In the vast Antarctica wilderness, Ron and Russel cross off a significant milestone and discover word-defying beauty. These two are no strangers to Knowmad, they took their first trip with us in 2014 to Peru and have done three other trips since (including Antarctica). They’re fantastic writers and their kind, adventurous spirits are apparent in all the stories they’ve sent us after their trips. We caught up with them from their home in Connecticut after 31 days of adventure. Read their story below.
Epic Antarctica Adventure plus Buenos Aires & Uruguay CountrySide
What inspired you to go to Antarctica? What did you expect and what did you find?
After about a year and a half, it seemed for a short time that Covid might be on the wane. International travel might soon be possible once again to the relief and joy of many, including us. As we recall, about this time two Knowmad newsletters featured Antarctica. These caught our attention, and we even looked at the Quark website — just for fun. Then we thought “Why not?” For years we were accustomed to traveling three or four months a year, but for 18 months our suitcases had been in the back of the closet. We were more than ready to do something exciting and different. In addition, we were confronting the issue of age, being almost in our mid-80s. Time to get on with it.
We raised the Antarctica possibility with Jordan and Renee, who responded with enthusiasm, being well aware of the other travel we had made with Knowmad. Jordan suggested Renee put together a possible itinerary, with one caution: if you go, you should go with Quark and you should take the Epic Adventure itinerary on the Ultramarine. “If you do it, you should do it right,” he said. Wise man. (Of course, Covid did return, and everything had to be delayed for almost exactly a year. But that is another story.)
What did we expect? From what we had read and heard (we have several friends who had gone in earlier years) we knew Antarctica would be different and exciting — in terms of landscape and wildlife — but beyond that it was all something of a mystery as we had no comparison. So, while we went with high expectations, we weren’t sure about exactly what. Moreover, we had never been on a ship. One thing we did know: this would be Russell’s 7th Continent! The last one.
And what did we find? We were absolutely overwhelmed. Antarctica defies description, as there is no other place quite like it. It is vast and stunningly beautiful – the landscape, the glaciers, the icebergs, the water, the abundant and varied wildlife, the sky, the fog, the cold, the wind, the quiet…. And us. We were barely visible in this vastness but to be a part of it even for a short period was a gift.
If you asked us, what was most outstanding in all that we did, our answer would be what ever it was we had just done in the previous hour or two! It was that exciting hour after hour for all those 21 days. To our astonishment, we took part in every activity, including 23 trips off ship in a zodiac. It is impossible to adequately put in words what was challenging intellectual, physical, emotional, and ultimately rewarding experience.
If we were to pick a symbol for the whole of the trip, we would chose the moment when the Ultramarine crossed the Antarctic Circle at 7:30 am on a spectacularly clear morning. We wrote about that earlier.
What was one of your favorite recommendations or suggestions from Knowmad and why?
Renee suggested we bookend the Quark Expedition with short land trips. This was a brilliant idea. Going directly from EZE, the Buenos Aires international airport, to La Bamba, a hacienda about two hours outside BA, helped us adjust to travel after a long quiet period at home. And, following a short detour to Don Julio’s in BA for a perfect Argentinian steak dinner, going almost directly from the Ultramarine to La Narbona Wine Lodge in Carmelo, Uruguay, returned us to land and life on land. It is this kind of suggestion we rely on from Knowmad to make a fine trip a great one. We will write more later about these two wonderful properties, both of which we would recommend without reservation.
How have all of your Knowmad Trips been similar, and different?
While the substance of each of our four trips with Knowmad has been different — very different — the framework has been the same and is now familiar: complete and detailed organization all spelled out in the Buen Viaje; everything on the itinerary, including accommodations and restaurants, has been visited and checked by one or more members of the Knowmad team (periodically); excellent, reliable, helpful, and knowledgeable ground teams; emergency resources in place, if needed. We are confident we will be well looked after, and that means a great deal in terms of being able to put our focus and energy on the substance of the trip.
Tell us about the Quark Expedition on the ultramarine.
At the outset we did not understand why Quark referred to its trips to Antarctica as Expeditions. The word cruise was never used, not once. Every other company that goes to this part of the world describes their trips as “cruises.” Why not Quark? We decided it was a marketing device to help Quark stand out from the others. What we were to find out is Expedition to Quark means working and learning together. This was not by any stretch a leisure trip. Almost every hour was programmed: off ship looking and exploring or on ship listening to excellent lectures by the superbly well trained Expedition Team (totaling 37) who helped us understand what we had seen or would be seeing and guided us through the long and complex history of Antarctic exploration. Members of the Expedition Team were available at every turn at sea, on land, and on the ship. The organization and programming were simply amazing. We and our fellow passengers joined in and responded with enthusiasm. This was a serious group of travelers who had come with a purpose. Dressing for dinner was not part of the plan.
Probably what most resembled a cruise — a luxury cruise — was the ship itself, which is beautifully designed and outfitted in a serene Nordic style with every amenity known to man, and a well-trained, cheerful staff to take care of all the details of daily life. The food and the dining experience were very fine indeed with a constant flow of different dishes and preparations. Our cabin was well designed and well appointed with multiple conveniences. (We thought we probably could live there if it had included a small kitchen!) Thanks to Renee we had the best location possible: we were in the middle of the ship, both in terms of front to back and of top to bottom. Can’t do better than that when it comes to ocean movement. We did not get motion sickness.
Argentina, Antarctica & Uruguay Trip
To settle in Ron and Russel started off their trip at Estancia La Bamba de Areco, a Relais & Chateaux hotel two hours northwest of Buenos Aires. From there they traveled back to Buenos Aires for a one night stay in the city before embarking on their travels down to the southernmost tip of Argentina to start the Antarctica expedition. After the expedition they unwound in Uruguay at Narbona Wine Lodge before heading home. Read a summary of their trip below.
DAY 1 USA – Buenos Aires
You will take an overnight flight from the U.S., arriving in Buenos Aires the following morning.
DAY 2 Buenos Aires, Argentina – San Antonio de Areco
Upon your morning arrival, you will be met at the airport by a Knowmad Adventures guide and be transferred to a traditional Estancia in the Argentina countryside, La Bamba, one of the first Argentine estancias to open its gates to tourism. La Bamba’s origin dates to 1830, when the main building was only an old post-house on the Camino Real (Royal Road), a road that joined Buenos Aires with the north of the country. Some activities you can do while at La Bamba estate include horseback riding, mountain biking, horse drawn carriage rides, and walks through the property. During your stay, you will also be able to witness a unique horse whispering demonstration, learning more about the connection between a traditional gaucho and his horse. At La Bamba you will enjoy your meals and beverages included on a full-board basis.
- La Bamba de Areco
DAY 3 San Antonio de Areco
Continue enjoying your adventures throughout the region and your stay at La Bamba de Areco.
- La Bamba de Areco
DAY 4 Buenos Aires
After a morning at leisure, you will be met by your guide and transferred approximately 2 hours back to the bustling city of Buenos Aires, known for its soaring architecture and rich European heritage. But first, en route today you will stop to visit San Antonio de Areco, a region that was voted as “one of 1,000 places to see before you die.” A picturesque pampas pueblo, San Antonio de Areco keeps alive the traditions of the gaucho culture with its museums, silversmiths, leathercraft and wood workshops, as well as a delightful little chocolate factory. After spending some time in town, continue to Buenos Aires. Enjoy the afternoon and evening at leisure to explore Buenos Aires.
- Hotel Emperador
DAY 5 Buenos Aires – Ushuaia – Embarkation
After an early breakfast at the hotel, your Quark cruise group will transfer to the airport and board our private charter flight to Ushuaia, Argentina. Upon arrival, you will be transferred from the airport to a central downtown location to have some time on your own to explore this quaint port town before making your way to the pier. After a late afternoon embarkation, you will sail along the historic Beagle Channel, which transects the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in the extreme south of South America. Expect an air of anticipation as you depart—the next time you see land, you’ll be in a wildlife wonderland!
DAY 6 – 26 At Sea
Your days at sea are filled with presentations and lectures led by your Expedition Team, who will prepare you for the wildlife that will greet you upon your arrival. In between presentations, spend time chatting with your shipmates over a drink at the bar, or enjoy the fresh air and views on the outer decks.
The first stop is the Falkand Islands (Islas Malvinas), rich in wildlife, especially birds, and home to Magellanic, gentoo and southern rockhopper penguins. Next up, South Georgia, this remote, mountainous island was a popular stop for many historic Antarctic expeditions and was once a haven for hunting whales and seals. Today, island wildlife populations are rebounding, but you’ll still see remnants of old whaling stations and other abandoned outposts. Later on you’ll explore South Shetland Islands & the Antarctic Peninsula. The experience is hard to put into words, but the most common reaction upon reaching the White Continent is a sense of reverence and awe. You will discover that Antarctica is a land of extremes: at one moment you’ll be overcome with a feeling of complete silence and solitude; the next, you’ll be laughing at the comical antics of a curious penguin.
Next, crossing the Antarctic Circle is both a memorable experience and impressive achievement, as few travelers reach so far south. Lastly, crossing the Drake Passage, after more than three weeks of unique wildlife encounters and remarkable landscapes, your journey back to South America begins. The unpredictable and exciting Drake Passage is an adventure unto itself. You will arrive in Ushuaia in the morning and disembark after breakfast.
DAY 27 Buenos Aires – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay – Carmelo
Today you will be picked up at your accommodations in the morning by your guide and taken to the Ferry Terminal to embark on the approximately 1-hour ferry ride to Colonia, Uruguay. Please remember to have your passport with you and easily accessible on this excursion. At the port of Colonia, you will disembark from the ferry and embark on a guided exploration of the city. Colonia is located on the banks of the Río de la Plata (River of Silver), directly across the water from Buenos Aires. This historic city has been designated as an international artistic treasure by UNESCO and is filled with historic buildings, some of which are over three hundred years old. It is a unique hybrid city designed in both the Portuguese and the Spanish Colonial style that speaks of a finer, slower age and will feel like you are stepping back in time. Following the time exploring Colonia, you will be transferred to the Narbona Wine Lodge. A member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux properties, Narbona was founded in 1909 and is a vineyard, farm, and lodge all in one.
DAY 28 Carmelo
After breakfast you will be met by a Knowmad Adventures guide and taken on an incredible guided exploration of the best wineries in Carmelo. You will visit two wineries, each vineyard with its own personality, experience, and wine varieties. These tastings will focus on highly-celebrated Uruguay varietal wines and allow you to learn more about the wine history in Uruguay and its Tannat wine. You will also enjoy a fresh local lunch at a delicious restaurant and winery. At the end of the excursion you will be taken back to your accommodations to enjoy a relaxing evening at your leisure.
- Narbona Wine Lodge
DAY 29 Narbona Wine Lodge
Enjoy an independent day of leisure in the charming countryside at Narbona Wine Lodge. On-site activities include a guided visit to the wine cellar, private beach access, and biking and carting through the vineyard. Gastronomic and wine-related activities such as picnics, acting as an oenologist for the day, tastings, learning about the elaboration of grappa, and horseback riding, and kayaking are also available at an additional cost. In the evening enjoy a lovely sunset cruise to cap off your incredible adventure.
- Narbona Wine Lodge
DAY 30 Carmelo – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay – Buenos Aires – USA
This morning, you will be met at your accommodations and transferred approximately 1.5 hours back to the city of Colonia del Sacramento, where you will board the return ferry to Argentina. At the Buenos Aires port, you will be met by your guide and transferred to the international airport for your overnight flight home.
DAY 31 Arrive home.
Are you interested in taking a custom trip to Antarctica and beyond? Knowmad offers door-to-door trip planning: we help you navigate the different boat options, itineraries, and seasonal differences, coordinating Antarctica, Argentina & Uruguay travel for a holistic, seamless, and safe experience, all at a guaranteed best value. Reach out to our Trip Specialists at 612-315-2894 or [email protected] to begin planning your trip today!
Hasta Pronto, Knowmad Adventurers
Knowmad Adventures works closely with independent-minded travelers creating innovative trips to South America. Our specialists in Patagonia, Chile, Machu Picchu, Peru, Argentina, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Antarctica are eager to collaborate and create a trip as unique and authentic as you are, and our experienced South American operations team guarantees you get an insider’s perspective, superior values, and a flawlessly-operated trip.