Alopecian Adventures in Antarctica and Argentina

I just returned from a trip that my husband and I have been planning for a long time. I was out of Internet contact for most of the time, and I missed the AW community. I'd like to share a few moments from the trip, particularly some that involved my baldness. I've posted one photo on my page, and will probably put some more up eventually, as well as videos on YouTube of the wildlife.

Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of my shaving my head. I've been publicly "out" as a bald woman for much of that time - my choice is based on physical comfort...I just get too hot with anything on my head. This trip involved being bald in some new environments and foreign countries - as well as covering up my head more than I'm used to doing at home. On one of the planes (it took us about 30 hours each way to get there), a woman came up to me and grabbed my arm and said that we are "sisters". When I looked confused, she told me she's a cancer survivor...I explained about my alopecia. She hadn't heard of it.

First we spent several days in Ushuaia, Argentina, at the southern tip of South America. Though it's summer in the Southern Hemisphere, it was fairly cold, and I wore a ski cap-type hat most of the time, indoors and out. What I noticed immediately as I walked around the town and looked in shops and ate in restaurants was that NO ONE was looking at me. It was such an unusual sensation to be completely unremarkable....many people were wearing ski caps, and I was just another one of them! I realized that although I've gotten very used to being bald in public and mostly don't think about it, I always have the AWARENESS that I'm different. The total anonymity was amazing to me.

Once we got on the ship in Ushuaia for the cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Penninsula, I was confronted with a new challenge....being the only bald woman in a group of 94 passengers plus staff and crew. Most were Americans, but there were also people from Canada, Britain, Germany and Australia. All the passengers had been asked to submit a photo before the trip, and these photos were sent to everyone by email before departure. I chose a photo of me as I am, bald, so probably no one was surprised. The inside of the ship was too warm for me to wear anything on my head. Most people assumed I have cancer, and I brought a supply of my cards about alopecia to hand out. At first there were some stares, but everyone seemed to get used to having a bald woman in their midst pretty quickly. It certainly made it easier for people to remember me as we all tried to get to know so many new people at once.

The cruise lasted 26 days. We made shore landings via zodiac boats and saw thousands of penguins, sometimes within feet of us. We always tried to maintain 15 feet of distance from the animals, but they took little notice of us and often approached quite close. The predators they're afraid of are in the water, so we weren't perceived as a threat. The fur seal pups were very inquisitive, and adult fur seals sometimes had to be fended off with tripods or sticks when they charged us asserting their territory as we walked by. We also saw seabirds such as albatross, and whales, glaciers, icebergs, and mountains. I'm still trying to process all the sights and sounds. Going through and editing the 19 hours of video that I took will help.

After the cruise, my husband and I spent a few more days in Argentina...and I had an experience that I've been hoping to have ever since I lost my hair. Though I've been with other bald Alopecian women at pre-arranged events, I have yearned to just RUN INTO another bald woman in public...someone I don't know. My husband and I were walking down a wide pedestrian avenue in Buenos Aires, full of people and restaurants. I was wearing a sunhat because it was sunny. I saw a bald woman walking toward us with a man. She looked confident and beautiful. As they approached, I took off my hat and she stopped. We both smiled. Close-up, I could see that she had very slight white peach fuzz on her head. I only speak a little Spanish, and she didn't speak any English. She said she has cancer...I told her I don't. It was very emotional...I told her how happy I was to see her. I think she understood. She told me I shouldn't wear the hat. I didn't have enough Spanish to explain that I usually don't wear anything on my head. I looked back at her as they walked away, and I actually had tears in my eyes.

With all the wonderful things we saw on this trip, that moment remains a high point. Maybe someday it won't be such a rare occurence.

It's good to be back.
Mary

Views: 8

Comment by Marjorie Mischeaux on January 31, 2010 at 10:37pm
Thank you Mary for sharing both of you journeys! You are an inspiration to me, and no doubt ,countless others. Enjoyed making aquaintance via your photos! It's a blessing to me ,that there is a YOU !!Kalilah
Comment by Ray on February 1, 2010 at 7:15am
A Brilliant post!!!!!!!
Comment by Carol on February 1, 2010 at 9:38am
Mary,
It sounds like you had a wonderful time on your trip and had quite the adventure. I am happy you had fun but am also glad you are back and safe. Can't wait to see your pics and vids! :)
Comment by Erin on February 1, 2010 at 2:52pm
wow that trip sounds amazing~ i love penguins you lucky ducky! and that moment with the other bald woman is beautiful. thanks for sharing.
Comment by Tuesday on February 1, 2010 at 10:10pm
What a beautiful post. Your trip sounds like a once in a lifetime sort of experience. And I loved reading about that connection with the other bald woman - beautiful. :0)

I've always wanted to take a trip like you describe after reading this book way back in 1999 -
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica by Sara Wheeler
Comment by Mary on February 2, 2010 at 12:53am
Thanks, Tuesday. I hadn't heard about that book. We read a number of books ("Crystal Desert", "Endurance", among others) before the trip, but not that one. I'll look for it. The place really got into me...I'm still dreaming about penguins. ( ;-)
Comment by Stephanie on February 2, 2010 at 11:16am
The trip sounded wonderful, Mary, and your experience with the woman was touching. When you meet a kindred spirit I suppose speaking the same language isn't really necessary.
Comment by Galvin on February 4, 2010 at 1:06pm
Great adventure...thanks for posting!
Comment by Mary on February 17, 2010 at 7:01pm
Folks have asked for more Antarctica photos, so I've just added an album and a few pics. Also, two photos of my dip in a jungle waterfall in Argentina.
Comment by Mary on March 14, 2010 at 10:46am
For all you wildlife fans, I just posted a video on AW and on YouTube from the trip. It's on my AW page, or here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLAk6c9iEmY

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