Given I am a little over the age of 6, it has been a long time since I have woken up on Christmas Day truly excited. But this year I was literally hopping around the room as at 15.00 on Christmas Day we were going to board the Ocean Atlantic, the ship which was to be our home for the next 21 days and which would take us to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and, of course, to Antarctica and the Antarctic Circle. Wowee.
We’d managed to get a discounted last minute deal on a Chinese chartered ship which meant that of the 199 passengers on board, only 18 of us were international “walk ups” with 92% of the Chinese passengers comprising one large tour group headed up by the travel agent, Mr Li.
However we were not the only non-Chinese on board. In fact it was one of our most international experiences to date. The ship itself was Danish with a captain who was Russian heading up a mixed crew which included Central Americans and Eastern Europeans. The catering staff included Chinese and Indonesians and the hotel staff included Jamaicans and Filipinos (and many other nationalities too), all communicating in English of course.
Finally there were the 22 members of the Albatros expedition team headed up by Sam from Quebec with his team comprising of Europeans, Americans and Australians plus 5 or 6 all important Chinese or Taiwanese interpreters (these latter ones somewhat controversially being introduced to the passengers as being from “Taiwan, China”, to rapturous applause). The interpreters had the unenviable task of translating quite technical lectures on geology, geography, history and wildlife etc plus safety briefings from English into Mandarin. While we had been a little apprehensive about joining a Chinese charter, it actually worked in many ways to our advantage as without the language barrier, we had more opportunity to hang out with the expedition team and we also got to hear their lectures first hand so to speak. For example it seemed that many of our British ornithologist’s humorous anecdotes were somewhat lost in translation judging by the audience’s reactions.
Just the odd iceberg or two floating past our port-hole (as they do...!)
And although we were in the lowest tier of cabin, our room was perfect and one of our best hotels on the trip to date with even an unnecessary evening turn down service and nightly chocolates (let’s just say that’s not something you typically get in hostels no matter how clean they may be!). We had a twin outside cabin with a porthole but to be honest we didn’t really spend much time in our room and were more commonly found in one of the various lounges, on deck or in the dining room (not so much in the gym or sauna it has to be said). At 139m long, the ship was spacious enough to accommodate everyone in the public areas and did not feel over crowded.
Peter and I had previously discussed whether we would ever choose a cruise for a holiday in less remote regions, say in the Baltic, the attraction being you don’t have to pack and repack continually yet you still get to move around and see different places. However, we had always expressed concern that we might over eat and not be able to exercise appropriate self-constraint. Well I can confirm that 3 weeks on board the Ocean Atlantic certainly put that theory to the test and we failed completely, falling pretty much at the first hurdle with dinner on Day 1. What with buffet style breakfasts, lunches and dinners serving a wide and ever changing array of fresh and delicious dishes (both Chinese and Western style cuisine) not forgetting afternoon tea with its sandwiches, cakes and scones, essentially we completely pigged out. Ok it was Christmas when we got on the ship and we could perhaps cut ourselves some slack but by January 15th we had long run out of decent excuses!
Pork featured quite heavily on the menu (evidence of the Chinese influence)
And that’s even before we admit to putting our hand in the freshly baked homemade bottomless cookie jar as well, perhaps more than once a day. It is fair to say that our clothes felt a little tighter as the days went on (especially on less interesting sea days when any semblance of self-discipline disappeared almost entirely). We half joked that in order to be able to get us off the ship, the crew would have to lower its stern door (which it would have used when it had been a roll on roll off military vehicle ship in a previous life). Fortunately it didn’t quite come to that but it was a close shave!
L: The afternoon tea spread; R: we were treated to barbecues outside in both South Georgia and Antarctica when we had incredible weather