This day was what long-term traveller Jonny called "just another day of travel", except it wasn’t; this was the day Jonny hiked and cruised on the bottom of the world, in Antarctica...
A crisp southern sunrise pierced its faded orange ray of light through the curtain in my cabin window and I was awake. Just a normal day of travelling lay ahead for me. Except I was in Antarctica, the world's coldest continent, the world's driest continent, the world's most extreme continent, the world's southernmost continent. A land of white. It was my second day here and a feast of snow and ice lurked outside.
The previous day we had first stepped foot on Antarctic land, at barely known Barrientos Island. Yesterday's blizzard had cleared as we sailed into Foyn Harbour for breakfast, the sun greeted us and shone marvelously down on the smooth calm waters.
On a cruise to Antarctica you eat your meals on board the ship - and it's "all you can eat". A fried breakfast with some token seafood was devoured before I got my gear on for a Zodiac cruise.
I was overdressed. Yes, there was a cold air outside, but soon the sun was shining on icebergs, icicles and cormorants as we left our ship the MS Expedition for a cruise round Foyn Harbour. A wonderland of blue and white.
No people live here, no ATMs, no skyscrapers or office blocks. In fact, it's a paradise miles away from the busy commercial world. Who would want to work in an office all day?
From the ship we hopped into Zodiacs (10 seater, black dingys) and were taken on a cruise round the harbour.
Our guide for the day was John Kernan, a proper explorer. He knows the wildlife and scenery of Antarctica inside out. He first takes us past some icebergs and round to the bow of a rusty, bronzed sunken ship.
A ship that has been left to rot here in nature for around 100 years. Its name was The Governor and we got up close and personal to it, before squeezing through gaps between icicles to check out how cormorants and penguins live their daily lives.
It wasn't snowing and the sky was clear. It was a traveller's dream and a photographer's heaven. I just gazed in awe of the countless blue and white icebergs all around as we steered slowly past them. It was so clean, clear and crisp. At one point you wonder why you didn't visit this continent first, smoky cities like Beijing and Buenos Aires would stare down in jealousy.
After the cruise it's lunchtime on board and over lunch, talk turns to "hiking". But not the normal type of hiking. We're only heading up a mountain island that's around 300 metres above sea level.
But we're in Antarctica. We have now sailed through the Gerlache Strait and we arrive at a tranquil place called Cuverville. I almost don't want to look at my food as I'm eating it. I can see chicken, rice and potatoes anytime. But the world outside is Antarctica so I savour the moment.
Gear on, and we're off hiking up this remote island. Penguins welcome us to the island, and there are lots of them. Cuverville is home to thousands of them, and we make a path towards the top of the island. A blizzard comes and soon our sunglasses are used to protect our eyes from the snowstorm rather than the beams of the sun. Half way up we have a quick break and stare down at paradise. It's that good.
It's another 30 minutes or so until we reach the peak. I'm in awe. As we all take our photos and videos, it's time for a massive group photo. Amazingly almost all of us on the ship had made the hike to the top. The snowstorm had eased and we could gaze down at this winter wonderland.
There were a few "flag" moments at the top. Our ship contained people from various countries, and 4 of us had brought flags.
I had my well-travelled Northern Ireland flag ready for a photo, and was joined by Haya from Israel.
A couple from the Philippines also brandished their national flags as did Peter from Canada. It was actually an easy walk to the top, but it was the location that made it special.
Time was going fast, and that sun we had seen rise, was now on its way down. Penguins rolled down the hill and we made our way slowly back to the ship, in order to sample the views once more.
It was cocktail time and Happy Hour on board the ship and we all ordered a "Cuverville". Nobody knew what was in it, and nobody cared. We had just marched to the top of an island in Antarctica and were ecstatic.
As days in the life of a traveller go, this one ranks as one of the best. If you ever get a chance to visit Antarctica in life, do it - trust me.
Has Jonny whetted your appetite for a trip to Antarctica? Thought so… here is his guide to booking your own trip to the white wonderland:
How to Book Your Trip to Antarctica:
Getting to Antarctica is easy and I recommend going there from Ushuaia in Argentina. Ushuaia itself is a city well worth seeing, it is the world's southernmost city (although Puerto Williams is further south, it's only a town). There are also trips from New Zealand and South Africa, but crossing the dreaded Drake Passage from the south tip of Argentina is the best way, the cheapest way and the quickest way. Most travellers use Ushuaia as their gateway to the white continent.
There are an abundance of companies offering Antarctic trips from Ushuaia and the best way to book it is just turn up in Ushuaia and get a last minute deal. The best months to go are between October and March. I booked mine in advance as it was a childhood dream to visit all seven continents and therefore I paid a bit more than if you just turn up. I heard a story of a guy from Holland who arrived in Ushuaia at 2 pm one day with nothing booked and by 5pm he was on a ship to Antarctica!
On my website I have covered a few of the things you need for your trip, but just use your common sense - this is a cold continent. Don't be leaving home without gloves, scarves, hats and thermal clothing!!
On a final note - just get inspired and head to Antarctica. It's my favourite continent by a mile.
About the Author
Jonny Blair is a traveller with no limits. Jonny is a culture and landscape hungry Northern Irishman who travels the world and then writes about it on his website Don't Stop Living - a lifestyle of travel. He had visited all seven continents by the age of 30, working in four of them and drinking in all of them. He left his hometown a decade ago and has no plans to return…
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