Monday, February 27, 2006

Antarctic Summary - I

Along the way to Bariloche I was going through my journal notes and trying to figure out how in the heck am I going to describe this 14 day trip to my throngs of readers. 
Since this could take quite a while I will prolly break it up into a couple different segments. 
This first segment will be about
  • my initial impressions of the ship
  • what traveling on a cruise ship is like
  • the crew
  • the expedition team
  • the folks that I met on the ship (lotta good stories here)
My initial impression of the Marco Polo were kinda skewed since the Queen Mary II dropped anchor three days prior in Ushuaia.  QM2 was absolutely massive!  It made the Marco Polo look like a cute little Fisher-Price tugboat you played with in the bathtub when you were a little kid.  But you gotta give the Marco Polo credit, it was a very nice ship.  The crew was great and the passengers were nice great as well.  Here are some quick facts that I pulled off the Orient Lines website about the Marco Polo. 
  • Gross Registered Tons: 22,080 tons
  • Length: 578.4 feet
  • Beam: 77.4 feet
  • Maximum Draft: 26.9 feet
  • Number of Decks: 12
  • Cruising Speed: 19.5 knots
  • Number of Passengers: 850
  • Number of Ship Personnel: 350
  • Deck Officers Scandinavian
  • Crew Filipino
  • Social Staff British and American
The Marco Polo had all the amenities that you would expect for a world class liner.  Spa, Internet machine, formal nights, excellent live music, live piano bar with Bobby Reynolds, room service, exercise gym, swimming pool (closed at the moment), three jacuzzis, masseuse, multiple bars, disco, a massive dinner buffet, a more formal dinner seating, library, game room, casino, as well as so much more.  They even had ping pong and a waffle machine!  Every night on the Marco Polo there was something to do.  I'm glad to say that the Marco Polo has everything you need that conduces to comfort, convenience and enjoyment. 
The ship was great!  I was greeted by a barrage of "Hello, Sir!", "Welcome Aboard, Sir", "Good To See You Aboard, Sir."  All this Sir type stuff...I'm 26, man...I hope I'm not in the Sir stage of my life, just yet.  Before I could even take my backpack off I was warmly greeted by quite a few of the crew.  Lots of new faces and people to meet on this cruise.  As my buddy Rafal would say, "Looks like its time to make some new friends!!!"
The cabin I stayed in was great.  The view of the ocean was not.  I was in an interior cabin with no view of the ocean.  I was not going to complain since the price was right and this was the first time in a really really long time that I had my own room to myself.  No dormitories, no sharing it with seven of my closest friends.  Just me.  This was Xanadu!  I had my own safe, shower, fresh towels, toilet, sink, bed, drawers and there was a nice Marco Polo parka waiting for me when I returned from my cabin after dinner.  Another cool thing was that the cabin stewards actually prepped your room all during the day.  In the morning they were there to clean it up, make your bed, the evening they were there again to prep your room for nighttime.  Each cabin even had its own little nightlight right behind your head as well as two switches; one to turn off the nightlight and the other to turn on the main cabin light in the morning.  I even had a TV and a phone to call room service.  Going back to the hostel was gonna kinda tough. 
Some of the things that I found interesting included a guy that would play the xylophone when he would announce dinner at the Seven Seas restaurant.  Most of the time he would play something pretty basic and then top it off with " shave and a haircut...two bits." Another thing that I thought interesting was that everything on the cruise ship seemed alot like daytime television.  Everything started and ended at their specified time.  No program ever started early and nothing ever went over the allocated time.  This was hard to get used to since I had been accustomed to things starting whenever in South America. 

You gotta tip your hat to the crew on this ship.  The crew that really got things done was composed of Filipinos.  I kinda got the feeling that the name tags were really not their real name.  C'mon, how many Filipinos do you know named Tony, Derek, Bob, James, David, Phillip, Drew, and Trent.  Me thinks they use a nickname so people will be able to pronounce it a little easier.  Anyways, I gotta talk about Mario.  Mario was my cabin steward and always greeted me with a "ahhhhh Hello Miieester James, how are we this morning"  "Enjoy your day, Miieester James!"   A very nice guy and a funny guy to talk with.  I taught him some American slang.  "Its all good," "now THATS what Im talkin about," and "Im pickin up what youre puttin down" are some of the phrases that I taught him.  Gotta hand it to Mario, that guy worked really hard and was a busy fella with all the cabins he took care of.  Mario really came in the clutch when I asked if he had any boots for the shore expeditions in my size.  He came back with four pairs and one of them fit great!  Hey, this guy was alright with me!

Other members of the staff and crew had different rolls.  Some were responsible for the ship, some were responsible for the food, some were responsible for entertaining the guest.  The staff that entertained the guests were a diverse group of folks.  A comedian, an action comedian, a singer, four male and female singer/dancers, a dj named Suger, a magician named Ricochet, and a chellist nicknamed Chel-lowww - who prolly coulda made money on the ship from the way she danced during the late night disco danceoffs.   

Meet The Expedition Team with Expedition Team Leader, Allan Morgan.  This meeting gave all the passengers on board a chance to learn the faces and a little bit about each of Antarctic experts that would enrich our Antarctic experience.  Speaking to each of these members during the 14 days really revealed a lot about them: why they chose Antarctica, what made them choose this type of profession, funny stories they may have to share, etc...

The team was quite an interesting bunch, especially Alan.  It consisted of:
Alan Morgan – Expedition Team Leader
Dr. Neville Jones – Expedition Ecologist
Mary Lou Blakesley – Expedition Marine Mammalogist
Christopher Wilson – Expedition Ornithologist
Dr. Marco Taviani – Expedition Geologist

I gotta say that Alan Morgan had the crowd informed as well as entertained.  Cracking jokes like "Folks, im not gonna lie to ya.  There really are only two types of penguins - - - black ones and white ones." When we were visiting a private island on the Falkland Islands the owners invited everybody for tea and cake.  Everybody thought Alan was joking when he said.  "The island owners are expecting us...Morgan - Party of 495."  This guy was great. 

The other experts gave some really informative lectures on marine mammals, birds, icebreakers, and diving in the Antarctic.  As I said before...never a dull moment on the Marco Polo.  Oh, and one of the Expedition Team members was incredible at ping pong.  I played this 50 year old member of the team and got just hammered.  That women had a punishing backhand!

The folks that I met on the ship. 
Wow, lots of good stories here.  The ship had about 500 passengers on board and I was really excited to speak with some people other than backpackers.  It was nice to meet some people other than backpackers for a while.  This experience added some perspective.
Here was a little breakdown on the type of people on the cruise. 
Within the backpackers there were quite a few types:
A coupla Americans, a coupla Aussies, a few Japanese, a lot from England, and an impenetrable socially restricted patronage of Israeli backpackers.  Within the rest of the passengers there were lots and lots of Americans, a handful of Argentines, and Europeans.  Just about all of the non backpackers were retirees with the means to afford a trip like this. 

I met quite a few of the non backpacker crowd and it was a delight to get to know some of these folks.  Since I really dont have an qualms about meeting new folks and everybody on the cruise seemed to be in a good mood, I thought I would go up and introduce myself to as many folks. 

The first folks that I met were two retired flight attendants named Jackie and Janice.  These two women were a riot to hang out with.  I first met them when I was waiting in line for the Seven Seas Restaurant.  They did not have their table number with them and I was like "Im sorry, ladies.  Ya gotta have the card with you or they wont serve you."  We ended up talking off and on the entire cruise and solved quite a few of the worlds problems over the martini happy hour.  Really nice ladies...and they even promised to introduce me to their young and tall Italian friend back in Boston.  Awww Right!

I also met two folks that are from California and are living in good ol Lincoln, Ne.  Sandra and Rob were a nice couple and fun to talk to about all sorts of things. 

Then there was a nice old man named Luther.  Luther is a bachelor from Arkansas City, Kansas and was visiting Antarctica for the first time.  I noticed him eating alone during tea time and thought I would join him for some coffee and conversation.  Luther was a great guy to talk with.  Our conversations over the two weeks were speckled with tidbits of advice he accumulated through his life as a business owner. It was nice to sit back and relax with him.  I tried and tried and tried to buy him a drink whenever we met for our 530 cocktail hour, but he would always say "nope, nope, nope...I have senority."  I guess when you are 88 you can say that to just about everybody.  I exchanged addresses with Luther and am gonna drop him a postcard at my next destination. 

Then there was Sid.  Or as I like to affectionately call him, "Thats Nothing Sid."  Sid was the type of guy that no matter what you say he would bring the conversation back towards him.  This is alright once or twice...but every single frigging time!  He was very much into the oneupmanship and being annoying.  I met him the second day of the cruise.  Here are a few examples of our conversations.  They kinda went something like this. 
"Soooo, youre a backpacker, ehhh?"  "Yup."  "So, you traveling with one backpack, ehh?"  "Yup."  "That's wife packed two suitcases for me.  Half of one of the suitcases has my sleep apnea machine, the other is clothes.  And canya believe that both suitcases weighed exactly 50lbs each...The folks at the airline thought this was really strange so they weighted them twice on different machines."  "Yup."
Another conversation went like this...
"Sid, would you mind taking a foto?"  "Why sure, what are you shooting in?" "Uhhh four megapixals...Fuji, point and shoot.  That's all I can afford."  "Thats Nothing!  Im shooting in RAW."  "oh, ok...say whiskey!" snap...
And then another conversation when like this...
"So your from Nebraska, right?"  "Yup."  "Where didja goto school at?"  "University of Nebraska at Omaha, Sid."  "Oh, man...why didnt you goto a real school?"  Gee, thanks, Sid
That is when I quit talking to this guy.  I cant stand that type.  Now, I didnt goto the most prestigious university, but I did go to a pretty decent college.  I also paid my own way through both undergrad and grad school while being active in my community and playing college athletics.  I think I did alright.  Three conversations with this knucklehead was enough.  I wanted to tell That's Nothing Sid that I paid 20 percent of what he paid, but didnt have the heart to ...I prolly shouldove.    
Another fun guy to talk to who would just talk your head off was Loud Jaime.  The reason I called him Loud Jaime was because he was similar to Will Ferrell who played Jacob Silj on Weekend Update.  Jacob Silj had the Voice Modulation problem and could only speak in a loud monotone voice.  This was Jaime, he could be whsipering and you could still hear him two tables down.  Jaime was a wedding fotographer and loved to talk about cameras.  When he saw mine he was like, "Thats cool, long as you get the shots you want.  Its not the camera, its the eye behind it."  He also told me some funny wedding stories and how his whole world changed when, "everything went digital and now everybody gets in my way when Im trying to take fotos at the wedding!"
I met a guy from San Francisco who was really cool to talk with.  John from SF had been all around the world and was genuily interested in meeting some of the backpackers and hearing some of their stories.  I was also interested in hearing some of John's stories.  He told me some great stories about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and going on safari in Africa.  Really cool guy. 
Back to the backpackers...lots of interesting folks.  The first im gonna mention is Claus from Denmark.  This guy had some really funny stories to tell about his adventures across the globe.  Claus is about to complete a goal of seeing all seven continents before he turns 25.  He also made a comment that it really doesnt matter where you travel to or for how long, the important part is that you go out there and do it.  Then see how it affects you.  It should be fun to see how things have really affected me when I return from my trip.
Gotta talk about two of the funniest and clever Aussies that I have met.  Cory and Josh.  Cory looked up to everybody and Josh looked down on everybody.  Only in the sense that one was really tall and the other was not tall at all.  They never really saw eye to eye since there was about a foot difference between them, but they definitely had the Woo going.  Im not talkin WuTang here, Im talking about Gallup Organization's Strength Finder.  The Woo strength describes people who "love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person."  These fellas definitlely had it going.  They were also pretty funny.  I got to include a little note about Cory's iPod mix.  The Only When Im Drunk Mix had a little bit of everything and every song was a timeless classic.  He had anything from Michael Bolton's Time Love & Tenderness to a little Boys to Men to a little Robbie Williams to a little Wille Nelson.  All the songs were truly great songs and fit his type of personality. 
Now this was weird.  There was a backpacker from Virginia who I had seen a lot but never really got to talk to until the final days of the cruise.  His name was John.  Cory, Josh, John, and I were all walking to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montevideo, Uruguay.  We were walking along and talking about all types of stuff.  I think we were talking about Lee from the night before.  You will all have a chance to learn about Lee from England a little later.  And then out of the blue John asks me, "James, are you an Eagle Scout?"  I was kinda like "huh?  Yea."  He said that he just could tell.  I thought that was kinda weird.  I guess it goes to show that it takes one to know one.  
Amber from LA.  Amber was traveling with her friend, Sarah.  Both girls were pretty fun to talk with.  Both had their feet planted on the ground.  Amber had some pretty good jokes for open mic night.  One of them went like this.  "A mushroom walks into the bar and orders a drink.  The bartender says he's sorry but cant serve mushrooms.  Thats when the mushroom stands up and says 'awwww, c' a fungi'" Get it.  Anywho.  A funny thing happened when I was just chatting it up with these two in Paradise Harbor.  I mentioned that I was from Omaha and Sarah mentioned she was kinda seeing somebody from Omaha...someone who went to that school in Omaha where they have that rich tax district.  Oh yea, District 66.  And I knew the guy she was talking about.  She was talking about Todd Chapman.  I was an outdoor education counselor with that guy way back in the day.  
Something else weird.  I was in the tender on the way back from the Falkland Islands and started talking to Alex and Phil from Arizona.  When I told them I was from Omaha they were like, "Do you know Drew Wietz?"  I was like, "yup, we hung out alot in 7th grade and a little in high school.  There is no way I could be a secret agent...I know too many people.  
English Pete.  English Pete was a guy in his 30s who sold a lot of what he had and has been on the road for around two years.  He had some great stories.  English Pete dances like Bob Dole.  Not in the fact that he's old or that his arm is hurt.  But for the fact that his left arm stays in a similar position that Bob Dole's right arm stays in.  When he's dancing that left arm stays really rclose to the body and just doesnt move.  Maybe he's just holding onto a pen or something.  I dont now why I think of this stuff. 
The Raj
This is a little section of my blog dedicated to The Raj.  The Raj is a guy that I met in Cusco and have traveled with and bumped into through Bolivia and Argentina.  This is the same Raj that pestered the hostel owner on the Isla del Sol in Bolivia to lower the price from 15 Bolivianos to 13 Bs. (Were talking 25 cents here!)  The Raj is an alpha male and definitely has the Woo with the ladytypes.  Whenever the backpackers would meet for drinks, there would be The Raj workin his magic on the ladytypes.  I think the ladies were suckers for his smooth English accent.  Since The Raj was pretty smooth with the ladytypes I dubbed his room The Raj Mahal and the name stuck.  So his nickname changed from The Raj to just Raj Mahal.  But Raj Mahal has two downsides.  Raj Mahal has this stereotype that all Americans are like the hillbillies on the Cahulawassee River in Deliverance.  Not every American is a hillbilly.  
Another funny story about Raj Mahal.  He really does know how to go up to any ladytype and talk to them about anything.  But the ladytype has to speak English.  The backpackers all went to the club when we got off the ship in Buenos Aires.  The Raj Mahal was feelin pretty good from the constant iv transfusion of alcoholic Marco Polos before we went out, but couldnt even get his foot in the door with the Argentine ladytypes.  Going up and saying "HOLA CHICAS!" over the loud din of club music wasnt workin for the Raj Mahal.  I was like, "Tranquilo, Raj. Tranquilo." "Aw, dont worry, big dogg...its just a numbers game with these chicas."  "But Raj, you only know words like 'cuanto cuesta' or 'bano' or 'cerveza.'  That didnt discourage Raj Mahal.  Nothing discourages the Raj Mahal.   
The Raj Mahal brings me to a little discussion about That Guy.  Every party or function you go to always has to have That Guy.  That Guy is the name that people talk about when remembering a party or whatnot.  "Bill, you remember going to that graduation party last year?  Do you remember That Guy who drank until he had to crawl to the bathroom?"  "Yup, I remember That Guy."  Being That Guy can sometimes be good but most of the time is not too positive.  That Guy on the Marco Polo was Lee from England.  Lee could drink and drink and drink.  He ended up being That Guy who tried to dance his way into the hearts and pants of any girl near the dance floor.  No girl was safe, even when they were mouthing the words "Help Me!"  The nights on the Marco Polo usually begin with people drinking in their rooms and then the bacpackers move to the Polo Lounge to listen to the Panio Bar play their favorite songs.  Things then move to the disco where Sugar plays some great dance music.  Lee claims that he doesnt remember the four hours after leaving the Polo Lounge, but we do have pictures to prove his whereabouts.  Lee was drunker than a fly in a bottle of gin.  Lee was a strong fella and you always hoped that he wouldnt grab you when you were dancing.  You see, nobody was safe from this dancing machine.  It was getting towads the end of the night and Lee decided that enough was enough.  No girl really wanted to dance with him, they just kinda put up with him and dodged his attempts for a little kiss here and there.  And then for some reason he reached for his belt, undid it and then, let his pants go down.  And then came the undies.  Not so much on the nudity on the dance floor, Lee.  We all turned away in anguish.  Guys just dont look good naked. 
Well, thats all i got right now folks...Ill send out another blog entry about the expeditions and what it was like to set foot on Antarctica. 

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