The Land Of Ice And Snow: Antarctica (Part I)

“Antarctica is the worst way to have the best time of your life,” is how Shane, our expedition leader, prepared us for our upcoming Antarctic adventure.

The next 11 days would be filled with early mornings, busy days, extreme weather, massive waves, sea sickness and getting covered in penguin guano (penguin droppings) on a daily basis. Our trip would also consist of breath taking landscapes, an abundance of wild life, unforgettable adventures, first class meals, an amazing group of people and the best customer service experience I’ve had in my life.

I absolutely mean it when I say that we received the best customer service experience that I have ever had. From the expedition leader and the captain of the ship, to the cleaning staff and servers, every staff member on the ship, went out of their way to make sure we had the best time of our lives.

Running my own business, I learned first hand how important it is to control customer expectations and Quark accomplished this flawlessly. They were astounding in their ability to consistently under promise and over deliver. Quark Expeditions is the king of customer service, in my mind at least, and I learned a lot from them that I will will bring into my own businesses moving forward.

I usually don’t like to write a day to day summary of where I have been, but in this case, I want to share what an 11 day Antarctica Cruise looks like. I was unable to find this information before I left Canada, and because of this I was so close to passing up on this opportunity and missing out on one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

Map of the South Shetlands

Map of the South Shetlands

Crossing the Drake

The Drake Passage is notorious for it’s violent and unpredictable weather and waves have been reported to reach over 30 metres high at times. We were fortunate enough to have a nice Drake. That’s not to say that the boat didn’t rock and people didn’t get sick, but it could have been much  worse.

The first day was a daze for me. I took seas sickness pills, as it was recommended to, but I didn’t realize how drowsy they would make me feel. I really had a hard time keeping my eyes open, let along being able to enjoy myself this day, but I learned my lesson and didn’t take any pills moving forward.

Photo taken by another guest on the cruise

Photo taken by another guest on the cruise

Barrientos Island

Because the Sea Gods were so nice to us, we arrived at the South Shetland Islands half a day early, so we were given an extra landing. At this point, Shane really did not have to do this for us and nobody would have known any difference. We were all just happy to be out of the Drake and into calmer waters. This was just the first example of over delivering, which would become a consistent theme moving forward.

I cannot express in words, how excited I was to make the first landing. Antarctica had been a dream in my mind since I started planning my trip to South America, and now it was about to become real. Although there was much more impressive landings ahead of us, I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body, as our zodiac delivered us to shore for the first time.

It had been a few weeks since I had spent time with penguins back in Punta Arenas, and I missed the cute little birds. It was nice to reunite with them a day earlier than planned.

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The first of many zodiac rides to shore

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Gentoo Penguins

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Half Moon Island

The next day we visited another Gentoo penguin colony. One interesting thing about this landing was that there was a special guest on the island waiting for us. There was a solo Macaroni penguin hanging out in the middle of all of all the Gentoo’s. Apparently he has been coming to this island all alone for some time now. It’s a bit sad to think that he is alone, with no mate, but at least he has plenty of friends to hang out with here.

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Can you find the macaroni penguin?

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Fur seals chilling on the beach

Don't worry. It's not actually on my head!

Don’t worry. It’s not actually on my head!

After I finished exploring, I walked down to the very end of the island alone and took a seat on a rock. It was really important for me to take time to myself each day, to reflect.

Especially when we are experiencing something new and exciting, it can be difficult to take the time to step back and slow down for a moment. It’s easy to not want to miss a single moment, but I feel we get a fuller experience when we are not constantly go, go, go the entire time. It was powerful for me to take the time each day, to bring myself to the present, remember where I was, and really take it all in.

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Deception Bay

This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Deception Bay is actually inside the caldera of an active volcano and it used to be a whaling station. Remnants of the whaling days, still remain on the beach today.

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Whalers (Deception) Bay

When we first landed, Wil asked me to take a photo of him. As I was looking into the camera and trying to find the perfect shot, I heard a terrifying growl directly to my right. I turned my head, just in time to see the wide open mouth of a seal lunging towards me. I leapt out of the way, but it was a bit too close for comfort.  Apparently, I had unknowingly, stepped too close to it’s home for it’s liking.

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The seal that almost bit me

What made this landing, so memorable for me is the hike that we did up to Neptunes Nipple. When we first arrived in the bay and landed on a rocky beach, I did not expect to see the views that we would see on this hike.

The excursion was lead by the ships Geologist, Phil. He was such a crazy guy (In a good way). He has summited several mountains in Antarctica that have not been climbed by anyone else, other than the group he did it with. You will hear more about him later.

Before we started, they told us that we would only go as far as we could make it in the time that we had, based on the speed of the group. In reality, it was not a challenge for us to make it to the top, with plenty of time to spare. This was just another example of Quark under promising.

The views from the top were absolutely stunning. As I’ve said in previous posts, photos just don’t do it justice. Looking out over the bay, all I could think about was how grateful I was to be exactly where I was at that moment. And how grateful I was that I took the leap of faith, that day in Ushuaia, to make this magical journey to the 7th continent of the world.

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The biggest group I’ve ever hiked with

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Sitting on Neptunes Nipple

I will be splitting Antarctica into several parts because there is so much to share. The journey continues further south and the next stop on our journey is the real land of ice and snow. The next part will include an intimate encounter with an entire bay full of feeding whales and so much more. You can read part 2 here.

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The Land Of Ice And Snow: Antarctica (Part 2)

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