After a few non-stop weeks of work and a looming big birthday, I knew I needed some time away from LA to re-coop, redefine and reconfigure everything I had been doing. In all honesty, I had been so busy, I hadn't had a chance to work on the three things that I had sworn would be my main focus for the year. So off I went to Porto, a town that my mother swore was her most favorite place to visit in the world. Well, we all know how big the world is...but I have a lot of faith in my mother's tastes...so here I am. And I'm so grateful I stopped by, Porto is truly lovely. And you must know, that I say that after a week of 80% rain, so there was barely any amazing weather, and yet even with the rain and bone-chilling cold, I persisted and fell in love with this gothic city. Which got me thinking, why is it so much easier to fall in love with a city, and so difficult to fall in love with a man? Perhaps, if the man offered me the perfect combination of gorgeous viewpoints, history, mystery, fun and delicious food. So, I guess I should be asking, why can't the men I date be more like Porto??
I cleared my schedule last week, and decided to head to Las Vegas to visit the Neon Boneyard, which had been on my list for over 20 years. Vegas is not my most favorite place to visit, but I figured it was time to get over my impatience with it and find my zen. So I booked a hotel downtown, The Plaza, and off I went. Turns out, all I needed was 24 hours of pure neon. From the boneyard, to photographing old signs at night, to finding myself at the base of the Seven Magic Moutains (an art installation in the outskirts of town)....doing it my way, was exactly what I needed. And along the journey, I found some delicious steak (Oscar's...where the tagline is, "Beef, Booze and Broads") and reunited with a dear, dear friend, whom I haven't seen in 4 years. So that...was Vegas.
Okay, I admit, prior to booking my trip (on a whim), I had no idea what Patagonia was all about...except that I really like their outdoor wear, everything outside of the clothing store was lost on me. I decided to come here, because I heard it was close to Antarctica, and I had time to kill, since I wasn't working. And I like to hike, so the Patagonia place seemed like it might be good for me. Fair warning, my kind of hiking and the Patagonia kind of trekking, aren't exactly the same thing. I like to amble over 4 miles of flat land with a bottle of water to drink so I don't faint, in the moderate Los Angeles dry heat. Patagonia's (the location not the brand) idea of a trek involves 14+ kilometer's of hiking trails, wild rapids and glaciers, where you may die if you don't bring enough water....what? My first Patagonian hike was in El Chalten, and all I brought with me was my camera, my unicorn, Opal, and a few gluten free cookies I had gotten from my hotel in El Calafate. I had a half liter of water. My hike was over 20 miles long...20 MILES! (you read that correctly). In the end, my feet hurt, my shoulder's ached, I was starving and thirsty, but I did not die and my mind was blown by the sheer beauty of the Patagonian countryside. The colors, the viewpoints, the vast open spaces. I was rendered speechless by the beauty and wanted to spend all of my time outside just staring at all the prettiness that was around.
Everyone who goes to Antarctica has a very specific reason that drew them there, whether it be research, bucket list, the seventh continent or a childhood dream after reading about Shackleton. I was no different, in that I had long dreamed of going to a place that few had gone before to have a real adventure, but also hit my seventh continent before I turned 40 years old. The high expectations for my trip could have brought about great disappointment, but I was lucky, it ended up being one of the best journeys of my life, thus far.
Our first landing: Brown Bluff (63*32’S 56*55’W), where the weather proved to be perfect with sunny, blue skies and temperatures around 40 degrees. Upon landing the zodiac on shore, I was welcomed by a colony of 40,000 Adelie penguins. It was a sight to behold...the smell, unforgettable. Later that day, while back on board the ship, we ran into a pod of 20 killer whales that followed us for about 45 minutes. I thought the morning excursion was perfect and the trip could not possible get anymore incredible. But to find myself on the bow of the ship watching the orcas, I once again couldn't believe my luck...and thus began a chain of incredible events, where every part of my journey was more amazing than the last.
That night we landed at Paulet Island (63*35’S 55*47’W), where we were greeted by a colony of 100,000 Gentoo and Adelie Penguins. I can't even begin to describe what that looks like, except to say that it's black and white dots as far as the eye can see...and then some. While out on land, weather turned to a blizzard and we had to head back to the ship, where hot toddies awaited.
The next day, we anchored at Cierva Cove (64’09’S 60’53’W) on the Danco Coast, where I did a few hours of SUP in the polar waters. I've never paddle boarded in such quiet, calm surroundings, where the only sound was the crackle of ice in the water and the splashes of penguins porpoising toward shore. I could have stayed out there for hours and hours, because all I wanted to do was listen to the quiet space and breathe the freshest air my lungs had ever felt. And no, I wasn't afraid of falling in or of freezing (I had a drysuit and many layers of clothing on). Before I had to head in, I did jump into the water, just to see how cold it would be...of course it was freezing, even with multiple warm, dry layers on.
That night, when the crew announced the polar plunge, I surprised myself with how excited and determined I was to jump in. Considering, I knew first hand how cold it was combined with how much I really hate freezing weather...it was truly a testament to how deeply I'd fallen in love with Antarctica, I couldn't fathom missing a moment or an adventure.
Around 11pm (it was summer down there, so the sun barely set), we were entertained for almost an hour by a humpback whale and it's calf, who was learning how to breach the water. The baby seemed to be really enjoying itself as it jumped out of the water over and over again. I couldn't stop watching to go to bed, it was just too incredible.
I woke up the next morning for an early yoga session and found myself in Wilhelmina Bay (between Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna) in Orne Harbour (64*37’S 62*32’W). Again, I was spoiled by a gorgeous view and fear I may never look out another yoga studio window and feel that much gratitude. We took the zodiac out amongst the icebergs and saw chinstrap penguins, another humpback whale and its calf and so many seals.
After lunch we landed off Danco Island (64*44’S 62*37’W) where we hiked up the hill to a gentoo penguin colony, had a snowball fight, then took time to just sit and watch the world from a relatively high vantage point.
That night, I was able to camp outside on the Antarctic continent at Damoy Point (64°49'S 63° 32'W). I admit, I didn't really sleep, because I was too excited about being on shore, and I couldn't stop staring at the sky (the sun didn't really set) plus there was this one little penguin that was wandering around, checking us all out. So, I spent most of the night, really listening to the silence and stillness of where I was.
We finished off our adventure with visits to the Southernmost post office in Port Lockeroy (64*49’S 63*30’W) and a journey through Dallman Bay and the Melchior Islands (64*19’S 62*57’W), then back through to Drake Passage toward Ushuaia. Without any hesitation, this was one of my most favorite journeys ever (in case you are curious the trips that would get honorable mention status for favorite journey would be Egypt, Bali, and my first Grand Tour of Europe).