Antarctica Discounts
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Expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula,
South Georgia, Cape Horn,
Falklands & Tierra Del Fuego

On this virtual tour you may see:
Majestic mountains dipped in snow...
Crystalline waterways...
Whales, seals, Soaring Andes condors...
Ice-blue Glaciers that shimmer like jewels..

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Animated GIF satellite photo showing the changes in the Antarctic continent ice during the year 1998.

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Birding Antarctica!

When I saw the ad for vacationing in Antarctica I hit the magazine with the back of my hand and cried "Yes!" Prior to that, I didn't even know you could go there. Hardly anyone else knew anything about Antarctica either I was to find when I mention I had tickets. The geographically challenged automatically converted it to the North Pole. I got questions about white bears. Those who did put it correctly in the southern hemisphere assumed I would be traveling by dog sled with Admiral Byrd. What I knew was what birders know -- in Antarctica are penguins.

I bought books. There are seventeen species of penguins spread all around Antarctica. To see them all would require the $40,000 trip. Scrap that. The $3,400 trip, inclusive airfare, hotel layovers, food and ship was possible. Add in waterproof clothes, rubber boots and thirty rolls of film. I reserved my spot and started studying.

Antarctica is a continent larger than the United States and Mexico combined, separated from all other continents by a wide, below-freezing, swift-moving Southern ocean so inhospitable to life as we think of it that only four families of fish, one with clear-colored, antifreeze blood, can even survive there. The usual ocean life are squid and krill, shrimp-like little guys with too much fluorine for humans to eat. The continent itself is covered with a two-mile thick ice sheet. Nothing, nothing at all, can live in the interior. Okay, scientists live there. But they don't live off what's available in Antarctica, so they don't count. Only the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet melt. On the edges, life flourishes.

Dark rock, cold water and glaciers.

The edges are glacier-polished dark rock sheets. Per the ship's lecturer, there is no soil, no trees, few plants, sparse lichen and moss. That's an over-estimate. In three days ashore, I saw zero plants, two orange lichen growths, and one patch of moss. In some places the snow is pink and green with algae, which when viewed at a low angle, gives an impressionist picture of a field of grass and wildflowers with penguins walking through. There are millions of penguins, all very actively taking advantage of the summer.

Gentoo penguin stone nest. The male is moving stones. The female watches where he puts the stones and coos approval or chatters and scolds him if she doesn't like where he puts them.

You leave winter in the United States, heading for summer in Antarctica, which is going to be just like the winter you just left with freezing temperatures and sleet. Confusingly, you pass through a tropical summer in Buenos Aires where the hibiscus are blooming and you get sunburned on the one-hour walking tour. Then on to Tierra del Fuego, where the weather is perpetually bad. It's named Land of Fires because passing explorers saw the fires by which the Indians kept themselves from freezing.

The ship took two days to cross the infamous Drake Passage. The Drake lived up to its reputation. Twenty-foot waves pitched and rolled and tossed and heaved the eighty passengers and even some of the crew into sea sickness. Two people fell and broke arms, one hit her head and got two black eyes, another sprained an ankle. After a short look at the waves, and library books leaping off shelves and people in chairs being dashed to the deck, I retreated to wedge myself in my bunk and become starved and dehydrated. (Sip water. Skip the crackers, you'll only throw them up.) The time I spent in my bunk, sliding down hitting my feet on the wall, then sliding up and hitting my head, bracing with elbows and knees to prevent being dumped out during the up-pitched weightless rolling motions, was, well, interesting. It sounds bad, but it wasn't. The crew took good care of us. Everyone, including the sick and injured, were having the time of their lives. These eighty passengers were experienced, dauntless travelers. At dinner one night, the gentleman in charge of the expedition asked: "For how many of you is this your seventh continent?" About twenty percent of the hands went up.

Any amount of traveling is worth getting to see penguins. We made two to three landings a day. While others took the zodiacs boats to the Argentine research station or the British historical station (where souvenirs are actually sold), I stayed in the penguin colonies. Of the seventeen species, I saw an incredible five.

The Magellanic penguins I wasn't ready for. We had hardly left port in Tierra del Fuego. The ornithologist aboard ship was lecturing in the bow and pointing birds out: "There's a Black-browed Albatross." "Those are Wilson's Petrels flying like swallows above the water." I just happened to glance over the rail and saw what I thought might be penguins -- but they looked like ducks! I played it safe and asked like any tourist, pointing over the side, "What are these?"

"Magellanic penguins! Oh, look everybody, Magellanic penguins!" Even the ornithologist got excited. They nest at the tip of South America in grassy hummocks.

Gentoo penguins were next. The first day in the wonderfully calm, glassy waters of Antarctica, we landed at a Gentoo penguin colony.