Silver Explorer, Antarctica: Day 1 – Arriving At The End Of The World: Ushuaia, Argentina

Silver Explorer, Antarctica: Day 1 – Arriving At The End Of The World: Ushuaia, Argentina

Even after four decades of traveling, I still find it hard to believe that you can insert yourself into the cigar-shaped fuselage of a jet and step out hours later in another place, perhaps a quarter way around the globe. That was my experience as I traveled from A-ROSA Silva on Germany’s Rhine River to the southernmost human settlement in the world, Ushuaia, an Argentine town that refers to itself as the end of the world.

My journey to this remote outpost was the starting point for what promises to be a life-changing adventure. I was setting sail on Silver Explorer, across the world’s most fabled sea passage, to a place that is on nearly every traveler’s bucket list: The White Continent, Antarctica.

Getting There

Air travel, no matter how you choose the think about it (the frustration of airports, the fear of flying or the wonder of flight) is a remarkable achievement, and we are fortunate to be living in a time when a life-changing experience — or at the very least, a life-enriching one — is only a flight away.

This past Tuesday evening, as I made myself comfortable on a Lufthansa 747-400 departing Frankfurt, an American seated next to me said that he had heard that we were embarking on Lufthansa’s longest route, 14 hours between Frankfurt and Buenos Aires. I did some Googling afterward, and certainly the timing, 14 hours, is among Lufthansa’s longest, though there are variations, Munich to Santiago, 14 hours and 43 minutes; Munich to Hawaii, 14 hours and 48 minutes.

By any measure, 14 hours is a long time to be aloft. The duration is tolerable if you get a good seat, and it’s even pleasurable if you are able to get a better seat. Business Class need not cost a fortune. Those who are flush with points, for example, often have the resources to upgrade from economy. Those who do not have points can look at upgrade strategies, such as applying for credit card offers to accumulate points. I’ve seen credit cards offering from 50,000 to 100,000 points simply for applying for the card and making a specified amount of purchases within a certain time frame, say $3,000 in three months. It’s worth the effort to fly in comfort.

Flying for 14 hours allowed me to enjoy a good dinner and sleep for a full eight hours. We departed Frankfurt at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night and arrived in Buenos Aires at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. I had a delicious dinner on board, with champagne, followed by a Riesling from Germany to complement the starters and a tasty Bordeaux to go with the main course.

Every epic adventure should have a good beginning.

The Paperwork

One note about flying to Argentina. If you are from the United States, Canada or Australia, you’ll need to pay a Reciprocity Fee (US$160 for U.S. citizens). You won’t be allowed to board your flight without showing proof that you have paid. The American who sat next to me, nearly missed the flight. He had forgotten to pay the fee and had to go to the Lufthansa lounge to work through the cumbersome process. Unable to print his proof of purchase, he snapped a photo of the computer screen with his iPhone to show that he had completed the process. He was allowed to board. I hope he was allowed into Argentina. For U.S. citizens, the fee, once paid, allows entry into Argentina for 10 years.

In addition to the Reciprocity Fee, you may want to consider travel insurance (medical evacuation from Antarctica can break the bank). I purchased Silversea’s GuestCare, post-departure travel insurance and emergency assistance services. For $95, the insurance covers a variety of potential disappointments, such as trip delay, baggage loss and baggage delay, emergency evacuation and, the ultimate disappointment, repatriation.

Silversea also requires that guests complete an IATO (International Antarctic Treaty Organization) Medical Questionnaire, which noted in its introduction that “no sophisticated medical facilities are available in Antarctica,” although Silver Explorer does have a “qualified physician” and a “limited infirmary.”

The expedition, Silversea literature noted, is intended for people in good health. The document included a few stern warnings:

  • “Guests who are not fit for long trips for any reason, including disability, heart or other health conditions, are advised not to join the tour, which could pose an unreasonable risk to your health … “
  • “Should any such condition become apparent, we reserve the right to decline to accept or retain you or any other guest at any time during the voyage … “
  • “Guests are further advised that medical evacuation, if available, is expensive, and it is strongly recommended that you have medical insurance … “
  • “South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands are prone to very sudden and unexpected changes of weather. The conditions and terrain are harsh, the interior is not fully mapped and nearby waters are not always accurately or completely charted. All travel has inherent risks, but travel to South Georgia carries a greater level of risk than to many, more traditional, destinations. There is no airstrip, nor is there any search and rescue or other emergency service on the island. There is no independent transport from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands or to South America, which are at least three or five days sail away respectively.”

Suffice it to say that on a voyage to the Antarctic, you will be cruising in a region that is so remote that some parts of it are uncharted; the weather can be unpredictable; and you should be prepared for some rough seas, particularly crossing the Drake Passage, which takes about two days. Each way.

The Packing

The next challenge is to pack your bags, which requires some consideration. The trip to the coldest continent on the planet doesn’t require a lot of gear — just the right gear.

Silversea has made packing easy. Simply follow the suggestions at SilverseaExpeditions.com/GearShop.

If you want the easiest of solutions, purchase a fully outfitted package, chosen by experts and adapted to your needs. I priced the package at less than $500, but I ended up buying at REI so that I could purchase tall sizes. Silversea’s packing suggestions, however, served as a guideline for helping me make my purchases.

Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Back home, sorting my gear for my trip to Antarctica. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

One item that you may want Silversea’s Gear Shop to handle: boots. They’re heavy and they take up a lot of space in your luggage. For $70, Silversea will deliver rental boots, sized for you, to Silver Explorer, undoubtedly worth the convenience.

You won’t need to bring along a parka, because Silversea provides one for you. The parka, with its embroidered Silversea Expeditions’ logo, will serve as an icon of your adventure for years to come.

Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Icon of adventure: Silversea Expeditions’ signature parka, provided for each guest and yours to take home at the end of your voyage. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

The Welcome

With forms completed and bags packed, I arrived at Buenos Aires airport Wednesday morning and was greeted by a friendly young man named Pablo, whose job was to welcome Silversea guests and get them to their hotels. My hotel was the Sheraton Park Tower. Getting there in a mini-van with four others took about an hour. An easy check-in and I was in my room within 10 minutes after arriving. A couple of hours later, Chris Stanley, who works with me to produce Avid Cruiser videos, arrived at the hotel.

I won’t go into detail about the Park Tower except to say that it was an excellent choice of hotel in an excellent location, within walking distance of some fun bars and good restaurants, including one that I have written about before, Las Nazarenes, where it’s all about the beef — Argentine beef, among the finest and tastiest in the world.

Silversea maintains a welcome desk at the hotel, where Chris and I learned that our bags were to be outside of our rooms at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday for the flight to Ushuaia, where our cruise would begin.

Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Our Silversea Expeditions host, Alejandra. She traveled with our group from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

Our departure to the airport, a smaller airport situated in the city center and only about 20 minutes away, was scheduled for 6:15 a.m. sharp, and after a good night’s sleep, we were in the lobby and ready to go 15 minutes early. Because we would miss the included breakfast, coffee, tea, juice and pastries were served for Silversea guests.

Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Chartered for Silver Explorer guests, a Lan Chile Airbus 320 that would take us from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia . © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

At the airport we checked our bags, cleared security and boarded an Airbus 320 operated by LAN Chile but chartered so that only Silversea guests were on board. We had plenty of open seats. I was the only one in my row of three seats, for example. A light snack was served, sweets mostly, including the popular Argentine cookie/cake Alfajor.

Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Snacks served on our flight to Ushuaia. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Our flight begins its approach to Ushuaia. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
After landing in Ushuaia, we boarded a motorcoach to transfer to  Silver Explorer, but first, we would be treated to lunch, thanks to Silversea. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Around 70,000 people live in Ushuaia. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Ushuaia’s population has increased tenfold since the 1970s. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
The landscape as seen from the bus window of Ushuaia. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
After arriving in Ushuaia, we had lunch at Patagonia Mia, thanks to Silversea. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

After landing in Ushuaia 3.5 hours later, we boarded a bus and headed into the countryside for lunch at Patagonia Mia, compliments of Silversea. At 2:10 p.m., we headed back into town, and by 3 p.m., after an extremely easy check-in, we were unpacking our bags in our Medallion Suite on Deck 6.

Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Boarding Silver Explorer in Ushuaia. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle

The Rite Of Passage

We set sail at 6 p.m., transiting the Beagle Channel. By midnight we’d reach open sea. Our first few days would be a rite of passage, traversing the Drake Passage, “the most dreaded bit of ocean on the globe,” writes Alfred Lansing in, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. “Here nature has been given a proving ground on which to demonstrate what she can do if left alone. The results are impressive.”

Reaching heights of up to 90 feet (possibly more), the waves in the Drake Passage have become legendary. Upon first spotting them breaking on Tierra del Fuego in 1833, Charles Darwin wrote in his diary: “The sight … is enough to make a landsmen dream for a week about death, peril and shipwreck.”

I’ll be back tomorrow with my first report of sailing the Drake Passage en route to the White Continent.

Silver Explorer: 10-Day Voyage To Antarctica
Leaving Ushuaia. Next stop, Antarctica. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
December 12 Ushuaia, ArgentinaCharter flight from Buenos Aires; Embark Silver Explorer5:00 PM
December 13Sailing The Drake Passage
December 14Crossing The Drake, Day 2
December 15Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 16Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 17Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 18Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 19Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
December 20Sailing the Drake Passage, Redux
December 21Sailing the Drake Passage
December 22Ushuaia, Argentina8:00 AMDisembark Silver Explorer; return charter flight to Buenos Aires.
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