Today we went to the southernmost city in the world, and the northernmost point in our expedition. We are so excited to finally start our trip to Antarctica!

We woke up at 4am to catch a flight at 6:30. Sitting in the bus I thought I forgot my camera battery charger, and went through a whole mental process to convince myself that I’d unplugged it from the wall and re-packed it in the bag. I was 90% sure I had it, but that 10% that I didn’t was worrying. I have a backup, but it only charges one battery and not two at a time. Ruth asked, “if you weren’t worrying about this, what would you be thinking about?” That was helpful, and got me to refocus on being excited instead of nervous. It turns out I had it, and they didn’t even weigh my carry-on, which was right at the 7kg/15lb limit.

We slept on the flight, and landed bumpily at the airport in the Beagle Straight in Ushuaia. The wind here is unreal, and it’s a good deal colder than Buenos Aires. They’ll give us our big parkas on the ship, but many people looked chilly with just what they had brought.

First, we got on a bus to Tierra del Fuego National Park. This is the end of the PanAmerican highway, and feels rather literally like the end of the world. The wind and cold keeps most trees quite short, and the growth line to about 1000m. The surrounding mountains are much taller than that, so the views are pretty spectacular. We’ll definitely need to come back for more trekking and less cruising on the next trip.

We stopped by the visitor center to learn more about the geology of the area, and saw a caracara hawk sitting right on the lawn. First bird sighting of the trip! We also spotted a red Fuego fox from the bus, although I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo. I’m still getting used to the second camera body that I rented for the trip, which with a crop sensor should get me access to longer shots and faster focusing than my main full-frame. I only have my lighter backup zoom lens today, since my bigger ones are packed away for the ship, so the photos aren’t as crisp as I hope to get soon.

We boarded a catamaran for lunch and a short cruise of the Beagle Channel. We saw thousands of terns nesting on a small island, many red eyed-shags, tons of sea lions and one elephant seal. It’s already a pretty good tour, and it’s just getting started.

We docked in the same port as our main ship, the National Geographic Explorer. On board we got fit for our landing boots and big orange jackets, and got to know cabin 314, our home for the next ten days. We received a detailed safety briefing, and practiced a muster to the lifeboats. This all felt very safe, they’ve done this tour a thousand times, but they did remind us that it’s an expedition (not a cruise) and that anything can happen.

The same approach extends to the itinerary, which was described by tour leader Michael Jackson as “we are going to Antarctica, and we’ll see some stuff”. He’s Canadian, and made sure to tell us that he has a plan A all the way through a plan Zed.

After dinner, which was excellent, I went to the rear deck to practice panning to photograph birds in flight. I now have my big 150-450 lens, which is much sharper than the 55-300 I brought as backup, and won’t use again unless I have to. I stayed out until sunset at 9:30pm, as we slowly cruised the Beagle Channel towards open water.

We took some Dramamine to sleep, excited for the voyage to continue.