I like my adventure not just soft; I prefer mushy. But from what I've heard, to get to Antarctica -- the coldest, highest, windiest, driest, and iciest continent on earth, I'll be rocking and rolling on the world's roughest waters, The Drake Passage around Cape Horn. The fact that I flee cold weather whenever possible, and can get seasick in the shallow end of a pool is troubling.
But here's the icebreaker, so to speak: My ship, the Azamara Journey, unlike Ernest Shackleton's Endurance, offers high tea and aromatic massages, and I'll be in a cabin with a verandah. I imagine chocolates and a goodnight message on my pillow: "Sweet dreams. The wind chill tomorrow will be minus 50."
And I certainly hope not to become icebound, as Shackleton's sailing ship did almost 100 years ago. I figure my grand style of Antarctic exploration will mitigate the dangers and discomforts, so I'm pleased to treat myself (more about that later).
Why am I leaving 76 degree Miami? Why not go to Pago Pago or Easter Island or some other exotic, hard-to-get-to place? Well, I've traveled to over a hundred countries, and when I twirl my globe - and I do, quite often -- that jagged white landmass at the bottom always, taunts me: Come on down already, you wimp. What's a little frostbite?
I got hooked on reading about South Pole explorers, and about the ozone hole, and I love penguins. (I have a thing for nurturing, formally- attired, vertically-challenged males.) Gore's An Inconvenient Truth stirred me. And then, a study published in January in a journal called Nature Geoscience showed that changes in water temp and wind patterns have begun to erode vast ice sheets in western Antarctica at a much faster rate than previously detected.
The ice loss is small compared with the continent's miles-deep ice sheets. But global sea levels could rise higher and more swiftly than previously supposed. These findings give more urgency to a new global agreement limiting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. And, urgency to my dream trip, too. I want there to be there when I get there. If not now, when?
My 18-day itinerary starts in Buenos Aires, goes on to the Falkland Islands, then to Antarctica. Then around Cape Horn to Ushuaia, Argentina -- the southernmost town on earth --and to Chile, Uruguay, ending back in BA.
Okay. But why solo? Why not with someone to keep me warm? Because right now, going on my own suits me best, to journey in the quiet of my thoughts. I'll go forth, spirit unencumbered, with silence and time for inner exploration. And when I seek company there will be, I gather, a few hundred other adventurous hedonists in overpriced gear, happy to share stories and adopt me for a meal or two.
Prep for this voyage has been minimal; With guidance online I bought gloves within gloves, pants within pants within pants, polarized sun gIasses, and a balaclava, which sounds like a dessert but I'm told will keep my nose from falling off. The polar explorers made do with smelly sealskin.
A doctor will be on the ship of course, but I brought an extra month's supply of prescription meds and lots of transderm patches to stave off that almost certain sea sickness. I set up my cell phone, but aside from ports I assume "Can you hear me now?" won't be relevant. I'm bringing my computer to write as I go, but who knows.
There's another reason for this adventure right now. Exactly one year previous to my ship's embarkation, surgeons successfully removed an early-stage cancer, found by chance. My cheerful oncologist tells me I'll have plenty of years to become a Great Old Broad. Still, these past months I've been flying the world like a manic albatross, from the Med to Australia and a dozen places in-between. But Antarctica, frozen and far, is the challenge I seek.
So I'll celebrate my newest and best anniversary soloing to the southern end of the earth in high style. For the next couple of weeks when you open your freezer maybe you'll envision me, barfing, triple-layered, but undaunted. I'll keep you posted along the way.
Lea Lane is founder/editor of the lifestyle Website www.sololady.com and wrote Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips (Fodor's).