ANN/THE STAR – Having travelled to a handful of places on my bucket list like Spiti Valley in the Himalayas, Tadrart Acacus in Libya, and the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, I finally ticked off the final destination in December last year: Antarctica.
It took me several years to research and plan the trip, from scouring the Internet for the best possible flights in terms of fare and travel time, to searching for a good and responsible expedition team.
All that research proved to be worthwhile as the trip was a very memorable one.
I had to first take a 48-hour flight (including layovers and transfers, of course) from Kuala Lumpur to Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, as the expedition began in the scenic Beagle Channel.
The sailing took another 48 hours via the notorious Drake Passage, said to be the most treacherous body of water in the area. It was during this time that I saw gigantic waves that were about five metres high! But members of the crew told me that they had seen bigger (about six metres) waves, which could sometimes cause fatal accidents on the ship.
My fellow travellers were sequestered in their rooms, mostly feeling dizzy from motion sickness, while I was happily exploring the ship. Having travelled so far, I wanted to savour every moment of the trip. In fact, I actually enjoyed going through the rough seas, especially from the bow of the ship.
It was also exciting to think that I was actually on the same route that early explorers to Antarctica had taken.
Our first land sightings were of the South Shetland islands, followed by the Antarctica Peninsula. We spent five days checking out some of the most beautiful places on the planet.
There were two excursions on land each day. Fortunately, the normally unpredictable weather was really good to us – we did not miss any excursions at all.
The Antarctica these days may have human inhabitants (mostly made up of scientists and researchers), but the continent does not actually have any native human population.
There are no words that can describe the wonder, vastness, and beauty of the unspoiled landscape that I saw during the expedition.
From the mighty mountains and majestic glaciers to the stillness of the sea, everything was simply gorgeous.
Even the icebergs were stunning. I had never seen an iceberg before this trip – being so close to them and also touching one was simply amazing yet surreal.
When we got to the Lemaire Channel, which is very narrow and had plenty of loose icebergs surrounding it, things got more exciting.
A heaven for photographers, the Lemaire Channel offers a breathtaking “mirror view” of the area.
We also visited historic huts and international research stations. One of them was Port Lockroy, a British post office located on Goudier Island. It is the most southerly post office in the world that is still in operation.
I did not hesitate to send a post card home from here.
Because the continent has no native human inhabitants, you can easily find lots of wildlife here.
From multiple humpback whale pods feeding all around our ship and leopard seals waiting around the beach for their dinner, to snoring elephant seals and ice floes with hauls of sleeping Weddell and crab-eater seals, there’s just a lot to see.
Of course, most people come to this part of the world to see the funny and entertaining Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins. Although I have seen it in pictures and on television shows, I did not believe that “penguin highways” existed (a line formed by the penguins that are heading into or out of the water) until I saw them with my own eyes.
These are the VIPs of the land and if you were a visiting human, you would need to make way for these penguins to waddle through. It was utterly mesmerising to watch these creatures in their element.
Another attraction of the trip was the polar plunge, which is basically passengers taking a plunge in the ice cold water.
Coming from a tropical country, the thought of diving into the cold sea in subzero temperatures was just crazy.
But, since I was the only Malaysian among the 90 passengers in the trip, I figured I had to do it. It was a fun and safe activity; a rope was tied around me before I dove in, while the inflatable boats (which are called Zodiacs) were deployed in the water, ready to move if anything untoward happened.
Only half of the passengers volunteered to take the plunge, but I am glad I did it… and survived the cold! A certificate of achievement was awarded to all the plungers.
During the last two days of sailing we made our way back to Ushuaia, but the adventure was not over, at least not for me. I made friends with some of the other passengers and together we enjoyed watching the seabirds and rocking back and forth with the waves.
I have no words to describe how much the trip to Antarctica had affected me. It was the most impressive, moving, beautiful, striking, and gratifying place I had ever visited – truly a dream come true.
I will be forever grateful for the experience, and hope that I can live long enough to share my stories with my grandchildren.