Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Back to the Real World!

They could’ve, at least, taken us off the ship in the zodiacs, that would’ve been appropriate… Instead, we walked off the gangway onto the pavement, spent some five rather boring hours in Ushuaia, and went off to the airport. The Ushuaia taxi to the airport was no different than the other taxis in the town (sorry, city!), except that the trunk opens with a little piece of wire of wire strung through what used to be the lock, and the driver’s side passenger door is hanging a little crooked, so can really only be opened from the outside … by a professional (in our case, the driver).

At the airport, LADE remains the bastard stepchild without its own dedicated check-in counter and widespread confusion at the gate, which finally received an agent about five minutes before our scheduled departure time – we’d leave twenty minutes late. The plane says something like Fuerza Aerlinges Argentinians (sure to be spelling that wrong), I had noticed it on the inbound flight too, but still had no idea what it meant – just found it noteworthy that it said this instead of, say, LADE. Well, I’ve since figured it out (I think): Argentinean Air Force. Boo-yah!

As for military precision… well, that’s not in such high demand for the Fuerza Argentinian… as we left twenty minutes late, and then seemingly made a stop to pick up every hitch hiker along the way to Buenos Aires that wanted a ride (Ok, we made two stops, but at the departure gate, nobody had a clue what the number would be, I just knew that I’d had one stop on the way down). To be honest, I kinda like LADE’s pragmatism – they don’t pretend to be a discount airline (we got two food services on the way down and two more on the way up). They simply don’t bother issuing boarding passes or assigning seats because they don’t need to. And they don’t care what you think or what all those other airlines do. They also fly little Fokker F-27 jets, with overhead luggage bins that are just a shelf (much better than what Air Kras operates anyway!). And, finally, when they are going from Point A to Point B and Point C is on the way, and somebody wants to get on/off at Point C, well, we’ll just have to stop there. You know you’re not flying LADE to get there quickly. And, they get you there cheaply!


Well, I fell in 30 seconds into my kayaking experience. And was pretty embarrassed about it. And went right back out again (without falling in again) and had something to talk about for the rest of the trip. And I paid almost $900 for it, which is a lot… but, once again, it may have actually been worth it. And not for the normal reasons either – it’s because kayaking always gave you a choice: land or kayak. In the end, I kayaked five times out of the possible eleven (?) they had offered. Missed out on a fun slide on one of the landings, but that wasn’t nearly enough to tip the scales.

They say kayaking gets you that much closer to the wildlife. I don’t how true that is – the zodiacs get you awfully, awfully close, and they buzz all over the place, whereas we are a bit limited by our paddle power. Then again, when you are sitting in a kayak, your butt probably water level, and a 900 pound leopard seal with its blood-thirsty reptile-like look dives under you, and you have no idea where he’ll come back up… well, you feel pretty damn close to nature! And when Lousie nonchalantly mentions that you just may want to keep your elbows away from the water (lest he should mistake them for something tasty), you tuck them in right fast.

The very last time out, I finally learned to appreciate silence too… There wasn’t much wildlife out there (a seal here, a whale there, a few penguins swimming everywhere), so the zodiacs weren’t usually near us, and it got quiet… The icebergs sat peacefully in the water. We made big noise when the kayaks would hit the ice we were paddling through. And the ice/snow would make huge noise when an occasional avalanche would come down up above, or an iceberg would calve down below… Did I mention it was sunny, there was no wind whatsoever, and we didn’t really paddle all that hard – on this day, Paradise Harbor was serenity.

I hear some woman actually swam across Paradise Harbor recently – she’s fucking insane, whether she had a wet/dry suit on or not, and no matter how freakishly better her blood circulation is that most of ours!


It’s better than the zipline and the surfboard, right?

Actually, the zodiacs were quite amazing – they get us on land, they get us up close and personal with the seals, they let us see all sides of the amazing icebergs down here, and the whales occasionally get curious about them.

And we get to compare and contrast our different drivers in a sort of a mental competition. James and Rob win for most exciting. Scott wins for most knowledgeable and steady. The girls generally fare the worst in the speed drills. Sergey takes the cake for most Russian, including, apparently, regular encounters between the propeller and the rocks… But he’s calm, restrained, and, yet, quite funny about it all.


Up at 6, last Ioffe meal – breakfast at 6:30, and off the boat before 8. Everything ending too quickly and with a bit of an anti-climatic whimper. Now to learn to interact with people other than the hundred or so I’ve gotten used to over the last 13 days, settle for less amazing meals, and be forced to occupy myself on my own unlike Quark providing a full program here on board!

Drake to Cape Horn

Feeling fine in the morning, but sticking to the drugs just to be sure. Not much going on today – pay up your accounts, get your passport back, with Antarctica stamps in it, a movie on sailing around Cape Horn, filmed in ’29, narrated by same guy in ’80 – pretty funny, but the presentation room, with the lights dimmed, continues to put me to sleep… Looks like lots of free time today for reading/writing/listening to music. Getting kinda sad to be leaving the boat and the people met on board behind tomorrow!

back in the Drake

It’s rocking again… Feeling find in the morning, dizzy and noxious after thirty minutes in front of a computer. After skipping breakfast and lunch, give up and switch to “better living through chemistry” by taking a pill for sea sickness – works remarkably well. Enjoyable dinner, then play cards = “Chairman Mao” till 1AM. A bit more subdued than the night before when we were finishing my bottle of Argentinean vodka and 5.50 peso wine till 4AM (only 2:30 for me). Or the till 4AM birthday celebration for Marlese a couple days ago… Missed a few presentations during the day (while remaining perfectly horizontal), saw the “Plight of the Albatross” in the afternoon – poor, poor, unfortunate, very stupid bird!

Halfmoon Bay and Deception Island

Halfmoon landing – first big chinstrap colony, plus a bunch of fur seals. Spectacular rock spires all over the island. A whole lot more uncleaned up equipment strewn around. Seas looking a bit rough, so probably for the best to not go kayaking. Spend a better part of the landing listening to Conor and Kieran discuss cricket…
Afternoon: long sail to Deception Island waiting for another expedition to clear out first. Offers a picturesque sight upon arrival – sailing into the center of a volcano. A little steam coming off the water near the shore . Hike up to “Neptune’s Window” on shore, passing a bunch of fur seals lounging and playing around, remnants of the old whaling station, and the last three or four penguins to be seen on the trip… Whaling stuff, all rusted out , seems a little depressing after seeing all the whales on the trip.
Before getting back on the ship, it’s time for a bath. Due to the volcano, water here marginally warmer than normal, so bring your bathing suit! Lots of people, including some of the older passengers go in. A few go in twice(!). I got plenty of it during a ~15 second dip. Refreshing… Katy and Sarah go for a second dip… sans bathing suits. Hank had started the skinny-dipping tradition a minute earlier.