I didn’t sleep well last night. Try as we might we didn’t turn out the lights until midnight, knowing that we needed to wake at 6:45a. I’ve caught a bit of a cold, and between that and the single-sized bed in the room I couldn’t sleep solidly. Around 4a I took an Ibuprofren and cleared and crawled in to the other bed in the room. Between these things I managed some sleep until the alarm went off.
The early morning was called for by the Cheesemans; our pre-sailing tour would begin at 8a. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, a simple matter of yoghurt and toast, and boarded the bus for Tierra del Fuego. We’d chosen the “Natural History” option of the three (others being “Seabirds” and “Photography”). Tierra del Fuego National Park is 20 minutes from the hotel and this excursion was as much to give us something to do during the day, before setting sail, as anything.
Cheesemans hasn’t yet impressed me with organization. The Tierra del Fuego trip was scheduled for 8:15 but at 8a we were pushed aboard the bus, where we then sat for 15 minutes. The tour within the park, admittedly run by Rumbo Sur and not Cheesemans, was a few ad hoc stops along the road, a few places we got out for 30 minutes at a time, and then a bus ride home. We’re on board the Ortelius now, so I’ll wait and see. I don’t expect organization is Cheesemans’ hallmark, though – it’s the landings, the wildlife, and the personal connections between staff and passengers and between passengers themselves.
Melinda and I found the park pleasant but, well, not amazing. In truth we didn’t get a very great tour of the place – it was rushed, and Holland America’s VandeemZZZ, in town for just one day, had disgorged more than 1,000 people into the town, including several hundred now in the park. But we went for a bit of a hike (more like a nature walk), we saw some geese and a pair of magellanic woodpeckers, apparently a rarity. The tour included a simple picnic lunch and ended back at the hotel at 2p.
With the boarding time of 4p Melinda and I had some time to pass, so we returned to Chocolates Ushuaia for another round of hot chocolate and crepes. Tasty again, but with me feeling a little under the weather not quite as awesome. We walked around a bit more and noticed the higher density of tourists along the main street. Also, what with it being New Years’ Eve, several shops and restaurants were closed.
As we boarded the vessel we surrendered our passports to the staffers; they’ll hold them for the duration of the trip. It’s kind of nice, actually, to not need to carry it with me now – it’s bulky in my pocket. The ship has a crew for sailing and a “hotel staff” for the cabins, kitchen, and other aspects. The hotel staff was chosen by Cheesemans, and it’s to this staff that we’ve entrusted our passports. This staff will manage the customs and immigration at all our landings and will run the onboard internet.
Our room is 430, on the starboard side just a little forward of the entry way on the fourth deck. As a result of a cancellation last week we were able to switch from our shared bath room to this private bath room. The room has four beds in the form of two bunk beds with upper and lower bunks. There’s a desk facing the wall opposite the door, two portholes (that can be covered but not opened to the outside) above the desk, and a wardrobe in the corner opposite the bath. The bath is a basin, toilet, and shower. There’s ample stowage for our gear, mostly because we packed lightly.
Immediately upon entering the ship I gave myself a tour, in order to learn bow from stern and port from starboard, and to discover any amenities not yet disclosed. I walked passed our original room, 445, and introduced myself to Peter and Nancy(?) who have it now. That room is longer, a touch wider, and because it’s near the bow of the ship the walls angle in and upward a little, making a nice ledge for things. It has a basin and shares a common bath across the hall with other shared-bath rooms. It would have been perfectly nice but I expect we’ll enjoy having the convenience of a shower in our room. I discover that the zodiacs are in the stern on the 5th deck (or was it 4th?), 10 zodiacs in all, all with new Yamaha engines (Ted Cheeseman is very happy about the engines). The ship formerly had a helipad astern; it’s no longer configured as such but there’s a large open deck area there and a helicopter hangar. The 6th deck holds a library aft , and the bridge is on the 7th deck, forward. The lounge, 3-forward, is big enough to hold the entire tour group and leaders, although it’s a bit tight to do so.
Before we set sail the tour group meets in the lounge for an introduction of the staff and for cocktails. We pull away from the harbor around 6p and take pictures of Ushuaia as it fades to our stern. Melinda and I meet a couple, Libby and Greg (from Inverness, Illinois), for whom this trip is their first. There’s perhaps 60 first-timers among the 95 passengers, but the repeat-trippers are more vocal; it’s a reunion for those who’ve made friends in the past. We met Libby at Tia Elvira yesterday evening along with Victor & Vicky, and a few other people whose names I forget. [The Cheesemans made nice nametags for everyone, which is a neat way to remember who’s who. Unfortunately I seem to have already misplaced mine. I’m sure it must be in the cabin here somewhere but I cannot find it.]
There’s a lifeboat safety drill, which includes us getting in to the lifeboats. It’ll be pretty snug if we need to do this for real but we’ll manage. Dinner followed. We have two dining rooms, which fit about 90 people – not quite big enough for everyone at once. That’s awkward; they’ll find some solution. Salad, broccoli soup, risotto, and panna cotta. A nice start. In the corner of the room I found a cheese plate that was inexplicably neglected. I stole just a single piece of a hard cheese – a great, salty way to end the meal. Dinner concluded just about 9p, which was our designated time to ring in the new year. We sang Auld Lang Syne, toasted, and carried about with our dinner. It doesn’t feel like 2012 yet – in part because it’s _not_ yet, not in this time zone. It _does_ feel like I’m about to lose track of which day it is; I shall try hard to recall, so I can refer to things in days going forward.
Dinner concluded with us getting a schedule for tomorrow: wake-up call at 7a, breakfast buffet 7:30 – 8, and lectures on and off for the rest of the day. We’ll aim to catch all these, and to check the readiness of our equipment (eg, our boots need our names written on them). Our first landing is Monday, at the Falklands, with an option to land + hike or land + return + land again, both going to the same places. I’d like to try the land + hike option but I’m a tiny bit worried about the readiness of my boots for a 6-mile hike (that’s … not quite two hours of walking. I could probably manage that in any event, and the hike sounds neat).
We’re all unpacked now, with clothes stuffed into cupboards and the desk drawers; roll-proof, as Ted said. We’re told the seas will begin to roll us around midnight, which is just under an hour from now. We hope to be asleep by then; we’ll wake at 7a tomorrow.
Advice I wish I’d had: bring binoculars and a long lens to Tierra del Fuego. I can leave the backpack on the bus so the weight isn’t a big deal, but for bird spotting the focal length is key. Bring throat drops, preferably Ricola or something non-mentholated, so I can have them as often as I’d like. The ship has the mentholated kind but one shouldn’t have too many of those per day. Bring about 8 days of ordinary underwear, socks, and T-shirts. I brought 6 and need to do laundry tomorrow. I *think* I need more because I expect I’ll want to change out of my woolen variety when I’m back on the boat, but I’m not sure yet what the rigor will be. Don’t bother bringing suction cups – they won’t stick reliably to wall surfaces.
Advice that’s proven useful: bring a power strip or short 3-outlet extension cord. There’s only two power sockets in the room and I have need for three things to charge now.