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The hostel stored our bikes and riding equipment at no charge and on the afternoon of March 25th we boardedÂ The Ushuaia- a retired U.S oceanographic research vessel - for a 10-day trip-of-a-lifetime.
We had not planned, nor budgeted for a trip to Antarctica, but since it has always been in on my top 3 places to visit so I was over the moon that we were able to fit it in.
As Jordan wrote in our last post, the first 2 hours on the island of Tierra del Fuego involved some seriously scary riding. We chose the worst of 2 possible routes available, and the Patagonian winds made an overwhelming appearance. Â Just to keep it spicy.
During that ride, I promised myself that if I got there without a fall - which would have been aÂ hard off, due to the speeds we maintained to keep the bikes atop the deep gravel - we would go to Antarctica. Â And, since neither of us dropped our bikes on the way down, I announced my new plan to Jordan.
Okay, maybe I always knew we'd go… I had been shopping for discount prices online for over 2 weeks but the offer we found when we were there was pretty great so we bought our tickets. Â We arrived in Ushuaia and bought our tickets just 2 days before the boat set sail proving that sometimesÂ lateÂ can simply beÂ better.
After a brief lesson on safety we raised our complimentary glasses of champagne with the other 80 passengers to toast a successful expedition. Â We then set sail for the real End of the World - Antarctica!
Our crossing of the notoriousÂ Drake PassageÂ turned out to be a fast & easy one, rendering the preemptive dramamine dosing by much of the ship's passengersÂ unnecessary. During the 2-day crossing, we were treated to multiple documentaries and lectures on Scott, Amundsen and of course, Shackleton and the amazing story of the Endurance. Â I can assure you there are no better stories to hear when you, yourself are on your way down to the frozen continent!
With the extra time available from the quick Drake crossing we were able to disembark to visit some Penguin colonies on the South Shetland Islands before making our first continental landing on the Antarctic Peninsula. Â Each day after that, we got off the ship twice to explore islands, icebergs, historical sites and mainland Antarctica.
Onboard, in addition to the Captain and the crew responsible for keeping the ship afloat, we were entertained, guided and educated by the resident geologist,Â ornithologist, and Antarctic experts. Â Presentations about ice or penguins or local geology were provided each day on the ship to compliment what we would see during our daily excursions.
Excursions were made twice each day. Â We would hop in to the zodiacs and make our way to shore to explore Penguin colonies & rookeries of various breeds or quietly make our way through mazes of the biggest ice bergs we've ever seen. We found old whaling stations and ship wrecks, and were fascinated by all kinds of marine life - fromÂ minkeÂ wales &Â leopardÂ seals to the dramatic and very cool looking albatrosses.
The scenery on shore and the views from the boat were some of the most dramatic we've ever seen, simply awesome in the trueÂ senseÂ of the word. Whether we were navigating the small zodiacs through a maze of giant icebergs that practically choked an entire channel, or climbing a snow covered ridge to get a better view of a massive glacier, we were never less than gobsmacked. We can see how people becomeÂ obsessedÂ with Antartica.
At one point we were sailing between a very narrow channel between two islands. Â The passage was about 80 meters wide between islands of steep mountains rising directly out of the sea. Â With only a few meters to spare on either side of the ship we were very close to the mountain sides - the sun was starting to set and a lot of people were outside enjoying the spectacle and taking photos. Â Jordan was one of them. Â He was out on deck taking in the views when he was interrupted by a very loud noise off the port side of the ship, followed by a large cloud of ice and snow.
TheÂ avalanche slid down the mountains and swept over the ship, covering everything and everyoneÂ in a cold, whiteÂ blanket. Â Luckily Jordan just happened to be holding the camera and was able to capture much of it on film. Unfortunately, I missed the entire episode as I was relaxing in our room reading. Â Though I was the only one who heard the Crew Director request that ‟all passengers please get inside the boat, immediately‟. Â Outside, the cheering passengers who just witnessedÂ an avalanche up close, drown him out.