A Travellerspoint blog

2. Go South, Young Man--An Overview


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View Five Million Penguins and Me on paulej4's travel map.


Should you travel to either polar region--the Arctic up north or the Antarctic down south—the one thing you should expect is that your experience there will exceed your pre-trip expectations.

I have high expectations for the journey upon which I now embark. I have made several travel choices and am hopeful that they turn out to be the correct ones.

I have eschewed the opportunity to go aboard a large cruise ship and opt instead to visit aboard a small expedition ship. For me, the smaller the ship, the better the experience. Avoid the 2,000 passenger Princess Cruise Lines Coral Princess or even the 254 passenger Silversea Silver Cloud. Instead, take the 122 passenger Quark Ocean Adventurer or, as I am, the even smaller 75 passenger Hebridean Sky. Also, avoid the two-day cruise across the Drake Passage, home to the world’s roughest seas. You might get lucky and find what is called “The Drake Lake” but you will more likely experience the dreaded “Drake Shake.” The latter means two days of sea sickness and misery. Fly the Drake and join your ship once on the continent.


No, I was not aboard the Chilean Air Force Hercules C-130 transport that was lost and presumed crashed late Monday with 38 souls aboard. It departed from the same Punta Arena airstrip in Patagonia from which I will fly in a couple of days and it was headed for King George Island which is my destination. This map, posted by Chilean authorities shows the spot, where, 450 miles into its planned 770 mile flight, contact was lost with no emergency signal sent. As you can see, they were over the aforementioned Drake Passage which, depending upon the weather, is a difficult place to mount a search. On this day, the seas were reported to be 16 foot swells beneath a heavily overcast sky. Four ships and 10 aircraft from Chile, Uruguay and Argentina mounted a search but, as of this writing 72 hours later, nothing and no-one has been found.

For me, after flying from Kansas City to Houston to Lima to Santiago to Punta Arenas, Chile, I have opted to then fly two hours over the unpredictable and time-draining Drake Channel and skip four or more days of cruising whether it be pleasant or dreadful. I must watch out: the baggage limit for both roll-aboard and carry-on luggage aboard that final leg is 44 pounds. I am warned that they are strict. Weighing at home before departure, my roll-aboard and carry-on came in at 44.3 pounds—I have a bit of heavy camera equipment that others might not need or want. My “long” lens is a waste of space and weight except for close ups of penguins which are far away or, most importantly, whale pix. So, to save the pounds in my baggage, I'll wear them. I can wear two coats, gloves and mittens when I board if need be to save luggage weight. Interestingly, they don't care how much I weigh; only the weight of my luggage is of concern.

Once in the region, there are three different ways that a tourist interacts with Antarctica on a cruise.

The first is “cruise by.” You remain aboard the ship and you sail along a glacier, past an iceberg or view a mountain range in the distance. This is the only interaction you will have aboard Princess. If you're older or sedentary or lethargic or just plain don't want to work at it, this is the way to go. I'm not any of those things--even though some would say old is accurate.

The second is “Zodiac cruises.” You, along with 7 or 8 or your fellow travelers board a rubber boat with an outboard motor—a Zodiac—and you get closer to whatever is around. That includes glacier fronts, icebergs, seals, whales and whatever else you can spot. On the Silver Cloud these Zodiac expeditions will happen in shifts. On a small expedition ship, everyone goes at once.

The third is “Zodiac landings.” You and your fellow expeditioners use the Zodiac as your taxi to get from the ship to solid ground or solid ice where you disembark to walk among the penguin population or hike on the rocky ground (or ice) to a higher vantage point or perhaps to visit a research station or historic site. Again, all of the small ships passengers may go at the same time.

You are invited to come along. The play-by-play is this:

The journey began at 11:00am today by flying United Airlines 6010 to Houston George Bush International Airport. On time.


There, a wait for a bit over three hours (in the delightful United Polaris Lounge) until I grabbed United 854, a 767-300, for a six hour flight to Lima, Peru, arriving at midnight, local time. I'm in 1A, Polaris Business Class so I am very comfortable. On Time. There is no business class on my next flight to Santiago but there is a Priority Pass Lounge for the two hour connection in the Lima Airport and that is from where, at the close of my first travel day, I post this entry. I depart at 2:10am.

Posted by paulej4 06:32 Archived in Peru Tagged antarctica

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