Getting closer

Patagonia Store on Pearl Street, Boulder, CO

The Patagonia store in Boulder, where I did a bunch of shopping over Christmas

So with T minus 17 days until we depart for points south, I feel simultaneously like I’ve got things under control (we have the stuff we need) and like I’m racing against the clock to prepare (making sure everything fits, making sure everything does what we think it will do, yada yada yada). I can’t believe this trip is happening so soon. That it’s happening at all. That in less than a month I am going to be in Antarctica, with icebergs and penguins and seals and whales.

About to do our trial run-through of packing to make sure we’ve really got everything we think we have. Temperature-wise, it doesn’t sound that bad. Temps mostly in the 30s and 40s on average. But windiest place on earth. I’m packing a lot of things I don’t usually wear. I’m going to do a packing post soon detailing exactly what I am bringing.

I’ve got a few photography-related things still to organize. My plan is to download cards at least once a day to two drives. I will shoot on dual cards in each camera but may have to reuse cards. I have a total of 352gb of cards–4 x 64gb, 2 x 32gb, and 2 x 16gb. I’m hoping to leave every image on at least one card until we get back, even if I have to reuse one of the cards in a pair.

I don’t plan to process much of anything while we’re there. Won’t be time for that. But I’ll probably pick a handful of photos to process for sharing on FB if I can manage to get an internet connection and to share with the passenger slideshow that I have heard about.

How we’re getting there

To get to the southernmost city in the world, we are taking two flights. I chose the route that was the most direct as well as the fastest. I wanted to have the fewest chances for things to go wrong, flights to be delayed or canceled, luggage to get lost, etc. We’ll be flying from Houston to Buenos Aires (10 1/2 hour flight), then from BA to Ushuaia (3 1/2 hour flight).

We’re flying in two days before we are supposed to be there. I’m hoping that gives us plenty of time for dealing with airline delays that may crop up or for lost luggage to catch up with us.

Best case, we’ll get a couple of days for sightseeing in Ushuaia before we head south.

Two months until we leave!

How to plan a trip to Antarctica

First step. Decide how you’re getting there.

There are basically two ways for tourists to travel to Antarctica: cruise ships and expedition ships. Cruise ships are probably exactly what you are thinking–the big ships that are like floating cities with restaurants, spas, sports, movie theaters, etc. They can hold thousands of people. Expedition ships are smaller and less luxurious, have way fewer amenities, and, in the case of ships that go to the polar regions, have ice-strengthened hulls so they can get through the ice.

Companies that take tourists there comply with an international agreement that allows only 100 people at a time to be on land in Antarctica. Because of this, those large cruise ships don’t do any landings, they just drive by. The expedition ships carry anywhere from 50-200 passengers. The ones with more than 100 passengers rotate groups of passengers on land. (Often while one group is on land, the others will cruise around in zodiacs.) We were only interested in the trips that do landings.

I read up on all the expedition ships and tour operators that go to Antarctica.  I narrowed in on Quark and National Geographic fairly quickly. From there, we needed to find a trip that had availability for three people, and preferably for under $10,000 per person. Even though we were booking a year in advance, lots of things were already sold out, especially the cheaper spots like we were looking for.

Second step. Decide if you’re including South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This adds several days and a lot of money to your trip. People who go say they are amazing places. But the prices were too much (starting around $17k per person), so we didn’t opt to include them.

Quark had a trip that went south of the Antarctic Circle, which is farther south than most ships go. Both because it crosses the circle and because it’s a little bit longer of a trip, that one appealed to me the most. We lucked out with finding one triple cabin available on this trip–the last triple!–that fit our budget. Done!

The ship we’ll be on is called the Sea Adventurer, and it holds just over 100 passengers.

Where we’re going


Here is the route our expedition is scheduled to attempt. There are no guarantees–everything is determined by the weather and the ice–so our expedition is planning to cross the Antarctic Circle but there’s a chance it won’t.

We leave from the tip of South America, which means crossing the Drake Passage coming and going. It’s known as the roughest seas in the world. Some people get lucky and have smooth sailing (the “Drake Lake”), but I’m not going to count on that. I’m going to get prescription seasickness meds and hope for the best. It takes about two days to cross the Drake, and that’s a long time to feel miserable. (Coincidentally, I will spend my 41st birthday on the Drake.)

Things I’m thinking about

Photo backup system for Antarctica. Laptop + one portable hard drive. Will there be enough space on the laptop to keep a copy of photos there, too? I want at least two copies. Should I buy a second portable drive? (Don’t really need a second one otherwise, but they’re only like $60…)

Camera transporting system. Backpack or wheeled bag (need to check weights of bags to make decision, I think). Dry bag. Plus of using a backpack instead of wheeled is that if I wanted, the entire backpack could go inside a dry bag to carry onto land. Do I really want to bring an entire backpack full of gear onto land, tho? If not, how do I protect the cameras inside the dry bag as I’m transporting?

Avoiding condensation. Sealing up the dry bag outside, then leaving it closed for 60-90 minutes after bringing it back onto the (warm) ship should prevent condensation from forming on the cameras as they warm back up. That means any cameras I take onto land (2 bodies + a waterproof? all at once? hmmmm) will be out of commission for at least an hour each time I come back on the ship. WHAT IF I WANT TO TAKE PICTURES IN THAT HOUR. Srs bzness. Do I bring a fourth camera (the Fuji?) for that?

Learning video. I think both Antarctica and Alaska (where I’m going next summer) are going to have some prime opportunities for shooting video. Need to learn optimal settings, and then what to do with it after.

Buying our plane tickets. I was hoping to buy these with miles, but it turns out it’s not actually that easy to use miles when I have very specific dates and no real flexibility. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get at least one of us there on miles. For cash tickets, I can find tix for $1500/pp but they include THREE layovers and take a total of 36.5 hours of travel time. Or for $2000/pp we can have just one layover (as it should be–in Buenos Aires) and get there in 19.5 hours. $500/pp is a lot of money but I’m pretty sure about halfway through that 3-layover/36-hour nonsense I would be ready to pay even more than that just for a chance to lie down flat in a bed. (Plus think of all the chances for them to lose our luggage.)

1 6 7 8 9 10