A guest post by Amanda Zimmerman, Ocean Diamond passenger.
Enjoying Key West with some matching penguin tattoos. Left to right: Max, Mike, Jessica, Merideth, JennieRae, Amanda, and Rich.
I never dreamed that by the end of my December 2014 Antarctic trip, I'd have an exciting new travel squad of intelligent, caring and adventurous friends to join me in exploring the world. I had initially planned on having a super-zen, amazing experience on my own, but in reality, this voyage changed my life in many unexpected ways. Onboard the Ocean Diamond, I met nearly a dozen other like-minded people, from all walks of life, who shared my passion for adventure travel and polar exploration. By the end of the trip we had already planned our next destination, and so our journey began!
We call ourselves the ‘Penguin Crew' and our members have met up on every continent since that first adventure when we rang in the New Year in Antarctica. We've had over 30 meetups with incredible experiences, including parasailing in Key West, camping on the 7th continent, attending a Broadway show in New York City and gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Meet the Quark Expeditions ‘Penguin Crew'
Our end of voyage selfie after a spectacular and life changing trip to the Antarctic Peninsula. Back row: Mike, Karen, Ben, Jessica, Emma.
Middle row: Drago, Rich, JennieRae, Priya, Shannon. Front row: Amanda, Max, Merideth.
Antarctica has been on my bucket list for years and by 2014, I thought, “It's now or never.” As a consultant, I wasn't sure at that point if continuing to travel was in the cards for me (I'm grateful that's changed since). When I looked at the options for getting to Antarctica, Quark offered the best pricing for solo travelers among companies that could actually get you right onto the continent, which was incredibly important to me.
Before the Quark Expedition, I had been traveling solo for a few years, thus taking on Antarctica independently didn't phase me. So I was totally prepared for this to be a sort of mystical, personally meaningful journey of self-development; to spend a great deal of time alone in reflection and just generally do my own thing.
However, I was far from alone. As soon as I met my roommate, Karen, who works in human resources, at the pre-embarkation hotel, we clicked. We had different roommates on the ship, but had already formed a bond based on our shared love of travel and passion for the adventure lifestyle.
Next, I met Max on the bus from our hotel to the Port of Ushuaia. He's an international school teacher and from that first conversation, we were fast friends.
Onboard the Ocean Diamond, we met so many more brilliant, fun solo travelers who, like us, had made exploring the world a priority in their lives.
Enjoying our safety drill after just a few hours on the Ocean Diamond. Left to right: Amanda, Ben, Max, and JennieRae.
There's Merideth, who does healthcare consulting, and Shannon, who is an artist and photographer. Rich is a doctor, and Drago is an executive at Amazon. Mike works in software, JennieRae is a public school teacher, and Ben is an actor on Broadway. Jessica is a scientist, and Priya works in humanitarian development. The average age is about 35, although we have some Penguin Crew in their 20s and some in their 40s, as well.
Our group really connected in the lounge on crossing of the Drake Passage, that legendary and often notoriously rough stretch between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It's a rite of passage that each of us had looked forward to, and it made it that much more special to have this group of super excited people who all understand the meaning of such a thing experiencing it together!
Most of our group did the Antarctic Camping together, and we truly enjoyed taking in the expert lectures together, then having our own discussions and brainstorming sessions. Most of us also participated in the extra activities, such as kayaking, standup paddle boarding, the polar plunge and skiing. We were in different Zodiac groups, but made it a point after each excursion, to hangout in the dining room and then the lounge to share our stories and photos from the day.
What I initially expected to be a process of self-guided learning really turned into a transformational experience of learning from others. There was an excitement multiplier, where the positive energy of our group, who were living life to the fullest was amplified while we shared this experience together. The excitement and wonder I felt each day didn't end when we came back to the ship from our shore landings. Instead, it was relived and compounded by the sheer happiness of each member of our new travel squad as we swapped stories, learned from one another and talked about what it all meant to each one of us.
By the end of our Ocean Diamond journey, we knew the members of this newly formed group just weren't yet ready to say our goodbyes. We exchanged contact information and have been planning adventures together ever since!
What's Next for the ‘Penguin Crew'?
Barneo? Spitsbergen? Another trip to see the penguins? Who knows! Even though we have a number of similar interests, we each have our own lives and careers, and live across North America (and actually, around the world as some are traveling for work). So it's challenging to organize trips that work for most members, nonetheless we do our best to make it work every year.
Crossing the Equator in Uganda. Left to right: Drago, Sumudu, JennieRae, Amanda, Jessica, Merideth.
At some point in the near future, we would love to visit the Arctic together. We had a number of conversations onboard Ocean Diamond about conservation and preservation of the polar regions. I think once you have seen penguins in their natural environment, you begin to realize their vulnerability to human interference and you want to take steps to minimize the risk. Therefore, having the opportunity to see polar bears in the Arctic would mean a great deal to the Penguin Crew, as well.
We will see if we can make it happen! Facebook and WhatsApp help us stay in touch and organize not only our big trips together, but smaller meetups between individuals as we cross paths in the U.S. and on different continents.
If you have any misgivings about taking a polar adventure by yourself, toss them out and just go for it! You are going to meet so many others onboard who, like you, have a deep love and appreciation for adventure. Your travel squad may not live in your town, but you'll find them traveling with Quark! We certainly did, and it's given us a lifelong group of friends to learn from and experience the world alongside.