TRIP JOURNAL USHUAIA TO BUENOS AIRES ANTARCTICA EXPEDITION ONBOARD THE MV FRAM FEBRUARY 22 - MARCH 12, 2010
Flew Continental to BA 3 days early, non-eventful flight.
Used German Landau for guide in BA, excellent, $120 for the day, email@example.com. If you come on a weekend don't miss the market at St. Telmo, and the excellent craft market alongside Recoleta cemetery. Joined up with Hurtigruten at Panamericano Hotel, hotel lobby very nice, but our room was a bit shabby. Arrogant receptionist at desk, even the Porter told me he was "a bad guy". We stayed at the Casasur for two days prior to Panamericano, EXCELLENT hotel, free city tour, CO breakfast, wifi in all rooms free. We would highly recommend if going early to BA, very close to the obelisk but half the price of the PA and great friendly staff.
Awoke early to have CO breakfast at hotel, boarded the buses where they gave us our boarding passes. Short trip to airport, quick security, waited about 45 min to board, unassigned seating, there was 168 pax on plane, (full). There are +/- 210 passengers' total. Hurtigruten states to only check one bag each and give a red ribbon to tie around handles. We asked if we could check 3, they said to go ahead but not to mention it to anyone. We had a 3.5 hour flight to Ushuaia, very beautiful sight to see when landing over the water and across the Andes that stretch from east to west at this area. Had to reclaim luggage at the airport then outside to one of several tours, either pay to go to NP. or take the city orientation tour for free. You can't just go and board the ship. We took the city orientation tour, had lunch, and bought some items, returned to the bus that was close to the ship. Loaded onto the bus for the short drive to the ship, two lines formed to get our ID cards, then to deck 4 to get the cards validated with our CC, turn in the medical forms to the Dr., and pick up our blue jackets. Staff estimates your size and then just try one on to be sure fit is ok. Muster drill outside on deck at 2030, trained on how to put on a survival suit and a life jacket. We paid closer attention than on other cruises, remembering what happened to the "Little Red Boat" in AA waters. Remember to wear warm clothing from BA as it is cold and windy in Ushuaia. Seeing the lights of Ushuaia recede as we left and knowing not what we would encounter was thrilling to say the least.
Feb 24 Drake, Rattle & Roll
From the time we cleared the protected inland waters, the Fram has been in heavy rolling seas. The waves here are running from west to east, and our ship is sailing north to south in the trough. Anything not fastened down has been sliding back and forth. We had both put on our ear patches 4 hours before boarding and they seemed to work fine overnight and into the morning. However, about noon the seas really picked up and my wife was thrown out of her reading chair in our cabin. I came close to being tossed from my bunk but caught myself the last minute. I also became sick when the waves got so big. Our deck has been constantly sprayed with water from the force 12 and greater gales that is blowing the tops off of the huge waves. There have been a lot of sea birds in our wake and we have seen huge petrels up close and many other sea birds. Almost no one at breakfast this am, and only a few more at lunch. Later tonight at dinner one passenger was thrown out of his chair backwards, and a woman was thrown into a glass panel causing a big knot to appear on her head. We were in the dining room near a window when the ship suddenly drops and we look out to see that we are in the bottom of the trough and a wall of water considerably over our heads fast approaching. We all gaped in panic at seeing the water when the ship began to rise again and we crested the wave. We had to hold on to the edge of the table several times when the ship rolled so much that chairs, dinner ware and anything not fastened down was sliding back and forth. Some pax used their napkins to tie the legs of their chairs together to keep from being thrown around as the ship rocked back and forth so much. Seas are expected to worsen and waves now 12 meters or greater and wind speed of +/- 50m/sec' with the Beaufort scale greater than 12.
Our IAATO meeting early this AM, we were told this crossing of the Drake was the 2d worse this year. Late yesterday evening and into the night the storm continued, at dinner a huge wave came up to deck 5 level. The morning came with fewer waves and wind but still a bit rough. We had our backpacks vacuumed this morning, picked up our life vests which we are to keep with us the entire voyage and briefed on our first landing hopefully tonight at Deception Island. Per ship's personnel we are behind time due to leaving Ushuaia late and slow going across the Drake. During our morning meeting the guide discussed our clothing for the excursions and believe it or not many folks claimed they knew nothing about bringing waterproof shell pants. Later some tried to buy some at the small store onboard but they had only smaller sizes. Excitement is building onboard as we get closer to the continent and into calmer water.
Feb 26th. Touchdown
Late last evening, we made it to Deception Island for our first landing. Seas were very smooth once we got out of the passage. We had our first close encounter with fur seals and penguins, although most of the penguins had already gone. There were a lot of great photo opportunities. The ship sailed all last night to make our landing at Port Lockroy. This morning, there were hundreds if not thousands of penguins all about. They are so familiar with humans they walk right past you without the smallest care. More large icebergs this morning up close, very beautiful to see at such close distances. We bought arm patches at the little store; there is not much here to buy, trinkets, T's, etc. They only allow 64 people ashore here versus the 96 on the other excursions due to the small size of the island. It is very rocky and a bit tricky to walk on with ice. A passenger fell on the slick, ice covered rocks but appeared to not be seriously injured. The ship was covered in ice and snow this morning when we awoke to take more photos of our entrance to Port Lockroy. Outside air temp. has been in the low 40.s, we have reduced the amount of gear we wear now when going out. The process to get on/off the Polarcirkle boats is extremely efficient and quick. We discovered the wind here on your face is a bit stingy so in hindsight we should have brought balaclavas instead of the wool beanies. We noticed the excursion staff all wear the balaclavas in addition to clothing wrapped completely around their faces and full goggles as well. Wraparound glasses or goggles would be best as snow and spray gets into our eyes when on the polarcirkle boats.
This afternoon, we landed at Almirante Brown station, an unoccupied area with a few buildings but hundreds of Gentoo penguins. We had to be careful and watch every step as they are everywhere and honk loudly if annoyed. At the end of the land visit, we were taken for a ride in the polarcirkle boats to see Sea Terns', Weddell Seals and a huge leopard seal basking on a small patch of ice. He only cast a wary eye at us but did not leave and we had plenty of photos taken here. On the way to the PM landing, we went through Paradise Cove, an ABSOLUTELY beautiful place, lots of icebergs, minke whales, a few humpback whales, penguins and sea birds. This area is magnificent and there were a lot of photo ops. Tonight we sailed through the Lemaire Channel, which is a big disappointment as we go through at night and will miss "Kodak Alley".
Feb 27th - Cuverville Islands
After sailing all night we arrived at the islands early this morning and began the excursions at 0900. There are 1000's of Gentoo penguins, and the excursion guide had to chase off a fur seal that was getting a bit aggressive. The area around the island is very beautiful and we had sun most of the day. There were huge trapped icebergs here and extraordinary sights everywhere. We are heading now into Gerlache Strait and will pass Wilhelmnina Bay in the process. The captain has indicated we may see many whales during our voyage to Elephant Island so we are hopeful to spot a few.
Gerlache strait proved to be what the Captain said, very beautiful, but paled in comparison to Wilhelmina Bay, which was absolutely gorgeous. The captain indicated we had some extra time so we pulled right up in the bay and he killed the engines for a while when we spotted several whales. We had mostly sunny weather, and we saw many humpback whales and seals on almost every small piece of floating ice. Many penguins were also swimming by. Near evening on our way out we saw 3 humpback whales in a pack right alongside the ship. They began feeding nearby and the lucky few who were out on deck got many great photos. The captain brought the ship to a stop for those on deck and the ship's photographers were getting some great shots for the DVD of our sailing. Tonight we are headed to Elephant Island, where we do not get to land but will do some scenic cruising. We are seeing a lot of whales as we make our journey towards tomorrow's destination.
Feb 28th. - En route to the Elephant Islands and onto South Georgia.
Back to heavy seas again, though not as bad as the Drake crossing. Ship announcement that the winds are expected to increase tonight or tomorrow and a request by the staff to secure all loose items in our cabins. Winds are now at 32m/sec per the bridge. Meetings held on shore excursion options for the Falklands and Buenos Aires. Not much to do today, saw another passenger with a sling around her arm so we expect there are several who have taken falls. We are seeing some spectacular icebergs as we approach Elephant Island. 1830 hours Feb 28th - over the loud speaker in the Dining Hall. "Good evening ladies and gentlemen. You can now tell your friends you are rounding Point Wild in hurricane strength winds. As we clear the Point we expect the winds to increase from their current strength of 34m/sec. Now is the time to take your seasick medicine if you prefer." Seas are very heavy now and strengthening. The Ship is rolling considerably.
March 1st - At sea en route to South Georgia. The weather has not been cooperating and we are experiencing huge waves. Most seem to have their sea legs and it is a bit easier getting around even on this pitching, rolling deck. Lectures held today on a variety of subjects.
March 2d - Continuing our journey to South Georgia. Seas are still very heavy, but the wind has died down some and is now at 20m/sec. Still the seas are very heavy and the Fram is being tossed about quite a bit. The Fram may be one of the larger ships that make landings in AA, but she is still very small when compared to the huge ships that do the "drive by" sailings of AA. This afternoon the observation lounge on deck 7 was full of passengers when a huge wave hit broadside, sending people, chairs and anything else not secured flying to port. One woman suffered a cut to her head that required 3 stitches, and a man had his hand crushed between two of the heavy chairs.
March 3d - South Georgia in Sight
The captain made an effort early this morning to cruise through some fjords as we approached SG, but weather did not cooperate. The clouds have opened enough to allow some well received sunshine, but winds are picking up again as we make our way for our first landing at Grytviken on SG. We are seeing more wildlife as we get closer to the island. There were many albatross in our wake and we had a great time getting shots as they flew close to the ship. Many other birds also seen but the Albatross had everyone's attention. We had a beautiful arrival into Grytviken this afternoon. The whole ship was allowed to disembark instead of just a few groups as before. We were put ashore at the spot of Shackletons' grave where we saw fur seals, elephant seals, and penguins. We then walked around the cove to be picked up at King Edward Point, and en route saw many seals, King penguins, ducks, all types of sea birds and much wildlife. It was a great sunny day, but windy even onshore surrounded by the high mountains. The remains of an old whaling station are here, as well as a nice museum and gift shop.
March 4th - Fortuna Bay/Katabatic Winds
We were scheduled to stop at Fortuna Bay but the wind picked up as we entered the bay so unable to land. The ship waited a while to see if the winds would subside, but instead they increased. Suddenly a Katabatic wind came down from the surrounding mountains so hard it blew a wall of mist & water as high as the ship across the bay and onto the ship itself. We had been warned this could happen and now saw for ourselves how powerful this wind can be. There were shouts from those on the bow who experienced this wind full force. We sailed out of Fortuna to try a landing at Stromness Bay but this proved fruitless as the winds were just as bad. We sailed around awhile before sailing back to Fortuna Bay where we were able to land in the afternoon. We saw hundreds if not thousands of King Penguins, all size chicks', Fur & Elephant seals and many other seabirds. So far this is the largest amount of wildlife that we have seen in one place.
March 5 & 6:
Enroute to the Falkland Islands, the Captain warned of heavy seas tonight as we leave South Georgia. We did indeed have a very rough night sailing and on into the next day. The next two days we are sailing for the Falklands, temps are getting warmer and the seas have settled down a lot since that first night.
March 7th - Port Stanley
Arrived at PS this AM, weather is very nice. Many opted to take one of the tours arranged by the ship, we did not. There is not a lot to see at the port itself, so in hindsight, a tour would be a better choice. Tomorrow the ship has two landings on the Islands, where we are expected to see much wildlife, and which includes a short hike across part of the island to see Rock hopper penguins.
March 8th - New Island & Westpoint Island
We had a very nice sunny day and our first landing at New Island. A short hike of one mile brought us to a colony of Rockhopper penguins. There were many hundreds along with cormorants, albatross and many other birds. We later repositioned to Westpoint Island for our second landing. This was a much longer hike this time of 1.5 miles each way, but well worth the exercise to see hundreds of fledging albatross, Rockhopper penguins and sea lions at a rookery on the other side of the island. The owners of the island welcomed us and gave many free rides to the rookery. As we set sail for Buenos Aires, there are many kinds of albatross in our wake and many whale sightings.
March 9th, 10th & 11th - At Sea
More presentations by the ship's excursion team on Antarctica, and time to reflect on our recent experiences. Weather became warmer and seas much smoother. Glad to be heading home but also sad to be leaving such a mystical place.
March 12th - Buenos Aires
We picked up a local pilot early last night, and docked right on time at our berth. Hurtigruten did a great job of getting everyone off the ship and to the hotel. NOTE: We were warned by the attendant on the bus not to leave any smaller bags in the lobby of the hotel, only the larger suitcases, as they are roped off by the hotel staff until room assignments are made. One pax left her small backpack that held her cameras and gear, and someone made off with it unknown to hotel staff. She lost all of her camera gear and all of the photos she had taken of the trip.
March 13th - Homeward Bound
Hurtigruten schedules busses to the airport depending on the time of your flight, which is about every hour. Our flight was not until 2150, our scheduled bus was set to leave the hotel at 1800. We decided to take the 1700 bus and were glad we did so. Security at EZE is rather lack compared to the screening we are used to in the U.S. We checked bags, waited in long lines to get through security, but then even longer lines to go through customs. By the time we got to our gate we did not have that much time left, and as required by US law, everyone was re-screened again with pat downs and opening of all hand baggage prior to boarding. We were not charged the $18 exit fee that we expected to be charged at the airport; however, upon our initial arrival to Argentina, we did have to pay $131.00 each to enter the country.
Notes on ship & gear.
The food is lacking somewhat, and the chefs recycle much of it. If there are left over scrambled eggs one day, the next day they are used in a different recipe. Same is true for beef, vegetables and other items. There is not a lot of variety, the beef that we have eaten is fairly poor, although one dinner of ribs was excellent, and the chicken is generally okay. I must admit after being on the ship this long it is becoming a chore to go to dinner. I will hand it to the chef though, the soups are usually very good but do contain leftovers from the day before. Breakfast is the same every day and fried eggs that should be hot are stone cold. We did not expect much in the way of food when we signed on so our expectations were met.
The ship is very clean; the staff does a great job in the cabins.
Laundry has to be done by the staff.
Dining room has fixed hours, there is no continuous buffet like on larger cruise ships. No grill for burgers, pizza, etc., there is coffee/drinks available on deck 7 in the lounge.
Dining hours are 0730 - 0930, 1200 - 1430, 1800 - 2200. Only a few meals are assigned seating, most are open seating. On assigned seating nights, you can request the alternate meal if you ask the headwaiter before 1430 that day. Menus are posted at the entrance to the dining room. You can also order breakfast from a menu if you prefer, but don't expect a lot of options.
The only shop onboard is very small, plan on bringing everything you may need. Prices for any items they sell are on the expensive side. They do have some clothing and some very nice picture books.
There is a very small internet cafe, you have to buy minutes. They are not exactly cheap and signal availability is hit/miss. It took me over 10 minutes just to check my email, hopefully this will get better with clear skies or when we get to port.
We did not bring hiking shoes but should have as they are recommended for the Falklands.
What worked for us:
Keep in mind when you are going - the average temperature for us not counting the wind factor was 35 to 40F. The wind on deck and when in the zodiacs can be fierce. Most of the time with the chill factor, temps were below freezing, and the wind did not let up on land.
We each brought a lightweight thermal underwear set, a nylon pant over that, and a water resistant lined shell pant over that. We later dropped the nylon pant and just wore our jeans over the thermals and under the shell.
A spare set of waterproof pants in case of damage to our first pair.
We each had two pair of gloves, a waterproof pair and a lightweight woolen pair.
We each had a woven beanie; however a balaclava would be much better. The wind on the face is the worst and the air down here is so dry it really dries your skin. A good lotion and sun screen is advised, at least 45 spf on the SS.
Wraparound sunglasses or goggles over your eyes, highly recommend to shield your face and eyes, as we experienced sleet, snow and rain and it gets in your eyes, especially when on the zodiacs.
We each brought two pair of thick fleece socks that we wore over a thin nylon sock. (One fleece pair and one nylon at a time), they worked great.
We each brought a thick fleece jacket that we wore over the thermal but under the shell jacket that the ship gave us. A thick sweater would work just as well. We got hot several times while on the excursions and depending on the weather would tweak our layers.
Clothing on the ship is purely at your discretion, most wore jeans/slacks and pullovers. No one dressed up for dinner, (exception was the Captain's dinner at the end, as dress was a bit more upscale)
There is no entertainment other than a small show put on by the crew members. There were many lectures on wildlife, Antarctica, whales, etc.
The ship provides the boots; they are numbered in European sizes so go by that or just try on until you get one that fits. Don't worry about leaving your everyday shoes in the boot room; just put them on the same pegs that hold the boots you choose. No one to my knowledge had missing shoes when they returned from the landings. We brought Crocs for our deck shoes as they are non-skid, and allow us to have on the heavier socks needed when going ashore.
We brought a few of our favorite snacks, as everything on board is expensive.
Ship's coffee is pretty bad, the instant in the cabins is better; we brought our own brand and a small coffee pot. (Just our choice as we like coffee)
We brought 4 cameras, along with chargers, cables, extra memory cards, etc. (Note: at least one person's camera that I know about could not take the cold and malfunctioned) Wipes to clean our cameras with, a few times they had salt spray from the zodiacs, and also rain/snow when on land. A backpack with a waterproof liner, or get a waterproof backpack, some landings were when it was raining/snowing so cameras could really get soaked if not protected. A portable hard drive A card reader A netbook Spare AA batteries where needed Two pair of binoculars, we highly recommend at least one pair A personal DVD player A Kindle Journal A hiking stick (some landings are on rough terrain and there are some options to hike up ice covered trails where a stick may prove useful.