Achievement Unlocked! We have been to all 7 Continents now. As we got to experience a little of Antarctica here recently. This was a pretty big undertaking with the logistics involved, but I really didn't do that much other than answering a few questions for Beth. She looked at the options and had to coordinate with her parents as they also joined in on the trip. Who knew there would be so many options? I knew there would be a fair amount, but there were more than I thought possible.
How many days do you want to go? Where do you sail from? Do you have to fly in and Zodiac out to the ship? Or will you walk on to a docked ship? What kind of room do you want? Do you want a shared bathroom? What type of excursions are offered? Will you pay more for different experiences? What are the policies revolving around cancellations? All these questions help you figure out which company you book with. Regardless it will be a lot of money in order to do this, so we wanted to get the best experience for our money.
Spinning plates: our 12 day becomes a 10 day.
We booked a 12 day trip, with additional kayak package, leaving from King George Island, which meant we would be flying across the Drake Passage from Punta Arenas on a charter flight prior to hopping on a Zodiac, which would take us to the waiting ship. We would be then sailing back across the Drake Passage into Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands and then flying a commercial flight back to Punta Arenas. Days before the orientation, Bill and Betsy flew into Santiago from WI and I had just returned back from volunteering at an English Code Camp in Concepcion. So the weekend we left for Punta Arenas we had to move out of our apartment as well as welcome Bill and Betsy. Beth also quit her job.
We all flew down to Punta Arenas, which was a fairly long flight. We took a cab to our lodging and then walked around the waterfront and found the hotel where our orientation meeting would be held the next evening. We didn't do much in terms of exploring as we were planning on some time in Punta Arenas before heading up to Torres Del Paine after the time on the ship. We looked at the outside of the casino and at some sculptures along the waterfront.
So the orientation meeting starts with a long story of how the ship we are scheduled to be on is late. The room explodes with a lot of angry people. We are told it will be 2 days late and that they have a plan. Why? Last season the ship was ran aground in the Arctic. Repairs had to be done in Quebec with the tour company acting as middleman between the Canadians doing the work and the Russian ship owners. One guy remarked that none of us would have made it on Shackleton's boat. There is discussion of reimbursement of the 2 lost days. Nothing is decided, but the home office was supposed to communicate it within the next 48 hrs.
The plan involves us wandering around Punta Arenas until 13:30 and then getting a good feed at the orientation hotel, no indication what they would be serving, and then busing up to Puerto Natales, where we will be in 1 of 3 hotels they managed to book. We would then do a group dinner before getting some sleep as tomorrow is going to be dozy. The next day would be a bus tour of the Torres del Paine National Park with a brief stop a cave and lunch during the tour. They planned on 11 hours. We would then have a group dinner before going to bed. The next day the charter plane is to leave Punta Arenas to pick us up in Puerto Natales before flying South to King George Island. So this plan isn't very appealing to anyone. Several people have just come from Torres del Paine or like us, going there after. Let's see how this plan plays out.
Riding the bus of hell:
We check out of the hotel we were staying at, but we get to leave some luggage that we don't need on the trip there as we have a night booked upon our return. We walk down to the main hotel and drop off our bags we will need for the trip. IF you were at one of the 2 suggested hotels they offered a shuttle service. We had breakfast at Wake Up Cafe and got a receipt as it was going to be reimbursed. Once we saw staff we tried to give the receipt, but we were told to turn it in on the ship and that they would take care of it. We subsequently misplaced the receipt and never got to reclaim the money we spent. Any way back to the story. We then met at the designated time for lunch at the hotel. I thought they would be doing some buffet style dishes because in the forms they asked about food preferences and Beth is a picky eater. Nope. Its a 3 course plated menu. I don't recall what it was, but Beth wasn't having any of it. I think it was fish as a woman from Australia has bad allergies and they had to do something different for her. This was going to be an on going issue. Lots of plated dishes and no regards for the food preferences you submitted earlier or the ones we kept giving the people in charge. Also vegetarian doesn't mean vegan.
So we are now loaded on buses and taken to Puerto Natales without a good feed. I would have rather just been given some money and had some local food that I choose. There were 3 buses for close to 90 people. There were 76 passengers and the rest employees. I won't lie. I slept a good portion of the drive and didn't see the landscape. I know that we stopped a couple times. Once for photos of flamingos and another time for a toilet break. We see a very rustic looking sign for our hotel and any expectations you had were instantly dashed. It was mismatched wood and a sloppily painted name. We have to go up a steep hill right off the highway to the parking lot. Upon cresting the hill, we are greeted with the sparkling Remota complex. They should update their sign below as the 2 do not match. I guess that is how they were able to get this many rooms last minute. We are given 20 minutes to check in, drop off bags, and get back to the bus. We then are bused to dinner in town with the other passengers. I don't recall the meal, but we are given the agenda for tomorrow and its going to be either sit on the bus and do a little walking while stopping at lookouts or fend for yourself in the small town. If we wanted to do anything it would be out of pocket. So we signed up to be uncomfortable in the bus.
The next morning we ate a buffet breakfast before loading up in the bus for our 11 hour tour of the park. We drove past the Devil's Chair on our way to the Mylodon's Cave. You can read about both on the provide link. We spent longer than necessary at the attraction. This is going to be an on-going occurrence that has ramifications later. We then make our way to the park entrance. We have to get out and get tickets and go to the rest room as its going to be a long day. Our guide was really good and she told stories about the attractions that we were seeing as well as answering a bunch of questions. We stopped at several points on the way to lunch. These were at lakes and falls with the stunning Towers as a backdrop. We got to do one longer walk out to see Grey Glacier, but other than that we did very little all day. We showed up over an hour late to Hosteria Pehoe, a restaurant on an island, for lunch. It wasn't remarkable food, but it was good to get out of the bus. As we were running late the last stop they had planned we had to cancel. Good thing as the road was under construction and we had to sit for a long time and by the time we got back to the hotel our 11 hour tour became 13 hours. Beth was in a lot of pain by this point. We then had to pick up a few people that didn't come on the bus ride from hell for dinner. We went to Parrilla Don Jorge where they specialize in lamb. I believe each table got 3 of their braziers filled with lamb. I think I ate the bulk of one by myself. It was a little over done to my liking, but still really tasty. Beth ended up getting a stuffed zucchini for dinner and a bowl of fruit for dessert. My dessert of tiramisu, blah. I ended up eating her fruit. They decided all vegetarians are vegan and just make the most restrictive, shitty food they can.
After dinner more bad news was delivered. It has been a theme. Aaron told us that we'll be busing back to Punta Arenas early in the morning as the pilots only have a small window to fly in and that the extra time to fly to pick us up in this different city might cause them issues if there were any hiccups and then delay our arrival to King George Island. This was met with a bunch of WTF looks and further question why we went with this company. This guy needs to learn how to deliver bad news and to apologize to customers. So more anger and more time stuck in a bus. We are told that we have to be at the airport way earlier than the proposed flight time as its a charter and they might get a good flight window early. I don't think so. I think they didn't want to plan anything else for us. So we start even earlier than the previous hellacious day. We stop once on the way back to Punta Arenas, where we were just at a few days prior. This stop goes to hell as everyone needs to use the rest room and there is 1 outside that is free and 1 inside that cost 300 CLP. Both have large queues and takes way longer than the departure time they gave when we stopped. We got directly to the airport and upon walking in Bill and Betsy are shouting for us to go up to the front of the queue. They were on a different bus, but as we booked together we have to check in together for the flight. We quickly toss our bags to the gate agent without taking any additional cold weather gear out of them. Did I mention that we land on a gravel runway and have to stand outside until both planes have deplaned then walk back down the runway for 30 minutes to the waiting Zodiacs? Well we do. Prior to getting off the plane you are supposed to change into warm clothes. Most of ours are in our suitcases as we were rushed at the airport. Not that we needed them as the weather wasn't the problem. It was the lack of being able to pee that was the problem. We were in the first plane and had to stand outside for just under an hour waiting for the other plane. Then they had to deplane and we had to get clearance to walk down the runway. We pushed a good pace to be on the first Zodiac. We were told to hold up as a bunch of muppets were stopping to take selfies and other photos of the base we were walking through. Don't they know that bladders are about to explode?
Learning how to get in a kayak from a zodiac and having a blast paddling around ice bergs and a variety of marine life. We saw 5 types of penguins as well as different variety of seals and whales. There were a lot of birds as well. Our guides were top notch. Thanks Jordan and Michelle.
This has been sitting in edit mode forever. I'll post what I have. Maybe I'll finish the tale one day...