If my travel life can be cleaved neatly in half, this is the month where it should be done. Before Antarctica. After Antarctica. The most important, moving, and beautiful trip of my life.
Half the month was spent on board the Ocean Diamond, with seven days of exploring Antarctica and two days crossing the Drake Passage each way. I added a full extra day in Ushuaia and once getting back to New York, spent time exploring the other towns where I once lived.
Where I’ve Been
Stonington Island, Crystal Sound, Yalour Islands, Port Charcot, Lemaire Channel, Cuverville Island, Paradise Harbour, Danco Island, Wilhelmina Bay, Graham Passage, Cierva Cove, and Deception Island, Antarctica
New York, New York, USA
Fairfield, CT, USA
Reading and Melrose, Massachusetts, USA
Antarctica, all of it, every minute of it.
Being humbled by Antarctica. This place was nothing short of life-changing. I went into it in-depth in this post and it remains one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever done.
Not just kayaking, but being a kayaker in Antarctica. Kayaking was amazing — beautiful, peaceful, and it felt like you were alone in the world. But beyond that, the kayakers were a separate group on the boat in Antarctica — it really felt like we were the coolest people on board.
Doing the Polar Plunge! I jumped into 32F/0C water, south of the Antarctic Circle at Stonington Island. I was terrified at first but it was exhilarating! And yes, the jump is on film and there’s an iceberg in the background to prove it!
Meeting so many interesting people in Antarctica. There really was an interesting collection of people on board, of all ages, across the world. I hope to see them again in the future.
Lucking out on the Drake Passage. The most common question I’ve gotten from Antarctica vets is, “How was the Drake?” And honestly, we really lucked out. The Drake Passage is home to some of the roughest seas in the world and some of my blogger friends spent their crossings throwing up. It was choppy on the way down but not nearly as bad as it could have been; on the way back, the captain decided to leave half a day early to avoid storms and it was only a little bit worse.
Landing in Ushuaia. Probably the most beautiful landing I’ve ever had — such incredible jagged mountains. If you’re flying to Ushuaia, try to get a seat on the right!
A beautiful day in Tierra del Fuego. I arrived in Ushuaia a day early, lucked out with the weather and got to explore a stunning Tierra del Fuego National Park in sunshine. I capped it off perfectly with an interesting Patagonian tasting menu at Kalma Resto.
Lots of fun activities in NYC. Hanging out in a salt cave, a Japanese jazz bar, walks through Central Park, seeing all my friends, even my first-ever cupping session as part of my therapy for an injury. Oh, and the Stormy Daniels on 60 Minutes viewing party at my local bar was fun. (Stormy: “I viewed it as a transaction.” Loud Southern gay dude: “As it SHOULD be!”)
Marching for sensible gun laws in the March for Our Lives in New York. I was honored to take part in this protest, nearly 20 years after I first marched for gun control one year after Columbine. And I remain deeply hopeful that this time momentum is on the side of sanity. Whoever controls the narrative controls everything, and we’ve never controlled the narrative like this before.
An impromptu trip to Connecticut for pizza. Turns out Frank Pepe’s is worth the hype — and somehow I went to college nearby for four years without ever going there.
A trip home — and a baby shower! A dear friend from home was showered with love as she prepares to welcome her baby girl later this spring.
Keeping one of my big resolutions for 2018: no more buses home to Boston. The bus is the cheapest and most convenient way to get from New York to Boston, but it’s miserable and uncomfortable, especially if there’s traffic, and my back hurts for days after. (Getting old is fun.) After last Christmas, I decided to prioritize my comfort and start taking the train instead. It costs around 3-5 times as much as the bus, but you can get lower rates in advance and it’s a million times more pleasant.
Finally, this month I joined the Society of American Travel Writers. One of the toughest dilemmas in the travel blogging industry is how to quantify which bloggers have the most value. Many organizations have tried; nobody has succeeded. The SATW is a prestigious organization and it’s hard for most bloggers to meet their requirements, so many elite bloggers are joining this year. Also, they’re having a conference in Barbados in September…
I had a bad reaction to the scopolamine patch in Antarctica. After several days on the seasickness patch, my vision blurred so badly that I couldn’t read anything unless it was held far from my face. This was the worst — it was not only scary but I couldn’t see what my camera was focused on.
I met with the ship’s doctor and she told me it was a common side effect of the patch and to take it off. The worst part was that I chose to sit out a kayaking session…and it was THE ONE DAY THE SUN CAME OUT. And it turned out to be the final day of kayaking too, sadly. That’s Antarctica for you! Say yes to everything, even when you can’t see straight, or you’ll regret it.
I was reminded how much I dislike Argentine food. If you take away steak and tasting menus or exceptional fare, the majority of what remains is BREAD and PIZZA and PASTA and DULCE DE LECHE. If you’re not spending a lot of money, you’re going to eat a lot of crappy sandwiches and/or sugary desserts when all you want is a decent salad or a piece of fruit.
Oh, and I got stuck in my building’s elevator. It only lasted ten minutes, but those ten minutes were SUPER FUN!
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Antarctica and the Traveler’s Ego — How Antarctica wiped my ego clean.
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Splurging on the Right Things in Tokyo — My second trip to Tokyo cemented it as one of my favorite cities in the world.
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
When I saw there were stamps for El Fin del Mundo in Tierra del Fuego National Park, I figured I could get one. I have a souvenir stamp from Liechtenstein and it looks like a normal stamp. Well, this stamp turned out to be HUGE, taking up the whole page! Whoops! Good thing it’s time to renew! For more updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
What I Listened To This Month
One of my favorite albums of the century is Maxwell’s BLACKsummersnight from 2009. At the time he said that his next albums would be titled blackSUMMERSnight and blacksummersNIGHT. I worked in search engine marketing at the time and I remember thinking, “Those are going to be the hardest albums to differentiate in Google since the Prince symbol.” I assumed he would change his mind, but blackSUMMERSnight came out in 2016 and I finally started listening to it, and despite the hard-to-convince-Alexa-to-play-it title, it’s AWESOME.
The song “1990x” is my current obsession. Well worth a listen if you ever grinded to Maxwell from the 90s through today.
What I Watched This Month
Netflix has been so good this month! Ugly Delicious is a new favorite. It’s a show about food starring David Chang, the chef behind the Momofuku empire and one of the most buzzworthy young chefs of recent years. This is very much a show of the times — it feels local and familiar and a bit Instagrammy, but not gimmicky. It’s a reminder of how food-focused consumers have become in the last decade. Watching this, I feel like I would be friends with David Chang and all his chef friends. Give it a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.
What I Read This Month
I’m continuing with my effort to read authors from different countries — I think instead of my original goal of 12 for 2018 I’ll aim for 25 or so. This month I added authors from North Korea and Myanmar.
Best of the month: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (2017) — I LOVE when you fall for characters when you read books, and Cyril Avery is one of my favorite characters of the past few years. This novel tells his life story, from a child growing up adopted to distant, eccentric parents; hiding his sexuality in conservative Dublin as an adolescent and young adult; escaping and building a fulfilling life abroad; and finally, his return home. Book of the Month members rated this book the #1 read of 2017 and I can see why.
At 592 pages, this was the biggest unread book on my shelf, so I decided it would be my one real book I’d bring to Antarctica. I started it on the flight to Buenos Aires and finished before I even got on the ship. No joke. It was that good.
When you think of countries that are hostile to LGBT people, you don’t think of Ireland — but in a country so embedded with Catholicism, the slightest hint that you were gay was enough to be excommunicated by everyone you knew. It would make anyone crazy. Cyril had a lot of highs and lows over the course of his life, and I loved standing with him every step of the way as he righted his wrongs and became the man he never thought would be possible. Great ending, too.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (2016) — This book has been a major hit, and I knew I wanted to read it on a boat, so it became my Antarctica read. Lo Blacklock is a travel writer on her very first press trip aboard a luxury vessel off the coast of Norway. Then a woman on board goes missing and she suspects she’s been murdered. It’s a fast-paced thriller as Lo tries to figure out who did it before it’s too late.
I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would, but I see why it was a hit. One of the curses of frequent travel is that you notice mistakes in books and movies. This vessel is supposedly hardcore Scandinavian, from its look and style to the names of the staterooms — but if that were the case, the chandelier would not be made of ornate crystal (Scandinavian design is very clean) and there wouldn’t have been rooms named after Finns (Finland is Nordic but not Scandinavian).
Beyond that, I wasn’t crazy about Lo as a character and it irritated me to no end that she was on her first press trip ever and so nervous to do it right — yet she spent the whole time drinking, wandering, and taking zero notes whatsoever. Way to give us a good name, Lo.
Under the Same Sky by Joseph Kim (2015) — Joseph Kim grew up in North Korea during the Great Famine of the 1990s. This memoir shares how he survived near-starvation for several years, outlived his father, saw his sister sold into bride-slavery, was abandoned by his mother, begged and stole for survival, was held capture in a prison for children, and ultimately made the escape into China and, eventually, America.
I knew North Korea had a famine, but I had no idea just how long it lasted. This book illustrates what it’s like to starve for years on end. To work so hard for every single meal — it seems unsurvivable. And yet so many people did survive it. I’ve read a few books about North Korea before, but never by a North Korean who escaped. It’s a devastating book on so many levels and I highly recommend it, along with Suki Kim’s fascinating Without You, There Is No Us, for understanding North Korea today.
The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather (2011) — After losing her job and marriage in the same week, food journalist Robin Mather needed to find a way to survive on little money as she put her life back together. She moved to a cottage on a lake in rural Michigan and decided to focus on eating local food — and while she initially did for financial regions (eating very well on $40 per week), she realized how much joy this lifestyle brought her.
Two of my guilty pleasures are memoirs about city women who move to the country and memoirs about eating locally, so this was a great choice! She went into great detail about how to source local food, the ambiguities of eating ethically, and the variations within the seasons. The book is filled with lots of recipes as well. My one complaint is one lots of other readers had: she didn’t talk whatsoever about how it felt to lose her marriage and her job, and it seemed odd to completely omit those things from a memoir. Otherwise, I very much enjoyed reading about the food. Oh, and if what she writes here is accurate, her parrot is creepily intelligent. If you’re into books about local eating, one of my all-time favorite memoirs is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi (2008) — It’s the time of the Taungbyon Festival in northern Myanmar, not far from Mandalay. Daisy Bond is a ladyboy in his fifties (I’m using male pronouns because the book does) who performs as a natkadaw — the wife of a nat, or spirit. The natkadaw is possessed by the spirit and performs at the festival for money. Daisy has a boyfriend, a twenty-something boy, Min Min, whom he essentially purchased from his mother when he was a teenager. But after years together, Min Min falls in love with a girl and decides to leave Daisy.
What I most loved about this book is how you feel immersed in the festival. Yi paints so many colorful details around — the natkadaws evoking the spirits, people young and old diving for money, the backstage antics and rivalries. And the discussion of the gay scene in Myanmar was fascinating. My only complaint would be that the translation leaves a lot to be desired. It’s choppy and uneven. And while song lyrics often fill the pages, I think they would have had more power if the translator hadn’t tried to make them rhyme. Even so, this gave me my first look into Burmese literature and I really enjoyed it.
Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (2016) — In the last years of Obama’s presidency, before Trump was elected, Hochschild wanted to profile the white working class people who made up the Tea Party. A liberal journalist from Berkeley, California, she focused on the area around Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana. This part of Louisiana is being destroyed by the petrochemical industry, and Louisiana is often in the bottom five states for education and healthcare, yet so many of the residents vote against their interests again and again. Why is this happening? This book tries to explain.
I started this book years ago and I abandoned it because it made me so angry. Residents would be heartbroken seeing their family’s homes become unlivable, land strewn with sinkholes, lakes filled with poisonous fish, bridges on the verge of collapse, and they had the power to stop it, yet they would vote based on a single criterion: does this candidate hate abortion as much as I do? I’m glad I picked it up again, though, working through an hour at a time at my nail appointments. The last part of the book is most interesting, profiling several individuals in-depth.
I read this book to understand the mindset behind people voting far-right. This book didn’t just show me what people believe, but it went into all the factors that influenced those beliefs. Additionally, it made me realize yet another privileged position I hold: by living in a blue state, I get to enjoy all the products made by the American petrochemical industry but don’t have to deal with the resulting damage to my local environment, like the people of southwest Louisiana do.
Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry (2015) — This is the single most comprehensive collection of Maya Angelou’s poetry. Everything is here, from Still I Rise, which gained a recent resurgence with the women’s marches, to On the Pulse of Morning, written for Bill Clinton’s inauguration, to her complete collections about growing up black in Arkansas like Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Diiie. Her poetry is about femininity, spirituality, vulnerability, social justice. Her earlier poems are jaunty with a sense of humor; her later, more serious poems have a more disjointed and somber sound. If you’re a poetry fan in the least, you should have this one in your collection.
My favorite new lines, from her poem On Working White Liberals:
This rocky road is not paved for us,
So, I’ll believe in Liberals’ aid for us
When I see a white man load a Black man’s gun.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017) — Eleanor Oliphant is thirty years old, socially awkward, and somewhat reclusive, living in Glasgow, Scotland. She has no friends and only barely speaks to coworkers. She spends her weekends drinking vodka. And she has a mysterious past trauma that necessitates a social worker’s visits. But when she and a coworker come across an elderly man in medical distress, it sets off a series of events opening her up to possibilities she’s never entertained. A life of isolation slowly gives way to social interaction, friendship, humor, pleasure, even the prospect of love.
At first I assumed Eleanor was neurodivergent, possibly on the autism spectrum, and that’s why this book reminded me of the excellent The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin. But it seems that she’s not — she’s just a person recovering from trauma in her own unique way. This book is sweet, heartfelt, and while I consider it an easy read, it felt like it was a “literary” easy read — my favorite kind! I also liked that the relationship at the center of the book is friendship — something that is too often overlooked in literature. I rooted for Eleanor throughout the book and wanted to cheer at the end.
Coming Up in April 2018
It’s a bit hard to say at this moment! Currently I’m spending the first week of April visiting my family in Massachusetts, then on Saturday I have another dear friend’s baby shower followed by a 75-minute flight to New York followed by my sister’s 30th birthday party in Manhattan! I feel like a secret agent with that schedule!
There are some possibilities for April, but nothing is 100% set yet, so stay tuned for more. Nothing international, though — if anything, it will be a short trip or two within the US. After two big international trips, it’s nice to plan much shorter, closer getaways!