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Photo Friday – 7 Super Shots

23 Mar

We’ve decided to try and be more diligent about sharing pictures of our journey, so from here on out we will have a regular Photo Friday post.  We’re starting with a nice little travel meme, “7 Super Shots” started by HostelBookers and passed along to me by Nod ‘n’ Smile travel blog (check it out, they are in the final stages of the planning process and will be heading out soon!).  This meme is very straightforward – select 7 photos that fit into 7 categories and then nominate 5 others to share the same.

Since we are on the road, we’ve chosen only from pictures that we’ve taken on this journey.

A photo that…

1) Takes my breath away

Justin in the Andes at Macchu Pichu, Peru

We had gotten up long before dawn to make our way up to Macchu Pichu before the sunrise.  As day broke, the mist that had settled in the valleys overnight began to shift, rising and flowing up through the Andes.  It was a moment of such unexpected beauty that it really did take my breath away.

2) Makes me laugh or smile

Dianna Arroz. Of course.

I mean, how can you not laugh or smile at this?!?! We were grocery shopping in Bariloche, Argentina when we came across this marketing gem.

3) Makes me dream

Sunrise at Deception Island, Antarctica

I still cannot find the words to describe how incredible Antarctica is.  It really is the most beautiful, almost magical place we’ve ever been.  We got up at 4am so we could witness the sunrise on our final day of landings.  Watching the sun break the horizon that day, I felt like anything was possible.

4) Makes me think

Local woman near Maras, Peru

We took this picture on our way to see the salt ponds of Maras, in Peru.  The juxtaposition of this woman with the beauty salon advertisement, in the background (notice that the model is a blonde woman) makes me think about what happens when the modern and the new crashes into the traditional.

5) Makes my mouth water

Olives at the market in Arequipa, Peru

We LOVE local markets.  We can spend entire afternoons wandering around and sampling food, eating little bits of everything there is to offer in lieu of a real meal.  These olives were so perfect that I can almost taste them as I’m typing this…

6) Tells a story

Shaman during a wedding ceremony in Ollantaytambo, Peru

We were blessed with the chance to attend a local wedding during our stay in Ollantaytambo, Peru.  The traditional ceremony was performed by a shaman, and while we couldn’t understand the language much at that point, the beauty and the purpose of the ceremony came through very clearly.  At this point, a young girl had just come into the ceremony site with a bag of fresh milk.  The bride and groom’s families took turn offering the milk, and some wine, to the four directions, after which the wine was poured by the bride and groom and shared with all in attendance.  It was one of the most mystical things we’ve experienced, and we feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.

7) I am most proud of (a ‘National Geographic shot)

Glacier in Paradise Bay, Antarctica

It was hard to not choose pictures entirely from Antarctica for this challenge because it’s just so easy to take great photos there!  For me, this one just leaps out every time we sift through the tons of images from that trip.  Our zodiac cruise around Paradise Bay was one of the highlights of the cruise because we had absolutely perfect weather and, as you can see, totally still waters.  As our zodiac made its way closer to this ice hunk, a piece of it collapsed and sent huge chunks of ice crashing into the ocean, a reminder of the ever-changing landscape in Antarctica.

And now…I’d like to see 7 Super Shots from

Happy To Be Homeless

Fluent in Frolicking

Ric and Roll

Adventures in Nature

Click. The Good News.

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Antarctica!

27 Feb

Majestic.  Stunning.  Incredible.  Breathtaking.  Spectacular. You could give me a million superlatives and none of them would be quite big enough to describe the beauty of Antarctica.

We’d been tossing around the idea of a trip to Antarctica for months, and we were excited to have met a few fellow travelers who had booked the same last-minute deal as us.  Akio, a single round-the-world traveler from Japan had been sharing a room with us for the last few days in Ushuaia and we ended up with our travel agent from his suggestion.  Kristin and Brian are another married couple from the US who are on a two-year adventure around the world.  We rarely meet other travelling couples from the States and we hit it off with them immediately.  While we were all insanely excited to set out on this adventure, we were also a bit nervous about the infamous Drake Passage, which has some of the roughest seas in the world.  A few hours before we were set to embark, we toasted to our great adventure, and took the first round of Dramamine together.

As our sturdy ship, the Antarctic Dream, left the docks and sailed off into the sunset, I gorged myself on the first of the many fantastic three-course meals we would enjoy over the next 11 days.  We were told that we’d be hitting the Drake sometime shortly after midnight, so I dutifully swallowed another set of motion-sick pills and bid my farewells to our new friends.  I believe I actually said, “Well, I’ll see you in two days.”

I slept fitfully that first few hours, and there was a decided difference in the motion of the ship when we finally hit the open sea.  Much to my surprise, I awoke the next morning to a rocking ship, but not the lurching catastrophe I had expected.  It seems that luck was upon us and we made the crossing in record time, and with some of the smoothest waters you can find in this part of the world.   While I did have to spend most of those two days in bed, I was at least able to come up for meals and some socializing before having to retreat again to our little cabin at the bottom of the boat.

Our early arrival at the Antarctic Peninsula meant that we were able to make an unexpected landing at a Chilean research support base.   We bundled up in the many layers we’d need to keep warm – thermals, snow pants, fleece, gigantic parka (provided by the ship), neck warmer, hats, gloves, every sock I brought on this trip and a huge pair of rubber boots – and set off to view the first of the thousands of penguins we would encounter in the next week.

Our ship, like all responsible Antarctic cruise ships, is a member of the IAATO (International Alliance of Antarctic Tour Operators).  You see, Antarctica doesn’t have any permanent human inhabitants, and does not fall under the governmental jurisdiction of any particular country.  As a result, an alliance has been formed in order to protect and maintain the land and wildlife of Antarctica, and all tour operators have agreed to follow certain standards.  For our purposes, one of the most pertinent standards is that you are not allowed to have more than 100 people on land at any give place.  There are many ships that have more than 100 passengers, and therefore have to use a rotation system, which limits the amount of time you get to spend exploring the continent.  The Antarctic Dream holds a maximum of 80 passengers, which meant we all got to be on land at the same time, and for longer than some other ships might allow their passengers.

Antarctica can be fickle in terms of weather.  One of the things every travel agent, and every cruise ship operator, will stress is that the itinerary you look at before you book the cruise is tentative.  The staff prepares for as many as two landings per day, but it’s completely subject to weather and ice conditions.  It if is unsafe for passengers to be on the zodiacs, then there will be no landing.  If the ice is unexpectedly dense in one area, the ship might have to change its course.  We were told that the last cruise on our ship was only able to make 4 landings because of heavy fog and snow during their trip.  Fortunately, Mother Nature blessed us with spectacular blue sunny skies and over the course of the next five days we were able to go ashore an incredible 9 different times.  In addition, we took two zodiac cruises geared towards wildlife spotting around ice-burg filled bays.

I’ve seen the BBC’s Frozen Planet.  I’ve seen other people’s pictures of Antarctica.  Technically, I knew what it looked like.  The thing is, reality almost never matches those incredible travel photos that the professionals take because normal people can’t get to the spots where the incredible photos are actually taken.  This is not the case in Antarctica.  You get right up in there with the snow and the icebergs and the penguins and the whales.  I keep looking at my pictures and thinking, “Wait…I took that!  I was THERE!” There are many, many stories we have left to share from this particular part of this trip, and as we sift through our zillions of photos and videos we’ll begin to unravel the threads and share some of the smaller moments that have made this one of the most memorable experiences not just of this journey, but of our lives.  To tide you over, here’s a small sample of some of our favorite photos so far. It’s  much better viewed full screen.

 

*At some point very soon I will be writing an even more massively long and glowing review than what is about to follow about the crew of our ship, the Antarctic Dream, on Trip Advisor and I will link to it here.  In the meantime I would just like to say that so much of what made our trip so memorable was the amazing staff, crew, and fellow passengers of the Antarctic Dream.  We found very few reviews of this ship before we departed, so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but the service and professionalism of this crew exceeded anything we thought possible.  Our fellow passengers represented something like 15 different countries, and all ages and walks of life.  We met a fantastic array of people, many of whom we hope to keep in touch with in the chance that our paths will cross again.  We all ate like royalty, with buffet breakfasts, and delicious plated three course meals, including desert, for lunch and dinner.  The expedition team was extremely experienced and well educated, and they were also personable and kind.  The staff and crew of the ship were professional and hard-working, but also willing to take a moment to explain how something worked, or dash off to grab their own cameras (and most of them had impressive equipment!) when there was a wildlife spotting from the deck.  The Capitan and his staff were amazing, and allowed passengers to come onto the bridge of the ship to see how everything was run.  You could literally go up and sit with them and they would explain the workings of the depth finders, the control panels, the mapping instruments, anything!  I would recommend this ship in a heartbeat, and if I ever decide to take another polar cruise, either to the Arctic, or the Antarctic, it will be on the Antarctic Dream.  They have not paid me to write this, but if they’d like comp me for a trip to the North Pole, I’d be totally open to that 😉

The End Of The Earth

14 Feb

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.

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