Friday, January 2, 2009

(Very) Slow to Posting...

So I finally got all our annual Christmas letters sent out (yes, as you can see it was well after Christmas). In our letter we were great about putting in there that we were now officially bloggers. What I failed to notice is that it has been almost NINE MONTHS since I actually inputted anything online!!! My gosh. Talk about a failure. What's happened is I never got finished posting my Antarctica info. I remember it was such a chore sifting through hundreds of photos, picking the cream of the crop for posting. Then it was writing up what could have been a novel into a shorter version to post. (There was just so much to talk about from such a GREAT TRIP!) Thus, I got to one point and just stopped. I didn't even post the most fun part of the trip...the penguins, seals and whales encountered!

Thus, this is now part of my New Year's get this blog updated ASAP. Put that in line with the wreck of an office and craft room that needs organized, bills that need to be filed (thank goodness for electronic payments so we at least still have our electricity on!) and a checkbook that needs to be balanced. (Oh yes, there's that little thing of a BABY ON THE WAY to prep for, as well as start thinking about getting stuff organized for a move to Spain.) I've got to make the time for it, though. Little by little I will conquer it all.

Many thanks to those kind friends and family who have received their holiday letter and gave me a gentle reminder that I have not updated my blog. Please know that it is under construction. I will dedicate a little to its write-up each day, even if it kills me. I would like to do my final posting about Antarctica, and then I will do a quick recap of the other events since then (two Ragnar Relays, marathons and half marathons galore, the expecting of our first baby, an upcoming move to Spain, etc).

My love to you all. I appreciate your patience and support. I'll get this updated soon. It'll be a good habit to have for when we move overseas and this will be our primary means of letting everyone know what's going on in our lives.

Take Care, Jennifer and Dennis

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Ocean Nova & Many Scenic Views While Traveling

We're Off! Traveling Aboard the Ocean Nova

Continuing on with our Antarctic adventures, here's some info regarding our travel and living arrangements in Antarctica. The pictures above are also include some of the views we saw while traveling from one spot to another...

With approximately 200 runners, supporters and staff, the Marathon Tours group took two different ships to Antarctica. The ships were operated by the same company: Quark Expeditions. The ship that departed Ushuaia a day after ours was the Lyobov Orlova. The Orlova was larger than our ship, and was anticipated to travel faster as well. Our ship, the Ocean Nova, was not as large as we had anticipated. We took a picture of it in Ushuaia when it was next to a normal-size cruise ship. Hardly the same size! This turned out to be a blessing and a curse for our next ten days of life at sea.

Our ship had five decks. Deck 2 was used for disembarking the ship as well as had a small gym, library and a doctor’s office, decks 3 was the Dining Hall and cabins, deck 4 was cabins and the Captain’s bridge, and deck 5 was the Panorama Lounge and meeting area. Our cabin was on deck 3. For the first two days after the marathon it took a lot of effort for me to climb the stairs to deck 5, due to sore muscles and especially when we were en route and the boat was rocking.

Outside on deck 5 was the main areas photos were taken. There was an observation deck in the bow, and you could stand along the rails on the side of the ship as well. Outside on this deck was also the storage area for the zodiacs, small motorized rubber boats that were used for taking passengers from the ship to the mainland. Stored next to them were four ATVs that would later be used during the marathon. Finally, the ship was equipped with state-of-the-art emergency equipment for use in evacuations. The lifeboats were very interesting. It was actual a completely enclosed capsule that had a tube slide to use for entering. At no time would a passenger have to actually touch the icy Antarctic waters. Instead of having just a lifejacket, there were also special suit for all passengers to use in the case of an emergency. The suit looked like one for an astronaut and completely enveloped the whole body. It was supposed to be able to help retain heat for more than a 24-hour period. We felt pretty safe being on board this ship.

The staff onboard was phenomenal. There were members of the Expedition crew, led by Laurie and his assistant Jill Parker, a full hotel and catering staff and a licensed doctor. It was an interesting mix of people from all parts of the globe. A lot of the staff was from Canada, but there were plenty of others from Germany, Argentina, France, Australia, Tasmania and other locations. This cruise was the last of the summer season. Most crew members would then take a few months off, or continue working on other cruises around Africa or up in the Arctic.

Since there is obviously much travel involved with life on a ship, we learned quickly that life on board a ship is always run on the Captain’s time and none other. This became important for race day. As is always done, the marathon and half-marathon races were opened to the ships’ crew members if they wished to participate. Since the race was held on King George Island, the location of four research stations from Russia, Chile, China and Uruguay, any brave participants from these locations were also welcomed to join in the running. It was imperative that the race time be told in a very specific fashion. It turns out that most ships entering this area will stay on the same time as Argentina. However, on King George Island there seems to be three different time zones. The Chilean and Uruguayan bases will also stay in the same time zone as Argentina. However, the Russian base, which is literally 400 meters from the Chilean base, stays at -1 hour of Argentina. The Chinese base, about 3 miles south of the Chilean base, is at -2 hours. They run on their own times as they see fit. It was humorous that it took the Marathon Tours crew a couple of years to figure out why any Chinese runners would show up for the race two hours late. Now when logistics are being set with the bases, the crew is very specific on what time they are actually talking about.

Dennis was thrilled to take a cruise to Antarctica. It included so much that he loved: cold weather, lots of good food and being on a ship where he didn’t have to do any work at all, including making his bed. The crew aboard the Ocean Nova did a wonderful job of spoiling us and making us feel comfortable at all times. Every morning we were given a wakeup call from the Expedition Leader, Laurie Dexter, which included the day’s weather forecast, announcements about the day’s activities as well as a humorous and often witty joke or saying.

The ship was our home during our ten-day Antarctica voyage. Dennis and I had a twin-bunk cabin with a small private bathroom. Three large meals were served everyday in the Dining Hall, and we were never left hungry or without a variety of yummy food. Dessert was always a special treat at lunch and dinner. If the three meals weren’t enough, the ship even provided a tea time every afternoon where pastries and beverages were available. Yes, we were spoiled and everyone on board went home with some weight gain, despite the grueling marathon run.

During the days of traveling at sea, lectures about various Antarctic topics were often given by the Expedition crew. These included talks about whale, penguin and seal species, as well as discussions about modern Antarctica and how it was governed by the Antarctic Treaty. We watched some films about whale harpooning and about the first explorers to Antarctica. Dennis has become a true lover of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s adventures and Antarctic feats, and he continues to read books about Shackleton even after we have returned from our trip.

After the marathon we had the opportunity to travel around Antarctica and see many of its wonderful and often hidden coves. We went to various locations such as Neko Harbour, Paradise Bay, Port Lockroy (a British research base), Jougla Point, Deception Island and Whaler’s Bay. Here we were able to see up close and personal the beautiful surroundings of Antarctica and often interact with the wildlife that lives there. The expeditions we took and the lands we did were absolutely phenomenal and ones we will never forget.

Having a small ship was a huge curse for me during the days crossing the Drake Passage, the body of water between Argentina and Antarctica. A small ship meant more rolling and feeling the waves more. Both to and from Argentina we hit storms and rough seas. I learned firsthand that I was NOT born with sea legs. In fact, we are convinced that Dennis holds the sea legs for both of us.

We departed Ushuaia late in the afternoon on March 1. March 2 proved to be my hardest day at sea. I awoke early and took a shower. I laughed as I was in the shower because water was being tossed from the shower all the way across the bathroom and then back again. An hour later we went to breakfast when I really found out I was getting sea sick. I suddenly began to feel very hot, lightheaded and clammy. I asked Dennis to make his way across the room to get me some breakfast from the buffet table, as I didn’t think my legs would hold up through the back and forth motions. He came back with grits and eggs; not the best sea sickness food. I immediately felt terrible and was for the first time thankful for having cabin #313. It was located just two doors down from the dining room. I shot like a rocket for the cabin. Dennis came in to check on me and brought me a lighter meal of fruit and toast.

I spent the rest of the entire day in bed. I had tried taking Dramamine, as well as was wearing my Sea Bands on my wrists. Nothing seemed to overpower the motion of the waves. I again tried to go to lunch, but this only lasted two minutes. I was back in bed with Dennis again serving me bedside. I didn’t even attempt to get up for dinner. Instead I had Dennis bring me the menu, I told him my choices and he graciously served me dinner in bed so I could eat it lying down. He also had the ship’s doctor make a house call to our room at 9:00 pm. Dr. Alex was a saving grace by giving me tablets of Phenergan (a prescription anti-nausea pill), which helped me gather myself back together for the next day at sea.

Once we reached Antarctica, the Ocean Nova’s small size proved to be a blessing. Having a smaller ship meant we could go to some ice-covered places larger ships could not. It also meant we could do more landings. During these landings the ship would anchor and the zodiacs would be lowered into the water from their storage compartments on top of the Ocean Nova. With red lifejackets on would then disembark from an opening in the middle of the ship onto the zodiacs. The zodiacs would then take us to land so we could visit various sights and enjoy exploring Antarctica.

During one of our voyages from one location to another we passed a beautiful sight. We passed another ship called the Europa. It was a tourist ship on a similar cruise as ours; however it was a sailboat! The Europa was originally built in 1911. In 1994 she was fully restored as a barque (a three-mast rigged ship) and now roams the seas of the world in a true seafaring tradition. The Europa was gorgeous to see at full mast. She looked like a ship from Pirates of the Caribbean or from the times of the Boston Tea Party. Dennis was in high heaven. As a lover of sailboats, it was like a dream for him to see a gigantic one glide right by us. The Europa is now his wallpaper on his computer login and he’s already talking about plans to take a sea cruise on the Europa herself.

Pics from Buenos Aires & Ushuaia

Friday, April 11, 2008

Finally...some info on Antarctica!

Sorry for the delay...I know some of you have been anxiously waiting on the tales of Antarctica. Take a deep breath; it's going to be a long novel...

Our Antarctic adventure went from February 26-March 12. We knew visiting the capricious land of Antarctica would bring the unknown and that we would need to be flexible with the changes that were thrown our way. However, we weren’t expecting these changes to come two weeks BEFORE we even left! We initially were going to meet up with the Marathon Tours group in Miami, FL. From here we were scheduled on a group flight with Aerolineas Airlines direct to Buenos Aires. However, on February 11 I received a phone call from a Marathon Tours staff member informing us that the return Aerolineas Airlines flight had been cancelled on March 11 and would not be rescheduled until March 13 (putting us home March 14). This caused big problems as we were expecting visitors (my brother Justin and his wife Shirley) at our home for a mini-vacation during their spring break March 13-18.

We called American Airlines, our carrier from Seattle to Miami, to see what kind of cost fluctuations we would run into for changing dates on our return ticket. The damage would be over $650 PER TICKET! We discussed with the ticketing agent booking the entire flight directly from Seattle to Buenos Aires with American Airlines and catching up with the Marathon Tours group in Argentina. This was possible, sending us on a flight through Chicago and then on to Buenos Aires. We contacted Marathon Tours with the new flight plans and they were able to reimburse us for our Aerolineas Airlines tickets. In the ended up having $150 in ticket changing fees and we were able to return to Washington on March 12 as originally planned.

On February 26 the flight went as planned from Seattle to Chicago. When we got to Chicago we knew we would have approximately 75 minutes to catch our red-eye flight to Buenos Aires. However, when we reached Chicago the departure monitors said our flight was no longer leaving at 8:10pm, but rather 8:30am. Due to mechanical issues with the plan, we were forced to wait 12 hours for the next flight. Fortunately the airlines did put us up in a hotel and gave us some compensation for meals. We were mostly disappointed that this delay meant a loss of time we could have used exploring Buenos Aires.

Finally on February 27 we were on our way to Buenos Aires. Our flight was actually delayed an additional hour due to a frozen water pipe, but we weren’t going to let this dampen our spirits. While we were boarding Dennis had noticed some other passengers seated a few rows in front of us who had on Antarctica Marathon gear. After finding our seats I went forward to say hello to these fellow travelers and let them know we were on the same flight going to the same location. The two passengers turned out to be John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield, two running enthusiasts and authors I had read much about. They have written a handful of motivational and how-to running books, as well as put forth monthly columns for Runner’s World and Health Magazine. I was ecstatic to meet them. I knew they were part of the marathon’s staff and race-day crew and I had brought with me a couple of their books to sign for myself as well as gifts for some friends. We chatted for a few minutes and agreed to meet up at the baggage claim to get taxis from the airport to the hotel where the other marathon group members would be staying.

We finally arrived in Buenos Aires at 11:30pm. After clearing customs and gathering our baggage we took a 45-minute taxi ride to the Marriott Plaza Hotel. It was well after 1:30am at this point and we knew we had an early start in the morning. A group breakfast was scheduled for 7:30am and we had a city-bus tour scheduled for 9:00am. We were glad the tour was on a bus, as we were exhausted from the travels and enjoyed relaxing as we saw the city. Although we got caught in the rain, our favorite location to visit in Buenos Aires was La Boca. This is a colorful neighborhood that has a strong European flavor to it, as it was first settled by Italian immigrants. It is known throughout the sporting world as the home of Boca Juniors, one of South America's top football clubs. Even through the rain we could see the liveliness and goodness of this area of Buenos Aires.

After a late evening group run, Dennis and I went to bed early on February 28 in an attempt to recuperate from our travels and the day’s adventures. February 29 brought adventures of exploring Buenos Aires on foot with two other marathon friends. We walked all over the city and had lunch at the legendary Cafe Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Argentina. We enjoyed shopping in Buenos Aires and were able to buy some beautifully shaped stone penguins made from rodocrosita inca rose, the national stone of Argentina.

That evening we were attending a dinner and tango show at one of Buenos Aires’ top tango dance halls. For this Dennis wanted to get a nicer dress shirt, but one that was suitable for the hot and humid 80 temperatures we were in. We had fun going to a small men’s clothing store and having the two saleswomen fit Dennis with the perfect shirt. It was a neat experience to intermingle with the locals.

The tango show that evening was nothing short of amazing. With a group of seven of us, we were picked up and taken to Senor Tango dance hall. Here we experienced an amazing Argentinean meal with its world-renowned beef as the main course. It was truly the best beef we have ever tasted. After a complete meal we were delighted to watch a two hour tango show. It was one of the most entertaining and high-adrenaline live shows we had ever been to. The two hours went so fast! It had a fantastic finale commemorating the beloved Evita and left our spirits soaring.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was well past midnight. We knew we would have a very early wake-up call, as there was a 3:00am breakfast and 3:30am departure for the airport to take a domestic flight to Ushuaia (YOU-SH-WHY-UH), where we would catch our ship to Antarctica. Anticipating the late night, Dennis and I had planned to pull an all-nighter. We knew attending the tango show would mean a late night, so we decided to stay up upon our return and pack. We would then shower and go down to breakfast and catch up on some of our sleep on the three-hour flight to Ushuaia.

Once again we were caught in some of the unforeseeable changes of this trip. Shortly after we began packing the power in the hotel went off. We stuck our heads out the windows and it actually appeared that the whole city was out of power! It was an eerie feeling. We began to think of things we may have that could provide us with a source of light. That night we ended up packing our bags by the dim light of our cell phones and Game Boys. It ended up being a really comical experience. On about three different occasions the power returned temporarily and we scrambled to look for items in various places that were hard to see with a dim light. Just as we were packing the last items, the power came back on for good. We quickly showered and headed down to the dining hall (taking the stairs, not the elevator). My biggest concern was that other group members may have been relying on the hotel’s alarm clock (which had obviously been turned off) and would not wake up in time for the flight. It was amazing that every single group member on this early flight made it on time for the 3:30am departure. What an experience!

Here are some other random yet interesting things we learned about life in Buenos Aires:
• The official currency in Argentina is the peso, although almost everywhere we went accepted the American dollar. The symbol for the peso is just as the American dollar: $. Dennis and I did not realize this at first and thought everything was extremely overpriced, as we were assuming the prices listed were in dollars. How naïve we were! We finally figured this out on the last day when we purchased some items at a convenience store with dollars and were given change in pesos. We did the calculations and figured out our mistake and misinterpretation.

• Gas is cheaper in Argentina than in Europe. Converting liters to gallons as well as pesos to dollars, we determined that we still have it good here in the USA. Although we are now paying about $3.50/gallon for gas here in the US, Argentineans are paying a slightly higher price of approximately $4.30/gallon. However, this is still pretty low compared to the gas prices we saw while living in Italy, which were averaging about $6.00/gallon when we left in October 2007.

• There is no official recycling program in Buenos Aires. However, you can often see people rummaging around in the trash for empty plastic bottles or newspaper and other paper sources, particularly at night. Many locals use trash rummaging as a source of revenue and turn in such goods to recycling plants where they are compensated for what they bring in. However, these diggers aren’t exactly doing this with the environment in mind. They often rip through bags and throw unwanted items aside, leaving some streets lined with trash that has been thrown out of dumpsters.

• Local young adults can get a college education at the University of Buenos Aires AT NO CHARGE under the stipulation that they keep their grades up. Another local option for a higher education but at a cost is the ‘Universidad Catolica Argentina’ or the Catholic University of Argentina.

On March 1 we took the early morning flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Ushuaia is at the very tip of Argentina and is the southern-most city in the world. Thus it is called “Fin del Mundo” – the end of the world. Once arriving at Ushuaia’s tiny airport we were transported by bus to the heart of this small city. We had about 5 hours to explore the city before boarding the ship for our Antarctic departure.

Although we were exhausted from not going to bed the night before, Dennis and I spent these 5 hours touring the town, visiting its many shops and eating some amazing seafood. We ate at a restaurant called Volver. It had by far the most amazing crab soup we had ever tasted. It was a great way to officially start our sea-bound trip.

Ushuaia was also the city we returned to on March 11. On this return trip we had just 3 hours to finish any last minute shopping and visit any more locations in the city. We were able to visit the Tourism Office and get a certificate for visiting the southern-most city, as well as get our passports stamped. We were also able to relax at a local café where Dennis enjoyed a cappuccino and I had the yummiest (and cheapest) banana milkshake I’ve ever had.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Finally Growing Up To Be Bloggers...

Hi Everyone! With all the adventures Dennis and I have been able to have traveling the world, we thought the time was long overdue for us to create a blog spot. Especially since we live so far away from our closest family and friends, we hope this new blog page will give you an update of our lives and a sense of the wonderful trips we've been able to take. Having been married almost four years now, we've been able to visit a huge majority of Europe, see the wilds of Africa and even be insane enough to jump into the cold waters of Antarctica. Intrigued? Want to hear more? Let the blogging begin.