Back from Antarctica, Aymeric, travel advisor at Grand Nord Grand Large, tells us about this unique experience aboard the Plancius.
Stage in Patagonia
After several hours of flight and a beautiful stopover in Buenos Aires, the impatience is starting to show on all faces. The desire to finally reach Tierra del Fuego and begin the adventure to the Antarctic continent is palpable. A few minutes before landing, we see the Andes range through the window. The smiles are already beginning to appear and we realize that this trip is very real. In the early morning, exploration of Patagonia can begin. Here we go for a nice walk in Lapataia National Park. We discover beautiful lakes and breathtaking landscapes, similar to some of the landscapes of northern Canada.
Back in Ushuaïa, we take the time to discover this isolated city at the tip of the continent, which has the merit of leaving no one indifferent, for good or for bad. We cross a city in full expansion, but which nevertheless keeps a certain charm and a rather peaceful atmosphere. I advise you to stop at one of the many restaurants in the city centre (two blocks), you will not be disappointed by spider crabs or roasted lamb.
Also, feel free to check out this travel article for exclusive tips for road travel in summer!
Embarkation to Antarctica
5:00 p. m., time to board! We head towards the port and enter the port area where the Plancius is moored. So here is the boat that will take us to where few people have had the chance to go… Celine and Gérard, our French-speaking guides, welcome us and introduce us to what will be our new home for the next 10 days. After the safety briefing, we cast off and see the port of Ushuaïa move away. A sea lion and a few terns accompany our exit from the Beagle Channel. Here we go to face the mythical Drake Passage, known for its strong winds and climatic instability. We are all afraid of heavy seas, but the captain wants to be reassuring.
The passage of the Drake
As we progress, the swell movement increases. It’s already bedtime, and the excitement of being on the way to Antarctica makes it difficult to sleep. When we wake up, the boat’s movements force us to remain cautious and always keep one hand on the wall so as not to lose our balance. As we imagined, some people get seasick, but the drugs quickly relieve them.
The crossing of the Drake takes two days. Meanwhile, conferences are being organized on board to discuss the arrival on the continent, including the code of conduct in Antarctica. We also learn a lot about the whales of the Southern Ocean and about photography techniques to hopefully come back with well-framed pictures. We also participate in the ritual of inspecting the clothes we will wear when we go ashore. Indeed, it is imperative to verify that we do not unknowingly bring germs from our respective regions. The goal is to have a minimum impact on the places we will visit.
Antarctica: where nature has all the powers
Here we are, judging by the multitude of icebergs around us. We can already see our first stage, the island of Cuverville. Disembarked on a zodiac, we observed one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen: about twenty humpback whales revolve around us! We approach them so closely that we feel the spray on our faces from the breath of air they spit out. One of them even approaches until she passes underneath our boat and exits on the other side. A short moment during which we all held our breath!
In the afternoon, we go on a zodiac trip to Neko Harbour. On the way, we witness a unique scene: sea lions swim with killer whales instead of fleeing them. On board, a scientist explains that she has never observed this behaviour before. We feel all the more privileged to have attended this unique show.
In Neko Bay
The next day is a rather special stage because it is the first time we have really set foot on the Antarctic continent. The silence of the place is repeatedly interrupted by the crackling of the glacier, similar to the sound of gunshots. At that moment we feel the power of the glacier. A few minutes later, a different noise calls out to us: a huge piece of ice comes off the glacier before our eyes. We have just witnessed a calving.
Then the expedition leader suggested that the interested parties quickly try a quick bath in ice-cold water. About twenty brave people literally jumped into the water (which is at this point at -o.3 degrees).
In the afternoon, we leave for an excursion to Paradise Bay. It bears its name very well because the landscapes are majestic. We zigzag through the icebergs and find ourselves in front of several magnificent glacial fronts. We turn off the zodiac engine and let the silence invade the canoe. The only sounds that disturb this silence are the lapping of the water around us.
Lemaire Canal and Port Charcot
We finally reach the port where Charcot overwintered during his expedition. This is the southernmost point of our journey. We land on this island full of history and meet a multitude of Papuan penguins, but also some seals and sea lions nestled on icebergs near the beach. Fortunately, we also meet an Adelie penguin and two chinstrap penguins.