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Travels With My Father - An Antarctica Adventure

“What percentage of the world’s population do you think gets to see this?”  dad asks while standing on deck surrounded by Antarctica and its snow covered pea...

by Sherry Ott Posted on 30 January 2013

Aboard the M/S Expedition

“What percentage of the world’s population do you think gets to see this?”  dad asks while standing on deck surrounded by Antarctica and its snow covered peaks and icebergs.

“I don’t know dad – a very small percentage I guess.” I reply.

After a slight pause – he says ” They should all see it.”

It was one of those many moments on this trip that I could tell we were both on the same wavelength – awe and thankfulness flowed through me providing an inner warmth that sunny day on the top deck of the MS Expedition. The jaw dropping beauty that surrounded us, the complete quiet, the pristine mirror like waters, and the shades of blue were about too much for my brain and heart to take in and process. And each of these feelings were intensified by the sheer fact that I was here in this pristine part of the world with my dad.

My dad and I.

I had no idea what this trip would hold for my father and I – it had been 3 years since we had taken on such a journey. I had a good understanding of how my I had changed over 3 years time, but I wasn’t sure how dad had changed physically. Three years can bring lots of changes in your 70’s. However the only main thing I noticed is that I had to repeat things more and I could tease him about losing his hearing. Or maybe I was just losing my patience – who knows.

I really am not fond of getting older – but there is one benefit about aging – my relationship with my family gets stronger. I don’t think I ever really related to my dad when I was younger – he was just someone I had to mind and do what I was told – my authority figure. And never EVER did I want to cross him or disappoint him – that would be playing with fire. But now 24 years after I moved out of my family’s house our relationship has evolved and changed.

And having the opportunity to show my father, who is an explorer at heart, different parts of the world is a gift that not many people get. Just like I’m obsessed with wanting to explore every corner of this earth and experience new things, I want the ones who I love to do the same. It’s one of the hardest things about being a solo traveler, experiencing these amazing things alone. My need to share it with someone is what got me into blogging. But when I can share it with someone who has shaped my life it’s infinitely better.

As we left the US my father had to get his travel legs underneath him again. The US makes you soft – it’s easy because it’s what we know. For any adult change is hard – but when you are 76 I think that change must be infinitely harder. I had to slow down my travel pace quite a bit in airports and stop and try to explain things and point things out. I am used to making split second decisions and not having to consult anyone, but now I had to remember that my father was still my father – I couldn’t simply tell him what to do – I needed to explain things and make him a part of the process. We made it through 3 flights to Buenos Aires with no real complications except some really sorry meals on United. However we were both happy that we had built some extra days of travel in before the cruise since we simply needed time to get acclimated and catch up on sleep after such a long journey.

Dinner with dad in Buenos Aires.

In Buenos Aires I found myself pointing out the many street obstacles – as we familiarized ourself with the city by walking around neighborhoods, attending tango shows, visiting some outdoor markets, eating steak dinners, and walking through the cemetery in the blazing heat. I was happy to be traveling with a 76 year old – they don’t mind just sitting around and enjoying down time – which is much more in alignment with my travel style these days.

One of my favorite things about traveling with my father is that his otherwise introverted demeanor that he has at home in South Dakota seems to disappear when on the road. I listened as he told stories of trips to Europe, work trips to South America, and his days in the army in Germany which I only seem to hear when I’m traveling with him. It’s as if a flip is switched in his mind when we travel that makes him think about his past travels.

After a quick trip up to Iguazu to see the falls we finally started our journey further south to Ushuaia. Dad now has his travel mojo going as he glided through the domestic airport in Buenos Aires much smoother than a few days prior. As we being the landing in Ushuaia dad peers out the airplane window and jabs me to ‘look’. He points to the snow covered peaks and smiles. Once again I am reminded that I am my father’s daughter – we both get ridiculously excited by mountains and peaks. As we deboard the plane in Ushuaia dad says, “now the real adventure begins.” And I nod wondering what the past week was to him! But clearly we are and have been both focused on Antarctica – and we are both excited to get moving further south.

Happy traveller

My dad loves ships, and when he hears there’s an open bridge policy on the MS Expedition, I can tell that we will be making a trip up there soon to meet the captain, crew, and get the best view. We settle into ship life and dad and I meet new groups of people at each dinner/lunch/breakfast . People seemed surprised that we would travel together. In fact surprisingly I had a few people come up to me at times and say how cool it was that I was traveling with my dad. “You must really get along well. I could never do that with my dad.” they would comment.  Spending 3 weeks with my dad never really seemed daunting to me. I knew that we’d be fine and more than ever travel has taught me that family really is the most important thing in life.

The mainly Philippine crew starting referring to my father as simply “Dad” – I would walk into the lounge and the waiter or bartender would ask, “Where’s Dad?” I would tell them that he was out on deck and coming to join me shortly. My dad seemed to be happiest outside so we spent a good deal of time out there enjoying the landscape, birds, and the crazy weather. We were both perched out there once we came out of the Drake passage and had our first glimpse of land.

He also seemed to make friends with all of the expedition staff who knew him by first name and took great care of him when I was out kayaking and my dad was left to do the landing by himself.  We both loved the landings – we were both in awe to see our first penguins and seals. Dad was so amused by the penguin personalities – he was pretty happy just finding a place to sit and watch them as I ran around and took photos.

Father and daughter explore the 7th continent.

The day we finally had the opportunity to take our first steps on the continent of Antarctica we were both excited. We stopped at the Chilean station, Gabriel Gonzalez Videla,our first landing on the continent. Dad and I excitedly snapped pictures to record our 7th continent. We explored the island marveling at the Gentoo penguin colonies and then to my surprise my father who is not one for fanfare or shopping was all excited to purchase a bottle of wine, get our passports stamped, and purchase a souvenir hat.

That afternoon the weather cleared up and provided us with spectacular blue skies as we cruised through the Andvord Bay. My dad and I went to the top deck to simply watch in awe as we slowly passed some of the most spectacular landscapes either of us had ever seen in our lives. We could barely find words for what we were seeing. We talked about how these views were different than Nepal. This was even more remote – there were no villages or locals. The mountains were at sea level and stood out with their charcoal colored jagged peaks dusted in snow. And the icebergs were something that neither one of us had ever seen before. There was so much to take in and see that neither one of us wanted to go inside.

Dad makes some new friends.

We settled into a nice rhythm on the ship. We’d go to lectures, do the landings, my dad would read and I would edit photos. We’d go down to the Polar Bear Lounge in the evenings to have beer, play cards, socialize, listen to music, and watch the sun slip beneath the horizon but never really leave us. And even though we really didn’t get much sleep on the cruise thanks to all of the excitement of being there – we always woke up happy and excited for the next day.

I realize that having healthy parents that you get along with is a true gift that I’ve been given and I want to take advantage of that for as long as I can. I remember when I was much younger my parents would take my grandparents on train trips and vacations so maybe I grew up just assuming that this is something all kids should do – give experiences back to their parents. But what I love most about my dad is his desire to take on the new and exotic. I come up with crazy ideas and he’s willing to do them with me. A side of him I never really witnessed too often when he was working at Caterpillar in the world of logical engines and processes.

I can only hope that he continues to say yes to me and my adventures well into his 80’s.

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