It’s bizarre, planning an Antarctic expedition during a global pandemic. When we first started planning this trip of a lifetime, Covid-19 wasn’t even heard of and now we’ve gone through a portion of the Greek alphabet in variants and have had almost two years of uncertainty with regard to planning.
I thought the anxiety of that uncertainty would pass once we’d gotten through the wedding planning and come out the other side – following a yearlong postponement of said wedding and a subsequent postponement of the Antarctic honeymoon. I had no idea I’d be sitting here less than a week before leaving for Argentina, hanging onto every update to see if our trip would even go ahead.
As it happens, Omicron is currently sweeping through Ireland. My own hometown seems to be riddled with it, though very few are badly sick. In fact, it seems this variant is significantly weaker than previous ones. Delta, for example, was a horror to go through. My husband John and I got it early in the autumn and were sick for some weeks, though we didn’t make a fuss – we simply isolated ourselves and got on with our lives. It is, I suppose, the luxury of being in generally good health. Many have not been so fortunate and too many have gotten severely ill or died due to underlying conditions being significantly worsened by the onset of Covid-19.
But the fact that severe illness doesn’t seem to be as common with this particular variant perhaps suggests that, after two years, this virus is finally burning itself out. It can’t last forever, after all. The Spanish Flu of a hundred years ago was over after two years. I’m taking that as a glimmer of hope, though the speed at which the last two years have passed has been frightening, to say the least. I feel like I’m still waiting for March 2020 to end and yet here I am, two years older and probably far wiser than I would have been had I not gone through the events of those two years. But I’m going off-topic.
The point is I’ve been planning this Antarctic trip for three years and, now that we’re so close to stepping onto that ship and heading the farthest south we’re ever likely to go, there are more anxieties, more concerns and more potential restrictions. I’m currently keeping myself isolated at home, for fear of contracting the virus again. It seems that Omicron does not care if you’ve already been infected and recovered, nor is it bothered by vaccinations. I’d like to think I’d have some immunity now but you can’t be too careful when so much is at risk. This variant is far less severe but, if my PCR tests come back positive on Friday, the whole Antarctic trip will have to be called off. That’s all it would take. Such a simple thing.
If, however, it’s negative and we do get to Buenos Aires as planned, we should not relax too much. We’ll be in a busy city for a number of days before taking a domestic flight to Ushuaia. I have recently learned that cases of the virus are quite low in the world’s southernmost city, so the risk is significantly lower. But we will also be relying heavily on others to take the necessary precautions to ensure the virus does not come onto the ship with us.
I have read that there will be a range of precautionary measures taken by Oceanwide Expeditions (our tour company) to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew. Our luggage will be sanitised before being brought on board and we will receive a time at which we are to arrive for a health check. This check will involve the mandatory inspection of documentation, including proof of vaccination against Covid-19 and – as I understand it – proof of a negative PCR test taken within the previous 24 hours. There will then be temperature screening and an antigen test carried out before boarding. So, if we get on the ship after all that, we can at least be assured that every effort has been made to leave Covid on land.
While I am excited that the time has finally come for the adventure of a lifetime, I feel somewhat disappointed that the buildup to this expedition is hindered by Covid – particularly a variant that seems to be far milder than its predecessors. It is, however, an excellent first trip to document. Beginning a travel blog during a pandemic in the first place seems outlandish. But it does make for good writing, all this suspense and uncertainty. Here’s hoping it will all be followed with a successful expedition.
Watch this space.