Flashback to 2013, before there was the need to talk about mood and focus.
A couple of years ago, sometime before I married JH, a previous co-worker asked me once where I wanted to go for my honeymoon. I told him Antarctica. He asked me why I would want to go to such a cold and ‘boring place’ when I could go somewhere ‘super romantic’ like Saint Lucia or Hawaii. I politely tried not to tell him I thought those ideas sounded overdone and cliché, but instead excitedly described that Antarctica was a bucket list dream. I wanted to see penguins and glaciers, and the most beautiful landscapes I would never likely see more than once in my life. Antarctica, in reality, is one of those places where you are really only going to go once. When I said these same things to JH sometime closer to our wedding, thank goodness he agreed. I am not 100 percent sure that Antarctica was on his immediate bucket list per se (except for the fact that he wanted to finish the continents), but I am grateful he found the idea to be interesting and different.
Because this trip was over four years ago, my memories are a bit faint, so the story will not be as long and fully descriptive as usual. Thank goodness we have an abundance of pictures to remember all the beautiful landscapes we breathed in, the surreal experiences of viewing animals from afar, and the ability to try ‘mountaineering’ in a place that felt so untouched. To date, it is still one of my favourite places (yes, second still to Myanmar). We followed the trip up by a wonderful time both before and after in Argentina – Ushuaia down by the tip, and Buenos Aires – one of the most romantic cities ever. In another life I would like to go back to see the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. On this trip, I never got to see an Emperor Penguin. I cried endlessly watching the March of the Penguins, and I was desperate to see Emperor Penguins (because of their harrowing journey in the film amplified by Morgan Freeman’s soothing voice) but I was grateful this time around still to see smaller Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. I was grateful to see them walking down their ‘penguin’ highway. I was grateful to see them swimming, splashing water and sledding down hills on their tummies. I was grateful to see them cuddling each other in their nests. Visiting Antarctica was an absolute dream come true.
JH and I left for our honeymoon at the end of November a few months after our wedding in 2013. We spent a day and a bit in Ushuaia and the Patagonia before going on the voyage. The experience was neat and trippy because of the midnight sun (where there is no darkness).
On the way back, we spent a few days in Argentina enjoying the hot weather and amazing Argentinian food before returning to Toronto for Christmas. We booked a 10-day trip through Quark Expeditions, and our ship was the Ocean Diamond. I know JH did a bunch of bargaining and ‘honeymoon-discount’ pleading, so I think we paid somewhere between $8-10K per person for the 10 days, while the regular price is around $12K. The ship is an expedition ship (but not an ice-breaker), and is nothing like the regular Royal Caribbean and Princess type of cruises that every family in America goesfor their holiday outside of the all-inclusive resort vacation, nor should there be that expectation. The boat has basic facilities – a large-enough dining room, an aged gym, comfortable enough port rooms with private bathrooms, and limited areas in the ship to explore. During the days we were at sea, the team would run marine-biology sessions about animals, the wildlife and geography. These were relatively interesting, and if we were not feeling nauseated, JH and I usually would attend.
The boat looked old and felt outdated. The idea however is that you keep yourself in your room and survive when the boat rocks excessively (like a nauseated nightmare) across the Drake Passage, and when you finally get to Antarctica, and are not nauseated from the hell that was the Drake Passage, you do not want to be on a ship. You either want to be engaging in an activity – snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, kayaking, mountaineering, riding around in a zodiac boat, or at least photographing on the deck. There was also an option to camp outside overnight, but it seemed a bit torturous at a cost of $225 per person and only one washroom bucket to share for a huge group of people.
Crossing the Drake Passage was crazy. All you could feel was the bed moving up and down in a constant un-ending roller coaster motion. JH and I took a bunch of nausea pills and ended up becoming really dehydrated. The room was dark and gloomy, and not very romantic at all. We tried to get through time by watching all of Suits Season 1 and 2. Whenever it was dinner time, we moved really slowly and carefully down the hallways and down the stairs to the dining hall. If you moved quickly, you were falling and rolling. There were vomit bags set up everywhere, on every wall. Needless to say, during the Drake Passage days, there were practically no people in the dining hall. Somehow our stomachs survived. I secretly wanted to go outside and take pictures of the storm, but we thought it would be too dangerous. JH went out for a peek.
Because of the sheer journey of crossing the Drake Passage and limited paths in the case of ice, we only actually spent a few days (maybe about 3) on the actual land of Antarctica (the tips – getting inside the continent would have taken way longer than 10 days, but JH and I were on limited vacation and expense). JH and I signed up for mountaineering, which was really fun, though insanely expensive at $575 per person. We were in a group of about 6 people, and we went with two climbing experts. We did two climbs – one to a place called “Bananarama” which looked like a really big, steep hill. We got to a certain point, but because it was really sunny day, we stopped going further because our guides were afraid the snow was melting. On a separate day, we also climbed across a scarier ledge with crampons and ice axes to a higher area. It became really windy, so once again we could not continue, but we did get to a point where we could get a great panoramic view of the ship below and cascading landscapes. It was incredible, albeit a bit scary. We never got above 1000m but it was definitely fun to learn some technical skills and to explore the beautiful landscapes. Because it was so cold, we always had to do a massive layer-up, and it always took 15 to 20 minutes to get ready. The ship supplied us with these huge, layered yellow wind-breaker winter jackets, snow pants and boots. Our guides would announce there was a ‘mountaineering’ opportunity, and the team had to get ready to go. We would run to our platform, get suited up, wash our boots, and head off. Once we got back, we would wash our boots again (all this to protect the natural environment), and it would be a whole process to get un-suited.
We also went snowshoeing (at no cost) against spectacular blue, sunny skies. We were able to snowshoe up a big hill to a panoramic view of stunning glacial waters; it was a pretty good work-out, and I happily took a bunch of gorgeous pictures.
Whenever there was the opportunity, we went on zodiac rides (motor-rafts) so we could potentially see seals and birds. Sitting on the zodiac rides got cold pretty quickly because you are not moving, so layering up was essential. On-land, you had the chance to see penguins though all the penguin areas were clearly marked off. Sometimes the little creatures didn’t give a crap, and walked right past the marked area right in front of you. It was so darling. All the little nests however smelt like a farm; it wasn’t really that pleasant for that aspect of the senses. Apparently we went during mating season, and the penguins were going at it….pretty much all the time. JH, pervert he is, giggled and took lots of pictures and videos.
One day, they announced that everyone who wanted to could jump off the lower boat steps / ledge for a polar plunge. Naturally, JH and I went. I had so much anticipation and excited anxiety going in. They suit you up in life jacket tethered to a rope. They give you about 30 seconds to psych yourself up and in you go. Everything moves so quickly that you almost black out. You feel all the adrenaline rush from the freezing cold water and you almost forget to move. Before you know it, they are pulling the rope in. Some crazier old Chinese people did laps, perhaps to feel alive. My body felt more alive than it ever did before, and the hot shower afterwards felt sensational.
The food on the trip was nothing special. We had three meals a day – buffets for breakfast and lunch, and set courses during the evenings. Name brand cruises always have a reputation for good food, but the food here was pretty basic. I did not even take any pictures. I just remember on the last night, they made Baked Alaska to celebrate the end of the journey. I also ended up getting really drunk, and hit my head on the dancefloor because for some reason I thought I could break-dance.
I am horrible and I forgot the names of all the great staff we got to spend the 10 days with, but the ship staff was amazing. They were from all over the place – Europe, Australia, Asia, Canada, US, etc. They were a tight-knit team that worked well together, and you could see how much they loved their jobs and their lives. Whenever we had an issue, someone came running, and everyone was cordial and friendly with asking questions or even wanting to eat with us and tell us their own life stories.
After all was said and done, JH and I had a fabulous time in Buenos Aires, especially trying out a number of puerta cerradas (closed-door supper clubs). We ate our hearts out and got a bit of a tan before returning to Toronto for the holidays. It was the perfect honeymoon, and I would never trade it for anything else. All I would have liked is to have taken a baby penguin home – maybe next time.