Travel with the DonElee Report now! See where you can go!

Archive for ‘June, 2019’

Day 7 – Crossed the Drake!

Today we traveled the remainder of the way across the Drake Passage. Seas were relatively calm and we get to relax for most of the day. Sea birds take up most of our sightseeing until dinner. They serve us an early dinner and announce an evening excursion to visit a place called “Bailey Head”. Everyone is intrigued to see our first land excursion of the trip.

I have to wonder about what we will get to see, after all it is evening after dinner and we probably won’t have daylight much longer. It hasn’t set in yet that it is Summer in the Antarctic and it doesn’t get dark until almost midnight in this part of the world. If we had come a couple months earlier, it wouldn’t get dark at all! It is the end of Summer down here heading into their Fall.

We all suit up in the excursion coats and boots they supplied us with and line up in cues as they prompt us over the ships intercom. We are assigned different groups for Land Excursions to streamline the loading and unloading of the Zodiacs. There are no Ports of Call in Antarctica and every day the itinerary changes with the weather. So all land excursions begin in the zodiac boats. They can be very fast (or slow, depending on whether they are taking you somewhere or trying not to scare the wildlife) and are quite efficient in getting you from the ship to land. We are instructed to step into a tray of disinfectant to make sure our boots are sanitized so we don’t bring anything onto land that shouldn’t be there!

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) does not allow more than 100 people to land from a single ship at any location, so the 187 passengers on the ship have to split up into different groups. That means that about half of us can go on land and the other half takes a zodiac tour of the area. Then the land group gets back in the zodiacs and takes a tour while the other half goes on land. A very nice way of doing it so everybody gets 2-3 hours off the ship at a time.

So off we go in zodiacs and we find groups of “Porpoising Penguins” as they are referred to for the interesting way they swim. For such chubby little creatures that waddle on land and are seemingly ungainly, they are graceful and speedy in the water!

When we finally make it to land, we are greeted by Fur Seals galore. Once the whole group is ashore, we walk inland among tens of thousands of “Chinstrap Penguins”, named for the coloration of their feathers that that make it appear they have a “Strap” under their chin.

We walk among them, amazed at their numbers and marvel at the antics and the cuteness they exhibit. As far as the eye can see, they cover the hills. And for the most part, they appear to be walking on snow and ice, but it is Summer here. Even though there is snow and ice on all the mountains, the white stuff they are walking on is a mix of their Guano and their molting feathers!

The circle of life is also evident as we walk by the not so uncommon penguin that met its demise!

We chat amicably with our ship’s Naturalist who is knowledgeable in all things living! Before we know it, the sun is beginning to set, a process that takes hours and bathes everything in magical hues of yellow and orange that makes all it touches glow as if painted.

Even though we have been off the ship for many hours, too soon comes the message to get back in the zodiacs for the trip back to the ship. When we board, we are led through an area where we have to step into disinfectant again to make sure we don’t bring something foreign back onto the ship and our boots are clean for the next excursion!

Back on the ship, we head for the lounge and happily swap critter stories with our shipmates. Then it’s off to bed to see what tomorrow will bring!

Day 6 – We’re On Our Way!

DAY SIX (Feb 21

1st full day on the ship. Fun people, fun times. Halfway across the ‘Drake’ now.  We walk about and mingle with other guests as we check out the ship and get used to the location of everything.  We see random sea birds and the occasional whale in the distance.  Walking around today is easier than we thought it would be and the seas are not horrible like we were told this passage could be.  We’re told we will step on land in Antarctica tomorrow.  We go to our scheduled meeting with the Kayak Group and meet everyone, including our two Kiwi Kayak Guides that are fun and playful, yet all business when it comes to safety.  We get our Dry Suits for Kayaking and all the gear necessary for that.  Then we go to the meeting for our Land Excursion Group and get our Land Excursion gear including boots and Life Vests.  We walk around the ship and familiarize ourselves with the layout of the Ship and look out at the lonely Southern Ocean as we continue to cross the Drake Passage.  The seas are moderate and we wonder what is really in store for us over the next two weeks.  But we know where the food is served and where the bar is!  We visit with other shipmates and start to get to know them.  Some music plays in the lounge and drinks are poured to calm any nerves that may still be on edge.

We discuss the opportunities to send Postcards from Port Lockroy, the British Post Office Base, where ships like ours pick up and deliver mail every time they arrive and depart.  Sometimes, we’re told, it takes up to 6 months to receive a Postcard and sometimes it takes as little as a month.  Imagine that, a Postcard that takes a month to 6 months or more!  Sounds like the 50’s!  What an archaic system!  But this is Antarctica!  Nothing modern down here!  Can’t wait to see this place!

But we know where the food is served and where the bar is!  Progress on the ship is being made!  We visit with other shipmates and start to get to know them.  More music plays in the lounge and more nerve calming medicine is acquired from the bar.  It is time to go to sleep.  We will wake and see what tomorrow has in store for us!

Day 5 – Antarctica Here We Come!

With Just The Clothes On Our Back! (And our Fin del Mundo purchases)

DAY FIVE (Feb 20)

We wake and have breakfast and go over our lists of things we still need.  We turn our luggage in to the hotel where the Expedition instructed us to.  Hopefully, these bags make it onto the ship!  It’s 9:30AM and we don’t board the ship until 5:00PM. Another glance out at our Ship awaiting us and we get our day started!

  So off we go into town with our one last bag to try and get the final items.  We check out of our hotel and stroll into town.  We successfully find enough items to make us sure we can board the ship.  A steady drizzle greets us but not so bad that we can’t make our way around town to finish our shopping spree.  We find the last few items we need for the trip and we consign ourselves to the idea that our shopping is done. Never found hand warmers though, it seems they are not welcome products here because they are not discarded properly and are claimed to be toxic to the environment. Oh well, got to move on. We did find the sock liners and other items. Not as fully stocked as we had hoped, but it seems we CAN do this!

It is noon and we stop into “Bodegon Fueguino” Restaurant that has been closed when we have passed it several times in the last couple days.  It was recommended to us by more than one local person.  We get seated and I ask the waitress what dish she would eat if she were ordering and she points out a lamb dish and I order it.  Elee gets Empanadas and Sopas.   Delicious food that again does not disappoint!    Bellies full once again, we head back to our hotel in the steady drizzly rain covered in sweatshirts and newly acquired rain gear.  It seems the longer we stay in Ushuaia, the worse the weather gets.  The rain in town is snow in the local mountains and the views, when we get one, are gorgeous!

On a side note, Ushuaia is the first place in South America that has decent plumbing and you can actually flush toilet paper instead of having to put it in a trash can!  Not the case in Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Central America, Cuba and more.  A pleasant change from what we expected!

We show up at the docks and board the ‘dock bus’ to take us to the gangplank and we walk on.  A bit nervous and queasy about not having the exact things we worked so hard to acquire, we settle into the ships lounge with the other 185 Passengers and 144 Crew Members for the introductory meeting and orientation.  At least they open the bar and we all have intro drinks in hand.  Ah, now things improve!  The Crew tells us what to expect for the next 14 days and everybody is put at ease.  Our Expedition Leader, Lori, introduces us to the crew and each Crew Member tells us a little bit about themselves.  Jokes are shared and the mood is light as each Crew Member has fun at their own expense!

We learn that this trip differs from a normal Cruise in several aspects.  This is an Expedition Ship, not a Cruise Ship.  A Cruise Ship has a set Itinerary and Ports of Call are scheduled and pretty much “Set in Stone”, so to speak.  Also, most Excursions on a Cruise Ship are additional and participation usually costs extra.  An Expedition Ship has an “Expedition Leader” (as opposed to a Cruise Director) that works with the Captain and the trip and Ports are designed Day by Day and are affected by Weather, Wind & Ocean Currents, among other factors.  Excursions are included and no extra expense is incurred to participate.  So our adventure begins and we will be informed as we go of what we will experience!

This Expedition Ship has what is referred to as an “Open Bridge”.  This means that passengers can go into the Bridge at almost any time they wish to.  We are requested to be quiet on the Bridge so as to disturb the Captain and Crew and their navigation of the ship.

We are sailing through the “Beagle Channel”, at the southern tip of Tierra Del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina.  A Lifeboat Drill is in our immediate future and we are given instructions for this.  Anyone who has ever been on a ship, be it a Cruise Ship or an Excursion Ship, has to attend the Lifeboat Drill where we learn what to do in an emergency and we find our “Muster Stations”.  We are told where to Smoke if we choose to.  Unfortunately, Smoking is allowed on the ship, but only in one place.  I find it interesting that the Smoking location is next to the Fuel Cabinets, what’s up with that???

At dinner, we sit with a group of other passengers that we will get to know better as the trip progresses.  Camera discussions ensue along with anticipated wildlife sightings and life stories are shared.

Okay, so we’re on the ship and still have an internet connection. Slow, but it’s there. So maybe I’ll be able to make random posts. We’re crossing the ominous “Drake Passage”, one of our Bucket List items.  So far, it is much calmer than we anticipated and they are predicting relatively calm seas.  At the moment we’re about 75 nautical miles south of South America with about 500 more to get to Antarctica.  Seas are moderate and care is placed as we walk around the ship.  This is nothing we haven’t experienced before and is milder than we anticipated.  We should finish the Crossing tomorrow night.  We’re seeing random sea birds at the moment.  I’ll post a photo or two if I can.

See you in the morning!!!