by Eric Pateman
The most asked question I get is, “what is your favorite place to visit and where would you recommend I should go?”. My answer is generally influenced by the person asking the question – what would they enjoy, what is their preferred level of adventure, where have they been in the past? But, after having visited Antarctica for the first time last November, my answer is now easy: for sheer wow factor, Antarctica is the trip of a lifetime!
The world is getting so small with the relative ease of travel, and top destinations are becoming overly crowded. There are few places you can escape to that offer you a sense of true peace and an understanding of your place on the planet. Antarctica is a land permanently unoccupied by humans with no towns or villages with the exception of research stations and expedition huts. A land where icebergs, seabirds and penguins will hopefully forever outnumber us by the tens of thousands. Nothing I have experienced compares to the grandeur, exquisite vistas, evocative beauty, unpredictability or solitude of Antarctica.
The journey I embarked on was called “Off the Beaten Track”, and it was also the inaugural voyage of the RCGS Resolute, the newest ship in the One Ocean Expeditions fleet. Well-appointed and spacious cabins, a grand ballroom, a library bar, hot tub, pool, sauna, exercise room and two food and beverage outlets allowed for the 140 guests to spread out, and you could be as social or as solitary as you wanted to be.
The trip was the first of the season (hence some unpredictable weather), and we headed South from Punta Arenas to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetlands. This trip tends to cater to the more adventurous crowd who like to get off the ship and explore. We had backcountry skiers, kayakers, snowshoers, and even ice swimmers on board! Yes – you read that correctly! The World Ice Swimming organization had a team on board that were swimming up to 1 km around the icebergs in the minus 2 degrees Celsius water which would take their core body temperature from a normal 36.5 degrees Celsius down to around 30 degrees Celsius in the 15+ minutes they spent in the water. Keep in mind – hypothermia is defined as a core body temperature below 35 degrees! Thankfully, the activities were all optional, which meant that I was happily bundled up snowshoeing with the penguins while the swimmers were turning into human ice cubes bobbing in the Antarctic waters!
When I checked into my room on the ship and met my roommate for the next two weeks, it was none other than Royal Canadian Geographic Explorer in Residence and extreme storm chaser, George Kourounis. As I began apologizing for being a heavy snorer, he countered with an apology for getting violently ill when he gets seasick (I think he won that round!). But when he explained that even 4–6 days of seasickness was worth the trip and that this was his eighth trip South, I got my first hint of what a special place I was in for!
Each One Ocean journey allows for a research team to be on board to conduct experiments and engage with passengers. During our journey, we traveled with two scientists who were studying whales, including Humpbacks, Antarctic Minke and Orcas; they shared their learnings with the group both through informal conversations and more formal presentations. The expedition guides and naturalists were equally as engaged with the guests, sharing their knowledge and stories at meals, in presentations and even on deck.
One of the highlights of the trip for me had to be experiencing the 35+ foot waves on the Drake crossing. I never felt unsafe, and thankfully, unlike George, I also weathered the seasickness well, but after watching tables roll across the dining room and waves crash onto the upper decks, it truly made you appreciate the effort it took to reach this remarkable place. The price of admission is steep!
When you think of Antarctica, food is not likely the first thing that pops into your mind. But I can tell you, you have not truly savoured a glass of whisky until you have sipped it with a piece of ancient ice buried deep in the glass, slowly melting, while watching penguins frolic on the nearby shore, or whales breaching in the distance.
Food is an accentuator of experiences and One Ocean seems to take this to a whole new level by embracing their Canadian roots and focusing on a taste of place, showcasing the regions they visit. With a great selection of Canadian wines, spirits, and ingredients including the famous sustainable Oceanwise seafood, I was excited to sit down at each meal! And while there are lots of activities to keep you busy, it was also nice to have healthy options available at each meal, including a smoothie bar in the morning!
The main highlight of the trip for me, which is consistent with most of my travels, had to be the people I met. Guests from all over the world, including some from my home town of Squamish that I had never met before, kept each day full of great conversation and learning; people from all walks of life, all of which were full of adventure, and game for almost anything, including swimming in the polar waters, sleeping on the ice and climbing up peaks that defy description.
Travel is about learning and growing while engaging in new adventures and meeting new people. One Ocean Expeditions embraces this new travel paradigm with their transformative commitment to exploring, learning, research, and sustainability.
Before and After…
If you are heading down to Antarctica from Canada, be sure to spend some time in Chile and Argentina enroute.
Santiago is a vibrant city that could easily embrace you for two days before you head to Punta Arenas to board the ship. From the art galleries and restaurants, to wine, be sure to check out these fabulous finds:
Bocanariz Wine Bar – if you have only one night in Santiago, make sure this is the one place you go if you love wine!
Hotel Eco Boutique Bidasoa – a great little boutique hotel that is in a great neighbourhood!
When you disembark in Argentina, be sure to spend a few days in Ushuaia and do some hiking in the nearby hills, and gorge on their famous king crab. The region of Patagonia is famous for fire cooking, lamb and seafood, so get out and work hard each day and then reward yourself each evening with great food and wine!
A great place to stay to experience the area is Los Cauquenes Resort + Spa.
For crab and local seafood, head to La Cantina de Freddy – so good, we ate there three times in two days!
Booking A Trip To Explore the Ends of the Earth
It took many years to be convinced to visit our polar regions, but now that I have, they have become my favourite places on the planet. The air, water, solitude, huge skies, open landscapes, and endless things to discover have captivated all of my senses!
Canada’s top operator that specializes in remote destinations and supports research, sustainability, and learning is One Ocean Expeditions. Check them out to book your own adventure and be inspired to visit the places that others dare not go! Savour the flavours of adventure!
About Eric Pateman
Eric is one of the world’s leading experts on Culinary Tourism and is one of our nation’s leading ambassadors of Canadian cuisine. He owns and operates the successful Edible Canada brand of companies, which includes an award-winning restaurant, retail stores and a culinary travel division. Additionally, Eric also has a salt company called Amola and a consulting practice that keeps him travelling around the world about 250 days a year for both public and private sector clients to define cuisines, build brands and shape the future of food. You can follow Eric’s global culinary adventures on his Instagram account @ericpateman.