Back to our journey into Antarctica! We had flown to Tierra del Fuego and booked into a small hotel in Ushuaia which is the southern most town in the world, the gateway to Antarctica and the last outpost of civilization. We had just arrived back from the Tierra del Fuego National Park and were preparing to carry our bags down to the harbor to board the ship. Only problem was, our bags were by that time way too heavy for any one person to carry and so two of us would carry one bag, each one grabbing a handle on either side. Luckily the hotel that we stayed at was just across the road from the harbor. That was a good thing because all of us made no fewer than at least three trips back and forth with pretty heavy bags. Entering the baggage area where our passports were to be processed, we were all bursting with excitement. Finally after two days of travelling thousands of miles, we had finally arrived at the ship. After processing our passports and luggage through the system, we stepped through the offices and onto the dock of the harbor.
There she was, the M/V Plancius which was the purpose built ice vessel that was going to take us even further away from civilization and into the heart of Antarctica. With our bags taken care of we took dozens of photo’s standing on the dock in front of the ship. Walking up the gang plank, we boarded the ship at last. The ship was more luxurious inside than I thought it would be, with polished stainless steel banisters on the stairwells, and carpets everywhere. I was prepared to really have to rough it all with cold stainless steel floors half rusted through from salty sea water. I was obviously way off base and pleasantly surprised. The stairwells were long and very steep. A bit further into our journey it would turn out that we’d have to cling to those banisters for dear life, but for now we were shown to our cabins which were…let’s just say somewhat pokey and a little claustrophobic. Some of the team members were sleeping two to a room, some three, but I had chosen a four sleeper for monetary reasons. It was pretty cozy, with two bunk beds side by side with about half a meter of space between them. I opted to sleep in one of the bottom bunks. Underneath the bottom bunks were drawers. We had two cupboards and a desk with a lamp. Space would definitely be at a premium for the next two weeks. There was also a thermostat on the wall to control the temperature of our cabin. The bathroom was surprisingly roomy and nice. Perfectly clean and pleasant with a toilet, basin and shower it was everything that we would need. We would have the equivalent of room service on board the ship where our beds would be made up for us daily and the bathroom would be cleaned. Inside the bathroom there were handles everywhere on the walls and in the cabin itself, we noticed that all cupboards and drawers had bolts on them so that one could fasten them shut. We would very soon find out what those were for!
All passengers were asked to gather in the observation lounge which was on the top deck of the ship. It was a very large standing and seating area that had a bar on one end where you could sit and order drinks. It had very large picture windows that afforded passengers with a 360 degree view of the passing scenery. In another corner was a tea and coffee bar that was fully stocked with tea of every flavor you could think of, with plenty of biscuits of various kinds. We did what every ship does and had a health and safety drill where we had to don life jackets and go out onto a certain area of the deck where the life boats were kept in the event of an emergency where the crew of the ship could no longer guarantee our safety. After that we returned to the observation lounge where we got to meet the rest of the crew onboard and soon realized that we would be travelling with 110 other people from all different walks of life. We had our first lecture delivered by some of the staff members and before retiring to bed that night, we were told that during the night we would be crossing the Drake’s passage. We went to bed that night obliviously unaware of what brutally rough waters lay ahead of us. We were instructed to bolt all cupboards and drawers in our cabins shut and thought it a bit of an overkill. At 2:00am the next morning, I gently and gradually started rocking back and forth in my bed…but that was just the start of what was to come.