Today began with a 5:45 am wake-up call at our hotel in Buenos Aires. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before taking a short bus ride to the Jorge Newbery airport. The airport sits along the Rio de la Plata – which serves as a border between Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Uruguay – it’s actually two rivers which converge (at the mouth the river is nearly 140 miles wide).
We also saw another side of Buenos Aires as we drove along the highway to Jorge Newbery airport as we passed large shanty towns. They are tall structures with makeshift walls and rain buckets along the rooftops. The towns appear to have power as many of the homes did have air conditioner units on the side – though it was an extremely poor part of town.
Our charter flight to Ushuaia was about 3 hours in duration, but there were clouds below so there wasn’t much opportunity to view Patagonia from the airplane windows. We took a bus from the Ushuaia airport to the Tierra del Fuego National Park where we boarded our catamaran for a cruise along the Beagle Channel. On the cruise we caught our first glimpse of the seabirds that would follow us across the Drake Passage.
Tierra del Fuego may be the most beautiful place on Earth. With the crisp air, hazy fog drifting in and around the mountains against the lush green forest background, the view is majestic and awe inspiring. This is a place I want to visit again.
As the catamaran pulled into the port of Ushuaia, we saw our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, waiting for us. We were welcomed aboard our home for the next 10 days and settled in to room B-209. We are staying on the staff level of the ship, next door to the naturalists, divers, and expedition leaders. We are also near the mud room which is where the kayaks and zodiacs will depart when we land in Antarctica. It’s a convenient place – though the ship is sized just right, all of the common areas are easily accessible.
My Antarctic expedition parka was waiting for me on my bed. It’s gorgeous and SO warm. I am going to treasure it dearly for the rest of my life.
First order of business aboard any ship is safety so we all met in the lounge for a safety drill donning our life jackets. While we don’t expect to use the life boats on this trip, it is reassuring to know that they are ready for us should the need arise. They are also enclosed and contain enough food/water for 3 days (for 60 people) – again, I pray they are not necessary, but they will offer some protection against the icy Antarctic wind and it is comforting to see them standing by as we travel about the ship.
Jeanna, Sara and I took some time to learn about the ship and how to navigate to the Chart Room (where there drinks/snacks are always available and the view is superb – just below the Bridge), the Bridge (the Explorer has an open bridge policy so we are welcome to visit any time – it is so interesting to observe the tools and machinery in action as the captain and crew safely navigate our ship and the Wellness Deck. We also figured out how to get out on the Bow which is said to be a prime wildlife viewing area if you’re willing to brave the winds.
After dinner I set out on a mission to find and enjoy the ship’s Library. I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate at the Bistro and settled in to a comfy Library chair to observe the view as we travelled along the Beagle Channel. Just as I was getting settled, Sue Perrin, our expedition leader, made an announcement that there was a Sei whale off the Port Bow. Since I was already at the front of the ship, I quickly jumped up and headed outside into the brisk evening air. As I arrived at the ships rail, just outside the Bridge, I saw the whale – my first whale. It’s the first day onboard and I have seen more than most see in a lifetime. I am so excited about what the coming days will bring.
Tomorrow morning our mentor Eduardo has promised a personal tour of the Explorer – looking forward to learning about what he and the other naturalists have to share to enhance this experience.
It’s time for bed, and the Explorer is rocking me to sleep as we begin our journey across the Drake Passage. Though the seas aren’t expected to be rough per se, Sue warned us that we will certainly feel them. I am armed with my seasick medication to make sure the passage goes smoothly and cannot wait for another exciting day tomorrow. Tonight is our last night of real dark so I need to take advantage of it – tomorrow we will be in 18 + hours of sunlight with no “true” dark night.
*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!