What is left to say? I am writing this postscript on the 17th December roughly one month after The Great Adventure ended; after visiting the Southern Ocean in the vicinity of southern Argentina, South Georgia Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. Starting at Montevideo capital of Uruguay we sailed south east then south west, and finally north until we arrived back at the southern tip of Argentina at the city of Ushuaia. The map below gives a very rough approximation of the route.We were the first Ponant ship to visit the area after winter. While other tourist ships were in the area, the distances are vast and we never saw one while at sea (while I was cruising, a few friends back in Australia were tracking ships online and could see many dispersed across the general area). The only vessel we saw during our trip was the Argentine research ship that anchored near us in Half Moon Bay, Livingston Island within the South Shetland Islands.
I strongly recommend Ponant and, in particular, its ship Le Lyrial as a superb way to travel to and from Antarctica. Le Lyrial was the perfect vessel for the trip.
It’s capacity to house a maximum of 200 guests is the largest size for an Antarctic bound tourist ship if particular shore excursions are to be permitted. We were able to flexibly visit a range of shores with a competent and highly efficient crew. In addition, our trip along the narrow but spectacular Drygalski Fjord was possible only because of the ship’s comparatively small size.
Le Lyrial was the perfect base for our learning and living. Not yet 4 years old, this ship was in superb condition, and the layout of the functional areas was well thought out and practical. The cabins and the public areas were luxurious. In this day and age when photographs can mislead, in advance of the trip I wondered whether the spacious seeming cabins would, in fact, be squashy cupboard sized. Not so. The promotional material did not lie. The high quality of housekeeping on Le Lyrial made me severely critical of the practices in some of my hotels later during my extended holiday. I became used to the perfection, the timeliness of actions, and the unexpected extra offerings that was part of each day and night on the ship. And I came to want nothing less.
The Expedition Leader, Florence, was super impressive in her passionate love for the polar regions, her experience travelling in and around the Southern and Arctic Oceans, her knowledge of the wildlife that flew or swam past and around us, the regularity and frequency of her briefings and debriefings, and her friendly hands on help with our disembarkation onto shore trips. The lectures were presented either in French or English and some were given in both languages. The quality of presentation and content varied but they were always worth attending because I came away with new understandings.
The Captain was amenable to change and was constantly looking for ways to give his guests new and rich experiences. On occasions he met with us or over the public address system provided new information, or he alerted us to a whale or an iceberg on port or starboard side. This had us racing with cameras to enjoy and record the opportunity. Often he would slow the ship or even circle around so we had better views for longer. On the South Shetland Islands the Captain decided to see if the ship could cut its way or nudge its way into a solid plane of sea ice that surrounded an island. Over an hour or so the ship made way while the early evening sun sparkled across the ice and snow. After we had stopped, when I watched a gangway being lowered to the ice, I was amazed to see a kitchen crew lifting tables out onto the ice, and placing rows on rows of champagne glasses. Not much later, as I bent over my balcony rail, I watched the pale golden liquid filling each. And then the Captain invited us down onto the ice for an end of day drink in this pristine environment. What an extraordinary idea. What an extraordinary achievement. What a superb way to finish our stay in the Antarctic area.
The Captain’s approach to placing guests’ experience as his first priority permeated through the actions of all staff. Despite my housekeeper starting work at 5.30am and finishing at 9.30pm daily for 10 months of the year, his smile never faltered, his assistance was guaranteed, and his work speed and ethic never diminished. I rewarded him and held him in the highest regard. The café and restaurant men were equally consistent and able and willing to ‘go the extra mile’. Not only did they remember my name quickly but many remembered which foods or tea or wine or any such combinations I preferred. And they did so for the other 200 guests. Nothing was too much trouble. In the lounge where gallons of wine, beer and spirits were consumed, the barmen and waiters were second to none. The professionalism with which the Zodiacs were marshalled and driven by crew and Expedition members, and the safe processes for getting us on and off these inflated craft was always evident. It was smooth. It was stress free. And then the ride to and from shore was always exhilarating in the most inspiring of ways.Of course, we had paid a high price to cruise on this ship, but I think we know these days that paying a lot does not always equate with receiving a lot. The only perspective I can have is that the high quality service that I enjoyed, rewarded me for all my past hard work, and offered some sort of balance for the immense number of voluntary hours I have donated to support my paid and other work over the years. But more importantly than that, I recognised my good fortune and privilege in being able to make this voyage.
There was room for improvement and I noted a few ideas on my evaluation form. However it is essential I say that the trip exceeded my expectations in more ways that I could ever have anticipated. My nit-picking centred around the following items: I expected more lectures would be scheduled and that lectures would be presented by seasoned experts; I wished for inexpensive and ‘on tap’ internet access; French food, as offered, was a limited cuisine and I wished for flavours such as those from Asia, the Middle East and Africa; occasionally foods were overcooked and inedible (but there was always more to choose from); and the free Antarctic jackets were badly designed with unshielded pockets so rain soaked into them.
The purpose of my boarding this ship was to experience some of what Antarctica has to offer. I did this and so much more. I did this more richly than it is possible to express. We were told at the beginning and reminded at the end that we would be forever changed by the voyage. Without doubt that is true for me.
I now know I never want to cruise anywhere again because, on board, I feel trapped and want to be able to roam more broadly than one can on a ship. On this basis my idea to travel to Macquarie, Maatsuyker and any other islands around Australia, to travel the sea road in the Alaska Passage, or to travel in the seas of the northern hemisphere are now resolutely no go options. It is good to know oneself.
I now know I will never travel to Antarctica again because I need to see green and to see trees; there were times I felt a desperate bodily sensation for the great loss of being deprived of plants. A profound hunger for that life form. On this basis, if it was possible to reach South Georgia Island without cruising or sailing, I would love to revisit because the green tussoc grasses spread widely across the shore edges and sometimes on the hills and mountains. However that possibility does not exist, so my recent trip is the first and last to that stunningly wonderful island.
Once back in Buenos Aires I felt bereft. For some time I missed the wonderful people I had met on board, and I missed the familiarity of the immense expanses of sea and snow and ice, the seabirds , the penguins, seals and whales, spotted intermittently with our comparatively small pod of red coated travellers. I didn’t like the urban, industrialised, noise and agitation of the big city despite this being a more familiar type of environment for me.
I now know I need to live and work and travel only in small places, to the greatest extent on land although I am happy to put a toe in the water, and to keep close to plants. During my three or so weeks in Spain each city had trees and gardens so I was amazed to be surprised when I stepped out of the car on arrival at my Hobart home to see a profusion of plants; greens and pops of floral colours in all directions. It was luscious. Lovely.
I was thrilled in every tissue of my body to have seen and experienced and learnt from parts of the Southern Ocean, South Georgia Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands, but I was delighted to be in the presence of my garden back home.
Here are a few reminder photos of where I travelled.
I now know more about this world and myself. I am forever changed. I set out to travel around the world in 58 days. In the end, I cut the trip short and spent only 49 days across 4 continents, touching on 7 countries, and visiting numerous cities and sites. I have come home to digest the diversity offered by those places. The record of my experiences in this blog holds a summary of my memories. My hard drive, with the thousands of photos that did not make it into the blog, will always exist to remind me of some of the world’s most extraordinary places.
I hope that the images and my stories have made you a little more curious about the world and have added, at least, a little value to your life.