Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dream Trips, Vol. 3: Antarctica

Photo by westerlingh

It's been a while since I posted a dream trip here on WayWorded, but that doesn't mean I haven't been dreaming up wild travel schemes in the interim. A traveler's mind is never at rest; each glimpse of a world map, each syllable of a foreign language overheard, each tale of exploration and discovery encountered gets the blood pumping and the imagination conjuring.

One such tale was imparted to me shortly before my departure for the Southern Hemisphere. I have a relative who is an intrepid adventurer, his home peppered with photographs from his expeditions scaling the world's major mountain peaks. And when he heard I was planning to journey to southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, his first, enthusiastic recommendation was this: Antarctica.

To be honest, the thought of visiting the planet's wildest and most isolated landmass had never crossed my mind. In fact, I had no idea it was even possible. But my relative has braved the chill waves of the Southern Ocean and set foot on the frozen continent on multiple occasions, most notably on a trek to retrace the path of fabled explorer Ernest Shackleton on and around Elephant Island.

Photo by Tak from HK

His advice was to hightail it to Ushuaia, Argentina, from where passenger ships depart for tours of Antarctica. Apparently, in this depressed economic climate, it may be possible to late-book a ticket for a fraction of the asking price.

Scores of companies, most belonging to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, conduct these voyages, which run between the months of November and March and visit various locales both scenic and wildlife-laden. The number of Antarctica tourists increases each year and is predicted to top 80,000 by 2010.

Two factors, however, keep this strictly in the dream-trip category. First off, I won't be anywhere near Ushuaia until next tour season (that's Southern Hemisphere summer), if at all, and by then any potential gains to be had from a weakened tourism industry may have been erased. Secondly, no matter how much of a discount is possible, we're still talking about a minimum of $1,000 for a relatively short excursion.

But the return on this investment? Incredible, as evidenced by the shots included throughout this post courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Antarctica is one of the last true wildernesses on Earth, a fact that draws undivided attention from the avid traveler. With land area of 5.4 million square miles, it's as large as a USA and a half, the vast majority of this covered by miles-thick sheets of ice. It's the largest desert in the world, has the highest average elevation of any continent, and, of course, is home to the planet's most inhospitable environment.

All of this makes a trip to Antarctica a dream that, though seemingly the remotest of possibilities, will be the subject of some serious research on my part during the coming year.

***What are your dream trips?
Share your ideas on the world's ultimate excursions in the comments.***


Kathy Amen said...

When you get the details worked out, can I come along?

hal said...

The more the merrier!

Eva said...

I have to admit I find Antarctic tourism pretty troubling. I dunno, I guess it's the one land mass on the planet with no natural human inhabitants, and I sort of wish it could be left that way. (That being said, if someone offered me a free ticket I'd be hard pressed to stick to my guns and say no! :P)

As for my dream trip? I'd like to follow my MA dissertation subject's trail around the world. He was a Victorian-era British general, and the trip would look something like this: Britain, Russia, China, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa, Egypt, Sudan.

hal said...

Hey Eva!

I think you're absolutely right. Thanks for bringing this up.

There are increasing concerns about the rising number of annual visitors. As it stands, I believe the IAATO is virtually unregulated, but in the future they may be forced to adhere to stricter governmental regulations - smaller boats, monthly caps, etc. I would certainly recommend reading up on the issue for anyone considering undertaking such a journey.

Oh, and your dream trip? Awesome! Very creative, and what an itinerary.

raquel said...

cool-- i've wanted to visit antarctica for a long time. i dont remember the details but i remember a few years ago i found a program with maybe the NSF-- you could work there for about 3-6 months. dont recall if it was volunteer or paid, but it sounded mildly appealing. apparently if you indicate that you want to work during their winter months, you have to undergo serious psychological evaluation, which i can understand.

3-6 months, in blistering cold, with no sunlight is a recipe for disaster for the faint of mind!! ;)

hope you guys are having a great time....


hal said...

Hi there Raquel,

I think I remember you telling me about the NSF program years ago...the part about the psychological evaluation stuck with me. :) I think a short cruise would be plenty for me. 3-6 months, no way!

Thanks for stopping by. Hey, are you on Twitter?

julie said...


The good news is that the urge to see the landscapes you seek in an Antarctica trip might be satisfied by a trip to Torres del Paine in Chile. It's got some pretty spectacular territory, it's cheaper, and it has an established infrastructure that seems to be fairly well managed to prevent over-touristing.

hal said...

Another great point, Julie. Who knows how this "dream" will be revised once I actually get down to that part of the world. Can't wait for southern Chile!

raquel said...

hey hal haha yeah i think those would be the 3 longest months...thinking about it, 3 months does not seem long, but when you're in the thick of it, i can only imagine.

i hope you two get to go eventually. when i worked in the maps dept at the library at uvm i remember looking at a map of "underground" antarctica. theres a full lake & river system underneath the heavy layer of ice, which is SUPER cool to think about. i recall reading something about the interesting life forms that live in the water under the ice....really cool to think about.

i actually am not on twitter. im assuming you & carey are? perhaps i will have to build a twitter account...

Eva said...

Reading up - yes, Hal, I think research and careful selection is often a better option than a boycott in these situations!

Some interesting (slightly grim) stuff on World Hum last year:

Re: my dream trip, yup, it'll be quite the voyage if I ever scrape together the small fortune needed to do it. :D

Keep us posted on your planning/dreaming!

hal said...

Great links, Eva, thank you! I'm happy for the conversation this post has generated (not least because this is the most comments my blog has ever received!). :)

It's amazing how the much the flow of tourists has increased in such a short time, and also that there exists no single entity capable of controlling it. Clearly, any venture to the frozen continent demands a lot of conscientious research. And please, no one EVER sign onto a ship with 3,500 passengers!

Kel said...

hey hal, i have started a blog. i added you & carey's blogs to the ones i follow. hopefully we can keep up with each other better this way :)