I remember the first moment I saw Antarctica. It was about 5:30 a.m. and I was in the Observation Lounge on the Seabourn Quest. It was a grey morning with thick fog. There were about four other people there drinking coffee. I had no idea how close we were to Antarctica. I mentioned in passing that fog can lift at a moment’s notice and I hoped it would soon. About five minutes later it did and BOOM: Antarctica.
It took my breath away. It was bigger, more majestic, more black than white. It was powerful and immediately humbled me. And it drew me in.
I returned the following year and, now having a better (though still cursory) understanding of the place and it drew me in further. Things slowed down because there was familiarity. I knew the difference between a Gentoo and Adelie penguin. I had seen an elephant seal. Powerful landscapes were already burned into my memory. I knew the procedures as to how to gear up and participate in a landing. I had my basic photographs. And I had walked on the White Continent. I could better let Antarctica flow over me and better appreciate the little things. I could enjoy just sitting on a rock without fear of missing “something”…and knowing that failing to sit on that rock was, to be sure, missing “something”.
Yet I heard what I heard the first time again, “What? You haven’t been to South Georgia Island. It is an unbelievable place. You have to go!”
It is now my third time traveling to Antarctica. A place where only about 60,000 people including scientists, and those who are just sailing by, visit each year. I more than appreciate that of those 60,000 the vast majority will only sail by or step on Antarctica once. Adding a visit to South Georgia Island makes my personal experience even more rarified. I am blessed.
But I have to first get there.
After a visiting family and attending a black-tie event with Seabourn in New York City, I was supposed to fly on United to Buenos Aires, Argentina to meet the Seabourn Quest. However, due to a schedule change, I was required to fly from New York to Lima, Peru, change to LATAM Airlines to continue on to Buenos Aires. I had heard of issues with LATAM, but I really didn’t have a choice.
After an uneventful flight to Lima, I boarded my LATAM flight (after a minor ordeal correcting my previously paid for upgraded seats having been given away for unknown reasons) and noticed that the aircraft was so old it still had ashtrays in the seat’s armrest. Yikes!
We arrived in Buenos Aires on time and I literally walked right through Immigration. Amazing! (A friend of mine arrived the next day and had a 1.5 hour wait.) Now all I needed were my bags. Well, you know me and you know my travels, so you know my bags did not arrive. I will not bore you with the ordeals of dealing the LATAM, but in the end I did receive my bags with the last one arriving 30 minutes before I boarded the ship, it was destroyed and LATAM rejected my claim for compensation asserting it was “normal wear and tear”. (I can’t wait for my return flight to Lima, Peru on LATAM.)
As I previously mentioned I was going to keep it simple and just stay at the Holiday Inn; heading to the ship in the morning, but instead chose to use Hyatt points to stay at the Palacio Duhua; a truly extraordinary hotel with impeccable service. I was greeted with a “Welcome Back”, offered a complimentary breakfast while I waited for my room, received an early check-in and was given a room with a great view. And they were one of the four-pronged attack with LATAM to get me my bags before I departed the next day.
A friend of mine said I had to go to Freddo for gelato, claiming it was the best, though I did note that Seabourn makes its own fresh gelato right on the ship. Though I normally don’t take on such recommendations, this time I did. When I asked at the front desk if Freddo was nearby it started a five-way “discussion” among them as to where the best ice cream/gelato was in Buenos Aires. While the consensus was that Rapinui was better than Freddo, between my friend’s recommendation and it only being two minutes from the hotel, Freddo it was. And, without question, when in Argentina Dulce de Leche is the mandatory flavor. (I softened its sweetness with a bit of vanilla as well.) It was worth the effort as it was excellent and truly a bit of local flavor.
And because the front desk was so kind and helpful I brought gelato back for all of them!
Now I know how stressful lost luggage can be, but I figured there was nothing I could do so I might as well enjoy my time in Buenos Aires as best I could. I had the morning before I boarded to buy clothes if necessary, Seabourn would provide me with my expedition gear, I had my cameras and regardless: I was going to Antarctica for the third time!!
Dinner was at Aramburu, a famous but very small molecular gastronomy restaurant. What I didn’t know was that it was only a 15 minute walk from the Palacio Duhua, an added bonus. With the very favorable exchange rate, my dinner with wine pairings, was going to cost less than US$115.00; about the cost of lunch for two in New York City.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The articles I read about Aramburu said this open-kitchen restaurant has a different Tasting Menu each evening varying from 10 to 12 courses. Just as I was seated the hostess advised that this evening’s menu was 17 courses. Jackpot!!
The dishes ranged from a delicious cauliflower curry soup to organic carrot and quinoa salad to the best venison I have ever tasted. And the wines were paired beautifully. I will let the photos do the talking.
(If you are counting, you will see 19 courses because the amuse-bouche (watermelon) and espresso don’t count!)
While it seemed like I was there for only five minutes, when I looked at my watch over two hours had passed. It was an amazing dining experience and one that I unequivocally recommend.
When I arrived back at the hotel I went to the Oak Room for a nightcap (whisky, of course) in order to wind down and then headed out to the Palacio Duhua’s terrace.
When I got back to my room I found that one bag has arrived; of course the least needed one, but at least I had my expedition gear.
The morning brought news that my other bag actually had been to Buenos Aires, but LATAM didn’t take it off the plane so it flew onto San Paolo, Brazil and then back to Lima, so it was (hopefully) on the early morning flight from Lima to Buenos Aires. Eventually it was confirmed it was in BA, but I should not expect the bag until about 4:00 p.m. With a bit of effort it was delivered by noon albeit splayed open with a torn zipper, all the pulls removed and a hole. But at least I had it.
So it was then off to the Seabourn Quest. When I checked my bags, my suite has been changed from a V6 (Suite 742) to Suite 744: The Wintergarden! I’m not sure why Seabourn hadn’t sold it (or a couple of other top suites), but who was I to argue?!
Once onboard it was coming home. So many familiar faces from staff to the Expedition Team. It didn’t take long to settle in, that’s for sure. I have to say, after a hectic week in New York City, the long flights and the luggage ordeal the Seabourn Quest’s warmth and familiarity were more than appreciated.
After the muster, and some more hellos, as is my tradition, my first dinner was at The Grill by Thomas Keller: Chicken and a Sundae.
After dinner I went up to the Observation Lounge and the energy among the guests was palpable…in fact, it was too much so. It was shocking how loud some of the guests were. I was literally unable to be in there and enjoy my whisky, so it was an earlier night than I expected.
I stayed on the ship for our first port, Punta del Este, Uruguay, as it really didn’t offer anything compelling for me; having wished we had sailed to Montevideo instead. So I did some work, met with Captain Joost Eldering, Hotel Manager, Ares Mantadakis and Chef Oliver (all of whom are incredibly friendly and go out of their way not only for me, but all the guests) and then – for lunch – did my usual Hamburger & Hot Dog Test.
Both were excellent, but while the hamburger was juicy and tasty it was slightly beyond my ordered medium rare and, once again, the hot dog buns are just too large. They make for a great presentation, but I find I need to remove about half of it in order to enjoy the hot dog properly.
It was then time for a nice soak in “my hot tub” on the bow and actually took a nice long nap as the skies opened and it down-poured.
That storm led to some rough seas (6-8 feet) with serious gale-force winds (60 mph), sufficient to render a good bit of the guests and crew seasick for the next 24-48 hours of our three sea days getting to South Georgia Island. That was the bad news.
The good news is that we are going to, weather and sea dependent, spend three days, no two as previously scheduled, at South Georgia Island!! And with about 16 hours until our anticipated arrival it looks like we are going to make it.
Over the next three days the Seabourn Expedition Team Leader, Chris Srigley, gave the introductions and began explaining how things work, Anton Wolfaardt gave his first talk on Seabirds, Lisa Baldwin her’s on whales and Brent Houston (who I refer to as the Penguin Whisperer) on the penguins of South Georgia Island. And, of course, Trevor Potts gave his talk, “In the Wake of Shackleton”; an amazing adventure. There were also introductory talks on photography, but I gave those a miss…and I know the photographers are going to create an incredible video before this journey ends.
It is now time for the Bio-Check to be sure all of our gear does not have any seeds or other contaminants and then waiting…in anticipation…for tomorrow.
nterested in booking a Seabourn cruise to Antarctica or elsewhere? Please give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!
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