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Ushuaia and Beagle Channel

Bon Voyage - Stay Warm!  We anxiously await departure.
Bon Voyage - Stay Warm! We anxiously await departure.
My husband says to me, “do you still want to go to Antarctica”? “Of course,” was my response, “but, how would we get there”? After a long pause, he answers, “drive.” After informing him that Antarctica was a long way from any other land he tells me that we could drive through South America, in our newly built awesome 4x4 Expedition Vehicle, down to Ushuaia, where we would take a cruise to Antarctica. “Are you game”? “You bet.”

So in July of 2006 we started our year long adventure. After spending a couple of days in an Internet Cafe in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, and a flurry of emails back and forth to Jonathan of Adventure Life, we have booked our Antarctica Cruise. We also book our oldest daughter who is just dying to go with us. Now all we have to do is make sure we are in Ushuaia by the time of departure.

We arrived in Ushuaia a week ahead of schedule, just to make sure we don’t miss the trip. We take in all there is to do in and around the small city: Tierra del Fuego National Park, Desoemona shipwreck, Guanacos, Parakeets, Harberton Estancia, hiking up to Martial Glacier, visiting peat bogs and beaver ponds, Maritime Museum and old Prison, the Beagle Adventure-dinner show about Charles Darwin’s trip to the area, shopping, End of the World Museum, Yamana Museum, too many meals of the centolla (southern king crab) in everything from appetizers, soups, to main courses, more shopping, and lastly numerous trips to the Port to watch the ships going to and from Antarctica

There she sits, waiting on her next set of passengers. Little, but mighty--the Sarpik Ittuk. She is the littlest of the Quark Expedition ships making the Antarctic voyages, and holds maximum of 69 passengers.

We are the guests in Room #317, equipped with 3 fold-out bunk beds to accommodate myself, Mike-my husband, and Kristen-our adventurous daughter who is an archaeologist. Although we don’t spend long in the room, we DO notice that each bed is equipped with its own “seat belt,” or do they call it a “safety belt”? Why? Sorry to say, but we do learn why!

How many people on a cruise ship get photos of themselves on the deck of their vessel as it disembarks? We did! As we were taking in the views of Ushuaia from the top deck, we noticed people on another ship waving at us – I mean, REALLY waving at us. As we took a closer look, we realized it was a couple from Holland that we had met earlier. As fate would have it, they were on a cruise departing the same time as the Sarpik Ittuk. So, we each took photos of each other as we departed port. We now have great photos of us, on the deck of the Sarpik Ittuk while the waters churn below us as the propellers push us from the dock and we head out the Beagle Channel under our very own rainbow which appears for a fleeting moment as the sun peaks through the clouds of the afternoon sky.

We watch as the colorful building of Ushuaia rising on the hillside grow smaller and smaller. Even the large white structure and red clay roof of the old Penitentiary are no longer discernible. The backdrop of the dark mountains with the lingering white streaks of snow are now faded into the misty white sky. The sky is busy with hundreds of birds, (which we later learn to identify as various species of albatross and petrel), that are using this opportunity of the disturbed waters to hunt for their next meal.

Puerto Williams, Chile, is seen through the haze as we pass this “southernmost city in the world.” A claim of which Ushuaia has strongly disputed. On past the Shipwreck Lagos we sail, with most of its rusty metal exposed to the elements. The Beagle is showing white-caps now. Little did we know how telling they were of the rough seas ahead.

We are welcomed on-board by our Expedition Leader, Laurie Dexter, and his staff, along with Capt. Thomas Roder and his crew. After a briefing by the ship’s doctor, Dr. Julie Zink, about the pros of taking sea sickness medication BEFORE you are sick. Note to self – when a doctor tells you that the best way to weather the day at sea ahead is to “take something to make you sleep through it,” you might just want to listen. The 3 of us consider ourselves well covered, as Kristen and I are wearing the patch, plus we have wrist bands in the room, and several over the counter and prescription meds tucked away in our bags. Last thing on tonight’s agenda is the Welcome Dinner where we notice that the ship must be leaning to one side, as the drinks in the glasses are “slanted.” Had I known what lie ahead for tomorrow’s seas, I have eaten on the lighter side!

Around 10pm the overhead announcement is made that the Channel Pilot will be leaving the Sarpik Ittuk. From our view at the balcony rail, we watch as a small boat comes speeding our way and wooden rung rope ladder is lowered over our side. As the small boat comes along side, a man climbs down the very wiggly ladder. He tightly grabs the rails of the small boat as it is tossed around. This is not a disgruntled passenger, but rather the Channel Pilot who has been on-board since Ushuaia whose job it is to safely navigate the ships in and out of the Beagle Channel.

The Channel is rough enough that some are starting to get sick. We decide to take a dose of prescription sea-sickness med . . . Just in Case . . . (famous last words.) Photos taken out the window of the cabin are just streaks of white on an angry dark blue background as we call it a day and hit the bunk beds.

When we return from this voyage, passengers from other ships told us that the day that we headed out into the Beagle that one of the largest cruise ships left about an hour behind us, but turned around and came back to Port to spend the night because the Channel was too rough. No wonder we were being warned about rough seas.

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