PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Antarctica Journey, Day 12

I write this final post having just awakened from a three-hour nap  after completing a 28-hour journey from leaving the ship to arriving home.

We needed to be out of our rooms by 8 a.m. and on the bus by 8:40 a.m. So we had a last breakfast and a chance to say goodbye to some of the friends we made along the way and then boarded the bus for a few minutes drive to Ushuaia.

It was nice to get a chance to walk around the city a little bit and see the sights. The people clearly have embraced the fact that they began as an outpost for prisoners because every store had prison outfits, and there were lots of photos of prisoners from the past.

For me, the highlight was finding a place that had Christmas decorations, since I tried to bring back a decoration from every trip I go on. I found a penguin. It says Ushuaia on the bottom, but I will associate it with Antarctica.

From there, we got on the plane back to Buenos Aires and then a long wait for the flight to JFK. In the process of this waiting, the two closest friends I made on the trip, Erin and Doreen, connected with a lovely older man, Jerry, who was traveling back home alone. For some reason, we had never connected with him on the trip, although he knew me as the penguin lady. I suspect many people knew me that way.

In any event, Jerry was a bit exhausted, so we all pitched in to help him with the last part of the journey. In the process, I discovered he was a true American hero. An Air Force veteran, who won the Distinguished Service Cross for flying 176 missions in Vietnam, as well as a lifetime resident of Maine who had been widowed for about six years. One of the most amazing things about this trip were all the incredible people I met along the way.

Jerry was on my flight home, and so when we landed, I helped him through the process of immigration and getting his luggage and rechecking it. He was sharp, but that amount of travel and lack of sleep, coupled with the stress that can accompany it and unfamiliarity with current travel policies makes it good to have a buddy going with you. I am hardly immune from it. When I got up to leave, I forgot something and put down my phone to grab it and then forgot to pick up my phone because I was only half awake. Fortunately, I realized it about two steps onto the gangway and was able to retrieve my phone. But exhaustion is real.

On the trip home, I watched my usual shows to sleep through, “Mamma Mia” and “Mamma Mia.” Here we go again, but the last thing on my video before I left was “March of the Penguins.” That seemed appropriate.

When I got to New Haven, Conn., on the Metro North, my friend, Kari, met me. You know you have a good friend when she meets you at the train station with water and snacks! I picked up my car, which was parked at her house, and finished the last leg of a journey. I will never forget.

I feel like this has been more than a check off of my bucket list but a life-changing trip in so many ways. These extended posts are really my trip journal, and for any of you who have read along with me, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’m always glad to take others traveling with me in spirit.

Until the next edition of “Travels with Paula” (or as one friend suggested “Paula’s Pilgrimages”).

And for one last time — vote for people who recognize the impact of climate change. Our precarious world depends on action.


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