Going to Polar Extremes

On the Clipper Adventurer icebreaker, Kathleen A. Rodkey and her husband, Tom, flank
On the Clipper Adventurer icebreaker, Kathleen A. Rodkey and her husband, Tom, flank "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, whom they rescued from the Antarctic. (Photo Provided By Kathleen A. Rodkey)
Sunday, December 25, 2005

Kathleen A. Rodkey of Frederick is this month's contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: A two-week voyage to Antarctica, leaving Ushuaia, Argentina, on the Clipper Adventurer icebreaker and sailing to the Falkland Islands, the Drake Passage between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands, the continent itself at Neko Harbor, Petermann Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, Deception Island and Livingston Island's Hannah Point in the South Shetlands.

WHO WENT: My husband and I, along with 60 tour mates and a half-dozen scientists.

WHEN: Feb. 2-17, 2004

WHY: To be able to say we've set foot on every continent before we die.

IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . we saw our first magnificent humpback whale jump out of the water, right in front of a huge iceberg.

I GRITTED MY TEETH HARDEST WHEN . . . another humpback whale surfaced beside our Zodiac and blew right at us, covering me with whale snot from head to toe.

I CAN'T BELIEVE I . . . slid down a glacier while other glaciers calved all around us. The glacier could have slid into the water at any time. I started out on my butt and ended up on my head, but I'd do it again.

COOLEST ATTRACTION: The entertaining and endearing penguins. On one shore visit, a baby penguin who had obviously been separated from its parents practically sat in my lap. When we returned to our Zodiac, it followed me to the edge of the shore and then watched as we pulled away. Even our ornithologist was amazed, as he had never seen this behavior. Of course, I cried.

I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT . . . the awful smell of the humpback whales and pengins, and the bacterial infection I got when the whale blew on me. My husband and I both smelled like penguins for a month or two after we returned.

CHEAPEST THRILL: Rescuing Steve Irwin from the Antarctic. At least that's what the captain told us when he suddenly announced that Irwin, host of Animal Planet's series "The Crocodile Hunter," had gotten himself into a bit of a jam while filming a documentary on the animals of Antarctica and would be returning with us to Argentina. Apparently the Peruvian government had flown him into Hannah Point but could not fly him out. Irwin, who seemed like a wonderful, kind man, spent four days on our icebreaker, and we watched him film. Anyone who can lie down in penguin poop and not mind it truly loves animals.

BIGGEST SPLURGE: The entire trip, of course. The Tauck Tour cost $20,000-plus for the two of us.

BIGGEST CULTURE SHOCK: The lack of people, restrooms, benches, stores and restaurants on our 14 landings. With the exception of our tour mates and the scientists who accompanied us, it was just us and the animals.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: Taking off all my clothes, down to my bathing suit and bright blue knee-high socks, so I could sit in a volcanic thermal pool on Deception Island. The temperature in Whaler's Bay that day was 36 degrees.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT FOR THE CAPTAIN: Hitting an iceberg, espcially when two proper Englishwomen sitting in the pilot house warned him a half-hour before that he appeared to be heading for it. Luckily it was just a glancing blow that merely scraped some paint off the ship.

THING I'D DO DIFFERENTLY: Spend more time with Steve Irwin instead of being so polite and giving him his space.

* * *

Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report, along with a photo from the trip, on the last Sunday of the month. To enter, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own; for a complete list, go to and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; fax it to 202-912-3609; or e-mail it tovacationinlights

Entries chosen for publication become eligible to win a Canon PowerShot A610 digital camera or equivalent at the end of the year. Entries will be chosen on the basis of humor, originality and usefulness; are subject to editing for space and clarity; and become property of The Post, which may edit, publish, distribute or republish them in any form. Employees of The Post and their immediate families are not eligible. No purchase necessary.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company