|Tuxedo chasing penguin on King Georg Island. All photos Creative Commons licensed: Gunnar Garfors.|
Name a continent. All of them have a human history going back thousands and thousands of years. Except for the only uninhabited one. Antarctica was first discovered around 1820, and the South Pole wasn't visited until December 14, 1911 when my fellow countryman Roald Amundsen skied in and narrowly beat British Robert Falcon Scott to it. Antarctica is still rather hard and costly to visit.
How to visit
|Why the airport was closed for over a week.|
- A military cargo plane has crash-landed on the Antarctica airstrip and it is likely to be closed for at least a week. They have no heavy equipment top move it.
The second option is a full cruise. It will take 9-20 days, and you are not even guaranteed to set foot on land. Around a third of cruise passengers do not actually enter the continent, they only see it from their ship, according to the BBC.
You can of course also hire your own yacht or airplane, but those people likely to do so typically read Luxury Travel Magazine, not garfors.com.
I decided to go for yet another option, and returned to South America a month later. This time I would fly both ways and spend two days on the unexplored continent.
From Punta Arenas in Chile. I arrived there an hour before the information meeting any traveller bound for Antarctica is required to undertake.
We were to leave four hours later. But there was heavy fog on King George Island, and not enough visibility for planes to be able to land. So the flights was cancelled.
And yet again.
I was starting to lose hope. Frequently checking the airport's webcamera didn't exactly help either. There was indeed fog. There was indeed no visibility. I was indeed frustrated.
Until the fourth day when I woke up by a 7 o'clock phone call.
|Driving towards the Uruguayan base.|
- Please meet in the reception in an hour. Weather forecast looks good.
And it must have been. My group, which also counted two Russians and three Americans, was airborne a few hours later. In an old British Aerospace 146. We landed without problem two hours later. Zero degrees Celcius. Minus 20, with the chill factor taken into account.
Luxury no more
|Stuck. Very stuck.|
Next up was a peek into Chile's naval commando center where all ships in the area are monitored via satellite and radar. They have responsibility for any rescue operations in the area, and are of course manned 24/7. Their post office is not. It is open one hour a day, so time it carefully if you want a unique stamp on your postcards. It will cost 2USD a piece to send a card, letters are not accepted. And you have to bring your own postcards, none are sold here. Likelihood is however that you will get back home before your cards do.
|Uruguayans to the rescue.|
- Logistics here are difficult. Expect that it will take 30 days before your cards aare delivered, the postal worker said.
|But too stuck to pull out.|
- Solidarity is very strong in Antarctica. Everybody helps everybody. The Uruguayians are on their way to pull us out, Alejo told me upon hanging up.
|The Uruguayans gave us a lift to their base.|
An identical carrier, only red, was with us within an hour to give us a ride to the Uruguayan base. We were invited into their common room with a kitchen, a television corner as well as pool and table tennis tables. Our carrier was salvaged the next day, after 4 hours of shovelling.
Of course I cannot leave out the penguins. The funny, charming and trusting birds that will give you photo and selfie possibilities of dreams. Thousands of penguins live on Ardley Island, but you will also see 2-3 on random beaches around King George Island. If they don't make you smile, giggle or laugh, nothing will.
|And the carrier was dug out the next day.|
You will have to go through a tour operator in order to visit Antarctica. The cheapest prices you can expect to find are as follows:
Air-cruises: 4,000 USD (5-9 days)
Cruises: 4,750 USD (8-20 days)
Return flights: 5,500 USD (1-9 days)
|The world's southernmost church.|
And of course, your trip to Ushuaia or Punta Arenas and back, comes in addition.
Some tour operators
Some tour operators
Or go straight to the airline, Aerovias DAP, the only one that flies scheduled flights from Punta Arenas to King George Island.
|Fancy a swim?|
|Overlooking the Chilean and Russian bases on King George Island.|
|Don't break the law in Antarctica. Or you will be hung upside down for a week.|
|No queue jumping, please.|
|Too cold to swim?|
|Sorry, just had to.|
|A big and dangerous skua. They are alleged to attack baby penguins.|