Thursday, February 08, 2007

Logbook: Ushuaia

Ushuaia1Our northern crossing of the Drake Passage was as calm as our voyage south. In fact, the only real commotion on Monday involved our packing up in preparation to disembark. Contrary to my regular vigilance, I had picked up a few additional items over the past month: a Panama Hat, a couple of tee shirts, a bright red parka (courtesy of MV Discovery for shore landings), a cap and a coffee cup (from Jess, Billie and Poppy) and a bottle of scotch (from their parents, Jan and Rhian). Not really that much stuff all things considered, but still enough to complicate my already efficient -- read: tight -- packing system. Thankfully, my additions were no where near the magnitude of that acquired by others. The point is that there was a fair amount of hustle and bustle as passengers figured out what to keep, what to give away to the crew and how to jam it all into their luggage. Plus, of course, there was an almost comical amount of scurrying around as passengers figured out and distributed tips, attended disembarkation procedure lectures, paid their accounts, said farewells to new friends and generally prepared to get moving after one to six weeks of being on board.

As always, I was up very early for our arrival into Ushuaia on Tuesday morning -- the deck crew outdid themselves in their usual activities right above my cabin -- and had my coffee while watching this little town at the end of the world wake up and come to life. As soon as the ship was cleared by Argentine customs, I grabbed my Mac pack -- temporarily leaving the rest of my gear on board -- and hit the town in search of a new home. My little bit of research had pointed me to a hotel run by the Automobile Club of Argentina where there was some hope that my AAA membership might get me a handsome discount. In cold and misty weather I walked two blocks from the pier, and entered the reception area where I inquired about the discount (“Si”), internet (“Wi-fi, si”) and a room (“No!”). So, I made a reservation for the first available night -- tonight -- then went around the corner to the Albatros -- an overdone, over priced, Euro-style place -- and got a room for two nights. I dropped off my Mac pack and headed back to the ship where I grabbed the rest of my gear, said my good-byes and bailed out of Discovery for the last time.

By then the weather was cold, rainy and windy as hell. In at least a 40 mph gale, I dragged my gear to the Albatros and dumped it in my room. For the rest of the day -- regardless of the weather -- I walked all over this great little town to familiarize myself with what’s what. Along the way I stopped into a tour office and was very fortunate to meet Betsabe who was very helpful in setting up some day trips to the Park, the glacier, etc. By the end of the day I had my “infrastructure” set up and my “exploration” mapped out for the next week! I spent most of yesterday on-line doing all the usual and enjoying the freedom to walk at length in this absolutely stunning setting, eat fresh roasted lamb and get a decent cup of coffee!

Ushuaia2From just about every corner in town, I could see the pier and the ships that were tied up. In the picture above, you can see some behemoth in the background with Discovery in front on the left. As I’ve said, Discovery is “small” by comparison to most ships, but it is a behemoth itself compared to my next ship -- the MV Polar Star -- which happened to be in port and is the little red “boat” you can see at the right of the picture. The Polar Star is an exploration class ship that is ice capable and much better suited to Antarctic cruising. I’m stoked about boarding it later this month and having it be the home of The Voyage for the next six weeks through the Weddell Sea and the South Atlantic Islands then repositioning north and across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands in April. Meanwhile, I transferred over to the Auto Club’s Hotel Canal Beagle this morning and am now very happily ensconced in a neat, tidy, inexpensive room with decent wi-fi, a desk and enough space to sort out my gear. I am almost giddy with excitement looking forward to a wide variety of exploration over the next three weeks in “Fin del Mundo” -- the “End of the Earth” -- on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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