Embarkation at The End of the Earth
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Friday, January 16, 2015
Five o’clock comes surprisingly quickly when you’re jet lagged. But, as the nice English couple who rode the elevator with me at half past five said, “it’s never too early for adventure.” And today promises to be the start of a great adventure, as we fly to Ushuaia to embark Hurtigruten’s 2007-built FRAM for our voyage to Antarctica.
Checking out of the Hotel Emperador went smoothly and efficiently, and they had two staff members on-hand to cope with the rush. Unfortunately, the promised 05:45 breakfast wasn’t set up until 06:00 – a shame when everyone must be on coaches by 06:30. It was a touch on the small side: pastries and coffee. Keep some cash for the airport; you’ll want to buy a snack for the four hour flight to Ushuaia.
Aeropuerto Jorge Newbery, the domestic airport for Buenos Aires, is a quick 15 minute drive from the Hotel Emperador. Our boarding passes for our LAN Argentina flight were given to us on the coach, and 10 minutes after arriving at the airport, I was waiting at Gate 15 for our 07:30 boarding time.
As an interesting aside: there is no need to take out laptops or practically strip naked for the security check; just put any metal or electronic objects in your bag and put the whole thing through the scanner. Very practical.
Also practical is the charter flight to Ushuaia. It is interesting to think that each and every guest aboard the FRAM can fit comfortably inside an Airbus A320; a jet you have probably flown onboard on short to medium-haul flights.
My fellow guests hail from a number of countries, including Canada, the United States, Germany, England, France, and others. There is also a very large group onboard from China; if I had to guess, I’d say at least 60 people.
Being from Canada, I was both impressed and surprised that the in-flight entertainment was a show produced in Quebec called “Just For Laughs Gags”. It’s interesting that, on my way to a city that couldn’t be more removed from Canada, I’m watching Canadian television on an Argentinian airline!
Ushuaia’s main runway is perched on a strip of land bordered in either side by water. The airport itself is on a little peninsula set away from the main town, which is itself nestled into the protective embrace of the mountains behind it.
It’s also no longer 26 centigrade outside, either. The temperature when I emerged from the airport was 8C, but it feels a good deal colder thanks to the strong wind that is whipping through.
Have a peek at a map: you’ll find Ushuaia as far south as you can go on the South American continent. It’s cold weather and stormy temperament can be largely explained by the very thing that could make our crossing of the Drake Passage a lot of fun: this is where the currents and weather systems of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans collide.
After leaving the airport, guests went one of two ways: to the coaches that would take us on an included city orientation of Ushuaia, or on an optional excursion to Patagonia for those who elected to take part in that extra-cost tour.
I opted to take the tour of Ushuaia – though I really just wanted to go and get onboard the FRAM! But, good things come to those who wait.
Embarking FRAM was easy, if a little chaotic. There was minimal information provided on the coaches as to what level guests should be checking in on (check-in areas were set up on Decks 3, 4 and 5). I hung around Deck 3 and checked in there, but from there I had to proceed to Deck 4 to see the Ship’s Doctor to hand in my Medical Assessment Questionnaire that each guest must complete with a doctor on-shore before being allowed to sail.
However, a little patience goes a long way. Perhaps 30 minutes after arriving, I was making my way down the Deck 5 corridor to my home for the next 12 days: one of FRAM’s spacious Category F2 Superior Outside Cabins.
While I truly don’t think there is a bad cabin onboard the ship (you are, after all, headed to Antarctica regardless of which accommodations you pick), there are several reasons I think these staterooms are great.
First, instead of having the berth-style Pullman bunks more common in the ship’s other stateroom categories, these Superior Outside Cabins feature a full Double Bed, along with twice the living space. The room contains two end tables, a mini-bar, flat-panel television set, a full writing desk (hugely appreciated by yours truly), two closets, a small loveseat with large coffee table, and an expanded bathroom that features cupboards adjacent to the vanity and a shower with a glass door.
While the room offers significantly more in terms of creature comforts, those who seek a perfectly unobstructed view should be aware that these rooms overlook the Deck 5 promenade, so you’re liable to have your fellow guests peek in the window every now and then. For me, however, the view is wonderful and perfectly nautical – there’s something tremendous about looking out and seeing the ship’s railings and decking as we sail along.
There wasn’t much time to explore my stateroom, however: no sooner had I unpacked than it was time to do the cursory muster drill, with a twist: here, at the edge of the world, you’re shown how to don a survival suit. The crew do a great job of showing how easy it is to put on, but seeing a crew member demonstrate this survival suit really drives home that, in the place we’re headed to, preparations and self-reliance will be your greatest savior.
Following our drill, we immediately dropped our lines and headed out of Ushuaia towards the Drake Passage – one of the most feared stretches of water by ancient mariners – to begin our crossing to Antarctica. As guests enjoyed a traditional Norwegian buffet in the Imaq Restaurant, we were treated to a spectacular sunset and some amazing views of the Beagle Channel. Fortunately, FRAM’s designers planned for this, too: the restaurant features a balcony overlooking the ship’s stern so you can rush out during meals to take in that unplanned photo opportunity.
At 21:30 tonight, guests assembled in the Qilak Observation Lounge high atop Deck 7 to hear the Officers and Expedition Crew of the FRAM introduce themselves. A champagne toast was also offered, and the vistas from this room – which features floor-to-ceiling wraparound windows on three sides – are some of the most spectacular I’ve seen aboard any ship. Like the dining room, obstructions are minimal, allowing guests to see from one side of the room to another.
However, our good Captain informed us that the forecast for tonight could best be considered unpleasant. Within two hours, gale force winds up to Beaufort Scale Nine are supposed to slam into the FRAM, creating conditions her captain called, “Rough to Very Rough.”
Our Drake Passage initiation is at hand – and cruising’s greatest adventure has begun for the guests here onboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM tonight!
Our full journey:
Hurtigruten's FRAM, Antarctica
|January 15, 2015||Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|January 16||Buenos Aires - Ushuaia, Argentina|
|January 17||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 18||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 19||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 20||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 21||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 22||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 23||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 24||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 25||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 26||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 27||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 28||Ushuaia - Buenos Aires|
|January 29, 2015||Buenos Aires, Argentina|