Same Same, but Different

I’m a little shocked at the trepidation with which I am approaching this trip. It’s, you know, just another “trip of a lifetime” coming on the heels of our last “trip of a lifetime” just two months ago. Palau, remember? Reprising a trip Devon’s father and brother took something like 22 years ago. Great fun, amazing amazing sights. You know, trip of a lifetime.

This one? Another trip of a lifetime, except that, in some ways I’ve done it before. You see, after five years away, I’m finally headed back to Antarctica. We’re headed to Antarctica. On a boat. But the difference is that this time it’ll be as a tourist. On a tourist cruise boat.

First off, yes, they call it an “expedition.” And we, the passengers, are referred to as “explorers,” or “citizen scientists.” But here’s the thing I’ve noticed: the US Antarctic Program calls their deployments “cruises.” The Navy calls their deployments “cruises.” National Geographic and Lindblad and all the cruise ship companies call theirs “expeditions.”  So let’s call it “Pablo’s Rule of Antarctic Voyages” that if they call it a cruise, it’s probably an expedition, and if they call it an expedition, it’s more than likely a cruise. If you have any doubts about the nature of your voyage, check which way the money’s flowing.

So yeah, this is a tourist cruise. Lectures, photo ops, landings, drinks and dinner at the captain’s table. Maybe we’ll even count penguins. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That. But I’m worried that I’m not going to be able to convince myself. That I’m going to keep inwardly – or worse, outwardly – poo-pooing everything that this voyage has to offer out of some ridiculous pretense that, well, let me tell you how we do real science on the ship that I work. You know me. You know I can get snooty as an egret at the tip of a toque, boastful of my own oh so much more authentic experience given even the slightest opening.

And it will be a damned shame if I do. Because this really is a trip of a lifetime, and if nothing else, it’s an Antarctica I’ve never seen, and really no one sees, except on this kind of cruise, er, um, “expedition.” Because on the NBP, there’s never any need for folks like me to go ashore on Deception Island, or Port Lockeroy, or any of the most beautiful places on the continent. On the NBP, we drive around and put bits of science in the water, or pull it out, or measure the water, the krill, the ice. Maybe drop a scientist or three off somewhere or pick them up. And even if it is one of those breathtaking sites, who gets to get off the boat? The scientists in question. A couple of Marine Techs to help them get set up and, if she’s lucky, an Electronics Tech to get their comms set up. My job is keeping the ship’s computers running, and the ship’s computers – stay on the boat.

I’ve only been off the boat once, and that was when we pulled into Rothera Base for a medical contingency prior to our long transit of the Amundsen and Bellinghausen seas (Mind you, it was New Year’s Eve, and it would be hard to imagine a better little bit of shore leave, but that was the glorious and improbable exception to the rule.)

So yeah, this is my chance to see these fabled places, and to do so in the company of some presumably pretty amazing naturalists and photographers and fellow travelers. And most importantly, my wife. That’s the big thing: Devon’s been patiently putting up with me+Antarctica for over 12 years now, and it’s all been hearsay. Now she gets to finally see it. Now we get to finally see parts of it I’ve never seen, together. It would be a shame for me to hold back from fully embracing something like that, wouldn’t it?

So I’m ‘fessing up right now that I’m worried about doing precisely that. And in confessing that, I’m trying to short circuit any urge I might have to get snarky or dismissive in the coming couple of weeks. I’m counting on you to call me on it, you understand? Trip of a lifetime coming up.

7 responses to “Same Same, but Different

  1. Well, yes, it is a trip of a lifetime, not only because it’s a trip of a lifetime but, as you said, because Devon is going with you. And you already know what to do. Just do it. Love the beauty. Be awed. Smile a lot.


  2. Hi Pablo! I really enjoyed your latest discussion. I had just started using “expedition” instead of “cruise” when I relate adventures to my hiking buddies. If I mention “cruise” to people new to me, they immediately think I am referring to the whole conga line and promenade deck thing. Also, we are now getting “Expedition Plans”, in addition to RSPs, which kinda legitimizes things. All the best, bro!


  3. I’m excitedly awaiting hearing about the remainder of your journey. I’m really happy for you guys to be able to do this.



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