Sailing to Antarctica

When I read I might get a bunk on an Antarctic cruise in 2004 for $1,780.00, I made the call immediately. Of course the bunks were gone – that's the result for not reading International Travel News the instant it arrived. I did not quibble, though. I booked a share of a cabin on the captain's deck of the Llubov Orlova for $3,350.00.

Getting the best airfare on a flight to Buenos Aires was not so easy. I spent a few hours on the internet over a couple of weeks playing with routes and schedules before getting a fare on LANChile for a little over $700.00. This was at the end of the peak February season. On top of that, I booked a connecting flight to Ushuaia and post cruise flights to IguazĂș Falls and Montevideo.

Video on demand, the Los Angeles and Santiago newspapers did not help much with a sore butt and sleep deprivation on the leg to Lima. I did wake up a little with breakfast on the flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires. Once I cleared customs it was easy to find a $5.00 luxury bus ride up the toll road from EZE to downtown.

The internet deal I booked with the Hotel Dazzler on Plaza Libertad was a bargain. The location was great, the accommodation was nice, and the discount was significant. My second breakfast was terrific. Then I went back to bed.

La Boca, a colorful neighborhood

La Boca, a colorful neighborhood

By 1:00 p.m. I was up, ready to tackle the world. I walked to the Casa Rosada by way of the Teatro Colon and the cathedral, and then along Defensa towards La Boca. I had not done a lot of research on Buenos Aires. I was pleased I chose Defensa for a Sunday afternoon.

Along the way I was introduced to Carlos Gardel, who was standing outside No. 1056 Defensa. Yes, he had died in 1935, but there he was, entertaining in the neighborhood of San Telmo, his clippings on the wall behind him. Like Elvis, Carlos Gardel lives, and moreover, is quite willing to demonstrate the tango.

Walking past the Boca Juniors futbol stadium, where the roar of the crowd was constant, I found La Boca's brightly painted houses a great pick-me-up after a long trip. On the way back to the center of town, I saw pianos on the street and people playing the bandoneon, a small accordion-like instrument, which makes sounds only when squeezed.

Dinner was memorable. For about $10.00 I had medallion of beef with mushrooms in a purplish brown sauce which was delicious, shiitake and cleverly-done potatoes, layered in cream. With that I had a Quilmes beer and a dessert of hot chocolate in pastry sprinkled with powdered chocolate and a scoop of raspberry sherbet covered by a screen of caramel. The steak was of legendary quality; for this I did not leave the inn.

Ricoleta Cemetery, Evita's burial place

Ricoleta Cemetery, Evita's burial place

In the morning I walked out to see Eva Peron's grave in Ricoleta Cemetery. On the way back it was an easy twenty-two minute walk from the Dazzler. Going out, I did not find the entrance until I had walked almost all the way around the cemetery. Go up Guido to the wall and then turn right. The city of tombs was pretty dead, except for the crowd at Evita's family tomb.

Later I took a taxi to Aeroparque, Buenos Aires' close-in domestic airport, a cab ride of less than $4.00. The place sparkled. I enjoyed the great view of the Rio de la Plata. At Gate 12 I ran into Joe Daly, also from Santa Clarita, who had booked the same cruise. After our flight stopped at Trelew, we continued along to the southern most city on earth. As we left the plane I was comfortable in my summer shirt because there was a jetway, but I pulled my jacket out of my luggage before going outside to grab a cab to the accommodation, where I met my cabin mate, Ernst Gnepf of Switzerland.

Ushuaia reminded me of Sitka, Alaska. Gardeners were out tending the flowers. There was a route 3 sign pointing to La Quiaca on the northern border of Argentina, over 3,000 miles away. As we checked into the Llubov Orlova, the lady in front of me was told, "Tamara will show you to your room."

"Tomorrow? Why not today?"

We had been told the Russian crew might have a little difficulty communicating with us, but that was the last problem I knew about.

Choppy seas in the Drake Passage

Choppy seas in the Drake Passage

Our first day on the Drake Passage was easy. The lectures were fascinating and the food was good. In the evening we were rolling, pitching, yawing more. We had to keep a hand free for the ship at all times. Climbing up the circular staircase was like ascending the Leaning Tower of Pisa in an earthquake. At dinner one man was knocked off his chair by the motion. That night it was so rough, I was awake most of the time, hanging on.

At breakfast my stomach was fine, but I ate little as it took so much effort to get to the buffet line. In the afternoon Sue Adie, the expedition leader, asked us to take to our beds as we were about to change course. I actually slept for three hours.

We reached the South Shetland Islands. It was snowing, but we could see the skua diving to feed on the carrion. There were lots of bergie bits (icebergs smaller than the ship). Green ice and rocks appeared as we entered Nelson Strait. Our passage had been rated a six on a scale of ten. Only later did I learn that a ten meant turning into the wind for ten hours at full speed and losing three nautical miles in the process, with some convinced they were going to die.

Mountains mirrored in the sea

Mountains mirrored in the sea

Going around Cape Horn was a breeze. The sea was like glass. The temperature was 52 degrees F. After lunch we were shown an incredible film from Mystic Seaport, Around Cape Horn, done in 1929 and narrated in 1980 by the man who shot it, Irving Johnson. Much of it he filmed from the top of the masts while heavy seas washed over the entire deck. Our oldest passenger, John, 76, had rounded Cape Horn twice in a four-masted barque. He said, "Now you understand why I just couldn't describe it."

In the morning we docked in Ushuaia; our bags were already there. The check-in line at the airport moved well, as did the line at the airport tax cashier. I watched a little futbol on the Fox Sports channel, had a sandwich with Joe Daly at the Dazzler before he flew to Miami. Then I repacked, stowed my Antarctic gear at the inn, and went north, ready for the jungle.

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