Saturday, January 27, 2024

Antarctica 2023-4 - Days 13-6 - 1/7-10/2024 - Journey home

I’ll combine the remaining days of the trip, as there was not much in terms of activity.

Days 13 and 14 were for sailing back across the Drake Passage toward Ushuaia. Even though the sea was choppier on the return voyage, I didn’t have any issues with seasickness this time around. Day 13 had about 3 meter swells, while Day 14 had 4-5 meter swells. The wind speed on the second day of the crossing reached 50-60 knots, high enough that they closed the outside decks of the ship.

Voyage map  Courtesy Intrepid Travel

Inside, the days were scheduled with talks and activities, though we skipped out on most of them. The subjects of the talks/activities that I did attend included: the geology of Antarctica, the Antarctic treaty, knot tying, our ship (Ocean Endeavor), orcas (aka killer whales), and a fundraising auction. The auction raised funds for WWF and the Citizen Science charity; notable items up for auction included: driving the ship for 20 minutes, delivering the morning wake-up announcement, the ship’s Antarctica flag for the voyage, and the expedition nautical chart (with additional artwork). The flag and chart each fetched about $800-$900. There was a captain’s farewell event, during which they also presented some employee-of-the-month awards. The executive chef also provided some fun statistics about the amount of food that was consumed during our 1877 (later adjusted to 1927) nautical mile voyage; I don’t remember any specific amounts, but most things mentioned were in the hundreds of kilograms.

Expedition nautical chart + artwork for auction

Day 13 had a “plant based” dinner to promote Intrepid’s sustainable practices; I use the quotes because: (1) it was a vegetarian dinner, not a vegan one (as I expect the term plant-based to mean); (2) they still had the option to order the standard grilled chicken or fish that was available every dinner. In all, I think the dinner menu was reasonable for the clientele on board; I just have issues with the use of the term “plant based” to describe it.

On Day 14 we settled our shipboard accounts, which included all onboard purchases and gratuity for the ship and expedition crews (they automatically added a suggested amount, which we did not change). We also each got $50 credits for the late boarding and missing dinner the first night of the expedition. We also tagged our luggage with ribbons (organized by bus color) and set them out for pickup before 11pm.

We were originally supposed to be on the pink bus which went directly to the airport, but we changed to the green bus which went to a luggage storage location (a bar that they had rented for the morning/afternoon) since we had plenty of time before our 1:15pm flight. We disembarked around 9am, took the bus the short ride to storage, and stowed our luggage there for a couple of hours. We walked with Liz, Michelle, Diane, and Kayla to a cafe on the main street for breakfast. We made a couple more stops (cafe, pharmacy, chocolate shop) on the way back to storage, where we picked up our luggage and five of us (Diane’s flight was later that night) took a couple of Ubers to the airport.

Flying out of Ushuaia

I somehow didn’t get dinged for overweight luggage, but Michelle did. This caused her to have to wait in the incredibly slow payment line while the rest of us (minus Liz, who waited for her) went through security. It all worked out, though, and she made the flight with us. Liz and Kayla were on later flights. Seating on the Aerolineas Argentina flight was a little weird. The first class section had economy seats, but was half empty - they seemed to only fill at most the window and aisle seats of each set of 3. Fran and I each had a side of row 3 to ourselves; though we had initially selected seats in row 1 at purchase time. We also saw something like 15 or 20 other people from our expedition on the same flight out. And there was another Intrepid couple on our same flight from Buenos Aires to JFK. We had about 5.5 hours between the flights, which were once again in separate airports. We shared a taxi with Michelle from AEP to EZE. The check-in line for Delta was really long, but we had plenty of time and no cause for stress. The flights today were better than the other way a couple of weeks ago in terms of pelvic discomfort. I suspect that the 2 weeks of antibiotics might be helping, but another big factor is less anxiety/stress on the return. I’ll also give a shout-out once again to the Global Entry facial recognition system that made immigration a breeze. The exit process in Buenos Aires also used facial recognition, but it didn’t go quite as smoothly (especially since I scanned the wrong boarding pass barcode, but also because it required taking off my glasses to work). As an aside, we didn’t get Argentina stamps in our passports because I guess everything is going digital.

In closing, I’ll add a few thoughts about the trip overall. I can easily say that this was my favorite trip that I’ve taken over the last 6 years with Fran, and likely also my favorite of my lifetime; though there may be a bit of recency bias there, and I definitely struggle to remember all my past trips. And I say this even with the anxiety and discomfort caused by my pelvic condition. The landscape was more spectacular than anything I’ve seen before. And the excursions were (mostly) great, even though I’m not normally one for the cold. I particularly enjoyed getting close to the whales, and the seals and penguins were also fun to see. It was also good to have Fran to push me to do a couple of things, like day paddling, that I normally would not have done on my own.

When we were at port in Ushuaia, I noticed a couple of fancier looking ships alongside. That got me wondering how much, if at all, the experience would have been improved on a new ship - the Ocean Endeavor is about 40 years old. Besides creature comforts (the other ships had rooms with balconies, and fancier looking terraces), the newer ships would pollute less than the Ocean Endeavor (which seems to release a lot of sooty smoke) does. Intrepid claims to operate carbon neutral, so hopefully they have high quality carbon offsets to balance the ship’s emissions. Nevertheless, I can’t say that I have any regrets about the trip, and would highly recommend Antarctica and Intrepid to anyone interested.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

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