One Last Stop

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Well, we needed one last adventure for the trip so with our 9 hour layover in Mexico City, and the help of our friend Page, we made our way into town and explored a bit. Not much time to go into detail, we’ve got a flight to catch, but the Palace Museum was amazing, they were having a special exhibit for the Mexico Bicentennial which was really interesting and included the bones of several important Revolutionaries. The National Cathedral is beautiful as well!

 

Mexico's National Cathedral at Sunrise

Mexico's National Cathedral at Sunrise

 

 

Ok, we’re off to LAX and then Phoenix!

It’s Always An Adventure

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What’s the difference between sleeping-in and over-sleeping? Well, sleeping-in is what we did today. Relax in a king-sized bed at our hotel on the beach with nowhere to go. Now, when you sleep 40 minutes past your alarm and have a bus to catch and have no idea how long it will take to get to the bus station? That’s over-sleeping! We made it to the bus, but not without some panicking, poor packing and maybe a little bit of running – oh, and we missed breakfast! But the important thing was that we made it onto our bus.

This bus was taking us to Valparaiso so we could be reunited with our long-lost suitcase (see earlier post for that story). The bus ride was through a gorgeous desert canyon and through the Andes. It was a little cloudy around Aconcaugua and the rest of the high peaks but the ride was still amazing.

Canyon Road to Valparaiso

Canyon Road to Valparaiso

We got to the border crossing and had to go through a slightly confusing process. First we went with our passports exited Argentina and entered Chile. Then we had to take all of our carry-on stuff from the bus and we were ushered into another room and stood in two lines. The guys took our customs forms  and asked again if we had any fruit – we had just finished our last two apples! Then, the bus drivers put all of our luggage through a scanner and if there were issues with it, they asked “Who’s is this?”. Neither of us had anything that we thought would be even slightly suspicious but still, as Rachael’s bag went through we both held our breath – but it was immediately put onto the cart to go back on the bus.

My bag was the very last bag and as it went through the machine, the belt stopped – not a good sign! It came out the other side, and they asked “Who’s is this?”. I walked up and the guy started talking, very quickly, in Spanish. I told him I didn’t understand and he slowed it down a bit. I understood everything he said except the one word he thought I had in my bag! I started pulling a few things out – deodorant, sunscreen, a stove…none of that was his concern. Then he asked what was in the big part of the pack. I told him all I had was a tent, clothes and a sleeping bag. Since he could tell we weren’t getting anywhere, he walked me back behind the machine and showed me the x-ray picture and asked what he was looking at. I had no idea! It looked like a black mesh bag – so we went back to my backpack and pulled everything out. What did we find? 50 feet of rope! We both laughed and started repacking my bag. I still have no idea what he thought it was, but I think I was doing better than the guy next to me who had his handcuffs taken away from him!

We got back on the bus and relaxed for the final stretch into Valparaiso. Heading down the Chilean side of the mountains we saw a sign at a really sharp (180 degree) turn that said “Curve 26″ (Rachael’s favorite number) so I took a picture. A little further down the road came another sign…”Curve 25”. This was the moment we realized there were 26 switchbacks down the canyon!

Curviest Road Of the Trip!

Curviest Road Of the Trip!

As soon as we got into town we caught a taxi to the port and picked up our suitcase. We were both relieved to have it back in our possession but also knew that means our trip is just about over. We took the metro to the next city up the coast, Vina del Mar, and arrived at the Sheraton Miramar Hotel. The hotel is beautiful and right on the water. Rachael and I spent a bit at the pool last night and the waves were crashing on either side of the pool area – it was perfect!

The Beach from our Balcony

The Beach from our Balcony

We stay here until tomorrow afternoon and then head straight to the Santiago airport for our flight home. We have a 9-hour layover in Mexico City and are thinking about heading into town (via taxi or subway) to at least have lunch. If anyone has been there and has suggestions on what to do, or even better yet, knows somebody in Mexico City who might want to show us around, let us know!

Dash to the North

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January 20th

Three more of our friends from the Antarctic dream were supposed to arrive last night in El Calafate but their flight was canceled. They are scheduled to get in today but after we leave town. With a 4pm bus to Bariloche, Argentina…a LONG bus ride…we decided it would be a good idea to get out and do something active. Belen from our hotel told us about this small bird sanctuary that was only a few blocks away so we thought we’d check it out. It turned out to be a nice little oasis filled with some really cool birds, including flamingos! Although we didn’t get too close to the flamingos we were able to watch them from a distance and had a very good time.

Flamingos!

Flamingos!

We left the bird sanctuary, and after a pit-stop at the grocery store for some final snacks for our 26-hour bus ride, we made our way to the bus station. Our Taki-Travel-Buddy came to see us off and we said our goodbyes and took our seats for what promised to be a long ride! The bus was actually fairly comfortable and Rachael was able to sleep for about 20 hours of our ride and I slept for a pretty fair amount as well. We made a few stops along the way but overall it was really uneventful and not as unpleasant as I had expected!

We got into Bariloche – after what ended up being a 30-hour bus ride – we made it to our hostel, got our room and went on a quest for food. We were able to find a fast food place that was still open called Rock Chicken – mmm!

January 21st

In Bariloche, we return to warm weather and sunshine! We decided to take advantage of the great weather and relax! We wandered down to the main square that had several stone buildings that were quite interesting. We sat by the church for about an hour enjoying the view and the weather.

Church in Bariloche

Church in Bariloche

Then we made our way down to the beach and again, enjoyed the view and the weather!

View from the Beach

View from the Beach

Bariloche is also the chocolate capital of Argentina and home to some pretty amazing chocolate factories. During our afternoon in town we found one of the more popular brands and went into their shop/factory. We got to see the chocolate-making process and bought some chocolate as well!

After our chocolate, we went back to the hostel and got our dinner tickets (yes, dinner was included at this one!). We went to dinner and then went back down to the main street for some ice cream.

January 23rd

Our bus out of Bariloche was another long one and again didn’t leave until 3:30pm. We had read about a nice lookout a little ways out of town and decided to go check it out. We hopped on a city bus for $6 Argentinian Pesos ($1.50 USD) and rode out about 12 miles west of town.  We got to the bottom of Cerro Campanario and there was a hiking trail, or a chair-lift…umm, chair-lift please! When we made it to the top, we were amazed! The view was breathtaking in every direction!

Us at the top of cerro campanario

Us at the top of cerro campanario

We didn’t have much time so we took in the views as best we could and took the lift back down to catch the bus back into town. After a quick lunch from Rock Chicken we picked up our bags and went to the bus station. We caught out bus and we were back on the road for another 16 hour bus ride! This time, we rode in style – Executive Class! That meant bigger, comfier seats, a hot meal (actually quite tasty) and Bingo! That’s right, we played Bingo on the bus!

January 24th

We woke up at around 7am to an amazing view of Aconcagua – the tallest mountain outside of Asia – 22841 feet! We made our way into town and got to our hostel at around 9am. We made reservations for an afternoon wine tour and went to the main square to enjoy the city a bit.

Main Plaza in Mendoza

Main Plaza in Mendoza

After lunch we went back to the hostel and got settled into our room before our tour left at 2:30pm. The tour made three stops, the first was at Bodega Lopez, a very industrial winery that makes 17 million liters of wine every year. This was definitely a modern, high-output winery. The wine was very good. It was a very mild flavor and intentionally simple – which was good for Rachael and I who are by no means wine connoisseurs!

Big Barrel of Wine

Big Barrel of Wine

Our second stop was an olive oil factory. Although brief, we got a good look at how they make olive oil and what the differences are between all those choices you have in the grocery store! Our last stop was at a smaller, family-owned winery called Cavas de Don Arturo. The process  is less industrial, grapes are picked by hand, the wine is aged in smaller barrels and for less time – and all of this resulted in some very nice wines. They were much more flavorful than the first place and one was served to us by the owner’s son which made for a nice experience!

We’re now back at the hostel for the night and prepared for another bus ride tomorrow, but this one is only 8 hours! This one brings us back to Valparaiso to pick up our luggage. Tomorrow night we’re staying in Vina del Mar, on the beach! (Thanks Momstar, AKA Tammy, for the Starwood Family Rate!) We’re relaxing on the beach for a couple days, probably without internet. Then comes a 24-hour travel day and our return to Arizona – and the real world!

Stuck At the End Of the World

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January 17th –

Well we made it back to the end of the world… and go figure – we’re stuck!  Being away from news and technology for 10 days allowed for a slight information gap – Chile and Argentina are not playing nice and they’ve gone ahead and closed the boarder.  So what’s the big deal, you might ask. Why not just stay in Argentina and head North? Well – turns out that Tierra del Fuego (where Ushuaia is located) is surrounded by Chile.  So, we’re stuck.  Our bus is supposed to leave in the morning at 5am, but after visiting the agency that booked the bus, it looks like no boarder agreements are going to happen tomorrow, so we booked a flight as back-up to El Calafate and crossed our fingers we would find out something by this evening.  I must say – It’s a strange feeling to be stuck again.  Thought we left that in Torre de Paine…. though I suppose this time we have a back-up plan.  Haha, Life would be too boring without adventures such as these.

So, without any other plan of attack, we decided to head around town and kill time until dinner.  Frank came up with a really good idea to try and find something for the wonderful woman that is holding our luggage for us in Valparaiso so off we went searching.  We stumbled upon a Kodak store and decided that instead of buying her some really touristic thing (that was probably made in China) we would frame a picture from Antarctica and write her a message, so that’s what we did.  It turned out really well – we framed Frank’s Champagne winning photo and wrote a short thank you letter.  The store even gift wrapped it for us! I just hope we don’t break it before we get there, haha! As we made our way down one of the main streets, we got a great view that showed just how small our ship was.

Yes, the tiny red & white thing in the middle was our ship!

Yes, the tiny red & white thing in the middle was our ship!

Right before dinner, we stopped back at the bus station to see if there was any news about the strike – which there was… it had gotten worse. So we confirmed our flight for tomorrow (happy we didn’t have to get up at 5am… The flight is at 7pm, yay!) and headed for pizza with friends.  Since we had all afternoon to spare the next day, we set up plans with some of our friends to go climb to the glacier in town.  After dinner, we said goodnight and went back to our hostel to sleep our *hopefully* last night in Ushuaia.

January 18th –

Woke up to a slight rain mist, but it wasn’t enough to cancel the hike – so off we went to the glacier to meet up with our nomad friends.  It was a pretty fast hike –  Just  about an hour to the top.  But with a late start, by the time we were done it was already time for lunch… So we headed back into town trying to coordinate lunch with the whole gang.  We got in touch with almost everyone (just missing our Italian/Swiss friends) but luckily we were able to catch them for a hot cocoa after lunch, and we said our goodbyes to everyone, except our Israeli friend (as he ended up on our flight!) and off we went to get our bags and head to the airport.

 

Martial Glacier - Mostly Covered by Clouds

Martial Glacier - Mostly Covered by Clouds

 

The flight was relatively painless and before we knew it, we were in El Calafate – a quaint, semi-large, mountain town.  We got to our hostel (which was AMAZING) and immediately felt at home. The owner even put an amazing plate of chocolates on our bed for our honeymoon! Our travel-mate was lucky enough to also stay at our hostel.  We went to go grab a midnight dinner and discuss plans for the following day.

Lovely Treats from Belen at Hotel Lautaro

Lovely Treats from Belen at Hotel Lautaro

Wednesday, January 19th

Thank goodness for our taki-savvy  travel-mate!  He was smart enough to bring his International driving license with him and so off we went to rent a car for a scenic day of driving towards Pierto Moreno, a Glacier that is still growing!  We picked up some homemade sandwiches from our hostel, got our rental car and started on route 15 (scenic dirt road) and headed to Lago Roca, a lake fed by the nearby glaciers.  It was a beautiful drive and a great spot to have lunch, but our goal was Pierto Moreno, so we continued our drive out.  It was again a beautiful drive and  as we rounded a curve the glacier appeared. We pulled out at the first view-point to take some pictures and another driver started talking to us and motioning towards the back of our car. As Frank stepped out of the car he looked back and saw…a flat tire! So our travel-mate and Frank spent the next little bit changing the tire, and I took pictures!

Changing a Tire at Pietro Moreno Glacier

Changing a Tire at Pietro Moreno Glacier

Once we got to the glacier, we followed a very new looking, wooden path way to the look out.  Within seconds of being on the pathway (and unfortunately not a great view of the Glacier) we witnessed a huge calving! We were super disappointed we didn’t have our cameras out and ready, but we continued our walk to the lookout and hoped for more.

Perito Moreno Glacier - 3 Miles wide and an Average of 240 feet tall!

Perito Moreno Glacier - 3 Miles wide and an Average of 240 feet tall!

I guess we didn’t have to hope too much, as 5 minutes didn’t go by without at least some type of calving.  It was incredible… but the best was yet to come.  After about 30 minutes of watching and filming the calving, we all felt that this one large section was about ready to go.  Call it intuition or whatever, but I (Rachael) had put my bets on the piece earlier, and after we all heard a large crack – Frank counted down from 3.  What we didn’t know at the time was he would have been dead-on if he would have started from 5.  However, I went from his count, turned my video on and *CRASH* down it went! It was incredible.  The video does not do it justice for just how large of a piece it was, but what was even crazier was that the icebergs it created were still smaller than some that were in the water.  We couldn’t imagine the calving that might have caused them! When watching the video below, keep in mind that sheet of ice is around 240 feet tall, so the chunk falling is pretty big!

After a bit more watching, we decided we were cold and headed to the lodge to grab a hot cocoa before heading back to town.

A few more days until we are caught up and only a couple days until we come home! We are going to try to post again tonight and be up to date – we’re relaxing on the beach starting tomorrow night so no internet!

Antarctica Part 2

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January 11th – The most spectacular day of the trip and pretty high on the lifetime list to this point! We woke up first thing in the morning to a beautiful, sunny morning. Our first landing was at Cuverville Island where we found another Gentoo rookery. This island is a bit snowier than the last and because of this the penguins are even earlier in the nesting process. We were lucky enough to see some eggs still in incubation and several very young chicks. Rachael and I joined a group trek up a snowy summit but were turned back when the guides (what do they know) said it was too dangerous. It turned out we had two of the least experienced guides with us so we were a little disappointed that we got turned back, but the views were amazing!

View from our Hike - Our Boat (Antarctic Dream) on the Right

View from our Hike - Our Boat (Antarctic Dream) on the Right

Our next landing was on the actual Antarctic continent: Neko Harbour. This landing was absolutely spectacular. We made our way up a hill past even more Gentoo Penguins to a beautiful lookout point over Rudolph Glacier. Our Expedition Leader, Stephan, continued to remind us this was a place to sit and “wait for our souls to catch up”. We spent quite a while relaxing and were lucky enough to see the glacier calve.

Neko Harbour Panoramic - Photo by Rachael

Neko Harbour Panoramic - Photo by Rachael

The other highlight of the harbor was a group of Gentoo’s playing on a couple of icebergs. The penguins would swim up to the iceberg and jump up a couple feet to land on the ‘berg. It was pretty amusing, especially when some of them didn’t make the jump or were immediately pushed off by their ‘friends’!

After the island, we were able to do a zodiac cruise around Andvord Bay. We loaded up 10 people into each of the 5 zodiacs and explored the bay weaving between icebergs and saw around 15 seals. As we made our way back onto the ship we had yet another surprise waiting for us. The crew had spent the afternoon preparing an amazing barbeque for us on the deck of the ship. It was such a beautiful day that by this point most of us were wandering around the deck in pants and t-shirts

Grilling in Antarctica

Grilling in Antarctica

Finally, the crew had one more surprise for us, the nearby Chilean base was in need of fresh water and called us to see if we could help. In return they welcomed us all onto their base for a couple hours. We were able to explore a bit, check out their museum and see two “leuguistic” Gentoo penguins – they were all white!

White Penguin

White Penguin

January 12th – This day we were supposed to visit the famous Lemaire Channel. Unfortunately, because of the ice conditions and strong winds we were unable to go through. We adjusted our plans and turned towards Port Lockroy. Port Lockroy is a British base turned museum. It is run by a non-profit agency and the main building was converted to a museum. It was really interesting to see how people used to, and continue to, live in Antarctica. Our trip here was cut a little short due to 30-50mph winds. We hung out on the boat the rest of the afternoon, enduring non-stop winds and fairly rough water.

January 13th – The night was a little rough and the morning didn’t get any better. At around 9am we got a call that we were entering Deception Island. This is an active volcano that, because of large eruptions, is now a circular island and the cone is flooded by sea water. There is a narrow opening that we were able to enter the island and we were all hoping for the island to provide shelter from the wind. Although the water wasn’t as rough, it was still too windy to make any of our landings. So this became the day we spent playing Taki on a boat floating inside an active volcano. Taki is our newest addiction and you will most likely see it come up in the next few posts. It’s an Israeli card game that is very similar to Uno.

Chilean Military Ship Also Seeking Refuge in Deception Island

The Boat We Almost Had To Rescue in Deception Island

January 14th – Much like yesterday, the winds still didn’t calm down. We spent the day reading, attending lectures, eating, and of course playing Taki!

January 15th – Back on the Drake Passage. After the poor weather for 2.5 days, we were all expecting the worst out of the Drake. But it ended up being even more calm than the way to Antarctica! Again, the day was filled with reading, lectures and even more Taki!

January 16th – Because of the good weather, and a little bit of an early start on the Drake, we were making good time and the Capitan got us special clearance to make a pass around Cape Horn – the most southern tip of South America. Although it was  cloudy day, it was still neat to see!

Since it was the last day, the expedition crew hosted a photo contest in three categories, Wildlife, Landscape and Expedition. Many of the ship’s passengers spent the day looking at photos and being sure to make the right selections for the contest. Both Rachael and I entered several photos. At the results presentation, my name was called for second place in the landscape category. As they got to the first place winners they announced the prize was a hat and a bottle of Patagonian Champagne. The winner in the Landscape division was our table-mate the I.T. guy from the Netherlands, the winner in the Expedition category was one of our world nomads and I won the Wildlife category. This left our table with THREE bottles of Champagne! Needless to say, it made the night of Taki even more exciting!

Later in the evening the staff had put together a great slide-show filled with photos they had taken throughout the trip. We also had our final recap of the landings and sights that we had seen and our farewell dinner – and our three bottles of champagne!

Second Place Photo

Second Place Photo

Champagne Winning Photo - Jumping Gentoo

Champagne Winning Photo - Jumping Gentoo

January 17th – Woke up, ate breakfast and left the ship! Our table of 8 had become so accustomed to eating together that we made plans to meet for dinner that night!

Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up over the next couple days – look forward to tales of border strikes, canceled buses, canceled flights, flat tires and Taki!

Antarctica Part One

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January 7th – We did it!! We took the road south, until it went no further – said screw it, and hopped a boat!  Upon briefing the first night, we were surprised to look around and see the average age was much closer to 45 than it was to 75 (on Celebrity).  We quickly made good friends with 6 other young passengers (also last minute bookers).  A couple from Italy/Switzerland who had been traveling around South America for the last few months, starting in the Northern portion and having headed south down the East side of Argentina.  They had a few more months of traveling before heading back home.  Another couple who were quite the world travelers from the US and UK.  However, truth be told, he really only lived in the US for a short while before his parents moved to – well where didn’t they move?? – he’s lived in Saudi Arabia, India, Guyana, Zambia, Buenos Aries… and well the list continues.  We also met two single travelers – a Physicist from Israel and a career traveler from the Netherlands who lucked out with his own cabin to himself!  In any case, quite an amazing set of friends we have to experience the next (almost) two weeks with!  We wine’d and dine’d ourselves in the dining room with our three-course meal and all you can drink wine and cola knowing we were on our way to Antarctica… I don’t think it gets much better than this!

Boarding the Antarctic Dream

Boarding the Antarctic Dream

January 8th – “uuugggghhhh…. Uhhh… I don’t feel so good — I think I need to lay down…  Where’s the Dramamine?”  Well, I think that sums up that day!  The Drake Passage  *cue the scary music*…  Ok, so it wasn’t really THAT bad, but out of the 20 hours of daylight, I (Rachael), was not curled up in the bed for probably only 5 of those hours.. 1 for breakfast – before realizing that was a bad idea.  2 for lunch, (1 picking at my food and staring at the horizon, and the second letting it settle before heading straight back to the room and laying down).  And the final 2 hours for dinner (a similar experience to lunch).  Frank did a bit better, only having to take 1 Dramamine pill (to my 5) and being able to attend two lectures, although he still spent a good portion of the day laying next to me, also trying to avoid the curse of the Drake Passage.

January 9th – Ok, so we haven’t made it through the passage yet, but our bodies were finally adjusting to the fact our stomachs and our hearts were to switch positions every few seconds as the boat heaved side to side.  Frank again, much more chipper than Rachael, had gone alone to breakfast as I (Rachael) stayed in the room, and suffered through a few cookies in order to take my morning dosage of Dramamine.  Frank came back to the room and led us into the conference room for another Antarctica lecture.  I (Rachael), made it through 15 minutes of the lecture before quickly leaving, finding our room and laying down.  Something about a windowless room while rocking back and forth and trying to read an overhead projector that just didn’t do it for me.  That nap lasted until lunch.  After which point we really had adjusted.  We ate lunch and then wandered around the ship.  We saw quite a few birds following the ship (impressive for being – what seemed to be – the middle of no-where).  We stayed on the bridge for a while and were lucky enough to spot the first iceberg of the trip! (We’re still waiting to find out what it is that we won).  We also saw quite a few whales this night as we encountered probably 7 – 10 Humpback whales.  Really amazing… but the best part – We had successfully crossed the Drake Passage! The boat tucked away in a cove for the night, and we slept a quiet, steady sleep!

First Iceberg of the Trip

First Iceberg of the Trip

January 10th – First day of Landings in the South Shetlands – Morning landing was at Aitcho Islands – Beautiful weather – in fact, it was the best weather the expedition leaders had seen over the course of the last many sailings.  Mostly blue sky and sun forced us to shed a few layers and enjoy the feel of summer.  We felt a bit strange being warm in Antarctica, but we went with it! On the island we saw tons of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. It was amazing their lack of fear towards humans.  The Chinstrap penguins seemed a bit more adventurous as we had a few close encounters with them coming right up to us.  It was really impressive seeing all the chicks though – all still very small.  They were furry and hid under their parents for warmth.  We then hiked to the other side of the island to see Elephant Seals – some of whom were molting. We also saw several whale bones across the island.

Penguins - Chinstrap (front) and Gentoo (back)

Penguins - Chinstrap (front) and Gentoo (back)

In the afternoon we landed at Half Moon Island – here we saw mostly chinstrap penguins and one Macaroni Penguin! The Macaroni is a fairly rare (or so we thought) penguin to see. It turns out this one has nested in this particular spot for a few years and was almost sure to be there, but it was really cool none the less! The chicks here were a bit younger, we learned this was because the snow melts away later so the hatching season starts a bit later. As we were watching the penguins, a storm moved in and we got a taste of Antarctic snow. It came down fairly strong for a bit but was never uncomfortable. As we were watching, we saw a mom and dad switch on nest duty which was neat.

One of these things is not like the others...can you spot the Macaroni Penguin?

One of these things is not like the others...can you spot the Macaroni Penguin? (Click to see full size)

Stay tuned for Antarctica Part 2! More excitement and adventure to come – and it should be soon!

The End of The Road…And Heading South!

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We did it! Antarctica here we come!

We did it! Antarctica here we come!

 

Well, I guess it wasn’t such a tough decision after all! We decided to book a 11 day trip on the Arctic Dream. The last-minute deal was pretty good and we decided that after all the effort it took to get down here, it was silly not to go!

We leave tomorrow afternoon and spend two days crossing the Drake Passage…supposedly some of the roughest water in the world, hope we’re up for it! Then we spend 6 days making as many landings as possible (1 or 2 per day hopefully!) and finally, two more days crossing the Drake Passage to get back to Ushuaia.

We splurged a little bit (extra $100 each) to get a private bath but we may also be the first couple in history to have two twin beds while on their honeymoon!

That’s really all for today, we spent most of the day sitting in travel agencies trying to get as much info as we could and find the best deal. Two “signs” that made us feel more confident booking our cruise were that one of the agencies had a big picture of the Celebrity ship we had been on, and second, one of the agencies had a nice pen on her desk:

 

Yes, that's a Loews Hotel Pen!

Yes, that's a Loews Hotel Pen!

Well, off to buy some supplies for the trip – like the recommended SPF 60+! We might try to do a quick post from Antarctica (as long as the ship internet fees aren’t too high!) so watch for that, otherwise we’ll be back to civilization on the 17th!

 

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