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Mt Lebanon Magazine

The official magazine of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

The upsides of going south

Humpback whale logging in Wilhelmina Bay (Writer Carolyn Newkirk is in the single kayaks, second from the left)

LeboLife blogger Carolyn Newkirk is in the process of running a marathon on each of the planet’s seven continents. She has been taking us with her on each trip. Part one of two.

Getting to Antarctica is no easy feat, but a definite perk was traveling to South America for three days, which was my fifth continent to visit. Our first stop was Buenos Aires where we ate our way through the city—steak, Malbec wine, empañadas and gelato were staples. We enjoyed dining alfresco and ate at the local favorite hot spot, Don Julio’s, in trendy Palermo Viejo. A half-day tour of the city included La Recoleta Cemetery where Evita is buried, colorful La Boca where we watched tango, and Metropolitan Cathedral, the home church of Pope Francis.

Hoping for another stamp on our passport, we took a one hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay where we spent a gorgeous, sunny day exploring the historic town of Colonia Del Sacramento. We walked on the cobblestone streets and climbed the narrow, winding staircase of the lighthouse to get a bird’s eye view of the town. Our favorite part of Uruguay was the cozy wine bar, Buen Suspiro, where we tasted a local Tannat wine and relaxed outside in their quaint grotto. And of course, we couldn’t leave the country without trying the gelato.

After a fun-filled visit in Buenos Aires and Colonia, we flew to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia (the h is silent), also known as the end of the world (Fin del Mundo). From this beautiful resort town on the Beagle Channel, we embarked on our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, a former Russian research ship, capable of breaking ice, that was renovated for tourists. Our cabins were small but warm and comfortable as we traveled across what is known as the most turbulent body of water in the world, the Drake Passage, where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern oceans meet. We hoped for a Drake Lake versus a Drake Shake where swells could reach up to 30 feet during the 555-mile voyage to Antarctica. As someone who is prone to seasickness, the scopolamine patch was my friend for the most part. I had a few typical side effects but preferred those to the alternative. We were extremely fortunate to have calm seas. However, I was never so thankful to hear the anchor at 6 a.m. and to see land after 2.5 days of nothing but open water.

Kayaking in Wilhelmina Bay as a Crabeater seal watches us

On our first day in Antarctica, we visited Aitcho Barrientos Island and Robert’s Point, part of the South Shetland Islands, where we saw hundreds of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, as well as Fur, Weddell, and Elephant seals. A few curious penguins came right up to us and pecked at our clothes and boots.

Carolyn at Neko Harbour with a Gentoo penguin

Another highlight of the trip was kayaking in Wilhelmina Bay with the most wondrous scenery of glaciers, pristine water, and icebergs. What made this excursion so unbelievable were the encounters with Humpback whales. They logged (partial resting state where they appear as logs) within 20 feet of our kayaks and displayed their enormous bodies as they came out of the water to breathe. We also kayaked by a Crabeater seal (which doesn’t eat crabs but rather krill) relaxing on a small iceberg. (A bergy bit is a medium-sized piece of ice from a glacier floating 3 to 15 feet above the sea.) Another excursion included an evening zodiac cruise in Cierva Cove where we observed dozens of Humpbacks employing their group feeding technique. A group of whales blows bubbles in a circle and forces the krill to gather upwards. Then, the whales burst to the surface with their mouths open to eat thousands of krill. Being extremely close to the whales during their feeding made for another heart-stopping, yet exhilarating experience.

Breaching Humpback whale in Errera Channel

In addition to visiting the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, we set foot on the actual continent at Neko Harbour, where we hung out with hundreds of Gentoo penguins and also witnessed ice calving, where chunks of ice suddenly break away from the edge of a glacier, due to the glacier expanding. It can be quite loud and dangerous if one is too close.

Some of us were also courageous enough to do a true polar plunge in Paradise Harbour where the water was about 33 degrees and the air temperature was unusually warm at 39 degrees. If you didn’t submerge yourself in water, it didn’t count, so we all went under albeit for a few seconds. We received a certificate, certifying our insanity.

Polar plunge in Paradise Harbor

Ship life included games in the bar and lounge area, spoons (imagine a small number of people who were adventurous enough to register for a marathon on Antarctica 3 years ago, playing a heated game of spoons while also a little loopy on Dramamine or scopolamine), lectures on Antarctic wildlife and history, a gym and a library. We were also invited up to the bridge where the captain and crew navigated the ship. It was the best place to whale watch. We saw about a hundred Humpback whales and several Antarctic minke whales in some of the fjords and bays in the continent.

I never thought I would visit Antarctica, but when I decided to run a marathon with Bernadette and Barb on each continent, my destiny was set. I am discovering that this was one of the best decisions I ever made. As I go through my pictures, I am still in awe that I was surrounded by unsurpassed beauty and wildlife. If you seek adventure and untouched nature, put Antarctica at the top of your list. It will not disappoint. – The One Ocean Expedition staff was stellar. Experts provided informative lectures on whales, seals, penguins, and the history of Antarctica. Additionally, we ate very well, thanks to an accomplished head chef and excellent pastry chef. Each staff member’s biography was impressive, and they exemplified their talents from teaching us about wildlife to leading us on unforgettable zodiac and kayak excursions.

Come back next week to read Carolyn’s account of the marathon.

Carolyn’s other blogs in this series:












  1. Author’s gravatar

    Your adventures with my nephew Todd make me want to be young again.
    You are lucky to have seen so many great places.

  2. Author’s gravatar

    Hi Molly – I am just seeing your comment now. It was a pleasure meeting Todd and sharing this adventure. It’s hard to believe that we ran the marathon one year ago. I am grateful to be able to travel and fulfill my wanderlust. Thanks for reading my blog.

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