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Souvenir d’un voyage en Antarctique avec PONANT

Interview with a long-distance traveller

Cruise memories from a hedonist like no other…

Joël Uguen is happily retired and, like Odysseus, has travelled all over. In fact, he is a regular on PONANT cruises, which have allowed him to discover all the continents and places he thought were unreachable. As he prepares to visit Sri Lanka next January with PONANT, he remembers his first cruise in Antarctica.

How do you see the PONANT mindset?

To properly understand and articulate the PONANT mindset, you have to have experienced it. It’s the trade-off and alchemy between adventure, culture, encounters, luxury and openness to others. You discover places untouched by time yet feel completely safe thanks to the exceptional crew. The company also does a lot to raise our awareness of the environment. It’s a philosophy that should be maintained for as long as possible.

What is your best memory involving PONANT?

I could spend hours regaling you with memories from my nearly thirty experiences with PONANT! For me, every trip is an adventure. But my best memory is from my very first cruise. It was in February 2012 aboard Le Boréal, captained by Étienne Garcia, an incredible man who I’m now proud to call a friend.

This trip to Antarctica was like discovering another world. The biggest thrill for me was seeing humpback whales up close. It was 11 pm, the theatre show had just finished, and I was in my cabin. I had left my window ajar. It was pitch-black, and I heard breathing noises. A dozen humpback whales were surrounding the ship, which stopped so that we could watch them without disturbing them! They dived into the water and resurfaced without hostility. They were so close you could smell their breath. It was an extraordinary moment, lasting almost an hour. It still gives me goosebumps… I imagined swimming with them and felt we were genuinely communicating with one another. It made me understand why Étienne Garcia is so passionate about Arctic and Antarctic wildlife. It’s indescribable. And I’ll never forget the albatross ballet that accompanied us or all the landscapes I saw on that cruise – it was like nature had put on an art show for us.

Souvenir d’un voyage en Antarctique avec PONANT

Why did you choose Antarctica as the destination for your first cruise?

Because I wanted to be like Vasco de Gama or Christopher Columbus and discover a new world! I had read many expedition journals, particularly Jean-Louis Étienne’s books. And I was lucky enough to meet him on board.

What is your relationship with nature?

I feel in harmony with the animal kingdom. I have been lucky enough to observe many different species during my travels, although whales remain my spirit animal because of their size and fragility. I couldn’t have lived in the 1920s whaling era. I also can’t stand seeing animals in captivity. The sea is my companion. Without it, I wouldn’t be happy. I’ve always lived by the sea. Incidentally, my father was in the navy.

What does travel mean to you?

Travel is what balances me. It’s steeped in memories. Without my travels, I wouldn’t be in such good shape. I wouldn’t be the same man. And I wouldn’t be so optimistic. I learn a lot from guides and naturalists. There’s a good reason why my favourite quote is: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable…” – Seneca. Even I get a bit homesick sometimes when I go on a long cruise! I record every trip in notebooks. But you know, despite all these expeditions and adventures, I really appreciate coming home to my partner and family because I travel alone. And then I’ll start planning the next cruise! I’m always looking ahead so I can come back a better version of myself.

Souvenir d’un voyage en Antarctique avec PONANT

Photo credits:  © Istock / ©StudioPONANT-Olivier Blaud /©PONANT-Julien Fabro

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