The sun had already been up for some time by the time we went for breakfast. Again it was a continental style made up mostly of carbohydrates, though this time there was a tiny amount of fruit available. By 10:00 we’d checked out and had left our bags behind to pick up later.
To start with we looked around at the gift shops as we knew most places would close at around 13:30 for a few hours (it being a Spanish culture it meant they’d have a siesta at around this time). Most souvenir shops sold pretty much the same things at very similar prices, though there was some variation amongst the bigger shops.
At the end of the main road we came across the El Presidio Museo Maritimo – we decided we’d look around it when we would return to Tierra del Fuego in a little over two weeks time instead. We wandered around for some time, trying to get photos of the Andean mountain range with its snow-capped peaks, but it was difficult to do so without many buildings in the shot. Ushuaia is the only Argentine city on the opposite side of the Andes so it seemed appropriate to try and get them in a photo.
We then wandered down to the waterfront where you could see a ship from Argentina’s Navy, and amongst others, the Plancius – the ship we’d be boarding later. There were quite a few boats around here including the odd one called the Saint Christopher. This ship was a salvage vessel until it was grounded and left there as a reminder of the number of ships that have been damaged in the area. Prior to it’s life as a salvage vessel it was a rescue tug designated as the HMS Justice during World War 2. There were also a few species of seabirds, but none that were close enough to photograph with the lenses we had with us.
Heading back to the main street we eventually found a place to have lunch. I went for a “Bife de Chorizo”, another popular Argentine dish which is basically a steak grilled over a charcoal flame with chimichurri relish. This was a dish the guide in Buenos Aires had recommended too so it did seem like a good choice. It came with an order of mashed potato, and whilst not as good as the previous steak, it was still quite good and by chance came perfectly cooked without having been asked how I liked my steak cooked.
We then headed back to the hotel to collect our luggage and sit in the lobby until it was time to board the ship. Whilst waiting we heard that the Russian research vessel that had got stuck in Antarctic ice was still stuck due to bad weather and reports that the Chinese icebreaker sent to rescue it had got stuck too. Apparently they’d be sending a helicopter to rescue the people from it once the weather improved as they did not want to risk another. It was unlikely this would affect us though as we’d be travelling to a different part of Antarctica.
It wasn’t that far from the hotel to the pier where we needed to board the boat; although there’s a customs office there you just walk straight through. On the way there is also a sign stating their belief that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have illegally occupied the Malvinas Islands (aka the Falkland Islands) since 1833.
As we reached the boat they marked our suitcases with chalk so they knew what room to take them to. As we boarded we had to queue at reception to hand over our passports and receive keys to the room. This was so that visits to islands with passport controls would be more manageable as they could be checked all in one go.
The cabin was actually pretty good and had a fair sized window – more than just the porthole I was expecting. It turned out we had been upgraded due to them not having a full compliment of passengers, so a very nice surprise. We then had a bit of time to unpack, something I don’t normally do on trips, before they raised the anchor and set off on the expedition of a lifetime.
Not long after this we had to meet on deck 5 in the lounge for a safety briefing and an evacuation drill. During the drill we had to get our life vests from cabins, have a roll call, and go out to the lifeboats. During the roll call they thought we’d lost a couple, but it turned out a Chinese couple didn’t understand what was going on, didn’t understand English, and hadn’t confirmed their presence. The ship’s hotel manager was not impressed.
For a while after this I stayed out on deck with both cameras hoping to get some photos of seabirds as we moved through the Beagle Channel. There weren’t really a great number about so when the announcement came for a ship briefing I chose to go and listen to what they had to say in the lounge. During this they gave out champagne for everyone to celebrate the start of the expedition as they explained what we’ll be doing and introducing the crew. Amongst the crew there was an atmospheric researcher, two ornithologists, a historian and several other specialities including a ship’s doctor.
By this time it was 20:00, so time for the dinner. As it was the first night and also New Years Eve they put on an extra special meal to help celebrate. For the starter it was a seafood dish, but as I don’t like seafood they gave me the vegetarian choice which was a tomato and avocado salad. The main course was beef, lamb and vegetables along with some broccoli. The dessert was chocolate, ice cream and “drunken fruits”.
This was then followed by a glass of kahlua and a cup of tea. I made a bit of a mess though as the kahlua had cream on the top of it, and when drinking the cream moved out the way whilst drinking causing more to flow than intended.
Just after 22:00 I chose to quickly get a shower before heading back to the lounge to celebrate the New Year from 23:00 onwards. The celebrations consisted of a quiz where we divided into teams and then had three rounds. After the first two rounds we were in joint first place, but then it was time to countdown to the new year. Just before midnight they handed out glasses of champagne for everyone; each glass being engraved and for passengers to keep.
As you’d expect, as the New Year arrived everyone counted down and then cheered followed by the traditional singing of Auld Lang Syne. As is fairly common though it didn’t go beyond the first verse.
When the third round of the quiz was over we snuck into the lead and won the quiz, winning two bottles of wine between the 5 of us. These were put behind the bar for us to get during a later meal. By this time we had navigated out of the Beagle Channel so no longer had the calm waters but was at open sea where we could now feel the boat rock gently.