This main reason why I had made a strong commitment to definitely blog about this trip, unlike failing to even publish a crude journal from all other previous exotic travels, is because never had I felt so anxious about a journey and almost consumed by such an intense feeling of Adventure even before I started it. I had not felt this nervous before embarking on a trip – at least not since we did our adrenaline-rush inducing trip of rafting down the mighty Zambezi River in 2006! That is probably because though I have done a lot of travels in the past, I had never actually gone on too many tours or on a programmed itinerary. And all of a sudden, here we are ready to set sail – literally – on a very unique voyage that the folks at Quark – our tour operator – proudly labelled as The Expedition of a lifetime.
Expedition travel is not for everyone and by nature, is for curious travelers who would like to embrace the unexpected in their journeys. Especially, Polar expeditions are for global travelers who are thrilled by places far away and revel in the magical experience of exploring unchartered & uninhabited destinations that can be reached only by going through extreme & unfriendly conditions. It needs us to, not only pack our bags but also pack a strong sense of adventure along with a flexible attitude. Probably that is one of the main reasons why the expression on the faces of everyone we mentioned about the travel to, changed the minute we mentioned that we were headed to Antarctica. Independent of who we mentioned our travel plans to, it was followed by a seemingly endless list of questions around how and why we were travelling to Antarctica, with a very obvious spark in their eyes even as they heard us talk about our potential itinerary in the icy seventh Continent .
I have to admit, that though I had a sense of adventure it was not strong enough to make me withstand the most dreaded oceanic passage in the world called the Drake’s passage [fondly referred to as the ‘Drake Shake’]. So we opted to go for the ‘Fly the Drake’ package which would help us dodge Mr. Drake and start our Antarctic journey from King George Island. Just as the destination we were travelling to was a killer, the route we took to arrive at our destination was even more of a killer! We flew from Hyderabad -> Chennai -> Mumbai ->Amsterdam -> Panama City -> Santiago -> Punta Arenas -> King George Island. This marathon of a flight-chain involved changing five different Airlines (Indigo, KLM, Copa, LAN, DAP) and almost five long days!
December 17, 2013
After a night of partying in Santiago – thanks to a brilliant plan of changing our flights in the last minute and gaining some much deserved rest after a few sleepless nights- we caught the 9:00 AM flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. We reached Punta Arenas - Fin Del Mundo or End of the World as they refer to it – around 1:00 PM. As we were driving from the airport towards our accommodation– the world famous Dreams Hotel, Casino & Spa J - it really felt like we were at the End of the world! The landscape was so different from any other city we had been to that was located close to the water. After an amazing meal at La Marmita we went down to the orientation center and collected our Parka, Boots and weighed our luggage to make sure we don’t exceed the very strict weight limits they impose for a polar flight. At around 6:00 PM, the whole group convened for the Expedition Briefing. As the guides started going through the set of instructions and slides, it slowly started sinking in that we were well on our way to embark on the voyage of our lifetime!
After the briefing we hit the wonderful Sky Bar, at the hotel, with sprawling views of the ocean and the city. We treated ourselves to some divine craft beers that were all from the local region. From the minute we landed in this city we could feel a vibe that is very typical of an Adventure launching base camp town – like Kathmandu, Arusha etc., Even the names of the Artisanal beers here were named after famous adventurers and explorers like Magellan and Shackleton. I can’t think of anything else that could have driven home the point stronger than these! :-)