If you had been scheduled to go on a cruise to Antarctica which was cancelled at the last minute, due to the ship hitting an iceberg, what would you choose as a replacement activity?
A. another cruise in similar waters
B. anything except another cruise in similar waters.
C. calling a personal injury attorney (U.S. responders only)
Precisely! As we suspected you would choose “A” – “another cruise in similar waters” and that’s what Blonde and Alternative Brunette did. Why? Because dammit we didn’t fly the whole way to Buenos Aires and have a flight to Uschuaia lined up so we could just go there and idiotically stand in the middle of a busy street to have a picture taken of us!
But we had never even contemplated the whole iceberg collision thing so were utterly devoid of a Plan B. Luckily, Actual Brunette was at home in Florida and jumped on the interwebs to see how she could help. She knew we needed someone with a lot of experience who could deal with two stranded, stressed and indignant women.
Blonde is highly skilled at disqualifying men and Brunette is at disqualifying travel providers. She is like a drug sniffing dog when it comes to finding something that’s potentially “off” about any supplier.
While Blonde and Alternative Brunette were in Buenos Aires drinking and complaining Brunette researched. After thoroughly sniffing and vetting various providers her firm recommendation was to reach out to Swoop Patagonia.
So we did.
Blonde dashed off a hasty email explaining the situation and pleading for help. We were thinking of Patagonia because it was near where we were flying off to in the morning and because we had only packed clothes for sporty, cold activities. And we had both always wanted to go to Patagonia so, why not now? (Other than because of a complete lack of thought, planning or knowledge?)
Swoop responded so fast you would have thought our subject line had been “Nigerian Prince wishes to wire you $10 Million dollars!”. They explained that they were very busy as it’s high season in Patagonia but said they would do what they could. We took that to mean “We will handle your every unreasonable “need”/request from here until you return home”. We were right!
But it did take a swoop of faith because we went to Ushuaia only knowing that Swoop was trying to book us a 3 night cruise in the waters along Patagonia’s southern edge. By the time we touched down in Ushuaia the arrangements had been made and we were set to sail in a few hours.
The cruise was going to go (one way) to Cape Horn, Wulaia Bay, Agostini National Park, Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel, Magdalena Channel and Magellan Strait from Ushuaia, Argentina to Puntas Arenas, Chile. We didn’t really know what that meant but it sounded interesting, had some exotic names we had heard of and we would still get to see penguins. It’s important to keep your eye on the prize (by which I mean alcohol was included in the cruise’s price).
It was also reassuring when we went to board the ship to see that it did not include scary looking damage as did our original ship with another cruise line. The two ships were tied up opposite each other making the choice really easy.
This was Blonde’s 5th cruise in less than a year but was different from all of the others. It had people from more countries; 19 countries out of 180 people, generally heartier travelers who would have scorned a casino or a dress-up dinner and more of a sense of exploration than sightseeing. We kidded ourselves that we belonged with this group. We had friendly, smart, well-traveled, highly accomplished dinner companions who. although being out of our league in every way, made us feel as if we had the right to be there.
The ship passed the important tests; strong emphasis on safety, good food, a commitment to sustainable travel and that wine we mentioned earlier. Later on we learned that they also participate with a university on conducting ongoing scientific experiments on the flora, fauna and water of the area. Extra credit!
On our first night we went through part of the notorious Drake’s Passage/Vomitron. Having been forewarned Blonde took a Dramamine and slept well. At least until the ship lurched a bit and our two glasses of water on the table between the beds flew across the table, tossed their cold water in Blonde’s eyes and then shattered on the floor! That was the first alarm ever where Blonde couldn’t push “snooze”.
Alternative Brunette was feeling woozy so Blonde – with an unbecoming level of delight- began pulling out every seasickness remedy she had packed for the planned trip to Antarctica. The watch-like thing that, along with a tube of gel, mildly electrocutes your hand stunning you into wellness, the pepperminty thing you sniff to quash nausea, a variety of legal drugs and wrist bands. Alas none were of help to Alternative Brunette who must be praised for being a neat, quiet puker.
We were informed via loudspeaker that the landing on Cape Horn would have to be scrapped because of the condition of the sea (oh darn!) and instead we would proceed to Wulaia Bay for hikes of varying degrees of difficulty.
Blonde made her way to the dining room for a sparsely attended lunch and noticed that our dining companions were now vaguely green. It’s hard not to suspect that ships sometimes press a “churn” button so they can save on food costs.
Most people were feeling improved by afternoon and we had a good turnout for the medium difficulty hike. Following directions is not Blonde’s strongest characteristic but she will never move around a Zodiac without doing it only via bum-thumping again as long as she lives. No one was going overboard on this group’s watch!
The sky was gray but just getting into the Zodiacs, seeing the Andes across the way and smelling the clean air lifted spirits and gave stomachs new hope. One guide led the English-speaking group. He was very knowledgable about the science and history of the area and definitely made Blonde realize that all of those years she’d thought she didn’t like Latin men had been tragically squandered.
After the hike we were all childishly thrilled to be given cups of hot chocolate spiked with whiskey. Stomachs, what stomachs? The cure for seasickness had been found!
Each day there were a couple talks, films or other excellent learning opportunities. Alternative Brunette learned to tie nautical knots and we both learned so much about Magellan penguins one day and the Strait of Magellan another that we were quite impressed by ourselves. The speakers really know their stuff – the man who spoke about the Strait of Magellan spent 10 years in Europe studying its history – and they do a stellar job of conveying enthusiasm along with information. If there’s ever a pop quiz on Magellan penguins I know two people who can ace it!
The scenery the next morning as we went through the waters of Tierra del Fuego was stunning and really made it clear that there are large, beautiful chunks of the world that are devoid of politicians, trash and selfie sticks. Let’s keep it that way!
We disembarked at Alberto de Agostini National Park. The park is named after a man who spent time in Patagonia working with the indigenous people who have all (except for one remaining woman) ceased to exist due to diseases, alcoholism and most likely some atrocities that we didn’t cover.
We bum-thumped our way across the Zodiacs and rode over to disembark near the Aguila Glacier. The blue and white ice, set off by the black mountains was just massive in scope. We seemed to keep walking along the rock beach towards it but it didn’t get closer! Our guide once again did his Mr. Smartypants thing and told us all about the geological forces that created and sustain the glacier. (We just wanted more hot chocolate and whiskey.)
It was sad to realize that the next morning was going to be our last outing but who can stay sad when that outing is to see literally thousands of penguins? Now that we knew so much about penguin behavior seeing the penguins was even more interesting. They’re quite bossy when they want to cross the path in front of you and when you get stink-eye from a penguin you stop in your tracks and wait!
Some were borrowed in with their chicks, other were braying for their mates, a few did awkward swimming and most of them just waddled officiously around looking comical. If they had received a talk about human breeding habits and behavior they surely would have been more amazed to observe us than the other way around!
As is the rule with weather on short trips the sun came out brilliantly in the final hours of the cruise. We sat on our suitcases and forced them to zip while we wondered what we were going to be doing next. There hadn’t been any wi-fi on the ship (forcing us to interact with each other and others) so we were even more clueless than usual.
But after the ship pulled into Puntas Arenas in Chile and we cleared Customs we saw a total stranger holding a sign over his head with Blonde’s last name on it. We knew Swoop Patagonia had sent someone with the next clue for what turned out to be part two of our 3-part Patagonia journey.
The cruise had fulfilled our need to spend some time on the water, learn some history and information about the animal and bird inhabitants of Patagonia and guzzle wine. Now we were off for terra more firma!
Annoying required FTC Disclosure: Swoop Patagonia comped Blonde’s portion of the cruise. Because they did that she made sure not to mention any vomiting or make inappropriate remarks about how hot Latin men are. What a price to pay (or not)!