Monday, 23 January 2012

The Land of Fire

Tierra del Fuego. The land of fire. The very name of this storied land conjures a sense of romance and adventure. Our voyage to the land of ice begins in the land of fire. There is a certain poetic symmetry to that.

It is about a three and a half hour flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Excitement built as we made our descent to the Ushuaia airport. We could see our ship, the MS Fram far below.  
 After collecting our luggage we had time to explore Ushuaia on an introductory tour or go on an excursion to Lago Escondido. Exploring the streets of Ushuaia there is still a feeling of a burgeoning frontier town. Certainly tourism is still growing here. Ushuaia is the gateway to one of the last really great wild frontiers. While it is the height of summer the weather is cool and a jacket is still required. Many of the local people are on vacation. By the early afternoon all of the restaurants were filled with a mixture of locals and tourists.

At 16:00 we boarded the buses that would take us on a very short ride to the pier. Smiling crew members greeted us as we walked up the gangway and into the ship. Soon we were issued photo IDs and were escorted to our cabins where our luggage was already waiting for us. Then it was a simple matter to open a cruise account at reception, hand in our medical form to the Doctor and finally, to pick up our spiffy new blue Expedition Jackets. It didn’t take very long to process two hundred people. The lineups were short and the whole procedure was very efficient.
The wind had been building throughout the afternoon and as we approached departure time at 18:00 gusts of over 40 knots were ripping across the harbour. We wondered what that might mean out on the more open ocean. But by 20:30 the winds had abated and it was time for the mandatory safety drill.

When we heard seven short alarms followed by one long alarm we gathered at our muster stations on deck five. It was a gorgeous evening on the Beagle Channel. Our attention was split between watching the crew demonstrate the immersion suits and life jackets and admiring the sunset and the beautiful scenery of the Beagle.

Immediately following the drill at 21:00 we rendezvoused in the Observation Lounge on deck seven where we met the Captain and Officers of Fram and were introduced to the Expedition Team and other key personnel from the ship.

Phew! Just about everyone that chooses to go to Antarctica has a very long and arduous journey to make just to get to the starting point. But now it is time to kick back and relax and to let the adventure carry us the rest of the way.

Photos by Mark Woszczalski