Saturday, April 16, 2011

Part 2 - Ushuaia

Part 4 - South Georgia (Coming soon)
Part 5 (To be continued)


When I awoke this morning, I opened up the curtains and took in the sweeping view of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. In the distance, I could see USH (the airport where we arrived yesterday) and the snow- capped, jagged mountains. And below I could see numerous ships tied up on the docks. There was a large cruise ship, several expedition ships, tugs, and the Clelia.

I cannot count the number of times people have asked me about the Clelia in the days leading up to this trip. I’ve had friends and family ask. I’ve had students ask. I’ve even had a waitress ask me about the Clelia while I sat eating my dinner and reading an Antarctica book.

It seemed that everyone had heard about the Clelia. If you don’t know about the Clelia, you can see her in peril in the YouTube video above. Everyone had seen the videos of the Clelia being battered by thirty foot waves. She was eventually disabled by the waves and left adrift in the Drake Passage.

In the end, the Clelia (and her passengers) survived the Drake, unlike countless ships that have been lost at sea over the centuries. The Drake Passage - the tail end of our journey - has earned a ominous reputation for claiming numerous ships and the lives of those onboard.

The Clelia survived and briefly made the news worldwide. In a less publicized event shortly afterward, a fishing vessel sank elsewhere in the Southern Ocean. The conditions of the sea were reportedly nothing approaching what the Clelia encountered, and yet this vessel was lost. In the last few days before our departure, I only heard a brief mention of that accident. I never heard how that event ended, but I suspect that ship and her crew did not fare as well.

I couldn’t see from this particular angle, but our ship, the Marina Svetaeva, was moored to the same dock as the infamous Clelia. It was just opposite the Clelia. You can see the bow of our ship poking just past the stern of the Clelia in this photo.

Looking out at the Clelia, I found myself hoping that our ship would fare no worse a fate than the Clelia. Looking directly below the hotel didn’t provide a friendly omen. Directly below lay a cemetery. Bwaaa ha ha ha!
 That morning we met Marianne and Lynn, two of our fellow passengers, over breakfast. They and five of their friends are from the D.C. area, and this trip was a continuation of their tradition to travel to a exciting location to celebrate each of their milestone birthdays. This trip was arranged to celebrate Nancy’s birthday.

We left our luggage at the hotel that morning, with some hastily whipped up notes indicating that the bags were to be transferred to the Marina Svetaeva. We crossed our fingers and headed into town.

Based on the temperature, you wouldn’t guess that it was summer. But the flowers were blooming nicely.

On San Martin, the main drag, there were numerous outfitter shops, restaurants, helado (a.k.a. ice cream) shops, souvenir shops, and - most important of all - the post office. We don’t know exactly where we’ll be able to send postcards from later on during the trip, so we made sure to post the must-send postcards (like the one to my grandma). The post office is also where we got our passports stamped. :-)

Like Buenos Aires, there was street art and graffiti in Ushuaia. The ‘prisoner’ artwork was on the post office building. It commemorates Ushuaia’s past as a prison colony.

I’m told that the young prisoner had a particularly gruesome CV, so I’ll leave the details out and simply label him as seriously socially maladjusted.

Recurring themes in the street art in Argentina in both B.A. and Ushuaia include issues such as justice, liberty, and unity.

Other street art didn’t appear to be politically motivated.

We also stopped by an heladeria where Alicia sampled local flavors such as calafate. Calafate is a small, bitter berry that grows in the region.

After spending the early part of the afternoon meandering back and forth across San Martin, we headed to Gustino’s, the meeting point for the expedition. We saw Marianne and Lynn there and met the other members of their party: Nancy, Erin, Ann, Linda, and Brian. People were excited and talking about the journey that we were about to embark upon.

After sixty or so of us had gathered, Carolina, one of the expedition team, called our attention and exuberantly told us that we had a great trip ahead of us and explained the logistics of getting our group from Gustino’s to the dock. The dock was literally across the street, but to simplify clearning immigration or customs (or whatever bureaucracy it was), we piled into two buses which transported us across the street and onto the deck.

There we got our first close up view of our ship, the Marina Svetaeva.

We also got a close up view of the infamous Clelia.

One thing that struck me was that the Clelia is registered in Valletta (Alicia says Malta is a meal). If you had asked me a few years ago, I’d have had no idea where that was. I’d never planned to go there, but Valletta, Malta was one of our last stops on our Mediterranean cruise just about two years this month.

This trip is interesting that way. Over the years I’ve picked up a thing or two - sometimes on my travels, other times from events in the news. Just little tidbits of info here and there. Two years ago, I visited Valletta. Twenty-eight years ago I recall hearing about the Falkland War. On this trip, we’ll travel to the Falklands. Somewhere between 2 and 8 years ago, we saw “The Endurance”. After the Falklands, we’ll travel to South Georgia, the islands that play a key role in Shackleton’s saga.

Once aboard the Marina Svetaeva, we checked out our new home (cabin #433), and some of the gear that One Ocean (the expedition company) provided.

Check out Alicia in the top half of her wet gear. Sexy!

This evening we suited up in our emergency life jackets, and the crew ran us through the emergency evacuation procedures. There are two lifeboats, each of which can hold approximately 80. Here’s to hoping we’ll never need to use them!

One of the things that I really like about the way the ship is run is that almost the entire ship is open to us. This gave me the opportunity to check out the fleet of Zodiacs that will be so instrumental in the days to come. Even the bridge itself is open - very, very cool.

After dinner (which was surprisingly good), we sailed away from Ushuaia, through the Beagle Channel, and into the sunset.


I got a great night’s sleep last night. I love the rocking motion of ships. The sea has been pretty calm since we left Beagle Channel, so the ship's motion lulled me to sleep.

Today was our first full day at sea. While everyone has been getting their sea legs, I’ve been getting my sea feet. On dry land, I tend to be a shuffler. Call me efficient or call me lazy - I tend to minimize how high I lift my feet when walking, running, hiking, meandering, you name it. Getting my sea feet is crucial because of those the ‘trippers’ (my terminology) at the foot of the doors in the ships. On the other hand, folks like Lynn (she's very tall) are having to learn to duck and avoid the noggin’ knockers (again, my terminology).

The cumbersome emergency life jackets we received yesterday are just for use in the case of an emergency. Today we were given our vastly more streamlined PFDs. By luck of the draw, Alicia’s PFD has a sailboat drawn on it. No reason was given for the drawing, but the crew told her that she had the lucky PFD. Now Alicia wants it for the entire voyage.

We spent a portion of the day enjoying the view from the bridge. While there and on the deck, we viewed numerous types of birds. I’m not a ‘birder’ by any stretch of the imagination, so I cannot identify exactly what type of bird I captured in these photos, but we have a large number of birders on board and the king birder himself, Steve Bailey. I’m sure they can identify these bird photos. Birds go flying past the ship at high speeds, and the birders identify them unimaginably quickly. My photos are still, which should make it easy for identification purposes.

One thing I did learn about birds is the existence of a class of birds called tube noses. I think you can figure out how they get that name from these photos.

[ Speaking of figuring out these birds, I'm hoping to use the goofy labels I've attached to the photos (e.g. "Bird 29_1") to get the birders from our ship to identify these birds. Hey, you birders, would you please let me know which bird is which? I'll gladly and publicly give you credit. Thanks.). ]

(Bird 29_1)

(Bird 29_2)

(Bird 29_3)

(Bird 29_4)

(Bird 29_5)

(Bird 29_6)

(Bird 29_7)

(Bird 29_8)

(Bird 29_9)

(Bird 29_10)

One thing I should point out about all these bird photos is that it’s hard to gauge the size of the birds from the photos because there’s nothing in them to provide a sense of scale. It took me a while to realize how big these birds are even when looking at them directly instead of through the view finder. Many of the birds that were whizzing by have wing spans of five feet or more. Instead of picturing birds, imagine flying dinosaurs, and you’ll get a better feel for what these birds are like. 

In addition to the birds, we got to view our first whales of the voyage. Today we saw long fin pilot whales. They were in the distance, so I wasn’t able to get very good pictures. I hope we’ll be seeing more whales during the journey and closer ones at that.

The rest of the day was spent socializing, eating (the meals continue to be surprisingly good), and attending presentations: Birds of the Southern Ocean and Introduction to the Falkland Islands. We also had some mandatory presentations: Zodiac Operations Briefing and IAATO Briefing.

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