For ethical reasons, perhaps we shouldn’t have gone. For financial reasons we chose to go the cheap way, by cruise ship. For companionship, we went together, even though it was Bruce’s idea, completely his idea, his idea from the beginning and thoroughly his idea to go in the first place. His reasoning went something like this: having already put our feet onto the earth in six continents, we should visit the seventh. We’ve done other faulty things for less well-thought reasons before. And so, for adventuring reasons, we did go.
Here’s the story (and remember, this was entirely Bruce’s idea):
We settle in to the massive ship, and I am torn about being here. Is it comforting that we have so much protection from the elements and the rough seas? The ship is completely full, and over-run with older people carrying large amounts of camera equipment, Audubon guides and Sir David Attenborough’s audio books. I learn that there is a naturalist who will be making presentations as we get closer to Antarctica.
Before we go to sleep the first night, there is a grumble in the atmosphere of the ship: A slightly unsettled blip in the inter-personal current. I think it is just me getting used to this place, just me getting my sea legs.
The next morning, long after the time when I could jump ship and swim to shore, we get a revised itinerary. It will take us longer than anticipated to get to our destinations, so our first stop, at Ushuaia, Argentina will be shortened. There is a vague explanation that is mumbled around the ship – an engine is not working quite right. And we are heading to one of the most turbulent oceans on the planet.
The stop in Ushuaia is even more brief than expected, due to weather or winds or engine trouble. Once back on the seas, we are told that it will take us longer than expected to reach Antarctica, due to weather or winds or engine trouble. We entertain ourselves with visits to the naturalist’s programs. Each one is entertaining and so crowded people are sitting in the aisles. What else is a ship full to do?
Passengers begin to emerge who know a thing or two about oceans and engines. I hear people complain about ship-shape upkeep and the seriousness of less-than-perfect engine function in the middle of a rough sea.
We do make it to the shores of Antarctica.
The continent itself is thrilling. Ice, snow, rock and ocean. Completely gray and white, with a bit of astounding turquoise when a piece of sunshine hits the two-story ice just right. Overwhelming in a black and white movie style, Antarctica spews its coldness into view. It seems to me a world apart from everything I know. It is unthinkable that I am here.
As we leave the continent, it is announced that we won’t be able to make our next stop, Elephant Islands. Bad weather, landing conditions, faulty engines.
That night, it is announced that we won’t be able to stop at The Falkland Islands. The next morning, we learn we won’t make the last stop in our itinerary, Puerto Madryn, Argentina.
During one lunchtime, Bruce – the one who wanted to be here – and I step into the buffet, and walk right into a security guard. Security guard? It’s not like he announces himself, but just by standing where he is standing and looking like he does, I know that’s what he is.
Then I notice that the buffet’s seating area is packed shoulder-to shoulder with passengers, and the multi-lingual speech is getting louder and louder. The windows are fogged up with the charged emotion that did not come from lunch’s sliced roast beef sandwiches. People are speaking in animation and high-emotion. I am uncomfortable and Bruce is nearly laughing. He asks the security guard what is going on while I sink into the background, losing my appetite.
It seems a joining of forces is occurring – the Argentine passengers and the larger tour groups (from the Philippines and from China) – have come together to sign petitions of formal complaints about the condition of the ship and the restructuring of the voyage’s schedule. They think this mechanical problem was foreseen and that we all have been defrauded and that King Penguins will be lost in the fray if we passengers don’t receive some recompense for having lost the opportunity of a lifetime.
I don’t know where to look for fault – the cruise line for skipping 3 out of 4 planned stops and running a huge ship on a faulty engine, the passengers for being as selfish as I didn’t want to be in booking this trip, or Bruce, whose idea it was in the first place.
We make it back to Buenos Aires, a safe place in any comparison, and nothing ever comes of anything. The petitions signed by every passenger (probably twice by most), the formal complaints to the governments and the companies involved, the simple violations of the rules of civility in promising one thing and delivering something quite different – nothing ever happens. It remains just one more life experience. Sometimes we just don’t get what we expect, but we do get something.
I got a continent I would never have seen by myself, and a never-ending story to recap time and again with the partner and love of my life. It was, after all, all his fault.