Posts Tagged ‘One Ocean Expeditions’


Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

ESCAPESEEKER GLOBAL ODYSSEYBuenos Aires, Argentina ~ I’ve been devoting a lot of ink these past few weeks on our One Ocean Expeditions Antarctic Adventure, which originated from the most southern city of Argentina [Ushuaia], which we accessed via the country’s vibrant Capital of Buenos Aires.  Since everyone traveling to any region of Argentina passes through its gateway capital, it’s time for me to pause from my Antarctic wonderment and shine some light on one of South America’s most famous stars. #buenosaires!

Buenos Aires


The year–1808.  Buenos Aires makes a final push for its independence from Spain and the town council in Buenos Aires cuts ties two years later in 1810. This move fueled further development of Argentina and its unique culture.  Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Europe’s industrialization was booming, opening the doors for Buenos Aires to become one of the world’s leading explorers of agricultural products. It was at this time that a great deal of wealth was amassed in the capital, paving the way for residences modeled after French chateaux.  It wasn’t too long before Buenos Aires aristocrats transformed the city into the “Paris of South America.”

La Mansión symbolizes the love story of  Félix de Álzaga Unzué – dashing heir to a vast South American ranching fortune – who built the masterpiece as a wedding gift for his young bride, Elena Peña Unzué.

La Mansión symbolizes the love story of Félix de Álzaga Unzué – dashing heir to a vast South American ranching fortune – who built the masterpiece as a wedding gift for his young bride, Elena Peña Unzué.

A Beaux Arts landmark set on the grounds of the Four Seasons, La Mansión evokes a time when Buenos Aires was referred to as the “Paris of South America” — a city obsessed with French culture, fashion and architecture.  Now hailed as one of Argentina’s finest residences from this time period, La Mansión offers seven one-of-a-kind suites, each affording a unique opportunity to live the city’s history first-hand.

In the early 20th century, Buenos Aires marked the centenary of its first declaration of independence by building a subway system and wide avenues, once again inspired by the French capital–Paris.

Avenida 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires  is no ordinary avenue. Nine lanes wide, with gardens and beautifully manicured medians between the opposing flow of traffic, it is recognized as widest street in the world! Only those with a quick pace and long strides will be lucky to get to the other side before the intersection's traffic lights changes. A pedestrian crossing this street usually requires a few extra minutes, and two to three traffic light rotations. 9 de Julio Avenida is only one kilometer,  but 110 meters wide.

Avenida 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires is no ordinary avenue. Nine lanes wide, with gardens and beautifully manicured medians between the opposing flow of traffic, it is recognized as the widest street in the world! Only those with a quick pace and long strides will be lucky to get to the other side before the intersection’s traffic lights changes. A pedestrian crossing this street usually requires a few extra minutes, and two to three traffic light rotations. 9 de Julio Avenida is only one kilometer long, but 110 meters wide.

The Porteños, as the people of Buenos Aires are called, are proud of their city, and rightly so. It boasts some of the best dining–especially if you’re a fan of tender beef–as we discovered it’s a city staple! The shopping, the entertainment, the museums, and of course the TANGO for which the city is world-renowned, all combined have earned Buenos Aires its world class status.

Tango-down-the-street-of-Buenos-Aires-ArgentinaTHINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

When To Go

First, remember, that summer in the northern hemisphere is winter in the southern hemisphere.  That translates to Buenos Aires’ winter is from July to September.  During this time, the temperature is chilly, but never below freezing.  Summer is from December to March at which time its humidity and temperatures can rise to uncomfortable levels. Spring is from September to December, and autumn is from April to June–these are the two seasons most idyllic for exploring the city.  The temperatures are mild, and you’re in the off-peak tourist season too–that is until the world reads my story!

Cash Is Still King

It is important to have cash on you at all times in Buenos Aires as credit cards are accepted in some places but NOT everywhere. Generally, top restaurants, hotels, and stores will accept credit cards. But many will only allow it on purchases over 50 pesos.

The Argentine Sun Sizzles

fashion style


May I recommend that you bring at least two sets of sunglasses, a nice handy supply of sun block, and your favorite hat or two to protect you from the sizzling hot Argentine sun.

You’ll blend in nicely with all the stylish locals too. The people of Buenos Aires are naturally stylish and trendy but still manage to be wonderfully casual about it all.  Feel free to bring your favorite fashionable threads as long as they’re comfy for walking and oodles of sightseeing.  Warning: I would leave the expensive jewelry at home so as not to be an open enticement for sly street thieves.




However, should you forget anything at home, no worries.  Buenos Aires provides a plethora of shopping opportunities!

Retail Therapy can be found at  San Telmo Market, Calle Murillo, Palermo, Galerias Pacifico, and Recoleta.


The Feria de San Telmo is one of the most popular activities in Buenos Aires on Sundays.  Artisans sell their beautiful handmade goods, and you’ll also find fabulous antiques, art, and delicious local fare. The market spans several blocks so wear good walking shoes. Street performers and tango dancers liven things up along the way.  For more info, go to

Calle Murillo in Villa Crespo is the place to be if you’re in the market for  leather goods–bags, belts and jackets are plentiful. Many of the items can be made to measure, so they’re a worthwhile investment. Negotiating is acceptable.  But be aware that the leather items sold in this area is significantly cheaper than anywhere else in the city. The locals advised that Murillo 666 is known as one of the best stores with the most reasonable prices for leather goods on Calle Murillo.

The Palermo district of Buenos Aires, also known as Palermo Soho, is a mecca for design.  There are plenty of unique specialty shops to please the discerning shopper.

Galerías Pacífico, a short walk from our Four Seasons Hotel, proved to be a convenient Mall to pick up a few items to refresh our summer wardrobe, especially since we had arrived from Antarctica–with an entirely different temperature range. The Mall is lined with high-end boutiques.  But if you’re not inclined to pay the high prices, fear not, there’s a Zara anchored at the end of the Mall.

The Recoleta area of Buenos Aires is dotted with luxurious homes and hotels, and is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city.

EVitaBut there’s an area that caught our interest even more:  The Recoleta Cemetery, a must-see spot, for the closest thing I’ve seen like it is the Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris, and one of the most famous cemeteries in the world.  Well, the Recoleta Cemetery, the resting place of many wealthy (as demonstrated by their grand, elaborate, marbled tombstones) and famous Argentineans including Eva [Evita] Peron, definitely competes. Evita’s tomb is continually covered in flowers and letters from her fans who travel far and wide to pay their respects.  To prevent her body from being stolen, as it had been many times by the various military governments installed after her husband’s fall from grace in 1955, she was finally buried in a concrete vault 8.1m (27 ft.) underground in 1976.

Weather permitting, free English-language tours are held every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am. Ask for information at the small office with the sign reading JUNIN 1790, between the cemetery gate and the church. The door is sometimes closed and locked during office hours, but you can still peek into the windows and talk to the staff, particularly Marta Granja, who speaks English. If you can’t take a tour or want to explore on your own, cemetery maps are also for sale at the gate, with proceeds going to the Friends of Recoleta Cemetery, a private group that helps with upkeep.

Once the garden of the adjoining church, the cemetery was created in 1822 and is among the oldest in the city. You can spend hours here wandering the grounds that cover 4 city blocks, full of tombs adorned with works by local and international sculptors. More than 6,400 mausoleums form an architectural free-for-all, including Greek temples and pyramids. Many other rich or famous Argentines are buried here as well, including a number of Argentine presidents whose tomb names you’ll recognize because they match some of the streets of the city. The newest presidential tomb is that of Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín, who died in 2009 and was the first president elected when the 1976-82 military dictatorship ended.

recolleta-cemetaryMost tourists who come here visit only Evita’s tomb, but among the many others, two are worth singling out and should not be missed. One is the tomb of the Paz family, who owned the newspaper La Prensa, as well as the palatial building on Plaza San Martín now known as the Círculo Militar. It is an enormous black stone structure covered with white marble angels in turn-of-the-20th-century dress. The angels seem to soar to the heavens, lifting the spirit of those inside with their massive wings. The sculptures were all made in Paris and shipped here. Masonic symbols such as anchors and pyramid-like shapes adorn this as well as many other Recoleta tombs.

Another tomb I recommend seeing is that of Rufina Cambaceres, a young woman who was buried alive in the early 1900s. She had perhaps suffered a coma, and a few days after her interment, workers heard screams from the tomb. When it was opened, there were scratches on her face and on the coffin from her attempts to escape. Her mother then built this Art Nouveau masterpiece, which has become a symbol of the cemetery.

Cementerio_La_Recoleta_Bs_AsHer coffin is a Carrara marble slab, carved with a rose on top, and it sits behind a glass wall, as if her mother wanted to make up for her mistake in burying her and ensure she could see her coffin if she were ever to come back again. The corner of the tomb is adorned by a young girl carved of marble who turns her head to those watching her; she looks as if she is about to break into tears, and her right hand is on the door of her own tomb. Many locals often place delicate sprigs of flowers into her hand. It seems each grave is accompanied with a story of triumph or tragedy–as told by their beloved family, painfully left behind.

EMBRACING ARGENTINA…Postcards from #beautifulbuenosaires

It has been said,“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” The greatest blessing of being the ESCAPESEEKER is the tremendous, brilliant, inspiring friends I meet wherever I travel. I was thrilled to reunite with Argentine friends, Felix and Sole Bialet whom I first met while on assignment on board  @paulgauguincruises m/v Tere Moana in the summer of 2013! Felix and Sole not only welcomed me, but my traveling companions as well.  It is as if no time had passed!#tequieroargentina #ifeelblessed Honestly, the #world is full of #engaging, #kind #friends just waiting to be met! — with Felix Bialet and Sole Bialet at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires.

12417696_10154497086878032_6034909032255144132_n (1) Just hanging out with the #whoswho of #argentina I learned so much from our brilliant @metropolitantouring Argentina #guide Andrea! Thank you for our #mindexpanding day Andrea, and for teaching us about #argentinaslegends:#carlosgardel #alfonsinastorni and #jorgeluisborges #tequieroargentina — at Gran Cafe Tortoni. 12573948_10154498820313032_6450231398075470887_n

12642492_10154512387963032_5715491327832433032_n (1)THAT EXACT MOMENT WHEN YOUR GRACIOUS GUIDE BECOMES MORE LIKE FAMILY

Maybe it was because we were standing inside Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral–an architectural masterpiece where former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires listened to many in his parish bear their souls.  But we never realized we were about to have one of the most moving experiences of our Argentine journey.   Part way through our tour of this beautiful Cathedral, Andrea began to tell us her story.

pano-catedral-gdeAndrea has a genetic propensity to cancer and has been fighting cancer most of her life. If that was not enough of a burden, she lost her only brother when he died in the war with Britain over the Falkland Islands. Shortly later, her husband and only child were killed in an automobile accident in which she too was seriously injured. She laid despondent in the hospital for weeks. She wanted to end her life and asked her father for help. Her dad said he would help but since Andrea was his only surviving child he said would end his life the day after she took her life. (She said her dad was really smart.) She decided she could not commit suicide under those circumstances.

the-cathedral-n1-buenos-aires-argentina+1152_12994299458-tpfil02aw-17189Andrea left the hospital not knowing what to do. She then went to the Cathedral for Confession and asked the priest for help. The priest said he could not counsel her in the confessional but she should return later that day and give her name to an assistant at the Cathedral. That was the beginning of many months of weekly counseling sessions with the priest whose name she did not know. She later learned her counselor was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

941156_10152984229280105_520529327_nAndrea recovered her mental health but is still fighting cancer. She is a bright, cheerful guide. Recently while waiting for a medical appointment she received a call on her cell phone. It was her counselor, Pope Francis I, checking up on her!! After finding that Andrea was okay, Pope Francis asked her to pray for him. Her story is a true testament of the marvelous, compassionate character of Pope Francis I.   No matter where they reside, they will always be the parish priests caring for the Children of God. We were all in tears as we huddled around this beautiful soul–our extraordinary guide, Andrea!  From that moment on, we all felt like one big family, bearing each other up.  Life is filled with its unpredictable challenges, and when we support one another, we are no longer strangers, but members of a caring circle of #humanKIND! [Photo of Pope Francis captured by yours truly, the ESCAPESEEKER during my 2013 assignment at the Vatican.]


12565624_10154495839003032_2482896507647747399_nIt is such a #joy teaming this #epic #antarctica #argentina @escapeseeker assignment with Roy Henderson, Mary McGill, and John Hempelmann! Savoring @fsbuenosaires hospitality and exploring this vibrant city before we move on to our final stop: #iguazu #falls …another world’s wonder awaits us! I #love my @escapeseeker team! Te quiero #argentina — at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires.


Our two top pics:

1) The Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires with its unrivaled views of the vibrant Argentine Capital.

cq5dam.web.1280.720This is how @fsbuenosaires greets their very happy guests, yours truly the @escapeseeker included! #delicious #argentina …my team and I were fueled every morning  for a full day of #buenosaires #exploration! Thank you @fsbuenosaires #tequieroargentina — at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires.

12592326_10154497863113032_2496245071222933460_n (1)

2)  The Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires is decorated with antique Persian and contemporary carpets over wood floors, silk curtains and crystal chandeliers. It’s underground Art Gallery showcases renowned contemporary artists rotating every two months, as well as a permanent collection of original contemporary fine art on display throughout the hotel. I love the Palacio’s magnificent garden that sits like an elegant sanctuary, an oasis in the middle of the city.

31296751At the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, dining is also a work of art!

11272957_1596362613969060_1486790658_nBuenos Aires is truly a #worldclass capital with something for everyone…including those of us who have wished to learn how to TANGO all our lives! I need to practice a bit more before I share my tango steps.  But, I’ve definitely been bitten by the Tango bug…and the only cure is to return to Buenos Aires and dance with the native pros!  What a graceful way to wrap up a beautiful stay in Buenos Aires!

We will be returning in October, 2016 with our entire ESCAPESEEKER film crew.  I’ve intentionally left out additional extraordinary activities we engaged in–after all, we have to reserve some surprise elements for our extremely talented cinematographer!

Here’s to #blissful, #endless, #amazing #escapes…and remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know.

With love and gratitude to all who make being the ESCAPESEEKER a continued series of “Pinch me moments”…


PS:  Stay tuned for my next report…destination? Iguazu Falls!




To access our outstanding native guides contact: |

To book our tremendous professional TANGO instructors: Rachel Makow <>





WHALERS’ WOES: Ruins of an Industry Rusting at the Bottom of the World; And, the GREATEST WILDLIFE GATHERING I’ve Ever Witnessed!

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

southWriter’s Notes:  On January 6, 2016, our One Ocean Expedition made several visits to South Georgia Island.  Prior to our arrival, I became absorbed in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s book, “South” wherein he vividly chronicled their Antarctic expedition, their failed attempt to reach the South Pole, and his unbelievable, triumphant rescue of his men. Between Shackleton’s book and One Ocean Expeditions’ daily lectures from the on-board Antarctic scholars, my thirst for further Antarctic history and knowledge continued to deepen.  I read just about everything I could get my hands on during sea-days.  And, to have it all come alive during our South Georgia Island visits was better than any university class I could have taken.  If you’re the kind of traveler who demands more than just a drive-by cruise experience in Antarctica, then I highly recommend you seek out the authentic expedition companies like One Ocean Expeditions that fuel the imagination, and brings the history/nature books to life. ~ Mel Gee Henderson

PS:  Your hunger for knowledge does not end when you disembark at the end of the epic expedition.  As I’ve discovered, the more I’ve learned, the more I hunger for more.  And, honestly, isn’t that what travel is designed to do?  Make us all brighter at the end of the day!

Quote of the Day:  “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” ~ Mohammed

South Georgia Island ~ At the start of the last century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations on South Georgia Island. After several highly profitable decades, however, they became victims of  their own success and modernization. If these walls could talk, what stories they would tell?  Welcome to Grytviken. Grytviken

2000px-South_georgia_Islands_map-en.svgGrytviken was the first whaling station to launch operations on the British island of South Georgia, lying in the South Atlantic roughly 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) due east of the bottom boot tip of Argentina. For 58 years, Grytviken was in continuous operation. It survived two world wars and a global economic crisis, greeted expeditions to Antarctica that had gotten stuck in pack ice and processed an enormous number of whales into oil and meat. In more than half a century, it handled 53,761 slaughtered whales, producing 455,000 metric tons of whale oil and 192,000 metric tons of whale meat. Then Grytviken became the icy ghost town that it is today. This fate was shared by all the whaling stations in the Antarctic. As the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone. Grytviken was the last to close up shop.

Museum GrytvikenToday, all that remains is a movie theater, a church, a museum and a cemetery. All the cozy homes have been buried and destroyed by snow and ice. All the original residents have moved away, or died long ago. A landscape once filled by 500 men and their families is now inhabited by at most a few penguins, seals and tourists like me. And what was a remote stronghold of industrial whaling roughly a century ago is now nothing more than a city of ice, snow and rubble, and a handful of incredibly resilient, hardy caretakers who ensure that the island’s unique history isn’t totally lost.

 Whaling Where Only The Fearless Go

The prevailing view at the time was that whaling around the South Pole promised little.  Nonetheless, the pioneers of Antarctic whaling were convinced that whaling  would still be a good idea because Europe’s northern seas had largely been emptied of whales by the turn of the century. On November 16, 1904, the Fortuna and another ship dropped anchor off Grytviken, and the station’s new 80-member crew set to work. It didn’t take long before the station was up and running. By Christmas Eve, the men had produced the first barrel of whale oil. Within a year’s time, that figure was meant to skyrocket to 7,000.

Whale Oil To Light The World

The whales were hunted down on the open seas, shot with harpoons, dragged to port and heaved onto shore at the stations. They were particularly prized for their blubber, the white layer of fat beneath the skin. At the time, the glycerin derived from this blubber was the main element used in cosmetic products like soaps and lotions, but it also formed the basis of fuels for oil lamps and boilers.

Whale hunters are dwarfed by their huge catch, a fin whale, on the whaler 'Q Plain' off Crytoiken or Grytviken, South Georgia.   (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Whale hunters are dwarfed by their huge catch, a fin whale, on the whaler ‘Q Plain’ off Crytoiken or Grytviken, South Georgia. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

As time went on, the competing whaling stations continued to boost their capacities. At times, they even had to lend each other empty barrels when stations had more fat than containers to store it in. Between 1907 and 1908, the station at Grytviken produced more than 27,000 barrels of oil, after having filled only about 12,000 the previous year. These years in the first decade of the 20th century were also a golden era for those who invested in such operations: Within a single year, their dividends rose a mighty 15 percent, to reach 32.5 percent.

Even after Europe slid into war in 1914, things continued to go comparatively well for the whale hunters in the Antarctic. The supply of coal needed to fire the blubber-melting boilers admittedly got tighter. But the general shortage of resources simultaneously drove the price of whale oil up. Indeed, at times Grytviken could fetch up to 90 British pounds for a metric ton of whale oil — more than they had ever earned before. The whale fat also found use in the war effort, with blubber-produced nitroglycerin being used in explosive artillery shells and bombs. What’s more, there was growing demand in war-plagued Europe for cheap, but nutritious whale meat.

Butchering the whales at the stations was hard work done by hand. After being harpooned and towed to port, the whales were winched up a ramp and onto shore to die. Using sharp blades, two men made incisions on both sides of the whale along its entire length. From these, the white blubber would then pour out to the left and right. In the end, the men would strip the skin of the whale and separate the blubber from the meat.

A rusty whaling ship lies at the abandoned Husvik whaling station in Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island. When the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone.

A rusty whaling ship lies at the abandoned Husvik whaling station in Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island. When the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone.

Lured by high oil prices, some 19 companies set up whaling operations in the Antarctic at the beginning of World War I. Many of them wanted to speed up the killing process by going out on the high sea to hunt without a permit or dedicated processing stations. In doing so, they also cut into the business of land-based competitors, such as the Grytviken station.

40,000 Hunted Whales in a Single Season

The situation came to a head the following year, with whales becoming increasingly scarce and the storage rooms filling with unsold oil. In the 1930/31 season, the slaughter at the South Pole reached its zenith: A total of 40,201 whales were killed, about 32,000 of which were killed by unlicensed hunters on the open sea. By way of comparison, when Grytviken heralded in the era of industrial whaling in the Antarctic in 1904, whalers killed only 183 whales in the initial year.

The companies agreed to voluntary quotas for the next season, but the limits came too late for many species. By the mid-1930s, the humpback whale was virtually extinct in the Antarctic. At the same time, overproduction drove the price of whale oil to a record low. One station after another on South Georgia went under. By the time World War II broke out, only two were still active: Grytviken and Leith Harbour, whose cold warehouse also stored tons of whale oil produced in Grytviken.

Grytviken stayed afloat only because it still had financial reserves left from the golden years to temporarily cushion its losses. But the few successful years couldn’t make up for the fact that the company needed restructuring and to update its dilapidated station. In 1950, for example, Grytviken was being served by six harpoon boats that had been in service for more than 20 years.One last attempt at modernization in 1962 came too late.

Note:  My special thanks to, SPIEGEL ONLINE’s history portal for being a tremendous Grytviken research source.


Grytviken has been cleaned up and restored to a great degree by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. We learned that the Norwegian Government has also provided some level of funding because the total annual Budget of the Government in South Georgia is $9 million. They run a tight and efficient staff with only seven employees. We met one Government Official named, Simon, and the rest are in Stanley or on their Fisheries Patrol Boats. Almost all the Government revenue comes from the sale of fisheries licenses, and visitors’ fees which are $60 per day, per person. We were happy to do our part.  They’ve also recruited a Museum Intern, Matthew, who gave us an in-depth tour and enlightened briefing on how the old whaling station used to operate. The Museum is sponsored by the University of St. Andrews and students like Matthew are selected to spend 6 months in Grytviken. After our adventures on shore we returned to our Ship for a delightful dinner.  We were joined by several of the Museum and government staff at Grytviken, including Simon and Matthew, and some of the scientists from the nearby British Station.  Once again, we made new friends. It was difficult to say goodbye to  our brilliant Grytviken friends!

After sailing all night, we landed at St. Andrews Bay where three large glaciers reach and caress the frosty sea. The surf was roaring as if to share in our excitement at reaching land. As we approached the shore, words from our King Penguin lecturer echoed in my mind, “You will witness what may be the largest colony of King Penguins on earth!” Well, our young Biologist, Kathryn was right.  The King Penguins seem to carpet the entire South Georgia landscape!   We were also greeted by HUGE (spoken in Trump fashion) Elephant Seals and a scattering of Fur Seals too. If ever I felt like a total alien on another planet, this was the day! Nothing could prepare me for this incredible experience. What an absolute “Pinch Me Moment!” Thank you Mother Nature.  Once again, my heart overflows with gratitude for eyes that can witness the grandeur of our majestic Planet Earth.

"Row upon row of king penguins stretching off into the distance. This colony in Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, has hundreds of thousands of inhabitants! The brown chicks creche together and stand out from the tuxedoed adults." ~Photo and caption by Craig Tomsett

“Row upon row of king penguins stretching off into the distance. This colony in Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, has hundreds of thousands of inhabitants! The brown chicks creche together and stand out from the tuxedoed adults.” ~Photo and caption by Craig Tomsett


We have one more day on South Georgia and then we sail to Antarctica–my 7th Continent.  My heart is that of a teen in-love for the very first time…it’s throbbing with anticipation!

If you wish to follow in my ESCAPESEEKER footsteps, the easiest way to begin is by clicking on the following link:

Remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know…and yes, that includes ALL living creatures you shall encounter.

Here’s to #blissful, #mindexpanding #soulenriching ESCAPES,


ESCAPESEEKER Priceless moment captured by Craig Tomsett. [Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island]

ESCAPESEEKER Priceless moment captured by Craig Tomsett. [Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island]


Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
ESCAPESEEKER is privileged to feature our outstanding Antarctica Advance Research Team member, John Hempelmann. One of our program's goals is to deliver the "JOY of TRAVEL"...and no one exudes more joy than our #brilliant, adventurous advisor and friend!

ESCAPESEEKER is privileged to feature our outstanding Antarctica Advance Research Team member, John Hempelmann. One of our program’s goals is to deliver the “JOY of TRAVEL”…and no one exudes more #joy than our #brilliant, #adventurous adviser and friend!


South Georgia Island ~ “Simply Amazing!” Add this to the superlatives in the Title above, and you have the exact sentiments expressed by our own ART [Advance Research Team] member, John Hempelmann, describing our January 5th premiere exploration of South Georgia Island via One Ocean Expeditions.

John’s report is so eloquently written, and reflective of his contagious enthusiasm for the wonders of our planet, that it seems only apropos that I share it with you verbatim!  And, yes, in case you are wondering, above is a picture of John I captured during the most flawless, unforgettable Antarctic sea-kayaking day.  More on that adventure later…but for now, please permit me to share John’s eloquent report…and you’ll understand why he is so contagiously #happy!

In his own words…

Incredible! Beyond Description! Out of this World! Amazing! These words do not begin to describe accurately our experiences today on South Georgia Island. Even the stunning pictures and videos  will not be enough to convey the majesty and uniqueness of what we have seen and experienced.

Sir Ernest Shackleton's GraveIt is so appropriate today is January 5 because that is the day Ernest Shackleton died here on South Georgia Island in 1922. It was here he started his ill-fated expedition to cross the Antarctic Continent. After his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by the ice in the Weddell Sea on Antarctica, it was here he landed after 17 days at sea in a small boat in his successful, arduous effort to save all his men. This is the 100th Anniversary of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Shackleton's VoyageWe sailed for two days and three nights, mostly in fog, to get here. We crossed the Antarctic Convergence Zone and the temperature plummeted below freezing. Finally, this morning the fog began to dissipate as we sighted icebergs, and then cliffs, waterfalls and glaciers running into the sea. (There are 160 glaciers on the Island.) The sea had come alive with many species of birds, seals and fast swimming penguins. Then the winds blew all the fog and clouds away and it was white mountains, icy glaciers and the Salisbury Plain lying before us. The Plain was left by the retreating glacier and now it is home to thousands of fur seals and more than a hundred thousand King Penguin breeding pairs (YES, more than two hundred thousand big funny birds).

King Penguins as far as the eye can see.It was a mind blowing experience coming ashore through the surf on the Zodiac and walking into this huge conglomeration of wildlife. There were darling baby fur seals and penguins everywhere.

DSC_0799[Image captured by Mel Gee Henderson]


The huge parent seals snoozed in the sun–until you got too close and then a huge mammal would  jump up and bark at you. Occasionally, a big seal would charge but we could deter them with the point of a walking stick (a ski touring pole). One big guy tried to bite the tip of my pole but I snapped back at him and he retreated. They were EVERYWHERE–hundreds of them. We walked across the Plain as King Penguins came up to check us out. We climbed a very steep hillside of tussac grass and mud to get to the edge of the penguin colony. You will find this hard to believe or envision but there were hundreds of thousands of brown furry juvenile penguins and their parents in their beautiful black and white coats and they were all jammed together like a huge river running down to the sea. It was incredible! This description is completely inadequate. We watched for a long time and looked out over the Plain at the wildlife, the craggy white mountains and our white Ship in the distance floating in a blue sea against a blue sky.

After Dinner on the Ship, we set out again in the Zodiac and explored the fur seal colonies along the shore of King Olav Inlet in Cook (yes, the Captain Cook) Bay. Our scientists carefully counted the seals and made notes. As the light faded, we cruised by an old whaling station abandoned early in the 20th Century. It was a wreck and there was an old whaling ship wrecked on the beach. After the whaling parties completely depleted the whales, they just packed up and left. Eerie!! We are in a new era and saw the history of an old era.

Tomorrow, we sail to Stromness Harbor and Grytviken Whaling Station.


Our Adventure Continues…

We hope you’ll stay tuned as our Russian vessel, the Akademik Iofee navigates across these icy waters and brings us ever closer to the GREAT WHITE CONTINENT!

Our ESCAPESEEKER TeamFrom our entire Antarctica team pictured above, yours truly, Roy Henderson, Mary McGill, and John Hempelmann…

Here’s to #blissful, #endless #ESCAPES,


“I seemed to vow to myself that someday I would go to the region of ice and snow…” ~ Ernest Shackleton

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

One-hundred years later, against all odds, my ESCAPESEEKER team and I find ourselves miraculously stepping onto the same continent that drew one of the world’s greatest explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Sir Ernest Shackleton


How does one prepare for an expedition to ANTARCTICA?

If you can truthfully sign the following One Ocean Expeditions form, then you are definitely a solid candidate to embark on one of the most extraordinary voyages of your life.

I am in good general health, and capable of performing normal activities on this expedition. I further attest that I am capable of caring for myself during the expedition, and that I will not impede the progress of the expedition or the enjoyment of others on board. I understand this expedition will take me far from the nearest medical facility and that all expedition members must be self-sufficient. With that understanding, I certify that I have not been recently treated for, nor am I aware of, any physical, mental or other condition or disability that would create a hazard to myself or other members of the expedition.

Signature: ______________________

After researching the various entities that offered Antarctic adventures, we selected One Ocean Expeditions because we wanted to have an authentic up-close and personal Antarctica experience–not merely a “drive by”–or should I say, “cruise by.” I was also particularly moved by the sentiment expressed by One Ocean Expeditions‘ Founder and Managing Director, Andrew Prossin, “My Mother told me to work hard. She told me that the world is made of guts and grits and spirits, that you get out what you put in.  And, if you bring this into what you do, you can know about joy.”

I believe our Mothers are “cut from the same cloth.”  I knew that if I was going to venture for 21 days to the world’s coldest, windiest, highest continent on the planet, I wanted an organization that aspires to “knowing joy” and, is not afraid of hard work. As Sir Ernest Shackleton said, “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” Our due diligence and research of One Ocean Expeditions revealed they possessed the “guts, grits, and spirits” to overcome any difficulty that may arise.  And, with our Antarctic-approved cold weather gear, we landed in Ushuaia, Argentina–our expedition’s embarkation port one day before our embarkation date of December 30, 2015.  To say our team is filled with anticipation would be an understatement! Thus, with the following dispatch by our ESCAPESEEKER team member, John Hempelmann to friends and family back home, we were on our way to making our lifelong dream come true–to set foot on Antarctica:

“We have started our adventure to the bottom of the World.  We left the beautiful Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, and flew another 3 hours due south to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost town in South America. Many on our flight had packs and walking sticks and they were clearly headed to backpacking to experience the exceptional beauty of the National Parks within Argentine Patagonia.  It was 85 degrees F.  yesterday in Buenos Aires and it is 40 today in Ushuaia. As I write this report, the sun has just set and it is 10:30PM. Tomorrow we board the Akademik Ioffe, our “ice hardened” expedition ship. The Ship is named after a famous Russian physicist who helped invent radar to detect German warplanes early in WW II. We can’t believe it is really happening.  What an amazing way to close 2015, and welcome 2016.  Our Seventh Continent–Antarctica, here we come!”

Akademik-Ioffe-icebreaker-shipJanuary 1, 2016 ~ Happy New Year!

We woke up this morning approaching the Falkland Islands and, as John was making the cafe mochas, Mary McGill, the 4th member of our ESCAPESEEKER team took advantage of photo opportunities of dolphins and albatross outside the port window of our cabin. Did you know the albatross has the largest wing span, 5.5 to 6 feet, of any bird in the world, and it can fly and glide hundreds of miles because, among other capabilities, it can fly while most of its brain is sleeping?

The wandering albatross, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross or goonie (Diomedea exulans) is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean.

The wandering albatross, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross or goonie (Diomedea exulans) is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean.

Yesterday we left South America and headed NE.  They say the Falklands and South Georgia are incredible and most expeditions head straight for Antarctica because they have less time allocated for use of this research ship. On board to provide passengers with daily briefings,  we have One Ocean Expeditions’ historians, geologists, naturalists, botanists, and those studying the ice and the sea. Two researchers are doing a census of various species of penguins. There are also three professional photographers, one of whom is a young Israeli, Roie Galitz, a world famous wildlife photographer, and his videos are amongst the most spectacular we have even seen. If you’re like us and thrive on mind-expanding experiences, well, we’ve found just the right “land and sea continuing ed.” One can never learn too much!

As an added bonus of the One Ocean Expeditions, we have an opportunity to continually improve our photography skills by learning from the pros.

As an added bonus of the One Ocean Expeditions, we have an opportunity to continually improve our photography skills by learning from the pros.

The Akademik Ioffe is an amazing ship crewed entirely by Russians. It is based in Kaliningrad in the Baltic. It was specifically designed for polar exploration and research and thus we can go places the “cruise ships” cannot go near. There are “rumors” this ship was designed to locate other “boats” like the USSB Henry M. Jackson but the Ohio Class boomers run so deep, so fast and so quietly that even the US Navy cannot find them. Apparently, this ship gave up trying. Now this ship takes scientists of all kinds to the polar regions to study the sea, the ice, the geology, the birds, mammals and other creatures.

We had two spectacular shore landings today in the West Falkland Islands. Except for our visit to Stanley (Pop: 2220, half of whom are British military), which has a pier (weather permitting), we go ashore in Zodiac inflatables. We are outfitted in complete water/wind proof expedition suits and boots.

Our first shore landing is on West Point Island:

Falkland Islands mapThere is a resident couple who are “Island Sitting” and have been on the Island for 3 years. They have already sailed their 30 foot sailboat 300,000 miles (that is NOT a typo). We hiked about two miles across the Island and encountered an incredible colony of thousands of rock hopper penguins nesting with black browed albatross. As you’ll note, they all had little ones.

Images captured by Mel Gee Henderson at West Point Island, The Falklands.

Images captured by Mel Gee Henderson at West Point Island, The Falklands.Before we left for the Ship, the local couple invited us to join them for tea and cookies in their little English cottage where they receive provisions by boat from Stanley every few months.

After returning to the Ship and lunch, we landed on Carcass Island. The winds had increased to 30 knots so we had a wild, wet and bumpy trip into the beach. It was worth it! We had marvelous encounters with Magellinac penguins (named by Ferdinand Magellan) and the classic Gentoo penguins (the waddling guys in dinner suits).

Magellanic Penguins on the Falkland Islands. [Image by Roie Galitz]

Magellanic Penguins on the Falkland Islands. [Image by Roie Galitz]

OOE Zodiac


We are safely returned to the Akademik Ioffee by our skilled One Ocean Expeditions’ zodiac navigator, Ian Peck.

The anchor has been hoisted and we now prepare for what would become one of many unforgettable evenings of story-sharing as we break bread with our new found friends from around the world.

Wow, this is definitely a New Years Day we will never forget!

Stay tuned as we continue on our epic ESCAPESEEKER expedition to the bottom of the world!


ESCAPESEEKER...Tracing the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

ESCAPESEEKER…Tracing the amazing footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

 King Penguin Colony   Image captured by Mel Gee Henderson

You too, can follow in our ESCAPESEEKER adventure:


Monday, February 1st, 2016

001 collage (1)

 [Above Images captured by Israel-based photographer, Roie Galitz,]


On January 11, 2016, a special member of our ESCAPESEEKER ANTARCTICA ADVANCE RESEARCH TEAM, John Hempelmann, submitted the following report:


As we arrive in Antarctica, the seas are stormy and it is snowing. Snow in January makes sense but it is Summer here now! Here are a few facts about Antarctica to put everything in context.

Mother Nature's Monuments leave us breathless.

Mother Nature’s Monuments leave us breathless.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest of all the Continents. It can be 80 degrees below zero in the winter. The average elevation is 7500 feet. In the winter (March-October), the ice spreads over the sea essentially doubling the size of the Continent. Ice covers 99% of the Continent. In some places, the ice is 3 miles thick and over a million years old. Because there are so many mountains here, the ice “flows” down to the sea as glaciers or forms “ice shelves” that float on the sea. Some of the ice shelves are huge like the Ross Ice Shelf which has hundreds of square miles of area. Because they float on the sea, the ice shelves move around. Icebergs are formed when wave action moves the edges of glaciers or ice shelves up and down and pieces break off. These icebergs have incredibly dense ice so they last a long time and can travel hundreds of miles in the currents. We have seen many very large icebergs during our 72 hour sail from South Georgia Island to Antarctica. Fortunately, they show up really well on the radar.  (We can go up to the Bridge most any time we wish,  and that is a neat place to watch over the bow and see all the instruments used by the crew.) About 90% of all the world’s ice is in Antarctica and it locks up almost 70% of all the surface fresh water in the world. Even with all the snow and ice, Antarctica has deserts–dry valleys–but I will explain that strange fact at another time.

Despite the ice and the harsh conditions, Antarctica is rich in wildlife, especially whales, seals, penguins and sea birds. This is primarily the result of a sea that is rich in Krill, a tiny crustacean that is produced in the billions here. As the ice melts into the sea, the cold water drops to the bottom and warmer water rises to the surface. The ice shelves form an insulating layer under which the krill grow and thrive. All the mammals feed on the krill and the seals eat the penguins, the whales eat the seals, etc.

250,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins as far as the eye can see.

250,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins as far as the eye can see.

As you know, very few people ever get to the Antarctic. We are told only .0004% of the people in the world get here (and even fewer get to South Georgia Island). We are SO fortunate.  ~ John Hempelmann


On December 30, 2015, our ESCAPESEEKER team began an epic voyage to ANTARCTICA with ONE OCEAN EXPEDITIONS‘ Russian research vessel, Akademik Iofee.  For the next several days, we will be posting daily journal reports penned during our voyage as we made our way to the GREAT WHITE CONTINENT!  We will include images captured throughout our expedition by team members, Mary McGill, Roy A. Henderson, John Hempelmann, and yours truly, Mel Gee Henderson.

Bidding Farewell to Ushuaia, Argentina. The excitement is evident on everyone's happy faces.

Bidding Farewell to Ushuaia, Argentina. The excitement is evident on everyone’s happy faces.

Please stay tuned as we sort through thousands of stunning images, film clips, and beautiful reports penned straight from our hearts!

Here’s to #endless, #blissful, #aweinspiring ESCAPES!



Walking in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton...100 years later.

Walking in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton…100 years later.