Antarctica Things to Do Tips by 850prc Top 5 Page for this destination
Antarctica Things to Do: 508 reviews and 1,025 photos
TUCAN's CEO/Manager, Matt Gannan
One of our fellow passengers on the Ushuaia was Matt Gannan. Matt is the CEO and managing director for the adventure travel company TUCAN TRAVEL. Based in both the UK and Australia, Tucan offers "adventure travel" services all over the world. They were the 2009 British Travel Awards "Small Tour Operator of the Year" winners. Impressive credentials.
We did not travel with Tucan. In fact when I first met Matt, I had only just "heard" of his company and wasn't terribly familiar with its services. But, having spent a couple of weeks on the ship with my mate Matt, I can tell you this - I know his attitude, the cut of his jib so to speak. Any company that a guy like Matt manages and directs has got to be the kind of company that makes arrangements and travels my way. Informal and adventurous.
I am putting this here for anyone interested in South America, Antarctica or anywhere else in the adventure travel world.... you might want to at least look into Tucan Travel and their services, especially if you're not comfortable just working it out yourself. Perhaps you'd like to go somewhere very "off the beaten trail". I'm going to put general contact information down below, both for phone and website. Should you get to a point that you're seriously interested in Tucan and their travel arrangements, contact me. I'll be happy to put you directly in touch with my friend Matt. I'm positive that he'd be sure to get you well taken care of - the special touch of working with a friend. I know the guy that I drank a Quilmes or two with in the M/V Ushuaia's bar is the kind of guy who will help a VirtualTourist friend of mine. :)
The verbage below is from Tucan's website, a general description of their company history and mission.
Tucan Travel - Privately owned & passionate about adventure travel
Travel addicts Pip and Liliana Tyler founded one of the first ever South American adventure tour companies in 1987 and named their business Tucan Travel, after the famous South American bird with its traditional Spanish spelling. As their reputation for offering excellent adventurous public transport tours spread and demand increased, the Tylers decided to expand and joined forces with fellow tour operator Matt Gannan in 1997, and with his fleet of expedition vehicles the company started pioneering many of the first overlanding routes in South America.
The directors’ formidable combined knowledge and ongoing passion for adventure travel drove Tucan Travel’s expansion to worldwide destinations in the early 2000s and in 2003 Budget Expeditions was developed as an independent youth brand for 18 to 35s. In 2008 the youth brand was amalgamated back under the parent brand as a travel style. Tucan Travel now offers more than 470 adventures in 72 countries across 6 travel styles and is one of the most successful tour operators of its size in the world, with destinations including Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Asia and Russia, East and Southern Africa, Latin America and Antarctica.
We are proud to be independently owned by the original founders and staffed by equally enthusiastic adventure travellers at our offices in London, Sydney, and Cuzco, at our operations bases in Cape Town and Bangkok, as well as our tour leaders and drivers on the road. When you’re researching who to travel with and only the best will do, look no further than Tucan Travel!
We can proudly guarantee the high standard of our tours because in 95% of destinations we operate them ourselves and do not sub-contract to other operators. On occasions where we use local guides, they are trained and supported by us and are expected to adhere to the top quality service our clients have come to expect. Staffed by a team of avid travellers, the company shares and encourages its clients’ exploratory spirit and the desire to see the world in an authentic way.
Tucan Travel owns a fleet of comfortable, modern Mercedes Benz custom-built vehicles which comply with European emissions standards and are well equipped to deal with the demands of the varied terrain on tour. The company is committed to offering exciting and adventurous itineraries while encouraging responsible travel practices on the road and in its offices. We offer our clients the opportunity to offset the carbon emissions of our tours and pledge to reduce our company emissions by managing our energy efficiently and offsetting business travel. Overland adventure travel is comfortable, safe and exciting for people of all ages, cultures and fitness levels. Why not share the adventure with us?
Address: 316 Uxbridge Rd, Acton, London W3 9QP, UK
Other Contact: Fax (+44)020 8896 6701
Phone: (+44)020 8896 6700
THE shot of shots from the Alley excursion
Approximate location : 65°04'S, 64°02'W
The Lemaire is a narrow and deep channel running between the Antarctic peninsula and Booth Island. There are incredibly steep and mountainous shores on either side, covered with glaciers. Sunrise or sunset in the area is incredible. I have written a separate tip on the Lemaire, along with five photos, please do take a look.
As we got nearer to Booth Island, we dropped anchor at Port Charcot. We were treated to a zodiac expedition through an area known accurately as "Iceberg Alley". Anyone who feels the need to ask "why would you want to visit Antarctica" would have the question answered on this little excursion. Huge icebergs in the area shimmer in shades of blue, and they reflect magically on the mirror-like waters. Around almost every corner would be a new and more impressive ice formation or structure. Interspersed are the occasional group of crabeater seals sunning themselves. Being very quiet, we were able to get quite close to them.
Iceberg Alley really does sum up the sculptured natural beauty, majesty and solitude that is a trip to Antarctica. People ask "why go".... my response, at least to those who claim to be lovers of natural beauty is "why HAVEN'T you gone yet"? It's like nowhere else on earth.
Stark mountain color, pastel skies, mirrored sea.
Approximate location : 65°04'S, 64°02'W
Antarctica is a place of great natural beauty. You could shoot 600 photos a day and still fail to adequately cover what you saw. Truly incredible. The Lemaire Channel is one of the most stunning stretches that you'll cover if you visit the Antarctic peninsula via expedition ship.
The Lemaire, which has been dubbed the "Fuji Funnel" and/or the "Kodak Gap" because of its extremely photogenic scenery, is approximately seven miles long. At its most narrow point, it's less than one mile wide, which tells you that you'd better have a good ice pilot directing your ship. In this short seven miles, you'll see a lifetime of polar scenic extravaganza. Every person on our ship was on deck snapping photos and gasping during the entire voyage.
The Lemaire was actually named for Jacob Lemaire, a Belgian explorer who ironically explored the Belgian Congo claiming his fame. Nearby Booth Island - on the west side of the channel - was where the 1904 Jean Baptiste Charcot exploration wintered.
zodiac carefully navigating iceberg alley
There are two basic ways of "landing" on the Antarctic continent from expedition cruise ships.
<> Some of the severely high dollar cruises do have their own helicopters to land participants both on shore and inland. Just as a point of reference, you can count on paying darn near US$18,000 for an 11-12 day cruise on such a ship.
<> Or, most of the ships employ the use of "zodiac" inflatable landing craft. This was how we were landed from the M/V Ushuaia.
Zodiacs are dependable and get the job done. They're heavy rubber inflatables and feature a slat-steel floorboard that literally can "move" in the way that a watch band bends. This allows for the shape of the craft floor as it darts through the seas and surf. The zodiacs can seat approximately 12 passengers, and are powered by 50-75 horsepower outboard motors. And needless to say, the zodiac drivers know their business.... which is not to say that they drive at a slow rate of speed. We had one guy (an Austrian) that we nicknamed "Niki Lauda" because of his hell-crashing wave speed. (See his photo in the warning tip regarding Zodiac madmen <g>)
The zodiacs are capable of getting within a few feet of both rocky and sandy shores, enabling Wellington-booted passengers to wade ashore. One thing that you'll learn is the "sailor's grip", where you hold onto a person assisting you forearm to forearm, rather than hand to hand. This maintains solid contact and control through all conceivable unexpected motions during the embarcation and disembarcation procedures. Learn it well, or be prepared to swim in very cold water.
(We DID have one of our ship guides fall into the ocean during a little mishap reboarding the ship. He slipped on the wet gangplank, lost his balance and SPLASH - into the cold cold waters near Vernadsky Station. Although we passengers were highly entertained, and we even helped fish him out of the drink, the cruise line seemed quite embarrassed by it all - it was NEVER mentioned anywhere on board by anyone associated with the Ushuaia. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned it here..... forget what you just heard. <g>)
The whole gang - leaders and guides
The bottom line of this tip is to find out about your ship's guides ahead of time. Search for a cruise and provider who has the kind of guides who are going to make a good trip great. Let's talk about the folks we met on our visit....
There are so many wonderful things that I can, will and have said about Antarpply Expeditions and the M/V Ushuaia. But probably above anything are the people who work for this ship and company. It's clear that they love what they do and genuinely want you to have a terrific experience. Everything is set up and done in a relaxed and familial manner - nothing stuffy or formal about cruising to Antarctica with these folks.
Let me specifically single out the guides and expedition leader(s), people who made this an absolutely GREAT experience. And if you want to follow via the "group photo", here is how they're lined up.... (L-R) Flavia, Danny, Cece, Augustin, Veselka and Phil
Augustin Ullman was our Expedition Leader, and also served as a guide. Augustin absolutely is a perfect fit for his job. He basically has to tell people what to do and when to do it, both for efficiency and safety. Augustin does everything with a smile, with a sense of humor, and he gets results. In particular, he is the master of the silly pantomine, which he will go into during lectures and speechs, usually to uproarious laughter from his audience. The ONLY time I heard him get upset during the entire cruise was when one of the slightly crazed Lithuanians (who were all traveling in a group) decided to climb up the mast and replace the ship's flag with the Lithuanian standard. I heard Augustin speaking LOUDLY through the ship's PA system and his exact words were "you MUST get down from the mast immediately, right this very minute. I have NOT given you permission to die today." The ship was solidly moving in the Drake Passage at the time.
Danny Martioni is both a guide and the Assistant Expedition Leader. Organization and planning seems to be Danny's strong point, and he has a gentle smile of a personality. (Thanks for the continuing loans of "Pirates of the Caribbean" DVD loans, Danny - we'll not share the knowledge that they were clearly "burned" privately) Danny seems to have a high tolerance for cold, I saw him on NUMEROUS occasions strolling the exterior decks of the Ushuaia wearing short pants.
Valeska and Phil Schaudy are a married couple from Austria. This was actually their first year doing the Antarctic, but they have polar experience - having spent the last several years doing Arctic and Greenland cruises and expeditions. I enjoyed practicing my spotty German with the both of them. Phil is the absolute epitome of a people guy - always a smile, a little bit of a rule-breaker and always looking for fun. We nagged him to swim at Deception Island, when he's originally planned not to. Never mind that he had no swimsuit, he just stripped to his tighty whities briefs and hopped in. And without meaning for a moment to slight any of the guides, I'm pretty sure that Phil was most folks' favorite guide. Kind of like the guy who's always stirring up some trouble at a fraternity house. His lovely wife Valeska is probably the only person on the boat who drove the zodiac crafts in a subdued and gentle manner. The rest of them were all madmen....the faster the better. Thanks for trying to keep us all alive, Valeska.
Cecilia Ratto (Ceci) is a birding expert, and somewhat of the "mother" of the guides. She was also another role for us - landlord. You see, Cece and her husband Pablo Tibaun own a small inn back in Ushuaia, Argentina. (Rosa de los Vientos) We stayed with them and had a lovely time, super people. Cece likes all birds - except for the skua. (see my flying skunks tip) Listening to her lectures and comments nobody would ever forget how much she dislikes skuas. My guess is that there is an olfactory incident in the past between Cece and a skua.
Flavia Mazzini is an Argentine, and new to the crew as well. She has a biology background and knows a lot about the marine life in the area. In addition, she's an expert snow skier, hailing from the Bariloche area of her homeland. She actually accompanied that crazy bunch of Lithuanians who'd come all the way to Antarctica with their snow skis. They skied one afternoon so that they could say that they'd skied the white continent. Flavia, compared to some of the others, is clearly the "quiet" guide... But she's a sweet lady and a welcome addition to the guide group.
Let's also mention Konstantin Petrosyan. This is the ship's physician, a likeable Armenian with a long history of working on the Ushiaia. We actually dealt with an unexpected medical emergency on our trip, and his help was welcome and comforting. Upon our return to America, we continued to communicate with Konstatin to document issues for medical providers back home. Thanks so much for your caring, friendship and professional expertise, Konstantin.
Address: Onboard the M/V Ushuaia
A giant petral buzzes the Ushuaia
We saw quite a few giant petrels during our trip to Antarctica. These large, graceful birds rule the skies, soaring from cliff to surf and back. Petrels got their name (Little Peter) because of their skimming style of flight right over the water. The "Peter" name comes from the Apostle who is said to have walked on the water with Christ at the Sea of Galilee.
We were told that most petrel species can regurgitate their stomach oil as a defense mechanism against predators. We didn't get close enough to find out.
The Giant Petrels are the largest member of the petrel family. Unlike the perhaps more-famous albatross (Coleridge chose the albatross to torment his ancient mariner, not the petrel), petrels forage on both land AND sea. Their carrion-feeding reputation earned them the nickname 'stinkers' from the whalers of the past. They clearly possess a certain charm and they are unquestionably magnificent fliers.
The girls are enjoying the sun
On our visit to Livingston Island in the South Shetlands, we saw a large colony of elephant seals - our first look at this variety of seal on the trip. We'd grown used to the fur and crabeater seals of past days, they were everywhere... on ice floes, beaches, on rocky points and even in the water. But these elephant seals, whoa..... they are huge. Gigantic creatures, shockingly large. And we were told to not be fooled - they can move pretty quickly and are fierce when angered. We were specifically warned not to get directly between them and the water. We heeded the warning.
Anyway, the group of elephant seals that we observed were mostly females - a harem dedicated and guarded by one HUGE male/bull seal. The "ladies" are all about a ton each in weight. (2000 pounds, maybe about 900 kg or so) And big daddy seal? They told us that he was probably around 4 tons. (8000 pounds, or maybe about 3600 kg) That is a WHOLE lotta seal.
If you'd like to see a good look at "big daddy", scroll through the pictures below. The fourth one shows the male in the middle - he literally looks like a big fuzzy boulder. Better cut out the carbs, big fella. <g>
Address: Livingston Island, South Shetlands
In short flight, with a much longer one to come.
So many of us pridefully call ourselves "well traveled" or "world travelers". And truthfully - we are. VirtualTourist is a community of people on the go.
But when it comes down to pure kilometers and time, nobody can beat the Arctic and Antarctic terns. These birds routinely make a polar migration twice a year, once to Antarctica and once to the Arctic. Think about that, year after year after year. Now, THOSE are some serious frequent fliers. Too bad they can't get set with American Express points or something, they could buy themselves an iPod or something. :)
OK, time for a bad joke, a pun really....
What do you call it when you invite a migratory bird out for a sausage?
Taking a "tern for the wurst". OUCH.
blue whale skeleton near Port Lockroy
Commercial whaling has not yet been assigned to the ash-heap of history (using Reagan terminology), but at least it's been banned and shunned by almost every country on Earth. Here's hoping the day comes that none of these incredible giants of the sea are subject to hunt.
That being said, a lot of Antarctica's earliest history involves the whaling trade. The waters around the continent are home to many different varieties of whale - orcas, blue, minkes, etc. Back some 80-120 years ago, this was THE place for a good season's haul of whale and whale products. When you visit Antarctica, you'll see evidence of the whaling past at many of your stops. There are wrecked rowboats, old machinery, sunkens ships and - yes - whale skeletons on islands and shores throughout the Antarctic peninsula.
I'm sure it took a hearty soul to be a whaler in the Antarctic, especially subtracing 100 years of technology from present times, re ship-building and creature comfort. So a tip of the cap to the folks who did open the continent somewhat to the imaginations of the world. And again, here's hoping that future "hearty souls" find satisfaction in visiting the whales in the Antarctic instead of hunting them.
Our small ship dwarfed by a large Celebrity vessel
We went to Antarctica on a small "expedition" size ship. The M/V Ushuaia carried a total of 84 passengers and 42 crew. This is really the type of ship that you want to take on a trip to the White Continent. As of this writing, some of the larger cruise lines are still "going" to Antarctica... outfits like Celebrity, Norwegian Cruise Lines, etc. They sail on ships carrying several hundred - if not more - passengers. Here's the bit....
The only way that you can really set FOOT on Antarctica is to go on a ship that can land you via zodiac (or similar craft). There is nowhere for a large mega-cruise ship to dock in the Antarctic. For that matter, there's not even a place that a small "ship" like the Ushuaia to actually dock - the only way to get passengers ashore is via "landings". And even IF a larger cruise ship has "some" zodiac craft, there is zero chance they could come close to landing even a small percentage of the cruise passengers. For the most part, most of the larger mega-ships just let you "see" Antarctica from the ship itself - from a substantial distance. Now mind you, crossing the Drake Passage on a much larger ship might be a little smoother, but think of what you lose in ability to actually set foot on the Shetlands/Antarctica.
So, be sure to pick a ship that can guarantee that everyone can make every landing made. FWIW, I am hearing that the international Antarctic treaty signees are either planning or have already planned to ban the presence of larger ships in Antarctic waters in the coming seasons.
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