Why would you not want to go to Antarctica?

Posted on Feb 21, 2020 in News

Before my trip to Antarctica, I had a surprising amount of people say, “Why would you want to go to Antarctica?” At that point, my answer was pretty generic. I was so excited to go, but I would just say things like, “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” However, after traveling to Antarctica, I could talk about it for hours and give you so many specific reasons to head to the seventh continent. (It’s not technically the seventh continent, but for many travelers on our trip—who are world travelers—it was the last of the seven continents they needed to visit.)

Before we started our journey to Antarctica across the Drake Passage, we spent a couple of days touring Buenos Aires and Ushuaia in Argentina. Since it’s summertime in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun and warm weather of Buenos Aires gave us a nice break from the cold most of us had been experiencing back home, and we enjoyed a day tour of some of the region’s most famous spots. We strolled through the Plaza de Mayo to see Casa Rosada (the Presidential Palace), the National Museum of the Cabildo, the National Bank of Argentina and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Perhaps the most colorful place to see in Buenos Aires is the La Boca neighborhood. The buildings—and even the cobblestones in the sidewalks—are painted bright colors. Artists display their work in the streets, tango dancers entertain the tourists and cafes allow you to soak in the atmosphere while enjoying a delicious empanada!

The world famous Recoleta Cemetery was a favorite for a number of travelers. The elaborate mausoleums and ornate crypts are hauntingly beautiful. Many of Argentina’s most important figures are buried there, including Eva Peron.

The next day, we departed for Ushuaia, also known as el Fin del Mundo, the end of the world. Part of the Patagonia region, Ushuaia offers beautiful views of the mountains, the Beagle Channel and forests. While waiting to board our ship, we took a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park. It was the last time we would see grass and trees for more than a week!

Later that day, we boarded the beautiful ship Le Boreal, our home for the next nine days. The crew on the boat was wonderful, the ship was amazing and the experience ahead was one of a kind. Our first challenge was to cross the Drake Passage. All travelers who have been to Antarctica compare their voyages across the Drake. You hope for the “Drake Lake” and fear the “Drake Shake.” We had something in between with a range of 13- to 16-foot swells. Even if it had been worse, the voyage would have been worth the destination.

Antarctica can’t truly be captured in a photo, although you do go home with SO MANY frame-worthy photos. It’s hard to put down your camera and just soak in Antarctica. The pristine white of the snow, the glowing blue icebergs and glaciers, the crystal-clear water—it’s truly breathtaking.

It’s evident that Antarctica is fiercely protected by its ambassadors. You won’t find a single piece of trash on land or in the water. The dirty snow comes from penguin poop—tons of penguin poop—not from pollution. When you journey to Antarctica, you become an ambassador as well. It’s hard not to be when you are rendered speechless by the beauty of the Lemaire Channel.

Even with a group of travelers, you can find time to sit and take in the stillness and deafening silence, except for the occasional popping of the ice or calving of a glacier.

Then there’s the wildlife: Thousands of penguins. At any time, you can look out the windows on the boat and see penguins porpoising in and out of the water. Huge colonies cover the islands in the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s amazing to observe the differences in the different species of penguins: The chinstrap penguins were pretty chill, sitting with their young and heading out to the ocean to fish.

The gentoo penguins seemed to be a little ornerier, a little louder, a little more curious. They definitely looked a little different with their red-orange beaks!

The Adélie penguins are funny to watch, as they like to enter the water as a group so they can have safety in numbers. They all line up and go in at once, hoping to make it less likely to be eaten by a seal.

All of the seals we saw on this trip seemed to be way too lazy to go hunting for penguins!

I think I might have been the most excited about the whales. I spent hours on the outside decks watching whales. Not just watching for whales, but watching actual whales. We saw a group of five humpback whales bubble-feeding. One humpback whale came right up to the side of the ship and we saw countless tail-showings.

The most amazing whale encounter was coming across a pod of 31 killer whales—31! You knew it was special when the ship captain was standing on the bow of the boat, Titanic-style, trying to see them all. For about 30 to 45 minutes, the pod swam in front of the boat as if they were guiding us to our next destination.

I think if you were to ask each of the 12 Jayhawks who went on this trip what their favorite thing was, you would get 12 different answers. It might have been the penguins or the whales; the icebergs; the homemade vodka at the Ukrainian research station; the Antarctic weather, which was warmer than the weather in Kansas; watching the French broadcast of the Chiefs advancing to the Superbowl (with a group of Titans fans on board); being able to gloat just a little to all the K-State fans on board when KU came out victorious in Allen Field House during our trip; or literally any other moment of the trip.

For me, it’s impossible to pick a favorite. I think about one thing and it immediately makes me think of another amazing thing. I just can’t pick. So, from now on, when someone asks me, “Why would you want to go to Antarctica?” they better be ready for a long conversation, which will start with “Why would you not want to go to Antarctica?”

The Flying Jayhawks “Expedition to Antarctica” trip took place Jan. 15-28, 2020. The trip was hosted by Michelle Lang, b’01, the Alumni Association’s director of alumni programs. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.