part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4
Day 7 - March 10
first thing this morning, i found this amazing low cloud hanging outside the starboard windows. the thing was basically a stripe of cloud, practically eye-level. i rushed through a breakfast including waffles & scrambled eggs with very garlicky tomatoes (s'ok, i wouldn't be kissing anyone for another six days) so i could photograph it before it dissipated... but it hung around gloriously for the majority of our second continental landing, at brown station in paradise bay.
i was in the first two zodiacs - nice & dry, no snow today - so i went to the station first while everyone else took a zodiac cruise. brown is an old argentine station, & one of the biologists told us about a doctor who came here, had some "love issues", & ended up burning down one of the buildings. okay! we wandered about, & there was an uphill climb to a place where we were allowed to go sliding on our butts if we liked. as i'd done that the previous day, i sat in the snow & watched scenery & penguins for a while. Sit Down, Grandma came over & chatted with me. we talked about the costs of the trip, & though i thought she was giving me the "you got ripped off" side-eye, it turned out she paid nearly double my cost. granted she had a twin room instead of my triple, which would've been more expensive, but not even half again as much. apparently her travel agent in germany wasn't as great as mine in the states; sorry, SDG! it was a bit dicey walking back down, but as my ship-stock boots were several sizes too big, they actually helped me to stay upright.
the cruise portion took us around skontorp cove's glacier, & Sit Down, Grandma kept popping up to stand for pictures despite what our driver kept asking. we saw cormorants nesting (they make their nests from seaweed & their own shit, so that's lovely), lots of crabeater seals (which were so close i could hear them breathing: a "pfffft" sort of sound), a huge vein of copper in the side of the continent (bright green!), & icebergs that had black areas or strips, which meant they had broken off of the underside of a glacier & were probably thousands of years old. i was colder on this landing than before - the land at brown station was actually warmer than i'm used to, but the cruise was longer than usual & i couldn't feel my toes or fingers by the time we returned. i was very happy when the ushuaia came into sight & i knew i was close to being warm again.
i ran into agustín on my way to the dining room. he & i have taken to greeting each other with "¡hola, loco!" lunch was a broccoli & cauliflower soup, then a decent cut of steak with spicy onions & julienned fries, & delightful lemon meringue tarts. only The Silence sat with me for lunch, so i read my book & enjoyed a nice private meal.
our third landing on antarctica proper was also the saddest - not because it was the last, but because neko harbour has a high gentoo penguin mortality rate. either starvation or disease is causing it, & they're pretty sure it's the former or we wouldn't have landed, 'cause we definitely didn't want to spread any possible disease. it was apparently an el niño year & there just weren't enough fish. this was our beachiest landing, & we trekked through the coarse sand to rocks to snow. i stopped to record five full minutes of penguin calls (which i've become quite adept at making - Barely Discernible Brogue even asked me to do so to rile them up, but i replied that i couldn't, for it'd turn him on too much), some penguin fighting, & finally some penguin bulimia - they feed their young by regurgitation. i then engaged in more hiking than lishes are fit to do, but i made it to the top & took about a thousand panoramas to prove it.
i photographed some dead penguins, too - their bodies littered the place, & they weren't actually rotting in the chill of the continent. it's so weird, penguins seem like such little people that i half expected they would have a process to deal with their dead, like they'd pile them up in one area or something. but nope - penguin dies, penguin drops, penguin eventually desiccates or is eaten by something else. ah, nature. (later, beckie had a freak out about the "dead babies everywhere" & started crying in the room. i tried to console her, & i know i'm not the most softhearted person, but... dude. circle of life. come on.)
on the zodiac back to the ship, i saw, for the second time that day, a big hunk of iceberg break off & fall into the sea. it was like a mini avalanche & made a terrific noise. very satisfying.
we left andvord bay & neko harbour as we recapped the day, & learned tomorrow's details. dinner was pea soup, a vegetarian lasagne that harkened back to night one's meal - meaning i didn't care for it - but then they gave us vanilla & strawberry ice creams with the most wonderful sponge finger biscuit that was sugary & almondy & delicious, & all was forgiven. i ate with Horsey Beard, Full Laugh, and Robin Williams's Smile again & i'll definitely miss them the most when the trip ends.
we sailed on to the gerlache strait proper, the "mini drake", & it was noted to expect the rocking to recommence. i strapped my everything down & settled in to sleep before the final day of landings.
Day 8 - March 11
at 7am we were set to enter neptune's bellows, the 500m-wide entrance to the active volcano we were going to walk on at deception island. just a normal day here in antarctica! the volcano last erupted in 1972, & is predicted for every 30-40 years... but agustín said they always watch wildlife to tell if there's danger. three days before the last eruption, no penguin, seal, or bird was spotted anywhere nearby. our wake-up call came at 6:45, & i didn't do any special prep for this one - just dressed as normal & hightailed it up to the bridge.
it was foggy & snowing, & the crossing into the caldera was fast, but i got a few good pics. definitely glad i didn't suit up for this one. beckie stayed in bed until breakfast, still complaining that the dead babies ruined her entire trip. (DUDE. NATURE.) i navigated my way to the galley on a once-again-rocking ship for breakfast. it was interesting to go upstairs & only manage it a few steps at a time as the "to" made it easier & the "fro" made it impossible.
about a half hour before our landing (the time it takes to get dressed), they informed us that conditions weren't good enough to land yet. we had 30 knot winds, snow, & fog - pretty miserable, & not safe for the zodiacs. so we cruised around in the ship for an hour, waiting to see if things improved. they didn't improve enough to walk around the volcano top as planned, but we were able to do the polar plunge at pendulum cove in port foster! finally, a true polar plunge: going to shore in a zodiac, stripping down to swimsuits, then racing into the water on the beach.
of course i went!
...to the beach. no fucking way was i going to do a polar plunge - i don't have anything to prove to myself about being adventurous, or about my pain tolerance, & i don't need a rite of passage - i just know i hate being cold & there was no reason for me to experience a whole lot more of it than i already was. freezing for two weeks on a cruise to antarctica: yes, plenty of reasons. freezing for freezing's sake: purposeless. we'd also asked agustín last night if he was going to go; his evasive response was, "it is in my contract, i can't have any fun."
this zodiac ride was our roughest yet. like all volcanic islands, the beach was black rock, & i spotted some interesting little sea urchin shells in a tide pool. i took some photos of the crazy people running into & out of the 2°C water - the general reaction was that the water wasn't too bad, but leaving the water after was the killer. the wind chill was listed as -30°C. i stole a shot of Barely Discernible Brogue posing in his winter gear on top & just trunks on bottom, which we all thought was pretty hilarious. i got a little soaked on the way back from sea spray, but i had worn my big blue poncho, so only a few items had to go in front of the heater back in the room.
i read until lunch, which was corn soup, a decent duck breast with mashed sweet potatoes & asparagus, & what was listed as a walnut kutchen - a glorious square of walnut praline over sponge cake. i sat with Mumbles the Gray & her husband the Gordon's Fisherman, from new zealand, & Lip Rings from sweden. Lip Rings never made eye contact with me once during the trip, but did engage in some long stares with my right ear during the meal.
we were supposed to hit halfmoon island as our last landing, to see a large colony of chinstrap penguins (we'd seen some at our first landing, but none since), but they couldn't find a safe landing point with the now 40 knot winds. i had already dressed my last gear-up when they announced we couldn't do it, so i took some photos out on the deck to make it worth my while, & then not-unhappily returned to the room & packed all my heavy stuff away.
we were definitely headed back to the drake passage, as the rocking became as bad as it'd ever been. i ate dinner like i was riding a rollercoaster - a kiddy coaster where it just goes up & down a bunch of times in a circle, but a rollercoaster nonetheless - in a half vacant dining hall. dinner was a vegetable soup & beef stew with mushrooms & rice, & the dessert was a weird jellyroll-type sponge thing with dulce de leche. i wasn't very hungry for any of it, but fortunately that was because we hadn't done any significant outings today, not because i was feeling the drake. in fact, i went back to my book after dinner & quite enjoyed the rocking-chair-like effect the waves had on my reading.
Day 9 and 10 - March 12 and 13: At Sea crossing the Drake Passage, northbound
We leave Antarctica and head north across the Drake Passage. Join our lecturers and naturalists on deck as we search for seabirds and whales and enjoy some final lectures. Take the chance to relax and reflect on the fascinating adventures of the past days on the way back to Ushuaia.
Day 9 - March 12
nothing much of interest happened on the 12th while we crossed half the drake. i slept in & purposely skipped breakfast; lunch was basically a ghost town for cole slaw with raisins (which i thought would be weird but actually worked well), then ziti with a basil pesto sauce & roasted grape tomatoes, & a miniature banana split with chocolate ice cream; i did a full dread maintenance on myself since all the hair-mussing gearing-up days were finally over, while listening to slobberbone & the weakerthans; i skipped the lectures as i didn't care to learn more about whales, the ozone layer, or seals; dinner (with Frauline Pixie) was a beef empanada, chicken with vegetables, & fruit salad. i basically read the day away & it was nice to have time on this vacation to do nothing much.
Day 10 - March 13
i woke up for breakfast this time, after the most rocking we'd yet done in one night. i read & dozed until lunch, which was calimari with a hard boiled egg-based relish, then fried sole & rice & some really horrendous cold cooked green peas that i avoided completely after one bite, & a profiterole for dessert. we finally started seeing land - tierra del fuego - as we crossed into the beagle channel & the ship returned to calm waters. we returned our boots & life vests & prepared for tomorrow's farewell.
i found i was triply unaware of the time - we'd been +5 hours from seattle the whole trip, so i thought it was 2:30pm... then i realized my phone was telling me seattle was only +4 hours today, so it was 1:30pm but something was wrong with my phone. finally i realized that sunday the 13th was daylight un-savings (daylight spendings?) & that indeed we had become only +4 from PT properly. sheesh. (hope someone warned my employees so no one shows up an hour late monday!)
that afternoon, we had a little celebration in the lounge - we watched a powerpoint of the photos the staff had taken during the trip; were given cds of said powerpoint as well as the daily schedules (planned & actual) & some other data; had a sort of awards thing where everyone was called up one at a time to receive a certificate of antarctic landing, shake hands or hug each of the seven expedition leaders, & take a group photo if desired (i passed on the photo, but gave agustín a big hug & called him "trouble", to which he responded by tugging my dreads); & they had a champagne toast to end the tour as it was begun.
dinner was fancy, with tablecloths & all - a nice change from the drake's rocking mess of spilled water & sliding silverware. it started with a baked scallops & onions dish that i could eat daily; the main was filet mignon with spring garlic mashed potatoes & asparagus; & dessert reunited us with the chocolate mousse we'd had the first night, this time in a little dark chocolate teardrop-shaped cup with berry compote on top. i sat with wil, Frauline Pixie, & Woman Who Apparently Just Got On the Ship. i had been sitting with beckie before WWAJGOtS joined us, but she prodded at her scallops for a second, tasted one like she was the family dog trying canned food, put her hand over her mouth like she just found out her longterm-crush of a prom date was caught banging the head cheerleader in the janitor's closet, & left the dining hall. okay, beckie, i suppose it's only fair that you end the trip in the annoying don't-look-at-me-but-really-DO manner in which you started the trip. sure, why not; in twelve hours you're dead to me anyhow. X)
i read in my bunk until bedtime, glad for my entire experience, but also glad that it was my last night aboard the ushuaia. i looked forward to a real shower & a private room (that stayed still) & not having to bicker about thermostat controls with anyone else. *nods* OH AND WIFI. :O
Day 11 - March 14: Arrival in Ushuaia
We arrive at the port of Ushuaia in the early morning and disembark the USHUAIA after breakfast.
i was so excited to get off the ship, haha. i ate breakfast quickly (the day's schedule noted that we were 760mi from antarctica!) because Lip Rings kept spontaneously telling me his view on relationships. okay? i said some goodbyes, then hung around the lower deck waiting impatiently for all our customs paperwork to clear so we could touch ground in argentina. Sit Down, Grandma asked if i wanted to have dinner with her, & we arranged that i'd meet her at her hotel lobby at 6pm if so. (i really didn't want to - i liked her, but i wasn't making dinner plans after eleven days of eating with 80 people!) finally, 8am rolled around & they set us free. i didn't wait for the shuttle, just walked all the way down the pier with my suitcase & went back through the visitor's office, where they didn't care to metal-detect me.
everything was closed at 8am on a monday, so i waited a few minutes for someone to get out of a taxi near the pier, & i nabbed it. the driver took me to my hotel, los naranjos, for just a fiver. my room wasn't ready yet, but they accepted my luggage & let me sit in the lobby & connect to the glorious, delightful, wonderful wifi. ^_^ i let james, drew, & some assorted others know that i was still alive - daria sent me a photo of her feeding vasuki for me (he went into shed just as i left, & i didn't want him to wait an extra week to eat, he's a growing boy!), & i was happy. i immediately started torrenting the shows i'd missed while i was off the grid - i'd watched all the movies & read both books i brought, so i needed to restock for the upcoming airport hell.
first, though, food. the concierge gave me a simple map, & basically said to walk down two long streets. i found everything i needed on the first street:
1. food! i bought a lomo completo - the same sandwich i'd had at the airport, with fries - at a little side alley sandwich place. their menu also offered "lasaña & ñoquis - the letter ñ is pronounced nyuh (like the difference between ana being an-uh & aña being ahn-ya), so it makes written sense to write lasagna & gnocchi like that in spanish! the sandwich was pretty good, anyhow. the fries were nice but unsalted. i noticed on the menu that they also offered a dish described as "wound chicken", & i can only hope it's wound like on a spool, aka pulled chicken, & not wound like injured.
2. a present for joe, my ex who loaned me the gloves. he drinks a lot of mate (mah-tay), which is an argentine drink, & he drinks it shamefully from mason jars. i didn't spend the $30US it would've taken to get him a proper mate cup (mostly because they were all tiny & i know the quantities he drinks), but i did buy him a silver straw like they all use to drink it. it has a little filter at the bottom so you don't get mate leaves everywhere. i suspect he'll love it.
3. i picked up some small jams while i was there, which are my favorite international things to buy: calafate (magellan barberry) & mosqueta (rose hips). hooray for new foods on the list. :D
4. something to drink. i had a rare craving for a soda, & i found a "guaraná antarctica" & couldn't resist. guarana is one of my very favorite fruits, & it was tasty. & i maybe bought a couple pieces of mini mart junk food while i was there. X)
i ran into four nameless people from the boat while i was out, & it's always weird & pleasing to happen into people i know when i'm in a foreign country, no matter how i met them.
i'd been told there's a gondola ride or something up the mountain, & i thought that'd be cool, but it was an extended taxi ride away & my fun meter was pegged. i returned to the hotel after a few hours, took my pants off, & just lounged.
around 4pm, i decided to try the tattoo shop again that i'd been talking to in ushuaia about having my antarctica addition to the Grammy Memorial Tattoo. it had been... difficult talking with them - i was using google translate to speak clear spanish, but they were responding back with near nonsense. example: i asked if they're far from my hotel in ushuaia, they replied with what translated to "if you wish". o_O but i dropped 'em another facebook message, & we were actually able to work it out. turned out not only were they close to my hotel (about 8 blocks, walking distance even for lishes), they had time right away. glad i didn't wait - they said they closed at six. in the states, many tattoo shops don't OPEN until six. off i went!
the super cute front desk guy confirmed my directions & gave me some tips about finding it - he knew the place, on the second floor of what looked like an office building behind a hotel. he also told me where i could change dollars into pesos. i got a great rate on doing that at, of all places, a kawaii stuffed animal shop, then received the most street harassment i've seen in argentina: a quiet "hola" as a guy passed me, aww. oh yeah, i could pull in ushuaia. i continued speed walking to the tattoo shop (located on a street named 25 de mayo, which added to the confusion because it translates to "may 25th", & i was all "no dude, march 14!@!#"), & who did i run into but Sit Down, Grandma. i quickly asked her if she wanted to join me, & she did! she'd never seen a tattoo performed before.
i found the shop easily, just as described by the concierge. they spoke very little english, but as in buenos aires, we got along just fine. the shophand was chatting with me while i waited for sofia to draw my stencil, & explained to me that he's been learning english by watching movies with subtitles, & by reading the lyrics to the metal bands he likes. he showed me one, & i had to keep from snort-laughing - he's brilliant to learn that way, but the lyrics he showed me were basically "i'll kill you, motherfucker / fuck everyone in the world". X)
sofia was concerned about it being such small print, but relented when she saw the others, & i told her the letters on my forearm are 20 years old. i couldn't remember how to say "sun" in spanish, but i got the point across that i never go outside. her little english & my little spanish reminded me of being tattooed by evans in costa rica - & we made it work. funny how many long english words she knew, but she'd speak them in staccato bursts as she remembered each word one at a time. i probably sound the same way. sofia did a wonderful job, & i was pretty much giddy from being able to keep my streak of having all the country names tattooed in their countries... pretty much. :)
Sit Down, Grandma & i wandered about & had quite a nice time shopping together. i was much more willing to have dinner with her since she'd accompanied me for an hour or so, but all the restaurants were closed - argentinians tend to eat dinner very late by american (& german) standards, so we were kind of stuck. we shopped a bit (i bought a secondary gift: a proper antarctica cloth patch for aj, with a penguin on it.) we ran into Barely Discernible Brogue who didn't have a room for the night (he laughed when i said i had a double bed; i love making sexy guys uncomfortable), & i then found four more tiny jars of jelly: ruibarbo (rhubarb, which i've had but not as marmalade), corinto (a dark wine grape), grosella (gooseberry), & sauco (elderberry). i walked Sit Down, Grandma back to her hotel after that, begging tiredness & the need of a looooong shower. thirsty, i stopped through a mini mart on the way & found two bottles of fruited water that i love - grapefruit & pear - & another sweet i wanted to try, plus a package of my favorite cookies we had aboard the ship, maná rellenas sabor chocolate.
i set up my taxi for the next morning (the super cute front desk guy said i have a "very beautiful name", then quickly apologized like he was unable to resist having flirted with me - i could TOTALLY pull in ushuaia), confirmed that the driver would accept my $10US since my pesos were running short, & crashed back at the room for the night.
day 12 - march 15: USH to AEP to EZE to SCL
thus began the 36-hour quest to get home.
i woke before my alarm in a bed i swore was rocking (when moving i was fine, but when i was very still, the ground sloshed about), packed my final items, & took my friendly remis to the first of six airports. the sunrise was beautiful & i tried to capture it on a potato since my real camera was packed.
i found an outlet to camp, as is my wont, & went through pretty much no security to my gate. (really, they let me keep 20oz of liquid in my carry-on.) i looked up, & Sit Down, Grandma was standing in front of me, laughing. we chatted until her flight boarded, about twenty minutes before mine. my flight gave me an empty row, mmmm.
i made it safely to airport 2/6 - how odd to recognize a foreign airport! - & collected my bag for airport 3/6. the AEP to EZE portion wasn't a flight - i had to shuttle between the two airports in buenos aires. i saved about $200 doing this instead of the more convenient way, plus i got to see a little more argentina. i opted for the $12 airport omnibus (instead of the $40 remis), which promised wi-fi, but was actually full of lie-fi - no outgoing traffic. ;_;
waiting for the bus, a woman approached me from inside the airport & told me i left my bag. i... didn't do that. i had all my items, of course - i'm not new to travel. it probably belonged to the semi-frantic, disorganized group of guys who were ahead of me in the transit line, but i wasn't going with her to find out. weird.
after a couple hours, i arrived at airport 3/6, EZE. it was boring. i arrived with four hours to spare, spent the rest of my pesos on lunch from a menu with amusing typos, & chatted with james. james said he has diarrhea every time in airports, so i said it's because i'm using him as a voodoo doll so i don't get sick - that's right, he's my doodoo doll. (i'm not even sorry.) i also discovered that argentina thinks the same of cigarettes as costa rica did - horrendously vicious pics on the backs of the packs. (i'll kindly NOT include the image i took.)
the plane that i boarded was the fanciest fucking airplane i'd ever fucking been on. from the highly informative, responsive, & intuitive touchscreen multimedia panel (to the point that it gave a time-to-landing icon in the top corner, told you if your movie would be too long to finish, & actually gave a tiny map view if you touched the plane icon itself), to the real power outlet at every seat, to the huge selection of movies people don't hate watching (listed with their imdb ratings), to the motherfucking digitally dimmable oversized windows (yeah dude, it had a rubbery little up & down button & i don't even understand how it tinted the windows out but you pushed the button & a few seconds later it got darker, wtf)... amazing. the ceiling was lit in blue & reminded me of this pic i took when i was in china. it seated 3+3+3 & had the most immense wings i've seen on a plane, & i was really pretty blown away.
i took a ton of pics of the glorious sunset, & tried to get some when we crossed the gorgeous andes, but it was a bit dark by then even with the magic windows dialed back to zero. i didn't think i'd get to see airport 4/6 in santiago chile, because it was one of those same-plane layovers (fuck yeah, long haul with the amazoplane!), but there were three hours between flights, so i opted to stretch my legs.
i bought a couple drinks (mango nectar: disappointing; pear water: lovely, though i forgot to check for artificial sweeteners, so of course it had sucrolose) & a chile-made mint chocolate bar for 6600... of whatever currency chile uses. (the credit card receipt said $10.36US, so not too bad for an airport, all told. & my currency app just told me it's a chilean peso; ah.) i was hoping for wifi, but the free stuff wasn't working & i couldn't manage to brute-force any of the secured. oh well, my two chattiest friends were both told i may not be back online until new york.
i slept pretty well on amazoplane.
day 13 - march 16: SCL to JFK to SEA
well, amazoplane has one big downside with its fancy magic-tint windows: they turned them up to fully untinted at 6am & wouldn't let me retint. thanks, i needed a boring sunrise blasting in my face.
i reached airport 5/6, in new york, around 9am & was so happy to turn mobile data back on. the lines at JFK were pretty ridiculous - at one point i stood in front of what sounded like a grandmother from ghana, & she said clearly & slowly & verbatim, "i know i can kill a man." O_O i had to collect my suitcase & take a shuttle train to terminal five at the end of the universe to get to jetblue's departure gates (& most of the moving sidewalks were broken, but only in my direction, thanks NYC), but all was done without incident. i bought a jamba juice (mmm, wheatgrass) & somehow passed four hours until my flight boarded. (pretty sure most of that time was passed watching my snakes on their webcams - ah, mobile data.)
JFK to SEA took seven hours, three of which i got back with timezones. i was dumb & entered a jetblue plane hungry, so i had to spend money to be fed, but it was actually pretty good - for $7, i bought a box with hummus, whole grain chips, garlic basil olives, snacky broad beans (which i hope to find more of on amazon) & weird but tasty vegan chocolate chip cookies. with a glass of milk as my free beverage, i was sustained. i watched tv, i napped, i wrote, & i counted the minutes until i could be home washing six airports off my body.
it was so lovely to finally be home after 36 hours of traveling.
i made it! antarctica, i was in you & it was glorious.