Friday, March 27, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.6.09

BA to Ushuaia to Embarkation on the Akademik Ioffe

Another early morning. Heather had to have her bags downstairs by 5, but I just wished her a good trip and went back to sleep until my 6 am wake-up call. I showered, dressed and went to breakfast, taking care of last-minute errands on the way. The bus to the airport left at 8 and check-in went smoothly. My money turned up, too. I had put it in my passport for safekeeping and when I handed my passport to the agent, she handed the money back. We’d been warned that one of the earlier busloads had had to pay for overweight bags, but I wasn’t charged, even though my duffle weighed 20.2 kilos. For some reason, we weren’t allowed through security until it was time to board, so, of course, we left and arrived late.

I was really irritated because I was only going to have an hour in Ushuaia (Thom said it would be two, but he hadn’t factored in the time change), and I wanted as much time as I could get (I already knew that I was on the first plane out on the way back and would have no other opportunity to spend time here)! As soon as they let us go, I hurried to the first shop I saw and bought, wrote and sent postcards. I also bought some empanadas, which were delicious! I took some pictures and went back to the bus (in order to board the ship, we had to be driven onto the pier and unloaded at the gangway), where we were kept waiting until we were cleared to enter the dock and board our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, handing over our passports as we crossed the threshold.

When I got upstairs, my roommate, Kathy, was already unpacking. We had been told to bring collapsible duffles that could be emptied and then stowed under the bunks, but the bunks had drawers underneath, so the brand-new duffle, bought especially for this trip, had to be stowed under the chair. I didn’t bother unpacking the top of it; I used it as my dresser drawer. Kathy stowed hers across the counter and the top of the chair. As soon as I’d stowed my gear, I headed off to explore the ship. There was a reception at about 6, with appetizers, cookies and drinks. During the reception, we learned the lifeboat drill, which came in handy. After the reception, I went up onto the top deck and was there when the alarm sounded (7 short blasts and 1 long). I hurried to my room, put on my warmest clothes and coat, and went out to the lifeboat, carrying my life-jacket (you don’t put the life-jacket on until you’re on deck). We’re competitive runners, so, of course, we all cheered when Rupert, our expedition leader, told us we’d mustered in the fastest time this season, and, possibly, ever for this ship – 109 passengers hit the deck in their winter gear and life vests in under 10 minutes!

After the drill, we gathered on deck to watch the cast-off and see Ushuaia disappear into the distance, then moved forward to watch the Beagle Channel disappear beneath us.

Dinner was served at 7. I sat with Heather, Cathy, Susan and Lisa. We were served wild rice soup along with the salad bar and, for my main course, I ordered the steak with no mushroom gravy. I also substituted a cheese plate for the mandarin orange tart. As we ate, we passed the southernmost settlement (on the coast of Chile) and after we finished, I went back up on deck to watch the channel and the straits. I’ll be asleep when we pass Cape Horn, unfortunately.

Pictures from these days are available here:

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