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Being human - Luxury Travel Magazine
Helen McKenzie, Issue 46 – Autumn 11
A trip to the Antarctic that was planned as a way a father and son might become closer, took place in a landscape that couldn't be less about human beings. Artist John Young told Helen McKenzie about their adventure
An artist travels differently from normal folk. Melbourne-based, high profile visual artist John Young took his ten-year old son Jasper to Antarctica because he felt he was ready “to feel the sublimity of a place in a physical way; to give him some spiritual edge.” John and Jasper Young travelled to Ushuaia, Argentina to board the retired Russian espionage vessel the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a class-1A icebreaker named after a Soviet physicist. Ushuaia, in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego Province, is regarded as the southernmost city in the world.
Along with 150 other passengers and crew they set sail; a comfortable cabin (with internet) was their home for the next two weeks.
Young, who is a warm good-humoured storyteller says with a smile that to get to Antarctica “you’ve got to cross Drake’s Passage which is treacherous. Normally there are huge waves. We got seasick, but we were lucky it wasn’t as bad as it could be. It was apparently lenient on us. We mainly just slept for a day and a half.”
Once there, the days in Antarctica were well organised with putting around iceberg harbours in Jacques Cousteau rubber zodiacs in the mornings and trekking in the afternoons. Jasper, the youngest on the trip, was given the nickname King Penguin. Hong Kong born, Australian educated Young explains that the trip was a bonding exercise for father and son. “Historically, I have had two generations of non-fathering in my family. My father’s father died when my father was about five-years-old so he wasn’t fathered and then I left my father to come to Australia when I was 11, so there was no fathering there. I’ve had to nut this all out myself. My father, for some mysterious reason, sent me when I was quite young on a tour to Manchuria with no-one. It was such a great adventure, the only thing I wish I had with me was a father and he wasn’t there.”
Young says he was inspired by Steve Biddulph whose book Raising Boys has become a bible to many parents. “He talks about father and son relationships. Particularly when a son is just hitting adolescence and looking for a way to say goodbye to their childhood. It seemed like the perfect time.”
However, Young is not sure that the Antarctic is a place for painters. “Most people come back quite speechless. And I know why. I was very humbled by it, especially being a visual artist. I don’t think any artist can do justice to it, only maybe a very good poet might be able to do that.”
What they saw in Antarctica was varied.
“Every day was different. We visited old whaling stations. Frozen in time, you could feel the people [who used to work at the stations]. In the houses you feel the people who had lived there even though they are completely deserted and dilapidated. You felt that they didn’t want you in there because the houses (have been) there so long without human beings they are almost like beings themselves and they didn’t want you to be around. They have such histories.
“On the boat you would go through a passage and the mountains would just rise up and there would be whales there. It was like a Lord of the Rings type experience.
“There is nothing dangerous because there are no polar bears, but there are some very big seals. Jasper watched the penguins struggle on the pebble beaches. I don’t think they were evolved to walk over pebbles, they usually just glide over the ice into the water but now they fall over every three or so steps, thanks to climate change.”
The father and son’s quest for the sublime was rewarded. John says, “When I think of the Antarctic I think of majesty and vulnerability. The landscape is so sublime. It showed me that nature could be quite independent of man; she could exist quite beautifully independently. The sublime is past your imagination. Unthinkable.”
When to go
Visits to Antarctica are mainly concentrated at ice-free coastal zones over the Antarctic summer, which is the five month period from November to March. During the middle of this period there will be 20 plus hours of daylight per day. Whale sightings are at their most frequent during late summer, around February and March.
Getting There – Cruise Akademik Sergey Vavliov
Like John and Jasper, travel to Antarctica on board the Akademik Sergey Vavilov with Quark Expeditions. Their 12-day Antarctic Explorer expedition begins and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina and the ship crosses The Drake Passage to explore the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. The expeditions depart between June 2011 and March 2012, and prices start from US$5,190 (about A$5,084) per person.
Getting There – Cruise Abercrombie & Kent
Abercrombie & Kent runs luxury cruise packages to Antarctica from Buenos Aires from US$10,465 (about A$10,252) twin share. The 13-day/12-night cruise includes two nights luxury accommodation in Buenos Aires, charter plane to Ushuaia, where you board your cruise ship, and eight days crossing The Drake Passage and cruising Antarctica.
Getting There – Cruise Adventure World Travel
Adventure World Travel offers an Antarctic Experience package starting from A$11,020 per person twin share. This 11-day/10-night tour departs from Ushuaia in Argentina, the world’s southernmost city, and travels across The Drake Passage on board the National Geographic Explorer. With six days in Antarctica, activities include whale watching, sightseeing and learning from scientists, underwater specialists and a National Geographic photographer.
Getting There - Fly/Cruise Cool Antarctica
Most trips to Antarctica depart from South America due to its close proximity to the region. Tour company Cool Antarctica organises seven-day air/cruise packages departing from Punta Arenas in Chile and flying to King George Island followed by a four day cruise from US$9,990 (about A$9,787) per person. This avoids crossing the Drake Passage, benefiting people who suffer from seasickness.
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