At the end of December, I was fairly sure everything was taken care of for my trip to the Antarctic Peninsula. My flights were booked, my berth on the Polar Star secured. I had gradually filled up my suitcase—snow pants, a parka, warm socks, batteries for my camera. I had a voucher for an excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park and a brand new passport. I was as ready as I could be without actually zipping up my suitcase and heading for the airport. I was to fly out on February 15th.
On January 31st, the Polar Star hit a rock and everything was uncertain again. The following week was a flurry of phone calls, emails, more phone calls, more emails. Dennis, TravelWild’s polar expert, made calls to both the Polar Star (to find out her status) and to other ship operators (to find an alternative booking). Meanwhile, Lyn, my primary customer service rep, was already exploring alternative flight options. Rick, TravelWild’s general manager, sent me updates from International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and from Dennis, who was also checking in with the Polar Star‘s home office. I obsessively hit refresh on the IAATO site and ran a ridiculous number of web searches to see if I could find out more information. Dennis found a place for me on the Plancius, and Lyn and her flight expert searched for alternative flights—not an easy last-minute task, especially for the Buenos Aires/Ushuaia leg. The Polar Star was declared out of commission for the season on February 8th. And on February 9th, I had a whole new trip.
This isn’t meant to trivialize the experience of those who were on the Polar Star—happily, all are safe and back ashore. As for what happened: at the most basic, the ship ran aground and the outer hull was breached. No one was injured. The passengers were transferred to a research station where they were then picked up by other IAATO ships in the region. They’ve all safely returned to Ushuaia, as has the Polar Star and her crew. This is all as reported to IAATO—possibly the best source for information when an incident occurs in the waters of Antarctica.
I’ve experienced, without leaving my house, the uncertainty that is travel to Antarctica. It’s an area not completely charted—the incident report says that the ship “hit an unsurveyed rock.” I’ve watched, with great interest, what happens when something goes haywire with a ship. (This isn’t the first time this season—the Clelia II ran into rough seas in December; she was also assisted by other vessels in the region.) I’ve watched the TravelWild team scramble to find me another trip, and I have tried to keep in perspective that such is travel to wild places.
I confess, I lost it a little when faced with a flight itinerary for which I had no seats. I pictured myself stuck in Miami, with a suitcase full of winter gear, staring down an unsympathetic gate agent. But after some deep breathing and a few more calls with the ticketing agent, I not only had reserved seats on my new flights, but also a bit more patience with the uncertainty of the whole adventure.
Friends keep asking me if I’m ready. “As ready as I can be,” I respond. “I have plane tickets, a reserved berth, a suitcase full of gear. Everyone has done what they can to make sure my trip happens. As for the rest, well, I feel—now more than ever—like it’s not entirely up to me.”
I depart from Ushuaia on the Plancius on February 22—if all goes according to plan.