Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There was no blinding light this morning, and our nap the day before had not been as long, so were able to sleep in until after 8. We had breakfast downstairs, and then packed. Fortunately, we didn't have to pack too well, as we were just getting the bags onto a boat, and then unpacking from there. When we checked out, the bill from the National Park excursion was on there, but it was a separate charge and for whatever reason we had to pay in cash, which of course we didn't have. So we had to go into the city and go the ATM.

Our first stop in the city was at the port, to see if our boat was there. Thankfully, it was. It looked tiny (and a little worse for wear) than most of the other boats at the port, but we knew this going in. Supposedly it is one of the best for maneuvering in tight spots, getting to locations other boats can't, and most importantly, excellent for not getting stuck in the ice. The ship is roughly 72 meters long, 13 meters across, and lies only 4.5 meters below the surface, which explains why it is so maneuverable.

We had a momentary scare at the ATM, because it didn't like either one of our cars. There was another ATM down the street, however, and that worked just fine. Perhaps the first one was simply out of cash. Now with cash in hand, we had several hours to kill, and there wasn't much going on, so we walked up and down Avenida San Martin for about the 10th time. Interestingly, we found several restaurants this time that served empanadas, and we kept a running list in our head of our favorite as we walked up and back. We ended up settling on a place called Pizza and Pastas. We each got 4 empanadas and a drink. The total cost, including tip, was less than $20 US.

We still had time to kill, so we decided to walk back to the hotel instead of catching a cab. This wasn't the best idea, as it was actually a very nice day and it was way too warm for the clothes we were wearing. It was so nice we could actually see the glacier we climbed two days prior. Also, Justin got a little sunburned, and Crystal kept getting tangles in her hair from all of the wind. We reflected a bit on Ushuaia. We never really thought about it as a destination in its own right, as opposed to a jumping off point for Antarctica. It was fairly nice, however, not that we'd necessarily come back for Ushuaia itself. The sales pitch and catch phrases are all a bit misleading as well. Ushuaia touts itself as the southernmost city in the world, and also as the "end of the world" (fin del mundo). This is a bit strange, since Puerto Williams (in Chile) is across the Beagle Channel to the South of Ushuaia. For goodness sakes, there are advertisements for Puerto Williams at the Ushuaia pier. The two cities are almost across the channel from one another. Ushuaias response to that is to say that 1) Puerto Williams isn't a city (even though it has 2000 people, several paved roads, and an airport), and 2) that you can't drive there. #2 is kind of funny, because Ushuaia itself is on an island, separated from the rest of South America, and indeed the rest of Argentina. To get to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires, you'd have to take a ferry (with your car), then drive out of Argentina into Chile, then cross back into Argentina at a later point. So there's that.


Back at the hotel, we basically just grabbed our bags and called a taxi to take us back into town, to the Port. Before we boarded, there was a nice map showing where we would be headed (Falklands, South Georgia, Orcadas, Antarctic Peninsula). Notably, the Argentines called the Falklands "Islas Malvinas" and stated they belonged to Argentina. The Port security wasn't very formal. We had to pass our bags through an x-ray, but we didn't have to through an x-ray ourselves. Perhaps the security people would have cared more had we been boarding an Argentine vessel instead of a Russian one. Even though we showed up at 4pm (the beginning boarding time), roughly 2/3 of the boat was already in line ahead of us. After being nice outside all day, it started to cloud up and start drizzling while we were waiting in line. Fortunately we were able to board before it got too bad.

We had seen the floor plan before we left, and tried to choose a "central" room to minimize motion. Usually this means center of the ship, lowest floor possible. But we wanted a room with its own bathroom, which ruled out Deck 3. Also, Deck 4 (the one people are standing on in the photo above) is where the gangway is, so people can walk right past your room's porthole, giving no privacy at all. So we ended up on Deck 5, in room 509, which was at least close to the center of the ship, and was right at the top of the stairs. It also wasn't in a high traffic area, not being on the same floor as either the dining room or the bar.

Here were our first impressions of the boat: The ceilings are about 6'6, so anything that hangs down (light, vent), smoke detector, doorway, etc., Justin has to duck for. He thinks that by the time the trip is over he will be a hunchback. Our room was very small, and very warm, but after unpacking everything seemed to have a place. The bathroom is the shower, meaning that there is no separation for the toilet and the sink - i.e., they will get wet during a shower. Unlike the Galapagos cruise, here we have bunk beds instead of a full. Hopefully whoever has the top bunk on any given night won't need to vomit. One thing we were not expecting was to have a fairly large refrigerator. It seems that space could have been better used for more storage, but then again we might make good use of the fridge if we aren't hungry for a particular meal. We might also re-consider purchasing a bottle of booze, something we turned down in Ushuaia. There is a decent sized desk, but interestingly, the chair doesn't fit underneath the desk, being just about 1 or 2 inches too wide. We were happy to see that we get free water, coffee, tea, soup, at any time we want. Everything seems to have a lock on it, so that when (hopefully if) there is a lot of turbulence, nothing will fall out.

We were a little later leaving the port because we couldn't find the doctor. The staff was joking about it, but we could tell they were legitimately concerned about finding him, and at one point they asked if any of the passengers were doctors, so perhaps they were considering leaving without him. (In retrospect this may have been a good idea). When we started moving, we knew he had showed up. Apparently he thought the boat set off at 7pm, not 6pm, and thus he showed up "early" at 6:45. This would be the first of many stories involving him. On board they gave us an overview lecture, and later gave us our life vest and life jacket training. As part of the training, we actually boarded the life boats, which are covered (and thus like a mini-submarine). It was nice to know that they are covered, but we hope we never see the inside of them again.

Outside the weather was pretty nice, with either a gentle sprinkle or no precipitation at all. The water was still calm, as the Beagle channel is "protected" due to the landmasses on either side of us. The views from both sides of the boat were very nice, and the sunset was good as well, although we couldn't tell exactly where the sun was, because there seemed to be a sunset in multiple places. It was nice out on the observation deck, just a little cold. We were told at that 1am or so we would be in the open seas, and that things would get much rougher. We didn't wait too long after dinner before trying to go to sleep - we wanted to be sleeping when the rolling began. Going to sleep was actually fairly easy, and we slept quite well.