Our Expedition Followed Early Exploration

Before my trip, Swoop Travel suggested I read “South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition” and I followed that up by watching  PBS’s “Chasing Shackleton”.  I wasn’t sure if I should be frightened or excited to sail those waters!  The desire to explore this White Continent was shared by men of many nations as they raced to the South Pole. In 1961 the Antarctica Treaty System created an agreement between many countries (12 at that time) preserving this land as peaceful, cooperative among nations, and as a scientific research area.

The names of the Straits, the Islands, the Coves, the Seas all honored those who came before.  History and Geography were daily lessons offered to those on board my ship.

Crossing the formidable Drake Passage was not as daunting as it could have been.  In fact, the pilot called it a 2 out of 10.  Pushing my limits by going to the gym, attempting both yoga and treadmill running, left me without “sea-legs” and an unpleasant  first 24 hours.

Because of the good weather we were able to make our first stop late on the second day, Aitcho, allowing me to surround myself with penguins and get a first whiff of their unmistakable stench.

We then passed by Iceberg A57A before entering Antarctic Sound where we attempted to reach the Weddell Sea, the coldest ocean in the world.  Unfortunately ice floes and icebergs blocked out entrance but it was fascinating to hear the crunching sounds of the ship attempting passage. Instead we visited Kinnes Cove and Gourdin Island where we added the Adelie penguins to the Chinstrap and Gentoo we had already seen.

Linblad Cove and Mikkelsen Harbour were the landings the next day. Linblad was named after the conservationist who led the first tour cruise to Antarctica in 1966.

We visited the Vernadsky Station, a working  research base for the Ukrainians. Most of the inhabitants were there for the summers only but there were those who stayed all year-long during the dark winters and actually created many of the souvenirs they sold in their gift shop!

 

Paradise Bay was where we encountered the friendly Minke whale, the small avalanche, and amazing icebergs close up. This site along with Neko Harbour is certainly one of the most scenic areas on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano and one of the safest harbors. It is now both a tourist destination as well as a scientific outpost.  It has a very narrow entrance with a big rock only 8 feet below the water in the middle of the channel.

On the last afternoon we sailed by Cape Horn where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Our seas were calm unlike many days when the strong winds, strong currents and large waves can make this very treacherous especially for yachts and other smaller vessels.

The Le Boreal safely delivered all 208 passengers safely back to port.  Of these, eleven were naturalists with ranging areas of expertise. We had a few more women than men, probably because this was one of the few cruise ships that offered a “no supplement” for singles.  Over half were from France with US citizens claiming 48 of the spots, the Australians followed with 18 and the remaining were from 15 other countries!

 

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Frivolity amid the Frozen Continent

The whales, the seals and the penguins all provided fun and endless fascination. I could have spent every minute of my ten-day stint in Antarctica watching them.

The continuous chatter of the penguins to the growling seals made me laugh.  I even chuckled when the daring baby penguin approached me and bit my boot!

Perhaps their antics inspired me to enjoy my lighthearted side. One day after climbing a hill to get the best panoramic view I sat down and slid to the bottom, loving every moment except for the complaints coming from those who had to jump aside.  Another day when a French cohort was singing to himself in the zodiac I encouraged him to join me in singing “Frere Jacques”. Unfortunately due to my singing voice I might have been the only one having a great time!

I asked about the polar plunge and was told due to health risks this ship no longer participated so I had to substitute the pool!

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Nature’s Finest Art Gallery

A friend asked me what my number one takeaway from Antarctica was….took me a day or so before recognizing that the pristine beauty and the overwhelming silence was clearly a moving master piece!

  

Some of these photos are mine but the best ones were purchased from the ship’s photographer or given me by one of my new friends, Judy Smyth.

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Finally the 7th Continent!!!!

It has long been a dream but obstacles stood in the way.  As a single woman travelling alone cruise ships “per person based on double occupancy” pricing was one of those.  Another concern was 10 days on a ship.  And I was somewhat worried about meeting like-minded people with whom I could share meals and free time.

 

I have always tried to book my own trips but found this one to be somewhat difficult as this was my first ocean cruise.  After reading many reviews I decided to find an agent who could answer all my questions.  Luckily I happened upon Loli, from Swoop Adventures who has been to Antarctica many times.  After listening to my concerns she found two possibilities and had me consider the pros and cons of each.

  

The French ship, Le Boreal, from the Ponant Line was my choice and a wise one at that.  I had no complaints with the cabin, the food, the wine, the experts, the pilot, the new friendships or the amazing service.  What a wonderful adventure.  Future posts will detail the landings, the friendships, the knowledge, and the beauty.

 

 

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Anticipating Antarctica

I leave a week from tomorrow! My seventh continent has awaited my arrival for years and the excitement is almost overwhelming. I am nervous that there will be a delay in my flights, a government shutdown or an onset of some dreadful illness; but I’m also dreaming of the whales, penguins, albatross, a cabin of my own, French food and wine!

   

I packed a week ago already, determined to get everything into carry-on luggage just in case the airline decided to lose my bag like they did the last time I was in Argentina. I can’t wait! Ushuaia, Drake Passage, Port Lockroy, Port Charcot, Neko Harbour, Weddell Sea and Deception Island here I come.

 

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My Venezuela Story by Molly Gavin (guest writer and my daughter)

Many of us are currently glued to the news whether it be TV, social media or news sources to find out what is happening in Caracas, Venezuela where the people have long been suffering through a true economic and social crisis with between 2-3 million people fleeing the country in the past several years.

I have lived in Peru the last three months and every day I come across many Venezuelan refugees who are taking on any job they possibly can in the service industry and selling items on the streets or performing what they can for money. There is a clean-cut Venezuelan man wearing his national flag baseball hat that I often see walking up and down the boardwalk. You can’t miss him because he only has one leg and he walks on his crutches selling cookies out of a bucket for .30 USD. Another sweet young man, Anthony, who delivers water in my neighborhood felt lucky, gracias a dios, to travel home to Venezuela to see his family over the holidays. When he returned, I asked him how it was and he responded “horrible, completely horrible, but at least I saw my family”. Another young delivery boy fell completely in love with my dog, getting down on the ground to play with her saying she reminded him of his dog at home in Venezuela. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of families with no food, no money, hyperinflation, separated and current living conditions that I could never imagine.

I have been to Venezuela just one time, in Caracas, for a United Nations (UN) meeting in the first year of my career in telecommunications. I was representing a United States technology company based in Southern California but officially was a formal member of the United States government delegation which the US State Department leads. I was so excited to take part in something as esteemed as a UN meeting.

The date was September 11, 2001. I was 24 years old. I had just arrived in Caracas on American Airlines the previous night and one of my first observations was Hugo Chavez lecturing in one of his infamous long speeches on TV in Spanish; honestly, he did yell a lot but it helped me fall asleep. I remember that morning well. I was in the last stages of getting ready for the meeting, curling my hair in the hotel while watching CNN International on television. I watched in shock as the first tower of the World Trade Center was hit by a plane. They kept showing it over and over. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and thought it was an accident. I kept watching. Then the second tower was hit and the news started to become terrifying.

I remember thinking, the conference is starting now… am I just supposed to go downstairs to work or what do I do? I wasn’t sure how to call my family internationally and since I didn’t know what else to do, I went downstairs. I entered the huge hotel conference room set up United Nations style with all the countries represented and listed alphabetically according to their French spelling. I quickly found the United States delegation and the US State Department head of delegation. She was immediately welcoming and comforting to me especially because I was about her daughter’s age. Soon there were a plethora of other nations/ delegates surrounding us, crying themselves, crying with us, trying to understand what was going on but above all trying to console us.

The presiding head of the conference was from Syria and he started off the event somberly with some very nice words and a two-minute prayer and quiet time for the victims in the United States and for the US delegation here in Caracas. I remember thinking aren’t a lot of these countries supposedly enemies of the US? Not in person they weren’t. The US State Department said that the US Embassy was coming to the hotel and setting up a special room in the hotel for all the US delegates so they could brief us on the situation in the US and we would have a place to go if we needed support.

During the lunch hour of the conference all the US representatives went to the special room which was staffed with many Venezuelans who worked at the US Embassy as well as medical staff from Venezuela. I remember how amazingly nice the Venezuelan people working there were to me that day,; they would come up to hug me, to talk to me, to literally offer me a beer (or Xanax) if I needed it to feel better and genuinely showing all the U.S. citizens a lot of love. I remember thinking if there is any place to get stuck now it might as well be here. The people are beautiful, so nice, caring and fun to top it off.

The political and socioeconomic situation had started to deteriorate by that time in Caracas. People warned me not to stray far from the hotel because it could be dangerous and that inflation had already started to hurt the country. Obviously it was not anything like it is today where families had to split up and leave the country to survive. I remember walking by the Presidential office, el Palacio de Miraflores, and hearing that Hugo Chavez acted like a dictator but I really had no idea. I recall nights of being at the hotel bar in a nice garden environment with all the other US delegates and conference colleagues and feeling comradely and support. The music was great, people were amazing dancers and they were just so friendly, nice and welcoming to us. It is not lost on me how privileged I was and am.

I was lucky as I had emailed my boss Gabriela soon after the towers collapsed and she, a Mexican national, schemed to find the best way to get me back home to the US as soon as possible with many of the borders being shut down or flights cancelled. A few days later I flew from Caracas to Panama City, then to Mexico City and finally to Tijuana. When a company representative picked me up at the Tijuana airport and we crossed the border on foot to the US, I was so happy to be back to my family and grieve together for the tragedy that had affected our country. Today, I think about all the Venezuelan (and Central American and Syrian and on and on and on) families who are split up and just trying to find a way to survive with not a lot of love and support like I received in Caracas.   I’m rooting for Guaido and but most of all I’m rooting for the people of Venezuela.  I’m glad that they are center stage right now and pray the international community comes out to help the people and work with Guaido and the legislature to come out to help the people and support a plan that will kickstart the economy so that the people can begin again to find the quality of life that is humane.

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Eating as an Epicurean

My recent visit to Lima, Peru to see my daughter was a delight to say the least.  She scheduled at least one meal a day at an incredible restaurant….some little holes in the wall, others where I was definitely under-dressed.  Out of the seven stops only one did not include the ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juices, chili and onions, served with a side of roasted corn and vibrant sweet potatoes ), along with causa (a potato side-dish beautifully presented in a tower usually with avocado and seafood),and well, of course, the Pisco Sour!  This trip I also tried both the lomo saltado ( a delicious stew) and aji de gallina (creamy chicken in tasty sauce). I highly recommend both!

      

CNN, Bloomberg’s, San Pellegrino as well as other travel magazines have all listed Lima as one of the greatest gourmet cities in the world! Due in part to their diverse food crops and seafood as well as the cultural infusion from many other countries,  the plethora of highly trained chefs have created a city with really really good food! P.S. Robert De Niro  was at one of these places the night before us…apparently I sat in the same chair!

   

 

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