Wednesday September 26, 2012
Adrenaline rush in Antarctica
WHEN people say they’re going to Antarctica, they usually mean the Antarctic Peninsula, a 1,300km strip of land jutting out towards South America. This is the part that is accessible to tourists, explains electrical engineer Dr Tang Kun Won, who organised the Antarctica trip in 2010 for Ho Nai Leng and friends.
“Antarctica is a continent nearly twice the size of Australia. It contains the earth’s geographic South Pole, located at 90° south. The South Pole is a couple of thousand kilometres further inland from the Antarctic Peninsula and it’s quite impossible for tourists to get there,” adds Dr Tang, 58.
In December 2009, he and a group of friends had gone to South America. They took a two-week cruise from Buenos Aires to Santiago, going around the southern tip of South America. During the cruise, they found out about Antarctica – an optional one-day excursion by air.
“None of us signed up for the excursion due to its high cost. But it gave me an idea about where I wanted to go next.”
Upon his return, Dr Tang started planning his next trip. Together with 18 other travellers, he landed in Antarctica in December 2010.
“Not all of the planning was for Antarctica though, as we also visited Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile and Brazil. The month-long trip was one of the most complicated I had ever organised,” he says.
“The first group of 12, including myself, left Kuala Lumpur for Lima on Dec 2, 2010. We spent 12 days travelling in Peru and Bolivia before crossing into northern Chile. A second batch of six, including Ho, left KL on Dec 12 and met up with us in northern Chile two days later.”
The combined group then spent two days exploring northern Chile before flying to Santiago, where four members left to go elsewhere on their own. But another person flew in from Sydney to join the Antarctica group. After Antarctica, the travellers flew to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and met up on Dec 25 with the four who had parted ways with them earlier.
Dr Tang says although the Antarctica trip was one of the costliest, it was “by far the most beautiful and exotic place I have visited in my life”.
He felt excited and “was overwhelmed” when he first set foot in Antarctica. To his surprise, the place wasn’t as cold as he expected it to be.
“After stepping off the plane and walking for a few minutes, we were all sweating beneath the four to five layers of clothing we had been told to put on before landing!”
Being in Antarctica was a special experience. The beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife, and the near 24-hour daylight of the Antarctic summer are things people don’t get to experience elsewhere, he says.
Trying to catch a good night’s sleep there was “quite a challenge because there was not much of night to speak of. But despite being sleep-deprived, everyone eagerly looked forward to the twice-daily shore excursions where we ventured off our mothership, the Ocean Nova, to the icy wilderness in zodiac boats.”
When he looked back towards the ship from a distance, “the Ocean Nova, with the vast icy landscape as backdrop, was quite a sight to behold.
“On our zodiac cruises and shore excursions, we saw many floating icebergs of all shapes, sizes and designs which only Mother Nature is capable of crafting. Whatever we managed to capture with our cameras did not do justice to the actual beauty of the real thing,” Dr Tang adds.
On one excursion, the driver perched the front end of the zodiac boat on a piece of floating ice and the travellers stepped onto it.
“The adrenaline rush I felt while standing on a piece of ice no bigger than a few metres across and floating in the middle of the ocean in Antarctica is beyond description. On the last day, we were invited to take a dip in the freezing water, but I wasn’t game enough for that.”
Although the scenery was amazing, he was disappointed that he didn’t get to see any emperor penguins, the largest and most beautiful of all the species.
Antarctica is huge and he reckons that the Japanese who had been there a dozen times probably visited a different part each time.
Dr Tang loves to travel and prefers exotic places with beautiful scenery. He has been to about 30 countries. Normally, he takes a month-long trip and a couple of short trips in a year.
He was bitten by the travel bug while doing his master’s and PhD in the United States from 1995-99.
“Each summer, my wife and I, along with our three children, would load up our van and hit the road for weeks on end, travelling the length and breadth of the country.
“The scenery at the US national parks and the monuments was so beautiful, we never tired of them!”
An icy attraction