I don’t remember when we first realized that cruises to Antarctica often leave from Argentina, but as soon as it happened we started researching cost, travel dates and gear we might need to take. We very quickly realized that the cost was out of our reach, by a lot.
Still, the trip nagged at us. Every once in a while we’d check out the prices, always hoping something had changed, or that we would find a discount. Much to our disappointment, nothing ever changed; if anything, the prices actually rose as we got closer to high season.
Then, one day in December while I was wasting time on the interwebs in Santiago, I stumbled across a travel forum where someone had just put up a post about their recent cruise to Antarctica. As I read through the detailed review, one small comment caught my attention. The reviewer stated that she was surprised to learn that there were a half-dozen passengers on the boat who had booked last-minute in Ushuaia and had paid substantially less than most people on board.
It didn’t take long before I had tracked down travel agents in Ushuaia who specialize in these last-minute deals. The problem is that the prices listed on their websites were the same as the ones on the cruise website, so it didn’t seem that there was any discount at all. I tried in vain to email them, but I never got a response.
We waffled back and forth for weeks about whether we would head down to Ushuaia, a place not really on our itinerary, just to check the situation out. We hadn’t made any solid decision until very recently when we made it down to the bottom of Patagonia for our planned hiking trip through Torres Del Paine. While there, we began meeting people who had started their journeys in Ushuaia and were travelling up Chile and Argentina in the opposite direction from us. Every single one of them told us that all over town there are advertisements for the last-minute cruises. From what we could tell though, the prices were still much higher than we were hoping.
A few days ago we had to make a decision – head up to Buenos Aires, or head down to Ushuaia. We decided that if we didn’t at least check it out, we would regret the missed opportunity, so down we went. As an aside, if you can swing it, fly there. It took us nearly 30 hours to cover a distance that should have been traveled half that time, and it was easily the worst bus trip we’ve taken so far.
In any case, we dragged ourselves off the bus and into our hostel. The first thing to greet us upon arrival was a series of fliers touting last-minute Antarctica cruises…for prices that had dropped considerably from the earlier reports we were getting and were even less than the 40% off deals that some companies start to advertise directly on their own websites within a few weeks of unfilled departures.
The next day, which happened to be my birthday, we handed over the credit card and BOOKED A CRUISE TO ANTARCTICA!!!!! Best. Birthday. Ever.
We leave tomorrow!
We had to sign a waiver agreeing not to tell the other passengers how much we paid. We’ll give more details at a later date once the trip is over and we are far, far away.
Now, those of you who know me in real life might recall that I have a huge problem with motion-sickness. I get nauseous on hammocks, and sometimes from movies with too much action. That is not a joke. Tragically, to get to Antarctica you have to cross the Drake Passage, which is notorious for having some of the roughest seas in the world. It is going to take us two days, in each direction, to get through it.
My strategy for making it through alive? Lots, and lots of pills. I have close to a hundred motion-sick pills of different varieties, a few sleeping pills (maybe I’ll just sleep through those days…) and the assurance from people who’ve gone before that the sea on the other side is generally calm and enjoyable.
I’ll just have to keep thinking about the icebergs. The penguins. The whales. The incredible, majestic beauty of this frozen continent.