by Stan Sinberg
Dateline, Argentina – I’m in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, only 500 miles from Antarctica, about to embark on a five day/four night cruise that will cut me off from all forms of civilization. In other words, a cruise without… internet!
Day 1: Before embarking, I email my friends, mother, editors, chat groups, ex-girlfriends, Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force and anybody I’ve ever met since 1995 to say that for the next few days I will be incommunicado. As my previous record for voluntarily not checking email is 43 minutes, this will surely be a test of will.
I board the Via Australis, a 137-passenger vessel with good-sized, comfortable, and tastefully furnished rooms. But my hopes that this was a cruel joke are dashed: there is indeed, no internet.
Day 2: We pile into Zodiac rubber boats to take our first off-boat excursion to Cape Horn, the world’s southernmost land mass. We climb 130 steps to the Cape Horn Memorial, which commemorates the more than 800 vessels that have sunk in the treacherous waters where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Of course they sunk. What did they expect, with no internet? You’d think my cruise ship would’ve taken the hint.
After re-boarding, we sail past the southern side of Cape Horn, allowing the most anal passengers to argue about which part of the horn juts out the most, so they can photograph THE southernmost piece of the southernmost land mass. I make a mental note to avoid these people.
Our next excursion drops us on Waluaia Bay where the indigenous Yamana lived, walking around in naked splendor, until the European explorers indulged in their favorite pastime, wiping out the native population by passing along contagious diseases.
After a steep descent, we’re greeted by a drink table set up with Coca Cola, water, and Johnnie Walker Red Label whiskey, with real hi-ball glasses and ice cubes. It’s a small touch, but wildly popular with the hikers.
Dinner is very efficient. A four-course meal barely takes an hour. Unfortunately, dining seating is permanent, and I’m assigned to an eight-top where, although assured the others “speak English,” they converse in their native German. This is depressing. If I’m not going to understand, I’d prefer not to understand in Spanish.
The evening movie is Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, a documentary about the 1915 ill-fated voyage on the aptly named Endurance, in which the 28-man crew encountered unimaginable hardships for 1 ½ years, and miraculously survived with little food, clothing, or water. Whether we’re shown this movie because we’re near Antarctica, or simply so we’ll be ashamed of complaining about getting our shoes wet on an excursion, is a matter of speculation.
Day 3: My dining companions have abandoned all pretense of bi-lingualism. They respond to my “Buen dia” with “Guten morn,” and it goes downhill from there.
Soon we pass the Avenue of Glaciers. Sadly, traffic on the Avenue isn’t what it used to be, as all the glaciers are receding, at up to half a meter a day. Still, they impress mightily.
After breakfast, we visit the P’ia Glacier, one of only three glaciers in the area actually advancing. It’s a gorgeous day as we navigate our Zodiacs among the ice chunks that have calved off the glacier. Our expedition leader, Percibal Ramirez, a jovial round fellow, leads us on a short hike to a viewpoint, before returning to the shore, where we’re again met with what some have begun considering the excursion highlight – glasses of Johnnie Walker Red.
The evening entertainment is the popular documentary, “March of the Penguins.” The penguins are the “Ernest Shackleton’s” of the animal kingdom, walking 70 miles over glaciers and not eating for 4 months at a time, in order to survive. The film is a reminder that there are worse things than going four days without receiving spam email.
Day 4: Our morning excursion takes us to the Piloto and Neno glaciers, and another beach hike to the Aguila Glacier. For lunch, I “jump ship” and join another table, and joke that I hope the Germans don’t invade my table. The French couple finds that very funny.
Day 5: We make our best excursion yet, to Magdalene Island, home for thousands of Magellanic Penguins. We take a path to the light house 800 meters away, but yield the right-of-way to groups of penguins crossing the road (Why? To swim in the sea). Some birds seem oblivious or disinterested in us, but others waddle right up to nip at our trousers or untie our shoelaces. After 1 ½ hours, we head back to the boat. Then we disembark at Punta Arenas, the largest city in Patagonia. It’s been a great trip filled with adventure, fantastic scenery, great wildlife, and good company. I’m so dazzled I forget to check my email for almost five whole minutes.
For information about this voyage, go to www.australis.com.
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