South America/Antactica – (part 5) by Betty Fielding

We were in Ushuaia, on the southern tip of Argentina, sometimes known as “the end of the world”, and were due on the pier at 4pm to board the “Polar Pioneer” for our eagerly awaited journey to Antarctica. Earlier in the day we walked by the port for a peek at our home for the next 10 days. There were 2 ships sailing out to Antarctica that day – the other ship was over twice the size of the “Polar Pioneer” – looking at our dwarfed vessel we hoped the Drake Passage didn’t live up to its reputation. We needn’t have worried as our crossing was very mild.
The “Polar Pioneer” carried only 54 passengers which was a definite plus – the voyage allowed us to have a truly intimate experience with nature, venturing into areas that were not accessible to larger ships. It didn’t take long to get to know our fellow expeditioners, the expedition staff and ship’s crew.
Before leaving port we had the mandatory safety drill. However, this time we actually manned the lifeboats, the doors were closed and the engines started – not where I’d like to be for any length of time.
Soon the ropes were freed and we headed east along the Beagle Channel out to the Drake Passage and started on our way to the Frozen Continent. On the “Polar Pioneer” they have a 24 hour “open bridge” and that proved a brilliant place to spend a lot of time. To pass any spare time there were fascinating lectures, movies and, of course, the lounge bar. Meals were served in the very informal dining rooms and were “family style” with everyone helping themselves from dishes in the middle of the table. The food was nutritious, satisfying and tasty.
Enough of the preliminaries, let’s get on with our adventure.
Our expedition leader, Gary, was very “gung-ho”. After 2 days on the Drake our first chance for a landing would be Aitcho Island in the South Shetlands – if we arrived in good time. As the clock moved on we were pretty sure we’d missed our chance. No way!! At 9.30pm Gary gave the call “Zodiacs loading in 20 minutes”. This was our call to arms – back to our cabins to begin the ritual of donning the layers required for the cold weather. Being our first landing, everyone was a bit concerned that maybe we hadn’t packed enough warm clothes – it was fine and we all passed with flying colours – on later landings we actually stripped layers off. I became very proficient at speed layer dressing!
First landing – adrenalin pumping – first steps on this magnificent landscape – an experience truly to remember.
Next morning we woke ready to celebrate Christmas Day in Antarctica. Santa visited, we sang carols, opened our gifts and had a scrumptious Christmas lunch. However, this was all overshadowed by the glorious blue sky and sunshine that accompanied our two zodiac landings on the Antarctic Peninsula – the best Christmas present!!

Betty Antarctica 2 10May2013

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