A couple of months ago I received a very exciting offer from my college alumni association. They are organizing a two-week expedition next winter to Antarctica. (No, it’s not what you think. Winters here in the U.S. are actually the summer seasons south of the Equator. So, January and February are the warm months down there, when the daytime temperatures skyrocket all the way up to about minus-four Fahrenheit.)
I swear, I’m not making this up. The fancy eight-page color brochure explained that we first will fly to Buenos Aires, and then fly to the southern-most tip of South America to board a ship, the M.S. L’Austral. The vessel will cross the Drake Passage to Antarctica, where we will visit these well-known destinations: Half Moon Island, Port Lockroy, and Booth Island.
On board, according to the brochure, will be a team of world class naturalists who will lead our expedition groups on shore excursions, so we can explore Antarctica’s diverse wildlife habitats, including penguin rookeries. (C’mon, admit it, your personal bucket list, like mine, has this entry: “Visit penguin rookeries near the South Pole.”)
I read through the brochure, and then said to my wife, “This is very exciting. I’ll have to use up all my vacation days at work, but it will be well worth it, as the expedition organizers are going to pay me $14,000 to sign on for this research voyage.”
She took the brochure from me, perused it briefly, then said, “Um, no. This says you have to pay them $14,000 to go on the cruise.”
“What?” I said.
“Or,” she continued, “you can pay $18,000 if you want to stay in the Prestige Suite, located on Deck 6.”
I said, “You mean this is not a scientific expedition to uncover the mysteries of Antarctica, certain to be featured in a future National Geographic TV special?”
“No,” she replied. “It’s just a fancy cruise ship for people who apparently have already visited all the normal cruise ship destinations.”
I sat in silence for a while, re-reading the brochure. After about ten minutes, I looked up and said to my wife, “So, are you saying I can’t go?”
She never answered. I guess it’s still a possibility.
About a month later, I received another eight-page color brochure from my alumni association, this time offering the opportunity to go on a nine-day Amazon River adventure aboard the expedition vessel Zafiro. Based on the brochure photos, the Zafiro is definitely larger than the boat Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn used in the movie “The African Queen,” but not by much.
With this trip, we fly to Lima, Peru, and then travel to Iquitos, which is located at the Amazon River basin. We board the Zafiro there, and then head up river and explore the Amazon and its many tributaries.
Once again, there are world class naturalists on board, who lead small boat excursions along backwater rivers and flooded forests in search of exotic wildlife. Some of the wildlife mentioned in the brochure are pink river dolphins, bats, and red-bellied piranha.
After listing all the features of the Zafiro, such as air-conditioning, Peruvian cuisine, an observation deck, and a bar and lounge, the brochure offers this disconcerting sentence: “There is no doctor on board.”
Usually, my college alumni association organizes trips to more traditional locations, like Paris or Las Vegas. I suspect they recently hired one of Jacques Cousteau’s descendants.
So, I’m not sure which trip I’ll choose, the one where frostbite nips at my nose, or the one where piranha nip at my toes. Or maybe my wife will decide for me, and this year’s vacation will be in a different exotic location, like East Hartford.