Days 10-12: Return to South America

These last three days get combined into one post, because now we’re just heading back to South America, and there’s nothing to prepare for, except the inevitable end of the trip. Having to cross the Drake again gives you a couple days to sort of decompress from the excitement of Antarctica and prepare mentally to reenter the civilized world.

On day 10, our first day back on the Drake, there was no wake up call. (Nowhere to be except on the ship!) Then there were a couple of presentations in the lounge—including one by Laurie who gave his account of skiing across the Arctic Ocean from Canada via the North Pole in 91 days. This guy is totally amazing, and I’m going to tell you even more amazing things about him soon. Jimmy talked about orcas; the geologist talked about weather systems in Antarctica.

There was a “wild west” themed party in the lounge that night. Some people got very creative with costumes.

On day 11, we were still on the Drake. This morning they had a couple more presentations, one of which was about the other polar trips Quark does. (Not a sales presentation at all…just one of the team leaders talking about all the cool stuff they do and see.) Jimmy talked about whales again (there is a lot to know about whales).

And then, Alex let us know that we were making really good time (it was, they said, the smoothest Drake crossing they’d had all season—I still took phenergan to be safe) and that had allowed us to cross quickly enough to be able to detour over to Cape Horn. This was historically one of the most dangerous routes to sail for ships, as they sailed around South America. Now they can avoid it by using the Panama Canal, so most people do not sail this route anymore other than for the challenge. (Several round-the-world races go this way, according to Wikipedia.)

We sailed within three miles of it.

It was still windy enough on deck to need the yellow parkas.

We turned in our rubber boots this day, placing them outside our cabins before lunch so they could be picked up.

That afternoon they showed another movie in the lounge—this one called “Around Cape Horn,” depicting the voyage of the Peking around the Horn in 1929. This guy actually shot video of the trip, and he narrates the video in this movie. And it is harrowing!!


Alex held a disembarkation briefing to explain the procedures, and we had our final recap. Then we were invited to a Captain’s Farewell Cocktails in the lounge that evening before dinner.

After cocktails, we all went into the dining room for the farewell dinner, where the entire crew of kitchen staff came out and paraded around the room clapping and cheering, and then were introduced to us so we could recognize them for all of their hard work. They really did an incredible job.

We crossed the Drake so quickly we were going to arrive early, so first they said we would anchor for the night outside the Beagle Channel and sail in to Ushuaia in the early morning, but then they told us that they wanted to do some maintenance work on the ship and that having it in one place for 12 whole hours was a luxury they didn’t often get, so we would go ahead and sail into Ushuaia that evening.

I was already in bed nearly asleep when we dropped anchor…I think it was probably around 11pm. It was weird to not feel the engines running!

In the morning (day 12), we were to place our checked luggage in the hallway to be picked up and taken off the ship. We ate our last breakfast in the dining room, and then it was time to say goodbye.

Some people were going directly to the airport, and some of us were going to local hotels. Allen was flying home that morning, and they called the airport people first, so we said goodbye outside the cabin, and he left for the shuttle to the airport. Jeff & I went upstairs and sat in the lounge to wait to be called.

I had heard of people rolling their parkas up into basketballs, so this is what we did with ours, too. It was not easy to get them stuffed up this small! These also got us a lot of weird looks and questions from customs officials. (“What are those yellow things??”)

When they called us, we picked up our passports at reception and headed out.
Once on the pier, we had to ID our luggage to be put onto a shuttle. (Remember how we had to arrive on the pier by shuttle? Same for departure.) The shuttle dropped us off at a taxi stand a block from the pier.

We had a hotel only a couple blocks away, so we walked up to it, only to find two other passengers from our trip arriving at the same time as us for the same hotel.

The hotel had an amazing fourth floor deck where we could hang out and use the wifi. It was around 8:30 in the morning when we got there. The four of us set up shop with our laptops and iPads and phones and started reconnecting with the world. We had gorgeous views, snacks, and internet. It was from here that I finally began to post photos to Facebook, which I had been dying to do.

We left the hotel deck and wandered around town for a while around lunchtime, eating at a little deli we came across. We spent more time on the deck in the afternoon, when I spotted this large cruise ship that had come in. It dwarfs the smaller ships!

Ushuaia is hilly.



Ushuaia at dusk

The next morning we took a cab to the airport, where we ran into several other people from our ship, all on the same flight to Buenos Aires we were on. In BA, we all parted ways as we headed off to various cities and countries around the world.

Day 1: Embarkation day

The detailed trip report starts now! I’ve already posted a bit about the days we spent in Ushuaia and the pre-expedition briefing at our hotel the night before, so I’m starting now with the day we boarded the ship.

All bags going to the ship were piled in the hotel lobby the morning that we were departing. (Except fragile items, because the luggage was picked up in a giant net by crane and dropped onto the ship. I kept my camera suitcase with me.)
And then they were loaded onto a bus to be driven down to the pier, and we had a few hours free to hang out in the city.


Taking photos of the docked ship

This is my uncle Allen. He’s my dad’s brother. He will turn 80 this year, and he’s in the best shape of basically anybody I know of any age. (Although after meeting some of the expedition team, I realized there are a few people out there who can give him a run for his money. But more about that later.)


Signs at the entrance to the pier

And then it was time to meet the bus. The buses met at a park just outside the entrance to the pier. It was literally just a few yards to walk, but for security reasons we had to enter by bus. The Quark team put up flags next to our meeting spot to help people find it.

At 4pm, we all piled into the buses, and they drove us about 2 minutes onto the pier. It took longer to get out of the parking lot than it did to get to the pier.

We walked onto the ship and immediately into the main lounge, where we were greeted by a setup of snacks (a beef soup, cucumber & tomato sandwiches, ham & cheese sandwiches, banana cake, cookies, coffee, tea, water, juice). To check in, we had to turn over our passports to the reception desk for the duration of the trip. (In case something happened, they’d all be together in one place with someone responsible for getting them off the ship so we weren’t stranded without documents.) As soon as we did, someone escorted us to our room, where our luggage had already been delivered.
They offered us brief tours of the ship. Jimmy the whale guy showed us the main areas of the ship.
The benches on the outside decks were tied up for the entire duration of the trip, not just the Drake Passage.
Back inside the main lounge, we had our first meeting, a welcome briefing where the staff introduced themselves, explained some basic info about how things work and how they communicate with us.

When Yvonne, the geologist, got up to speak, she said, “How many of you came on this trip to see rocks?!?”

When Jeet, the doctor, got up to speak, he told us, “I want you to wash your hands constantly. And when you aren’t washing your hands, I want you to be *thinking* about washing your hands.” There were hand sanitizer stations all over the ship as well.

They impressed upon us the fact that we would be 1000km from the nearest medical facility, and that even fairly minor medical issues could result in everyone’s trip being affected as the ship would have to sail to King George Island to evacuate by plane anyone who needed medical attention. Y’all, Antarctica is remote.

When Laurie, the historian, got up to speak, he didn’t even waste time telling us about himself. Instead he opened with a dramatic story about a sailor in Antarctica hearing ship calls in the middle of a foggy night, and realizing when the fog cleared in the morning that he was sitting between two warships. And then he said, “And if you want to know how that story ends, you’ll have to come to my talk tomorrow.”

Then we had a lifeboat drill, and then it was time for dinner.

Some photos leaving Ushuaia, sailing through the Beagle Channel. It takes a few hours to get out of the Beagle Channel. We were expected to hit open water around midnight.
And then at 9:30, we got our yellow Quark parkas. We had specified on a form ahead of time what size we thought we would need, but how it worked in reality was they set up stations in the lounge with each size that you could try on.
Once you decided which size you needed, you went to a designated station outside of the lounge and requested that size. They gave you one in the right size and marked you off the list. The parkas were ours to keep after the trip. They are very warm, completely waterproof, and have a zip-out fleece lining. (They are also very heavy and bulky.)

And that was the end of the first day. We were now sailing straight toward the Drake Passage, with just two days at sea between us and the seventh continent.

Pre-trip briefing

quark employee briefing passengers on embarkation procedures

Tonight we had our briefing with the Quark ground guy here, who explained embarkation procedures. We set sail around 6pm tomorrow night, sailing out of the Beagle Channel, which takes a few hours. We will hit open water (i.e., the Drake Passage) around midnight. He let us know that once we’re on the ship they will tell us “how to prepare your cabin for the night” (not to have things loose, etc.) and he prepped us on when to take seasickness meds. (The patch–apply around the time of embarkation; the pills–take around dinner time.)

I probably will not manage to update this blog while we are on the ship. But I will post again once we are back in Ushuaia at the end of the trip. Ciao for now!

Tierra del Fuego


We made it to Ushuaia with no problems. Landing here was amazing…flying in low over all the gorgeous mountain peaks. Yesterday we spent the day in the Tierra del Fuego National Park hiking.


It is funny that this sign randomly gives the distance to Alaska, because our next big trip after this one happens to be to Alaska.


The bus takes you in to the park and drops you at one of a couple of spots, then picks you up again at one of those spots a few hours later. The busses that pick you up come every two hours. The map we had gotten at the entrance was not the best, and that coupled with the fact that we weren’t actually sure at which spot on the map we were dropped off, we spent an hour or two totally confused as we hiked. We eventually hiked enough that we figured out where we were, and we were able to get to one of the pick-up spots. While we were having lunch, we met two other Americans hiking who asked us, “Do you know where we are on this map?”