¿The Last Great Wilderness or Titanic V2.0?


I’m sat in the Hyatt in Santiago, drinking free cocktails just a day or two after coming back from my Antarctica Explorer holiday… you’d never guess where I went!

Before we begin, it’s worth correcting one of the worlds great lies…

Penguins are not black and white, fluffy and cute… I have evidence.

Look at that grubby bugger! In fact it’s worse, because that penguin is just covered in mud. But the truth is that penguins are usually covered in mud and poo. I know it’s poo because they tend to poo a lot. And it stinks. Oh boy does it smell. Anyway, just needed to clear that up first… you’ll never watch a nature programme the same way again!

As you probably knew, I was stressed about this holiday, not only was it about 2 times more expensive than a normal expensive holiday, but there wasn’t much information about it just lots of provisos like ‘the weather might be so bad you won’t see anything’. Add to that the 3hr + 14 hr flights followed by the crossing of probably the roughest seas on the planet and you can understand my concern!

Anyway, day1 we landed in Santiago, Chile and transferred to the Hotel Intercontinental – meh, nothing special but it’s only a bed really. Italian for lunch (obvious really, have to have Italian food in Chile, ¿right? teehee I like those upside down thingies). Then went into central Santiago, well all I can say is that I either went to the wrong bit or this city really didn’t have that much of a presence/character to it, seemed a bit bland as this confusing and pretty poor photo of a cathedral, office block and a christmas tree sponsored by CocaCola shows…

Had a nice meal tonight though mmm mexican sort of stuff and beer.

Day2. Tried to order a starbucks (shutup, it was the only coffee place locally) and found it mildly amusing that the guy wrote ‘Peach’ for my name on the cup. Peeeeeech as they say here. Took a ride on the teliferico which is foreign for a sort of cable car thing that looked like it should be in an Austin Powers movie then spent some time looking down on smog bound Santiago – the Andes were around here somewhere! Came back down to the city on a fernicular railway which was fun.

Had a fantastic lunch… french this time! in a restaurant called Le Flaubert. Mmm steak. Then after a snoozle went to Agua Para Chocolate restaurant for dinner. The restaurant is apparently named after a book or sommit – I need to read up and find out. However the food was fab. I had an absolute ton of (more) steak with a lovely alcoholic chocolate sauce to dip it in, along with cocktails that had chocolate rose petals in them mmmm. My god did I feel fat(ter) afterwards!

Day3 panic timmeeee we’re off to the ship! An OK flight down to Ushuaia in Argentina, the city that describes itself as The End of the World, The Beginning of Everything. I was expecting a real desolate place with freezing cold streets and no people but it was actually quite impressive and cosmopolitan looking, um, in a desolate, hell on earth sort of way! We all went on a tour of Tierra Del Fuego National Park with gorgeous snow capped mountains all around. Saw a red fox and a beavers dam and some geese and started to get exciteddddd.

After the tour we had about 50minutes to mooch around the town (mmm hotdog) and then it was onto the pier and boarding MV Fram! (pronounced Fram, somehow, basically make it sound like your sneezing or shouting it). It was gorgeous calm weather in the dock and the ship wasn’t moving an inch but it still made us feel unsteady on our feet! The ship itself was fantastic, only 218 people on board and was brand new and had fantastic Antarctic decorations in it (please excuse the bin in this photo doh)

It also had a superb observation deck with wonderful views and comfy chairs.

(that photo was taken in Drakes Passage… can you spot the odd fact that the horizon is at a fricking scary angle!)

Before dinner we had an introduction to the crew – the Captain kinda scared the crap out of me as he gleefully said “It is blowing force 8 out at sea hohoho”. The expedition team were excellent, Ian the leader of the group was a bit of a power freak but you could tell he really wanted everything to go perfectly and was encouraging the passengers that if we followed the rules then it’d be better for all of us.

Talking of passengers, jesus there was some OLD people. It was a big mix between Nordic, German, USA, Australia and 10 Brits. Some of the Americans immediately made me want to throw them overboard (Gee honeyyyy ain’t that bird pretty what is thattttt bird called) but I managed to resist murder, mainly. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we lost a few of the oldies during the journey… but… meh.

Anyway, we were told during the introductions that there had been a slight issue with another one of the tour companies ships just a few hours before… IT HAD BLOODY WELL SANK IN ANTARCTICA!!!!! What the helllll! It had sank doing the similar journey we were about to do! By hitting an iceberg!!!! Panicccccccc.

(That’s the final photo of it before it sank peeeeeeeep)

So, after the rest of the introductions and more panicking we were told that there would be a mandatory safety drill after we set off. So we sat in the bar and, well, we looked around… and it was pretty much empty. ¿Where the hell had everyone gone? Then some loud pips were sounded on the ships loudspeakers. Hmmm, odd. So we took a leisurely walk out of the observation deck only TO SEE EVERYONE ELSE OUTSIDE BEING GIVEN A SAFETY DRILL!!! What the hell, no announcements, nothing! How were we supposed to know what these pips signified!?!?! Everyone else had warm clothes on… it turned out the instructions were to dress warmly then go to your lifeboat station!?!?! I didn’t even know I HAD a lifeboat station. What if Richard Parker was in it??? Outside it was even worse, we couldn’t hear any of the annoucements from the crew and then they sent us to the back of the boat… where there were no crew or lifeboats. Eventually someone from the crew came over and said they were going to repeat parts of the drill… and we watched one of the crew struggle to show us how to put the emergency body suits on that you’d wear if you went into the freezing sea – unfortunately he didn’t seem to know how to do it all up!!!!


After all this ‘excitement’ (spot the quotes) the ship set sail.

Bye bye land, I hope to see you again!

Then it was dinner time… mmmm buffet. The food on board was excellent, there was a distinct nordic feel to it – i.e. reindeer every single night was on the menu somewhere along with caviar and pickled herring, but it was overall excellent food and great service from the philipino crew. Then… it got rough.

When I say rough, I kind of mean OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE PLEASE LET ME DIE I WANT TO DIE I WANT MY MUM type of rough. At first it was funny as the boat lurched through 12metre high waves and you could hear plates smashing and watched people ricochet around the ship, then your stomach began to get your attention… not in a good way. The only option was to go to bed (we didn’t realise we had ground level bunks in our cabin on the first night so both of us went to bed up by the ceiling hehe). Trying to sleep was funny, ha-bloody-ha type of funny as you felt yourself slide upppp the bed, then downnnnn the bed, the sidewaysssssss. Urghhh. Being in the dark lying down helped a lot though. Urghhh even writing this has made me feel slightly ick! Every lurch upwards shrank me to 5ft 2inches and then every lurch downwards stretched me to 7ft 6inches!

Day4 was a continued crossing of Drakes Passage (I liked this quote, “If 70% of the planet is water, why is so much of it in Drakes Passage”) in really scary seas. We tried a tiny bit of breakfast, we went up on deck to see the absolutely massive waves… then we retired to the dark cool safety of the cabin and hoped for a quiet peaceful death. I think we might have braved dinner tonight, but my memory and stomach fails me. I was never sick though!

Ah yes, one incident did happen today. The expedition crew put on lectures throughout the day about things like climate change and albatross and penguins etc (by the way we did see Albatross… did you know their wing span is 3.5metres?¿?¿?¿). So anyway, imagine being in a room with 50 other people… and the room has no outside view…. and the room is being tossed around in 12metre (that’s 48feet) waves… yeh, exactly… fricking orrible. Then the ship is hit by a wave. Not your normal wave… you could feel this one coming from a mile off with awoogaa awooga noises. When it hit us the boat leaned and we leaned… then the boat leaned some more and all the chairs started to lean… then it leaned some more and the chairs suddenly went past the point of no return. And GUESS WHO was at the end of a row of seats like the last bloody domino! Yes, me! Everyone on our row tipped their chairs but managed to stay seated by the expeditite move of using the person next to them to balance… but I was last in the row so went flying across the room!

Ha. Well I at least I won’t mention the fat american woman who managed to destroy two of the chairs when she went flying in the same incident. I can’t believe there were no injuries on the crossing.

Dinner was a set menu tonight which we both managed to brave. The ship was hit by another wave during dinner which was funny to see everyone go flying. One guy flew off his chair and landed on the floor but deserved 10/10 as he’d grabbed his bottle of wine first to protect it! Bravo that man!

Day5, trying some wristbands now to supplement the seasickness tablets, didn’t feel too bad today so after a nice breakfast and a brisk blow outside we attended the safety briefing for the landings, so excitinggggg. Also saw our first penguins jumping through the waves! ooooooo! And icebergs as well! Wowwww! And this photo pretty much demonstrates the colour of the entire trip… I think ‘god’ had a blue torch shining on nearly every iceberg I saw… wow!

Our first stop was at Yankee Harbour, it was very foggy and snowing but so so exciting. When they called your group (only 100 people could land at a time and only 8 people could go in each little Polar Cirkel boat across) you made sure that you had your thermals on, then your layers, then your waterproof coat and waterproof trousers, and your life jacket, and hat, and gloves and had your camera and sunglasses safely tucked away. Then you went down to deck 2 to put your wellies on, had them sprayed with detergent to make sure there was no infection taken ashore, then you got on the boat over to the shore. It was bloody cold here, about -10, but so so excitinggg. As we landed, Ian would welcome us and tell us what we could expect to see… he pointed out a rare elephant seal on the beach and told us we should follow the red flags the expedition crew had set out for us to walk between to see…. THE PENGUIN ROOKERIES. Wowwww, pingu city!!!! All the expedition team were out there explaining things and showing us interesting pingu behaviours and stuff, they were really excellent. The penguins were just fantastic, they were all nest building or sitting on eggs or collecting pebbles or off for a swim or just shouting at each other or just sitting down watching the world go by. Sometimes they came up so close to you, you’d be kneeling on the ice taking a photo and you could hear the tiny crush crush crush of a penguins footsteps behind you and one would have come up to you to see what was going on. Wowww. If you blocked their path they tended to just look at you and wait until you moved again then they’d waddle on past! One of the best things was when one of the penguins was waddling along with a pebble… sometimes they had to climb a MASSIVE hill with this damned pebble for the nest and they’d get all the way to the top several hours later, drop the pebble and turn around but another penguin would then steal it!!! So funny.

This little fella is off for dinner…

These guys were off to eat my buffet dinner, geroff!

This one was shouting at his mate saying “It’s my turn to sit in the hole”

Talking of holes… I found out that when the penguin sits on the egg, he really stays there no matter what happens! Some times all you can see (like in this photo) is the beak or top of head sticking out a little air hole!!!!

This one has done an impressive job of having a massive white continent to sit on yet managing to lie in some poo and ruining his white shirt…

The elephant seal decided to take exception to our landing point so the team had to move… then he kept raising his head to look at everyone on the ice, he was MASSIVE. They said around 3 tons and maybe 14feet long.

Ooo that reminds me on our defence course… as part of the briefing we were told what to do if you were attacked. If it was by a bird then you had to hold your fist up into the air (Black Power!) and then the bird would attack that rather than your head as you backed away. If it was an elephant seal (remember, they can grow to 5tons and 17foot long) we were told that they CAN OUTRUN A PERSON! so the tactic wasn’t to just curl up and die but to make yourself as big as possible and shout and swear at it. I wasn’t sure if this was to be of any use or not but luckily never found out!

Anyway, then the elephant seal spent 10minutes getting himself up onto the ice and wobbling his way past us all, wow wow so amazing!

Back to the boat after an hour to strip off the layers, I was wearing Kier’s 700quid coyote coat which was so so hot that I think I melted a chunk of Antarctica off wherever I went today! The sea was calm now so no problems with with weather, woohoo!

Ooo another thing I forgot… when Ian did his announcement for each trip (his announcements were excellent) he’d finish by saying “I’ll see you on the beach”… boy did that remind me of Saving Private Ryan!

Buffet dinner and a 2.5hour journey to Deception Island which is an old volcano but it was too foggy to get into it (we visited it on the way back though) so we continued on overnight to Paradise Bay. Here is a couple of samples of the type of STUNNING scenery that we passed all the time…

Day6 – the crew had told us that Paradise Bay wasn’t named for its beauty, but because it was a great place for whalers to shelter from the weather. But bloody hell it was GORGEOUS. We woke up to blue skies, still water and amazing glaciers and icebergs and mountains. Wow, this holiday started looking as good as the brochures! We landed once again (footsteps on the Antarctic mainland!) and climbed to the top of a small hill (was a hard climb but we were so glad the crew didn’t just get us off the boat and let us stand around, there was always somewhere to go or something to do on each landing). We took an ice slide back down the hill after taking lots of photos and then spent some time getting snow out of my ass then had a little boat trip to see some nesting cormorants.

Here is the view down from the hill… look how small the ship looks!

Wow it was just so beautiful, it really moved me to tears just looking at this scenery that I’ve never experienced before. All the icebergs in the sea were light blue under the water, you could see penguins swimming in the clear sea, the mountains and glaciers were pierced with bright blue lines where the ice had cracked.

Even whenever you took a footstep in the snow, when you lifted your boot out the hole was lit with pale blue light. Fantastic.

Around this time, I think, we met up with the NordNorge – in the same fleet as our boat and was the one who rescued the people from the MV Explorer. The captains decided to show off and came incredibly close to each others ships (our ship didn’t have a rudder, it was all steered with props at front and rear). This photo shows the ships bridges really close as they had a chat…

After mmm buffet lunch including 3 puddings we decided to be the first to try the outdoor hottubs! Wow they were great, toasting hot with stunning views of the coldest continent on the planet! Too much ice on the shore meant we couldn’t land on Cuverville Island this afternoon but we’d already had one great trip today so we were more than happy. So we carried on to the British base of Port Lockroy – the only post office and gift shop on the continent hehe! Our ship invited the three inhabitants of Port Lockroy onboard for a dinner and shower then they gave us a great talk about their lives (they spend something like 4months alone there living in one room and seemed so excited when they saw our ship!). We stayed overnight at Port Lockroy ready for our landing there in the morning.

Day7 and the view again made me well up it was so beautiful. Lots of ice in the sea, amazing hills and snow and a gorgeous blue sky.

The weather was turning out to be fantastic – 5 degrees today and no wind or fog at all! We took the boat onto Port Lockroy and visited the museum and oh my god the SMELLY penguins. As you can see from some of my photos, penguins are usually COVERED in shit and smell of the worst kind of dead fish you can imagine. And they nest in the mud!

Hehe so funny though… I has a pebble!!!

Just to make me feel completely useless, one of the passengers went swimming with his young (about 6yrs old) daughter in the SEA! Eeeeeep. It was warm enough after our trip to sit on deck in just a jumper and read today! Only a 50/50 chance of us successfully sailing through the Lemaire channel today but the ship gave it a go and succeeded! Wow, they call it “Kodak Gap” and you can see why, nearly every passenger was on deck for the super slow sail between the mountains as we dodged the icebergs, so stunning. During this part of the trip we hit a ‘growler’ iceberg… the sort that just sort of rubs itself down the side of the ship making a scary noise. Eeeep

I think I took at least 40 photos of exactly the same scene. I’d look, go wow, take a photo, look away, look back a minute later, go wow, take the same photo… etc.etc.

After the channel we arrived at Peterman Island and managed a second landing in one day! The ice in the sea here was amazing, it felt like you could walk across the sea on it and our little speedboats bashed around all over it – was superb fun. Had two big walks on the island to see glaciers and penguins (I managed to convince an old woman that a cormorant that flew past was actually a flying penguin – sigh!). These penguins were cute little Adelie Penguins, still smelt as bad though!

After dinner the three scientists based at Peterman island came on board to talk to us about their work, we were really lucky in our two visits on board as normally they ignore the cruise ships as they are too busy but we were pretty much the first ship this year… because the other one bloody well SANK!). The talk was really interesting and they stressed their opinions (which our crew seemed to mirror) that the worlds climate is changing anyway but mankind is just accelerating it in some places. They told us that the Adelie penguins were disappearing from the island and they didn’t yet know why, sniff!

Day8 and I can’t believe this holiday can get any better, it’s been breathtakingly beautiful with literally tens of glaciers and mountains and hundreds of icebergs every day with just the BEST weather. Today we were at Andvord Bay deep into the Antarctic Peninsula. Two big walks then we climbed to the top of a huge, HUGE hill and were told by the crew guide at the top that we could – entirely of our own responsibility – slide down the hill on the ice. He reiterated that it was at our risk entirely hehe. Guess who had to go first out of the entire ship! You couldn’t see the edge of the drop as it was so steep as I edged towards it on my ass… then Aieeeeee sliddddddeeeeeeee arhgghghghghghg all the way to the bottom. Anyway… three of us took that slide before he then moved the starting point to a more safe place… of the three of us I bruised every bloody vertebrae up my back, Jen was fine and one nice American guy ended up with his leg in a splint… for the next two months!!!! hehehe. There was also a fantastic penguin highway on this island – they looked so funny as they waddled down the tracks!

Our next stop today was Wilhemina Bay after a beautiful cruise this afternoon. The bay was still solid with sea ice so we couldn’t enter it… but the Captain of the ship had some fun by edging us up to the ice and then cracking through it for a few feet before putting it into reverse, great fun… look at the dent!…

We then cruised around the other side of Enterprise Island to see a wreck at dinner time. Mmmm dinner. The ships crew put on some dodgy but funny entertainment tonight hehe. Luckily apart from that the ship has been very calm and relaxed with plently of room to keep away from people and to just enjoy the amazing scenery.

Day8 and I got up at 5am to see Deception Island as we sailed into the caldera of the volcano… then back to bed for 3hours!!!! Last trip today on Half Moon Island. A colony of gorgeous chinstrap pingus here and some seals. There was also some amazing big chunks of clear ice on the beach… and the sight of some crazy guy going for a swim!!!

And here we saw the worlds most filthy penguin…

There were also Skua’s all around… trying to steal the penguins eggs damn them!

Then we began our journey home… urghhhh did it start out rough as we entered Drakes Passage. Hid away in the cabin and tried not to die. But then for the rest of the crossing (including a really cool trip to the bridge to meet the captain and the final Captains Dinner later that day) the weather was fantastic and calm. In the Captains words the weather on our way back in Drakes Passage was ‘ridiculous’.

Landed in Ushuaia some days/months later and had our last breakfast on board then went on a coach trip round the city and did some more gift shopping… then finally onto a plane back to Santiago. The damned plane didn’t have enough fuel on board so we had to detour to buy some at another airport… watched the captain of the plane paying for the fuel in dollars outside!!!!). Eventually landed in Santiago and taxi’d to the lovely Hyatt hotel for a posh few days to get a tan and stop rocking left and right!!! Failed to sleep most nights as I still felt like I was on a ship but the amazing view of the Andes from our room made up for that!!!

So, for the next two days it’s really sad… but we haven’t even gone out of the hotel grounds. I’ve written my blog, suntanned… but mainly eaten. Our room has access to an executive lounge with free food and drink… when I say free food I mean sushi and nibbles and amazing puddings and basically everythingggg. Then the hotels restaurants bring little samples up from their kitchens (like strawberry tequilas and home made noodles) to tempt you out. I’ve eaten so muchhhh. On top of that last night I had a five course dinner!

Well I think I’m all done now, off to bed soon in awful anticipation of the huge journey home tomorrow.

I’ll finish with a great quote from our expedition leader… to paraphrase he was talking about the responsibilities for Antarctica and how it’s in our hands along with the rest of the earth. He said something like “On this journey there was a clear differential between you as passengers and us as crew and the responsibility for the journeys success was with the crew. But on Planet Earth we’re all crew”.

We really owe it to the penguins.