Days 8, 9 and 10
Well, we're back in the Drake. I slept surprisingly well though, and as I woke up to the morning announcement, I actually wasn't feeling all that bad. The ship was rolling a good bit though, so I took it very easy. I ventured upstairs for some breakfast, keeping "one hand for the ship, and one hand for myself". I was surprisingly hungry, and was hoping for pancakes (weird the things that will get me out of bed). We hadn't had any during the last few days, and I was in the mood. My journey was rewarded - a steaming tray of flap jacks sat in the middle of the buffet table. I filled my plate, and actually made it to a table. Again, surprising even myself, I was able to finish the entire meal. I was semi-to-fully impressed with myself.
However, as I sat talking with a couple of my table mates, that all too familiar queasy feeling started to permeate its way into my stomach. Not wanting to chance it, I made my way back downstairs and crawled into bed.
Having something in my stomach was either a great idea or a really poor one. The good news is I didn't ever see my breakfast again. The bad news is the seas got more and more rough as we progressed, and I spent the remainder of the day in bed.
I whiled the time away by listening to lectures between naps. I tried to do a little writing on the laptop, but as you can imagine, it was a short-lived endeavor. Hard to understand how looking at something sitting on your lap could make you feel even worse. I skipped lunch and dinner, my stomach voicing its displeasure with little more than the thought of rising.
Unfortunately, these were the best hours of the trip. If the trip through the Drake on the way down was an "8" on the torture scale, by around 11:30 pm, I'd re-adjusted the scale to a 20 point system. We were listing left to right in ways that actually worried me to a degree. Unlike before (which was bad enough, mind you), drawers were coming open and clothes were falling off hooks. My head was either smashed against the wall or sliding down the pillow. And it just didn't stop. Over and over, back and forth. It was maddening. If you read my earlier entry on crossing the Drake, imagine everything mentioned there being about 30-40% worse and you'll have the idea.
The peak of frustration and annoyance came at around 1:30 in the morning, when I awoke to the sensation of literally sliding feet-first out of bed. As is normal for me in a small twin bed, I was curled up in the fetal position. By the time I realized what was going on, my knees were already off the bed. I reached up to grab the end of the bed - too late. My left knee hit first on the carpeted floor. I managed to keep myself from going completely down, but the boat recovered, rocking nearly as strongly back to the other side, shoving my shoulder into the small end-table between the two beds. Not a fun way to wake up. Especially knowing that I was now fully conscious, with my heart pumping, knowing it would be a good while before I could fall asleep again.
I did manage to crawl back in bed, and thought, "I wish they had some straps or something." I half-heartedly ran my hands along the side of the bed nearest the wall. Wait - yes - what's this? I felt some fabric and metal. I pulled it up from the side - there indeed were straps on the bed. I proceeded to belt myself in. The problem was they were made for rolling out of bed side to side. My issue was sliding out of the bed from top to bottom. I ditched the straps and just stretched out as far as I could in the bed, my feet crossing the gap between the foot of the bed and the small desk at the end. I then folded my pillow and stuffed it between the top of my head and the wall. I was now pretty much immobile. Uncomfortable to be certain, but no longer a threat to take a header onto the floor. This sucks.
Without boring you to tears any further than I already have, let me sum up by saying I was in bed from breakfast until a little after 3:30 pm the next day. The staff came on the intercom in the early afternoon saying due to the "pretty rough seas", they would push the re-cap and disembarkation discussion until around 4:00 as we'd be entering the calmer waters of the Beagle Channel at that time.
And again, like a switch being flipped, I could feel us enter the channel. It's like magic. I hopped out of bed and took a shower, happy to be upright (and alive for that matter). The recap meeting was actually pretty fun. Stephen made some wrap-up remarks, admitting the last couple of days were pretty rough, even by his standards. He´d been told by the captain at one point we´d encountered eight to ten meter swells. Good to know. We then heard from each of the staff, each recounting the highlights of the trip, then were treated to a slideshow of the staff photographs.
We headed to dinner, which was great - not because I'm a huge fan of undercooked beef, but because it was my first meal in a good while. Brendan and Roisin found me after dinner and we sat together for a drink after our meal. They both chuckled as Roisin told me Brendan also fell out of bed last night; but he decided to just spend the rest of the night on the floor. I should have done that. My neck probably would have felt better.
At around 8:00 there was an auction of various objects - a weather chart, a book on Antarctic history, our trip chart, etc. with all the proceeds benefiting the "Save the Albatross" fund. It was pretty entertaining, and at the end of the night, our little group ended up raising a little over four thousand dollars.
We pulled into Ushuaia around 10:00. To be completely honest, I was really glad to see the lights. The last two days were just too fresh in my mind. The romance was gone, and I was ready to be done. I watched through the windows of the forward lounge as we pulled up to the pier and deck hands threw ropes to crew on the concrete. The boat was completely still. No motion - no movement, no listing or rocking. We'd made it.
We had the option to get off the boat and go into Ushuaia for the evening, but had to return to "officially" disembark in the morning at 8:00 am (something to do with Argentinean customs). I had a couple more days in Ushuaia, and the boat was rock solid, so I decided to stay. I sat to have a drink in the lounge with a gal from Chicago, and a couple from Canada. Soon, we were joined by "the Irish girls" - three lovely ladies from various parts of the Emerald Island who had banded together during the trip to ensure everyone remembered it was Saint Patrick's Day and even managed to have the chef bake them a shamrock-shaped cake.
Anyway, as the night went on, we were joined in the lounge by the ship's captain, the chief engineer and assorted others from the crew. As if it were their jobs, the Irish girls soon had all the stragglers pushed into one area of the bar, and ensured everyone had a beverage (or two). Before long, Ingmar, our white haired Swedish captain, had a guitar in his hands and was playing accompaniment to the girls who were leading the entire group in a mix of Irish folk songs. We carried on until one or two in the morning. It was a hell of a lot of fun.
Morning came early. We had breakfast at 7:00, and then proceeded to disembark. Most of the staff was waiting for us outside to say good bye. It was an interesting moment. Part of me was really, really ready to get off the boat. The Drake Passage had left a lasting scar on the entire adventure. But there was sadness - a realization that all of us had shared a very unique experience, and had a strange bond between us. It was a little emotional saying goodbye to these people I'd only known for ten short days.
As I got on the bus and the Explorer and its staff receded into the background, I thought about the whole experience. The term "bittersweet" isn't appropriate here, but it's along the lines of the feelings I had at the time. In my initial entry, I said it was absolutely worth it. And it was. But it doesn't come cheap - money is only part of what you end up paying for an adventure to the Antarctic. The staff sent us a follow up email after the trip. In it was a quote that I think sums up the whole trip.
"An Antarctic expedition is the worst way to have the best time of your life."
- Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Thanks for following along. I hope you enjoyed the experience as much as I did.