Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Antarctica, Aerolineas Argentina To Ushuaia


Unable to get on an earlier flight, thanks to Senorita Delago, I search the waiting area and find one of the few electrical outlets in the waiting area. I must charge up my Acer Netbook.


SAM 029 Traveling the globe, I have few different ones so I can keep powered up.




It sure would be nice if someday all the world's electrical outlets would just get along. Is that to much for a “King” to ask?



SAM 047 What time does the 14:30 flight for Ushuaia depart?


Apparently, it is not at 14:30. However, today it is understandable since the airport is running at full capacity due to construction at Buenos Aires other airport.

Having been delayed slightly on my original flight inbound to Buenos Aires, I am patient as I wait for my next flight outbound.

My flight to Ushuaia is a direct flight but will first make a stop in El Carafete, Argentina. This flight is on a Boeing 737 and I end up with seat 24F. It is a window seat on the last row of the right side of the aircraft.


SAM 046 We are taken by bus to a remote area where we board the airplane using stairs.






SAM 048 I am glad to see the pilot getting his windshield washed. I would not his vision obscured while he is flying us to Ushuaia.



Finding my way to 24F I discover I will not have to worry about a seat neighbor making a bed. I will have the whole row to myself.




SAM 051 Aerolineas Argentina Flight 1872



Departing Buenos Aires I get a view of the city as the airplane turns and climbs it's way towards El Carafete.


SAM 052 Pushing the recline button, I rest my head against a side panel and I am soon asleep. I hope the two and a half hour flight time will go by quickly.





SAM 056H2O Reptile



I wake up to some interesting scenery below us, a watery snake stretching for miles and miles between rolling brown hills.


SAM 057 In the distance snow capped mountains tell me the landscape is changing as we make our descent for El Carafete.




A short stop and every window seat especially the ones on the right side of the airplane becomes “Something Special In The Air” as we make our initial departure from El Carafete.


SAM 064 Passengers ignore the seat belt sign as they move side to side from window to window to get sparkling views of the scenery below.





CAN 075 El Carafete Departure View



CAN 081 Jagged mountain peaks blanketed with patches of snow.






CAN 079 A river covered with glacier ice




CAN 078 The views are so awesome that there is no blaring announcements for us to sit down.




I think the flight attendants are so use to passengers getting up during this departure that they leave us alone to soak all in.




CAN 086 Ushuaia Arrival



It's about an hour and twenty minute flight from El Carafete to Ushuaia that rewards us with more gorgeous views as we make our arrival descent. With a bright blue sky and scattered puffy white clouds, our flight is so close to the mountains that I feel like I can reach out and touch them.


CAN 090 What started as a dream a few years ago is now one step closer to reality as Aerolineas Argentina Flight 1872 touches down.



It has taken me almost 18 hours to get here since I left Miami. Stepping outside the airport, smelling the fresh air brought to me on a cold wind and taking in the splendid scenery, I know my journey here has already been worthwhile.



SAM 065 Outside Malvinas Argentina International Airport, Ushuaia


Monday, November 29, 2010

Antarctica, Buenos Aires Arrival


American Airlines Flight 943 begins it's descent for Buenos Aires with a promise of an on time arrival. Although I have a few hours to make my connection to Ushuaia this is good news. With my customs and immigration forms complete I am excited to enter Argentina, the process bringing me one step closer to Antarctica.



Capt Kangaroo An automatic arrival announcement is beginning made when it is halted by, “Ladies and Gentlemen this is your Captain Kangaroo and we have just been given a delay for our arrival into Buenos Aires.”



Apparently, this is a busy time for arrivals into Buenos Aires (EZE) especially since the downtown domestic airport (AEP) is closed for construction. All of the domestic flights are temporarily operating out of the main airport.

I continue listening to “American Airlines After Dark”, a nice selection of jazz music and it does not seem too long before we smoothly touchdown. Welcome to Argentina!



SAM 044 As a result of the temporary airport overcrowding we are parked at a remote location.





SAM 042 This requires us to be bussed to the main terminal to clear customs and immigration.




In the immigration area the tourist are separated from the locals in order to purchase an Argentina Entry Visa. This visa has varying prices from $100 to $140 depending on your nationality and length of stay in the country. Of course, cash and credit cards are accepted.


SAM 003 For US citizens it is $140 but the visa is good for 10 years. Let's see, if I make ten trips here a year it will turn out to be a heck of a bargain!



The immigration and custom process is quite welcoming and not before long I am headed to Terminal C to make my domestic connection to Ushuaia. Terminal C is to the left outside of International Arrivals and is about a 10 to 15 minute walk.



SAM 043 Ushuaia Boarding Gate


I arrive in time to make an earlier flight on Aerolineas Argentina. However, after several airport pages “Pasejo Senorita Delago” shows up at the last moment and takes away my chance to continue southbound.


Antarctica, All My Bags Are Packed


SAM 006 All my bags are now packed but it wasn’t long ago I felt like one of the Three Stooges going to a nudist colony.



Hey Moe, “I don't know what to wear, Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk”.

This is no ordinary trip. Packing for 12 days when traveling to one of the most remote places on earth can present a challenge. Once I leave home my shopping choices may become limited and even expensive if I am inadequate in my planning.

I do have some basic guidance from Quark Expedition but it pertains primarily to general cold weather operations. 

Typically, I travel as a backpacker with the least amount of clothing possible. These items along with all other necessities are carried in a single medium size backpack except for my camera equipment.


Shadow Rider So far, the places I have traveled along with Visa and MasterCard have allowed my minimalist approach to work out nicely.



With input from a few travel sites like Fodor's, I can see that this trip packing will have to be a little different. I will have to stay warm and a “layering approach” may just be the way to accomplish this. My research tells me that “polypropylene” thermals are a good foundation to start with.

Silk is also an option but I have read that it may not be such a good idea if you plan on also using it as sleepwear. In rough seas like crossing Drake Passage, you might just go slip sliding away.


SAM 015 Besides a drain plug and electrical adapter that I normally bring on my trips here a few items I am adding for this one.





SAM 002 With a shared cabin and probably limited outlets, thanks to a Fodor tip, I am going to look like a “Wise Guy” with this one. A 3 way extension plug.





While a mono-pod may turn out to be better, I settle for two mini tripods both weighing less than 1 pound respectively. Each of which fits nicely in my camera bag or backpack.



SAM 007 Targus 42” Tripod Only $15 At Wal-Mart




SAM 008 Since my trip will require several Zodiac landings light weight waterproof pants and a dry bag to keep my camera equipment safe also become necessities.




SAM 009 I am able to easily find these items at a local Bass Pro Shop along with several packages of foot and hand warmers.





SAM 013 Although I have packed 4 sets of outfits including a swim trunk in hopes of taking a polar plunge, this clothesline setup that requires no pins might just come in handy.



Feeling accomplished and somewhat prepared I begin a systematic packing scheme. I am planning on spending a few days in Argentina before we set sail so I have broken down my packing into two trips. All the clothing and items I will need once we set sail are in one large backpack. A smaller backpack has all the items that I will need for a few days around Ushuaia. This arrangement will also come in handy when I check in for my flight.

As I often do when traveling, I will board my flight with a single backpack and my camera case although this time with one or two minor exceptions. For this trip I will have stowaways with me, my new travel companions.



SAM 014 Cisco Flip and Philips Vibe



Sunday, November 28, 2010

Antarctica, Unfolding Of A Dream


A few years ago I received a travel e-mail about a cruise to Antarctica. Not aware of the uniqueness of travel to the area like I am today, I balked at the $1400 price tag.


Sunken Ship Turns out that I might have made the right choice as the ship involved on the cruise hit an iceberg during one of it's voyages to Antarctica.



All of the passengers and crew were rescued. Unfortunately, I think the ship sank and became forever a part of the Antarctica ocean landscape.



Antartica Expedition Trans Antarctic Expedition


In October 2009 during a visit to New Zealand my interest is again peaked about Antarctica while viewing an exhibition at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch.

Back home I begin some research and discover that a well respected adventure travel company, Quark Expedition has a wide selection of trips to Antarctica. However, the minimum price tag is now, $4000. Although a bit steep for my kind of travel, this time I am not willing to past up the opportunity for maybe a once in a life time adventure.

I put down a deposit with a K-Mart type lay-a-way plan. I begin making monthly payment in order to pay off the balance due 90 days prior to sailing. For me, this is a good plan as I will practically have my vacation paid off before I leave home.


Penguins My plans hit a small snag when I am informed by Quark that my original trip has been canceled because of insufficient bookings.



I am feeling like a penguin left out in the cold but I am given some time to make a decision. I can have my money refunded or choose a trip on another ship.


Drunk Homer At first it is an agonizing financial decision as the new expeditions now start at $6000 but I go for it only to have buyers regret.

$6000 is beyond my Antarctica or any where else travel budget.


Somewhere along the line there has been a miss-communication with Quark. Calling to cancel my trip altogether I am informed that I am being given the $6000 trip at my original price, a $2000 discount! Now I can see one reason, great customer service, why Quark Expedition has done so well in this specialized area of the travel business.

Monthly e-mails of the Quark Newsletter along with reading various articles and surfing the web keeps the expedition excitement fresh in my memory as I patiently wait until the end of November 2010 to discover “The Blue Continent”.



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ecuador, Finding Tena



Map picture


Rest assured there at least five or six Ecuadorians that won't be recording, "Do You Know The Way To Tena" anytime soon. Leaving Quito along Av 6 Diecembre, I am initially headed in the right direction for Tena, however my inquiry to a toll-booth worker adds the first bit of confusion.

She's not sure if I need to go "Norte" or "Sur" for Tena or maybe my command of the Spanish language is not as good as I think it is. All those trips to Taco Bell, wasted.


Highway View Consulting the less than helpful map, I think it is east then south, maybe?

I head "Sur" but with an uncertain feeling.




Frequent stops to easy my uncertain feeling does not help until 30-40 minutes into the drive at a Petrol Station I am told to do a 180 and "mano a la derecha" in about 15 minutes.



Hillside HomesHillside Ranches




Distant Valley Although somewhat lost, I still am enjoying the scenery of huge towns in the valleys below me and homes that populate the mountainsides.




Through small towns I witness the hustle and bustle of everyday Ecuadorian life. Children unload in colorful uniforms from school buses even as cars and other buses belching black smoke maneuvers nearby.

Somehow it works without crossing guards and requiring all other vehicles to stop.



Tena Sign First Tena Road Sign


About 4 hours into my journey, I get my first real confirmation that I am headed in the right direction.  A huge road sign with "Tena" 90KM away.

A minor relief as I have practically spent the previous 3 hours continuously distracted from my dilemma by the fascinating landscape.


Roadside Waterfall Roadside Waterfalls








Valley Fog Areas Of Valley Fog








New Bridge Bridge Construction









Twin Waterfalls Huge Twin Mountain Waterfalls



All of this combined with curving gravel roads, light rain and rainforest like foliage of  various density and shades of greens makes for  a natural escape from a feeling of being lost.


Road Harzard Along with dodging a few road hazards  along the way,  the rain slows and finally ends shortly after I arrive in Tena.

From Quito to Tena about 6 hours, doing it my way.