Finally on our way

“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh.

Aaaannndd we're back, after three days of planes and buses, interrupted by brief forays into the actual outdoors. We flew from Boston to Miami on Sunday, and then flew out Monday to Buenos Aires, arriving in the evening, where we met our group. Tuesday was sight-seeing day, as group members continued to arrive through Tuesday evening.

A&K had arranged for a bus tour of the city in the afternoon, so we had the morning to ourselves. We took advantage of the time to see the city's famous opera house, el Colon Theater. Chris and I had been to Buenos Aires a few years ago, but missed this gem, so I was glad for the chance to see it. It is spectacular, and I would put it on your must-see list. I will save the details - and the secrets! - for your discovery, but just know that it ranks with the great opera houses of Europe. Acoustically, it is near perfect, so much so that on his one and only appearance there, Pavarotti said he would never return. The acoustics were too perfect, you see, and the great tenor was afraid that the tiniest imperfection in his voice would be heard.

We had a celebrity sighting (well, we're 99% sure, anyway). I'm pretty sure that we spotted the Swedish actor Mikael Nykvist, who played the writer in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in the hotel bar on Monday night. We found out later that something was being filmed around the corner from the hotel.

We had to leave for the airport at 5:40 am Wednesday for a 7:00 am flight to Ushuaia, so we were instructed to have our bags outside the room for transport to the airport overnight. I carefully hung my outfit for the next day in the closet, as that and my day bag were the only things I would need for Tuesday's journey to and in Ushuaia.

Well. The best laid plans and all that.

I got up at 4:30 to get ready. However, my pants were nowhere to be seen. I tore the room apart, coming to the horrifying realization that Chris must have packed them in his bag. Which was already at the airport, along with mine.

Over the years, I have tried out various things when I travel. I've traveled with one carry-on, tried out bringing only one pair of shoes, traveled with jewelry and without - all in an effort to see what works best for me. As a result, I have two tried-and-true items that I always pack. The first is a set of pajamas in which I would not be worried about being seen, in case I have to leave the hotel room in the middle of the night (this actually happened one October night in Oslo, but that's a story for another time).

The second is that I always have a big pashmina in my carry-on. Like the essential towel in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is an infinitely useful item. It can be a pillow, a blanket, a shawl for cool evenings. And luckily for me (and our marriage), it can also be drafted into service as a skirt. Looking like a cross between an aging grunge rocker and a homeless person, I wore the pashmina like a sarong, along with socks and clogs.

We traveled to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Known as the "Gateway to the Antartic", it was originally a penal colony, and later became a base for the Argentine navy. It is nestled in the tail end of the Andes and the approach by air is quite breathtaking. Ushuaia is situated on the Beagle Channel, named for Darwin's ship, as Darwin traveled this way on his famous voyage.

After a short bus tour of the city and a nice lunch at a hotel with gorgeous views, we were taken to our ship, Le Boreal. It's an expedition vessel, so it is smaller than most cruise ships. It didn't take long to become familiar with the ship layout.

The staterooms are very nice - roomy and well-laid out. We have a balcony and plenty of room for stowing things, as we expect heavy weather in the Drake Passage. Our suitcases were waiting for us (and I was happily reunited with my pants), as were our boots, parkas, and waterproof backpacks.


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Antarctica as seen from space

I grabbed these photos from Facebook. Apparently, the satellite needs to be in a special polar orbit in order to be able to take these. They are quite breathtaking. I don't think anyone realizes how big Antarctica is. 

Track us on the ship!

Apparently, you can monitor most marine traffic on MarineTraffic.com. A friend who just returned from a 21-day cruise of the Panama Canal told me about this. You need to register, but the Basic account doesn't cost anything. 

So, you will be able to follow us as on the cruise! Our ship is called Le Boreal. We and the rest of the tour board it at Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego. I'll remind you to add her to your map just before we leave. 

Shopping *for* the final frontier

I am not an outdoorsy person, ordinarily. I like being outdoors if activities take me that way - working in the garden, having cold white wine on the deck on a balmy summer evening, lying in a deck chair any season in the middle of the night to watch meteors - but I'm not someone who finds things to do to be outdoors. 

You'd never know it to see what I'm packing. 

Chris and I went to the REI store in Reading last weekend - that wonderland of adventure gear and clothing. This expedition involved some highly technical and detailed conversations about: layering of hand gear and whether neoprene was the right outermost layer; layering of socks, and whether silk or polypropylene was best innermost layer; and the virtues of merino wool vs. a blend for long underwear (Results: neoprene, silk, and the blend). 

And then there are the rain pants.

Everyone assumes - and with good reason - that travelers venturing down to the Antarctic need to stay warm, and that is true; the Antarctic summer experience will be that of a typical New England spring - 30 - 50 degrees F.  Antarctica also happens to be the driest (take that, Sahara Desert!) and windiest place on earth. So warm and windproof layering is the primary dressing approach.

However, our on-shore excursions will be via Zodiac boats. There are no wharves or docks, remember. We pile into these boats from the ship and then pile out again on shore, or close to - we'll most likely be getting out in the water and wading ashore. We rent waterproof boots from the expedition company, but the rest is up to us, and waterproof gear is the order of the day. So yes, on the driest place on earth, I need to also think about waterproofing. 

The rain pants are reminiscent of snow pants, in that they are a protective layer, but there the resemblance ends. I used to dread wearing snow pants to school when I was little. Bulky and usually involving suspenders sort of mechanism to stay on, they took forever to get on and off. Which, if you are trying to get to your bus at the end of the day, was aggravating and stress-inducing. But the rain pants are remarkably light and flexible - not like snow pants at all!

What I have not been thinking about - or trying not to think about - is if all this expedition gear makes me look fat(ter). Not that I need to impress anyone, but I don't want to be confused for a penguin in our photos. 

Photos next time - promise! 

The final frontier

Yes, I know. Space is the final frontier. But since it is highly unlikely that I will get there in my lifetime (unless they open a nursing home on the moon), Antarctica is it for me.

The first thing my sister-in-law said when I told her we were going  is "Are there hotels there?"

It's a good question. I think she asked because she didn't think there were any there, but she wanted to make sure. She knows that Chris and I don't camp. 

But no, there are no hotels on Antarctica. There are also no restaurants, no malls, no hospitals, no police stations, no penguin-themed water parks, and no micro-creameries. The only humans who live there do so on research stations. It really is a frontier.

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Oh, and no Internet. Did you get that? NO INTERNET. 

Some years ago I took my first trip to Hawaii. As we crossed the Pacific Ocean, it struck me how remote and isolated Hawaii is from the mainland. If anything went badly on the continental US, we would be stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Of course, a tropical paradise is not the worst place on which to be stranded, but at the time, that line of thinking gave me the willies (fellow claustrophobes will understand). 

But Antarctica is the real deal. Remember the Russian vessel that was stranded in ice earlier this year? Every one got home safe and sound. Still, when I remarked about this story to my friend Ann, she said "GO! And don't worry! The worst that can happen is that you end up on CNN."

It will be an adventure one way or another.