Antarctica – Out of this world

My wife and I are lucky to have travelled to a great many places all over the world so I have decided to write about some of them from time to time. Antarctica seems like a good place to start. It is truly a unique destination unlike any place else in the world.

It took me three years to convince my wife to go. She said we live in a cold climate, why go to an even colder place and she asked how many penguins can you see? Well, you visit Antarctica in their summer, our winter. We went in the middle of December and one day it was warmer where we were than in Montreal. Our group dropped our parkas in a pile and climbed up to a to a good spot for pictures wearing only sweaters. As for penguins we were there 5 days (the max allowed) and saw thousands of penguins but at the end my wife said, it was probably enough but that she could watch the penguins forever. They are quite irresistible, sliding on their bellies down snow chutes, waddling along, stealing rocks from each others’ nests, mating, swimming and so on. As with other locations with few humans (Galapagos comes to mind) the rule is take nothing and leave nothing behind. Travellers to these places tend to follow the rules because we appreciate the incredible beauty. Of course, you stay out of the way of the animals to not change their behaviors. Someone asked how to get a close-up picture of a penguin. The guide said to sit down and they will come to you. They are curious and have no fear of humans.


You can only visit by ship (or plane for multi millionaires). National Geographic has an exhibition ship. We chose one of four identical ships from the French Ponsard cruise line. There are other options at different price points. Ships are not allowed more than 200 passengers. Zodiacs holding 10 or so take you to shore or for excursions. There are cruises that go around the tip of South America but do not stop in Antarctica. I would not do that. Ships going to Antarctica start from Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of South America. It usually takes two days to cross the Drake passage and the seas are supposedly the roughest in the world. We made it in a day and a half and so had an extra landing excursion. The seas were somewhere between a 3 and 5 on a 10-point scale. It was not too bad and the return was also OK. Nevertheless, you really should wear anti nausea patches behind the ear. They last for 3 days so each person needs two, one for each crossing. They are very effective. When walking along the hallways keep one hand on the railing, the ship will be tilting from side to side. This only applies to the crossings. Cruising in Antarctica waters is calm.

While you can get to Ushuaia and back on your own, we chose to take a tour from Buenos Aires. We chose Tauck Tours and they are truly outstanding, paying attention to every detail. We found that they were about $1,000 per person cheaper than the equivalent tour by Abercrombie & Kent. You should book at least one year in advance and I recommend taking a cabin on a lower deck. They are cheaper, closer to the restaurant and theatre, and sway less than cabins on higher decks.

What you do on the ship

To and from Antarctica and most evenings there will be lectures on what to expect or what you saw. Daily there will be two excursions, most often on land but sometimes a Zodiac cruise to see sights from the water. Exactly what will be seen and where you go each day depends on the weather and ice conditions.

Here are a few of the more interesting places and sights. Deception Island surrounds a caldera (the collapsed top of a volcano) but is open on one side so ships can sail in. There are many crater lakes but very few calderas open to the ocean or sea. The most famous is probably Santorini.

A day at the beach on Deception Island

The coolest thing is that the sand by the water is warm and so is the water by the shore.
I put my hand in and it was lukewarm. Deception Island was used as a base for whaling in the 1800s and you will see abandoned buildings from that time, a boat and whale bones.

Chinstrap Penguin

The penguins on this island are Chinstrap, easily identified by the black line below the beak and eye. The island is also home to Leopard seals. They are mostly sleeping on the beach but they are ferocious predators.

Port Lockroy

has a small museum, a gift shop and you can get an Antarctica stamp for your passport.

Page from a book for sale at the gift shop

If you can blow it up enough you will find it quite amusing. It is about cooking penguins for dinner. To see a larger image on a desktop right click and open image in a new tab. That works for all the smaller pictures in this article.

Mating call

The male attracts a female partner with this skyward call. Sometimes a gift of a rock for the future nest is also used to woo a partner. The partners are monogamous for up to three breeding seasons.

Gentoo penguin on his nest

The female lays 2 eggs in a circular nest that she has built from rocks. Males and females take turns incubating the eggs. Often penguins steal rocks from each others nests and that can lead to nasty fights.


This is where we laid claim to Antarctica for Canada. Note that we are not wearing hats, gloves or parkas. It was incredibly warm that day under brilliant sunshine.

Vast, quiet and larger than life

A picture cannot do justice to the incredible size, beauty and solitude of the White continent but note the tiny people climbing up and our ship among the ice floes

Snow sculpture

Take nothing and leave nothing but creating a little snow penguin is allowed.

Some water Zodiac excursions also had great sights of blue icebergs in fantastic shapes, a ship wreck and many whales of various species. The most exciting and perhaps dangerous moment was when a whale shot straight up in front of our Zodiac. Sorry, but since it was totally unexpected, I do not have a picture.

There was much more but you get the idea.

Blue iceberg

Our Zodiac with 12 people was about 1/10 the width of this iceberg.

Pair of whales cruising by Zodiac

This gives you an idea of how close the whale that came straight up was to our Zodiac.

Buenos Aires

Our Tauck tour started and ended in Buenos Aires and included a tour of the main attractions as well as a tango show the night before flying to Ushuaia at the ungodly hour of 3am. The guides said it was worth giving up some sleep to have more time in Antarctica. They were right. Since we wanted more time in Buenos Aires, we added a few days at the beginning and end of the tour.

Buenos Aires is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with sculptures everywhere, grand boulevards, and huge parks. Our trip was in 2014 and things change so you must do your own research. At the time some said that it was dangerous but we walked for hours during the day from one end to the other. There are a few neighborhoods that are dangerous at night but in the daytime everywhere was safe. One tip to avoid looking like a tourist is to carry a knapsack slung over one shoulder. You can keep your camera in it and just take it out for pictures or use a smartphone kept in your pocket. When we were there the black-market exchange rate for US dollars was at least 30% better that the rate at banks. Take lots of US dollars. Even if you don’t want to change money on the black market most restaurants and shops will give you the black-market exchange rate for US dollars. We only found one that did not. However, hotels use the official exchange rate. If you do use the black-market to purchase pesos, you can pay the hotel bill in pesos.

Restaurants were superb, especially Italian ones. I think every one we tried was better than even the best in Montreal. I know Argentina beef is supposed to be excellent but Montreal beef is better. One exception was Cabana de las Lilas which was excellent for steak. It was the only restaurant not giving a discount for US dollars. For entertainment, the tango show (Rogo Tango) at the Faena Hotel with dinner is fantastic. I am told it is the best one. We booked through our concierge and got the best table in the house – front row centre. For shopping Morillo street has numerous stores with leather goods at great prices. The weather is great and people are out everywhere. We hope to return.

Poor Niagara!

During the first few days before the Tauck tour began we flew up to Iguaza Falls for two days. The Falls consist of 275 separate cascades and is the longest broken waterfall in the world. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited, her comment was, “Poor Niagara.” The falls are on the border between Argentina and Brazil. I recommend spending one day on each side. You can stay in a hotel on either side but be sure to get a visa for Brazil in advance. On the Argentina side you can take a boat to the base of some of the falls. Be prepared to get wet. On the Brazil side there is a trail along the river with numerous spots for pictures. There is also a great bird park with numerous exotic tropical birds near the entrance. There is time for both in one day.


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  1. Fascinating! Thank you for the vicarious trip… I doubt I will ever make this trip so I am grateful for all your attention to detail and context…. What a journey you and Doris experienced… how very blessed you both are…


  2. A great, personable, and most modest rendition of a trip made and the prodiqious efforts to make it – and full of handy useful tips. I look forward to reading more such accounts.

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Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Steinberg has a BSc from McGill University, a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University, and was a professor at Concordia University. He was Mayor of the Town of Hampstead for 16 years and led the demerger battle. He was was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and is currently President of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association.

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