Kim and I returned last week from a 3-week expedition to a part of the globe we never dreamed we'd ever see with our own eyes.
Patagonia and Antarctica.
How (or perhaps WHY?), you might ask, does a couple of country bumpkins from the cornfields of Indiana end of vacationing in the most remote place on earth?
Well, the whole story is convoluted...and if you don't want to know "why" but just enjoy the photos, skip this section and scroll down a little ways...
Our original plan was to take Kenny, my father-in-law, to Iceland, a place he's always wanted to visit. Just before the pandemic hit in early 2020, I booked the 3 of us a National Geographic trip to Iceland and Greenland (that part was for me...I wanted to see the northern lights) for September 2021. In the year that followed, Kenny's health declined and when the final payment was due he just didn't feel up to the trip so we canceled his spot, but Kim and I were still a "go." Then just a month before we were supposed to leave, National Geeographic pulled the plug on the trip when the nation of Greenland closed its borders due to Covid concerns.
After looking so forward to this trip, we were very bummed! Our Nat Geo travel agent told us she'd rebook us for the same Iceland/Greenland trip for the fall of 2023 (2022's trip was already sold out). At this point a refund was not an option...they would just give us travel credit for a future trip. Since we all know that a lot can happen in two years and we weren't thrilled with Nat Geo having all our money for 2 years, I asked what trips they still had available for this past fall. The Patagonia/Antarctica trip was one of the options, the timing was right, so we decided to go for it. It wasn't really a destination we had on our immediate radar, but...what the heck? We're "adventurers," right???
Actually, up until about a week before we left we were both thinking the trip would get canceled at the last minute. Covid had flared up again and we truly wondered if the trip would even happen. But it did...and for most of the month of November, we found ourselves immersed in an icy, pristine world we didn't even know exists.
Let me just add...travel post-pandemic is not for the easily-frustrated, impatient, or faint-of-heart souls. In the old days, a plane ticket and passport were all one needed to go anywhere in the world. On this trip, we took at least 5 Covid tests (one of our fellow travelers joked his nose had calluses from so much testing!) and had to fill out multiple documents from both Chile and Argentina (online and in Spanish!) to get travel affadavits required to pass through their countries. Kim, who if not faint-of-heart is definitely easily frustrated and impatient (besides being even much less tech-savvy than me), would never have navigated through all of that craziness without me to do it for him. But eventually we were able to jump through all the hoops and enjoy our trip.
So now you know the how and why...on to the expedition!
This was our itinerary...fly via charter jet from Miami to Punta Arenas, Chile where we boarded our ship National Geographic Explorer, which would be our home-away-from-home for the next 2+ weeks. The first few days we meandered through the spectacular fjords of Chile, getting off the ship each day to do various activities. Then we did the 500-mile crossing of the Drake Passage (which took 36 hours on the way there and 48 on the way back...more on that later...) to spend 5 or 6 days exploring along the many Antarctic islands and peninsula before heading back across the Drake into Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost city on earth) where we got on our charter flight for the trek back home.
This was where we lived for those 3 weeks...the National Geographic Explorer. The ship has room for 148 passengers, but thankfully there were only 61 of us. Apparently 75 were supposed to be on the trip, but 14 of those did not have their paperwork in order and were not able to leave Miami with us. Wouldn't THAT be so disappointing and aggravating?! I felt so bad for them.
The deal was, we entered a "travel bubble" in Miami and we were not allowed to interact with anyone outside our bubble the entire trip. We were essentially quarantined from the rest of the world and were told several times that if, along the way, any one of us (passengers, NG staff, or ship crew) would test positive for Covid, the entire trip would be canceled and we'd all be sent home. Once we got past those first few days with all negative tests, we could breathe a little easier as there was only a very miniscule chance of being infected since the places we went had virtually no humans there except us. I don't think penguins carry Covid, do they?
See those 3 windows along the side in the middle of the ship just to the right of the big orange liferafts? Our room was the first one from the left.
I'm pretty picky about beds, but I will say ours was quite comfy!
And our bathroom was plenty roomy...
This is the lounge just a few doors down from our room. We all met there 2 or 3 times each day, for informational briefings, presentations by the National Geographic naturalists and photographers, and "happy hour"/daily recaps each evening before dinner.
On the front part of the ship, just past the deck outside our room, was the Chart Room where they had lots of detailed maps showing where we had gone and were going.
And a latte machine.
A LATTE machine!!! I fell in love with lattes on this trip...started out having one every afternoon but by the end of the trip I was having 2 or 3 every day.
All of our meals were in the dining room. It was open seating, but Kim and I took a liking to this table and sat here almost every meal. Randy was our server and always ready for us!
After 2 long days of travel from our little log cabin to our much-littler ship cabin, we settled into our new digs ready for a good night's sleep. While we were sleeping, the Explorer began its navigation and we began our...
...expedition to the bottom of the world.