By Joe Annelli
Some people have questioned my sanity for wanting to go to Antarctica. But if this be madness yet there be method in it. It all started about four years ago when I was thinking about retirement. I read a book called “How to retire”. My son even questioned my sanity for needing to read such a book to know what to do in retirement. But what it did was got me thinking about what I really wanted to do because I’ve worked so much in my life. And with that thinking about my work life it occurred to me that I’ve worked on every continent except Antarctica. So of course, what became my new goal in retirement, to travel to Antarctica so that I would have visited all seven continents.
The planning for this trip began about three years ago. I started asking our travel agent about options for trips to Antarctica. The thought of an expedition trip was very intriguing but cost and physical exertion were considerations. While Trish would love to have gone on such a trip her limited mobility would have really precluded her ability to enjoy herself on an Antarctic expedition. About a year or two went by with those thoughts in our heads when Katie the good daughter she is (we call her Julie from The Love Boat) found a cruise that would be suitable for Trish and me on Norwegian Cruise Line. It wasn’t an expedition ship, but it did go to Antarctica.
It unfortunately was not going to allow us to set foot on the continent but simply cruise through several islands and just off the coast of the Antarctic peninsula. So, Trish was still concerned about her mobility on that one and told us she was not going to go. So, I booked the trip for Katie, Mackenzie and myself. So, it wasn’t more than a day or two later after we confirmed the booking the Trish said, “Damn it, I’m going to go” and she set her sights on becoming mobile and healthy enough to go on this Antarctic journey of mine. She was all excited to go and was doing everything she could despite her significant back pain and knee pain. She was going to physical therapy doing her exercises and doing everything she could to be able to be as mobile as possible and enjoy this cruise. It has stops in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and traveling through Antarctica. Unfortunately, in April a major vascular accident left her totally incapacitated and as that progressed within 24 hours was dead. Despite this I knew I needed to be looking forward and we kept our plans for Katie, Mackenzie and I to continue this adventure.
In the ensuing months Katie, Mackenzie and I continued our preparations for this adventure to South America and Antarctica. One of the early adventures of this trip was navigating the COVID-19 restrictions of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay and ultimately the United States when we had to return home. Katie and I spent a few hours reading through all the requirements and filling out a calendar of events so that we knew when we needed PCR testing when we could use rapid tests, what kind of rapid tests had official monitoring so that it would count as an official test and each country had slightly different testing requirements in terms of time. Some were 72 hours others were 48 hours and still others were prior to departure or prior to landing so we had to work out the logistics of how to make all of this happen. Having spent weeks calculating these COVID testing requirements and preparing for wearing masks throughout the trip as required by the cruise line the airline and I’m sure the countries we were going to be visiting we felt we were all set and getting excited about our departure. Then omicron cropped up and countries began to react or should I stay overreact to a new variant. We began to worry more about whether this cruise was going to happen because of this new variant of COVID-19. As a result, we began watching the movement of the ship that we were going to be taking because it was originally stationed in in Naples Italy. Then one day we saw that it made its way to Barcelona and then Gibraltar, so we got even more excited that our ship was on its way to Buenos Aires in time for our cruise. We continued to watch this ship’s progress as it headed south along the African coast. It then began its transatlantic journey after it passed Senegal and began to make its way to the tip of South America and on into Buenos Aires. Then one day part way across the Atlantic it made a right-hand turn and the ship’s destination now said awaiting orders. I said “Oh ****” and Katie and I called our travel agent to see if she knew what was going on. She called Norwegian for us, but they had no new information, as far as they knew the cruise was still on but within 24 hours the status went from pending orders to destination Miami. The cruise ship that we were going to take out of Buenos Aires must have been canceled. Within 24 hours after that we received official notification that our cruise was in fact cancelled. Having spent a year planning this and looking forward to it as a distraction from life as it had become without Trish I was undeterred by having a ship cancelled. Like Shackleton, I began to search for a new ship and crew to continue our journey to Antarctica.
This is how we’ve come to be on an expedition ship by Penant called the l’Austral. Our intrepid travel agent took on are infectious fervor to continue this journey despite having a ship pulled out from under us with only one week left to go. We found us a new cruise line, a new ship, a new crew and a sailing date that was only two weeks behind the one we were originally planning to go on. So, I thought we were ahead of the game. Shackleton was delayed by months due to ice we were only delayed by two weeks due to disease. And so, our journey continues, this time even more exciting than the previous one since we can now take an expedition ship which will land us on the continent and on Antarctic islands off the Antarctic peninsula using zodiacs to transport us from the ship to the shore. We are even going to do a sea kayaking adventure among the ice floes.
And that’s how it all began and as we continue with this blog we’ll be sending pictures and let you know how it continues. In the meantime we have to redo paperwork because Mackenzie is traveling with only one parent and not both. We need to do medical forms now because, being an expedition ship, we need approval from our primary care physicians that we are healthy enough to go to Antarctica. And now that we will be on the continent for four days our packing needed to change whereas before a good deal of our time was going to be spent up around Buenos Aires with 90 degree weather now we’re spending most of our days in Ushuaia (u-Swhy-a) where the temperatures will be in the 40s and Antarctica where the temperatures will be around freezing. And so, the adventure continues…