Of the many surprises I discovered while chuckling my way through this year’s Everett Reads selection, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, the one that stood out the most was the fact that Antarctica is now considered a tourist destination. As Bee repeatedly points out to Bernadette, this isn’t travel to the frigid South Pole that we are talking about, but a visit to the Antarctic Archipelago that reaches out to the tip of South America. Still I’ve always thought of travel to Antarctica as being limited to brave, perhaps foolhardy, explorers, penguins and the occasional shape shifting creature from another planet. Clearly I needed to do a little library research.
While there aren’t any Frommer‘s or Fodor’s guides to the frozen continent as of yet, which makes sense since hotels with any star rating are nonexistent, Antarctic cruises are mentioned in a number of travel guides. These tend to be the ones that extol the virtues of ‘extreme or adventure’ tourism. A cruise to the Antarctic Archipelago merits an entry in the rather ominously titled Unforgettable Journeys to Take Before You Die as well as 1000 Places to See Before You Die. The less morbidly titled Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean: A Guide to Fifty Extraordinary Adventures for the Seasoned Traveler details a trip to Antarctica that would actually get you on the continent itself, after a very bumpy ride in a cargo plane. Whichever option you choose, be sure to bring a healthy bank account and lots of Dramamine.
If you have dreams of an extended stay, however, you are beyond the realm of tour guides. You might be able to get a hint or two, however, from some of the autobiographies of the modern-day scientists and adventurers who have managed to gain access. Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica details the author’s trip with the Australian Antarctic Division to deliver a new team of winterers to Casey station. The author of Life on the Ice: No One Goes to Antarctica Alone got a commission from National Geographic to visit many of the bases in Antarctica and report back. His account is an intriguing look at the living conditions and the motivations of people who are drawn to the white continent. For an account of pure adventure and survival in the harshest of conditions, definitely check out No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and Their Extraordinary Journey Across Antarctica which describes the journey of Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen as they became the first women to cross the continent on foot.
If like most of the world population you don’t have the money or connections to get to Antarctica, you can still view the landscape and wildlife vicariously. An excellent tool for doing this is Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitors Guide. Flip through the pages and imagine you are having trouble distinguishing the Leopard Seal from the Weddell Seal and the Gentoo Penguin from the Adelie Penguin. It certainly won’t be as cold a trip and icebergs should not be a problem. A final set of resources for armchair travel to Antarctica are the many webcams that have been set up at the various research bases that dot the continent. McMurdo Station, the South Pole Station and several from the Australian Antarctic Division are good ways to get your voyeuristic travel thrills. Just don’t expect to see much during the many months of darkness during the southern winter.