March 6, 2017:
The morning of the journey was a surreal feeling. After over a year of planning and anticipation, the expedition had still quite not set in until the moment I strolled into the dining room of our hotel room, carrying my day pack, and saw the 85 other energized individuals chatting over breakfast. It was barely 5:30am, yet the room was abuzz with conversation and an energy that was palpable from the doorway. Excitement is contagious, and I think it was that moment that the realization set in, that I was destined for Antarctica.
By 9am, we were on a charter plane to Ushuaia, a small port town located on the southern tip of Argentina. Part of an archipelago and on the island of “Tierra del Fuego,” the town is where we would depart on our voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula.
El fin de mundo. Argentines call it “the end of the Earth,” because it is situated on the most southern point of the six inhabited continents. The area is notorious for inclement winds, which often make flights extremely difficult to accommodate. In our case, the 2 hour flight ballooned to 3.5 hours with a refueling stop in Puerta Madryn due to strong headwinds. Peering out my window during our final descent into Ushuaia was the first breathtaking view of the trip. You could see clear sapphire waters lapping up against the dropoffs of the jagged coastline.
After a short transfer from the airport and a walk around the small, tacky shops of touristy Ushuaia, we boarded our expedition ship, Ocean Endeavor. It’s my first time on a ship of this size, and I definitely found myself wandering around before being helped to my cabin. At 5pm, we set sail.
This part of the world has a rich history, and every waterway and route is named after a famed explorer — conquistadors of the brutal and rugged wilderness, who sought to push the boundaries of mankind to his limits. Our passage is taking us through the Beagle Channel, a channel from Ushuaia to the open waters that runs between Argentina to the north, and Chile to the south. The channel offers some beautiful landscapes and the occasional bird sighting. The Beagle Channel is a reference to the HMS Beagle that transported Charles Darwin down the same route, during which he penned his famous Evolution of Species treatise.
As I write this, we are hitting open water, known as the infamous Drake Passage (named after Sir Francis Drake). This is known to be the “Mount Everest of maritime” or the most treacherous waters to navigate. Waves can surge 30 feet and swells can rise about 200 feet — over the decades this passage has claimed thousands of ships. With our modern equipment it’s less of a concern, but the equipment doesn’t protect us from seasickness, which is said to be inevitable as our ship tumbles along the rough ~700 miles that lay between us and Antarctica.
We will be at sea all day tomorrow, slowly making our rite of passage to the actual fin del mundo. And just like last night, I think we are all going to have a hard time sleeping. Not only because of the anticipation of what is to come, but also as the huge ocean swells turn our ship and our stomachs upside down…