Antarctica: Retracing Shackleton's Journey travel blog

Ushuaia, Parc Nationale

Barry and I brought our Shiba Inu puppy back to his kind breeder, locked up the house, and took off for our National Geographic trip to the Antarctic. We flew from San Francisco to Houston and then direct to Buenos Aires, arriving at the Caesar Park Hotel by mid-afternoon on Sunday. After a shower and a nap, we walked a few blocks around La Recoleta and found the Park Hyatt hotel, which has a modern tower and a terraced garden attached to the original nineteenth century mansion on the street above. Next door to it is the Papal Nuncio and residence. We returned to the Caesar Park and made dinner reservations for a tango show that night, where we had a surprisingly tasty steak.

The next day, we registered with National Geographic and went on a short walking tour of the area. Later that afternoon, we took a bus tour of the city, visiting: the cemetery where Evita lies buried; La Bocca, known for its soccer stadium, docks, and tango; the Rosa presidential palace; and the cathedral, where Pope Francis I officiated as bishop of Buenos Aires.

Barry had a mild complaint that we wanted to check out before launching on a trip to one of the most isolated placed on earth. He had a pain in his head and was concerned about his blood pressure. So we got the hotel doctor to check him out. She arrived with a medic and a bellman from the hotel to translate. His vitals checked out at 140 BP and 70 pulse rate. She told him not to eat salt or fatty foods and be sure to use sun block. We were reassured by her advice enough that we went for dinner at the Terrazzo in the gardens of the Park Hyatt.

Bright and early (5:30 am), we assembled for our ride to the airport and then flew south to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Once there, we piled into three buses and headed for an hour-long drive to the national park and a two-hour catamaran luncheon tour of the Beagle Channel. The Beagle Channel was eponymously named for the ship that, under the command of Captain Fitzroy, was used to make a hydrographic survey of the southern coasts of South America. On its second voyage, the Beagle carried Charles Darwin on his famous scientific expedition in the 1830’s.

North of the Beagle Channel lie the Straits of Magellan, the first navigable route from the Atlantic to the Pacific discovered in 1520 on the first circumnavigation of the earth. Almost three decades later in 1578, Sir Francis Drake opened the seaway between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, a treacherous stretch of 600 miles now known as the Drake Passage where the currents of the Atlantic Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean all converge. For the first time, Europeans understood that South America did not reach to the South Pole.

We boarded the National Geographic Orion and settled into our cabin. Almost immediately we got at call from the ship’s doctor who came to our cabin. He had gotten the report from the hotel doctor that Barry had a medical issue. Dr. Bob Thompson examined Barry and asked him a few pointed questions, then signed off. I am sure that we would have been sent packing on our way home to San Francisco if Dr. Bob had found any symptom of anything serious.

By dinnertime we had set sail and started our expedition to Antarctica. By the next day, we’d reached the Drake Passage and the point of no return, that is, the point when the ship would not turn back for any reason, even a medical evacuation, until we had reached Antarctica. Our luck held, and though we had some gentle rocking and rolling over the two days we spent sailing from Ushuaia to the South Shetland Islands, the National Geographic Orion sailed smoothly

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