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Antarctica

Crossing the drake passage to Antarctica

cap horn in calm conditions
Picture of the drake sea at Cap Horn taken in “calm” conditions

The Drake Passage

Crossing the Drake passage from South Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula is something you’ll inevitably have to do if you dare venture to this elusive seventh continent by ship.

The Drake passage is a large body of water south of Cap Horn in south Argentina. This passage is particularly rough as on this latitude the water can flow freely all around the world without being slowed down by land. This is the only place in the world where the water flows unhindered without any land mass stopping it.

Furthermore, due to the shape of shape of South America and the Antarctic peninsula this passage becomes very narrow (compared to the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean) and acts as a funnel where the two oceans meet, creating very rough conditions.

Many sailor stories feature ships crossing south of Cap Horn to get to the other side of the Americas and many of those ships ends up as wrecks. Now, with the opening of The Panama Canal in 1914, they don’t have to go there anymore (although many ships continued to do so for a while after). Unless, of course, you want to go to Antarctica.

Another way is to fly to Antarctica but even that requires special conditions and planes can be grounded for days, weeks and even months waiting for the winds to change.

 

Drake lake and Drake shake

Depending on the conditions, your trip across the Drake can range from anything from a relatively calm experience to one of the roughest passages in the world. Colloquially, these are known as either a “Drake Lake” or a “Drake Shake”, respectively.

By “calm” we’re talking 2 days of 2-3m waves – not more than most people will be fine with rest, some fresh air and a couple of seasick pills. It’s still a rough time if you’re not used to it but you’ll survive. This is what we had on the way back.

On the way out though, we had a “Drake Shake” with 5-meter waves coming from the side. This is enough to slide plates off tables and it’s enough that you can’t sleep on the side. It was also enough that half the ship was sick in their cabins, even with pills.

Although, it was hard for me to sleep properly (because I was constantly rolled around), I felt fine and a few seasick pills kept me in ace condition.

It takes two days to cross the Drake Passage in a cruise ship and those days can be the longest the days in your life of you do it in the wrong conditions. Luckily, in modern times we have charts and weather reports that help us avoid these conditions – in fact, as this post is being written dozens of modern ships are waiting in port in Ushuaia due to weather conditions. They simply can’t cross it without putting their passengers in danger.

Back in the old days, the ships were weaker and they didn’t have proper charts. I wouldn’t want to cross the drake during those times – let alone be the first adventurer to explore south.

One good thing, though, is that when you get to the other side – a new world awaits!

Conquering Antarctica. The 7th continent, the final frontier, the land of the penguins

I don’t remember when I first mentioned Antarctica to my friends but it’s been years.

If you ask someone to mention 5 things they think about when you say Antarctica, “penguins” is guaranteed to be one of them.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a great fondness for penguins. There is just something adorable about their posh always-wearing-a-smoking lifestyle in a mini-world where no-one else is around; even though most of the rest of the world doesn’t seem to appreciate it for anything else than vast, cold and inhospitable.

Adult penguins don’t have alot of natural enemies as there simple aren’t anyone else that bothers going where they go (okay, there are a few enemies but not many) – the inanimate nature, on the other hand, is different story!

This is good, because except for their flappy flippers, they are virtually defenceless. Although, thinking about it, their incessive squawking and their godawful smell is probably enough to deter all but the most hardened.

So why am i rambling on about penguins when the title of this post is Antarctica? Because, of course, if you ask someone to mention 5 things they think about when you say Antarctica, “penguins” is guaranteed to be one of them (ice, snow and cold are other excellent candidates).

They are such an integrated part of the antarctic landscape and the main reason why I want to go there.

So, the point is that I’ve wanted to go for quite some time. Some people want to buy a car, some people want to renovate their house and since I’ve already done both, I’ve decided to spend it on a trip to Antarctica. I’ll get into the cost of this adventure in another post after the trip is done so hold tight – spoiler – it ain’t cheap, folks!

However, with a steep price tag, only a 5 month season and a trip to “Fin Del Mundo”/”End of the World” aka Ushuaia at the tip of south Argentina to even begin your journey, only about 34.000 people a year make it to Antarctica.

There are of course other compelling reasons like bucketlist checkboxes and bragging rights. Having conquered the 7th and final continent ensues monumental bragging rights. However, with a steep price tag, only a 5 month season and a trip to “Fin Del Mundo”/”End of the World” aka Ushuaia at the tip of south Argentina to even begin your journey, only about 34.000 people a year make it to Antarctica. Which is of course also a big part of the reason why it’s so unspoiled, raw and pristine.

I realized, that since the season is so short and because it’s time for me to go back and work it might very well be now or never that I’ll able to have the time, money and energy to embark on such an expedition.

From here, everything happened very fast – see if you can hold on!

  • On the 13th of November, 2018 I booked a one way ticket to Ushuaia hoping to go from bureau to bureau to find that sweet last-minute deal.
  • On the 16th of November, 2018 I found that deal.
  • On the 26th of November, 2018 I will embark on the journey of a lifetime.

The man on the phone gave me 12 hours to accept the offer he had found.

The man on the phone gave me 12 hours to accept the offer he had found. “Now or never”, he said. “This is it”, he said.” It checks off all your boxes”, he said. “I called everyone – this is the one”, he said. “You can pay by credit card”, he said, “Tina will take care of you”.

And with that my dream was about to become a reality.

Antarctica and penguins

I will be posting more about this trip, so stay tuned. There is no internet on the boat, so the posts will be slightly delayed until after I’ve returned.