There's one thing you never want to do. And that's ask someone else, “hey – how much did you pay?”
You know, when you're on a flight that there are people beside you who paid more than you, and those that paid less. Odds are you paid twice what another paid for the same ride. Now imagine that rather than a few hundred, that flight cost a few thousand. Let the cringing begin.
I'm going to level with you – this Antarctic cruise I'm on, including flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and back again, cost me $8500CAD. That's what I paid – I have a category four room, the second best. The best room costs a thousand dollars more, and comes with a lounge to hang out in. My room? Same beds as all the other categories. And being level four doesn't excuse me from having a random person as a roommate. No sir.
For the last few days I've been with the Buenos Aires to Ushuaia crew. There were fourteen of us, out of the boats capacity that reaches 120. Naturally we've cliqued together in some way. They are down in the dungeons of the ship, and I paid their room a visit. I looked around, and noticed something – their room was quite possibly the exact same as mine, except they had a third bunk instead of just two beds. Three people, rather than two. The price they paid? $4500CAD.
category two, which is the same room as category one with the bunk rolled into the wall is $5500CAD. category three which is like my room, but with more closet space is $7000CAD.
What is the main difference between my room and the others? I have a larger window. A larger – four thousand dollar – window. Great. Fantastic. A window to look out of when I'm in my room. You might think, oh won't that be lovely, a nice view to look around. How often will I be in my room looking out the window?! You'll be on deck, or in the observation lounge most of the time. Who comes to Antarctica to sit in their room – with someone they don't know?
But yes, this is my window. My four thousand dollar window. Really, that's what I get for not booking my room earlier. That's what I get for booking this trip only six or seven months in advance, rather than eight or nine, or a year and a half. But I digress. It's not that I'm overly concerned about this. I'll just cry myself to sleep tonight, looking out that fantastic window at the black water, against the black sky, and the black nothingness in between. If you want to know what my view is like go to your flat panel television right now, turn it so it's portrait justified, and look at it. No, no, turn off the game, make sure it's powered down. Good. Now look at it. That's my four thousand dollar view – and just think, you get the same looking at your wonderfully high tech t.v. that was somehow still less expensive.
When you're with other people it's hard not to become curious. So we peeked into my room, and a category three room. But we've not yet seen that mythical category five room. And this is tricky, because we're not quite sure where they are. We think that they must share the fourth floor, breaking the room number starting with the category selection. But we can not be sure.
Now let me less you about how trusting people on this boat are. There is an open door policy at work here. That is to say your doors do not lock. There are no keys, no pass cards, no security, no privacy. It's fantastic – because now we're going to see a category five room! Two plots have been formulated.
Now, at the briefing, we were told there has never been any theft on this boat – ever. We just trust one hundred and fifty strangers with all our gear. Sure, that sounds right to me. What could possibly go wrong? But think – there are problems that will arise. Imagine a man getting drunk at the bar on board. In a normal situation he would bang on the door, try to open it, wonder why his key card isn't working, get mad, bang some more, and finally realize he's working at the wrong door. Perhaps then he'd go merrily on his way. Now imagine this with an open door policy. He bangs on the door, and rather than just waking you up, he opens your door, and flops down in bed beside you. Within moments you have a large drunken man asleep with you.
Open door policy.
Now – the two ways we plan to see a category five room are these, one more nefarious than the other. The first is to simply open the door, walk in, and exclaim, “oops! Sorry!” Then poke around for a minute or two, soaking up their sweet couch, and lounge area. The other is far more ingenious, thought up by a darling thirty-one year old girl I've had the pleasure to hang out with these past few days. I really wish I could take credit for this, but sadly – I must give credit where credit is due.
Her plan is as follows – step one is discover who has a category Five room. Once you know that everything else falls into place. In the lobby is a list of every passenger's name, their room number, and their tag number (this is the number you use to pay for on board purchases. There are problems with this being public information too – but you can figure that out on your own, I'm sure.) Now once you know who has a Cat5 you just need to find their room number. The final part where things go into motion is wait until they're sitting down for breakfast, and excuse yourself from the dining area. It is at this point that you beeline for their room, and open the always-unlocked door, and peek around inside. Instant, foolproof access.
Now there are terrible problems with this that could easily lead to theft, and such nonsense, but luckily for everyone, we're more concerned with seeing what the extra thousands could have got us. I mean, I paid four grand for a window. A bigger window, sorry – everyone has a window or porthole. For an extra grand or so, a couch? It's almost conceivable.
But anyway – this whole financial thing, I'll be over it soon. And next time I come back to Antarctica I'll be sure to book the cheap room. You'd think it's a once in a lifetime thing – but a good number of passengers here? They're return visitors.
Now, my apologies for getting so wrapped up in my viewing hole. But you can understand how – pressing – it is as an issue. I seem to have skipped right to the end of the day. You see these are thoughts one can only have late at night before passing into a peaceful slumber. As peaceful slumber over the engine, rumbling and roaring away can be.
The day started with us hopping on a bus and heading to a national park just outside the city of Usuhaia. There was a little bit of hiking through forest, which I'm not really sure what the point of it was – it was only about one kilometer – maybe give a sense of accomplishment to those who felt they needed one? I don't know. What I do know is that there was a shale beach. And a shale beach is one of the most fantastic things that I can imagine. It is an unlimited supply of skipping stones right down next to the perfect area for stone skipping. The last time I'd found a place like this was at Moraine Lake in Alberta Canada back in 2006. I could have sat for hours, as I did years ago. Years ago, however, I watched all the tour buses roll up and pull away. This time? This time I was called with the bus.
After our little trip, where pictures of the same mountain from every conceivable angle were taken, we headed back to town. Picture of bunnies? Also taken.
In town I headed to the liquor store. Yeah, sure, there's a bar on the boat. But for the price of three shots there, I could buy a bottle here. I'm not saying I'm going to drink a lot on the ship – but if I find that I want to (watching the others all around me indulge) well – it's better to be prepared. If I learned anything in Scouts it was that.
Then we boarded the boat. And this was an exciting time. It finally started to sink in that we were about to travel to Antarctica. And then the boat started to move, and the excitement became an electricity passing from one person to the next, turning them all into same ball of hyper-active juvenile that I find myself so often embodying.
We had a life boat drill – as is the law – but unlike every other one I've ever had the pleasure to stand around wearing a bloody foolish orange life jacket through, we were allowed to board the life boats. It made it all the more thrilling. I guess they wanted us to feel safe and secure inside – after all, GAP doesn't have a perfect safety record for these sorts of trips. (No one has ever died, mind you, but not all boats return home.) Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the safety instructor said next time I came to the boats I should dress warmer. “Are you kidding?” I replied, “don't you see this?” pointing to my toque. “I am dressed warmly!” He didn't seem to appreciate my boss NES hat. Apparently I'd want pants, or something of that nature.
The first thing I did on the boat was find the library and get to it as fast as I could. Others found this strange – but it was essential. All the best books would soon be ripped away. And what book did I find staring me in the face? What book did I go looking for – without any hope of finding, on a shelf with barely one hundred and fifty titles? Jurassic Park. I last came close to this text in Thailand. But then, lo, there it was. Quickly it was placed in my back pocket, and listed as the text I will read once I finish the Douglas Adams novel I just started to read.
I've never read any Douglas Adams, and felt that I should. This is one of the books from the hotel's shelf previously mentioned. This also means that I've finished Lord of the Rings – more on that later. I don't want to disturb my roommate anymore than I have to with late night clickity clackity typing.
Dinner was lovely steak, although quite small compared to the half kilo I had the other day. But it was good. Not too bad at all. And then that brought us to the comparing of rooms, and sneaky planning. Now I just lie in bed, looking out my window. My absolutely-totally worth it-four thousand dollar window.
I'm going to Antarctica. Oh! My! Gawd!