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The White Continent in Summer

by James Ellzy


One of my lifetime goals was to visit all seven continents. I’d already been to the other six, so when I saw that the Northwestern Alumni Association was offering its Expedition to Antarctica last January, I jumped at the chance.

We started our trip in beautiful Buenos Aires, Argentina. After recovering from the flight we attended the NAA welcome reception for our group of 18 Northwestern travelers. Then most of us went to a delicious yet inexpensive steak dinner at Las Nazarenas.

Our stay included a city bus tour to several Buenos Aires neighborhoods, including La Boca and San Telmo, where they still dance the tango in the street. On another tour we saw La Casa Rosada, the government palace with Eva Perón’s famous balcony, as well as Evita’s tomb in the historic Recoleta Cemetery.

Then we were off to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Before boarding the M.S. Le Diamant we toured the city and Tierra del Fuego National Park, where the Pan-American Highway ends.

The French ship was beautiful, with nice-size rooms. We had a reception with the captain and then set sail during dinner. The smooth transit through the Beagle Channel did not prepare us for the rough ride crossing the Drake Passage. We experienced the worst weather this ship had ever been through with 30- to 50-foot swells.

Then, on my 37th birthday, we saw our first iceberg and stepped on our first island in Antarctica. What a birthday present! The tour director and crew had a card and cake waiting in my room when we returned to the ship.

Over the next four days we made 11 landings. I don’t know which was more impressive, the penguins or the beautiful landscapes. We saw three types of brushtail penguins: chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie (but none of the emperor penguins made famous in March of the Penguins and Happy Feet). The naturalists on our crew taught us about the penguins’ mating and child-rearing habits and numerous other details. We had to stay 15 feet from the penguins and other wildlife, but if we stood still, they came closer. They were unfazed by us as they went about their business.

And what was their business? Feeding and protecting their young. They traveled great distances and over steep inclines to retrieve krill from the ocean to feed their chicks. At Baily Head, there were approximately a quarter of a million penguins in one area. The sight and sound (and smell!) were amazing.

I’ve been to Alaska and seen Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Those sights didn’t begin to prepare me for the vastness of the glaciers in Antarctica. Often they encompassed the entire horizontal view.

The return trip across Drake’s Passage was so smooth it felt like it was a different body of water. On our final day at sea, we had champagne with the captain on the pool deck by Cape Horn.

The highlight of this trip was clearly the expeditions, but the ship itself was wonderful. The restaurants served excellent French cuisine with the captain’s pick of wine at lunch and dinner. There was also a beauty salon and fitness center, plus three bars and a pool. With only 200 passengers, the ship was intimate. The Northwestern group was one of 21 alumni associations represented (and one of the largest, I must add!).

There is no better way to travel to Antarctica. There are really only two ways to get there: as part of an expedition or as part of a science team. And only 40,000 visitors are projected per summer. So, make your reservations early!

James Ellzy (WCAS92) is a family physician who lives in San Diego.

For more information on the Expedition to Antarctica or other upcoming NAA trips, call 1-800-NU-ALUMS or visit

The French ship <em>M.S. Le Diamant</em> cruises the waters around Antarctica.
The French ship M.S. Le Diamant cruises the waters around Antarctica.
The Northwestern Alumni Association travelers show their school spirit in Antarctica.
The Northwestern Alumni Association travelers show their school spirit in Antarctica.