“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” – R.E.M.
Ushuaia is a resort town, located at the southernmost tip of South America and is nicknamed “Fin del Mundo” (the “End of the World”). It is also where we left South America for the 7th continent.
Early the morning of Tuesday, December 13th, Melisa and I joined a number of other travelers for a small breakfast in our hotel at 5am and then boarded the bus to the domestic airport. As we waited to board the plane, I put on a seasickness patch. While I am usually fine on boats, I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. I had never been on a cruise or any ship overnight and the Drake Passage (the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica) is known for its rough waters.
The flight to Ushuaia was about 3 hours and when we arrived there we were given a bit of time to explore the town before boarding our ship. Compared to Buenos Aires, the temperature was chilly (around 50 degrees vs. 85) and served as a clear indication that Ushuaia was the gateway to our Antarctica adventure. The snow capped Martial Mountains that surrounded the resort town provided a beautiful backdrop, which were reminiscent of the Swiss Alps (or at least how I picture them considering I’ve never been).
The town was quaint and it was clear that it catered to tourists, the streets lined with souvenir shops and places to buy last-minute winter gear for the trip to the white continent. Melisa and I visited the tourist center to get passport stamps commemorating our trip to the End of the World, then strolled along the streets, popping into shops before settling down for lunch and a local beer (Beagle Pale Ale), which was served in a penguin-shaped carafe.
We boarded the Ocean Endeavor around 4:30 that afternoon. While the expedition vessel is smaller than most cruise ships, housing approximately 200 travelers, 30 expedition staff plus dining, bartending and hotel staff, I had never been on a cruise and the ship seemed quite large to me at first. We spent the evening checking into our cabin, unpacking, getting fit for our parkas and muck boots, participating in an emergency drill, exploring the ship and having a welcome briefing, during which we were introduced to the Quark expedition team. The evening’s dinner and the drinks that followed in the Nautilus Lounge gave us the opportunity to meet a number of passengers. I was pleasantly surprised the wide age range and the number of travelers in their 20s and 30s.
The ship disembarked around 8pm and, with the help of a pilot, began making its way through the Beagle Channel for Antarctica!