I have been exceptionally lucky in my life. I was a nanny for awesome people who traveled often, meaning I was given the chance to visit a ton of places in a style to which I had before been unaccustomed, not only for free, but while getting paid. A few years ago, a dear friend who, due to being a bit on in years and having some challenging health issues, needed a companion on the trip of a lifetime – Antarctica.
The trip was organized by my friend Gerry’s alumni organization from Georgetown. Many major cruise lines have cheaper packages to travel to Antarctica, but they are typically on huge ships with thousands of passengers, and they make up the difference in cost by charging for every excursion that takes you off the ship. Luckily, everything was included in the price for our trip, and there were only 200 passengers on the ship. They had more than ten planned events that took us off the ship and onto the land itself. Also, everyone on the boat was also with an alumni association, so the boat was packed with people who were super smart. Berkeley, Harvard, Columbia, Tulane, UCLA; the list goes on. Since there was a substantial amount of time aboard the ship with nothing to do, various passengers had prepared lectures for the rest of us. While some were a tad dry, others were fascinating. A professor from Berkeley gave the best global warming presentation I have ever seen; another gave detailed lessons on the various animals indigenous to the area. The crew’s decision to screen a film on Ernest Shackleton was questionable (if you are unfamiliar, he and his crew traveled to the South Pole only to wake up one morning completely trapped
and they all died and it was a crazy intense struggle to stay alive (Thanks, Kortney!). It is an amazing story and I highly recommend it, but it was unsettling), but all and all, it was incredible. But enough of the minutia, let’s get to pictures of penguins and pretty things!
The trip started in Buenos Aires. We had three days to explore, whether with the group or on our own. I did a substantial amount of shopping because the leather goods there are flipping awesome, and because I like to be able to, when people ask where I got an article of clothing, to be able to say, “Oh, this? Actually, I got it in Argentina,” because I am a vain asshole like that.
We did a bus tour one day and got to see the Recoleta Cemetary, where Eva Peron’s tomb is located. There were a ton of cats roaming around, which I found both creepy and charming. We also went to the La Boca neighborhood, which is often used in articles about Buenos Aires because of its amazing brightly colored homes.
We then flew down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. It is in the Tierra Del Fuego province, and looks like the exact opposite of what you would expect a South American town to look like. Nestled among some of the most amazing mountains I have ever seen, it more closely resembles a Swiss ski village than anything stereotypically South America.
Fun Fact- on 29 December 2009, the first gay couple to marry in Argentina did so in Ushuaia. for more info, please see Ushuaia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Off to Antarctica
We boarded the ship and embarked on our two day journey to Antarctica. One of the most terrifying parts of this journey is crossing Drake’s Passage. Drake’s Passage connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean, and it is known to have some of the roughest seas in the world. We were incredibly lucky on the way down; the weather was lovely and the seas were relatively calm. On the way back, the boat was rocking so violently that some of us had chair races in the bar area of the ship. We would sit in the chairs against one wall, the ship would tip sharply, and we would go flying across the room. Yes, it was childish and dangerous. We had been on a ship for ten days, what do you expect?
The morning of the third day at sea, I woke up to these:
I won’t lie to you all. It is disconcerting to tool along the ocean with icebergs on all sides of you. I have seen Titanic; I know how this can end. The worst came later on, when we were closer to land. We would plow through areas full of what they call “growlers” because of the noise they make as they scratch along the sides of the ship. It is not a comforting sound.
I could bore you all with lengthy descriptions of all the places we stopped, but I think you might be more appreciative if I just show you some cuteness.
Okay, the fact that all that muddy pink stuff you see is indeed penguin shit, it dampens the mood a little, but only a little. Sad story – since our ship was so small, all the staff worked multiple jobs. The gorgeous young ladies and men who were dancers on board for performances were the same folks who had to scrub penguin shit off our boots before getting back on the ship. Sequins and feathers by night, parka and toilet bowl brush by day. Poor things.
I literally have thousands of pictures of penguins. I could do this all day, but I think our fearless leader would kick my ass if I killed the server with my photo show. This trip was the most amazing adventure of my life. No photos or words can capture the majesty that is Antarctica. The silence, the isolation, the utter peace that can overcome you if you allow it to; it is breathtaking. Even after a hundred icebergs, you can still be amazed by the next one. When you think you’ve exhausted your camera’s ability to take yet another picture of a baby penguin, you find an adorable little shit-covered one that has to be captured. I know it is not an option for many of us; goodness knows there isn’t a chance in hell I would be able to make the trip at this point in my financial life. But if you have the slightest inclination, I highly recommend saving up to go at some point. I can say with almost 100% certainty that you will not be disappointed.
All photos, unless otherwise noted, were taken by me or my friend, Gerry Davis.