While January seems like such a long time ago, for some it seems like another world. For Bill and Debby Allen, it really was. That’s because these River Landing residents spent two weeks this past January on an epic adventure to Antarctica.
The couple was all set to share details and wonderful photos of their adventure in a presentation at River Landing’s new clubhouse when the pandemic put a hold on everything and their presentation was postponed. “Hopefully, we’ll get to do it,” says Bill.
The Allens are experienced travelers and have, up until very recently, enjoyed taking big trips to different corners of the world every year. In fact, their Antarctic excursion came only a few months after a November 2019 trip to Japan, Taipei and Hong Kong.
Antarctica, however, was a whole different ball game. “They call it an expedition,” Bill explains.
Just getting there meant enduring 12 hours flying (not including layovers) from the United States to Buenos Aires, three more hours on a flight to the tip of Argentina, and finally 600 miles or so by ship over 12 to 13-foot swells across the Great Passage.
“It’s probably one of the roughest stretches of water in the world, but we had a relatively easy time of it,” says Bill. “It took the better part of two days to get across. We heard stories from some of the guides who had done it with 40-foot waves.”
The lengthy travel time netted them a grand total of five amazing days to explore the continent.
Those five days were well spent, with two excursions per day either on land or along the coast in Zodiac boats, taking in as much wildlife and scenery as possible. “It took about 15 minutes to suit up with everything,” says Debby. “It is a more rigorous thing than taking a cruise ship.”
On their tour, the Allens saw orcas, whales, seals, cormorants, albatrosses, and penguins. Lots of penguins.
With few predators on land, the Allens got up close to more than 2,000 nesting pairs of Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie penguins who were busying themselves building nests out of rocks, laying eggs, swimming for food and generally making a noisy racket.
“The penguins got really close,” says Debby, “sometimes walking between your legs… There was a lot going on in those penguin colonies. We went when the eggs were hatching so we saw all the tiny little babies, which is why we picked that time of year.”
“The penguins weren’t worried about the people,” says Bill. “They were more concerned with birds that would attack the eggs or the chicks.”
The idea for the trip came, oddly enough, on another trip the Allens took more than two years ago with a couple who are close friends (and River Landing residents of the future). The trip was through a guided tour company that offered many different and unique trips, including the expedition to Antarctica.
“(Antarctica) was kind of a bucket list trip for me,” admits Bill. “We actually took a tour with another couple up in the Canadian Rockies and we had a really good guide.” During that trip the guide told them about the Antarctic tour that they only did once a year, and how it was his favorite.
The Allens were in. And even though they couldn’t get on the Antarctica trip with that same guide, “we lucked into something even better,” Debby explains. Their tour ended up being accompanied by a naturalist from BBC Earth named Peter Bassett.
“He was very entertaining and very knowledgeable,” continues Debby. “He gave lectures during the trip.”
“It was a hoot,” continues Bill. “We had done Alaska before, but this was very different… in scale, for one thing, much larger and bleaker… We got pretty lucky with the weather and were able to go out every day.”
The couple lived and worked in New Jersey before retiring young in 1998 to Lake Keowee, near Clemson, South Carolina. They came to River Landing four years ago, having toured many other communities first. “We did the whole spreadsheet thing,” says Debby. “Then we got here and tore it all up. We liked the staff and people… It feels like family here. We have been very, very happy.”
“The golf course helps,” says Bill. “Especially now,” adds Debby.
And while they truly enjoy everything the community has to offer and are, according to Debby, getting spoiled by the staff, they can’t wait to hit the road again once it is safe to travel. Their next destination? The national parks of the Southwestern U.S.