A traveler that my wife, Kathy, and I met on our tour to Antarctica in 2008 recently sent me this photo of us from that trip. We have traveled together, Kathy and I, since we were just 20 years old. One by one we hit many countries, discovered new continents, and saw the people and sights of the world that have shaped who we are. We have done some traveling separately as well (me, in particular, as I do travel quite a bit for work)… but our favorite trips are together, or with our family.
Crossing that seventh continent off our list of places we had yet to go was such a meaningful milestone to hit together. I guided this tour to Antarctica, and we met amazing people and had unforgettable experiences. Kathy wrote about our experience in Antarctica and I wanted to take a moment to share our story through her eyes:
When I graduated high school, my mom gave me a gift that, unbeknownst to me -and her- would become symbolic of my future life. Her gift was three pieces of red American Tourister luggage; “for when you travel all over the world” she said. But, at the time I had never even left New England. So, traveling the world seemed like a wonderful dream, but was not something I ever thought would become a reality. As Mother’s tend to have a sixth sense, so did mine. Her graduation gift and wish that I would explore our world would in fact come true, when I met my life partner, best friend and husband.
I met Dan on a cruise to Bermuda in August 1970 when we were just 18 years old. We have now been married 40 years. The time in between has been full, with our three children, four grandchildren, adventures around the world, and of course our family company, Collette Vacations.
When I met Dan, Collette had only 7 employees. We have grown in many ways over the past 38 years, and now have over 500 employees, and offices in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
In February, 2008-we embarked on a trip that marked our 7th continent. In Antarctica, also known as the White Continent, February is summer. My expectations of snow, freezing temperatures, icebergs, and penguins was sorely misguided What I saw were the single most spectacular sights imaginable–snow-covered mountains, glacial bays, frolicking penguins, playful seals, birds in flight, breeching whales and massive icebergs. Many, many massive icebergs. After an overnight in Santiago, Chile we began our trip. We walked to a little restaurant from our hotel and met one of our fellow travelers who was traveling alone. He wanted to see his 7th continent as well.
The next morning we boarded a flight to Ushuaia, Argentina. If you look at a map, you’ll see it’s at the very bottom of South America–the southernmost point in the world. In fact, there is a sign there that says “the end of the world”, which made me wonder if I’d fall off if I kept walking.
Ushuaia is set on a hill overlooking the Beagle Channel, where our ship, the msFram, was docked. When we arrived, I went on my souvenir shopping expedition, because I learned there are no gift shops in Antarctica—well, except one.
Antarctica is an untouched area of the world that exists only for its natural resources and the wildlife that lives there. There are scientific stations on the islands and we visited many of them.
Our adventure began when we set sail in the late afternoon through the Beagle Channel. Our first order of business was to meet the officers and Expedition Director of the cruise, who discussed the Drake Passage–known to be the roughest sea waters in the world. It’s called the Convergence and is located where the Atlantic and Pacific meet. The water churns and the seas are rough, but only a few people actually felt the movement and most of us were fine. The Expedition Director suggested eating carbs to absorb the motion of the ship. I do everything I’m told so I had no problems!
We navigated the ship, our home for the next 8 days which held approximately 300 passengers. While his type of cruise offers no shows, casino or bingo games there are, however, fascinating lectures daily. And excellent food We especially loved their soups.
They had afternoon tea daily on the Observation Deck, which was enclosed, but had ceiling-to-floor windows around the room, so we could sit anywhere and see the fantastic views. We spent a good amount of time here. It’s where most people gathered to just watch the scenery, read, have tea, play cards, and relax.
We had a group of 26 people all from the United States. They were as excited as me about seeing the 7th continent. After dinner on our first night, we had a cocktail party with our fellow travelers. After that, some attended a movie about the South Pole explorer, Ernest Shackelton, which Dan and I had seen before but enjoyed none-the-less. Dan and I played Yahtzee. He won 2-1. It’s a good idea to bring a game or two, as well as good reading material on a trip like this as there is some down time at night after dinner, as well as your days at sea.
Our first landing was at Half Moon Island. We had a mandatory meeting to go over deportment and deployment. The Expedition Director discussed proper etiquette to follow at all landings. You are not allowed to throw anything on the ground or pick anything up–not even a rock. This is due to the ecology of the area; we must respect the natural habitat of all the wildlife that lives there.
All passengers were supplied with a jacket for our landings. They were all the same, so the crew could spot us during explorations. For a trip like this you must bring waterproof pants, a warm sweater, scarf, gloves, thermal underwear and wool socks. The ship supplied the rubber boots which you put on before every landing. With our gear on, we would get onto the zodiacs for our transfer to the islands.
After we got dressed and ready for our first excursion, I went outside on deck to take a few pictures; it was very windy. I decided to put my hood on but when I moved to do this my camera which I thought was around my wrist, fell to the floor and slid through a hole in the bottom of the railing, and proceeded to fall into the water below. I was devastated as I watched it hit the water. Dan wasn’t happy. The first thing he said was, “we just went to the meeting and they told us not to leave anything behind that could harm the wildlife”. Now my biggest fear is that a whale or seal choked on my camera.
The zodiac ride to HalfMoonIsland was a wild, wet ride. We were finally on land and walked the shore and up a hill. There were many Gentoo penguins on the rocks and walking across the snow. We stayed in areas marked for humans. We could not stray outside our parameters as a human footprint lasts for 6 months.
As we explored the area, we came upon a fur seal. When we got a little too close, however, he put his head up and barked loudly at us. Knowing that a fur seal could be aggressive, we moved on quickly. I did get a great picture of him. Thankfully for me, one of our passengers had a second camera and loaned it to me for the duration of our trip.
I also took pictures of cute penguins! I have to say they didn’t seem fazed about us walking around. They had the right of way at all times, and would cross our paths, at will, as they waddled by.
Our next landing was in ParadiseBay where Brown Station is located. This station is an example of the claiming and reclamation of Antarctica from the Argentineans. The reclamation of the station was undertaken by Gentoo Penguins who were nesting all over the former base.
We climbed a 165 foot hill, a beautiful backdrop to the brightly painted red buildings of Brown Station. There were manmade snow slides cut into the hill, so that once you finished your picture-taking at the top you could sit down and slide back down the hill. It was an exhilarating ride to the bottom. I went the fastest!
Back onboard, Dan and I settled into the Jacuzzi, located outside on the observation deck. The temperature was in the low 30’s, yet the water was warm and the amazing views stretched as far as the eye could see. The spectacular, pristine beauty of such a pure, untouched part of the world was at our fingertips. We just watched as the ship moved slowly through the bay and enjoyed every minute.
We celebrated Valentines Day, the day we were engaged over 40 years ago, onboard our ship.
In the early evening we went to Peterman Island. We got up close and personal with the penguins. There were lots of babies and they came so close you could almost touch them. They were little, fluffy grey feathered creatures that walked side-by-side with us. We traversed over some rocky areas to look out over a valley beyond before heading back to the ship. The sky had darkened and the wind was whipping around us. We were witnessing the drastic weather change that we were told can happen here.
The next morning we took our zodiac to Port Lockroy, where surprisingly, they had a tiny gift shop. Port Lockroy’s main building is a museum and the gift shop is located here. We nicknamed it the Antarctic Mall. The museum showed how a scientific team would live on Antarctica displaying living quarters, kitchen, and of course, the office where scientific data is gathered and assimilated. We also saw the ancient bones of a large whale. Back on the ship, at dinner, we saw many whales swimming in the water near our ship.
The next day we went out on deck and were in the middle of an iceberg field. These icebergs were massive. The most spectacular ones were the Tabular Icebergs, which were possibly larger than our ship. Some were 150 feet tall and 400 feet long. I took pictures, but a camera cannot capture the size of the mammoth blocks of ice that have tumbled into the sea from the many glaciers located far into the Antarctic.
Our last landing was the Polish Arctowski Station – the largest station that we saw. Arctowski Station has operated since 1977. Since that time, there has been continuous research in the field of Oceanography, Geology, Glaciology and Ecology.
We walked along a beautiful black sand beach and watched a parade of penguins jump into the water for a swim as they enjoyed their “summer vacation.” We saw a flock of huge elephant seals just lying on the beach as the water washed over them. Soon, we left Arctowski Station, boarded our ship and set sail leaving Antarctica behind.
It was time to go home—to conclude a trip that would mark my exploration of the 7th continent. I was officially a world traveler! And, I could not help but think of my Mother, that gift of 3 pieces of red luggage and her wish for me to see the world. This trip was all that my mother could have hoped for me. I am lucky to say that I consider Antarctica my favorite destination in the world. It is a dream worth seeing. I’ve been fortunate to have experienced so many wonderful and exotic places, and there are many more on my list to see. But I think that Antarctica will always be the icing on my cake of travels. Antarctica belongs to no one. It belongs to the world.
As for that red luggage – I did use it again and again…until the invention of wheels on suitcases. And so, after carrying many miles of memories, I had to retire it. But the memory and meaning of that gift will live on forever.
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Tags: Antarctica, CEO on the Move, Collette Team, Experience It