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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Saturday, March 28, 2015 08:03:43

ANTARCTICA & IBERIA 2015: 2 Ushuaia, Argentina to the South Shetland Islands

Monday, March 25, 2015

It was mostly downhill from the hotel to the ship in bright sunshine, so we walked the half a dozen blocks dragging along our suitcases & backpacks. We were advised to be there at 4 PM as boarding was only until 5 and those who were late would be left, however their organizing came into question when everyone stood at the gangplank on the dock for 50 minutes before being allowed to board.

The ship, MV Ortelius, is a 1989 ice strengthened Russian ship previously named Marina Svetaeva. It was purchased by Oceanwide Expeditions and refurbished in 2014. I'm told there are 41 crew and 76 mostly well travelled passengers on this trip. The ship is 91.25 meters long (300 ft), which is similar to the old Explorer that Marilynn and I travelled on five times. The cabins are a little bigger than Explorer, and a bit better equipped. We have comfortable twin beds, two portholes, a small desk and a bathroom with shower. Explorer definitely had a better laid out dining room, lecture room and bar, but our location midships is excellent, only steps from reception and the dining room.

The dining room is in two sections, with a buffet table joining them at the far end. The lecture hall is windowless and looks like a church, with rows of pews for seating. The ship is in an entirely different class than Sea Explorer, the luxury vessel that toured us around Greenland and the Canadian Arctic last year. On the other hand, Sea Explorer cost $1,396 per day for a 12 day cruise for two, and Ortelius is costing $695 per day for a 36 day cruise for us both, including early booking discounts.

WIFI is available in some cabins, reception and the bar, however it is desperately slow and expensive. I'll use it to check email only periodically. Downloading attachments is slow, so will not be done if they are large. An example was given of a fellow who downloaded a baby photo sent to him - the download cost 250 euros. Euros are the on board official currency, although US dollars are accepted.

We got underway about 6:30 PM, followed by a briefing and lifeboat drill. As the lifeboats are very near the bar, we stopped for drinks on the way back to the cabin before a mediocre dinner, followed by more drinks in the bar. One very pleasant surprise was to find that a friend, Brent Houston, from Explorer days was the assistant cruise director. We were with him on the first tour he was in charge of, to the Juan Fernandez Islands about 600 miles off the coast of Chile. I was badly battered, having broken my shoulder on the Island of South Georgia, then got mugged in Santiago which required a visit to the hospital for a whole lot of stitches to sew my leg back up, but Brent let me come on the trip anyway.

Our crossing of the infamous Drake Passage between the tip of South America (CapeHorn) and the Antarctic Peninsula was on amazingly calm seas. Large rollers rocking the ship made walking around a bit challenging, but the fierce storms that generate up to 100 foot waves were happily missing. This is our third crossing of the Drake, and we have been very lucky as only one was in rough seas.

Over the next couple of days shipboard life settled into morning and afternoon lectures, beer in the bar, eating (the food improved considerably after the first meal) and getting to know our shipmates. It was fun to meet some of the travellers that I knew by reputation but had never seen face to face, including Harry Mitsidis, the founder of The Best Travelled web site. Staff are very big on meetings, sometimes held in the lecture room and sometimes in the bar. As the two are three decks apart, it is an exercise program as well. Unlike Sea Explorer, there is no elevator and he stairs are steep.

Friday, March 27, 2015

This morning at 8AM we arrived in the calm waters of Maxwell Bay, on King George Island, part of the South Shetland Islands, where we could see the Chinese Great Wall station and the Belingshausen Russian station beside a larger Chilean station. The temperature was 2 C. Our first whale sighting was announced on approach to the bay, but we didn't see it. The Chinese station, a mile or so away, would not allow us to visit, but we were made welcome by the Russians where explanations were given and questions answered by a pleasant, English speaking fellow from St. Petersburg. The base was established in 1947. It has 22 staff, 18 of which will winter there. The Russians also have the much larger Vostok base, where temperatures plunge to far below zero, so this base is also used for R & R for Vostok staff.

We climbed a hill to the beautiful log Russian Orthodox Cathedral, where there was a great view of the airport and surrounding bases. On another hill is a Catholic Church for the Chileans. Back at the beach we watched a number of Gentoo penguins playing the the ocean, and chasing after a large Skua bird who ignored the message that he was not welcome. The Zodiac landing was on a gravel beach with no waves, although the sea was choppy for the ride to and from the ship. This island hosts research bases from Uruguay, South Korea, Poland, Brazil, Argentina,3 from Chile and the Russian one we visited.

Once back on board we sailed down the huge bay until we reached the Uruguayan base. Again, it was a fairly easy landing on a gravel beach with no large waves. The Uruguayans went all out for us, with two long tables laden with freshly baked cakes and other treats, plus soft drinks and hot drinks including mate tea. Most of their 14 staff turned out to chat - it was a very friendly and warm welcome. There are three women among the staff, the cook, doctor and an engineer.

Tomorrow will be another sea day, before we arrive in the uninhabited South Orkney Islands.