part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4
Day 1 - March 4: Depart from Ushuaia
Embark the USHUAIA in the afternoon and meet your expedition and lecture staff. After you have settled into your cabins we sail along the famous Beagle Channel and the scenic Mackinlay Pass.
finally my trip caught up with my itinerary. i had a lot of fun in the tiny bit of argentina i got to see, but the serious shit began today.
my window seat yielded some insane views of the martial mountains as we flew into ushuaia, & i tried to capture them with my phone. the airport's pretty small - one baggage claim, & it only took a minute or so to reach it. my bag was out quickly & i didn't have to go through customs since i was on a domestic flight.
i gleefully discovered that despite what i'd found online, the ushuaia malvinas airport DID have wifi. this was especially important because my ship didn't leave until 4pm, giving me about six hours to schlep my luggage around or buy a hotel room for an afternoon... & i had no desire to do either, especially the former on my horse-sore everything. i managed to find the one quiet, out-of-the-way spot that had wifi, a power outlet (with only a type I plug, making me happy i brought both adapters), *&* wasn't catching the breeze from outside. so i literally sat under a stairway for most of the day, heh. as time passed, i was joined somehow by three other women sitting around with camping gear. the only thing i camped was my power outlet. SORRY BITCHES, MY OUTLET MINE. XD
i hung out, watched some movies, & chatted with james until 2pm. with an hour to go, i figured i should get some food, & i ordered an "especial sandwich de lomito" at the airport bar. turns out this was the most argentine thing on the menu; always order by choosing the words least familiar. :D lomito is a typical food consisting of a thin slice of steak, some ham, lettuce & tomato, & a sliced hard boiled egg on flatbread. (usually it comes with queso too, but i don't dig cheese.) it was really good, probably made better by my hunger, & i enjoyed another grapefruit sweetened-juice thing with it. why does everywhere in argentina have these newsprint-like non-napkins at their tables? it's like wax paper without the wax. or like those beauty papers designed to take oil off your face. or toilet seat covers! what the hell, argentina, those aren't absorbent at all.
i went up to a taxi stand & ordered a remis to the pier. this was accomplished with interesting verbal acrobatics since the guy at the stand spoke no english at all, & i'm trying to explain that my paperwork says i need to get a taxi that can actually access the pier, like that's a common problem. i couldn't be stuck hauling my suitcase a mile or anything - did i mention i was super fucking sore from riding? my left arm kind of didn't work & my lower back was whimpering & my shoulders were screaming & my thighs... my thighs weren't mad, they were just disappointed. but it was all fine, of course - the driver took me to the pier entrance where i saw metal detectors & a huge line of people showing identification & having tickets punched, so i recognized this was the farthest i could've been taken.
i moved to the side to let the obvious busload of people go through together, & saw a woman come in with a bag as huge as mine. she said the ship's name, the ushuaia (yes, same name as the town), & i waved her over. wil (pronounced "vil") was a ~55yo woman from holland, & she was super friendly & spoke great english. a short local guy from argentina then came in & joined us, & i found myself playing the worst translator ever between dutch to english to spanish. somehow it worked?! i guess my high school spanish is easier to recall when i'm trying desperately to help some poor solitary dude communicate.
we boarded the boat & were shown to our rooms - the ushuaia has 46 cabins for 88 passengers, mostly twin lodgings, & i was in one of the two triples. i was shown to the room first, just to the left of where we boarded, & just downstairs from the lounge, in good position. though i thought i'd want the little secluded bed at the end, all the power outlets were between the two parallel beds, so i took the one with the window. & then the door opened - & it turned out i was rooming with wil! funny that the first two people to meet up ended up sharing a room. we chatted a bit & explored our room - hanging our coats, sorting out storage space, being pleased at the size of the bathroom. everything was either tacked to the ground (beds, trash can, table), had a latch system (bathroom door, cabinet doors), or had that silcone checkerboard stuff that turns surfaces non-skid (tabletops, little barrier ledge areas by each bed for glasses or whatnot). the beds had rails so you don't fall out. wil & i were getting along just fine & then...
in walked beckie.
beckie was a ~45yo woman from colorado, originally mississippi. beckie was spelled with an i-e. beckie said we can call her beckie, but if we're mad at her then we can call her REBECCA ANNE because that's what her mom does. beckie had platinum blonde hair on the top layer & brown underneath. beckie felt it necessary to tell us how many times she'd been to africa within about three minutes of meeting us (four times). beckie audibly scoffed at me when i replied to her query that i haven't been to alaska despite living in seattle, which isn't actually that close to alaska, by the way. beckie was very judgmental of this town she'd been staying in for five days, stating that everyone was rude & no one wanted to talk to her, & yet beckie said she didn't know a word of spanish. beckie checked out her bed, which was partially hidden behind the closet, & complained several times that she gets claustrophobic; wil & i did not offer to swap our beds next to the power outlets & window. beckie did not like our suggestions that she move the pillow to the other side of the bed so she'd be more in the open, & stated that she'd probably spend a lot of time on the floor so she could "be in the light". beckie asked for a cup & said she wanted to finish the bottle of wine she brought on board, then beckie pulled out a huge bottle of milky looking brownish liquid & said she brought banana de leche liquor, which she thought meant caramel. i explained to beckie that "de leche" just means "of milk", so it's probably a banana version of bailey's or something. i won't be surprised if beckie cracks into that bottle tonight & finishes it by the time we hit antarctica in two days. beckie repeatedly stated that she's not usually so chatty, but it's just that everyone refused to talk to her for five days. finally, beckie decided she was going to take a walk around, & she left wil & i alone.
i looked up at wil. wil looked up at me. we both started cracking up & mildly badmouthing beckie. i'm going to get along just fine with wil.
after some time to wander on the decks (i so wanted to climb the crow's nest, but i somehow didn't think that'd be a go) & take about a thousand pictures of the gorgeous ushuaia scenery going by, we had some lovely hors d'oeuvres & a champagne toast, then met our crew, including a peruvian guy with the most amazing unibrow i've ever seen. it wasn't even unappealing it was so perfect. this was bert-level unibrow. i couldn't even tell where they each should've ended. anyhow, we learned there were 18 nationalities on board, including 12 americans & a smattering from new zealand, australia, canada, japan, holland, china, india, argentina, & one lone (but really cute) dude from bulgaria. the main tour guy, agustín, is super charismatic & fun to listen to - & sharif-level funny. he was awesome to learn from.
we also learned that we can't put toilet paper or dental floss or anything into the toilets, or it'd clog the boat's plumbing system, so there was a gross little trashcan by each commode that was changed out daily. as beckie put it, "don't put anything into the toilet that hasn't been through your mouth first". lovely.
a mandatory safety drill came next, where i learned what to do if the ship's sinking & how to not die. pretty simple stuff - go to the room & put on all your layers, grab your life preserver from the cabinet, go to your designated meeting point, & climb into your lifeboat which'll then be launched away from the sinking ship. they've never had to use this procedure, fortunately.
finally, dinner. breakfasts are apparently going to be buffets, but lunch & dinners are a simple three-course affair. i didn't expect fine dining or anything - there are SO many limitations to a trip like this - but the salad had some nice herbs on it, they did their best with a spaghetti with shrimp main, & the chocolate mousse for dessert was actually fantastic. i chatted with beckie, who was becoming less horrible as she calmed down & reacclimated to society, though she was still proving herself the type who was just waiting through any conversation to talk about herself again. after dinner, it was announced over the loudspeakers that a movie on orcas was going to be played, but having slept only an hour siesta & three poor hours on the plane here since yesterday morning at 8am, i said fuck that & cozied up in my increasingly-wonderful-looking bunk.
Day 2 and 3 - March 5 and 6: Crossing the Drake Passage
Named after the renowned explorer, Sir Francis Drake, who sailed these waters in 1578, the Drake Passage also marks the Antarctic Convergence, a biological barrier where cold polar water sinks beneath the warmer northern waters. This creates a great upwelling of nutrients, which sustains the biodiversity of this region. The Drake Passage also marks the northern limit of many Antarctic seabirds.
As we sail across the passage, Antarpply Expeditions' lecturers will be out with you on deck to help in the identification of an amazing variety of seabirds, including many albatrosses, which follow in our wake. The USHUAIA's open bridge policy allows you to join our officers on the bridge and learn about navigation, watch for whales, and enjoy the view. A full program of lectures will be offered as well.
The first sightings of icebergs and snow-capped mountains indicate that we have reached the South Shetland Islands, a group of twenty islands and islets first sighted in February 1819 by Capt. William Smith of the brig Williams. With favorable conditions in the Drake Passage our lecturers and naturalists will accompany you ashore as you experience your first encounter with the penguins and seals on Day 3.
Day 2 - March 5
midnight began the first time the ship really took off, & we entered the drake passage, the toughest waters in the world. this is where the atlantic & pacific come together. they expect it to take two days to cross, including a [normal, not severe, not mild] storm. i woke many times in the night for almost sliding off my bunk, but overall i found the rocking generally pleasant. sleeping on my stomach was easiest as it gave me the most surface area for deadweight stability, & so i didn't move around much; later i was told my two bunkmates slid all over the place. beckie, sleeping perpendicular to wil's & my beds, kept slamming her head into the wall. *snerk*
we received a wake-up call at 7:30 informing us of breakfast at 8. i'd been mostly up since 6:40 due to beckie's incessant giggling at trying to stay upright on the wildly rocking ship. we'd been taught some tricks yesterday about moving around the boat, using the handrails, always having a hand free "for the boat", not holding onto doorframes unless you wanted to lose fingers, et cetera. (interestingly, we had a new zealand dude with one arm... it was impressive watching him manage.) we were told that antarctic cruises change people - you're either going to go back with fantastic balance, or none at all. seeing as i started in the latter category, things can only go up from there.
i dressed quickly & went upstairs to breakfast. THIS was interesting - everyone trying to hold on & carry food & not slide off our bolted-down chairs. we saw who had listened about having a hand for the boat, & who thought they could carry a plate of food AND a bowl of cereal. i did fine, & the scrambled eggs, bacon, croissants, fruit, & yogurt (with some random dude on the label?) were nice. at one point we hit an especially high wave & all of the beverages on the table became one. well, they had told us the ushuaia was designed for scientists, not "real people"...
after breakfast, i practiced walking & found it almost easier than on stable ground. you just adopt a wide stance, bend with the boat, & if you need to go where there's no handrail, you wait until the ship's in the middle & then scamper for the next bit of handhold. i took some video of the boat rocking & a couple photos of window blind cords & such to demonstrate the angles we were achieving. i realized this was the first time i'd been in a ship where i couldn't see land ANYWHERE. pretty awesome.
the day's schedule was posted around the boat, & there was a lecture on seabirds listed for 10am in the lounge. i went, but could barely keep my eyes open - clearly i hadn't caught up enough on sleep, plus the guy giving the lecture was fairly boring. it ended after an hour, & i read a book until lunch at noon.
the meals were getting better - lunch was sliced tomatoes with pesto, then a pot-pie-like chicken dish with green beans, carrots, & rice. the bread they served was amazing - super crunchy & flaky & light. they also brought us little bowls of fresh fruit - watermelon, nectarine, pineapple, honeydew, & apple. perhaps they used the spaghetti with shrimp last night to lower our expectations? this was much better.
i was reading again in the lounge after that, & falling asleep, so i came down to the room & passed out for about three hours. finally feeling normal, i joined the group for snacks & the penguin lecture at 5pm, presented by a much more interesting biologist. i know plenty about penguins from my trip to australia, but it was good to learn to identify the various antarctic penguins we'll see - macaroni, chinstrap, gentoo, adélie & the one i was most excited for: emperor. the snacks were mostly cookies & tiny pastries, & a big tray of very eggy waffles covered in dulce de leche & shaved coconut.
i went back to my book for a couple hours until dinner at 7:30pm: a salad of diced red pepper, cucumber, olives & cheese i picked around, then chewy but flavorful beef strips & perfect mashed potatoes. dessert was a little peach & kiwi fruit tart. good job, kitchen.
after dinner, i went back to the room to hang out, but heard an announcement about a movie back in the lounge, so i decided to go to that. "antarctica, a year on ice", noted to be a documentary with a storyline. beats "the thing", i guess! it was pretty good, mostly about human life in antarctica. no, i don't have any desire to spend the winter here.
music: yo la tengo, "decora" (go on, look up the lyrics. i'm hilarious.)
Day 3 - March 6
i slept better last night - my bunkmates secured their bags better tonight, so we had less shit slamming around overnight. the morning announcement let us know we made great time yesterday, & would be arriving at the shetland islands in four hours. breakfast was the same as yesterday but with better fresh fruit including cherries. i heard someone call "¡pura vida!" which reminded me of my costa rica trip. i sat with people from australia & new zealand & enjoyed them bickering about which country was superior.
we had a lecture on the antarctic treaty at 9:30am... which i dozed through. it was that same guy as the seabirds & something about him put me right to sleep. what woke me up a bit later, though, was spotting our first iceberg! shortly after that came land, & the boat finally came to a stop while we had a safety briefing.
in short, antarctica is as close to pristine as anywhere could be, & none of us can take or leave anything - including microbes. you can't even pee your name in the snow, or take a single pebble. (i strongly considered breaking the treaty & stealing a rock, but decided in the end to not become an international felon.) we were taught procedures for boarding the zodiac pontoon boats, getting onto & off of antarctica, & returning to the ship, & they reviewed what clothes we should be wearing while doing so.
lunch was served directly after that, & was pretty great: an apple & celery salad, then sliced pork loin & mashed yams, & a baked apple stuffed with prunes for dessert. & then we ran to our rooms to prepare for our first landing! the following is a complete list of what i wore to avoid dying:
bra & panties
silk long underwear
snow pants (with a bib worn over the fleece, & tucked into boots)
glove liners (borrowed from joe; tucked under both coats)
down coat #1 (fits me well)
waterproof pants (borrowed from aj; worn over DC1's butt & over boots)
tall rubber boots (loaned to us onboard)
hood+scarf combo thing i sewed to accommodate my dreads (tucked under DC2)
down coat #2 (much bigger than me; hooded)
giant ski gloves (borrowed from joe; worn over DC2)
thin auto-inflatable life preserver (boat stock obviously)
plus i carried a poncho in case it started to rain, since my top coat wasn't properly waterproof. it took about twenty minutes to gear up, with my camera sitting safely between the two down coats. with all that on, we waddled down to the boat's belly where we washed our boots by stomping through a trough of disinfectant, then boarded a zodiac & rushed out to the shore of barrientos island.
there were penguins everywhere, & a weddell seal here & there. i immediately identified some chinstrap & gentoo pegnuins. the entire place was also covered in cool red/pink algae... & penguin shit, & i had two "opportunities" to watch penguins add to the mess, blech. i took a bunch of photos of the environment, penguins, seals, & various seabirds (snowy sheathbills especially). we were supposed to have two hours, but the wind had picked up so much that i was actually leaning back into it like a chair to avoid being blown over, so i didn't hate that we had to leave after only an hour.
we washed our boots in the ocean, then returned via zodiac in groups of nine. going back to the ship required another decontamination process, including running each boot through a rectangular arrangement of hard-bristle scrub brushes, & then a staff member carefully hosed down our boot treads. i was surprisingly exhausted from carrying around & dealing with so much gear; clearly i need a sherpa or gear walla or something to unclothe me. *nods* but we found a place in the bathroom to hang all our wet items, & i managed to strip out of my other many layers & return to what our aussie companions called "civvies". i'm glad to note i DID bring enough clothes, as i wasn't actually cold on barrientos island, just very windblown & tired.
we had snacks in the lounge while navigating through the english strait 40 minutes to our next turn. i took the time to wander the bridge. the ushuaia has an open bridge from 8a-8p, & it's pretty neat. the first mate made sexy eyes at me & waggled his eyebrows while i wandered around & photographed an upcoming iceberg. (wouldn't mind doing some first mating with him, iykwim. XD ) after, we met the captain, who let us know the reason we left so early - to avoid a hurricane-level storm! we didn't hit it at all, & we were all grateful to the captain for helping us to not become dead. we then had a mini lecture on seals (they make sounds that're reminiscent of bad prog rock; i swear this one seal we watched recorded the intro to rush's "tom sawyer") & watched a video of them cutting ice with their teeth (which is pretty insane as they don't grow back) before getting tomorrow's briefing.
we went through the aitcho archipelago; then prepared to go through the brainsfield strait to the gerlache strait; in the morning they planned to make land at portal point on the antarctic peninsula. that, our guide noted, would make seven continents for those of us collecting. (me! :D) they expected we'd make two landings per day, one in the morning & one in the afternoon, though the next afternoon at foyn harbour wouldn't have a landing, just a cruise about on the zodiac. who knew what they'd do, really - most of the trip was only vaguely planned as conditions changed daily & nothing was guaranteed. but it was pretty awesome out there so far.
dinner was an experience - the food was really good, but the ship kept lurching like a tiny speedboat. at one point, the folks at my table & i swore we broke an iceberg in half - after all, we WERE on an icebreaker boat, though the crew said they don't come within three miles of any actual icebergs. we probably just slammed hard down onto the water, but it felt like a hit; the dining room went silent, & beckie (who was growing on me like a malignant tumor) stood up to look out the window. i called across the room to her, "is the sky still on top?" the room laughed & beckie shook her head 'no' while looking mock-terrified. but dinner was great - a sweet tomato soup to start, then breaded sunfish (adding another animal to the list!) with vegetables, & an orange mousse dessert. i sat with Not Actually Boring & a cute, petite german lady i named Frauline Pixie, & we discussed snakes & lizards for most of the meal - he'd kept them too; she didn't like them but just got back from the galápagos (where i'm headed in june) & komodo island! (why you'd take either of those trips without liking reptiles, i'll never know.)
the ship continued its heavy bow-to-stern rocking & occasional wave-crashing for a while past dinner as we made good time through the straits. well, we were warned that the gerlache straight is sometimes called the "mini drake".
music: weakerthans, "manifest"