I don’t know why I want to go. I only know I am lucky that my husband is willing to go to Antarctica.
October 27, 2014. Our big red jackets arrive. We’re really going! We’ve bought new long underwear – thin and soft with a bit of wool––found them at Costco. We have the doctor’s clearance and have lined up extra insurance in case we need to be air-lifted out. And we’ve managed to pay Argentina’s “Reciprocity Fee”––they don’t want us to apply for a Visa, they just want our money. The Argentine government site was totally unreliable even when linked through the Argentine Embassy in Washington DC. But we found a site that could get us our certificates, good for ten years.
But the jackets are the exciting thing. I love them––long, over the hips, for more warmth. A big patch on the front says “Antartica’s White Wilderness.” It looks so official, like a real expedition patch. It’s really going to happen!
Need to call the Travel Clinic though – I almost forgot. We’ve heard so much about the rough seas. I want to get behind-the-ear patches for motion sickness.
Late November, 2014
Grand Circle sends us a big 2015 calendar. The January picture is of our boat the Corinthian, in the Antarctic with zodiacs taking people to shore. So neat! Even though the calendar is bigger than we normally hang in the kitchen, I discard the 2014 calendar and hang the new one, turned to January. I look at the picture every day.
The New Year. We’re in Argentina first. Horseback rides in Patagonia, tango show (I would have preferred an evening at a small milonga), hikes, sights––all good stuff, but nothing compared to Antarctica.
The southern tip of Argentina is beautiful. Highway 1 starts here and goes north to Alaska. Ushuaia is a delightful little town. Worth a visit.
The ship is comfortable; the made-to-order omelets are the best ever. Our beds have safety belts. We don’t use them, but do secure every loose item in the cabin and hang on if walking about the ship. We regret using the scopolamine patches––too strong and make our mouths dry––and find out later that the guides never use the patches, too many side effects. Bonine (meclizine) works fine on the return trip. We survive the two-day Drake crossing.
The seas are calm, once we get where we are going. We make nine zodiac landings; five is considered a successful trip.
On one of our first outings, the naturalist who’s driving the zodiac says that we are headed to Cuverville Island, home to 78,000 nesting pairs of gentoo penguins. Or at least that’s what I hear, and what I repeat a few times. Then, three days after arriving home, I go to the eye doctor for a blurry vision problem and open a waiting room magazine to a picture of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. The caption reads something like “home to more than 7000 gentoos.” Oh. Still a lot, though.
I’ve never seen so many penguins, or even imagined that there could be so many. Never tire of watching them. We see gentoos and chinstraps.
The naturalists put green and red stakes to show where we can safely walk to not bother the penguins. The penguins have a hard time following the rules, and often walk on our side.
One individual bird doesn’t smell, but a colony reeks of ammonia. They poop a lot, and then they fall on it. You can tell which ones have just gone for a swim––their fronts are clean and white.
Adelie penguins are supposed to be the most common in Antarctica – but we don’t see any. There are a couple of singles mixed in with the gentoos and chinstraps, they tell us, but I never see them. If we could go down the Lemarr Channel, which is still too iced-in for transit, we would have visited an Adelie colony. They look like gentoos but have black beaks. We see one macaroni penguin at a stop, yellow crown on top of his head.
It is total silence, save squawks of the penguins. No planes or trains or construction.
One fellow traveler from Washington DC––for most of the trip, I had him pegged as a CIA agent, not true as it turns out––commented that he and his wife were on this trip because everyone who had gone to Antarctica had loved it, and he wasn’t sure why.
At the end of the trip, he said, “I loved it. And I’m still not sure I can say why.”
I agree. Go! You won’t regret it.
Our gang. Four friends were with us––we all loved it.
Once home, I leave the January calendar up all year.
Date of travel: January 2015. Tour: Antarctica’s White Wilderness