I had already been backpacking for four months throughout South America in 2007-2008 when I boarded a bus in Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia, the bottom tip of Argentina. As I waited in line to board the bus, I started talking to the fella in front of me, the fella holding a long, giant Q-Tip-shaped box. His name was Ed, from London, and the Q-Tip was a fire stick.
We sat next to each other on the bus and proceeded to tell each other the typical backpacker stories: Where are you from? what have you seen? oh is that a nice town? where are you going next? Did the last hostel you stay at offer free wine or beer?
Ed told me that he was gonna spend a few days to explore Ushuaia, but then he had a ticket on a cruise to Antarctica for a week, and he wanted to stop in at their office to confirm his spot. Antarctica, hmm? “You should come!” He said.
I had already been debating about if I should go to Antarctica, or instead, take the ferry up the Chilean Fjords and a boat out to the Galapagos Islands. What to do, what to do?
Ed and I shared some of our convenience foods (bread, cheese, ham, chips and cookies) with each other. While we dined like kings, another young backpacker, seated in front of us, turned and offered us some of her orange slices. (I think it was orange slices – but that was a long time ago and I am getting old now, haha). Her name was Linnea, a fellow American, and she was also going to spend a few days in Ushuaia, but instead of going to Antarctica, she had just been on that Chilean Ferry through the fjords.
As she told her tales of the glaciers and starry skies, I knew I was in for one heck of a debate with myself.
Fortunately, the bus ride from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia is a twelve hour journey with a customs stop at the Chilean border before another stop back at the Argentinian border. Yes, it is just that nutty. So there was plenty of time to talk, and think about what to do, and sleep and eat….
We arrived in Ushuaia around 5:30 on the Friday night, which meant the cruise office was closed and would not reopen until Monday morning. (This caught us by surprise because Argentina has a daily siesta. Instead of a 9-5 opening, like we have in the States, shops would open in the mornings, close for the afternoon, but then open again in the evenings.) Nevermind! We had a whole new city to explore and would go to the agency on Monday!
After a few beers, Ed, Linnea and I plonked our “happy to be off that effing bus” asses at the End of the World hostel. Something about that hostel was just magic, we met so many great people there. And a lot of those same people were also booked on that same cruise that Ed had booked.
Oh, if only I had a million dollars to do it all….
To make matters more complicated, my 38th birthday was on the date the Antarctic Cruise was to launch. Decisions, decisions….
For the next few days, Linnea, Ed and I spent a lot of time exploring Ushuaia, taking a very chilly harbour cruise, having a dark beer and chocolate beaver in the local pub, and dancing at the Irish pub.
On the Monday morning, late morning, of course, Irish pub the night before, and all… Ed walked into the cruise office, Linnea and I in tow. The travel agent confirmed his spot and then said to Linnea and I that there was another couple of bunks still available on the cruise…
Normally, I am not an impulse buyer, but that was the push I needed. I gave her my passport and credit card and booked myself a god damn ticket to Antarctica!
The 80 passenger MV Ushuaia cruise set sail 3 days later, for a 10-day tour.