Wednesday, April 21, 2010

0 Where Next Wednesday: Antarctica

To Do List
Antarctica is all about ridiculous, over the top, breathtaking natural beauty:
  • Glaciers and icebergs: climb on them, kayak through them, gaze the day away.
  • Wildlife: all sorts of different kinds of penguins, seals, and whales. Plus an awesome bird called the blue eyed shag.
  • Mount Erebus: the world's southernmost active volcano.
  • Deception Island hot springs, where we could strip down (appropriately) in the middle of the great Antarctican outdoors.
  • Lemaire Channel AKA "Kodak Gap" for its photogenicness.
  • The South Pole. Awesome.
  • The sun: it's there 24-7 in the middle of the summer.
Since there is no native human population in Antarctica and it's never been populated other than the scientists and crews that live at the bases, it's pretty tough to point to a national cuisine or local specialties  we'd have to try. The fact that base cafeteria food is probably the most authentic fare might make this our first destination without a culinary attraction.

Get Me There
By far the most popular way to get to Antarctica is by boat, usually departing from Argentina or Chile. There are several choices here, but the most attractive to us are the "small boats" carrying 100ish passengers. They offer an up close experience with landings and a minimal environmental impact. Trips range in price from $3,000 to $30,000 a person and up depending on the outfit. National Geographic has a fantastic-looking tour where you are accompanied by their experts starting at $10,000. The cheapest we found was Mountain Travel Sobek's $3,990 quote. We've also read that if you are willing to risk it, you can sometimes find last minute deals from Argentina (in-person) when companies are filling empty spots on their boats.
Large cruise ships, which are sightseeing only (no landings) and can't get to as many cool spots because they're so big, are for the most part now banned in Antarctica due to their environmental unfriendliness. Some yachts organize private tours as well, but since they haven't signed on to abide by the standard rules many base camps are unwelcoming to them. Maybe it's just us, but the idea of cruising around the end of the earth with the folks who live there and know the scene best resenting us does not seem appealing/safe/smart.

Also good to keep in mind that tourists can only visit in the "summer" from November to March. Even if it weren't freaking freezing and the sea wasn't crazy dangerous during the winter, the 24-7 darkness doesn't mesh so well with sightseeing.

Did You Know?
Q: Sahara, Kalahari, Antarctica: which one doesn't belong?
A: Kalahari, because it's not actually a desert. (It's planet Earth's largest sand basin.)

Which means that Antarctica IS a desert--and not only that, it's the biggest in the world! There is virtually no precipitation because water vapor is simply frozen out of the air. Mental note: remember to bring the chapstick.

The Word
Sailing the Forgotten Continent - "Let me just say one thing: every picture you see of Antarctica is pristine and white; the penguins are adorable and very huggable. What they don't tell you is that they smell-- a lot."
He Blogged His Way to Antarctica - "We started to hear some people screaming… but don’t get worried! They were just the first group to do polar plunge …yes, I’m serious… people were diving in the Antarctica waters…and we were next…" 

For the full details on Where Next Wednesday click here.

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