I travelled solo to Antarctica simply earlier than the world shut down. Right here’s what I realized.


Rachelle Berke had travelled to greater than 60 international locations earlier than deciding to go to Antarctica with Intrepid in early 2020. She shares her expertise exploring the seventh continent on the eve of a worldwide pandemic.

Going to Antarctica was an enormous factor for me. I’ve travelled a lot – 62 international locations, thus far – however Antarctica was my first massive journey alone. After making an attempt unsuccessfully to rally buddies to come back with me, in the long run I simply booked it. And I’m so glad I did – not solely is Antarctica certainly one of my favorite locations on the planet, it was the final journey I’d take earlier than the pandemic modified the face of journey. There was speak of COVID once we set off from Ushuaia in late February, however nobody actually had any concept of the magnitude of what was coming.

The view of snow-covered mountains and icy water from a ship

We had two sea days on the best way there, which concerned plenty of talks and academic classes as we crossed the Drake Passage. The guides and on-board consultants had been all telling us how uncommon it’s to have a ravishing day in Antarctica (they name them ‘unicorn days’). Nicely, once we arrived on the Antarctic Peninsula, I went up on deck and it was so calm, with clear skies and no wind. It was completely lovely. I bear in mind considering “How are we even right here?” It was magical – an actual ‘pinch me’ second.

Our group was lucky sufficient to have eight shore landings. It’s loopy while you’re there; these little penguins simply come proper as much as you. They’re not fearful of you in any respect. They’re like, “That is our territory, get out of my method!” We had some superb experiences on the Zodiacs (inflatable motorised dinghies) too, seeing orcas and humpback whales, in addition to playful seals chasing one another across the boat.

A young woman crouching on the ice in Antarctica

I’d heard about the polar plunge – the place individuals are tethered to a harness and bounce into the icy waters – and I used to be recreation, however I knew I’d most likely hen out if I noticed too many individuals do it earlier than me. I requested if I might go first. I connected the ring and cord round my waist and jumped off the ship into the ocean. And wow, it was chilly! I’m from Canada so I’m used to chilly climate, however this was very completely different. However being within the water, surrounded by icebergs, was simply unimaginable. So was the shot of tequila I had once I hopped out. It’s an expertise I’ll always remember (to not point out, it’s an amazing occasion story).

The entire time we had been on the ship, we didn’t have a lot of an concept of what was occurring in the remainder of the world. There have been whispers a couple of flu-like sickness going round, however being in a location as remoted as Antarctica meant we had been fairly faraway from all of it. It’s so wild to suppose that if my journey had been every week later, I most likely wouldn’t have been capable of go.

As soon as our group acquired again to Argentina in early March, we turned instantly conscious of how rapidly COVID was transferring the world over, and the way critical it was. At airports, going by way of safety, everybody was asking how we had been feeling, and if we had complications or fevers. I acquired residence to Saskatchewan and wasn’t allowed to return to work till I’d been examined. At that stage, the assessments had been new and took a very long time to course of. Then, the entire world shut down.

Beautiful snow-covered mountains in Antarctica

I felt fairly cautious about travelling after that. Every part’s fairly completely different now. Issues can take longer and really feel more durable, particularly should you’re going abroad. A lot has modified over the previous couple of years, however – with every part that’s occurred – I really feel extremely fortunate to have visited Antarctica proper earlier than COVID kicked in. Who is aware of once I would have had a possibility like that once more. That mentioned, over two years into the pandemic, issues are positively calming down now. You’ve simply acquired to recollect to consider a bit extra time, and to be affected person and sort, particularly when airways and resorts are short-staffed.

The journey and its aftermath actually put issues into perspective – it made me realise change is the one fixed, and that life is unpredictable and brief. There are such a lot of superb issues to see and do on the planet, and we have to make the most of the alternatives that come up, as a result of we are able to’t management what’s across the nook. My plan from right here is to say sure as usually as potential to any adventures that come my method.



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