Week 36: Heading south… FAR SOUTH!

More penguins!
Camera: SM-A715F Aperture: 2.2 Focal Length: 1.74 Shutter Speed: 556 ISO: 50
More penguins!

Week 36: Heading south… FAR SOUTH!

Thankfully the wind backed down in the evening and thus our tent survived yet another -albeit very cold- night. We have two days of driving ahead of us to get to the south of the country, and with that the most southern point on earth you can drive to. Our first leg is a 4hr joint to Rio Gallegos, which went easy enough and left us with time to arrange some things and have a nice dinner in town.

The second leg is a bit more tedious, as it requires us to cross 2 borders; From Argentina into Chile, and then back into Argentina again, all in one day. As we have an end destination in Argentina and are thus passing through Chile we do not have to do all the testing requirements. All the other steps are the same however and the line is too, so our first border crossing takes us 2 hours and change. From there, we have a drive towards a ferry that crosses the Magellan Street out to the ‘Tierra del Fuego’. The ferry exercise is quick with one every half hour, and from there we speed through the landscape for another 160km. The following border crossing is much quicker as it sees less people and the traffic is dispersed by the ferry. All in all it takes us less than half an hour to cover both, and thus we are BACK in Argentina!

Ushuaia heeee

With two kids in the back of the car it should come to no surprise that the song ‘Ushuaia‘ came through the speakers quite often in the last few days, as we made our way down south. From the plains of the Argentinian pampas, the last 200km the landscape changes and we hit more mountains, forests and lakes. As we drive through the pass closest to Ushuaia we are ‘welcomed’ by a rainbow, meaning rain a bit further down, which makes us wonder why we are still in sandals ;-).

We have some chores still to do, but first we need to find a place to sleep. Not an easy feat in a touristy town like Ushuaia, sowe try a few options on iOverlander but with no luck. When asking for recommendations, we are sent to the tourist office who actually keeps track of availability! How oldschool, but how nice that we do not have to drive around and try to find a place, but have the lady behind the desk call a few options for us. We quickly find a lovely aparthotel and start the process of unloading the entire car (including roofbox) for a much needed reorganisation.

Why the work? ANTARCTICA IT IS!!

Yessss, we managed it (well not us but the amazing Carolina and Mai from Antarctica Travels), we found a fantastic opportunity to travel to the final continent: Antarctica! And while we are at it, we will actually add the South Georgia and Falkland Islands to the list. We will board a luxury cruise for 22 days to travel the south of the planet and discover the eternal ice and of course all its inhabitants! To do so we have been working hard to get things organised, buy the necessary gear (it is cold down there ;-)), get the paperwork done and of course the money paid. With all the support of the agency we are now in Ushuaia and are repacking all our belongings and travel gear so we are ready to board the boat tomorrow.

Before we do though, the organisation offers an overnight stay in a super luxurious hotel, the Arakur, which we of course enjoy to the fullest! Once checked in, we head straight to the infinity pool as the rain seems to have passed giving us a spectacular view across the bay. The boys spend more than an hour hopping from pool to pool and taking full advantage of the premises. We sneaked in a batch of empanadas for dinner which we finish when Sven comes back from dropping our car. The beds are comfi which means we all fall asleep quickly, ready to take on the adventure of a lifetime!

Our journey begins!

It is the day of our embarkment, but first there is some more swimming and a nice lunch at the hotel. We are the last group to get into the bus to the ship, and thus we have some more time to relax. Around 15:30 our time has come to take the transfer and be welcomed at our house for the next 3 weeks; the M/V Sea Spirit. The first surprise we get is the expedition leader; Ab Steenvoorden. Not only is he Dutch, he is also from our hometown! This is of course a fantastic bonus as the kids will be able to ask him questions in their own language, especially as he is a bird expert he will be able to point out and explain more to them.

The Sea Spirit is a relatively small ship (it can take a max of 114 guests), but set up with all the luxuries you can think of. Every deck has half of it filled with rooms, and the other half is either a restaurant, lounge, bar or outer deck (with jacuzzi). Our room is a classic suite, set up with 2 big beds for the four of us. It also has a big window to look outside and not miss any of the beauty we pass by. At 6pm the ships sets off, blasting its horn and saying goodbye to Ushuaia for the season. Our cruise will end at Buenos Aires, as the ship will then cross the Atlantic Ocean for the Arctic season, so it will not see Ushuaia again until November. We will fly back to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires to pick up our car again.

We start the evening with an emergency drill, doing exactly as we were told by the introductory talk we had earlier, which is a good way of embedding it in the brain, but causes Bo to think that every time there is talking over the intercom there is an emergency… we need to reassure him several times but finally he lets go of the fear of sinking. As it is dinner time, we go down to the restaurant to be wowed by what we will learn is the gold standard of luxury cruising; an incredible menu with several courses and plenty of choice. We will certainly not go hungry! We learn as well that we are group D, that all is organised by group and that due to Covid there is quite a bit of logistics the crew needs to take care of – quite the enterprise!

The Drake Passage

To get to Antarctica, there is a hurdle to take that has made quite a name for itself; The Drake Passage. Created as the plates that had Antarctica on it and South America moved apart, it is know for its turbulent weather and thus massive swell. There is no in between; you either get the ‘Drake Lake’ or the ‘Drake Shake’. And it is not just one day, it is 2 full days of sailing (or more if you are unlucky :-)). With mom being prone to sea sickness, the motion sickness patches are applied and fingers are crossed.

According to the crew, we are actually very lucky and encounter the ‘lake’-version of the Drake Passage. To be honest; if this is the lake, we would really not want to see the shake! So we take their word for it and spend 2 days exploring the ship and attending presentations set up. One is a compulsory talk about the rules of Antarctica visits, one is about penguins, and then there are the sessions to fit our anoraks and boots (we get to keep the anoraks as a souvenir!). And there is eating…. a lot of eating… and EVERYTHING is good!

As we finish lunch on the second day we hear the great news; LAND IN SIGHT!!! We have crossed the Drake faster than ever, and because of this we have the unique possibility to already do a landing on the second day of sailing! As we crossed the 60degree mark and are technically in Antarctic territory, our first landing will be on what is counted as the South Shetland Islands. To top it all off it is Svens birthday today, and we can not imagine there being any better way to spend your birthday then here! We can’t wait…

Next week: Our first Antarctic encounters

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