Bon Voyage… Through the Beagle Channel, Across the Drake Passage and Stopping at Danco Island, Antarctica

The Hubs and I anxiously wandered Ushuaia for hours before we were to meet at the port parking lot. We prepped for the expedition, attempting to hunt down a market that was open and had power. The power thing was not typically an issue, but the open aspect was since the city largely shutters all businesses on Sundays. We eventually acquired all the essentials – snacks, treats, beer for the husband, a box of wine because I’m classy, juices in case the husband’s sugar plummeted, and fruits. It was the best decision ever. While regular meals were part of the package, adult beverages and snackages at any time one wanted were not included. While awaiting the busses that would take us to the ship, we received multiple comments about our prudence in this matter.

Since we apparently were not allowed to simply walk to the ship we could all see along side the dock, we impatiently waited until our busses got there to ferry us over. The next impatient wait was for the dock workers to free the Ocean Endeavor from the shore. As expected, there was much fanfare and cheering when the rope finally tumbled into the sea. And just like that, we were off, watching Ushuaia descend into the sunset. The next many hours were spent chugging south through the Beagle Channel with Argentina on our left and Chile on our right.

The remainder of the night consisted of a welcome meeting in the Nautilus Lounge, where we were introduced to the staff, guides and captains. Obviously, we were on a ship approaching the most dangerous waters in the world, so a safety briefing was conducted. They have to make sure drunk passengers don’t wander out onto the exterior decks and get thrown overboard. We were also warned against the perils of allowing sea sickness take hold. Preventive measures were highly encouraged by the medical staff. I had packed a travel size Dramamine, just in case. That administrative task completed, it was off to our first of many buffet-style meals.

Being the classy soul that I am, I utilized one of Hubs’ empty juice containers to ferry my red, fermented beverage from our room to dinner. Of course, the first goofy sip I took was filmed by the other half. We plopped down in our floor-bolted seats and watched the last bits of land flow by. Be prepared for a gentle rocking in the Channel. It’s like walking on a hammock!

More time was spent exploring the Ocean Endeavor, before we retired to our tiny accommodation, replete with narrow twin beds on opposite walls. The night would be spent gently rocking from side to side, or head to feet with the arrangement of the beds. Random side note: They bolt the chairs to the floor, but the mattress is not secured to the framing. Be prepared for nights sliding on and off the frame while atop the mattress. The next couple of days would be spent at sea, only water in sight. And birds. Lots of birds. Also, the ocean gods had smiled upon our journey, and we were given the pleasure of Drake Lake and sunny skies for the entire crossing.

How does one spend their time aboard a small cruise liner in the middle of nowhere, you ask? If you are a sedentary human, you were in luck! Hours upon hours could be whittled away reading books in the library, playing games in one of the many lounges, drinking away your afternoon, sleeping on the benevolently drifting boat, or stuffing your face with a never ending stream of fresh, baked cookies. I do not ever fall into the category of stagnant – at thirty-eight years old, I have the energy level of a teenager. After three days of COVID inactivity this past August, I was quite literally running around the house due to sheer boredom. Drove the sickly Hubs berserk. I digress… I walked the ship, climbed the stairs to the different decks, paced the hallways, knocked out a workout each day, and partook in some yoga, courtesy of the ship yoga teacher, Sophie. The ultimate test of ones balance – yoga on a boat in the Drake Passage.

After two short days at sea, we would wake up in Antarctica the next morning. Our first glimpse of the continent was through our tiny porthole.

Opening the porthole and peering out was surreal. Instead of only rushing water and seagulls, we were greeted with snowy mountains, icebergs, and penguins. Outside of the few animals that reside on the Lost Continent, there were no living creatures anywhere. No buildings or structures in sight, and likely the freshest air I will ever breath in my lifetime. Welcome to Danco Island, Antarctica. G‘Morning Antarctica! The Island was a bit snowy this spring daybreak.

The excitement grew as we watched the Zodiacs getting lifted from the ship and placed in the frigid water by crane. We had been split into groups while on our way across the passage, and we eagerly awaited our group to be called, so would could don our snow pants, down puffy jacket, waterproof pants, muck boots, outer waterproof coat, thermal hats, waterproof under gloves, winter gloves, thermal base layers, wool socks, and sunglasses. Though, not in that particular order. While we were blessed with clear skies and calm seas on the way to Antarctica, once we arrived, the clouds rolled in and obstructed our views a bit. I was about to step foot on my sixth continent, so I did not really care that much.

Part of the safety briefing included the rules for landings, specifically as it related to the animals. Given that these creatures do not see many humans, they were not at all afraid of us. They also have no natural enemies in this secluded locale. Per the Antarctic Treaty and IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators), we were to avoid the “penguin highways,” which are the pathways the penguins use to navigate the snowy landscape. We were to stay five meters from wildlife, and fifteen meters from breeding colonies and fur seals, and twenty-five meters from elephant seals. The guides also advised to steer clear of molting animals, and to leave “only footprints.” The treaty was originally only signed by twelve countries, but fifty-two have now signed. It formalized ownerships of different parts of the continent, and prohibits military activities. The bases constructed are only to support scientific endeavors, and the freedom of scientific research and exchange.

With all of that information floating around our minds, ten of us loaded onto a Zodiac with one guide. We motored off towards our landing site. As we approached the “beach” for our very first landing, I peeked up the mountain we were about to climb. It was littered with Gentoo Penguins waddling about! I leapt into the bay (thanks for keeping my feet dry, muck boots), and hopped onto the rocky beach. November is the beginning of the season for Antarctica, as well as the start of Spring, and the snow was still quite deep. Being vertically challenged, the hike up was more like a trudge. The guides stake out our landing sites in advance and created a pathway for us to stay on, so do not expect extensive hiking.

So. Many. Penguins. They waddled, belly sledded down the slope, swam through the bay, and and watched humans watch them. I have more photos and videos than I know what to do with of them that foggy day. Two of the well dressed birds forced me to violate the treaty guidelines as they bounded out of the water a mere two feet from me. What do you do in this instance, you may ask? Freeze, watch them continue on with their activities, all while giggling and taking photos as they maneuver around you. Then you may re-board a Zodiac.

Important note for Zodiac rides: Do NOT sit at the front port side of the craft. You will get splashed. A lot. I looked like a drowned rat by the end of this trip back to the ship. There were puddles forming on my lap, my gloves were completely saturated and my fingers were purple, the water penetrated my “waterproof” ski pants… The outer Gill Coat was amazingly waterproof, though! After dozens of splashes, I couldn’t help but start laughing at my situation. The gentleman sitting next to me thanked me for blocking the water from reaching him. You’re welcome??? Cold and wet, I clamored aboard the Ocean Endeavor to get warm before our second voyage to land later than afternoon.

7 thoughts on “Bon Voyage… Through the Beagle Channel, Across the Drake Passage and Stopping at Danco Island, Antarctica

    1. It was such an amazing trip! So much so, that we’re considering going again. Plus, I want to go back to Ushuaia to rescue one of the dogs that followed us on a hike.

  1. So jealous! We won’t make it to Australia until we retire. I should bite my tongue now, since that’s in five years. We’ve all learned how quickly three years went by thanks to COVID, so I am sure five will also fly by. I’ll have to pick your brain for that trip!

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