We’re almost two years into the pandemic now and yet Covid-19 still rears its ugly head at the most inopportune moments. We jumped the first hurdle. The PCR test we took in Dublin on Friday came back negative, allowing us to travel to Buenos Aires via London. While the one-hour flight to Heathrow, followed by a five-hour stopover and then a 14-hour flight to Argentina was long and exhausting, we left Ireland in good spirits, filled with the excitement of adventures to come.
Buenos Aires has been an experience so far. As someone who has always been attracted to colder climates, to suddenly be in temperatures over 30 or 40 degrees celsius is not ideal. But it is only a temporary problem. In just a few days we’ll fly to Ushuaia and, all going well, we will embark on the Hondius towards Antarctica where our suitcases of winter gear will surely be put to good use. At least that was what we were hoping. That was what we’ve been planning for years.
I can’t say I like this city. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it – it’s a matter of taste. Everything was closed yesterday (Sunday), aside from miles and miles of outdoor market stalls. And, of course, there is San Telmo Merkado, to which we paid a visit. But it is a city. It is hot. The streets have many homeless people sleeping on mattresses or in makeshift tents to provide some modicum of privacy. There’s rubbish littered on the streets, with bins rummaged through – whether by human or animal I don’t know – their contents spewing out onto the footpaths. There’s rarely a working lock on toilet doors. There’s no air. If there’s a breath of wind, it’s more redolent of a hairdryer than a breeze.
The empanadas are good. The steak is good. The wine is good. But good food and good wine aren’t enough to make this cold-loving, honeymooning, Irish couple want to stay in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius or more. Nothing is. But the pandemic – as the pandemic is wont to do – has reared its ugly head once again and planted seeds of concern in my mind.. or, perhaps, just watered the seeds that were already there, allowing them to take root and spread.
I’ve been a member of Antarctica Travel Group since it was set up by Neill Drake in December 2019 and it has been a wonderful resource for information. I highly recommend it for any Facebook users who are hoping to travel to Antarctica. As of January 2022, there are over 9,100 members from all over the world sharing experiences, advice and stories and supporting each other through what has been a rollercoaster Antarctic season so far.
It was in this group that I read a post last night about a Quark Expeditions trip that was due to set off from Ushuaia tomorrow. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and rising numbers of Covid cases among passengers and crew members, the trip was cancelled last minute. This morning, at breakfast, I overheard – and then, admittedly, eavesdropped – on a conversation between three women who had just returned from Antarctica. They said there were seven cases on board their ship, with passengers having to isolate themselves in their cabins. Of course, with some triple or quadruple porthole cabins comprising groups of friends or strangers, if one tests positive, they all have to isolate. And that’s whether they’re symptomatic or not. The women also said they had heard either the Hondius or the Plancius had returned with a 100% positive rate. A quick look at my Marine Traffic app confirmed our ship – the Hondius – had returned to port several days early.
A further look through the Facebook group revealed other horror stories of ships having to turn back after a day and a half in Antarctica, due to outbreaks on board; of people quarantined onboard their vessels because hotels in Ushuaia were already full of previous positive Covid cases; of trips cancelled due to the pandemonium of the pandemic.
The real blow came this evening when I read a post about Oceanwide Expeditions cancelling the remainder of the season. It is with Oceanwide that we’re due to travel and yet, three days out, we have heard nothing from the company itself, even though they’ve cancelled the trip directly after ours. We have little hope it will go ahead at this rate. Several people in the group have confirmed to me that Oceanwide informed them that all trips were in the process of being cancelled. Even Neill Drake sent me a private message to let me know we’d be better off not bothering with our flight to Ushuaia.
It’s late now and the Oceanwide offices are closed so we can’t get in touch with anyone. But we’re hoping to get a confirmation email or call in the morning so we can make a plan.