UPDATED at 9:45 a.m. Monday with the passengers having arrived in Buenas Aires, via charter flight.
Anchored and isolated on a ship off the coast of Argentina for most of the past week, two Cardinals fans with St. Louis ties have found common ground at sea with a couple of Cubs fans.
“Getting home,” wrote one on a direct message.
Gregg and his wife Laura Arst were two of nearly 100 Americans on the Ocean Endeavour docked at Ushuaia, Argentina, a resort town on the southernmost tip of South America with a sign that reads, “Fin del Mundo” (“End of the World”).
Along with their shipmates, the Arsts were quarantine until Sunday evening. They have met a honeymooning pair of Cubs fans and another Cardinals fan onboard — all of whom are spending these days trying to secure a flight home, any flight home, as travel becomes increasingly uncertain, restrictions tighten, and countries lock down.
The 14-day quarantine ended Sunday, and then a race to reach flights out of Argentina began with a charter to Buenas Aires that night — through a country on lockdown. Late Sunday night, the Arsts and other passengers had their body temperature taken as they arrived at the Argentinian capital's airport, and then attempted to secure flights as airlines continued cancelling. The travelers have reached out to government officials for help with their return to the United States.
“Like it has for so many people, the world changed since we last set foot on land,” wrote Gregg Arst, in a direct message late Saturday night. A Parkway Central grad who is now Broadway executive in New York, Arst has been a guest on STLtoday.com’s Best Podcast in Baseball because of his fondness for the Cardinals.
“Seeing our options for returning home diminish before our eyes not only has been challenging but exhausting,” he continued. “Disembarking is only Step 1. We’re asking our local representatives to continue applying pressure to ensure airports continue operations, borders remain open, and international flights aren’t canceled so all 97 Americans are able to return all the way home.”
He added that his 14-year-old daughter is at home, waiting.
The two Cubs fans, Dylan and Heather Sanderson, of Des Moines, Iowa, have flights booked for home, but are also uncertain what delays or cancellations could complicate their return home. Married in October 2018, the Sandersons voyaged to Antarctica for their honeymoon. Even in quarantine, the usual ribbing between baseball rivals continues.
“The lighthearted banter has been a welcome break from everything going on with our situation,” Dylan Sanderson wrote in a text message.
From the ship, Laura Arst, a New Jersey native, was able to reach the office of a senator from her home state. Asked by a local newspaper about that contact, Sen. Bob Menendez released a statement to NorthJersey.com that read, in part, “I’ve urged the State Department to do everything in their power to help American citizens abroad get back to the United States, including using its authority to arrange for commercial chartered flights.”
Sen. Menendez shared an original version of this story on Twitter and pledged, "My office is hard at work trying to get Gregg, Laura, and every New Jerseyan stuck abroad home safely."
The goal of the trip, Gregg Arst explained, was his wife’s quest to visit all seven continents, and after leaving on March 8 they visited the Antarctica peninsula and mainland, seeing humpback whales, penguins, and a variety of seals.
While at sea, the coronavirus raged into a global pandemic.
Their ship, Quark Expedition’s Ocean Endeavour, turned back toward Argentina on March 13, a day early, and has been quarantined there since. Supplies had to be loaded onto the expedition ship by crane.
The end of the quarantine got them off the ship, as planned, but only invited more questions of the next steps on land.
On Friday, Argentina’s government began a nationwide lockdown, and the president called for “compulsory isolation for the entire population.” The measure will last until at least March 31.
In a statement to NorthJersey.com, Quark Expedition echoed Arst’s description that no one on the ship has shown any symptoms of coronavirus. The company told the newspaper that its staff is worked with Argentina’s government to shepherd the passengers from the ship to an airport.
The chartered flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, went as scheduled late Sunday night, and from there they need flights to continue the trip home, through multiple quarantines.
“All guests, expedition team and crew members on board the MV Ocean Endeavour are healthy and in high spirits,” a Quark spokesman wrote to the newspaper.
Aboard the ship, the travelers held an impromptu graduation ceremony for some Canadian students who will miss theirs. The captain handed them diplomas, Gregg Arst described. A framed map on the ship has become home to a variety of notes from passengers and a sign that reads, “Gratitude Graffiti.” Notes hung on string near the map note the “FOOD CREW” and “Dancing." Another reads, "Calm water." The Sandersons hung a note for "the positivity of everyone and our health."
Gregg Arst wrote a thank you to the ship’s crew and marveled at their upbeat morale when they, too, are anchored offshore and also adrift in their next move.
One note, on blue paper and written in purple reads, “The well stocked bar.”
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