states,” …crossing the legendary Drake Passage is unforgettable – a milestone in any adventurer’s travel history.”
“Did you take anti-seasickness pills? Did you get sick?” Yes, we did take the pills. During our first briefing, our expedition leader advised that we start taking the anti-sea sickness pills during or right after dinner. She assured that it should be enough time for the pill to set in before we enter the Drake by 10:00 that evening. She also advised that we take it every 12 hours during the passage if we wished.( Pills are provided on board so you don’t have to bring them).
True enough, by 10:oo pm the motion of the ship started to feel so exaggerated – big sway to the left, big sway to the right. Thanks to the pills, we didn’t get sick on this crossing, Although feeling drowsy from the pill, I didn’t sleep well the first night due to the motion. Keith, on the other hand, slept like baby. He said he felt like he was in a huge cradle being lullabied to sleep.
We were well into our journey across the Drake Passage when we woke up the next morning. Here’s the video that Keith took of the Drake Shake that morning from our room. According to the crew, the condition was mild. If this was mild, we didn’t know what rough was.
One of the naturalist rated the condition as 3; however, the captain told us it was a 5/6. I guess because the ship was highly stabilized the condition felt milder on board than it actually was.
“What did you do on board while crossing the Drake Passage?” Well, Keith and I did quite a bit of napping. The pills made us really drowsy. There were several talks and workshops scheduled during the crossing. When the photography workshop was announced, we forced ourselves to stay awake and alert; we didn’t want to miss it.
We had wonderful, inspiring, seasoned Nat Geo photographers on board – Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. Most of the naturalists on board were also certified photo instructors. For the photo workshop, they divided the participants according to the kind of equipment they used – iPhone, point and shoot and SLR, which was further divided into beginner and advanced users. Then there was another group for creative photography for more advanced shooters. I think everyone found this workshop very helpful for shooting throughout the expedition.
There were more wondrous events that took place during the crossing of the Drake Passage.
“Surrounding our vessel were a number of rare and beautiful seabirds. Varying species of albatross and petrels followed us …This created a prime viewing and photography opportunity, especially when accompanied by our naturalist staff giving talks emphasizing the birds flying by.”
“The timing could not have been more perfect. Interrupting a staff naturalist’s talk on winds and currents that had carried the ice our way…a large tabular iceberg appeared two miles off the port side of our ship. Even at such a distance, its grandeur was enough to cause everyone to rush outside with camera in hand to capture this immensity.”
They were amazing! Unfortunately, we missed them:( We only learned about them through the Daily Expedition Report. Those pills really knocked us out and we were napping while those events were happening. Uggh…those pills!! I guess our systems are not used to pharmaceutical products (we don’t even take Tylenol), and they really took a toll on our bodies. We didn’t like the feeling.
Our fellow traveler and wonderful photographer, Jack Tan, allowed us to share with you his stunning image of the tubular iceberg that we missed while we were under the influence of the anti-seasickness pill and could not snap out of our nap.
The second night was much calmer and sleep was better. We woke up the next day knowing that the worst of Drake Passage was behind us (and no more pills, thank God!). Once we were over the hump, the Drake was a far away memory. Other than the drowsiness we felt cause by anti-seasickness pills, crossing the Drake was not a bad or scary experience at all. It’s a small price to pay for experiencing the great wonder of the White Continent
It gets better from here. We look forward to share our experience about out first landfall in Antartica in our next post.