Conquer Your Fears: Exploring Antarctica

Planning and actually executing the trip to Antarctica was definitely a “Conquer Your Fears” moment. My friend Debra and I had talked about going to Antarctica for years.  In February of 2020 we finally were able to go at the same time. The last time we had traveled together was in 2014 to see the Silverback Gorillas in Rwanda. Our friend Ivan also wanted to join us which always makes life more interesting as he is fearless and funny.

Finding the best way to get to Antarctica is an adventure in itself. There is the whole issue of crossing the Drake Passage. We had all heard and seen horror stories on TV and You Tube about potential crossings of the Drake Passage that were crazy scary with huge waves and storms.  Do you take a ship from Ushuaia and pray for good weather or take a helicopter from Ushuaia and pray for good weather?   After much thought we decided on a ship preferring to be bouncing around in bad weather in something more substantial than a helicopter.

Then there was the desire to see the emperor penguins. Apparently, they live very far back in Antarctica, not along the main coasts that tourists’ visit.  You can get there by staying on a ship for somewhere around three weeks, or once again travel by helicopter. The helicopter flights are insanely expensive ($25,000-$50,000) with no guarantees that you will even see the giant penguins.  None of us had the time to stay on a ship for three weeks in Antarctica.  So sadly, the decision was made to bypass seeing the emperor penguins.

Debra gets all the credit for finding Swoop Antarctica, the company that we used to book the trip.  Their customer service was fabulous and they were so knowledgeable about Antarctica and all that was required to make the journey.

We ended up on Oceanwide Expedition ship Hondius. The ship was launched in 2019. It is important to know that this is an expedition ship and not a standard cruise ship.  It holds 170 people in 80 cabins. Ironically because of the what was going on with Covid-19 in China in February, 40 people from China were not on the ship. Bad for them and good for us.  The crew of the Hondius was incredibly passionate about Antarctica.  The guides were all involved in some type of research or another. And there was even a photographer from National Geographic on the ship. His name is Massimo Bassano and he was there to help the guests with their photography, teach classes and inspire us which he did amazingly well.

As an expedition ship the Hondius was incredibly well equipped for daily visits to the Antarctic continent.  This type of cruising is not for everyone.  No nightly entertainment, definitely no midnight buffet, and on days when the weather is a little rough you need to be prepared to just “go with the flow.” There were always lecture options throughout the trip by the crew on each of their individual specialties especially when we could not make land.

Well…once again I learned that all the worry in the world is a waste of energy.  It doesn’t do one bit of good especially if you can’t control the thing that you are worrying about…. like the weather.  I was seriously scared to cross the Drake Passage and on a separate note, I hate being cold.

During our crossing both ways, the Drake Passage, was the Drake Lake.  Not even a ripple in the water. The crew said that they had never seen the passage so smooth. Whew……. In terms of cold weather there were a few days when it was actually warmer in Antarctica than in Phoenix, Arizona where we all live.

A huge thank you to the weather Gods.  There was some fog and overcast days truly nothing to complain about in this adventure.

Because it was so warm the Captain made an announcement once we crossed the Drake Passage.  He was making a change in the itinerary and was going very far South.  We were going to cross the Antarctica Circle!!!  The Captain said that he has never been able to do this route change until the end of March. This was the first week in February.

And so the journey began.

Laura Ziff

Laura's passion in life is travel and photography. She is excited to share her adventures with all of you. She loves to travel to "conquer her fears," meet new people and continue learning.