35 hearty travelers from Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan rendezvoused in Ushuaia, Argentina in early December to set out on a journey of a lifetime. Over ten days they explored the world’s southernmost waters and continent. For some, the trip checked the seventh and final continent off their travel wish-list. For others, it was an opportunity to see and photograph landscapes and wildlife they had only ever read about. For all, it was a chance to learn about this stunning but sometimes forbidding part of our planet.
The combination of adventure plus learning is what draws participants to select UNLV adventure travels over other organized trips. The programs differ from most organized tours in one essential, fundamental way: when you travel with UNLV, you are assured that your leaders are committed educators and experts in their fields.
Antarctic trip leaders Peg Rees and Sharon Shafer are both impressively familiar with the continent. Geologist and science educator Rees spent eight field seasons in Antarctica conducting scientific research, receiving the U.S. Congressional Polar Medal of Honor for her work. Artist and wildlife biologist Schafer has served as artist-in-residence on numerous trips to the sub-Antarctic islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. Her fine art images promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of the beauty and diversity of the natural world. Both women have led multiple UNLV adventure travel trips, returning each time because they love to share their expertise and enjoy interacting with fellow explorers.
Aboard the host vessel, the Akademik Ioffe, additional experts shared their specialties with the group from UNLV. Educational presentations were always well-attended and included programs on marine ecosystems, historical expeditions, birds, marine mammals, photography, climate change, and penguin science. The talks were a great way to place the landscapes, wildlife, and research within a greater context of understanding.
Of course, this trip was not about passive learning. It was about experiential learning—getting up close and personal with nature in one of the most isolated parts of the earth. And boy, did UNLV’s adventurers get up close and personal. Daily excursions by Zodiac (inflatable raft) or kayak brought the travelers into territories populated by a diverse array of animals. Travelers saw four species of penguins, five types of albatrosses, and an abundance of petrels, gulls, terns, and other sea birds. Humpback, fin, sei, minke, and killer whale sightings inspired awe. One encounter brought three curious humpback whales just feet from the boat, bringing travelers to tears with joy and exhilaration. Crabeater seals, Weddell seals, leopard seals, southern elephant seals, and South American sea lion rounded out the wildlife list. Amidst all these encounters, UNLV and Akademik Ioffe experts were available to answer travelers’ questions and provide information and guidance.
A short article cannot properly capture this adventure. Trip leaders kept a travel blog of the voyage, available at http://exploreantarctica.blogspot.com. Included is an itinerary of the journey and notes from the trip.