Dotted line ho! ~ Not said by any sailor anywhere, any time
26 January…Cruising Day 4
I can certify that you don’t feel a bump when you cross the Antarctic Circle.
On 26-1-2016 at 07:41 local time we crossed the Antarctic Circle and the King Neptune celebration commenced shortly thereafter.
We had much to celebrate as earlier ‘Crossing the Circle’ Quark expeditions were unable to venture this far south for various reasons; we were the first for the season. Yes!
Group pictures were taken, libations were toasted, we were soooo fortunate.
An example of how fortunate we were for the whole expedition, at one point we intersected the Quark Diamond. Even being on a very similar itinerary –less the Circle–, the Diamond was unable to make a few of the same landings even by a day that we were able to make. No zodiac cruises, no shore landings, sad passengers.
After the ceremonial crossing, we headed to Andresen Island where we made our first zodiac excursion and saw this along the way:
The zodiacs were lowered and boarding commenced.
And then we cruised toward the island (no landing) to see Adelie penguins…our first large grouping.
From Andresen Island, we head out through sea ice to see what we could see….
And then we sail into this……
And then I saw and managed to grab a pic of this very hard to spot white-against-white….
Going forward from this point, the posts will be primarily pictures…as our days did not vary much as far as daily routine with the exception of a couple of scheduled special events….that only took place if conditions permitted. Of course.
I’m happy to report the Drake was more a lake rather than a shaken-not-stirred martini. Mr. TxP was ecstatic; I was relieved. (Now…we just had to get back across uneventfully.) Eating, lectures, equipment orientation for the kayakers/stand-up paddle boarders, and more eating was the order of the day.
But then we spotted this:
Which eventually led to seeing a whole lot of this:
We were able to get pretty close….
There was rejoicing all around. The humans were placated.
That evening, Captain Alexey Zakalashnyuk hosted a formal reception welcoming us onboard. The crew exhibited great haberdashery making an appearance in a tartan plaid custom designed for Quark.
It was a very good day…and we were only at the beginning.
Life onboard followed a certain routine once the Drake was traversed: Breakfast, zodiac cruising or shore excursion, lunch, another round of zodiac or shore, maybe a presentation, cocktail hour, daily debrief, dinner, evening activity of a lecture or movie or some partyish type of activity. Me, I was either tired and sacked out in the cabin or out on deck taking in the scenery, looking to spot wildlife, or working on my action photography. There was never a lack of something to do.
One of the places to hang out was The Bridge. As with a lot of the smaller expedition-style cruise ships, the bridge is open 24-hours for access by the passengers. The only time access is restricted is during port procedures or a particularly hair-raising navigational issue.
There was always a crew member on the lookout for rogue ice (as no one wants a repeat of that ‘T’ experience) and for marine life. As we cruised along, it was not uncommon for an announcement to be made: “Minke/Orca/Humpback whales located on the ______ side.” For a diehard group of us, we always had camera and hat/jacket with us even during meals and would drop fork and run out on deck at an announcement. Depending on the situation, the boat would slow or even turn around to give us a better watching opportunity.
Two you-must-do-this events took place. As with every cruise, a safety drill is performed. This cruise was no different. It was a little less formal than most but pertinent info was disseminated, everyone seemed to pay attention, the crew was happy.
The other event was specific to cruising the Antarctic and going ashore. We had an IAATO briefing on Sea Day 2. IAATO, a governing body that oversees visitors to the continent has as one of its recommendations/strong requirements…Protect Antarctic Wildlife…among others. This means no cross contamination of plant/bug life onto the shores. Even shore to shore…but that’s for a later discussion. So anything that we were going to take ashore….backpack, jackets, anything that wasn’t freshly laundered for the trip had to be inspected and vacuumed for debris. The rules are taken very seriously….we even had to sign an acknowledgment. I guess this is a good time to mention that if a person needed to go to the loo while on shore…it was back on the zodiac for a trip to the boat. No dropping trou while on shore….which was a little difficult when dressed like the Michelin Man. So if you weren’t good for at least two hours…or have a teeny tiny bladder…you would need to find something to ‘depend’ on or waste time heading back to the boat. Leaving no human foot-print or otherwise is taken very seriously.
A couple of organizational happenings took place on this second sea-day, meetings for the kayakers and the stand-up paddle boarders. These two activities were available but for an additional fee. Once a person committed for the activity, that slot remained theirs for the duration. No trading out, no rotations. So if there was any thought that you were not up for the activity, you needed to think twice about taking a slot because there was a waitlist for participants and there was no second round of orientation to sub a newcomer if you were to bug-out. Once we hit appropriate water, conditions were evaluated and if good, in went the equipment.
Debriefs were often conducted by our fearless expedition leader Cheli Larsen of New Zealand. She was positively terrific. I could go on and on but suffice it to say, I would cruise again with her in a heartbeat. As leader…because the buck stops with her, she had the happy or tough job informing us if we would make a certain landing, etc…or not. Well, right off the bat during the crossing (I think it was actually the 2nd sea day) she announced that due to wind, waves, solar flares, a butterfly flapping its wings in Madagascar spreading the scent of vanilla, whatever….and after having stayed up all-night reworking the logistics, we wouldn’t be doing our regularly scheduled programming of stopping first at the top of the peninsula. *HUGE groan from the passengers* We were heading straight down to the Circle instead! Wheee!!! Flexibility is the word of the day.
So this is what our newly revised and always a work-in-progress chart looked like:
In addition to a few lectures that took place, there was a lot of this:
…looking at various species of this…and for those creatures that start with the letter W:
Our wildlife-spotted list indicated that one species of dolphin was seen but nothing else other than birds of a feather. No whales, no bergs. Just water and birds.
So…where are the bergs!?!
~~Oops! I forgot to tag my Antarctica Part 5: Ushuaia so if you’ve been informally following my trip reports, you may want to backtrack to catchup on this one. Thanks!
2nd verse, not quite the same as the first. ~Herman Hermits, modified
Up and at ’em! It’s time the get The Really Big Trip up in the air….or on the water. Okay….on the bus…to the airport.
But first, we had to show up ready or not with our luggage promptly at 5:00am. Luggage was weighed, tagged, and we were measured to see if we were worthy of this grand adventure. Kidding about the last part but when face-to-face with the grandeur that is Antarctica, one can feel very insignificant and under the right (or wrong) circumstances get swatted like a gnat. Those manly men who were the first to explore this most beautiful unforgiving land (with really, really crappy equipment compared to modern standards) were made of sterner stuff not often found today. I tip my hat to them.
So breakfast is over, everyone is checked out from the hotel, buses are loaded….and at 6:00am we are on our way for our 9:00am charter flight operated by Andes Airline out of EZE. If everything went according to plan, we would be in Ushuaia around Noon-30-ish….and we were!
Ushuaia…one of two locations that was the genesis of The Really Big Trip…we’re back for round two. Love that name….along with Ulaanbaatar…but that is another story for way later on.
Going from close to 100°F in BA to 49°F with rain sprinkles in Ushuaia, added to the dynamics of the trip. Most of us were prepared for the extreme change in weather with the exception of a few fellow travelers (out of a group of seventeen) from India. A few of them were operating under the not-reading-the-briefing induced misconception that they would have immediate access to their luggage after landing. Wrong! The luggage went straight to the boat so no jackets or rain gear. Mr. TxP had chatted with one of the men back in BA, so meeting up with him on the street and seeing his not-correct-clothing choice, Mr. TxP loaned him one of his many layers.
It’s past Noon…the first priority was to eat lunch. Of course. After walking in and out of a few cafes, we settled on Andino Gourmet. I wouldn’t call it ‘gourmet’ by any stretch of the word but it served the need. Andino has a crazy setup, two restaurant concepts sharing the same space, same entryway with only a step dividing them. One was a little pricier and a bit more wanna-be-upscale than the other. We were seated in the upscale portion unbeknownst to us but when I saw that the menu did not match what I had seen through the window, I questioned a waiter and learned of the difference. Absolutely no menu crossover so we switched to the other section without too much fuss and waiting. The menu looked right this time…basic but exactly what we wanted. We happened to have a pleasant enough server but observing other diners having to flag down a waiter (or do the neck crane thing), we knew we needed to initiate a course of action every time our waiter walked by. Following that strategy, service was okay: Bring the water > place food order. Bring food > ask for check. Bring check > ask for any refills, etc. I have to say, the onion soup was delish! Stars? Service 3.5. Food 3.75. Location/Vibe 4.0. Pretty mediocre overall but knowing what to order, I would eat there again for a lite meal.
After lunch it was time to walk off a few calories, shop for souvenirs we didn’t need and then head to the shuttle bus for a 4:00pm departure that would take us down the restricted-access pier to the boat. The pier is smack in the middle of town and all of about two blocks from pier entry to the boat but rules are rules.
Once onboard and duly logged in, we headed to our home for the next thirteen days. Cabin 5067. Cabin selection was another thing I did to make the trip a little more palatable for Mr. TxP. In looking at cabin categories –something less than a suite– I spotted what was called a Twin Window Plus 2. The ‘Plus 2’ turned out to be two bathrooms. Why not! It was the same price as a Twin Window with only one bathroom. Wow! I surprised myself. I knew there would be a chair or small sofa but it turned out we had a partitioned sitting room…our cabin was more like a mini-suite. And there were two televisions! Not that there was much programming but it was impressive. Terry robes were nice and fluffy….nicer than what I’ve had in many hotels. Towels were thick and absorbent. Plenty of hot water. There was built-in bath gel and shampoo dispensers. There was a small boo-boo in that the wrong length shower curtains were shipped and being about two inches too short, allowed water to splash on the floors. No big deal but I heard a few passengers complaining. Sheesh.
A few hours prior to boarding, we had darkish clouds and a light sprinkle. Not a great portent for crossing the Drake Passage. But just as everyone was gathering on deck for the sail away, we saw this:
And then the skies turned to this.
Both were a good portents. Our Really Big Trip is officially underway.
So if it’s evening time, what happens next? Dinner! Dinnertime was a seated/menu affair. One open seating…if you didn’t eat then, you were out of luck. Tables ranged from two-tops to a few tables for six. The two-tops were close enough to the four-tops that one felt that six were dining together. Expedition Staff made it a point to mingle with the passengers and often shared table space. Wine was served with dinner as was a non-alcohol beverage-of-the-day. Executive Chef Manfred Umfahrer was genius. Being able to take on provisions only once for a fourteen-day trip challenged his planning and culinary skills. It’s not like one can pull to the nearest iceberg for milk and eggs. He passed with flying colors. The vegans/gluten-free/lactose intolerants/carnivores were all taken care of. The only thing….desserts especially the cookies were a little on the weak side. But ice cream with sprinkles and toppings was available lunch and dinner to help make up. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style with an imaginative selection. The kitchen even made Indian cuisine on a regular basis as there was a group of seventeen on board. Fifteen were vegetarians, two ate meat. They were happy.
After dinner it was time to get suited up against the cold. Besides being fond of saying….’depending on the wind and ice’….the word ‘waterproof’ is also heavily used. Making life much easier for the passengers, Quark supplies waterproof parkas to keep and arctic-rated Muck boots on loan. The original parkas have a nice zip out fleece liner, the newer updated style has a zip-out quilted liner. The only thing, the large outer patch pockets are not waterproof so you have to watch what you store in them. Ask me how I know. The Muck boots were terrific and comfortable. I have a tendency to be cold-natured but one pair of thick wool socks kept my feet plenty warm.
No picture to illustrate, but by groups we headed to the Nautilus lounge to try on parkas for sizing and then went to another area to pick up our jacket. Afterwards, we moved to the Mud Room to try on boots. Unless one has weirdly sub-human feet, there will be a pair of boots to fit. I did read on a forum somewhere that one lady had really massive calves and smallish feet which made for an impossible fit, so she sourced her own boots and traveled with them. So unless you are 2000% out of the norm, these boots should fit. ~Let me interject that not all expedition cruises loan boots. For the others, one has to either rent them, or purchase and take up precious luggage space. I guess the boots could always be worn as your primary travel shoe. Hmmm. Stylish!~ We were assigned lockers where our gear lived when not being out on an adventure.
Previous to this Project Runway moment, we queued up to be assigned to zodiac groups which in a very egalitarian manner allowed us to rotate being first on shore. ~200 peeps (or less), divided into four groups, each group broken down to ten to a zodiac plus a Expedition guide/driver. And that is how we would roll daily after the Drake Passage crossing.
Oh…and remember my toe issue that kept being put on ignore? Well, it turns out that I had bruised the nail during the 7+ mile walk. I finally examined more closely why my toe hurt while trying on my boots and discovered a nice lovely purple-colored nail. The Merrells let me down and the walking in Ushuaia was the last straw. Because of the tender toe, I had to go up a size for my boots which made for a sloppy fit and doesn’t facilitate scrambling around the rocks you’ll see in upcoming pics. I was very careful. No way was I going to wipe out on this trip like I did in Mongolia…another story for another time. ~ No need to honor the bruised toe with a pic.
Side note about our cabin: Only two issues…as we got closer to the peninsula, our cabin become really, really cold. We thought it was just a proximity thing…to be expected…it was the Antarctic after all. But when the hallways were warm but our cabin was freezing, we decided it wasn’t a whole ship temp thing. It was a vent-stuck-open issue and was promptly repaired. Further into the cruise, I started smelling exhaust fumes which eventually drove us out of the cabin and to the Passengers Services Desk. By the time Maintenance came –which was pretty darn quick– other passengers were stepping out of their cabin complaining of the same issue. The problem was discovered, rectified and life continued. Great crew!
After a really long, amped up day…it was good to hit the sack. Instead of good night wishes of sweet dreams, the final words of wisdom from our Expedition Crew was to anchor down anything that could break because one never knows when the Drake would go from being a calm lake to feeling like we were in a martini shaker.
Since it’s taking me a little more time to write my next Antarctica installment, I thought I would post a random picture. I may do this a little more often as I sift through some of my earlier photography.
People often ask what I do with all the pics I take…if I print them up in book form or whatever. Mostly, I randomly view them, relive the moment, and move on. Rinse and repeat. I keep saying that I’m going to print and frame but never get around to it. Now I can say that I’ve released them into the wild so that hopefully others might enjoy.
Thanks for stopping by!
Side Note: I don’t really like birds as they give me the heebie-jeebies (I blame Alfred Hitchcock and my mom’s dearly departed cockatiel) but I find myself photographing them frequently. They can be a very challenging subject matter.
Pre-Day 1: Memories are weird things. If there were no high points (happy, good…) or low points (disasters, et al) associated with a certain event, then the nuances of that event becomes fuzzy. At least that’s how it is with me. Since I don’t remember any dramatrauma surrounding our flight to Buenos Aires….I guess it was nicely uneventful. Our pre-arranged driver –booked with Nestor of Colores de Argentina– was at the airport albeit hard to pick out in the crowd as he was holding our name sign waist-level….with a big crowd of people between him and us. Duh. But he was there and that is what counts. Cash only.
~ HOTEL ~
The hotel selected by Quark for our first official night was the NH City Towers and Hotel. Quark provided one hotel night for what I call Fly-In Day…to make sure everyone utilizing their charter service was on-site for an early next-morning flight. If this hotel was good enough for Quark, it should be good enough for our early arrival gap night. I’m all for cruise companies making additional money on tours and add-ons but really? Booking our extra night independently resulted in a much better rate versus booking via Quark. I was even able to book a slightly upgraded room for less than what Quark had quoted. Strategically, I was hoping the hotel would allow us to keep our same room. They did. I was happy. Props to the hotel!
NH City is a 4-star rated hotel according to that website that goes by the initials TA. I would say it is fairly accurate. Clean, neat and tidy, basic breakfast, helpful staff. Great location for walking although the very immediate area around the hotel is a little more commercial in feel. But just a few blocks away, things become lively. We walked everywhere never feeling like we needed a taxi. Well, maybe my feet felt the need but there was never a safety issue.
Rant On: The one thing that was irritating (and it’s not just this hotel) is the placement of electrical outlets. I really get tired of playing ‘find the outlet’, moving furniture, do I unplug the clock/light/if there is even an option, or not having an outlet within six to eight feet of the bed. In this case, there was a power strip hidden underneath the desk. Across the room from the bed. And hardwired to the wall. What?!? That was it, no other outlets on that side of the room. The bedside lamps were mounted on the wall. There was no bedside clock…battery or plug-in…so bring your own. Zero outlets on that side of the room. So what’s a girl to do? Drag out my six-foot extension cord and mini-power strip that lives in my suitcase. Thank goodness our room was a skinny, rectangular shape….I had just enough stringalong to be able to sit in bed and read/charge my phone if I occupied the right side of the bed. Mr. TxP had no choice in the matter….this is one situation where I always win. He gets preference for optimal television viewing angle but my electrical outlet access trumps his TV if there is a toss-up. /Rant!
~ How We Spent Our Time ~
After checking in, we headed out the door to find lunch. The hotel recommended Aldo’s Vinoteca. We enthusiastically do also! Based on our other BA adventures in dining, Mr. TxP would have been perfectly happy to have all his meals there. Weekday lunches are the best in BA as most places serve a pre fixe menu that includes a glass of wine or a bottle of water. Great value! Most restaurants also close between lunch and dinner and dinner generally does not start until 7:00pm at the very earliest. It’s good to check the hours and highly recommended that one make reservations…even for the most casual restaurants.
Well satisfied with lunch, we head out to explore. Oh my gosh, the area where we stayed was so easy to wander around. All 7+ miles we walked that day. We would have continued but my feet were tired and my right foot, large toe was a little achy. Feet hurt more than toe, so the toe issue was dismissed.
We typically don’t do much currency exchange for a few reasons: 1) We don’t want to wind up with unused currency especially if we don’t plan on returning. 2) We’re on a mad points chase to acquire lifetime status with large chain that starts with the letter M using their affinity card. 3) If we can’t make the purchase with a credit card, then we probably don’t need it. 4) And not having pocket change saves me from things like this:
Time for dinner so another rec from the hotel…ratified by a looksee at Y and TA. We head out. Toe is a little twingy. Hit ignore button.
Steak! We are in Argentina after all. Gran Parrilla del Plata was our goal. Good ratings, hopeful for a tasty experience. It’s more of a locals’ place with a few tourists thrown in….to write reviews. Stars? Service 2.5, food 3.5, location 4. Average overall but I can see how this restaurant could cultivate neighborhood regulars. But since they had only one crack at my business, they failed. Too many other places to try if we were to return to BA…
…Like Desnivel. Smelled soooo yummy but when we walked by the first time it was pretty empty so we passed…literally. But by the time we walked back by a few hours later…it was like a rip-roaring party was going on. Don’t the Argentines know that eating after 6:00pm is not good for you?
Pre-First day was good. Beds are firm but that didn’t interrupt my sleep.
Pre-Day 2, 22 January
Walking, and more walking. And it was hot that day! Like 97°F hot plus humidity! The only real packing mistake on my part was not packing a more light-weight top. I was heading to Antarctica for gosh sakes and BA wasn’t supposed to be so hot during winter time.
My toe was still a little achy. Hit ignore button.
Over the course of two-days of tourwalking, we taste tested the requisite empanadas all along the way even making a special trip to La Morada to taste what was billed as the ‘best in town’. They were okay but I preferred the ones at the shop affiliated with the hotel. ~Props to Mr. TxP for letting me drag him around to check out La Morada. It wasn’t that close to the hotel but walking there did contribute to the step-count and helped to work off the calories.
Even better, I prefer the ones we ate in Montevideo, Uruguay…Empanadas Carolina. Even Mr. TxP preferred these.
We accidently happened on a market we had visited on our first trip a year earlier. I had wanted a particular antique doll but the store was closed and the owner not to be found. This time, I was going to persevere a bit more. Success! The owner happened to be milling about and opened the store for me. The doll I wanted originally had been sold but I was willing to settle. Mr. TxP kept saying…”But the toes are broken.” I said, “Shush! I want it anyway. I’m buying it.” It’s an interesting doll. Happy!
Dinner time! Earlier, we found a small restaurant Deluca during our walk and decided to try it for dinner later that evening. I can say that the wait staff person was nice. The food….pretty…but not so great. Pasta was awful…even with an Italian name. Because Mr. TxP could not figure out what beer he wanted to try (as we try a local beer everywhere we go when overseas), a small sampling was offered gratis. In reality, the samples totally satisfied the amount he usually imbibes (which isn’t a lot) so we really didn’t need to purchase a full drink but did so because the waiter was so nice. Aldo was ever present on the mind.
Arriving back to the hotel, there appeared to be more people milling around that we guessed were Quark passengers. We were right!
A good day ended with a good sleep. The real start of The Really Big Trip is just a few hours away!
“If there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen.” –So sayeth someone including me.
Backstory: Way back in the day, I started my more serious foray into photography using a 2 1/4 x2 1/4 Yashica D. No, I’m not that old, it was a loaner. At the same time, I had access to a Minolta –no idea of the model– with a match-needle metering system. I really miss that Minolta. A few years later, I finally had a little bit of money to buy a more name-drop camera and bought a Nikon FM. I hated that camera. And then real life got in the way and I could no longer afford film or paper or the chemistry so my photography endeavors came to a screeching halt. Fast forward into the 90s with digital all the rage, I started carrying around a little Cannon point-and-shoot and promptly upgraded at every opportunity. Some models were great, others not so much. Marching forward to 2013, a big trip to China was coming up so it was time to graduate to something a little more serious so I bought a Samsung NX1000. Mirrorless, fairly lightweight, interchangeable lenses, live-view LCD screen, adequate to get me by for a good while or so I thought. It did serve me well. But alas, it’s been relegated to the box-of-unloved-toys.
Six months after booking The Really Big Trip, Mr. TxP and I made a quick trip to India and went on a too-short wildlife drive in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. I had spotted a bird that I wanted to photograph but trying to shoot action using only an LCD screen just doesn’t cut it. Oh! Nice tail feathers!!!
I decided right then and there that I need to get more serious and buy a camera with a viewfinder. Yeah, bigger, heavier…but oh so necessary if one wants to shoot wildlife or anything that moves. In case you’re wondering….no Tyger! Tyger! burning bright. *sigh*
Many research hours later and a massive amount of eye-strain, I settled on a Pentax K-50. One of the big draws was its weatherproofing. Second, it was a good compromise between quality and value as it was a ‘last-years’ model. Ratings from various sources were good. Clickety-click. I traveled with the K-50 body, 55-300 WR zoom, and the 18-55 which never saw the light of day. It’s was just too difficult to try and change lenses for a number of reasons. When I found myself in the position that I need to shoot something positioned at my feet…I whipped out my trusty Lumia 925 Windows phone.
Additional batteries were purchased as I already knew that cold temps tend to rapidly drain lithium batteries. This little factoid can be confirmed by the crew filming the 360° VR feature for Quark. All the while, I carried on a raging debate with myself about using a polarizer or not. I went with ‘or not’ and now I wish I had.
Major purchases have been made. Minor tweaks as needed. It’s now a waiting game.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing .” –Billy Connolly
Shopping for airline tickets wasn’t the only thing getting attention. Clothes….of course clothes! I live in Texas for gosh sakes and I’m not supposed to have suitable gear for the Antarctic…but I do. My clothes closet looks like I live in Duluth, MN, not in it-snows-once-every-ten-years-for-five-minutes Houston. But as we all know, this is a The Big Trip and everything within my control will be as perfect as humanly possible without going crazy and further melting my credit card. Too much.
Quark supplied very. bright. yellow-is-not-my-color. parkas…which were ours to keep. Waterproof, zip out fleece, very warm. Exemplary job. And on loan, very heavy Arctic Muck Boots. Nice that we didn’t have to wrangle those items into a suitcase initially. Still, packing was more than a bit challenging considering we travel only with carry-ons — Mr. TxP, a 20″ roll-on and me, a 21″ roll-on and each with a tote bag. To make things even more challenging, we were limited on a checked luggage weight of 20KG and 5KG for the carryon with the threat that anything over weight would have to be left at the hotel and retrieved in some manner after the trip. Note: Leave enough space to pack parkas on return trip.
While February is still wintertime in the northern hemisphere, cold-weather clothing is already on sale. SierraTrading.com was my best friend. Being patient can get you discounts of up to 70% along with free shipping. So gloves of various styles, Icebreakers marino wool base layers, Smartwool tops and Columbia and Marmot brand waterproof outer shell pants found their way into my dedicated storage drawer. Joining the crowd, was some generic fleece pants, hats of various types, neck gators, and sundry items that I will list at the end.
The reading/research continued. Not like I was going to change my mind…or have buyer’s remorse…I just wanted to make sure I was well informed going into this trip.
Seasickness and my prevention strategy
Of course, the best of plans can ‘go south’ when Mother Nature is involved. Everything, everyone, everywhere always added the proviso: “Based on weather conditions…”. The favorite saying about the Drake Passage…all two days of transit…each way, “It can be the Drake Lake or the Drake Shake.” Which leads me to my next major prep.
A bit of a back story: When Mr. TxP made his first trip across the lesser pond to the U.S., it was aboard a ship. Bottom line, the crossing was so rough, he swore he would never get on an ocean-going cruise ship again. Fast-forward to July 2013, at the prodding of some acquaintances, we boarded the Emerald Princess with my super-duper bag of cure-what-ever-ails-you in hand and cruised for eleven days around the Baltic. The trip was a success…meaning Mr. TxP didn’t get sick and we had fun as an added bonus. We’ve since been cruising with a vengeance to attain ‘Your Royal Eliteness’ level.
So what was in our Anti-Sea Sickness Ziploc bag? From the first big-boat cruise, acupressure bands, over-the-counter Dramamine, and Rx Transderm Scope patches. Because we had heard horror stories of the Drake Passage making hip-hop look like a waltz, we added Rx Phenergan, ginger capsules and an assortment of homeopathic therapies to the mix. I’m happy to report, none was needed.
Clothing gear is being accumulated. We could stock a small pharmacy. Next to research…cameras!
Your first commercial break: Apologies for jumping between past/present tense, active/passive voice and all the other English grammar rules that I have egregiously broken and will break in the future. I’m having a difficult time keeping this missive neat and tidy as I am writing a report of past actions but at the same time injecting present time reflections and admonitions for the future. As this is not a potential Pulitzer, please make your own mental grammar corrections and read on in the same spirit in which I’m sharing this wonderful experience! — This now concludes my Public Service Announcement.
First, for the record Antarctica was not number one on my travel list or even second. In fact it wasn’t even on my radar screen. Second, Antarctica is that aspirational elusive Number 7 for those into collecting continents…but not for me. You can read what I was collecting in my About. Third, it’s not like one can get there by taking a wrong turn…it’s takes a very deliberate course of action and a small chunk of change to make it happen. Most plan and dream for years before a magnificent trip like this can happen. I am truly fortunate….one year from first thought and I was on my way! So I guess I can safely say, never get in the way of a woman that has her mind made up.
I could do this whole stream-of-consciousness thing of how I wound up choosing to go to the Antarctic going back to the day I was born and the decisions that led me up to this moment but I’ll just spare you the pain and go back as far as the Golden Princess cruise we did around South America in January 2015.
One of our ports-of-call was the Falkland Islands. What is there to see on that somewhat barren, wind-swept piece of rock that Argentina and Great Britain keeps skirmishing over you ask? Penguins….at least three varieties. Where else does one see penguins? Yep, the Antarctic. And that never-ending skirmish… if you aren’t already aware…God Save The Queen…for this round!
The other influential port-of-call was Ushuaia, Argentina. Other than carrying the title of Fin del Mundo…’the end of the world’, it also has the distinction of being a jumping off point for excursions to Antarctica. Long story short, Princess was known to offer excursions to the Antarctic Peninsula if all the factors of time, weather, and flying equipment participated in the process. The cost for the opportunity to be able to say ‘been there, done that”….just a measly $3000….un-re-fund-able. Yep. One tear or a bazillion…”Sorry Charlie”. (In this case, travel insurance is your friend.) Undeterred, I told Mr. TxPepper that I was going; he didn’t have to.
But the practical side of me was not to be denied. Since the cost was not refundable and we would only be landside for a couple of hours at most, I figured that adding a ‘little’ *wink, wink* more money would allow for a full-fledged trip. So I asked Mr. TxP if he would be interested in going to Antarctica. All he would have to do is try on the occasional piece of clothing and stay healthy; I would take care of everything from soup to nuts. He said ‘yes’ in a rather un-enthusiastic, non-committal sort of way. [I don’t think he was really listening to me when I asked.] So, I promptly jumped on the ‘yes’ and dismissed the ship’s excursion from my mind. Turns out that the time in port had to be at least eleven hours; we were booked for ten. The excursion was not even an option. But I was already mentally on the way to Antarctica.
After we returned home from the South America cruise…which I would do again in a heartbeat, I started to research traveling to Antarctica. Gotta love the internet….and those who are willing to take the time to write about their experiences and post online. Karen has an excellent, well-organized blog on her Antarctica planning and experience. Also, TripAdvisor sprinkled with a little bit of CruiseCritic.com are your friends.
After hours of reading, creating spreadsheets for ship comparisons, etc. I made a decision. The company I selected was Quark Expeditions. The boat Ocean Endeavour. It was new-ish to the fleet (but far ftom ‘shiny new’) and had undergone a bit of refurbish so that was points in its favor. Passenger max was 200 plus crew…one of the largest of the small boats that go to Antarctica but still very small compared to what we had been sailing on. Larger equals more stability in rough seas right? Gotta think about Mr. TxP.
I didn’t want to just get close…I had already had that opportunity…I wanted to cross The Circle, step on the continent. February 2, 2015 I went clickety-click and committed to Crossing the Circle: Southern Expedition January 22 – February 4, 2016 on the Ocean Endeavor led by Quark Expeditions (that is a mouth full). Almost one whole year away. I don’t think I’ve ever planned a trip that far in advance.
We would depart from Buenos Aires (BA), take a Quark charter flight to Ushuaia where we would embark the same day and begin The Trip! One of the factors that made this specific itinerary attractive, I only had to worry about getting to BA…which was a non-stop flight from Houston. After that first leg, the rest of the trip was on cruise control aka Quark’s responsibility. No more worrying about flight delays, having to plan gap-time for just-in-case…which meant extra hotel nights, other extra costs, etc. This was a trip where one could not ‘catch up with the boat’ if your inbound flight didn’t participate in the process. Based on the stories of some of the passengers, most of them had planned multiple gap-days and arrived early. The early arrivals from the US east-coast were lucky as there was a massive snow storm all along the upper east coast just as we departed for BA. For us, I planned for one gap-day as we were more likely to get whacked with airplane mechanical issues rather than snow and ice here in Houston. So my rule of thumb for hugely major extreme location travel is….one gap day at a minimum for each major flight segment if all the flights/segments are not on one record. And to always overnight in the city of your international departure. Ask me sometime about our international flight from Delhi.
What was next on the list to do? Book airline tickets.
One of our splurges in traveling is to fly business-class when the price is not too egregious. It was. So I booked points reward business-class tickets. Zip forward a few months….and remembering that we would be flying in a new frequent flier elite qualification year…. I needed to keep in mind the process of earning miles and revenue dollars to requalify at our current status level so I started watching the fares.
Fast forward some more, coach tickets with upgrade confirmed on the outbound and waitlisted on the return was the order of the day. Clickety-click. I know…you’re sitting on pins and needles wondering if we got the upgrade for the return. In a word, No! but at that point, I didn’t really care. The bulk of the trip was over; I would have lots of room to stretch out at home.
Next up…even more shopping! Of course. And eventually pictures!