Seattle resident Don Jorgensen had no way of knowing that the mounting coronavirus pandemic would make his visit to Antarctica a harrowing journey.
Jorgensen’s memoir, “Three Worlds, One Voyage” recounts his journey home from Antarctica in mid-March as the United States was beginning pandemic lockdown restrictions. After walking among penguins, close-up encounters with humpback whales and a “polar plunge” in the South Pole, Jorgensen, his wife, Kathy, and more than 100 other cruise passengers began the journey home.
However, pandemic restrictions shut down country after country, leaving them at sea for six days longer than planned and making Jorgensen and other passengers anxious and uncertain of what was to come.
Q: Describe the journey?
Jorgensen: “I travel a lot, and one of the things I always want to do is visit my seventh continent. I thought it would be my 41st country, but I wound up visiting a total of 42 after that trip. It was exciting, and started out pretty much as we expected — just an amazing trip to Antarctica.
“It was an incredible trip to that point, and then a completely different voyage once we realized it was not going to be easy getting home. We spent 18 days on a 12-day cruise and didn't know from one day to the next whether we'd be able to dock, or when, or where.
“Back in the US, although it was happening around the world, everything was closing down day after day ... you'd face a different set of restrictions every day. We didn't deal with that. We only got the comments periodically through occasional texts or emails. We left the normal world and came back to this Covid world.
“We were on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Half the time we're having a wonderful relaxing time and enjoying everyone's company, and the other time wondering and worrying with the anxiety about whether we ever get off.
Q: Did you go on the trip with the intention of writing a memoir?
Jorgensen: “Not at all. That's the funny part. too. I always keep notes. I've been fortunate to take a lot of trips around the country and around the world, both for business and for either service work or vacation. And I always keep notes, just to remember. And I did the same with this trip. I started just editing those to put them in a format that I could keep in a file and I started writing it out and thinking about it. After about a week I came to my wife and I said, ‘I think I'm writing a book.’”
Q: What was the most challenging part of the journey?
Jorgensen: “Separating fact from fear and anxiety, and misinformation in the last week, because we were getting sporadic access to the internet. And so within a group like that, 114 people, you'd hear a lot of different rumors.
“We are also getting news during all this time of ships like the Grand Princess and the Zaandam that were barred from docking. So we're hearing all of this, and we're heading toward Buenos Aires and two days later we hear Buenos Aires is no longer an option. The entire country was closed down until the 31st. So then they decided to try for Montevideo, Uruguay.
“We were told that if we were not allowed to dock in Uruguay, that was the last stop before we would have to stay on the ship for another three and a half weeks to the Netherlands to its own port. We’re hearing all of this day after day and wondering, ‘when do you book your flights? When are we going to get in? How are we going to get home?’ We were getting mixed messages from the U.S. Embassy, too, which basically amounted to ‘You're on your own.’
“When we finally were allowed to disembark, then we had to jump through a lot of hoops. They set up their ‘corridor sanitaire,’ which was all about getting us off the ship onto the airplanes without infecting anyone in the country … We just wanted to get home. We held our breath all the way to the airport and onto the plane. We had to change in Santiago, Chile, and fly to Miami, and every step along the way we're holding our breath, wondering if flights could be canceled and wondering if we’d be allowed through.”
Q: What led you to want to travel to Antarctica in the first place?
Jorgensen: “I was a Coast Guard brat. So we moved around the country and I got to see different parts of the country, and I wanted to see the world. There's always been a fascination for me. I'd always read about the explorers and about the U.S. expeditions down there, and thought it'd be fascinating to see.”
Q: Since the book’s release in October, how has it been received by readers?
Jorgensen: “I've gotten calls from people that knew me and read the book, and they didn't know about the journey, who really enjoyed it. They said as much as they felt like they were on the trip with me, they kind of related it to their experience of being at home with what we were experiencing during the crisis. They said they found that fascinating.
“The group that I feel most gratified to get good reviews from are some of the fellow passengers who ordered the book and read it and contacted me to tell me how much they enjoyed. They said it really captured the experiences of the good and the areas of high anxiety.”
“Three Worlds, One Voyage” is available for purchase on Amazon.