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Antarctic Trips - Travel Insurance Is Vital!

Jan 26, 2008
In November 2007 the MS Explorer, carrying over 150 tourists and crew hit an iceberg in the Antarctic and sank. Miraculously, no souls were lost or turned into human lollipops, but it was a terrifying ordeal and a lucky escape for those onboard. Perhaps it was a timely and sobering warning that this type of tourism should never be marketed like a Disney attraction. Let's hope it also served as a warning to those who think travel insurance is an unnecessary expense!

Trips to the Antarctic have become very popular in recent years with tourists heading south in their thousands. Have our fears about global warming and climate change caused this massive migration to the Poles to see the magnificent glaciers and landscapes before they disappear? Al Gore has to be commended for his efforts, but is he to blame? Or should we blame all the cute penguin films, like Happy Feet?

At one time it was a place only visited by explorers and scientists and not looked upon as a tourist destination, but times are changing. Conservation groups are concerned about the impact of so much tourism on the environment and calling for limits on the number of visitors.

Most trips to Antarctica are made on ships departing from locations in South America. The routes are designed to take in areas where the largest amount of wildlife can be viewed. There are faster ways to see Antarctica though. For an aerial view you could take a tourist flight departing from Australia or New Zealand. It's a round trip of about eight hours. Whichever way you do it you'll be leaving a carbon footprint with your happy feet and stinking up the pristine air! This new type of adventure tourism seems here to stay. Like a penguin slithering down an icy slope to the sea - it can't be stopped.

With the ice sheets melting at a frightening rate, sea levels look set to continue rising. Despite this, Antarctica holds the record for the world's lowest recorded temperature at -129F (-89C) during 1983. You wouldn't even be able to say 'Brrr'. It's hard to imagine. I experienced -28F in Colorado and saw a cat frozen as stiff as a board. When you stood it up it looked alive with tail held aloft in a friendly but icy greeting. My friends stood it next to their mail box to greet visitors (sentimental they are not, those leathery ranchers). I've heard that freezing is the most painless way to die but I'd prefer not to test that theory personally - and it's too late to ask kitty.

In case you're unsure, Antarctica is located in the southern hemisphere, around the South Pole. The Arctic is north. (You'd be surprised how many people don't know). All but about two-percent of Antarctica is covered with ice. Many people mistakenly believe there are polar bears in Antarctica, but they are only found north in the Arctic regions.

Antarctica has dormant volcanoes and an active one at Mt. Erebus on Ross Island. The highest peak is Vinson Massif at over 16,000 feet (approx. 4,890m). We are familiar with the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) but in Antarctica the phenomenon is known as the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis. Antarctica has no government and belongs to no country, although various claims have been made on parts of it. It still belongs to the penguins and I vote they continue to rule! At least when a penguin makes a fool of itself it's cute and funny - in contrast to most politicians.

Many brave explorers risked their lives in the hostile environment, icicles hanging from their grizzly beards. They had solid, masculine 'don't mess with me' names like Sir Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen.

Nothing much can survive in such an environment in the way of flora and fauna, other than penguins, fur seals, whales, hardy varieties of algae and lichen and some ugly-looking bugs. There are several species of birds, including Skuas, Petrels and Antarctic Terns, but only a few are passionate enough to breed in those icy temperatures.

Not surprisingly, there are no humans living permanently in the Antarctic, although since the 1700s sealers and whalers have spent time in the area. The research stations run by various governments and agencies are staffed during the summer months, and many year-round. A wide variety of scientific experiments are carried out but the most talked about in recent decades has been the hole in the ozone layer - which is believed to have been caused by us messy humans.

The hole is also being monitored by NASA satellites, or are they really looking for the alleged missing Apollo 11 original Moon walk tapes? Many meteorites and craters have been discovered so who knows what might be uncovered down there. Perhaps they'll find Amelia Earhart or the missing Child Benefit CDs which our government carelessly lost. Rumour has it the reason the government wants us to carry identity cards is as a back-up system for when they lose our personal data. At least we'll know who we are, even if they don't.

It's not surprising that we want to see Antarctica ourselves but perhaps we should be content with staying in the warm and watching documentaries or films like March of the Penguins. In the animated film Happy Feet, the penguin 'Mumble' was unable to sing to attract his true love because he had an awful voice and so resorted to tap dancing to woo her. I didn't see this particular film, but presume he got his girl in the end - fish breath and all. Whatever they have to do to survive, perhaps we should think more about their welfare and leave them alone. If the ice shelves keep collapsing there'll be nothing left for them to tap dance their happy feet on.
About the Author
Jean Andrews is a freelance writer living in the UK. She regularly contributes articles for TIA Ltd who offer travel insurance and quotes - even for those who are travelling to the Antarctic!
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