I remember first learning about the power of Antarctica’s ecosystem at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. There, I learned that sea ice encircling Antarctica freezes and melts with the seasons and plays an enormous role in maintaining the Earth’s climate. Any changes in Antarctica eventually affect the entire planet.
This contributes to a newfound feeling of urgency around seeing Antarctica now. For most of us, that’s achieved most comfortably on an expedition cruise.
I asked Susan McPherson, the founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies (which consults on the intersection between brands and social impact), to report back on her journey on National Geographic Orion. She is a serial connector, angel investor, and corporate responsibility expert, as well as an avid traveler routinely trekking to farthest reaches of the planet, like Antarctica. Her first book, The Lost Art of Connecting, will be published by McGraw-Hill in March 2021.
McPherson is already plotting a return trip. “I’d recommend it to anyone fascinated by nature, marine life, and up-close-and-personal learning,” she says.
Why go now: climate change + a mom’s love for penguins
I had been wanting to go for years. Quick story: My mom started collecting penguins before penguins were cool, stuff like penguin mugs, cards, calendars, and stationery. Sadly, she was killed in a tragedy on New Year’s in 1986. Naturally, in the years since, the delightful animals made me think of her. Add climate change to the mix and I knew I needed to get to the seventh continent before it melts. As National Geographic shows, scientists are actively tracking the fluctuating temperatures and environmental transformations that threaten the continent’s future.
Fresh fruit and vegetables in Antarctica? Yes!
For a ship with 100 people, you would think that choices would be limited, but every meal aboard the Orion was an absolute delight and perfect for anyone whether you are a vegetarian, vegan, love bread and cheese, or must remain gluten-free. The beauty is that everything is locally sourced from where you board (in Ushuaia, Argentina), and fresh veggies and fruits are offered daily. Every day, homemade ice cream in so many flavors is offered as one of the lunch desserts.
Magic moment: Humpback whales and hot chocolate
One afternoon, we were all on Zodiacs deeply focused on five humpback whales surfacing and diving when a magical crew appeared in the mist delivering divine fresh hot chocolate topped with either Meyers’s Rum or Bailey’s.
The unforgettable sound of silence
I will never forget the sheer sound of silence. Nowhere on Earth have I been when an entire day can go by and you hear nothing but the sound of calving glacier ice, the purring of Adelie penguins (yes, when there are hundreds, the sound almost resembles the purring of your favorite feline), and the honking of their cousins, the gentoo penguins. And then complete silence, just the sounds of the waves hitting the sides of the ship.
The vastness of colors—the turquoise, aqua, and sheer white of the icebergs against the sky and mountains—will also be permanently etched in my memory.
The importance of sustainability there . . . and here
As a sustainability professional, I cannot think of a better company to travel with than Lindblad Expeditions in partnership with National Geographic. Not only do they practice what they preach, but they instill in you the important values to live a more sustainable life when you depart. No plastic was seen the entire trip. Food is locally sourced as mentioned above, carbon offsets are offered, and the company is moving towards the use of renewable fuels. And before we went ashore each day, we were reminded of all the rules to protect and respect the wildlife we encountered.
Antarctica is for all ages
These voyages are ideal for all ages, as well as solo travelers. The crew and guides are 100 percent committed to your safety, education, and enjoyment. I witnessed elderly couples who had difficulty walking as well as young children experiencing utter awe and joy, which made my heart soar. The more people who come close to such nature will go home with a greater sense of responsibility to our planet and to our collective future.
The photos really are the best souvenir
How wonderful to be somewhere where you are not tempted to buy, buy, buy. For me, the souvenirs were all the photos and videos I took home and am sharing with friends and loved ones.