Arriving in Ushuaia with the anticipation of boarding The Greg Mortimer Ship the following day, I was buzzing with excitement. With a morning to spare before meeting my fellow passengers, I decided to explore on foot. It became obvious very quickly around the shore who my fellow passengers were. Everyone seemed keen to catch a glimpse of the impressive Greg Mortimer in port!
After having some free time to explore I headed back to the hotel to wait for the afternoon excursion. Firstly, we headed out to the Ushuaia sign on what was an unusually warm day. With the sun beating down on us, this allowed for spectacular views of the city. We then headed to the prison which held a lot of poignant and harrowing memories of those once housed at the prison. A visit well worth it! From here it was time to slowly make our way on board the ship. Unable to get into the port until 4pm, but now the moment was upon us. On arrival we were all met by Howard and Scot who introduced themselves and took our picture before boarding!
We were then shown to our cabin before a busy evening of safety drills, welcome drinks, introductions and the first of MANY meals in the restaurant. Before, the official welcome meeting took place, I took the opportunity with a bit of free time to go exploring! I had never been on an expedition ship before, but it stuck me how beautifully luxurious and comfortable this ship was. It had all the hard adventure ideals with the bonus of comfort and luxury. Not only is this ship spectacular visually, but it also has, from what I understand, much less impact on the environment. With it’s first of a kind X bow design, better fuel efficiency and virtual anchor to avoid damage to the seabed. Every way possible to consider the impact of the environment had been implemented. There was also nearly zero plastic on board the ship, not a plastic bottle in sight, with refill mugs and water bottles handed out along with our wonderful jackets (keeping me warm still). We used one of the many water stations scattered around the ship to fill up with water. Or a hot drink in our mug from the tea/coffee station in the lecture hall.
Day 1 departure was delayed slightly as the maiden voyage had been without internet. As with all new ships there are teething problems and Wi-Fi seemed to be high on the agenda for many. Offering the guests to partake in the decision, to hold back the sailing time or wait approx. 4 hours for a part to be delivered, the majority voted to wait. The decision in the end was probably the right decision with a lot of Australians on board needing to make contact with home to make sure that their properties were safe from the bushfires, starting to blaze back home! It was then dark by the time we sailed through the Beagle channel, but we had many, many adventures ahead.
The first morning, I woke to, again, one of many breakfasts at the restaurant and I cannot praise the staff highly enough. The expedition leaders, the doctors, the waiting staff the cleaners all such lovely interesting people. Happy to have a chat and get to know you. The restaurant staff were exceptional, knowing you by name very early on, making you feel welcome every time. Especially as I was travelling by myself, you can often arrive into the restaurant with the uncertainty of where to sit and who to sit with. The staff would always assist (if required) and make it very easy.
With a couple of days at sea there were many lectures to get stuck into, all of which were impeccably delivered and received with fascination and enjoyment! It was, I think, the first lecture from Ben, when we were very quickly interrupted by our first Iceberg sighting! One lone iceberg out at sea, it was a brilliant moment, comically acknowledged by Ben, who later introduced us to history exercise classes! For those wanting to combine some fitness with more knowledge, we would join Ben on say deck 3, to run on the spot whist learning about one of the many fascinating pictures scattered all aboard. From there we would run up to deck 8, where we continue our history lesson still running on the spot and do lunges or star jumps etc. This would continue up and down various levels of the ship!
During our 2 days at sea we also spent a number of hours getting kitted out for our kayaking adventures and getting to know our instructors Al and Frank, both wonderful chaps. We were paired up, with what would be our Kayaking partner for most of the trip. My partner came in the form of a British Tabloid journalist and Novelist! Sean was a great kayaking partner looking out for me when we battled the worst storm in kayaking history! Well this is what we like to think. Our first outing turned from good to bad VERY quickly highlighting exactly where in the world we really were.
We did our first landing, not yet on Antarctic soil, but on the South Shetland Islands after a morning of exploring the surrounding icebergs. Unbeknown to me and many others Al got the call for a 5-minute weather warning to get back on board, as a storm was coming through. Sean and I at the back of the pack, getting into our Kayaks, we took the brunt of the storm with high winds, chopping waves and hailstones hitting us in the face and eye! This was not the serine kayaking experience we had anticipated. With a little sense of danger, we felt the urgency to get back to the ship. However, we did not seem to be getting very far very quickly. Our fellow kayakers nearby had been rescued, but then the zodiac broke down and they all had to be rescued again! We in the meantime were still paddling hard and still seemed to be getting nowhere fast! We dug deep and eventually we were the last to make it back to the ship, greeted with a rock star welcome, having been watched on by our fellow passenger, we were all finally safe and warm.
This outing was by far the most difficult and according to Al the worst he had experienced in 20 years…he had been doing it for 20 years! Once safely aboard this was an experience never to forget, after all were in Antarctica and at the mercy of Mother Nature. The landings only get better, all unique every time. They would vary in so many ways with the scenery, the wildlife the weather. On a few occasions, the snow would fall heavily, others the sun would sine hard, or it would just be cold and grey! My favourite time was when we split in 2 different groups and the snow was falling hard. We decided against disturbing a penguin colony nesting, which looked like it was being monitored by what seemed to be a selfie stick with a camera filming the goings on. We instead landed on the ice nearby and having a bit of an explore we discovered a couple a seal’s lounging in the snow! We had a magical moment 4 of us just sitting alongside these wonderful creatures.
Travelling solo, I would encourage anyone to sign up on one of the activities on offer. In this case the options were kayaking, skiing, mountaineering and snow shoeing. Our little kayaking group became close and as an individual you share many unique experiences together with a smaller group helping create and maintain close friendships.
It struck me on about day 5 or 6 how wonderfully mountainous the landscape is. Something I was not really prepared for. It is the landscape that left me in awe of its beauty, that and the actual icebergs. I don’t think I had fully prepared for how beautiful they would be.
Another day that stands out in my memory is a day when the sun was beaming and we kayaked around Hydrurga Rocks, witnessing two carvings right in front of our rest stops. Our luck was in! The noise and feeling they give out is tremendous. After some time zig zagging the ice we landed on shore and had our first experience of a large colony of Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins, with a couple of Weddle seals lazing in the sunshine. Back to the ship where we headed to Portal point during lunch. This will be our first Antarctic landing (pictured left). Al was kind enough to celebrate this moment with a special Cointreau treat in our hot chocolate.
There was only one day where the conditions were not good enough for kayaking all day. At the time I felt very disheartened that we were not going out with our paddles. However, in fact this turned out to be a magnificent day. I was in the last zodiac to head out and since the kayakers were not paddling, we were over the 100 person threshold to make a landing. This meant that we had to wait a short amount of time before we could step foot on land. It didn’t matter to me because I found that sailing the shore gave another perspective to enjoy these beautiful surroundings. Once we landed at Elephant Point, I realised how lucky we were that we didn’t kayak and had more time on shore to explore amongst the roaring Elephant Seals. Giant in stature and equally as large in sound. Competing for territory, we witnessed these great beasts go to battle male to male fighting for territory. Within the mass of seals, Gentoo penguins were nesting with Chilean Skua birds on their tail, quite literally, pecking at their bottoms. This encouraged the penguins to lift from their eggs and the Skua quickly stole them to feed on. This was nature in action, watching on at how terribly sad it was for the Gentoo, but all creature needs to fight to survive.
As we were the last boat arriving, this also meant we were the last boat to leave, having a sense of true remoteness with little others to cross paths. That afternoon was equally as unique. We landed at Whalers Bay on Deception Island. With mixed feelings of the landing we wandered amongst the abandoned relics once housing a barbaric enactment of cruelty, for the sole purpose of greed. There was an eerie sense as we wandered. The mood took a swift change as we headed up high and the weather took a turn. The wind and the snow came quick and in full force. Combined with the sulphurous steam coming up from the shores and the weather front coming through quickly, and stood up high with magnificent views the feeling of the harsh elements most certainly makes you feel alive!
There was one morning when the ice had got so thick that it prevented anyone from doing a landing. So instead of spending the morning at the British base we all witness a real treat from the captain, as he got the opportunity to test out how great the X bow really is. Everyone on board was outside in the bitter conditions, watching on at the expertise of our Captain as he carved the ship through the ice. The nice thing about the ship is the open deck policy as most people on board have a fascination of the bridge. Another highlight was scheduled small group tours of the bridge with opportunity to meet all the crew and ask questions.
Early on the opportunity to sign up for camping on the ice seemed a magical idea. However, those that originally signed up to this adventure soon had a change of heart, having the comfort of the beautiful ship for several nights with the comparable contrast of the stark elements outside. For those that were disappointed in not being selected, there was a waiting list which seemed to continually get shorter and shorter, with many changing their decision. I was on the waiting list and missed out on selection by one person in the end. However, on this occasion the elements were against us and 6 inches of snow fall saw the experience cancelled at the very last minute. I am sure that there were actually a few relieved passengers that happily had a nightcap and sunk into their lovely cosy bed!
The night everyone really came together as one big happy family was the evening of the polar plunge, which as it happened turned out to be the inaugural plunge for the Greg Mortimer Ship and I was lucky enough to be the inaugural plunger. Taking the lead, I was buzzing to jump into the freezing ocean, with 64 fellow passengers to follow. That night the bar was buzzing with excitement with everyone re-living their plunge moment.
I thought that the 2-day return sailing back would be a time to catch my breath and relax. It did, however, feel like the busiest time. I did not want to miss out on anything, the lectures were all so great. If I was not heading to the lecture hall for one of Heidi’s Krill or Antarctic bird lectures then there was an exercise history session, or a kayaking meeting or a lunch or a dinner. It was go, go, go! The last night on board the Greg Mortimer was excellent with a re-cap of all our adventures and a slideshow of photos we had individually submitted, speeches from the leaders and memories from the fellow passengers. I especially love the fact that ALL staff at some point got the opportunity to do a landing and were fully acknowledged as part of the family. The final night finished with a party and it wouldn’t (from what I have been told), be an expedition without some dancing, so that is what we did!
The last morning, we woke early and with great sadness said our goodbyes. We were coached through the dock, the short distance to the Ushuaia shore. A lot of people had refrained from purchasing internet during the voyage, as had I. The nearby Tourist Information Centre was packed with travellers all hopping onto the free Wi-Fi to catch up with family and of course post some pictures. I also took this opportunity to explore and took a bit of hike up and out of town, before I felt the need to return. Here, you could not help but bump into some familiar faces and exchange goodbyes once again. The coach then took a small group back to the airport all booked on the same flight to BA. I had few days in BA to do some exploring and found myself on board the Antarctic museum ship recommended by Ben. I explored this ship in amazement with a newfound understanding of the achievement those sailors made!
This is, and always will be, one of the highlights of my travel experiences. Thank you to all the Aroura staff and crew for allowing me into your magical world!!
If you would like to experience this trip for yourself, click here to view the full itinerary.