Niamh Quinlan on 05 November 2006

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This was to be my journey of a lifetime, my 50th birthday present to myself! I had always wanted to go to Antarctica and had finally taken the plunge to go with a group of like minded Irish people.

We departed Dublin for Buenos Aires on 5th November via Milan and arrived the following morning and straight out on a sight seeing tour. What a marvellous city, very European, wide boulevards and home of that wonderful dance - the Tango. We visited la Bocca which is such a colourful place with Tango Dancers every where. Recoletta (the Cemetery where you will find the grave of Eva Peron), wandered the wide streets and finished up the day with a good steak and onto a local tango club.

The following morning we were up early and on our way back to the Airport for our flight to Ushuaia and an overnight before we boarded our ship The Ushuaia which was to be our home for the next 20 days. We departed down the Beagle Channel with a back drop of mountains behind us. It was a spectacular way to start a holiday and it just got better and better after that.

The theme of our trip was "To Follow in the Footsteps of Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean" two of the polar explorers in the early 19th Century. After 2 days crossing the Drake Passage, our first port of call was the Island of South Georgia in the South Sandwich Islands and what an experience it was! We spent 4 days sailing around this amazing island with its fantastic glaciers, icebergs, mountains and incredible wild life. Colonies of King Penguins, Elephant Seals, Fur Seals and my favourite of all the Wandering Albatross. We visited the only inhabited part of the Island, Grytviken where we were able to buy souvenirs and postcards. There is a Church and Museum here and the grave of Ernest Shackelton who is buried here.

Our next port of call was Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands where we visited the British Antarctica Research Station before moving on to one of the major highlights of the trip, Elephant Island. This is a rocky outcrop with very little beach and so remote. We were extremely lucky in that our fantastic crew managed to land us here despite the heavy seas. It is an amazing and historical place in the story of Polar Exploration.

From here it was onto The Antarctic Peninsula itself and more landings. Our first stop was the Argentinean Base named after an Irish man called Bernard O'Higgins from Sligo. It was a cold bright sunny morning and we were surrounded by the most fantastic icebergs, blue water and white land masses. We were all landed here for a visit on the zodiacs, for me it was especially exiting to land as it meant I had finally landed on all 7 Continents.

We then headed on down the peninsula and landed at Port Lockroy another British base and came across more penguin colonies and some amazing scenery. We also witnessed ice berg's calving which is a spectacular site. We then headed down the Lemaire Channel passing the most amazing glaciers and icebergs in all shapes and size. We had to turn back at the end of the Channel as this is as far as you can go at this time of the year. We sailed back up as far as Paradise harbour where we went ashore at Admiral Brown station, and were then brought on a tour of some of the most amazing icebergs I have ever seen. In our zodiac we were able to reach out and touch them. Some were deep blue in colour which reflected how old they were. There were walls of ice and snow as high as mountains all around, exactly what I imagined The Antarctic coastline would look like.

Our last port of call on our journey back to Ushuaia was at Deception Island. This is a volcanic island and has some lovely hot waters at the very edge of the Antarctic. What an experience to jump into the freezing waters of the sea and then straight into the hot volcanic waters. Our magnificent crew were on standby with towels and hot drinks.

All in all the most fantastic holiday I have ever had. We had every age group on board from 20 to 70. There is something for everyone and there is a ship for everyone. It is an experience of a lifetime and I would be delighted to share more of my experience with you.

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