March 8th – Quark Expeditions, and we set sail!

The excitement levels are high! An early morning charter flight to Ushuaia, you have the whole day to arrive and board the ship. (And do not forget to put on your motion sickness patch at this point, it needs to be 12 hours before sailing). This is the beginning of ‘Antarctic explorer – discovering the 7th Continent’:

Before boarding onto our new home, we were once again tested for our health and sent up the gang way to join our fellow sailors and settle into our cabins. Quark staff were very welcoming and guided us through the ship to make us feel at home. They put on an incredible afternoon tea ‘spread’ in the Polaris lounge for arrivals which we later learn is part of the daily schedule.

Tonight, we set sail at 18:30 and leave the port of Ushuaia, a beautiful port to leave as we watch the surrounding mountains disappear into the distance and start our adventure!

Tonight, we sit down to a wonderful dinner and are welcomed on to the ship with open arms.  Afterward we meet in the Nautilus lounge and are introduced to the Expedition Team and head crew. Presentations start and we learn about the schedule for each day. Today is about meeting the staff, other sailors and getting to know your surrounding.

March 7 – Tango Time (Rojo)

Today I moved into the beautiful Hotel Emperador and started my ‘Quark Expeditions’ experience. Excellent staff and services at this lovely hotel. Today we would meet and ‘check in’ with Quark before taking our charter flight to Ushuaia the next day. While Covid 19 was something that the world was aware of, there were no cases in Argentina at the time.  Precautions were taken and each of us filled out a health form and had our temperatures taken.  I was set to start my Expedition!  Until then, it was time to check out the local community of ‘La Boca’ and by evening one of the best Tango shows in Buenos Aires: ‘Rojo Tango’.

La Boca is a working-class area with a cluster of attractions near the Riachuelo River. Steakhouses and street artists surround Caminito, a narrow alley flanked by brightly painted zinc shacks that evoke the district’s early immigrant days. A cauldron of noise on match days, La Bombonera is the home ground of Boca Juniors soccer team. Modern art museum Fundación Proa has temporary exhibits and views of the old docks.

Rojo Tango, a more cabaret style show, was the perfect way to spend an evening in Buenos Aires. Take a stroll along the beautiful waterways of the elegant Puerto Madero before making your way to the spectacular Faena Hotel. This property is a favourite of mine and absolutely takes your breath away. Host to Rojo Tango, as soon as you walk into the long hallway with a red rug and black horsehair bench, you know you’ve entered Faena’s fantastical world. From the Library Lounge, with its tufted leather sofas and crystal candelabras to the white-and-red Bistro Sur, with unicorn heads adorning the walls, the hotel’s restaurants and bars take theatrical design to new heights. Oh how I loved this property. Stay there or just visit. A glass of wine in the Piano bar is enough on its own for those who do not have the time to indulge 😊

March 6 – Arriving in Buenos Aires

YYC to Toronto via Santiago (Chile) for a quick stop I was now only hours from Argentina. As I flew over the Andes, I couldn’t stop thinking how very different they are to our own Rockies. Dry, baron and a rainbow of earthy colours.

On arrival into Buenos Aires I decided to start my adventure with a trip down memory lane.  We all have memories of being young and vibrant backpackers once upon a time.  This experience grows us and makes us into the people we are today. So I decided to spend my first night in the hostel I once loved so many years ago.  It was a humbling start to my adventure and had not changed one little bit….Apart from the fact their was no longer a computer room or line up to send an email Haha

All freshened up now and  it was time to find Luis’s home. A wonderful steakhouse experience in the home of a local Argentine. Always on the hunt for a unique experience to share…this is not your average steak experience. While it’s no secret what Argentine beef is worth around the world, visitors to Buenos Aires don’t always get the chance to experience an Argentine asado and its many rituals and traditions. Here at ‘Steaks by Luis’, they not only focus on high quality cuts grilled to perfection but also the entire experience. You participate in a typical Argentine asado and feel like you’re at Luis’ home. All while sitting around a big family table, and joining Luis alongside the grill or just kicking back, relaxing and enjoying the 5 course meal and wine  pairing event.

March 5 – Reflection

This is where the journey truly begins 😊  I was dropped off at YYC airport with time to spare.  I found a cozy little spot to watch the planes fly in with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Here is where I reflect and fathom where in the world I was actually headed…… 14 years ago I almost jumped on a ship to Antarctica, now the dream is really coming alive, the emotions are high and feelings of excitement all over my body!

Civilized Adventures – Building forests in Madagascar

They are a group of 41 women, belonging to a cooperative called Tontolo Maitso in a small, Madagascar community in Ankarafantsika National Park, in the NW of the country. The group of women have been hard at work, cultivating the seedlings. Every day, members of the group tend to the plants. They water them, and check to ensure there is sufficient light, and enough space to grow. The seedlings look green and lush now—healthy—and it’s no wonder: the women in the cooperative are experts, having worked on this project for the past year. Soon, the women know, these plants will be ready for transport.

This is not your ordinary gardening project. These seedlings consist of trees, many that are native to Madagascar, which will provide habitat to the unique wildlife in the country, the endangered lemurs and birds only found in Madagascar and nowhere else on Earth. The women are working as part of a forest regeneration project run by Planet Madagascar, a Canadian non-profit organization. Thanks to generous support from Civilized Adventures, Planet Madagascar and the women’s cooperative have grown 10,000 new seedlings this past year. Once transported and replanted, 6,000 of the trees will become part of a self-sustaining 75-hectare corridor of forest.

The corridor connects two forest fragments where lemurs and other endangered species are known to range. By connecting the fragments, the amount of habitat that is available for the wildlife to range will increase.

Madagascar is a global conservation priority because it has lost a great deal of forest cover—approximately 44% between 1953 and 2014—and, as a result, the wildlife that relies on these forests are highly endangered. Researchers estimate that 95% of lemurs are threatened with extinction, making them the most endangered group of animals on the planet. It is crucial to address habitat loss and fragmentation. But the problem is complex. People in Madagascar are some of the poorest in the world, living on less than two dollars a day in many places. Habitat loss in the country is related to small-scale farming, charcoal production, and cattle grazing. It is therefore critical to consider the needs of the people and ensure that local members of the community feel ownership over the project. That’s why when Civilized Adventures donated the 10,000 trees, they made sure that while 6,000 seedlings would be planted in the corridor, the remaining 4,000 trees would be planted around the community to the benefit of the people.

“This is a long-term project, but we are making exciting progress toward our goal,” says Travis Steffens, Executive Director of Planet Madagascar. “The 10,000 trees donated by Civilized Adventures will make a huge impact, not just for the lemurs but also for the people living in this region.”

 

Coffee of Colombia

While in Colombia Connor enjoyed a coffee tour which he says “was amazing! It’s located on Los Santos which is a table top in Colombia. It is based around a 130 year old “home” that has 6 rooms to sleep with a very colonial feel.

We continued on a plantation tour where they grow the top 10 coffee in the world, across 320 acres, all organic and pesticide free. It was really interesting to see shade coffee, which is grown under the cover of shade, and the bird life was quite extraordinary, with dozens of species coming up to eat right beside you as you travel through the plantation.

A few other highlights so far have been the “Chicamocha canyon” which is currently being looked at by UNESCO. With a maximum depth of 2,000 metres, an area of 108,000 hectares  and a length of 227 kilometres it is the second deepest canyon in the world. We also went mountain biking and white water rafting through the canyon, which was fantastic!

Besides that the guides have been absolutely spectacular and the food, amazing”!