Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
We awoke feeling pretty good, despite tossing and turning in the cramped seats. The sun was just coming over the horizon, and we had a spectacular sunrise with orange and pink clouds. The flight was surprisingly turbulent often throwing us around in our seats, but no major mishaps occurred.
We watched a glorious yellow and red sunrise out of our window. The brilliant light illuminated the cabin and sparked our bodies into awake mode, even though we had almost three hours to go on the marathon 14 hour flight. We passed the time reading the stack of magazines c/o Kyra and our books with the occasional game of boggle.
Surprisingly for South America, the bags were waiting for us and there were no lines at immigration. The new Ezeiza airport amazed us as we walked through to hop in the $40 remise for the ride to Palermo.
Traffic was terrible at the toll booth making the ride almost an hour. We hopped out at Santa Fe and Ecuador to us the telephone center there. We tried a few, as there is one every block, to find two computers but with no luck. Tom surfed while Louisa made some phone calls including scoring with United Airlines for our trip home.
On the ten block walk to Damian and Laurita's we stopped in at the grocery store for a snack and one of the many flower stands on the sidewalk for a colorful bouquet. We pulled up to their apartment just after 11:30 and thought that they would be there, but they were not.
Fortunately we had figured out what the word portero meant and rang the building manager. With some broken Spanish we managed to convince her that we were friends of Damian and Laurita and she let us in and gave us a key to their door, but not the front door.
We relaxed in their apartment, showered and waited. Our stomachs grumbled so we waited at the front door for someone to open the door and let us out.
Just a few doors down Vidt toward Santa Fe some empanadas and quiche like pies caught our eye. We walked into the small Rancho Hambre and enjoyed fresh baked empanadas. The owner was quite friendly and we enjoyed a delightful lunch.
The rest of the afternoon we wandered along Santa Fe looking for new sunglasses for Tom. We succeeded in a shopping mall a few blocks along. In between shops we intermittently stopped by the apartment or called Damian's cell phone. Throughout the afternoon we thought of some more things to do on the internet so we stopped in a cafe for an hour. Tom's hour was productive while Louisa fought Amazon's site and finally abandoned her shopping for a site that worked.
As we approached the apartment building a woman was exiting so we got in to the apartment. We listened to the message on the machine which was from Damian and Laurita stating that they had problems with their flight, but no details. Louisa took a shower and realized that if our hosts could not arrive then we had no way out at 4am.
Tom found a building phone in the kitchen. We thought it would buzz open the door, but when we tried it Louisa could hear a buzz in the phone, but it did nothing to the front door. Louisa pushed and pushed the buttons in different combinations. As we gave up the landlady appeared. We learned that the buttons buzzed in her apartment, but did not work the front door. Oops!
At this point Damian called saying they had just touched ground and would be twenty minutes, but that they both had to be at work by 8pm. They showed up looking relieved to have reached Buenos Aires. They explained that an air strike started today and no flights could get out of Uruguay, so they had to take a bus to a port town and then the ferry.
They served us delicious raspberries and Laurita disappeared out the door and returned with whipped cream and drinks for our short visit. Laurita left after less than an hour for her commute while Damian could stay for awhile longer. It was great to see them, but we felt for them since they looked tired and had an entire night on duty ahead of them.
Damian suggested some restaurants two blocks away. We had parilla and Louisa struggled to keep her eyes open. The typical Argentine service speed prevailed, however, and it was two hours before we returned to Laurita and Damian's apartment where we gratefully fell into bed.
We were up even before our alarm at 4am but that did not make the early hour any easier. Finding a taxi was quite easy and we arrived at Aeroparque exactly on time at 4:30. The Aurora representative met us at the airport with our tickets and we learned that there were only four passengers from the ship on the flight and that we could have taken a later flight - urgh!
While waiting for the departure we chatted with Kayley and Gerry, two Australians on the trip. We loaded onto a bus at the gate to drive to the plane. The bus reversed for about 10 feet from the door, straightened out, stopped and opened its doors. Our plane was the first one from the gate. Only in South America.
The three and one half hour flight south was uneventful, which is nice when it comes to plane travel. Kayley and Peter were the only two people on the list for the Aurora greeters and they were going to leave, which was fine with us, we were headed to the taxi stand. The Aurora woman greeted us and said that she would give us a ride into town even though we were not on the list. So the four of us, the greeter and the driver loaded onto a full size city bus. How ridiculous!
The bus dropped us at the Albatross Hotel in town. On the sidewalk we grabbed running clothes from our suitcase and then headed up the block to face six long tired hours in Ushuaia. The lack of sleep for the past two nights had us exhausted, so the first stop was coffee, lots of caffeine was necessary!
Our addiction to the internet led us to the Argentine telephone company where we surfed for less than what it cost in Buenos Aires. The hour passed quickly writing emails and researching Christmas presents. Afterwards we took a cultural outing to the museum in the prison.
Originally Ushuaia was a penal colony. Today the prison houses extensive exhibits about prison life, maritime development, Antarctic explorations and a modern art gallery. We walked, read and learned until our tired minds could not take in any more information.
The emptiness of Ushuaia surprised us. In February pedestrians filled the sidewalks, cars the streets and boats lined the dock. In December hardly anyone walked along the sidewalks, crossing streets was easy and a meager three boats were tied to the dock.
Tia Elvira was recommended for the king crab, so we walked there. The crab and seabass were excellent and fueled us for the last few hours in Ushuaia before we could board the boat.
During lunch Louisa realized that she mixed up the hotel reservation for after the trip, so we returned to the internet cafe for a few minutes to send a few emails and set it straight. Meanwhile, Tom realized that he left the guitar case on the bus. The Rumbo Sur office was closed for siesta and did not reopen on time, so he ferried between their office, the bus stop and the internet cafe.
Just before 4:00pm we find the bus, with the guitar case and then proceed along the dock to load on to the Molchanov. We find our cabin amid great chaos and successfully guide our luggage there as well. We had less than forty-five minutes but we donned our running clothes and headed into town.
Gray clouds had rolled in throughout the day and the wind was picking up making the run chilly. The boardwalk was empty as we ran to the end of town. On the return we looked for the wine shop we remembered from February but had to buy wine at the grocery store.
We ran up the gangplank at 4:45 for the 5pm departure. Immediately we heard an announcement postponing the departure to 6pm because somebody's flight was delayed an hour. We showered and were pleased to find it hot and with good pressure.
Unpacking completely into closets was an absolute luxury! It felt fantastic to settle in somewhere.
Just after 6 we left Ushuaia. Peter, the expedition leader held a briefing about the boat. The boat had forty-two passengers, including two German scientists whom we were dropping off, a nine person Japanese television film crew and a total of thirteen kayakers.
The ship sounded a eight blows signaling the start of the life boat drill. Everyone grabbed the orange life jackets, bundled up and went onto the windy, cold deck to pile into the two lifeboats. It seemed terribly small and stuffy with the top closed making us even more hopeful that we would not need to use them.
Dinner followed at 7:30 and pleasantly surprised by being more delicious than the other cruises this year. After dinner Al held a short kayak briefing and had us try on the dry suits. What an operation to get those on!
The last excitement of the day was dropping off the pilot which we did around 10:30 near the end of the Beagle channel. The sun reflecting off of the islands in the channel was beautiful, but we tore ourselves away for much needed sleep.
The twin berths were on perpendicular walls, but they had a footboard that was too short for Tom. He tossed throughout the night trying to stay comfortable, but started devising other plans.
Sleeping in the berths was rather uncomfortable. Tom tried every position, but the footboard constantly presented a problem. Jet lag had us awake rather early, but we stayed in the berths until called to breakfast at 8:30.
Against the odds, the Drake Passage was incredibly calm. Swells under one meter almost imperceptibly rocked the boat. With only miles to cover and nothing to see, the day was low-key. We laid around in the morning and picked some books from the library to read during the expedition.
Mid-morning Jenny gave a talk about whales which educated us about the huge mammals. Afterwards we moved out on deck and on the impressive bridge to look for whales. While we did not see any, the comfortable bridge was quite inviting. This is a great policy of the Molchanov - the bridge is open to guests at any time - and it is great to be warm and have a great view in the center of everything.
After lunch at 1:00 the gray skies and chilled air tempted Louisa to curl up under the down cover for a nap. Tom attended Jenny's talk about Antarctic birds and then wandered onto deck for awhile. He ran into Al, Peter and Chris putting the kayaks together on the stern and he joined them. It was tricky work since the cold air made fingers clumsy rather than nimble. With the kayaks finally ready, they went back inside to warm up.
Louisa continued to nap and fight whatever was bothering her while Tom and the rest of the boat attended the Captain's cocktail party. Tom imbibed a few glasses of Timbo's famous punch, which proved entertaining to Louisa when he came to wake her up for dinner.
We lingered around the dinner table for quite a while after the good meal chatting. It was comfortable and fun, but eventually Louisa gave in to sleep and we returned to our cabin.
Tom devised a novel solution to improve the sleeping situation. We laid both of the mattresses on the floor. They barely fit, but gave Tom enough leg room. We fell asleep immediately.
Even with all of the naps yesterday and turning into bed early, sleeping in the homemade bed on the floor was dreamy. We slept soundly until 5:30 and then quickly fell back to sleep until the speaker system woke us up before 8:00.
As we were about to walk out of the cabin at 8:30 for breakfast Peter announced a whale sighting over the loud speaker. We rushed up to the bridge along with most of the boat. The whales were blowing directly in front of the boat but about 1.5 kilometers away.
Even with the distance all of us were full of oohs and aahs. With the calm seas it did not take long to close the gap with the whales. The navigator took us with in meters of the five huge fin whales. They did not seem bothered by the presence of the Molchanov and continued to blow every 30 seconds or so even as we got quite close to them. Jenny, the naturalist, guessed that they were feeding on krill. For the next forty minutes they put on a grand show for us, blowing and surfacing often within 20 meters of the boat.
Tom braved the cold wind and light snow on the bow of the boat to take dozens of pictures. At one point two of the whales surfaced right in front, and he was well poised for the shot. Thank goodness for digital cameras - many of the pictures were terrible, but we were able to simply delete these.
Louisa joined Tom on the bow for a few minutes, but then the skipper decided to resume course, and we headed down for breakfast as the whales receded.
After breakfast the kayakers met on the back deck to learn how to adjust the kayaks. The wind blew hard and chilled us during Al's talk. We retreated into the bar for Jenny's next talk about penguins. For an hour she talked to us about the different penguins that live in the Antartica region and answered questions.
Afterwards, we had a mandatory briefing on landings, given by Peter. He went through the proper way to enter and exit a zodiac, and told us what to expect.
In the few minutes before lunch we picked up gumboots and fit the kayak rudder pedals to Tom's legs. We hoped for warmer weather and less wind in order to stay warm during our expedition in the evening.
Lunch was a hearty soup, perfect for the gray cold day outside. We chatted with Peter Randolph about living in Boston and he shared stories about his extensive travels, adding to our long list of places we want to visit.
Tom retired early from lunch feeling tired and with a headache. Louisa did not do a good job letting him sleep, but he did not seem to mind. We attended the next lecture on seals. Who knew how absolutely huge elephant seals become?
There was less than a thirty minute break during which Tom read and Louisa wrote in the journal. Then the entire ship congregated in the port dining room for a mandatory environment brief. We learned about the very sensible voluntary guidelines adhered to by the IAATO, and promised to leave no trace. We also got a briefing on what animals we might see on the South Shetland Islands, which we were fast approaching.
We spent the few minutes before dinner journaling and listening to Elke learn Chinese from Lee Han Fern. Dinner was served at 5:30, quite early, so we would have time to watch the passage through the islands, and prepare for an evening shore expedition.
As we donned our outdoor clothing to prepare for the brisk outing, Peter announced a whale sighting. Everyone raced to the bridge and the deck Two humpback whales were blowing and arching through the water. They loaded us into the zodiacs and we followed the mother and calf. The mother occasionally flipped her tail at us, then suddenly they were gone.
We proceeded to Half Moon Island for the landing. Chinstrap penguins were everywhere. Louisa noticed three elephant seals down on the beach and goes to watch them. While huge, she learns that they are small for elephant seals. Their blubber ripples as they lurch along the beach bringing smiles to everyone’s face.
Meanwhile, Tom climbed the hill to look at the bay on the other side and more penguins.
The kayaks arrived in the zodiacs, and the thirteen of us paired up and loaded into the boats. Al stood in thigh deep water to stabilize the boats in the low swell which chilled him even through his dry suit.
The sun hid behind gray clouds and a brisk air blew occasionally. Our hands and feet were quite cold, but it felt good to be out on the water. We paddled around a point of the island and a Weddell seal popped his head out of the water to check out the strange shapes passing by on the surface. Some penguins porpoised along around us, which was fun to see.
After awhile, Al had us raft the six boats together. He gave us a short briefing then passed around glasses of cointreau. Now that is the way to kayak!
It was a short paddle back to the Molchanov, but we were eager to return. Overall it was a short outing, but we were not out of the water until 11:00pm.
Timbo, the bartender, had turned on the sauna, and we went in to warm up our chilled bones. Eight of us soaked in the heat and simultaneously cooked down with beers that Max kept chilled on a bucket of ice in the corner. Anthony constantly poured water over the coals increasing the temperature until we just could not take anymore.
We turned in around midnight, but the others partied in the bar until 4:30am.
The first moments of breakfast gave away the damage done the night before. Bill, an Australian usually with a consistent flow of jokes, was at a loss for words. Max appeared still drunk and even after his shower smelled of alcohol. Jane and Ed wandered in weary but Matt could not make the meal. Stories from the night before were slowly pieced together over the breakfast tables. Apparently there was quite a crew that had not slept at all, while others went to bed at 4:30am.
We felt quite rested even at the early breakfast hour of 7:00. The first outing to Deception Island was delayed from 8:00 because the surf was too rough for the zodiacs. One of the Russian drivers returned from the attempt to land with his zodiac more than half under water.
The other landing option only allowed for hikers interested in climbing a trail that steeply led up a 1000 meter peak. Those steady on their feet were encouraged to go, which somehow included the hungover crew whose judgment was rather blurred.
The gravel beach was filled with penguins. We slowly walked across the beach in between penguins and started up the steep scree slope. A major danger for the climb was losing one's footing in the deep soot-like scree and sending a small rock rolling down the hill. At one point Max slipped and sent a small boulder tumbling. It soared down the slope closely missing a number of penguins before settling on the bottom. He jokingly called it penguin bowling.
Half way up the peak was a plateau of sorts. We thought that most of the penguins were visible during the climb, but at the first crest the other side became visible. As far as the eye could see were penguins. Squawking penguins, nesting penguins, waddling penguins... penguins everywhere!
Some of us walked along the edge of the gigantic rookery observing the antics. The breeding pairs were caring for their eggs. Mates would return from their feeding journey in the sea, squawk their loud greeting, present their gift of a rock for the nest and encourage their mate to go feed in the sea.
We had radio contact with the ship, so Sue determined that we had at least a half hour to spend at the rookery before we should continue the 2 hour trek across to Whaler Bay. We walked down a bit, then just sat and watched the crazy antics of the chinstrap penguins as they chattered and waddled around.
We also saw several skuas, who love to eat penguin eggs, so the penguins hiss and peck when they get too near. Soon we had enough, and struck off across the snow to the top of the ridge.
We climbed steadily along a mostly boring snow-covered ridge, pausing for occasional breaks. Finally we crested the ridge, and looked down on beautiful Whaler Bay. We could see the narrow Neptune's Bellows, the entrance to the sea-filled crater of this volcanic island. Further down, we could see the Molchanov, at Telefon bay.
On the way down, we discovered that the slope was just steep enough to sit on your butt and slide down at a nice pace. More adventuresome folks dove and slid on their bellies. We laughed and played in the snow like children.
We stopped for a break and an illicit bite of chocolate, then continued down the scree to the abandoned station at Whaler Bay. The boat was supposed to pick us up at 12, but changed to 12:30, so we wandered around the station a bit.
The wind was blowing some steam near the shore, so we explored, and found rivulets of hot water seeping from the sand and trickling into the sea. We happily stood in them in our gumboots, warming our feet, until we actually got too hot.
At this point, the digital camera stopped working, so we fiddled with it for a while, but made no progress. We explored the station's rusted fuel tanks, old airplane hangar, then waited in the lee of a building for the boat. They were dropping off divers in Telefon bay, and taking their time.
Tired of waiting at 1pm, we walked down the beach and found some old whale bones from when this was a whaling station. We then stood in the hot springs again, until the boat finally came into sight. We loaded on to the zodiac at 1:45, and finally got back to the boat.
We were hungry, and thought for certain that the other passengers would have eaten. As it turns out, we were the first to lunch, and the others had offloaded to explore the abandoned station for a few minutes - they ate even later. We gorged ourselves, then relaxed a bit, as the boat finally turned around and went back to pick up the divers.
We had heard that there were some more sizable hot springs over in Telefon bay, so we were looking forward to going for a swim in Antarctic waters. Unfortunately, Peter announced over the PA that we would not have time for swimming. Louisa marched up to the bridge and protested (restraining herself quite admirably) and convinced Peter that we should be allowed a quick trip to the hot springs.
We put on our swimmers (a little Australian English there) and plenty of warm clothing on top, then loaded into the zodiacs and headed for the hot springs. When we arrived at the small cove, Peter insisted that there had been hot springs here before, but the tide must have covered them. The water was not even remotely warm - in fact, it felt the same as the open Antarctic Ocean.
Not to be denied, an energetic woman named Glo had already peeled off her clothes and jumped in. Inspired by her example, we quickly followed. Louisa went in to her knees, then shivered and ran back out. Tom jumped in and floated on his back for about 3 seconds, then ran out as well, stopping only long enough for a picture.
Max cured his hangover by diving in, dragging Matt with him, and everyone else went in as well. Peter Randolph went in with his balaclava on, claiming that he was warmer that way, while his son dived in beside him. The expedition leaders Peter and Sue thought we were absolutely crazy, which is probably true. Most incredibly, Glo was the last one out - a true swimming goddess.
We put on our clothes quickly, then endured the freezing and wet ride back to the ship There we quickly grabbed a bottle of wine and hopped in the sauna. Ahhhh. After warming up, we showered and relaxed a bit.
In the afternoon, Tom helped Al tie down the kayaks for a relatively long steam south, and then gave him some internet advice up in the office. Peter announced breaching whales, so we all rushed up to the bridge, but they had already finished - those on the bridge apparently got a spectacular view of a minke whale completely out of the water near the boat.
At this point the seas were getting rougher, so Peter announced a change of course - instead of steaming north, dropping our biologists Elke and Simone on Penguin Island, and heading for Antarctic Sound, we were going to head south to Port Lockroy, and try to get back there at the end of the trip. This was bad news for the scientists, because they would get 5 fewer days of research on the island, but it couldn't be helped. We turned around and the going was much easier with the prevailing seas.
Simone talked on the radio for a while to get the change of plans taken care of, and then was scheduled to give a talk on her work. She talked for an hour on how she measured the impact of tourists on a pristine environment like Antarctica, and showed us a cool electronic "egg" that she used to monitor giant petrel heart rates with. She then answered questions almost until dinner.
We were quite tired from our day, so we were zombie-like at dinner, and went straight to bed at 9:30.
Peter woke the boat at 6 am to view the Gerlache Strait. We opted for more sleep and a quick peek out of the porthole. Phil and the kitchen crew served breakfast at 7:30am which we barely made. Louisa was feeling under the weather and wanted to stay in bed as long as possible.
After breakfast we walked up to the bridge to see a spectacular transition. The Neumayer channel linked the open ocean with the island dotted Antarctic channels. Mountains iced with snow plunged into the blue waters outside as we wrote postcards in anticipation of mailing them from the southern-most post office at the English base at Port Lockroy. The experience frustrated us slightly as the camera was broken and we could not snap pictures of the scenery.
As we were suiting up in dry suits and preparing for the shore visit, Tom had one last try with the camera to see if he could get it working again. Considering the situation, he went to extremes and pulled out the swiss army knife. He used the blade to pry the stuck lens out - and it worked! Now we can record our trip to Antarctica properly!
The paddlers loaded into the kayaks, a last minute change, and beached them on the rocks beside the base. Penguins nest around the buildings to the edge of the water which made for an entertaining landing. We tried our best to obey the five meter rule, but when penguins are everywhere and walking in the rest of the spaces it was hard to keep the distance.
The base had a few interesting rooms maintained to show how scientists have lived during the decades of the base's operation. Tom found great t-shirts in the shop, so Louisa borrowed money from Max and purchased a few. This took longer than expected and the kayakers were getting in the boats by the time Louisa made it across the penguin-dotted snow.
We head out in the kayaks along a wide strait to a gorgeous cove lined with white and blue walls of glaciers. We oohed and ahhed in between strokes. However, it was a dead end rather than the entrance to another strait, so we turned about and headed in the right direction. Soon we reach the start of the narrow Peltier Channel.
Gorgeous glaciers plunge into the water. We checked out a huge glacier and berg at opening of the channel and enjoyed a moment alone soaking up the Antarctic sound as we munched on apples. Perfect. White snow drifts, blue glacier walls and ice bergs, crystal clear water, cool air and bright sun.
As we paddled along the channel, penguins porpoised around the kayaks. They seemed to swim along with us, around us and then eventually went on their way. Al climbed out on an iceberg to take pictures and Matt followed. Ed was slow to return and pick up Matt from the iceberg which got some laughs.
We continue through brash ice along the towering ice walls. We snap lots of pictures with the waterproof cameras and identify how some bergs look like animals, such as dogs and birds. The Molchanov enters the channel behind us at 1:30. We keep paddling ahead knowing that the boat will catch us eventually, and wanting to soak in as much of the scenery as possible. At 1:45 they called us to paddle toward the ship in order not to delay lunch much longer. It was a quick load onto the Molchanov where we quickly pulled off the drysuits and went to eat. The rest of the passengers were nearly done by the time that we arrived, but no worries we had a wonderful morning.
After lunch the Molchanov cruised through awesome straits filled with bergs and brash ice. We tried to relax a bit, hung up wet clothes, then captioned and cliked pictures since we had been rather snap-happy. We looked at the great cliffs along the straits from the bridge, bow and decks, taking more photos the entire time.
Tom rested for a brief 15 minutes before the next paddle. This time we explored Circumcision Bay on Petermann Island. We paddled to an iceberg with some penguins. We watched them walk around and seem to contemplate sliding down into the water, but they did not. As we left they walked around to watch us.
As we skimmed across the water, the incredible size, huge number and astounding shapes of the icebergs fascinated us. Some were half moons, others wedges or mushrooms, or even arches. One had a tempting natural arch which we paddled through! The slight chance that the arch would break and ice would crash into the water on top of us made it exhilarating.
It was a spectacular paddle in a winter wonderland. Some of the huge bergs even created their own surf, when the huge underwater portion sloped up gently to the "shore". We paddled around and through and generally had a ball.
We paddled back along the shore near an abandoned station, then headed back to ship on time. Of course, all the zodiacs were still out, so we sat around for a while, before paddling out to another berg with penguins on it.
Finally a zodiac returned, so we went back to unload and get ready for the BBQ on the back deck. We stored the kayaks on an upper deck to stay out of the way of the preparations, and we headed in to shower.
Half the boat was showering, so the water pressure was a bit low, and the temperature varied, but we managed, and soon were bundled up against the cold. Two zodiacs of Ukrainians arrived from Vernadsky base as guests, we were the first ship they had seen since the fall. We can't imagine what it's like to winter over for 5-6 months of often total darkness in a small building with only a few companions.
The barbecue was terrific, with good steak and chicken, and great burgers with onions. We ate a lot, talked to folks, and admired the incredible icebergs so near the ship, lit amazingly well by the slowly setting sun.
Peter raised a toast to the Ukrainians, and we all sampled the Ukrainian wine they brought - Napa has nothing to worry about. As we stood around, people started getting cold, so some of us went inside to warm up a bit. Then Peter announced a short excursion to Vernadsky base, and nearly everyone decided to go.
We dressed even more warmly, then climbed into the zodiacs at 10:30pm for a ridiculously long cruise to the big former UK station, now taken over by the Ukrainians. Some of the Russian crew accompanied us, and they chatted with the scientists in Russian.
We toured the small offices where 13 of them wintered, doing meteorology, studying the ozone layer, recording magnetic storms, and doing some biology as well. Upstairs, we visited the "gift shop" and bar, where nearly everything was made on the station.
The Ukrainian moonshine gives new meaning to the term "firewater" - it was potent! We didn't find anything we liked at the gift shop, and had already sent postcards (they have a post office too, but have no idea when the letters will arrive in civilization).
We were very tired so we asked Peter and Sue if a zodiac could leave - they had said zodiacs would leave anytime anyone wanted, with the last one at midnight. They ignored us until 11:45, so the first zodiac left at midnight - so much for our short trip. Who knows when the last one left. We went to sleep immediately.
Throughout the night the voices of the partiers woke us with the strangest bits of their conversations. Otherwise we slept soundly until Peter's wakeup announcement at 7:00. During breakfast we sat with Jane and Ed who had not made it to bed yet. They shared stories of the night, including the fact that many other paddlers, Al, Max, and Matt were up until the wee hours of the morning.
Incredibly, everyone decided to paddle anyway. Tom loaded the boats into the water since Al was not with us, nor ready. Finally all of the boats were loaded and we were off. Max paddled with Al. He looked like death warmed over and used a colorful vocabulary throughout the morning, clearly indicating that he felt on the verge of death.
Rather than paddling to the 'graveyard of icebergs' as we thought, we paddle to a nearby bay. We checked out cool ice walls during the sunny morning. The others got out on tiny island and collapsed on rocks, while we paddled around a bit. We found that we could go almost completely around the tiny island, although we were a bit close to the 10-story high ice wall. Eventually, we got bored and pulled in, too.
Al suggested some group photos, so we gathered around, and activated the self timers. After a while, we loaded back up and headed along the shore, where we saw a cool iceberg and went to investigate.
This berg was one of the coolest yet, with two arches, a big one where everyone got some great pics paddling through, and a small one that we had to duck to go under. We had a great time paddling around and playing, then headed back to the ship.
Al had commented on a "tradition" that he insisted that we had to participate in, which was jumping off the stern of the boat with our drysuits on. We were game, so once the boats were loaded, Tom and Louisa were the first ones in. We held hands as we jumped, and Mike took the picture. Several others followed, including Jane, who kept insisting that we were crazy, but followed anyway. The water was absolutely frigid on our hands and feet, but the drysuits did protect our bodies. One funny thing, however, was the sweat that was inside the suit condensed immediately, making us wet inside the drysuit anyway but not nearly as cold as our feet and hands soaked in the Antarctic water. It felt great to get on the sunwarmed deck.
After hot showers to warm our extremities we adjourned to the bar to write in the journal. Lunch was served late and we were hungry. The quiche was delicious, but Louisa did not get seconds leaving her hungry at the end of the meal, so she munched on fruit.
We chatted with Mike, Bindy, Don and Mary Lou after lunch for awhile in the dining room. Before the next outing Louisa wrote in the journal while Tom napped and read in the cabin.
The boat entered Paradise Bay at 3:30 and cruised through the gorgeous bay for the next hour. We saw some bases - Argentine & Chilean - but no people. This was the start of Chilean Antarctica.
Soon we entered Errera Channel, where the boat dropped us off. We kayaked through the relatively narrow (1m wide) channel, veering the long way around Danco Island to make the paddle a bit more fun. We saw lots of huge bergs along the way, including one that strongly resembled the Parthenon.
We paddled a couple miles to Danco Island, then went around the far side between the island and the Antarctic Peninsula. We heard occasional snow and ice falls like cracking thunder from the glaciers and ice cliffs on the peninsula, and although we always searched, we rarely saw the evidence of the fall - the noise reached us much later than the actual event. Once we saw a huge one, however, that created a wave that carried clear across the channel.
On the far end of island we made landfall briefly. Penguins called Danco home, and waddled about. The snow was thigh high, but it did not seem to get in the way of the penguins. When we turned around a penguin had approached our kayak. From across the beach it looked as if the penguin was sitting in the front seat. Funny!
We were the last in the water because Louisa needed her warm gloves from the dry bag in the back hatch. As we tried to hurry it made us slower. Tom accidentally knocked the drybag with the digital camera and GPS in the water. As he tried to move off from shore to grab the bag, he almost dumped into the frigid water.
We paddled hard for the last couple of kilometers. Fortunately, the boat was visible in the distance to urge us along. Later Al told us that we paddled for 9.75 miles. Now that is a paddle!
Some of the other folks were quite tired, and we managed to catch up and pass most of the kayaks on the way. When we got back to the boat, there were no zodiacs again - bummer! Al decided that we could start offloading on the gangplank, although we couldn't get the kayaks up that way. We happened to be nearest, so we got off there, and hurried up to our room to use the loo.
We decided to change quickly while we were there, so by the time we got back out on deck, the zodiacs had returned, and the others had loaded all the boats. We felt a little bad about not helping, but we soon got over it.
Dinner was ready, so we ate relatively quickly, and then assembled in the bar for the briefing on camping. We were all punchy, so the bar filled with giggles as we made fun of Peter's presentation. Then we adjourned to dress in everything we had.
We got dropped off on Ronge Island for the night. We collected sleeping bags and thin mats, and went off in search of a comfortable place to sleep. Since the island was covered with deep snow, this was just a question of how close to the others we wanted to be - we were all sleeping on the snow.
The walking was uncertain, and we often fell through the thin crust up to our waists, and had to retrieve our ill-fitting gumboots from the bottom of the hole. Eventually we discovered that it was more efficient to crawl, since that distributed our weight better. We crawled inland a hundred meters or so up a small hill to get away from the group, and we had a great view of the seals and penguins.
We stamped out a bed and laid out our bags, then enjoyed nearly an hour of blessed silence as almost everyone but us attended Gerry's inclusive (but Catholic) religious service.
Louisa went right to sleep, but Tom read for a while until his hands got too cold. His feet were already cold, even inside the bag.
The service broke up and the chatter and laughter began, so we woke up, but soon went back to sleep. During the night we woke a few times, since it never really gets dark at all. Also, both of us were quite cold - Tom's feet never warmed up, and Louisa was always cold on whichever side was down.
We awoke a few times in the night, because the sun was bright and high at 3am. By 4:30 we both were awake, and Tom got up to go down to the ocean and pee. We shivered and tried to huddle together until we fell asleep again, only to be awoken by the huge *crack* of an icefall a few hundred yards behind and to our left. What a wake up call!
The sun was high, and the snow was bright, so we put on our sunglasses and packed up our sleeping bags and thin mats. We had been cold all night - Tom's feet had never warmed up, and we both were cold on whatever side was down. We had very thin ensolite pads, which we think weren't doing the job, but the sleeping bags weren't great either.
The walk back to the shore was much easier this morning, since the snow crust had hardened and would now support our weight. We were the first in the zodiacs, and headed back to the boat for some welcome warmth.
After changing into dry clothes and warming each other's extremities, we headed down for breakfast. We were quite hungry, and ate well. The ship got underway while we ate, and we retired to our cabin to nap for almost the entire 4-hour steam north to Hydrurga Rocks.
We roused for lunch at 12, and then hurried to get ready to kayak in the early afternoon. We paddled out in the absolutely beautiful day, sweating in our drysuits. The islands were low and rocky, and home to small groups of penguins, sheathbills, giant petrels, and gulls. A few weddell seals were hauled out on snowy spots. We waved at the land crowd as we paddled by, exploring the huge icebergs in the area, and generally enjoying ourselves.
We paddled around the small island, and pulled in to a small cove to get out. We looked around for a bit, checking out the petrels and the seals, then hopped back in the kayaks. A little further on, we came to a nice cove filled with large and small icebergs, mostly grounded. Tom decided to get out on one for a picture, and after completing that somewhat slippery and scary operation, we paddled back out to the ship.
Back at the ship, Tom showered and then we took another nap, still recovering from our camping night. Soon we were up again, at the Christiania islands, getting ready for our zodiac ride.
Here, the bergs were much larger, some seemingly the size of a city block or more. One in the distance just towered out of the water, and we stared in amazement at the smaller ones - only the size of large buildings - that were grounded near the island.
We zoomed through narrow channels between bergs and along the shore, taking in the incredible scenery. We negotiated a narrow passage behind a rock through some brash ice, and ended up in a nice cove. Here, the zodiac let us off, and we walked the 100 meters through the cut to the other side of the island.
When we landed, we saw a dozen or so giant petrels, gathering around some weddell seals hauled out on the snow. We almost stumbled on the object of their attention, however, a dead seal lying on the shore. Nobody knew how it had died, but it looked fairly recent.
We hung around waiting for the zodiacs to round the island again, and took pictures of the seals and petrels. Soon we were picked up again, and ferried the short distance to the Molchanov. Back in the room, Louisa showered, while Tom went to the bar to work on the journal.
We took the camera to dinner, and after we ate we borrowed Don's video cable and attempted to hook it up to the TV. Unfortunately, the cable wasn't quite right, but we fiddled with it and got it to mostly work. We showed a few pictures for the enjoyment of the after-dinner crowd.
The real after-dinner entertainment was Al Bakker showing pictures of their recent Arctic trip. The photos were really great, and we quickly added it to our "places to go" list. He had a few photos of Fiji as well, and that looked great too - maybe when things settle down there.
We were tired despite our several naps, so we headed to bed, and surprisingly slept immediately.
We were awakened at 7 for our 7:30 breakfast, but since we were still underway heading north, we ate and went back to bed. During the rest of the morning we napped, wrote on the Psion, and read until about 10am.
When we arrived at Gourdin Island, we got ready for our final kayak trip. We loaded up and paddled along the shore, and almost the first thing we saw was a huge leopard seal on an ice floe. We didn't get too close, in case it decided we were good to eat, and continued around the island.
We were fascinated by the pockets of penguins popping in and out of the water, and waddling along on the ice. One place had 3 different types - gentoo, adelie, and chinstrap - all together on the ice, trying to decide what to do next.
A weddell seal and a leopard seal rested on top of an ice floe. As we looked at the seals, a chinstrap penguin shot out of the water and landed on the ice floe as well. It noticed the leopard seal almost immediately, and turned around but then saw us (a few strange colorful shapes in the water) and started squawking. We paddled back and after awhile the penguin jumped back in to the water, away from the seals.
On one side of the island we tried to go through a narrow passage, but the channel was largely blocked by a large floe that harbored another leopard seal, along with about 4 weddells. Al wisely led us around another way - nobody wanted to be his lunch, he had huge teeth.
On the other side we saw yet another leopard seal, although there was some debate on this one - it could have been a crabeater seal instead. Finally, after going clear around the island, we pulled in to a small bay where the zodiacs had landed near an incredibly huge adelie rookery.
We diddled around in the bay, going in and out of icebergs, until we found out that there were tiny chicks in the nests - they must have just been born. We jumped out and took a bunch of pictures, delighted at the tiny chicks. By the time they called us to leave, it was a bit late, so they decided to take the kayaks back to the boat by zodiac, which probably took longer than if we had just paddled, since we had to wait for the zodiac to make two trips. We didn't care very much, though, since we were entranced by the penguins and the tiny chicks.
Back on the boat, lunch was served right away. Then we spent some time cleaning the kayak gear and preparing the kayaks for storage. Once that was out of the way, we headed up to the bridge to watch the Molchanov cruise into the Weddell Sea, occasionally brushing aside some brash ice and thicker sea ice. The bay was filled with huge tabular bergs broken off from the Weddell ice shelf, which made a spectacular skyline.
We neared the Argentine base Esperanza, and overheard a funny radio conversation in broken spanglish as we told them courteously that we would be landing near them, but not visiting.
We were in a bit of a hurry to get going back, so we loaded the zodiacs quickly and headed towards shore. Unfortunately, they forgot a basic safety precaution, and our zodiac didn't have anyone with a radio. To make matters worse, the non-English-speaking Russian driver had no idea where we were going, and took us towards the Argentine base. To top it all off, we forgot our camera, and didn't have time to go back for it. Aargh!
The Russian driver understood that we were going the wrong direction, slowed and turned around but still did not know where to go. Eventually Peter came along since the bridge told him that our zodiac was near the base, but he only checked that we turned around. The driver still did not know exactly where to go. While he waited for Peter to return from the ship, the driver took us to an iceburg with a weddell seal for brief entertainment.
We finally made our first landfall on the actual continent of Antarctica. On the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, Sheppard Point was not the most beautiful spot, but it satisfied our requirements. We drank some champagne, had a toast or two, and took some group photos. The Japanese group played soccer, and Tom led everyone in a rousing "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi" cheer, which he'd always wanted to do. We were a bit frustrated having forgotten our camera, but we asked Mary Lou to take a picture of us, which she was happy to do.
Soon we returned to the Molchanov, and got immediately underway heading north. We all stood on deck or on the bridge, as we made our way between huge tabular bergs and among the smaller sea ice floes. At one point we crashed through a sea ice floe the size of a conference room, cracking and breaking it before pushing the larger pieces out of the way. We probably could have avoided it, so the captain was probably just showing off - fun!
The Antarctic Sound was full of life. At one point, we saw literally hundreds of penguins porpoising and preening in the water off the bow. As we approached, they all dived and disappeared. Many seals were hanging around on the ice, including several leopard seals. We stayed on the bow with Jenny, and she pointed out a snow petrel and various other sea birds, which we appreciated.
Tom stayed on deck for a while as Louisa warmed up in the shower, but he soon headed up to the bridge. Mike spotted some whales, and Gerry joked that since we hadn't seen orcas yet, this must them. Incredibly, as we got closer, we found that they were, in fact, orcas!
We turned to get closer, and they continued to surface and blow. They appeared totally unafraid, and even a bit curious, with the boat so near. On a couple of occasions they dived and went under the boat, causing all the passengers to run from one side of the bow to the other side of the stern to catch a glimpse of them coming back up. We could clearly see their entire backs and huge dorsal fins, with the characteristic white and black coloring.
At one point, two of them surfaced right next to the boat, so close we could almost touch them from the rail! They spewed fish-flavored breath all over the deck and disappeared again. Jenny later told us that they were probably one male and two females.
Phil, the cook, yelled that dinner would be delayed, as he snapped pictures of the whales. Several members of the normally unflappable Russian crew were also clicking away. The expedition staff couldn't believe our luck. We all stared in awe and delight, for nearly 40 minutes, as they played and fed all around us. WONDERFUL!
Finally they began to draw away again, and we reluctantly turned to resume course. The cold, which we had been ignoring, suddenly hit us, and we rushed inside to warm up freezing hands and noses. Soon Phil had dinner back on track, and we all chattered excitedly as we headed to the dining room.
After dinner, we sang to Reg for his 50th birthday, and his wife gave him a book on Antarctica that we had all signed. In the other dining room, we sang to the German biologist Elke, as it was her birthday as well. She was totally surprised, and overcome, making nearly every woman in the place cry along with her. She tried to blow out the candles, but they were the trick kind that re-lit themselves, which turned her tears to laughter in short order.
After the festivities, we gathered in the bar, as Jenny led a recap of the entire trip. We admired her hand-drawn map of our destinations, and enthusiastically contributed memories of each place. The process helped cement the trip in everyone's mind. Mike's was the funniest: on the way down he had asked "Will we see penguins?"
Later, Simone led a discussion of her survey of the perceived impact of the tourists themselves. Some funny answers were provided, but most of us were happy to abide by simple rules aimed preserving the wilderness for the future. The party ended late, and we fell asleep immediately.
We awoke to 1-2m seas and the boat was moving a bit more than we were used to. We had slept well, although we woke when the announcement was made at 2am that the biologists Elke and Simone were getting dropped off on Penguin Island. We watched the zodiac disappear out of sight through our porthole, and were glad we could go back to our warm bed, while they plowed through the brash ice to a desolate campsite.
Breakfast was generally well attended, although a few folks were already feeling under the weather from the rocking. After breakfast, Tom borrowed Don and Mary Lou's digital camera to compare with ours, and spent an enjoyable half hour playing with it. He also copied off the pictures that we wanted.
Jenny hosted a talk in the bar on the southern ocean, which started out as a slide show and lecture on the incredibly huge and relatively simple ecology and oceanography of the region. We all enjoyed the talk, and the discussion that followed lasted over an hour. Tom attended, while Louisa caught up on sleep a little.
The seas started to pick up, so many people started to retire to their cabins. Tom felt a little queasy, so he took a Dramamine, and relaxed a bit. Louisa was awake, and handled some errands, but soon came back to relax as well. Tom showered before lunch, and that helped him feel a lot better.
At lunch, however, the boat started really lurching, and on the way down, Tom really felt ill. He rested a minute to see if he would get better, but he ended up going straight back to the room and lying down. Louisa ate a bit, and then brought some food to Tom, who ate in between huge surges of the boat.
We lay down for a while, reading intermittently, and hoping that we would feel better. At 2:30 a movie on whales was shown in the dining room, so Louisa went down to watch, but came back after about 20 minutes and got quite sick. The boat was really moving around by this time, and it was hard to even sit, much less walk around.
At 3:30 they had an engine room tour, which Tom was really excited about. He had been feeling a little better, so he mustered his energy and went slowly and carefully below. The pace seemed to work, and he felt fine as he toured the incredibly loud engine room with a few other intrepid folks. The two huge engines were screaming, and various other noises came from the generators and the boiler. They had a complete machine shop, as well, and a somewhat soundproofed instrument compartment. The language barrier prevented us from learning a lot about how it worked, but we got the basics.
Back up in the room, Louisa was still lying down, so we napped for most of the remainder of the afternoon. Around 4:30, Tom roused to get a ginger ale from the bar, and since he was feeling better, also went up to the bridge for a picture or two. The seas were up to about 4m, and the bow was crashing through the waves and sending spray up to the bridge windows - on deck 6! Nobody was around on the ship - everyone must have been sleeping, or sick, or both.
Tom then went to the bar to journal and chat, while Louisa continued to lie down. She roused for dinner, however, and we made our way slowly downstairs. The pork chops were good, and we ate well, but Louisa soon headed back upstairs to lie down again. Tom participated in the Happy Birthday singing to Andrew, and ate some dessert.
We had promised to write two days of the ship's journal, which will be distributed to all the passengers. Of course, this needed to be done on their Mac Powerbook. After dinner, Tom borrowed Al's powerbook to write both his and Louisa's entries, borrowing liberally from both the daily Polar News bulletin and our own journal entries.
The excellent BBC series Life in the Freezer was shown in the port side dining room, so Tom also watched that for a half hour or so. He soon got tired, though, and returned to the room, to get ready for bed. Unfortunately, the non-drowsy Dramamine was keeping him up, and he was unable to sleep until after 2am, so he got a lot of reading done.
We awoke for breakfast, which was much better attended since the seas had calmed to 1-2m. The wind had swung to the west, however, so it was on our beam, making the rocking motion just as bad. We both felt pretty good, so we breakfast was enjoyable.
After the meal, we went up to the bridge to see what the seas were like. Tom came back down for a nap, while Louisa went to watch more of the excellent and interesting Life in the Freezer series. We spent the remainder of the morning settling our bar bill, journaling, and working on captions.
We chatted with Jenny and Max at lunch, exchanging book recommendations, then adjourned to the bar to hear Max talk about travel writing. He was entertaining, and extremely informative, as he passed on tips, tricks, and secrets for successful travel writing. We took notes furiously, and the whole thing re-awakened our excitement about writing on our own travels.
We chatted with Max after the talk, then relaxed a bit before watching a presentation by Heinrich about diving the Antarctic. Brrr - that looks cold.
Louisa left Heinrich's talk early to write in the journal in the bar where Timbo had good tunes playing and the rest of the expedition crew were relaxing.
She found Tom napping in the cabin. After showers the entire boat congregated in the bar to learn about the disembarkation process. Many of us had donned some of our nicer clothes since the captain's cocktail hour followed. Timbo had concocted one of his delicious and potent punches. Each glass seemed to be a cornucopia since every time we looked down it had been quietly refilled by Timbo.
The last dinner was delicious and ended for the third night in a row with Happy Birthday and a cake.
After dinner Peter Malcolm presented an excellent slide show about his expedition in the mid-eighties called "In the Footsteps of Scott." He was delightful as he regaled stories of raising money, knocking down piers, travelling to the Antarctic and the tragedies and successes that followed.
With smiles on our faces we retired to our cabin for the last night of our makeshift bed on the floor of our cabin. The seas were rocking the boat which shook us awake until about 1:30 after which we slept soundly.
Peter announced the embarkation of the Beagle Channel pilot and the disembarkation of the Japanese film crew on to the pilot's boat, but we decided to sleep through it all since it was six am.
We forced ourselves out of bed shortly after Peter's 7:00 am wake up announcement in order to pack before breakfast. Packing went more quickly than we expected, even with Christmas presents filling our bags. Everyone lingered over breakfast since we had vacated the cabins and had no where to go.
The main gathering spot was the bar where we chatted with Peter Randolph and Joy in between writing in the journal. The time passed quickly and soon Peter announced our final approach. Unfortunately it was practically 11am by the time the first passengers could get off, and they had definitely missed the 9:40 flight to Buenos Aires.
The seven on that flight left quickly to figure out a new schedule for their trips home, while the rest of us said extensive good-byes. After q bit we headed down the dock toward town. The sun shone brightly in the sky which gave us hope for an afternoon hike along the glacier near the hotel.
During a delicious lunch in town the rain started to fall. The temperature cooled off quickly and we sprinted to the internet cafe. The food did not energize us as much as we had hoped, and after sending a few emails we headed to the hotel for a nap.
The hotel shuttle was full of employees leaving no room for guests. A couple from Brooklyn were standing on the curb with us so the four of us shared a cab. Check-in went smoothly and they gave us a comfortable room over looking the bay. Tom slept while Louisa watched television for the rest of the afternoon.
After awhile we decided on a workout in the hotel's advertised gym. What a pathetic site it was. A few dilapidated exercise bikes and a cross country machine sat at one spot with two exercise mats and an ab roller across the room. We fought the broken machines for awhile and wondered where they found such terrible equipment.
As we relaxed in the room we decided to write a 'Best of' list. In the midst of reminiscing the Molchanov left the pier for her next voyage. Thinking about this years adventures was quite fun.
Soon it was time to walk across the road for our final dinner at Chez Manu. Without the gorgeous pink and yellow sunset the atmosphere of the restaurant seemed different. However, the food and wine were still outstanding. Every bite delighted us. The Luigi Bosca wine tasted delicious as we lingered over the meal. After the last morsel of fondant de chocolate was gone, we left tired and happy and quickly fell asleep.
The watch alarm beeped at 7:00. It seemed quiet and unintrusive after the friendly and lengthy announcements to wake us on the Molchanov. After falling back to sleep once, we woke and decided we should climb out of bed rather than miss the flight.
Packing went quickly and we entered the dining room to a familiar sight. Ten of the fellow passengers on the Molchanov were eating breakfast. It felt like the port side dining room on the boat. The Rumbo Sur bus appeared shortly after 8 and we joined the group to bus to the airport. We went via the Rumbo Sur office since they had neglected to bring all of the passengers tickets.
To our delight, the Aerolineas Argentinas desk had no line and we were soon checked in. Unfortunately the plane was delayed so we enjoyed coffee with Fiona and Sandra. While waiting on line for the chaotic security check Tom and Peter Malcolm sang "Father and Son", accompanied by Tom on the guitar, which passed the time quickly. They continued to sing in the pre-boarding lounge while Louisa had a brief education on some of the sacraments of Catholicism from Gerry which she found interesting.
In true South American style, they called the boarding of the flight and opened the doors about twenty minutes later. We boarded and every seat was occupied. Lady luck was on our side, however, and the stewardess asked if we would trade seats for the exit row seats. Yes! We happily passed the woman with two small children in the aisle for a smooth, albeit hour and a half late flight to Buenos Aires.
We passed the time reading and journaling, and soon landed in BA. We collected our bags, said a final goodbye to the many folks from the boat on our flight, and caught the bus into downtown BA. Unfortunately, we couldn't get in touch with our friends there, so we were on our own.
Sandra and Ed accompanied us, as we dropped our bags at the bus station near Plaza San Martin. We walked towards Recoleta, stopping in occasional shops and chatting away. In the park near the cemetery we paused and perused the street vendors, but nothing appealed. On the way back, we stopped at our favorite empenada place, near the hotel where we stayed last time. The empenadas were just as good, and we devoured a few as a snack.
On the way back to the station Louisa spotted a cute red top that she had to buy, and we picked up some small gifts for folks back home. Then we said goodbye to Sandra and Ed, and hopped the bus again to the Ezeiza international airport.
Checkin was smooth and pleasant, and we soon settled down in the Red Carpet club to wait for our flight. We had upgraded to business class, and were looking forward to a good night's sleep. The flight boarded on time, and soon we were in the air. We settled in with a nice bag of goodies, tucked into a surprisingly good steak, then tried to sleep, with moderate success.
We awoke after about 5 hours of restless sleep, and started to get excited as we realized that we were over the USA. We talked about many of the things the future might bring, as the plane came in to land.
We peeked out the windows and saw snow on the ground, even though it was pretty dark before 5am when we landed. Immigration was incredibly easy, with the officer pleasantly wishing us a welcome home. Our bags were among the first out, and we walked through customs without a peep - unbelievable!
We re-checked our bags on the other side, then headed to the train to switch terminals. The cold from outside almost froze us - our coats were packed - but we only had a few feet from the warm terminal to the warm train. At our gate, we put our feet up and rested, deciding against a Starbucks since we wanted to sleep a bit more.
The plane was late, but it didn't really matter. Almost before we knew it, we were taking off in the bitter cold (part of the delay was de-icing) and snow. As we landed in Columbus, snow flurries whirled around the plane, and the several inches on the ground fulfilled Louisa's wish for a white Christmas.
Louisa's mom met us at the gate with a big hug. We were delighted to be back in the USA again!
Our plans now are to spend Christmas with our families in Columbus and Boston, then fly back to SF in time for New Year's. Of course, we don't have a place to live, so we'll be staying with friends until we can get ourselves settled.
We have been bitten by the travel bug hard by now, and will certainly continue to travel, although probably not quite like this! We have had an absolutely fabulous trip, and we will savor these memories for the rest of our lives.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on