We were on a minibus recently, being heartily gouged by the Argentines (as usual), this time for a short transfer between Ushuaia and the local national park (14km on good roads? One whole hour and $20 each please! Oh, and Las Malvinas belong to them, no really). Anyway, we got chatting with an English couple, and the conversation turned to Antarctica cruises. Had they been on one? The answer came back that they were “not cruise people”. It was an answer we understood – not only are the trips pretty pricey, but cruises generally have an association of retired ladies and gentlemen in double breasted blazers drinking slightly too many pink gins at lunchtime. The occasional bingo night maybe? Perhaps a Perry Como-themed dining extravaganza or two, followed by slightly moth-eaten tuxedos at the captain’s table? Was this how life on board a cruise ship was going to be?
Our boat had two main types of people on board. About two thirds were older or retired couples who had planned the trip a good year or so in advance. And these were not the Florida-grotty tour group types we had come across elsewhere – for the most part they were extremely well travelled, reasonably well heeled, fairly open to new experiences and with a good suite of stories to liven up dinner time. There was a faintly crazy Vietnam vet and his lovely wife (who had been frostbitten climbing Aconcagua the year before and who we ran into carrying HUGE rucksacks in the Torres del Paine a week later), a happily retired Texan couple who had been dating for 20 years and were on board to celebrate her 65th birthday (complete with singing Costa Rican waiters, the inevitable guitar and the perhaps less inevitable plastic tray rhythm section). A solo Aussie who had happily attended his only son’s wedding a week before and was on board to celebrate a quasi-honeymoon of his own. A cast of characters, if you will.
And then there were the young ‘uns. Oh yes, the young ‘uns. We were made pretty darn drowsy by our super-strength sea sickness pills (honest, guv’nor) and so didn’t spend too much time each evening laying into the open bar. However, a good third of the passengers were young travelers who had booked at the last minute, and were determined to get their money’s worth. Oh yes.
So, Lucy and I would retire to bed pretty soon after dinner each day, tired out by the early starts, the multiple extraordinary Antarctic landings; the excellent lectures throughout the day on glaciology, whales, bird life and rugged-beardy-explorer history; a hearty and usually pretty good three course dinner; and a cheeky beer while watching the sun go down. Hey – you’re in Antarctica, what is the point of being hungover? In fact, we were so well behaved that we didn’t actually pick up on the gossip until the last night of the trip, when I couldn’t resist the lure of a dodgy sound system and even dodgier pop music and decided to give my sea legs a damn good boogie. Well…
…it turns out that the young crowd had spent most of the trip drinking vast quantities of free beer, dancing frenetically while the ship heaved on the swell and hooking up with each other. And they had clearly been watching too much bad American television – one particular faintly balding stud had apparently spent most of the trip in bed with not one, but two of the woo girls on board. And he claimed to have found himself a third on an off night. One even went swimming in the sea naked. We were utterly woebegoggled. I mean, Lucy and I like a good party as much as the next man (and the next two ladies), but seriously?
Guys, we’re getting old. Perhaps it’s even time to move back to London and settle down?