In today's post, I talk to PJ about his trip to Antarctica: A land of extremes, the coldest continent on Earth with the highest average elevation and a place almost untouched by humans.
I have been intrigued by the continent for a long time. Honestly I had been saving up for it for a while, I just didn't have anyone to go with. When my uncle approached me with the idea, I jumped on it.
Once I had mentally decided that it needed to happen, the stars just aligned. I got a balcony room on the Quark for half the price for an expedition that was to depart in 5 months. Most of the expeditions are booked years in advance, so these were the left over cabins that couldn't be sold and the agent needed someone to fill them and gave heavy discounts.
Talk me about your journey - Where did you land? How did you get there? How long did it take? Does Antarctica have an airport?
Going to Antarctica while living in North America means you have to leave from Argentina or Chile. There are no commercial flights to Antarctica, in fact even with the boat you are only able to go to the Antarctic peninsula. Antarctica proper is divided between 7 countries and they only have bases there which are manned maybe 3-4 months a year.
My boat left from Ushuaia which is the southern most tip of Argentina so I had to fly into Buenos Aires to get there. Quark Expedition met us at Ushuaia airport, we stayed there for 1 night. Most of us had last minute shopping to do from the list that we were provided. Ushuaia's economy thrives on Antarctica tourism and had everything that we wouldn't normally get in REI or other outfitters.
Once you get on the ship, it takes 3 days at least to get through the drake passage, the most turbulent seas in the world. More than 50% of the ship got major sea sickness during this time. If the storms cooperate and you have a good captain (which most ships do) you will get to the Antarctic peninsula in 3 days. The cruise is considered an expedition because you really don't know the ports that you will be able to get to, it is all based on the storms and weather.
It changed everyday but once you are sailing past these amazing icebergs, it really doesn't matter where you dock. There are penguins and seals and whales everywhere and they come so close to the boats. Its simply breathtaking!
They say, its all about the ice. Tell us about the adventures. Did you go in a group? Were there activities planned? Did you need to be at a specific fitness level to partake?
It's a lot more than just ice. It really is about the wildlife and the atmosphere that these icebergs create. Our ship had about 150 passengers and I was part of a smaller group of 20 kayakers. We were more fit than the rest of the group, but you definitely need a certain level of fitness to be able to withstand the cold on the zodiacs and able to walk on ice.
There are activities planned on the ship, but off the port, it was all about getting on the zodiacs or kayaks and getting close to the penguins, seals or whales and seeing these massive ice bergs. We did have one port where we could visit a small British outpost, Port Lockroy. They let us mail post cards because they had postal delivery once every 6 weeks.
Some of us were crazy enough to do a polar dip where they tied us to a rope and let us dip in the freezing cold water. We even had an outdoor BBQ in freezing temperatures surrounded by icebergs. The kayaking however was the best part, we were on the water for hours at a time. Sometimes just drifting in awe of the place and sometimes being chased by whales or chasing penguins!
How did it feel to be in such a remote part of the world? Lonely, peaceful, dangerous or just plain cold?
It feels absolutely ethereal! You go through all the emotions getting there - cold, scared, lonely but once you are in the kayak or the zodiac in the middle of these icebergs, you feel perfectly in tune with nature. Like you are meant to be there, that your body and mind knows this place though you have never been here before. Its a feeling that is hard to describe but ask anyone who has been the Antarctica and they will tell you the same thing.
You are vegetarian. Was food an issue? How did you prepare?
Considering we were on a cruise ship, it definitely wasn't an issue. We didn't have loads of food like a normal cruise ship, we had 1 or 2 choices for dinner and lunch was generally a buffet but they had plenty of food to sustain us.
What are the things you will most remember about this extraordinary visit?
I remember being in the middle of the ocean, on my kayak trying to chase this whale when all of a sudden it was right below our kayak. The feeling of seeing something so spectacular and at the same time freaking out because one small touch and we would be right in the freezing ocean. It came right up to us but didn't even brush us because it was going back down and next second a few meters away surfacing to blow water from its blowhole. I think we both probably let out our breath at the same time!
Pranjal (who we lovingly call PJ) has been on the road for over 15 years with no permanent address. He says that Home is where he is at the moment.
About our travel nomad, Pranjal (PJ)
"I have designed my life so that travel is front and center of it, first via IT consulting and then gradually by adopting the digital nomadic lifestyle. I got introduced to travel via a study abroad program in sophomore year of college and then after graduation I started looking for jobs that geared towards it. What motivates me as a traveler is the knowledge that every person and every place is unique and will teach me something new. Food is something that connects me to a place and the people in it. As a vegetarian, I am always trying to understand how the locals relate to nature around them.The evolution of food through history also helps in understanding the local culture and customs. To me that is the most fascinating aspect of travel."