"An inspiring, electrifying place that is not only wild and glorious in its own right, but also truly touches the soul"
Happy Holidays, dear friends, from Antarctica! It is an understatement to say I am thrilled to be on a beautiful private ship for 15 days, traveling to never before explored areas. It is also a delight to be teaching yoga in a location where it makes more sense than ever before. Yoga is about expanding the mind and body, and nothing is comparable to the expansive feeling of Antarctica. From the deep silence to heavy sounds of cracking ice to panoramic contemplations, every moment is surreal.
As you will see on the map below, the area in the red circle is the place where we are spending the majority of the cruise. This eastern part of the peninsula is totally unknown because it is filled with thick ice that only an expedition icebreaker can cross, making it a fascinating expedition for both the passengers and scientists on board. In fact, there are less people who have been near here than people who have set foot on the moon.
I write from the Le Commandant Charcot of the French Ponant fleet. It is the world´s only luxury icebreaker, and it is truly a scientific exhibition/exploration in combination with a deluxe vacation for 90 friends and family of our host Alex and Vickie. My daughter, Ashley, who has followed my footsteps in the travel industry, arranged the private charter, and her client invited our family to come. My return gift was to teach yoga to all levels on the ship. It has been such a delight to teach kids’ yoga to 13 children, ages 3-14, and gentle and vinyasa yoga for the adults. The kids have particularly loved the “beanie baby” bag filled with stuffed animals representing different yoga poses, from downward facing dog to frog pose. There are actually poses for seals, whales and penguins, too.
It took three days of travel before getting on the ship…an 11 hour flight from New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina for one night, then another 3.5 hour flight the next day from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina for one night. The majesty of the Patagonia Mountains blew me away upon landing. Ushuaia is referred to as “the end of the world,” and it felt like it. One of my favorite memories will always include hiking the trails from the hotel in Ushuaia – beautiful alpine views in all directions.
After a day and a half on the Drake Passage, I was teaching a gentle yoga class when the captain announced that we were officially in Antarctica. It was a moment that I will never forget, and it was at the same time of the Winter Solstice, a special day for yogis worldwide that we were celebrating with sun salutations. Ironically, it is the longest night of the year, and here we are at the bottom of the world, where daylight is basically 24 hours a day. Shortly thereafter, as I walked around the ship’s deck, I reached my 2022 hiking goal of 1150 miles. (Friends, please set your own hiking goal for 2023, and join me on the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage May 3-12, 2024!!!). It is exciting to think that I will start my miles for 2023 here in Antarctica on January 1.
I had actually dreaded the Drake Passage, as it is where the Pacific, Atlantic, and Southern oceans converge, and is known as the roughest ocean in the world. Some ships even have seat beats you can wear to bed. There was definitely movement and gentle rocking, but fortunately, not to where it effected our time on the ship that day.
Later that afternoon, we started seeing whales…humpback whales, blue whales (the largest animal on earth), and fin whales (the second largest species in the world). Right before bed and 10 miles from the Antarctica Sound, we saw our first iceberg. One of the crew laughed and explained that the first iceberg is such an incredible sight for everyone, and they continue to get bigger as the days go by.
I have always been a promoter of adventure as a way to get out of your comfort zone to experience real personal growth. Well, adventure is at its peak here with polar plunging, polar snorkeling (no, I am not kidding), cross-country skiing, camping overnight on an ice floe, sea kayaking (a craft favored by the Intuits for at least 4,000 years), hiking, snowshoeing, and more! Plus, the excitement and adventure of seeing all the wildlife from a variety of whales, seals, and penguins.
We have had briefings on each activity to make sure we know exactly what we were getting into. Hiking is definitely not like the flatlands of the Midwest or snorkeling is not like the Caribbean. I would be lying if I haven’t been out of my comfort zone from the beginning, especially wondering how rough the Drake Passage would be. The Captain told us the first day that it could be a lake or a shake. It was somewhere in between. And, as always, the unknown is often more stressful until you experience it.
As an adventure leader, these exciting activities are empowering, but can also be humbling. After much thought and with my love for scuba diving, I knew I would regret not snorkeling. What’s a little cold?! Turns out, you wear heavy layers under a dry suit before submerging underwater for a maximum of 45-60 minutes. Part of your face is the only thing exposed, and it feels like needles when you first encounter the cold water. However, it was one of the highlights of my trip!! It was great exercise and, as always, I loved the silence under the sea. We snorkeled between two icebergs just feet away looking down hundreds of feet.
A recent text by a Quebec woman, who is doing a solo ski quest to the South Pole at the same time we are on the ship, says it all for me, “Through these moments of doubt that we all experience at one time or another in our lives, we become authentic and transparent to
ourselves. Because when we overcome certain challenges during an adventure, we are not only dealing with the snow, the rock, the wind, the storm or the cracks in our path, but also with ourselves and our human fragility.”
Let me backtrack to the mention of this trip also being a scientific exhibition. Antarctica plays a central role in the global climate system and is an essential source for studying the impacts of certain global threats, such as climate change. Due to Ashley and her dear friend, Nicolas Dubreuil (an arctic/polar expert and exhibition leader) request, our hosts agreed to offer the science community space on their private charter to join this voyage to Antarctica. These 22 scientists are working around the clock to perform experiments and observations within their field. These scientists are incorporated in our itinerary to share their work and findings. Niko’s motto is “only time and ice are masters”. Every evening before dinner we have debriefings from the different scientists.
Global warming is a huge topic as it should be. It’s going to take every earth citizen to help with this cause. Animals down here need ice to survive! Our human activity from burning fossil fuels (driving our cars, turning on our electricity, our factories, etc.) are releasing
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Naturally there are greenhouse gases, but we are just adding more and that makes a thicker umbrella. Now the heat of the sun comes through the greenhouse gas, hits the earth and instead of going back out into space, it gets trapped and goes back down to earth. So we are warming up our planet by us using excessive fossil fuels.
Our first big land exploration was hiking out onto Devil’s Island in the Weddell Sea and
seeing over 10,000+ Adelie Penguins. It was an unbelievable day with penguins
playing on the ice caps all around us. We observed some penguins fighting over rocks
for their nests as well. They might go over to another nest to steal a rock just to come
back to find out one of their rocks were taken by another penguin. We also learned that
these penguins can go down to approximately 1200 feet below the water to get food.
Following the trip, world-renown Dr. Peter Fretwell, the “penguin scientist”, is
announcing major news on World Penguin Day on January 20. There are 61 penguin
colonies in the world, and he and his team have discovered the 62 nd . The scientists
were also able to get blood samples from four to five penguins to learn more about this
species including their sex, diet, etc.
It has been especially rewarding to see the children absorb the scientific aspects of the
expedition. Children are typically a rare demographic on an Antarctica cruise, but this
group is thoroughly enjoying the Adventure Kids' program, which introduces them to the wonders of Antarctica, the wildest, coldest, and driest continent on our planet. And,
unbeknownst by most people, Antarctica is also considered a desert.
As a traveler and yogi, I always encourage taking time for those unforgettable “solitary
moment” when you are awed by the present moment. As I stood on top of the hill
overlooking thousands of penguins and glaciers behind them, I don’t think I have ever
been more awed with a view on earth than at that moment. This is such unchartered
territory that it is not only surreal, but also overwhelming. I feel so blessed. Since I was
in third grade, my goal has been to travel the world. Here I am experiencing my biggest
bucket list item ever, and my last continent. It exceeds all expectations.
My biggest joy, as always, is being with my two granddaughters, and it is no surprise
that I am in my element sharing this experience with them. Eight-year-old Olivia is
creating a slideshow presentation a little bit each day to share with her class when she
returns to Connecticut. Emma, the five-year-old, says her favorite part is the “boat,”
along with the swimming pools and the zodiac rides.
Emperor Penguins were the thrill of the second day on shore as we stopped at Snow
Hill to walk on the sea ice. These unique seabirds have bodies that adapt to withstand
temperatures as low as -62 degrees. Unfortunately, there has been an 18% decline in
their population in the last 10 years due to global warming. Later that afternoon it was a
hoot as one Adelie Penguin and one Emperor Penguin came belly to belly and had
some type of communication. Penguins are fascinating, and to think, they date back to
over 22 million years.
We woke up on Christmas Eve morning traveling through ice on all sides. The ship didn’t disappoint as it forged ahead into the incredible landscape. Before it turned to all ice, it was patches of ice that looked like clouds you would see flying in an aircraft at 39,000 feet high. Words and pictures just can’t capture it. While we sailed to our destination of an ice flow, I taught a power yoga class. Once again, I was in my element and had so much fun with some of the crew joining in. Then it was time for kids’ yoga, and we used the Christmas story to demonstrate different poses. There are definitely a couple of future yoga teachers that will come from this cruise someday. Before long, we got the BIG news…we had just gone farther south than any ship or anyone before!.
Christmas morning brought Santa Claus on a small zodiac boat, circling around the larger ship. It was his last stop before heading back to the North Pole. He joined us onboard and pulled out his list of all the kids and declared that each of them was on his “nice” list. Everyone then exchanged with their Secret Santa, which had been arranged prior the trip. A lovely brunch was served before our hosts’ daughter had her ninth birthday party in the pool area. My Christmas stocking had a gift certificate to get a massage in the spa, so what a lovely time I had before the ship docked on an ice flow. We were actually able to get off the ship directly onto the ice sea and walk around to see a few Crabeater and Weddell Seals.
The day after Christmas we made it to Larsen B to explore the area by zodiac, snorkeling or kayaking. It is so sad to hear how much the ice is melting in this area just in the last 20 years due to global warming. The Larsen Ice Shelf was formed over the course of more than 12,000 years and 750 feet think in places. We all should be concerned that in just such a short period due to our lifestyle on earth that it is breaking up and melting! From that area we headed to Marshall Island, a volcanic island with a black sand beach and a 2400+ foot mountain. We had a great walk and enjoyed seeing Weddell seals.
Kayaking was another exciting activity, especially since we took the zodiac to the shore of the actual continent of Antarctica. The real reason for adventure excursions like we have been doing is to truly connect to the land and sea….be part of it versus just being
Polar camping is scheduled several times. My daughter loved the experience, sleeping out in a tent in a polar sleeping bag. She went to sleep and woke up to snow all around.
I thought the adventure activities couldn't get any better but cross country skiing on an ice flow was right up there. We went close to two miles enjoying the snow as far as you could see. A polar hike on Fish Head Point (acutally on the Antarctic Continent) was a treat walking around a lake.
Our next and last stop is to Paulet Island where we are expected to see over 200,000 Adelie penguins and 600 imperial cormorants (blue-eyed shags) nesting there. The crew is especially excited to share this special afternoon.
In between all these exciting excursions, I love the outdoor heated Blue Lagoon, the indoor swimming pool, a Snow Room (a fun snow bath and tonic after using the sauna), the gym, a delicious detox juice bar, an outdoor walking bridge around the entire ship, and the incredible healthy food.
This experience has inspired me even more for Peace through Yoga to continue to plan and offer Sacred Journeys all over the world. As readers, I hope you will stay-tuned over the next few years as we expand our current trips from North America (Costa Rica and Dominica), Europe (France and Spain), and Africa (Morocco) to South America (Machu Picchu) and Asia (India and Bhutan) in the future. Some journeys transport us.
They take us to somewhere else, somewhere about which we know so little that it causes us to change our perception of the world. Thank you, Antarctica, for teaching me to value our earth and environment like never before.
December 16, 2022-January 2, 2023
P.S. I apologize in advance if any misspelling/grammar errors or incorrect science information from an amateur enthusiast. Wifi is iffy from the bottom of the world. May you discover this on your own someday. Happy New Year!