My new shipmates and I had some champagne on the deck with Ushuaia’s craggy, snowy mountains as the backdrop. We had dinner and marveled at how the amazing waitstaff could carry six dishes each, while compensating for the waves. Then, Ed and some new found friends, threw a tiny birthday celebration for me with Mendoza wine and Ushuaia chocolate cupcakes. We sat in the common area and laughed until dawn.
And then it happened. We hit the Drake Passage which is open water with treacherous waves and rogue waves to boot. Now I used to be a fisherman in Alaska for several years, so I was fine. But one by one each of the guests succumbed to seasickness and retreated to their beds. This passage takes almost two days to traverse, and by day two, I think it was just the crew, three other passengers and myself still standing.
I managed to make it to every breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and continued to be shocked at how the waiters could carry glasses full of wine and bowls brimming with soup and not spill a drop as the ship itself shook and shuttered over the brutal waves.
By day 3, we had passed the worst of it. People were starting to show their faces again. And some were even smiling! They were rewarded when a group of Humpback whales surfaced, started corralling some unseen school of fish, then jumped one by one out of the water, mouths agape, feeding.
The M/V Ushuaia made several stops at various bases. Most notably were the abandoned Norwegian Whaling station with the odd hot springs in the middle of the freezing ocean; the American weather monitoring station; a few glaciers to see the Adele, and Chinstrap penguins; and then the Russian weather monitoring station.
The Russian Station makes their own vodka from onion peels and potato skins, because of course they do! They actually have a crazy bar at the station, decorated with Mardi Gras beads and bras. One of those bras was absolutely ginormous, like comically so.
When asked, the bartender assured me that it was real, even though he didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak any Russian. He assured me by nodding enthusiastically while making breast-groping charades and it became crystal clear.
Then one of the ship’s crew informed us of the tradition that if a woman gives her bra to the bartender, she gets a free vodka shot. The catch is that she has to take it off in the bar.
A fellow redhead, Lindsay from Australia, and I looked at each other, debating the whole idea with our eyes and awkward grins. She nodded at me, she was going for it. I smiled and said, ‘Let’s do it.’
I think the whole idea was to be kinda sexy, but dear me: peeling off heavy coats and jumpers, we fumbled to slip our arms out of our thermal underwear sleeves. Shouts and hoots from our shipmates cheered us on as we awkwardly pulled and pushed our hands up our shirts to slip bra straps off our shoulders. Helping each other unhook the bras, we finally held the limp sweaty bras in our hands. She held hers up to the cheering onlookers- hooray!
I had been backpacking for 3 months, so my bra was embarrassingly stained and torn. I gathered mine in my fist and, with red-face, held it out to the bartender.
He laughed and nodded as he took them from our shaking hands. He made a big show of wrapping the bras around his neck before getting out the tall shot glasses and popping them on the bar.
Lindsay and I quickly put our multiple layers of clothes back on while he uncorked the vodka and poured our shots. He slid the glasses across the bar to us, toothy smile, our shoddy bras draped over his broad shoulders. Eek, I am sure my bra stunk, but he didn’t give a flying rat’s ass.
We took our vodka brimming glasses, toasted each other, then each shot back the homebrew.
Oh it burned! Burned all the way down. Hot and yet cold at the same time.
We raised our empty glasses, the veins in our eyes bulging, faces red. Nevermind, we were victorious.