by Eric Pateman for Air Canada’s With Aeroplan Series
The question I get asked most is, “what is your favourite place to visit, and where would you recommend I go?” My answer is generally influenced by the person asking the question. What would they enjoy? What is their preferred level of adventure? Where have they been in the past? But, after having visited Antarctica for the first time last November, my answer is now easy. For sheer wow factor, Antarctica is the trip of a lifetime!
The world is getting so small with the relative ease of travel. Top destinations are becoming overly crowded, and there are few places you can escape to that offer you a sense of true peace and an understanding of your place on the planet. Antarctica is a land with no permanent population and no towns or villages, with the exception of research stations and expedition huts. Icebergs, seabirds and penguins will hopefully outnumber humans forever, by the tens of thousands. Nothing I have ever experienced compares to the grandeur, exquisite vistas, evocative beauty, unpredictability or solitude of Antarctica.
Exploring Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions
The journey I embarked was called “Off the Beaten Track.” It was the inaugural voyage of the RCGS Resolute, the newest ship in the One Ocean Expeditions fleet. The trip also was the first of the season, so we did encounter some unpredictable weather.
The ship featured well appointed and spacious cabins, and plenty of amenities. A grand ballroom, a library bar, hot tub, pool, sauna, exercise room and two food and beverage outlets were on board. There was plenty of space for the 140 guests to spread out, and you could be as social or as solitary as you wanted to be.
When I checked into my room on the ship, I met my roommate for the next two weeks. It was none other than Royal Canadian Geographic Explorer in Residence and extreme storm chaser, George Kourounis. As I began apologizing for being a heavy snorer, he countered by apologizing for getting violently ill when he gets seasick. I think he won that round! But when he explained that the trip was well worth four to six days of seasickness, and that this was his eighth journey south, I got my first hint of what a special place I was in for!
Experiencing the 35+ foot waves on the Drake crossing was incredibly impressive. I never felt unsafe, and thankfully, unlike George, I weathered the seasickness well. However, watching tables roll across the dining room and waves crash onto the upper decks really make you appreciate the effort it takes to reach this remarkable place. The price of admission is steep!
A Ship Filled with Adventurers
We headed South from Punta Arenas to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetlands. This trip tends to cater to the more adventurous crowd, with guests who like to get off the ship and explore at every opportunity. We had backcountry skiers, kayakers, snowshoers, and even ice swimmers on board! Yes – you read that correctly!
Members of the World Ice Swimming team were on board, swimming up to 1km around the icebergs in -2ºC water. This took their core body temperatures from a normal 36.5ºC down to around 30ºC in the 15+ minutes they spent swimming. Keep in mind – hypothermia is defined as a core body temperature below 35ºC!!
Thankfully, the activities were all optional. I was happily bundled up snowshoeing with the penguins while the swimmers were bobbing in the Antarctic waters, turning into human ice cubes!
Is There Such a Thing as Antarctic Food?
When you think of Antarctica, food is likely not likely the first thing that pops into your mind. But you have not truly savoured a glass of whisky until you have sipped on it with a piece of ancient ice slowly melting in the glass, while you watch penguins frolic on the nearby shore, or whales breaching in the distance.
Food is an accentuator of experiences. One Ocean embraces their Canadian roots and focuses on a taste of place, showcasing the regions they visit. The great selection of Canadian wines, spirits, and ingredients on board, including sustainable Ocean Wise seafood, had me excited to sit down at each meal. It was also nice to have healthy options available at each meal, including a smoothie bar in the mornings.
A Place of Learning
Each One Ocean journey allows a research team to be on board, conducting experiments and engaging with passengers. During our journey, we traveled with two scientists who were studying whales, including humpbacks, Antarctic minke whales and orcas. They shared their learnings with the group, both through informal conversations and more formal presentations. The expedition guides and naturalists were equally engaged with the guests. They shared their knowledge and stories at meals, in presentations and even on deck.
One of the best parts of the trip, which is consistent with most of my travels, was the people I met. Guests from all over the world (including some from my hometown of Squamish that I had never met before!) kept each day full of great conversation and learning. People from all walks of life came aboard. Everyone was full of adventure and game for almost anything, from swimming in the polar waters to sleeping on the ice and climbing up peaks that defy description.
Travel is about learning and growing while engaging in new adventures and meeting new people. One Ocean Expeditions embraces this with their commitment to exploring, learning, research and sustainability.
Before and After Your Trip to Antarctica
If you are heading down to Antarctica from North America, be sure to spend some time in Chile and Argentina en route.
With excellent art galleries, restaurants and wine, Santiago is a vibrant city that is worth visiting for a couple days before you head to Punta Arenas to board the ship. Be sure to check out these fabulous finds:
Bocanariz Wine Bar – if you only have one night in Santiago, and you love wine, make sure this is the one place you go!
Hotel Eco Boutique Bidasoa – a great little boutique hotel that is in a great neighbourhood!
When you disembark in Argentina, be sure to spend a few days in Ushuaia and do some hiking in the nearby hills, and gorge on their famous king crab. The region of Patagonia is famous for fire cooking, lamb and seafood. Get out and explore each day and then reward yourself each evening with great food and wine!
I recommend staying at Los Cauquenes Resort + Spa.
For crab and local seafood, head to La Cantina de Freddy – so good, we ate there three times in two days!
Booking Your Trip to Explore the Ends of the Earth
It took many years to be convinced to visit our polar regions, but now that I have, they have become some of my favourite places on the planet. The air, water, solitude, huge skies, open landscapes, and endless things to discover have captivated all of my senses!
Canada’s top operator who specializes in remote destinations and supports research, sustainability, and learning is One Ocean Expeditions. Check them out to book your own adventure, and be inspired to visit the places that others dare not go! Savour the flavours of adventure!