In My Withdrawing Room
Monday, November 22—4:54 PM
I ain’t moving.
I’m refusing to get out of my jammies for at least another 18 hours. There’s reputed to be a Ryan Reynolds movie on Netflix that requires my prompt attention. I have a huge mug of tea at my elbow WITH A STRAW IN IT because the disgusting blisters on my lips are healing and don’t want to be cracked (guh—I’m hideous; look away!). The cat spent every minute of last night’s EPIC sleep cozied up to me.
Rusty got up this morning, astonished that the cat hadn’t come to yell at him. He’d taken to locking her in my room at night because otherwise she woke him up all night long. “What did she want?” “To wake me up.” “Not food? Water? Was the kitty litter clean?” “I did everything. I think she wanted to tell me you weren’t home yet. Hour after hour after hour.”
So when he woke up this morning and found her still curled under my arm, both of us out like a light, he did a little happy dance. In my dreams, I did, too. Happy dances for me and all of my men!
When I woke up for the third time (I luxuriated for a LONG time in my bed with my cat), I had an email from Sven Lindblad, who wanted to thank all the passengers for the long days we endured to get home; Lindblad was offering me $500 off my next trip with them in thanks for putting up with all the hoop-jumping.
Now, I know perfectly well that this is a smart marketing ploy on the company’s part. The overwhelming majority of the passengers I met on this trip were on their fifth—tenth—TWENTY-FIRST expedition with Lindblad. Clearly, if you take ONE Lindblad cruise, they count on you to come back, and so (very smartly) they value each customer not for the ticket price of THIS expedition but for the potential ticket price of MANY future expeditions. It’s smart thinking.
But there’s a bit more going on here. It’s clear to me that Lindblad could not POSSIBLY have made a profit on this trip. The ship was only half-full; 61 passengers instead of 148. Every time we turned around, there were new limitations placed on the plans by Chile, and Argentina, and then by the US, too. At every turn, Lindblad attempted to make the process better and easier for each passenger, and in most instances, their efforts ate away at their small profit margin (like a glacier eats away at a Patagonian mountain range, come to think of it). They rented “day rooms” at a local hotel in Miami for some 70 passengers so we could quarantine while getting the results of our second COVID test, which they also did not charge us for. Instead of packing us into a ballroom with folding chairs to wait on, they got us hotel rooms. And charged us noting extra for them. Had I wanted another day room on the trip back, they would have gotten me one. No charge—on them.
When the flights got screwed up, and so the busses back to the airport got screwed up, they persuaded the hotel to turn the “day rooms” into “night rooms,” buying us the full 24 hours so we could leave five hours after the “day room” time. And charging us nothing for it.
When Chile said we’d have to quarantine for five days in Punto Arenas, Lindblad got us a place at a local hotel, charging us nothing—and then Chile reversed the decision so there went that plan. Still no up-charge.
This went on throughout the trip. Lindblad provided three COVID tests to all passengers and crew—and perhaps they paid for the fourth one at the Punto Arenas airport, too—and no one paid a penny. They rebooked all our flights when the air charter plan got screwy, and paid all the rebooking fees. When the charter arrived in Ushuaia, someone from Lindblad discovered there was no wine on board so they went to the airport bar and bought a few cases for the trip. No charge.
After 18 months of all cruises being shut down by COVID, there’s no way they’re in a position to spend money like they did…and yet here was Sven Lindblad thanking me for enduring two long days of travel. And make no mistake—it WAS a long trip. But none of the endurance challenge was Lindblad’s fault, and they did everything they could to minimize the annoyance factor.
So my overwhelming assessment of the company is I AM IMPRESSED. And they hire the right people, too, for everyone (from the bridge crew to the room stewards) is unfailingly cheerful and kind. Lucho, our expedition leader, is now at the Olympic level of hoop-jumping-while-maintaining-a-smile. The naturalists were kind and friendly. And so these are the conditions under which I would take another Lindblad cruise—and none of them are dependent on the $500 credit:
1. I need a buddy. A sister, a friend, whatever. I’d still need my own room; being with so many people increases my need for isolation—but it would be significantly easier to face a dining room full of strangers with an ally at my side.
2. I’d go on a shorter trip. 18 days was too long for me. By the end, I was DEEPLY grateful that my four-day extension to Easter Island had been cancelled due to COVID. I was ready to go home.
3. I have to pack better—first and foremost being I need to pack sunscreen. OH. MY. GOD. I need to pack sunscreen. Mike the Hero saved the day, but not before I so severely irradiated myself that the skin on my lips is covered in revolting, suppurating blisters. Part of the reason why I’m not leaving the house for a while!
Plus I’d try to find an iPhone case with a strap on it. I spent a lot of time worrying that I would drop my iPhone into the drink. It’s tough to fumble for it in mittens, and cold to take a picture without them. Eric the photo-god showed us how to take photos without having to touch the little button, but my case made that really challenging.
((SPECIAL NOTE TO ROBS DRIEBE, who takes photos on an icy beach with his nose: Dude. If you hold your phone sideways with the volume buttons at the top? When you’re in camera mode, any button that you press at the top will take a photo. No need to use your nose. Bitchin’, right?))
I just tested it to make sure I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing; nope. Works fine. But I have to hold my case away from the lens. So a better working iPhone case would also be a plus.
And lastly: Some kind of shoe solution. You’re not supposed go barefoot on the ship (and lots of times it’s too cold), and the one pair of shoes I brought (sneakers) began to erode my soul after a while. I don’t know what I was missing, though. Several times I wore only socks to the evening recap and dinner and no one much noticed, but during the powerful Drake’s Passage (almost 48 hours of needing to hold on in order to walk), a firm shoe with a tight grip is a must. So I don’t know what the answer is…but I suffered from bipedal oppression (meaning—had to wear shoes) and that needs to be figured out.
One other condition: I need my hero, Mike, to journey with me, and Scottish Rachel and her acerbic husband. Sweet Peggy and happy Bryan. Lovely Kim and low-voiced Brian (to whom I said “Huh?” a thousand times—but worth it, since he is very witty). Christina the shaman and Richard who made alternative medicines out of the purest tequila he could find. Wondrous Karen and her ebullient niece Ellie. And Song and Marianne—the first and kindest to welcome me and take me under their wings and make me feel at home. There are more smiling faces I’ll miss, too—but if I become one of those “oh, this is my eighth trip with Lindblad” kind of people, then I suspect I’ll see them again. And that will be a joy!