Busy. Busy, busy, busy. It’s one of my least favourite words. It sounds like a swarm of bees buzzing around inside your head.
And yet when someone asks me “How was your weekend?”, “Did you have a good day at work?” or “What have you been up to?” it’s the first word I reply saying – as such is modern life. Too busy to relax, too busy for hobbies, too busy for family, too busy to just enjoy living.
I’m a city girl, born and bred. I actually quite like my morning commute, being part of the vast masses who make their daily trek to the centre to ply their wares and make the wheels of business turn. And yet sometimes, I long for peace and quiet and space to relax and feel small. What’s the first thing that pops in your head that might give you that? A tropical beach (too crowded, too many hawkers trying to sell stuff, too many Italian men in speedos)? A deserted island (yeah, if I was Richard Branson!)?
Well, I found it. The perfect place. A place where the only sound is provided by nature, or the gentle hum of your transport, where the view in every direction is so sublime it is impossible to describe, and where everything man-made is completely dwarfed by everything that time, the wind and the sea has created over millennia. Where is this magical place, you ask? It is Antarctica.
I travelled to Antarctica on Intrepid Travel’s 11-day Antarctic Explorer in November last year. I went for the wildlife, to see penguins and whales, and they were there in their thousands. But that is not all that Antarctica offers. Here’s five reasons why I think Antarctica is like nowhere else, and why it’s such a must-visit.
Ice, ice baby!
It was not the first thing I thought about when considering a trip to Antarctica. Sure, I knew it would be snowy, but the amazement of cruising in a zodiac through fields of icebergs, some of which are probably centuries-old that have been carved into every crazy shape you can imagine by the sea and the wind as if by some cosmic sculptor. It blew my mind.
I said I wanted somewhere quiet and here I was on a ship with 100+ other people. But where else are you going to get a group of 100 really interesting, well-travelled, excited people in one place? Meeting them and hearing their stories was definitely a highlight for me.
So I didn’t want to feel like I was back at school, but I came away far more knowledgeable than I went with. The onboard experts gave great lectures (optional, of course) on their areas of expertise, as well as informal bar talks about interesting things that they had done in their lives. Everything from climbing Mt Everest, to working as a doctor on a boat rescuing refugees off the coast of Greece. Inspiring!
Up close and personal
Nothing in Antarctica will eat you! (Unless you happen to fall in the water at the same time as a hungry elephant seal is about and you happen to look like a helpless penguin.) Not only that, they have had so little contact with mankind that they think you are just a great big seal and come over to check you out.
Imagine sitting on a beach in a penguin and seal colony and having a baby elephant seal come over and snuggle up to your legs for a cuddle. Or a penguin peck at your boots and pull at the cords on your jacket to see how you tasted. I saw these things happen. This proximity to animals is like nowhere else on Earth. It is a very rare privilege to be part of.
I kind of like my animals fluffy. I have always found it difficult to get excited about fish. But by the end of the trip, I was one of the handful spending hours on the fly bridge with the marine biologist and a pair of binoculars, scanning the horizon for the tell-tale jet of water that indicated a whale.
Then there was the pod of orca that spent an hour or so playing next to the ship. Then there was the bizarre looking Commerson’s dolphins that were wakesurfing alongside us. And then there was the mother and baby Humpback whale that were feeding around our zodiacs for ages. Waiting to see where they would come up and how long they would stay was as exciting as watching a close football game, seriously. (Oh, and I do know that whales aren’t fish!).
So would I go again? Yes, in a heart beat.
Was it the best trip I have ever done? Yes, without question.
Do I think everyone should do this at least once in their lives? Absolutely. Go for it. You WILL NOT regret it.
Ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime? Check out the 11-day Antarctic Explore trip Wendy ventured on.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Wendy Smith, Intrepid Travel x2, Wendy Smith, Intrepid Travel, Wendy Smith.)