Where should we go on vacation this year? It was an innocent enough question, and one that we pondered at the beginning of every year. It had been a couple of years since our last big trip, which was to Belize in 1999, and we were in the mood for something new and remote. Checking our destination wish-list we saw Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia perched at the top, but with the two latter entries positioned on the under side of the world, we opted for Great Britain, which was at the top of the list after all, and besides, we didn't feel like spending nearly 24 hours in transit. It had been more than a decade since either of us had been to the UK, and we both had such fond memories that we knew this was the right choice for this year's vacation.

A week later the March issue of the Warbler, the newsletter for the Audubon Society of Portland, arrived and we eagerly turned to the field trip section to see what local tours we might like to take. We had gone with Audubon on a number of trips around the region, and all of them had been immensely satisfying, and so we always looked forward to any new opportunities to travel with them. This issue held the usual enticing kayaking trips in the Columbia and birding trips to the coast and to Malheur, but it also advertised something quite different and special: a November trip to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands! It sounded fun and exotic, but, well, Antarctica wasn't on our wish-list, and it was even farther away than Australia or New Zealand... but the promise of cold bleak landscapes dotted with unusual wildlife triggered something deep within the both of us. Slowly at first the idea of this trip began to take hold of our imaginations, and a month later we found ourselves at the Audubon Society for a slide show on a previous trip to Antarctica. A few days later and we had forgotten about Great Britain and had signed on for the trip "way down south".

As the weeks and months passed we became very excited about our big vacation, and had already purchased guide books for Antarctica and some of the countries we'd pass through on the way. On the way down we'd pass through Chile and the Falklands, and on the way back we'd travel through Argentina. True, we'd only have a short time to spend in each of these locations, but we were determined to make the best of that time.

There and Back Again
The official tour began in Miami, Florida, which would give us the opportunity to meet up with Leonard's sister Lois, who quickly made plans for a two day kayaking trip through the western part of the Everglades, and so we arranged to arrive two days early. Our flight would leave Miami for Santiago, Chile at midnight on Friday the 16th of November, which was also opening day for the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and not wanting to wait until we returned to see this film, we purchased tickets for the movie in advance for that evening. We'd arrive in Miami late on Wednesday the 14th, drive across Florida to spend two days kayaking, drive back across Florida to catch a movie and have a farewell dinner with my sister, and then catch the flight at midnight to continue on our journey. Oh yeah, that sounded so doable at the time.

We weren't the only people making extra plans for the trip. Our fellow Audubon Society members who were also taking part in the trip made reservations for bird guides in Santiago and Buenos Aires for day trips into the country to see the native wild life in the hours between flights. We signed up to participate in these as well because we had no idea when the opportunity to travel in Chile or Argentina would come again.

Mountains of Madness
Antarctica began to dominate our lives as we read more about the continent and its history (both geological and human discovery). Names like Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton became familiar, and locations like Weddell Sea and Ross Ice Shelf haunted our dreams. Even our monthly Call of Cthulhu gaming group fell victim to our obsession as we started to play a massive campaign, Beyond the Mountains of Madness, which was a 1930s trek to Antarctica and beyond, based on the short novel, At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft. The good folks at Chaosium out did themselves with the 430+ page campaign book, which proved to be so inspiring that I took it along to Antarctica with us. The cover art for the book also provided the title image to this trip report's introduction.

The trip to Antarctica itself was conducted by Clipper Cruises, whom would take care of all of our flights and lodgings for the trip from and back to Miami. We would fly to the Falklands via Santiago, Chile, board a small ship for the cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula which would drop us off at Ushuaia, Argentina, from where we would fly up to Buenos Aires, and finally back to Miami.
Ship's Route
The ship could only carry 122 passengers at most, and so we felt assured the experience wouldn't be overwhelmed by a mob of tourists. Our voyage had in fact been booked full, but after September 11, half of the passengers canceled for fear of flying (it would seem ridiculous if it weren't for the fact that Americans have let fear dictate all of their decisions up to and including the 2004 elections when they returned the mentally retarded George W. Bush to the White House -- the very man who was asleep at the helm during the 2001 disaster despite being warned about it in advance, and the very man with close personal ties to the Saudi family that actually masterminded the terrorist attack), and so we would enjoy a half empty ship for the entire trip.

Clipper Cruises conducted trips on end one after another throughout the season, and so the route and stops for the Antarctica portion of the trip were well defined and controlled. The accompanying map shows our itinerary, which will be available throughout the rest of the trip report.

The months before the trip passed in a blur as we prepared for our trip. In addition to the cold weather gear and other trip related paraphernalia we had to find (either in storage or purchased new), we had to prepare the ferret shelter for our trip. Most people, when they go on vacation, simply have a friend or relative over to take care of their pets while they're gone. Things are a little different with us: Elayne is the coordinator for the Cascade Ferret Network, and the central facility is in our house, which at the time housed around 50 ferrets. And then of course there were our pets (11 ferrets and 2 cats) which needed looking after as well. Obviously arranging care for all of these animals would require more than just asking a neighbor to peek in every now and then. We had to hire a full time live-in shelter worker and another part time worker to make sure every ferret received its proper care each day we were gone. In addition to the paid staff we also had a group of volunteers come in and assist where needed. We created a check list for each day we were gone which included every task required for every animal, and as you can see by looking at the shelter checklist and pet checklist for the first Sunday we were away, there was a lot of work to be done each day. We were fortunate to find such dedicated ferret enthusiasts willing to work while we were off having fun.

The day of our departure finally arrived, and even though our flight was delayed such that we would not arrive in Miami until after midnight, we were off on our grand adventure at last!

This trip report has been organized into chapters for a particular day, location or experience. Each chapter includes images and notes from that portion of our trip, and is followed by a gallery of related images. Clicking on any image in this report will reveal a larger (usually much larger) copy.

Return to the Index Proceed to Chapter 1