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Antarctica Part 1

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4th March
This morning we were due to fly 2 hours from Trelew to Ushuaia, however our flight had been cancelled. So we ended up flying from Trelew back to Buenos Aires and then Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. It was the long way around but we finally arrived in Ushuaia at 6pm. The last 2 times we had arrived in Ushuaia had been by boat and when we had left we went by road. So to fly into Ushuaia was absolutely beautiful. We flew over snow topped mountains and came in along the Beagle Channel. We made our way to the Hotel del Los Andes which was right in the main street of Ushuaia. It is such a small world as no sooner had the taxi pulled up outside the hotel this woman came rushing out of a door way saying “welcome to Ushuaia”. It was Lynn, an American lady we had met at our hostel in Puerto Piramides. She happened to be having a drink in the pub next to our hotel. So we checked in, dumped our bags and went down and had pizza and beer with her.

5th March
This morning we needed to pack our bags and have them down at reception by 8.45 as they were being collected to be taken down to the port. We did not have to be there until 4pm so had a late breakfast and then had a wander around town. We had lunch in and Irish Pub but ended up having a Picada (cold meats & cheeses). We took a relaxing walk from the main street down to the port and saw this sign.
We then sat in the passenger terminal awaiting the ok to head down the wharf to our ship the Polar Pioneer. So after months of excited anticipation we were all finally in the most southerly town in the world to start our Antarctic adventures. We have 52 expeditioners from Australia, Britain, Canada, Greece, Holland, New Zealand and USA. We have 10 Aurora Expedition Staff along with 22 Russian Crew. We were greeted by Liz who is the Assistant Expedition Leader and headed up the gang plank to room 408, our room for the next 17 days. We settled into the cabin and unpacked all our gear. We then took a walk around the ship.
Just before 5pm our expedition leader Howard called us all to the bar on deck 4 for our compulsory brief and to meet all of the expedition team. We were to receive bad news that the Weddell Sea was covered in ice, it had never been that bad before. Global warming at its best as big chunks of ice are coming away from Antarctica. So for the first few days we were going to head into the Peninsula hoping that some of the ice would clear. We were not going to make it as far into the Weddell as planned. We then had a lifeboat drill. The sound of seven short and one long beep from the ship’s horn was our signal to don bulky orange lifejackets, so we had to go to our cabins and get our life jackets and gather at the muster station on deck 4. Once our names were ticked off we climbed inside the polar life boats. These boats are fully enclosed due to the inclement weather and big waves as they could be overturned. Even without the full complement of Russian Crew joining us it proved very cosy. They shut the hatch and turned on the motor so we could experience what it would be like. We were all so close to each other, it was a good way to get to know each other.
So once this was finished, we were ready to set sail. We farewelled Ushuaia as it started to rain.
We stayed up on deck for a little while but it just got too windy and wet so we headed inside. We went to the bar for a drink and got to meet some of our fellow passengers. We all manage to make our way down to Deck 3 for dinner. You could smell the food from up on our deck, and by then we were getting a bit hungry. We had spaghetti bolognaise. It was also another good opportunity to meet more of our fellow shipmates. We headed to bed for an early night and popped some sea sick tablets as around 3am we would be hitting cape horn and heading out to the Drake Passage.

6th March
Well, what a night. It got pretty rough as we entered the Drake. It was nowhere near as bad as our Force 10 on our return trip last time; however Shane and I were still not game to venture out of bed. Apparently we were not the only ones. About 80% turned up for breakfast, although some disappeared quickly back to their bunks. Doctor Lesley was seen scurrying from cabin to cabin with her little blue bag of goodies to administer. I didn’t have a jab this time I just took the tablets the travel doctor had prescribed and they seemed to work. Lesley was lovely and even went and got cups of tea, bananas and dry bread for us so that at least we ate something. She also updated us on the journey as the captain had needed to change his course as there was a mini cyclone near the Falklands.
The great gumboot giveaway was the first activity of the day. The lads amongst the staff doubled as charming boot fitters, equipping everyone with rubber boots to keep our feet warm and dry. We were still not up to getting to this activity so once again we had some room service. By lunch time almost 50% of us were bed ridden so the mandatory environmental lecture and captain’s drinks were postponed for the day. Apparently it was extremely quiet around the ship for the rest of the day. By late evening we were blessed with calming seas. We continued to pop our pills and both got a good night’s sleep.

7th March
This morning we awoke to a slight rocking motion. The seas had calmed right down. In fact they were calmer than we had last time. The weather gods were smiling upon us and granted a serene passage for our remaining nautical miles.
We felt much better and ventured to breakfast. We were both pretty hungry so we had bacon and eggs on toast. Boy it went down a treat. With all ship mates up and about we were able to catch up on a few activities. Nigel wowed us with some penguin and seal facts. Who knew that elephant seals could dive up to 1500 metres and for 2 hours at a stretch. And the most numerous of penguin species are the king and macaroni.
Mid morning we filled our brains with the dos and don’ts for our landings both from the environmental and black rubbery gumboot perspectives. The afternoon vacuuming session proved profitable for the Hoover wielding staff, with Martin scoring one Argentinian Peso and a pair of women’s underwear. They also found a few seeds that don’t belong in the icy south.
We then had time for some bird watching. There were albatross flying around the ship.
In the evening Captain Sasha joined us at the bar for Welcome drinks. Canapes were wolfed down with a nice drink of Sappho’s potent punch. Captain Sasha welcomed us to our floating Russian ice-strengthened home, and we toasted him, his officers and crew in anticipation of a safe and exciting voyage. Our expedition leader Howard shouted “Land ahoy” and the bar emptied onto the stern. Sunsets and icebergs on the horizon were the finale for the day.

Posted by shaneandnicola 05:22 Archived in Antarctica

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