World Trek-II 1. Ushuaia

28 Nov 2009: D+1

After being kept awake late by people roistering in the hotel, we were awaked by Rik's computer alarm, at 0600. As noted yesterday, the hotel's restaurant is closed for repairs, so no breakfast, just catch the 0710 shuttle to the airport (international). The usual check-in formalities, then a quick breakfast, & a long wait (boarding being scheduled for 1015.) The call, & we join the line. Then a call for "Premium Economy" passengers: we realise this includes us!! We had earlier groused at the apparently high cost of these tickets: there is value in them after all! We get huge seats, right at the front of the plane, with complimentary drinks & all the food we can eat! (Yes, even vegetarian.) The only passengers better off than us are Business & First, on the top deck of this 747. There's even a mains socket to run this laptop, with a universal outlet. We had planned to sleep through this flight, but it seems a pity to waste such luxury! It is not clear yet if we will pass over the Antarctic on this flight. If so, given the Polar summer, we may see some of it. However, it looks increasingly as though we shall pass to west of the Antarctic. As we are on the left of the plane, we won't see it. Never mind, we'll see it closer a bit later. A Great Circle route from Perth to Buenos Aires would pass right over the Pole, but no aircraft fly it. From Sydney, it is out of the direct line. Lunch in Premium Economy was equal to what I have earlier known in First! We have just passed over the southern tip of New Zealand, heading out over the featureless Southern Ocean.

28 Nov 2009: D+1 [Repeat]

Brought to you by the magic of the International Date Line, 28 Nov encore! 0845 (Buenos Aires time), flying over mountainous country (Andes). Over the sea was 10/10 cloud, so we would have missed Antarctica anyway, however it has now thinned out. The aircraft display shows us as being near Puerto Montt (Chile), however that is west of the Andes, & we are now leaving them eastward. We passed over some beautiful snow country, very rugged mountains & a chain of inactive volcanoes. The first was a faultless, snow-covered cone, beautiful. There are many lakes, but all well below the snow-line, & dark water. No evidence of glaciers. There was a large lake, running NW-SE, with a long island down the centre. Possibly Isla Vittoria, but the map shows no town at the southern end, which was clearly visible. Flying a NE track, we have now cleared the snowfields, which are still visible out to the left. Now passing over relatively flat country, of a uniforn green-brown. A river visible, flowing north, with a dam. We are unable to locate this on Rik's on-line map, but possibly the river SW of Neuquen - check later. ETA at Buenos Aires is 1000, but we left Sydney an hour late, so we shall see. From the air, the terrain now looks a little like the Australian outback: similarly flat. However the roads must have been laid out by Roman armies: they run ruler-straight. As we headed north, the cloud cover returned, so that we saw little until the descent into Buenos Aires. Airport arrival was straightforward, however we found the exchange office doesn't take traveller's cheques, only cash. Not a big thing, we probably won't spend much in Argentina anyway. The shuttle bus runs on a 2-step system: there's a trunk bus from the international (EZE) airport to downtown, then you change to a minibus to the hotel. The domestic (AEP) airport is a much shorter trip. My immediate impressions of Argentina are the lack of flies, & the greenery! Not tropical, but just fertile, it looks like things grow naturally, they don't need constant watering & attention. The drive in from the airport is a long tollway, past endless rather shabby blocks of apartments, which put me in mind (perhaps unfairly) of the old Soviet bloc.

29 Nov 2009: D+2

The hotel (Elevage) is located downtown, on the edge of the tourist area. Walking around, rather than having street magicians & such (as at Fremantle Markets), there are couples dancing tango. Tango is, of course, very big in South America. We looked for gloves for Rik, but there were only ladies types, & at tourist prices. Rik decided to leave it for Ushuaia. Once we found the hotel had a working WiFi system, we booked a room for our return from Antarctica, & went to bed early, as we had to catch the early plane to Ushuaia. We are both getting seduced by the coffee here: it is very good, & very strong. We are liable to OD on caffeine! This morning we took a taxi to the airport: which led to much confusion. The driver asked (in Spanish) which airport, & we answered "Jorge Newbery", the name on our bookings. This meant nothing to the driver, who eventually returned on (his own) foot to the hotel, for clarification. It turns out that no locals call it "Jorge Newbery", it is always called "Aeroparque", which explains its code letters: AEP.

The flight was a MD80, which had definitely seen better days (or years), however the bits that matter all worked. The flight had 10-10 cloud cover most of the way, so there was very little to see. One brief gap appeared magically just as we passed above the entrance to Magellan's Strait: lines of snow-capped mountains on each side. Then the cloud closed in again.

Ushuaia is larger than we expected: population 80,000. The town lives mostly on tourism. On arriving at the hotel, we had a misunderstanding about whether our booking was prepaid or not. Since the receptionist spoke no better English that we do Spanish, we weren't getting far. Then she dialled the manager, & put us on. No problem: the manager's English is excellent. Ushuaia is surrounded by rugged, snow-capped mountains. The lower slopes are covered with thin scrubby trees, above these is bare rock to the snow line. Just up the road is a vegetarian restaurant, but alas it was shut, as today is Sunday. Despite the day, many shops are open, as there is a big cruise liner ("Norwegian Sun") in port, with many passengers ashore. After settling in, we went out to see the town, & find gloves for Rik. On our return, Rik found he had lost his beanie somewhere. So out again, this time in a desultory fall of hail. We were recommended to a restaurant where we could get vegetarian food by request: this proved excellent.

Many Ushuaia buildings have large HF radio antenna systems; as a radio amateur this aroused my "professional" interest.

30 Nov 2009: D+3

We got up early this morning, to try to see the dawn (about 5AM). It came up very spectacular over the eastern approach to the harbour. We walked around, the town being very quiet this early. Looking down toward the harbour, we saw that the "Norwegian Sun" had left. There were 2 ships visible in the distance, apparently approaching. We suspect one is the "Akademik Sergey Vavilov", ie our ship. We were booked at the Hotel Mustapic, named by the proprietor, Anna Mustapic (probably Croatian, from the flag picture in the lobby.) Her English is excellent, & she couldn't do enough to help us. Well recommended.

Some pictures of Ushuaia

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