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Antarctic Expedition Days 9-12

November 21, 2013

We are at sea again, crossing the Drake Passage back to Ushuaia. Since I have nothing exciting to report, I’ll tell you about life on board the Plancius. She is a Dutch research vessel that has been outfitted for passengers. There are 109 of us, plus deckhands, cooks, housekeepers, and expedition leaders with various specialties. The captain is a big Russian and the main expedition leader is Scottish. English is the language spoken on board, although it’s a very diverse group, from all over the world, and many people don’t speak it well. My roommate is Tatjiana from Switzerland and we have been getting along nicely. Surprisingly, there are no children on board; most people are in their 30s and 40s or older, and there are quite a few solo travelers like me.

The expedition I’m on is called Basecamp Plancius, because the ship anchors at various places and is used as a basecamp from which you can depart for activities on/near shore, like mountaineering, kayaking, photo workshops, etc. The ship is very basic, so there are no luxuries, like a gym or spa. My room is tiny, with two narrow beds, a small desk, a closet, and a tiny bathroom. Everything is bolted or tied down so it doesn’t get thrown around during rough seas. We do have a nice big window in our cabin, as opposed to the small portholes that others have. The dining room opens three times a day for an hour each time, and breakfast and lunch are usually buffet style, unless the ship is rocking too much, then we get served while seated. For dinner there is an appetizer and dessert, and three options for a main dish, usually meat, seafood, or vegetarian.  The food has been okay so far; nothing special, although there is always soup and fresh baked bread at lunch, which has been nice. And this is a very eco-friendly ship; for instance they convert sea water for all of our potable water.

When we are on board, several lectures are offered throughout the day. One of the expedition leaders is a historian, one a geologist, one a marine biologist, one a photography expert, so they do powerpoint presentations on various topics. Before dinner they always do a “recap,” where they talk about what was done that day, what wildlife was spotted, and what the plans are for the next day. There’s a map at the entrance to the lounge where they mark our course and the names of the anchorages, and any unusual wildlife sightings. There is also a chart with all the different species of animals and birds that they mark off each day, according to what was seen.

To disembark on the zodiac, we must wear our high rubber boots that were issued to us on the first day, as well as a small lifejacket and all our cold weather clothing. There is a tag board that has one tag for each person on the ship and one side is red and the other green. As you leave you turn your tag to the red, which means you are not aboard the ship, and when you come back, you turn it back to green. In that way, all the passengers are accounted for before moving to a new location. We also have to scrub our boots and dip them in a disinfectant bath before and after going ashore so that nothing is transferred between the different places. And we had to vacuum all of our equipment and clothing before leaving the ship.  We should reach Ushuaia tomorrow morning, where I’ll fly to El Calafate to begin trekking in Patagonia.

Tags: antarctica, expedition, voyage

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