Way, Way Down Under: Antarctica

An Antarctic Safari – Page Three

By Bruce Northam

Way, Way Down Under: Antarctica 1
Wildlife worldwide is counting on you.

So walk, bike, carpool, recycle, don’t spray aerosol, and visit Antarctica when you can, because it all starts with you. It takes a while to adopt an Antarctic way of thinking. It’s not about wildlife noticing or attacking you, it’s about how your presence, and environmental insensitivity, affects them.

Your mind wanders during ice time. Caught in this argument for the ages, I said “wait” to no one in particular. At that, the penguin before me nodded to his pal, quacked in my face, spun on a heel, and waddled away to resume holding court by a whalebone.

Quark Expeditions

I enjoyed Quark Expeditions Classic Antarctica Adventure, which includes camping, kayaking, and diving on selected voyages. For details contact Quark (800-356-5699).

Quark leases small, Russian-crewed vessels; Russians are the world experts in polar navigation. Boats are designed to navigate the remote corners of the Antarctic Peninsula and take adventurous travelers to extraordinary places inaccessible to other ships.

Quark’s expedition professionals, including a medical doctor, geologist, naturalist, and maritime historian, are an eclectic group of PhD-caliber experts from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Sweden and the U.S. Their in-transit lectures are outstanding. The expedition leader had worked on an Antarctic research base for several years.

The Professor Multanovskiy is a 235 x 42-foot (71.8 x 12.8m) Russian icebreaker-strengthened class research vessel that’s been modified into a passenger boat. An open bridge policy means guests are welcome in the ship’s bridge, day and night.

Curious Gentoos
Curious Gentoos

And you won’t go hungry, with daily entrée options of fish, meat, and vegetarian, plus salads, soups and tea time.

If you’re prone to seasickness, get an inexpensive prescription for the Scopolamine patch, a penny-sized band-aid that sticks behind your ear and delivers three days worth of anti sea sick meds.

Mother Nature requires that itineraries remain flexible; a sunny day can turn into a killer blizzard at the drop of a hat.

Antarctica via Chile

Fly LAN Airlines to Ushuaia, Argentina – the gateway to Antarctica – and take advantage of your stopover in Santiago, Chile. LAN flies daily from JFK to Santiago, and from Santiago to Ushuaia four times a week, the last stop before sailing to Antarctica. (866 435 9526)

Santiago’s “Pio Nono” is a street lined with sidewalk-seating restaurants, bars, and the city’s progressive edge. This strip delivers optimum views of the Chilean Chillout, which usually includes warm greetings and cigarettes. The jazz club strip is two blocks away; a favorable exchange rate makes stepping out here very affordable.

The author and friends
The author and friends

Stay at the Hotel Orly, a quaint, compact, Euro-style building in an upscale neighborhood hugging Avenue Providencia, a Broadway-style shopping thoroughfare with alleyways leading to authentic pubs. This experienced, trusty “Bellavista Zone” hotel is ideal for both first-timers and Santiago vets.

The Ritz-Carlton Santiago is a 205-room champion of luxury and convenience in Chile’s most impressive neighborhood, El Golf. Surrounded by the pulse of a modern and friendly capital city and within walking distance of boutiques, restaurants, and entertainment.

It’s also a short drive from funky student areas, epic Pacific surf, or recreating in the looming Andes Mountains. Their huge, divinely appointed rooms have grand views of this sprawling urban landscape. The lobby recalls a bygone era of royalty or the nicest living room you’ve ever visited, and the in-house restaurant and bar redefine refinement. (800-241-3333)

For more information go to Visit-Chile.org.

Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, is one of those earthy, likable, expedition-primer towns on the edge of natural wonders. This busy, always windy port on Tierra del Fuego’s Beagle Channel – where the Atlantic meets the Pacific – hosts a medley of outfitting shops, restaurants, and bars for travelers prepping for, or rejoicing an adventure in the mountains or a sail to Antarctica.

Antarctic landscape
Antarctic landscape

The main drag (St. Martin) has something for everyone: expensive jewelry shops at one end and the naval base-inspired red zone at the other end. Refreshingly, Ushuaia still clings to its frontier town roots.

Stay at Las Hayas Hotel, a mountainside hugging gem overlooking harbor-hugging Ushuaia and grand views of dueling mountainscape panoramas. This top-notch getaway features a gourmet restaurant (locally fished hake), huge rooms and a health center. The cozy bar area has couches near a fireplace.

Pretty much as far off-Broadway as a theatre can be, La Aventura del Beagle is a play in a theatre within a ship’s interior that’s attached to an amusing theme bar/restaurant.

A tad hokey, this unashamed performance is a worthy, end-of-the-road outtake tracking Darwin’s first geographic reconnaissance under the command of Captain Fitzroy.

Fitzroy commissioned Darwin to join the expedition to prove the validity of the Scriptures, which backfired when the expedition fueled Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Ladatco Tours provides experienced guides for tours of the town and Tierra del Fuego National Park. Call 800-327-6162.

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