Archive for the ‘Antarctica’ Category

Antarctica: All Aboard!

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Following the last minute reorganisation, we boarded the boat with many pre-conceived ideas about  the trip, our fellow passengers and exactly what our Antarctic experience was going to be.

Thankfully, we were wrong on nearly all counts.  The trip was out of this world and we’re struggling to put it into words.  To describe it day by day would take a while and never fully convey what we saw and experienced so we’ll summarise it as best we can, picking out the most memorable bits.  The only way to have any true idea about what we are talking about is to have experienced it first hand…

To make the final arrangements, we had to go into the local tour office in Ushuaia which should have been straightforward but was a drama in itself.  We walked past it twice as instead of being a glamorous glass fronted shop with brochures advertising The White Continent, it was a shabby door to an upstairs office next to a lawnmower repair shop.  They had posters of penguins and icebergs up there though.

Considering that these were the people that had just let us down, they were quite blasé about the whole thing and quite surprised that we expected more information other than “Be at at the pier at 4pm Sunday”.  Eventually they agreed to give us novel things like an itinerary, passenger list and just told us to show our passports at the gate…they’d be expecting us.

So, on Sunday we walked down to the seafront and there was our boat along with the big the monster cruise ships (seen in an earlier post).  We’ve established that our boat was quite posh and we were laughing at the fact that here we were with shabby backpacks, about to get on it.  We’d fit in fine.  To highlight this, an American couple passed us and we asked them to take a picture with our ship in the background…they took us with a cargo ship behind us.  Enough said.

With our confidence buoyed we proceeded to security and sheepishly waved our passports saying “My name is Mrs Jennings, we’re meant to be going on that boat”.  The guard looked confused, looked at her list, couldn’t find us but waved us through anyway.  So far, so good.

We got to the boat and walked up the deserted gangplank, still waving our passports.  We walked through a door and were greeted with a room full of smart staff smiling at us and handing us champagne.   Their smiles dropped for a second when they saw the rucksacks and trekking gear and  we’re sure we looked equally bewildered.  One of the stewards, about our age had to ask three times about which room we were in.  Clearly he thought the same as us – especially when he told Evie she could store her diamonds in the safe or hang the cocktail dress in the wardrobe.   ‘Strong British Girl’ is how he described Evie as he put her bag down – clearly he’s used Louis Vuitton pull-alongs.  That was Alexander the Great as he liked to be known; a Ukrainian with a dry humour to match ours – sarcasm prevailed for the next ten days.

As we sat in our wood panelled suite giggling, we tried to formulate a plan before the briefing later.  Daryl prepared his cocktail outfit…and polished his boots.  Evie smugly said  “a girl always has a smart outfit, its all about a capsule wardrobe darling” as she whipped out two or three combinations, complete with earrings to match.  Daryl stared forlornly at his khaki shirt, khaki pants and shiny hiking boots.  “Well, Indiana Jones never goes out of fashion honey –  where’s my whip?”.
We also tried to work out a story for why we chose the trip. We thought an ambiguous ‘This was what we had planned for a long time’ wasn’t a complete lie.  We also planned to seek out the Aussies, Kiwi’s and Canadians on the list as they can always be relied upon to be good company.
Lastly we tried to work out a budget for drinks etc.  A boat like this is bound to be more expensive than an ex-research vessel.

We went to the briefing and there were the usual introductions, safety drills and two vital pieces of information.  Firstly, “On this trip, cocktail dress is whatever the best thing you have with you is”.  Daryl grinned and winked at Evie.  Secondly, “Following this briefing, I invite you all up to the Club bar for cocktail hour and remind you that we operate a free bar policy for the duration of this trip”.  We both looked at each other and tried our best to act nonchalant, we’re posh travellers after all, not binge drinking Brits!

At ‘cocktail hour’ we were sat on a sofa with a couple of chairs opposite.  On these boats with rough seas, all furniture is chained down for obvious reasons so there’s not a lot of room to manoeuvre (unless you’re Evie).  We sat sipping our beers watching as this large rugby player sized guy tried to wedge himself into a tiny chair with a coffee table in front of it that made Easyjet legroom look generous.  He looked like quite a character as he was dressed in shorts and a TinTin t-Shirt – not Country Club casual.  As he made himself [un]comfortable, we suggested that he and his wife join us at our slightly more spacious sofa.  This was Chris and Robyn; the Aussies who clearly thought Australia was not good enough and came from ‘Australis’ on the manifest.  They assured us that it was a translation error and then very generously got a round in.  We liked them immediately.

We were called down to our first dinner and we’re afraid it gets better.  We were greeted by Bogdan the M’aitre’d and escorted to our table where our waiter Arnold from California (or really the Phillipines he admitted) offered us a five course meal plus coffees with silver service (hallmarked as well, not cheap plating!).  If that wasn’t to our liking, the Chef could always cook something to request.  There was also unlimited wine available every night at dinner, sourced from all over the world and of a good age or champagne if preferred.  There wasn’t a plastic canteen tray or beaker in sight and everything was included.  We were really missing our ex-research vessel.

After dinner, during which we’d established our ‘it’s a small world connection’ – Robyn and Chris used to live in Northolt, the same town where we lived in our old flat, we found out everything about their eldest child Patrick from Robyn and they asked us in a vague manner, “You don’t look like this would be your type of boat…did your plans change recently?” 
Yes, it turns out that they too were booked on our old boat AND were booked on the one that sank the year before! Third time lucky then!

They went to bed and we went out on deck for some fresh air and to see if there were any stars.  We joined another Aussie called Leigh who was equally excited about the trip, camera in hand whale watching…in the dark.  There were no whales.  Yet.  There was however an awfully big golden globe on the horizon.  It looked like the sun, but was in fact the moon-rise.   We were joined on deck by a cute, Evie-sized, long silver haired lady that turned out to be Leigh’s mum, Miranda.  For the next thirty minutes or so, we were the only passengers slowly being rocked on deck watching the golden light gently reflect on the Beagle channel.  It was a magical start to the voyage.

Rock and Roll

The next morning it was clear that the dream was over for now as the room was rocking and rolling – we had entered the infamous Drake Passage.  John, the tour leader described it as a ‘right of passage’ – literally! – to the White Continent.  We all felt a bit ropey, although John informed us that this happened to be a particularly mild crossing! 

A day and a half later the seas eased and we’d crossed the convergence (where the hot and cold waters meet) and were officially in the Southern Ocean!  Because of the  ‘mild’ Drake, we’d make excellent time and were able to aim, weather permitting, for a unscheduled stop at Elephant Island which we were all happy about.  Elephant Island is famous in Antarctic history as it was the island that Ernest Shackleton and his men were marooned on for several months and all survived. 

The seas were choppy as we approached the island and was covered in mist; we were aiming for Point Wild where Shackleton’s men took shelter.  On deck we all stood in silence in anticipation of…well, we weren’t quite sure what.  Then it appeared out of the mist and seemed to slowly glide toward us; a dark, sharp jagged point with Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins standing guard and a looming glacier, almost glowing, directly in front of us.  The Captain slowly edged us closer and porpoising penguins across the bow seemed to guide us in. 

Through the mist we just make out the rocky landing where the men sought shelter, along with a memorial to the Chilean Captain of the tug that eventually rescued them.  This area was cold, exposed and lashed by the wind and rain so, to think that the men said that this was the best spot they found shows how truly wild the island was and how desperate they must have been.  This was also our very first sighting of land within the Antarctic continent and was an eerie, yet somewhat humbling moment.  We were fortunate to have one of the expedition leaders, Trevor Potts on board; he actually re-created Shackleton’s journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in a replica of the James Caird boat (the lifeboat, now in Dulwich somewhere) so he was able to give us in-depth knowledge and insight which was fascinating.

Honey, I think I saw an Iceberg!

The next day the weather took a turn for the worse.  We woke up to the boat rocking and Evie opened the curtain.  Then closed it again. 
“Honey, I think a big iceberg just floated past.” 
“What do you mean big, we’re in Antarctica, what do you expect?”
“I mean I just saw a wall of ice, Titanic style.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sure the bridge saw it.  Shall we go down for breakfast then?”
It turned out that we were in ‘Iceberg Alley’ and we had icebergs (traditional Titanic size), bergy bits (small icebergs) and tabular icebergs (HUGE blocks of ex-iceshelf – the smallest was at least 4 times the size of our boat and that was just the bit above water!) floating left, right and centre.  Oh, and there were high winds of over 50 knots that prevented any landings.  With all of this, it was a dramatic day with the boat constantly pitched at a 45 degree angle, waves lashing over the bow, wind that took your breath away and threatened to knock you off your feet – well, Evie’s anyway.  At one point, Daryl walked to the front of the boat with Evie but when he turned around, she hadn’t moved and was clinging to the rail, unable to move forward and terrified that she was going to get thrown into the pitching sea.  Which at that point, was a real possibility.   Scary stuff.

Our first landing was at Cuverville Island.  We were advised the sun was shining but to wrap up warm, so we wore thermal underwear, t-shirts, fleece and our expedition parkas – it’s all about layering.  We found out five minutes after landing that we were dressed for London at that time, not the balmy Antarctic which was 5 degrees in the sun!  We were hot and so toned down the layering from then on – T-shirt , long johns, waterproof trousers and parka worked well.

As we approached the landing site in the Zodiac, we were all really excited to see John the leader and the landing crew waiting for us with little penguins walking around their feet!  We were given a brief of the island and told to respect the penguins, their ‘highways’ and keep our distance, although as he delicately said, we’d be able to see and smell where you shouldn’t go. 

We flung ourselves out of the Zodiac and stood there with a lump in our throat, overwhelmed at how special it was to finally be there and see the penguins wandering around care free, regarding us as strange big penguins with red feathers.  Then the wind changed and we smelt the guano (pooh) of the colonies…it brought a tear to our eyes to say the least!

That afternoon we visited Neko Harbour which was our first landing on the actual peninsula where we saw more penguins, a couple of Weddell seals and an Argentine Refugio (their way of unofficially claiming the land).  There was an impressive glacier too calving into the water, but the highlight was climbing up a steep ridge to get a magnificent view of the harbour before taking the quick route down.  Yes, we can officially say we’ve sledged on Antarctica!  One hell of a ride and a million times better than any theme park!  The penguins just looked on, confused.

Another evening, we were cruising down the Lemaire Channel towards the southernmost point of our journey, Vernadsky Station – a former British station (Faraday) that was sold to the Ukrainians in the 90’s for £1.  The channel was a dramatic mixture of dark towering mountains and crisp white glaciers and snow with free ice floating around and the occasional seal or penguin hitching a lift.   Stunning.  As the sun lowered just before midnight, we were treated to a spectacular sunset throwing the most amazing light over the mountains and across the sky.  Everything was bathed in pinks, oranges and yellows and even the naturalists who do this journey several times a season were blown away.  Most people came out on deck to watch it – even those that had gone to bed were out in their bathrobes and slippers.  All you could hear was the click-click of cameras as we all snapped every moment of it.  We have quite a few pictures of this sunset and without boasting, all were good, although you’d struggle to take a bad one in that kind of gorgeous landscape .  If you picture those inspirational posters with a stunning landscape and tacky slogans like ‘Believe’ or ‘New beginnings’, this was like those – but better.  And if anyone wants a good screen saver or desktop picture, please ask!

Our visit to Vernadsky Station was exciting in that it was the southernmost point of our trip (excluding Wordie Hut, which was an unmanned hut around the corner) and we could send postcards or have a shot of drink of home made Ukrainian vodka at the bar.  All of this however was overshadowed by the blatant capitalism and the poor quality of souvenirs for the price, hence we only sent a few postcards that we’d brought from Ushuaia.  The postal system at the station was, ‘You pay now, we send it in the next two months’ so hopefully the postcards we did send will arrive sometime in the next year!
One of the greatest man-made sights here was looking at the confused faces of Americans as Chris climbed up a snowy hill in only a Hawaiian shirt and trousers…only to drop them and reveal shorts  underneath at the top, all for a photo with Robyn they’d promised to take for their travel agent who’d made their trip possible.  It was incredibly warm up there, positively balmy and it made the surrounding scenery so crystal clear, it took your breath away.

We were due to visit a British station the following day called Port Lockroy and were slightly sceptical about what we’d find there and how much it would cost, given the previous visit at Vernadsky.  We dropped anchor that night just offshore against another fabulous sunset and could see that our next landing was a cute little black and red hut on a tiny island next to the peninsula with a towering glacier behind.  Apparently, this base was set up during the Second World War as research station to distract the Nazis about what the Brits were doing down there and the soldiers had thought they were going somewhere warm because they had been given sunglasses!  Very clever!

We needn’t have worried.  It turns out that Port Lockroy is effectively English Heritage overseas!  The whole site is a living museum, complete with three volunteers and a permanent member of the British Antarctic Heritage Trust who live at the station for four months every year.  Everything is preserved from the 40’s/50’s, complete with Bakelite switches and old tins in the kitchen.  We spoke with one of the volunteers, Laura who was 26 and spending a season there after she’d visited it the year before on a trip similar to ours.  Normally she worked in an office in London for an insurance company, but now she was ‘chief penguin counter’ and guest facilitator for Britain in Antarctica i.e. she watched penguins in between greeting visitors from ships twice a day; she was lovely.  Not a bad day job for a few months and it was great to be able to see all the Gentoo penguins and their chicks wandering around, fearless of humans and inquisitive enough to come up to you!  We were all in our element watching the wildlife.  Souvenirs here were also good quality, reasonably priced and all proceeds went back into the Trust so we bought a couple of things and made a donation.  Rick, the permanent member of staff  who helped restore the hut was very proud and understandably so.  He was in his element and chatted freely about the station, it’s work and experiences etc.  It was an excellent landing and probably one of our favourites.

Throughout the trip, there had been a running joke about whales; we had seen hundreds of penguins, dozens of seals and loads of birds (and we never got bored of seeing any of them!) but most of us had only glimpsed whales in the distance or seen a puff of spray from a blow hole.  We say most of us because there had been two groups that had been on a zodiac cruise (the little boats that took us ashore) who had been fortunate enough to have two humpback whales swim right up to them, pose for photos and even lift their heads about 4 feet out of the water!  They were close enough to touch (although they didn’t of course!) and everyone on those boats had amazing pictures; one guy also has a video with underwater footage of the whales going under the boat!!  It was a rare and amazing experience and even though the rest of us missed out (we were on the previous boat!), we were all still excited to see the footage and happy for those lucky few.  The fact that it had happened on our trip was special enough and as you can imagine, we were all on a high.  The whale expert hadn’t seen anything like that in twenty years.

Leigh had also had a number of brief whale sightings, but this was mainly due to his diligence in standing on deck at all hours in all weathers, wrapped up looking like a ninja with a Nikon.  Unfortunately, he also wasn’t on that special zodiac that had the whale encounter, but he really wanted a good picture.  As a primary school teacher, he assured us it was for educational purposes for his class so he was on a mission to get one!

That afternoon we visited Paradise Bay and it certainly lived up to its name.  The waters were still, the sun was shining and the ice and glaciers were gleaming.  We climbed up a ridge and got an amazing 360 degree view of that part of the Antarctic peninsula and its undulating mountains with the calm bay below, dotted with intricately shaped icebergs and glaciers occasionally calving into the water with a thunderous crash.  It was beautiful.  After taking in these sights for a while we proceeded down the quick route again – on our backs sledging – and this one was even better as it was a lot steeper and we went so fast, we took off from a ridge before landing in the powder snow – great fun!  That wasn’t enough for some people though and Leigh and a couple of South African girls even went for a quick swim!  Daryl kept saying he would have gone in too if he’d known they were doing it but I guess we’ll never know…

We had a whale of a time

We left the bay and the boat began retracing its steps through the channel as we started heading north again.  The skies were blue, the sun was shining – perfect BBQ weather, so that’s what happened. We had a BBQ lunch out on the ‘sun deck’, basking in the sunshine, taking in the dramatic scenery sipping wine and enjoying succulent lamb chops.  Life was good, could it get any better?

Yes, apparently it could!  The whales came.  After lunch, the bridge had detected two humpback whales close by in the channel so the captain slowed the engines and we drifted.  Everyone was on deck, watching intently when we heard the tell-tale ‘pffff’ of a blow hole nearby.  There was a mother and her calf surfacing around us and they gave us a fantastic impromptu performance.  Although they didn’t stick their heads out, they swam around the boat for a good half an hour before they dived and everyone managed to get good shots, especially of the flukes (tail).  We were all pleased – especially Leigh!  He was practically bouncing up and down! Robyn was also ecstatic as that was the shot she’d wanted from the trip along with a blue iceberg and now she had both.  John (the tour leader) assured us that it wasn’t a planned event nor were they trained, despite all the jokes about whale spotting and a convenient BBQ on deck; it seemed we were just in the right place at the right time and whales were curious.

Hannah Point was described as a mixture of everything we’d had seen in one place – it had Gentoos, Chinstraps, Weddell seals, Fur seals, Elephant Seals, a whole variety of birds and landings had only just been allowed in the season.  For this landing however, it was cold and windy as well as snowing so we were experiencing Antarctica as you always imagine it to be.  Despite the weather, it didn’t detract from the awesome spectacle of huge crèches of penguin chicks wandering around with rafts of large Elephant seals lying amongst them.  These cute fluffy chicks really were fearless and very curious and would happily wander right up to you if you stayed still and have a look.   To say it’s cool to have a little penguin chick stood at your feet looking up at you is something of an understatement!  We walked on a bit and experienced the Elephant seals in all their glory from a distance – they were lying there farting, burping and occasionally growling at chicks that got too close – when the wind changed, you could really smell them.  Because they were moulting, their fur was all mottled and a mixture of fluffy and sleek fur – they looked a mess but we certainly weren’t about to tell them!
Our last landing was at Whalers Bay on Deception Island.  Deception Island is formed from the ring  of a volcano and looks like a doughnut with a narrow channel cut out.  Because of this shape, it was a natural shelter for ships and was used extensively for whaling in times gone by.  Now, the buildings and tanks have been left to crumble and slowly decay.  It’s a very bleak and desolate landscape with an eerie haunting atmosphere, given its bloody history.  The land was also dark and black from the volcano and this was contrasted with crisp white snow and in its own way, was captivating.  The volcano also created geo-thermal pools and these created floating clouds of steam across the shore that shrouded the occasional penguin.
We looked around the buildings and walked up to Neptunes Window, a cut out in the rock that looked out to the sea.  After we’d seen enough, we were all given the opportunity to swim in Antarctica and bathe in hot pools dug out in the sand.  Daryl gave it a go and the water probably wasn’t much worse than the North Sea (so he says, he certainly looked a tad cold!) but the pools were really hot as it was hard to regulate the temperature!  Leaving this last landing, there was an air of depression hanging over the boat both due to it signifying the end of our trip before the return through the Drake and also reflection of what had gone on there.  It was an interesting landing though and a good contrast to all the others that had focussed on wildlife and views.

Other memorable moments on the trip were: zodiac cruising amongst icebergs in the sunshine and  seeing Leopard seals lounging, looking serene with their mottled fur (even though they did look like big eels), as well as seeing the wondrous architecture of nature in the icebergs and seeing clear ice that looked like crystals.  Returning from a landing to find that the on-shore board (what counts you on and off) had fallen and they relied on you raising a hand if you weren’t there was interesting too…Returning from each landing to Bouillon (posh soup), hot chocolate or brandy to warm the cockles was fantastic and having dinner with a such a wide variety of people in terms of age, profession and nationality was brilliant.  Some went a lot better than others and some were really fascinating and stimulating, but all were enjoyable – apart from the ones that Evie missed due to the Drake passage!

As we said at the beginning, we started this trip with many pre-conceived ideas and really didn’t think it would live up to what we expected.  We were right, it didn’t – it surpassed it by miles.   This trip really was a once in a lifetime voyage and right now we cant see ourselves going back to Antarctica again purely because everything seemed to be perfect.  We met some lovely people and have made some good friends, who we’ll catch up with again on this trip and we all have memories that will last a lifetime.
We feel really privileged to have visited Antarctica and our ramblings nowhere near do it justice.  It’s definitely touched us though and all we can say is that if you ever have the desire and chance to visit, just go. 

It’ll blow you away.

Antarctica – Pre departure: Icebergs ahead!

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Having confirmed that our ship had arrived the night before, our morning in the hostel was quite surreal, a mixture of excitement and disbelief – several people heard us muttering to ourselves “Oh my God, we’re really going to Antarctica!”


All of this was made stranger by the events leading up to that day throughout December, so lets start at the beginning…


Once upon a time there was a couple who had had carefully researched (in their opinion) every Antarctic cruise/expedition/voyage known to man trying to find one that met their exhaustive requirements – affordable for real people and not just those blowing the kids inheritance, watertight and not too big i.e. about a 100 people big.


We’d drawn up a short list of vessels that suited and booked our trip. Then requirement number two failed.


In early December we were having lunch watching BBC News with Evie’s mum and saw pictures of Antarctica. Before we turned the volume up, we said ‘Look mum, we’re going to see icebergs like that on our boat called the MS Ushuaia! How cool!’. Then the BBC man said ‘…the MS Ushuaia has just run aground, is now leaking and all passengers are being airlifted out…’


Evie’s mum completely missed the point: ‘Ah, that’s nice – they’re getting a free flight home’.


Daryl called the agent: ‘Hello Mr Jennings, I presume you’ve just seen the news then? Yes, we’re just a bit busy trying to evacuate our clients right now…can we call you back?’


The previous year, a boat belonging to another company had actually sunk in the Antarctic and even though they’d just replaced it, we’d decided not to tempt fate – maybe the odds would have been in our favour!


So this was early December. We were eventually assured that the ship would be repaired by January in time for our trip and we’d made it clear that we were going contINent and any last minute changes could be catastrophic in terms of having to change flight dates etc, but we were repeatedly assured that everything was in hand. Phew! We joked that this would make a funny story for our blog…


The weeks ticked by; we paid the outstanding balance, got our vouchers and were assured again that with two weeks to go, everything was fine and repairs were progressing nicely.


We started getting excited and even started joking with people that we’d be in the cabin with a big plaster over the porthole. How cocky we were, praising our good fortune that there was enough time for repairs and that we weren’t on the stricken tour.


Then on the 30th December there was an answer phone message from the agent asking us to call them urgently. We hoped they were really desperate to wish us a Happy New Year. No such luck. ‘Is that Mr & Mrs Jennings? I’m afraid the boat’s not fixed. We were wondering what your plans were before and after the trip?’


Suffice to say the ensuing conversation was strongly worded.


Luckily we’d travelled enough to know when to build in a few days contingency either side of the big event. Of course, we told them they’d ruined our plans; any changes would have impact further down the line and we’d had this conversation four weeks ago when they’d assured us they’d not be making this phone call! They went away to speak to their Argentinian partners and would get back to us the next day – New Years Eve, but their office would only be open a half day and there’d only be one member of staff. No pressure then.


Just bear in mind that we’d chosen a budget trip on an ex-research vessel; the sort of thing where you’d have a simple but comfortable bunk, a small porthole and if you were posh like us, your own private toilet. Meals were canteen-style; simple but filling and did the job. The bonus was that soft drinks, tea and coffee were free but you’d have to pay for alcohol. Fair enough. This is the trip we’d been looking forward to for years and was what we’d always imagined doing.


New Years Eve. The phone call came. The best way to describe what happened next is to paraphrase the conversation as best we can…


“Hello, we’ve managed to find you a replacement ship leaving within the dates you gave us. Its run by an American company and is slightly different but you should get to see the same things. We haven’t seen the itinerary but as its the same amount of days, it should be fine, it is a bit bigger though, about 150 people”


While we were talking, she gave us the name of the ship and we did a quick search on the internet to see what we could find. Before we saw pictures, we read a brief description, something like: ‘…after the Captains dinner, guests can relax in the Club lounge with cocktails, before retreating to their wood panelled room with marble appointed bathroom and terry towel bathrobes…the dress code is Country Club casual…’


“Okay but this really isn’t want we signed up for. We paid a lot of money for our dream trip, a real expedition, not a luxury cruise with a bunch of wealthy American pensioners. We’re backpacking and don’t do ‘Country Club casual’. In fact, what the hell is Country Club casual?! This isn’t good enough, we don’t want luxury bathrobes, we want a simple boat like we asked for. Please try and find something more suitable.”


“Er, okay, I understand…leave it with me and I’ll see if there are any other options. But I dont think its likely. I’ll call you back in a bit.”


All of you that know us know two things 1) We don’t get stressed very often – this was one of those times. 2) We are ‘simple’ people in the best possible way. We made a point to exclude any trip that looked like a P&O cruise and it now looked like it was all going wrong diddly wrong.


In the meantime we looked at the website in more detail and tried to compare this new trip to the one we had paid for. It turned out this was actually classed as an expedition cruise and would therefore do nearly everything we had planned. Good. Then we looked at a description for the room we had been allocated.

It wasn’t a room…it was a suite.

It didn’t have a porthole…it had two full size windows looking out to the front and side of the boat.

It didn’t have bunks either…we had to make do with a queen size bed with Egyptian cotton sheets.

Then we saw the list price and choked. It cost a few pence more than our old room.


We sat there stunned and realised that we’d actually been complaining that we’d paid for a B&B but were now being moved to the Ritz, metaphorically speaking. No wonder the agent was confused.


We frantically searched for the agents phone number to plead temporary insanity and gladly accept their offer, then the phone rang again.


“Hello, this the MD of the travel company. I understand there has been some issues with the booking? I strongly suggest that you take it because if you don’t, I would believe me! Its a really good company and the mix of people is good too. Its not all Yanks and its not the blue rinse brigade. You’ll have a good time I’m sure and no, you don’t need a suit and I have no idea what Country club casual is either. Its Antarctica, they cant expect you to wear Pringle and Fred Perry. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You have nothing further to pay, just for any additional things you purchase on board. So relax and enjoy! Happy New Year too.”


We humbly accepted and made sure he sent an email to confirm. We sat there stunned (again) because now on New Years Eve, our original budget boat was still broken, yet here we were having just spoken to the MD of the travel company who had urged us to take a 5-star cruise, in the third best room on the boat, with a value almost three times what we paid at no extra cost to ourselves and best of all, we were still going to Antarctica!

Bring it on!



Wednesday, January 21st, 2009


We just got back and fly to Santiago this afternoon but need time to reflect before we give an update on an amazing continent…

Ships That Pass in the Night

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

For those of you that dont know, the original trip we had planned was just Antarctica but over dinner one night after a bad day, it kinda grew…into in-continent!

After much research we chose a voyage that matched what we wanted (and could afford) on a small research vessel. It was raw and basic, just what we wanted.

Then we saw this on the BBC news:…

Yes, of all the boats to get into trouble, it had to be ours! At least it didnt sink like the one last year!

We were assured that it was going to be fixed by the time we got out here…until we got a call on New Years Eve that it wasnt.

To cut a long story short, we have been placed on another ship that really isnt what we were expecting. We were told that it was slightly bigger and in the harbour…

Boats in Ushuaia

…thankfully its the one on the right!

There’s a hell of a lot more to say about this new boat but that can wait till we get back – counting chickens and all that.

We board in a couple of hours and set sail tonight. Currently the weather is a warm 13 degrees and still, so hopefully the Drake passage will be forgiving…

It costs $5 per minute to send an email on the boat (it takes on average 3mins to send one) so I’m afraid you won’t hear from us for 10 days.

Oh, and if we end up on the BBC news, we’ll be sure to wave.