Antarctica Backpacking Through South America Eight Months On the Road
By David Rice
Page Thirty One
Backpacking by Bus In South America
Eight Months On the Road
Text and Photos By David Rice
On the day of boarding the ship, we met in a hotel staging area and we handed in our luggage which went on ahead to our rooms. We went by bus to the docks and right to the ship boarding area where we picked up our key and deposited our passport for an inspection by Argentine officials.
Underway by mid morning we headed out of the Beagle Channel and past Cape Horn. During that night we entered the roughest seas in the world, The Drake Passage. We were on our way to Antarctic but our initiation would be a day and a night in the world's most violent ocean..
Huge swells rocked the ship for most of the night and through the next day and I was beyond queasy. Finally in the mid day, we entered still waters and the waves calmed and so did my stomach. We still had no land in sight as we left the Drake Channel, just Albatross and sea birds trailing the ship.
We would be three days on the ocean passage, a day and a half each way, and then eight days in Antarctica, on the eleven-day trip. All this time the passengers had total access to the ships engine room, bridge, and kitchen, Tours were available most any time. The Captain was a Nordic sailor, accustomed to cold weather sailing amidst icebergs, a comforting thought.
Four of us received and an invitation to the Captain's table for dinner and cocktails which included a speech by the captain and a crew member.
During this speech they made it clear that we needed to be careful, falling overboard would be fatal. We were not to harass the animals on shore and they warned us to be cautious with the penguins; though tame and unafraid of humans, their bite can be serious enough to require stitches.
Each day I would rise before seven for coffee and then the crew would serve a great breakfast of eggs and ham cheese coffee and tea. After breakfast we would suit up and load a Zodiac inflatable that carried 15 and we would go ashore. Mostly we landed on shelf ice but occasionally we would see rocks. Usually, however, we would see nothing but ice and flocks of penguins. They would come leaping out of the water to waddle over the ice or we would see seals in groups up on the ice. All the while orcas would be cruising off shore looking for an easy penguin or seal dinner.
While ashore we had to be cautious because winds would come up unexpectedly and they would force you to your knees to avoid being blown over. When this happened and we were near the shore, there was danger that the wind would tumble us into the numbing sea.
We had a system of numbered tags that we would remove from a board so that the crew knew when each passenger was back on the ship.
The crew served us lunch at noon and this included wine and cocktails to accompany the gourmet meals with fresh rolls and fresh-baked bread. The menu at times included exotics like llama and Emu along with beef and shrimp, soup and salad, vegetable and dessert of cakes and puddings.
We were aboard the ship Antarctic Dream and they missed no opportunity to entertain us including having an ornithologist, a biologist, and a natural history expert aboard who would present photos and dissertations each night at the recreation room.
We visited research stations on shore where we toured. One was researching the thawing of the ice. Several countries maintain stations there doing research.
Each day we would pass icebergs as we went further south until one day we went as far south as the ship could go and we actually broke ice as we went.
There were magic vistas of glaciers looming out of the mist as we entered sheltered bays where we would board the inflatable and slip through the chunks of ice to reach the shore.