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Friday, June 2, 2023

Planning an icy swim with polar penguins

A DARING globetrotter from Cork is braving some of the world’s most dangerous and inhospitable destinations with ambitious plans that include swimming in Antarctica.

While the majority of Corkonians are packing their swimsuits for locations like Santa Ponsa and Lanzarote, Janet Newenham, who originally hails from Carrigaline, has other plans.

Now living in Bali, she runs a tour company called Janet’s Journeys in addition to a popular Instagram account under the same name.

The Cork woman is preparing for a trip to Antarctica in November where she will be joined by a number of her social media followers.

“We are going to Antarctica in November and there are already around nine people signed up for the tour,” she told The Echo.

“It’s really exciting because I finally get to tick off my seventh continent. The ship leaves from the south of Argentina and it takes three days to cross the Drake Passage. This is a very rough and scary part of the journey. We will be spending four or five days there. One of the nights will be spent camping on the ice. It will be similar to how people sleep on Everest with thick layers and a secure tent. You can only imagine what it would be like to wake up watching the sunrise while on an iceberg.”

She is also looking forward to doing a “polar plunge” which is viewed as a rite of passage among many visitors.

“It’s so dangerous because the water is really cold. They have to throw a safety rope around you and then pull you out as fast as possible. The harness really is necessary because they can’t just let you drift away in Antarctica.

“It’s such a bucket list thing to do. The people on my trip are all Irish. They aren’t worried but it’s one of the things that I worry about given that I now live in a warm country.”

Janet explains why she selected November for the tour.

“Our ship will be one of the ones breaking through the ice. Since it’s the start of the season everything will be really clean and pristine. You can only visit Antarctica between the middle of November and end of February so it’s a very short season.

“I’m really looking forward to kayaking there and seeing the whales and penguins. We’ll be lucky enough to see baby penguins hatching. There are literally thousands of them. Towards the end of the season the snow starts to turn brown, and the penguins begin to lose their feathers so we are travelling there at the perfect time of year.”

She says the voyage to Antarctica will be an experience in itself.

“It’s a small enough ship with just 100 people on board. The people are made up of famous environmentalists and lecturers. They are teaching you all about what you are seeing and about Antarctica.”

Janet describes the inhospitable nature of Antarctica.

“We are told that we won’t see people. South Georgia Island is the only area where people live. The British Geological Society have a base there for scientists. However, they are normally only there for six months of the year.”

Janet also has plans to visit Socotra, an island off Yemen, in the coming months as part of her goal to visit every country in the world.

“There is an ongoing civil war in Yemen and a famine. Once it goes from the news then you don’t tend to think about it anymore. It isn’t open for tourism and hasn’t been for a long time.

“However, there is this anomaly where they allow people to go to the island of Socotra which is part of Yemen but very far off the coast. It looks like something from a fairytale and it’s super unique because nobody gets to go there.

“There is no infrastructure there so the whole trip will be camping. I read a story about a man who lives there and literally survives off the ocean. He’ll go catch mussels and that’s his lunch. He’ll cook octopus on the beach and that’s his dinner. This is basically how he survives. Tourists are allowed to meet him so it’s super crazy.”

Ms Newenham says she was taken aback by how similar people in different parts of the world really are.

“You could be in some remote corner of Africa and they’ll ask you if you like [the band] The Killers. It can be mindboggling how cultures seem so different while having people that are so similar.”

She also recalls a memorable experience with a soldier in Iraq.

“I can remember having my passport confiscated in Iraq by a man holding an AK-47. He looked at my photo and said ‘TikTok’, ‘TikTok, you’re the girl from TikTok’. It’s funny because people seem scary until you realise that they are scrolling through TikTok on their break like so many other people in the world.”

The Cork woman also has plans to visit North Korea and Iran.

“I would really love to go to Iran but this is a risk I’d need to take solo. I won’t take a group there until I know it’s safe. I know some people who have been to North Korea and you have to play by the rules. If they tell you not to take a photograph then you don’t take a photograph. You have to go there knowing that what you are being shown is propaganda. It’s not really the truth.”

Janet said she has been at the centre of negative headlines in the past for the countries she has visited.

“Of course, there is propaganda but there are also the people living there. When you go to a place like Syria you are not trying to promote the government. You are trying to promote the country. I wanted to show that there is more to this country than war.”

  • Learn more about Janet’s adventures on @janets_journeys on Instagram

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