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01/05/2008

  Embarkation in Ushuaia, Argentina

 By early evening everyone who was to participate in our journey had arrived onboard the Explorer II, situated alongside the dock in Ushuaia.  Cruise Director Jannie Cloete warmly welcomed us aboard, we got settled into our cabins, and enjoyed a glass of champagne or a mimosa.  For those famished after long travels from home there was ‘tea’ available in the verandah restaurant.  At 1800 we mustered for a general emergency drill and Captain Giovanni Biasutti explained to us what we needed to know in case of an emergency on board.  Soon thereafter we adjourned to the capacious main lounge where Jannie gave a formal welcome as a group as well as an introduction to the ship.   He informed us that every single piece of errant luggage, of which there were but a few, had safely arrived onboard and that therefore no one would be going cold in the Antarctic.  We learned that the makeup of the passengers was very cosmopolitan with British guests just slightly outnumbering Americans, and with other folks from a variety of corners of the globe.  Expedition Leader Suzana Machado D’Oliveira Harker introduced us briefly to our planned voyage to the Falklands Islands, South Georgia Island, and Antarctica.  Each member of the expedition team said a few words about themselves and their particular specialties and areas of interests.   In addition to whetting our appetites for the trip ahead with staff extolling the virtues of the places we plan to visit, a tie was declared for longest name between JJ and Patricia, (names here dramatically culled), and Marco and Chris Srigley compared hair-styling tips.  Aaron got some hearty guffaws when he mentioned that his native New Zealand, already close to perfection, would be just a bit more complete with possession of South Georgia.

 Tired from traveling yet sufficiently excited for our trip ahead, many of us made for the outer decks while others went to dinner.  At 20:40, with a strong wind buffeting our starboard side, and a small assist from a local tugboat, Explorer II cast her lines and we were off.  A beautiful immature southern giant petrel zoomed by across our bow and a flock of kelp gulls wheeled about in the gusts.  Looking back toward Ushuaia as we departed we saw just how idyllic the setting of the city really is.   The temperature was brisk but the sun was out and it illuminated the fresh dusting of snow on the peaks beyond.  One giddy passenger, making a last-minute cell phone call on the portside and in the lee of the wind, was overheard exclaiming “It’s just the most exciting moment!” as we pulled away.  Her sentiments no doubt reflected those of many of us.  For the next four hours we traversed the Beagle Channel under the capable guidance of two Argentinean pilots.  The scenes were spectacular, with mountains on both the Argentinean and Chilean sides of the channel, and Nothofagus (false beech) forests densely growing along their flanks.  There were many birds to be seen, among them flocks of feeding South American terns, Imperial and rock shags, giant petrels and black-browed albatross, and the odd, gorgeously plumaged Chilean skua.  Over a delicious dinner we shared conversations with new friends.  For those who did not then succomb to exhaustion there was a lot to admire outside since it was light past 2300.  We were off.

   

SOUTHERN ARGENTINIAN PORT OF USHUAIA

EXPLORER II PREPARING FOR AN ADVENTURE

EXPEDITION LEADER, SUZANA GREETING GUESTS ON EMBARKATION

CRUISE DIRECTOR JANNIE CLOETE GIVING AN INTRODUCTION TO EXPLORER II

TIME TO RELAX IN SHACKLETONS BAR


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