Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ushuaia

The trees are telling us that the wind freely reigns in this part of the world with temperatures in their "August month" as high during the day of low 40's, but it always feels colder than that. We arrived yesterday in a tiny airport with a chalet type building, where we found one luggage carousel hugged by 200 passengers peering at the shoot for luggage that did not come. After a seeming eternity 5 to 10 bags ever so often appears and of course ours showed up last. On a positive note we found the lady with our name on a sign and were safely and expeditiously delivered to our Hosteria (B&B) by cab. The broken English speaking Pablo was planting flowers in his backyard to bring some color to his tree filled lot, but after that he brought us to an adequate looking overheated room on the street level. God be praised no stair luggage lugging this time. Later we found out that on our request, they could turn off the heat per room and a seemingly stuck window could be opened after all, so all is well for my heat distributing sweetheart. Our host took us to the top level of the house into a type of glassed in "widow walk", where we took in, in awe, our 360 degree surroundings, which are in one word: majestic. Walking down a steep hill means struggling up a steep hill, which was our reconnaissance tour and lunch appointment with local food, predominantly fish, despite the carne reputation of Argentina. The main drag of town, where all the action is, is 4 blocks down the hill at Avenida San Martin, where people like us roam dressed for the weather. 60 to 70,000 people reside in this "end of the world" town, making their living of cruise ships and back packers and fishing. Everything that is consumed here, is brought in, because I do not think any cow or horse wishes to live and die here, only humans are that crazy. Ok, there may be goats and sheep in limited numbers around here,living in, for them penal colony circumstances.
Today, February 20 we are awaiting a 4x4 vehicle that will take us off roading, so stay tuned.
Well we met 6 other people and a driver guide who took us north to 2 large lakes, which our land-rover found via trails of mud and driving through the lake water, sometimes dipping its tires all the way in, distributing water on our floorboards. Did you know that land rovers walk them selves down or up difficult trails, a fact shown by our driver, as he stepped out of the running car with some tape, to close of some intakes against possible water intrusion, walking besides our land rover, which continued its climb up without a driver to the squeal of some females, my sweetheart excluded as is a land rover owner. Our company consisted of an international mix in age and nationality, although most were seniors from the UK, Israel, Brazil and Italy. We ended up at a lake edged cabin where our guide barbecued us a meal of sausage and steak intensely watched over by two red foxes and some large local birds. The weather was good, that means almost no wind and the company congenial and we felt alone in paradise with several bottles of wine, before returning to the only "civilization" around: our Hosteria.
February 21 we have a private trip organized to the national park for some trekking with Norbe a naturalist and some lake canoeing with a guy whose name I forgot, who did most of the peddling, to eventually land at the finish of the pan American highway at its most southern end. Here you could turn around and drive back to Alaska some 12,000 miles. We learned many new things about trees and mosses, lichen and rock formations, as well as about the early tribes, the Yahama's, who inhabited this part of the world living without clothes, because wet clothing is colder than no clothing. They found that finding food by hunting or collecting mussels and blubber rich sea mammals were their main food staple so they were in wet conditions often. Thus they found, that smearing the captured blubber fat all over them, gave them protection against the intemperate weather conditions.
These and other snippets were today's mental food.
Tomorrow is boarding time and for twelve days no Internet, thus no blogs till we reach Ushuaia again. Also my profound apology that I cannot organize my pictures among the text on my iPad. They now become your "connect the picture with the text puzzle" exercise. I will use the next 12 days to solve this problem.





































Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Argentina or on the way to Antartica

Sometimes the gods just smile on you. Argentina is one of those countries where we both do not speak the language and where we study menus and signs with an intense interest, as if we were visiting any of the museums at the national mall and all around us were objects worthy of collecting and thus we need to know everything we can about them.
We arrived yesterday early in the morning around 7:30 after a red eye flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, to discover how good US and/or European airports are in managing the herds of people through immigration and customs. Immigration was smooth, but then all hell broke loose: we were in the baggage area trying to wiggle ourselves through hordes of lucky luggage laden people, who tried to get through customs into the wonderful world out there called Argentina.
Lines of people with their luggage snaking themselves around the carousels and then people like us, cutting a path through the lines on the way to a carousel, where hopefully our bags would appear, so that we could start finding one of the ends of a snaking line and join the stalled mass of the "we have our bags - let us out people".
It took us 2 hours to reach the luggage X-ray machines, where you normally put your bags thru at the beginning of a trip. This was Argentinian customs, those machines, where you put your just recovered luggage thru and walk around them to the other end and retrieve them, after which you give a filled out form to a guy who's talking with his friends and march out into the world of Spanish speakers holding up signs with names of people they need to collect, one of them named Jesu Christa.
Then to the ATM battery of three of which one is working, so "another where is the end of this snaking line" moment.
Next stop a taxi desk to buy a ticket to a hotel 20 minutes away from the airport. Now here is when the gods are smiling at you: when the ordeal is over everything else goes very very well. The cab delivers you to a hotel, where you find yourself to be the only guests, so they have a room for you, a very nice room with balcony at 10:30 am so you can go to sleep till 2 pm.
Then you walk out into the mall of which the hotel is the anchor business to find 70% of the shops empty and for rent, a Burger King, a coffee shop, two other closed restaurants and one open for business restaurant with chairs and tables on the little plaza, where we study the menus and choose one meat empanada for 15 pesos, at the same time between us doing conversion games into dollars, and also order a salad with Parma ham and cheese, because we could interpret the words.
The waiter advises 2 empanadas "as they are very small", if we understood, that that is what he was saying, and then he proceeds to bring 3. The cerveza is local from the tap, after we have been doing pumping motions to him to make him understand that we do not want bottled beer.
The weather is a pleasant 70 plus and the sun is shining. The tables around us are all occupied by guys "talking business maybe". The bill is padded with bread at meat prices and the waiter points out where to put the tip on the credit card slip.
Outside the mall is a dusty highway and thus we return to our lovely room having the hotel to ourselves. The evening meal at same establishment is a shared 350 gram beef steak (however their grams must be having inflation problems) with papas (one potato) in cream sauce and a bottle of red wine. (we point to a table next to us and "ask" for same bottle.)
When the bill comes the wine converts to 12 dollars, so we "ask" for another one for our room and retire for the night, awaiting a 5:45 am wake-up call.
The hotel shuttle brought us back, the check-in goes flawlessly, the security line is a "show performance" procedure in which we did not take anything off our bodies or out of our pockets, thus triggering the alarm, along with every other passenger, followed by a lackluster pat down by a guy behind the machine.
We marched into the waiting area, found free wifi, were called to the gate on time, marched into a bus, that drove us 200 yards to a big plane, marched up the steps into a jetway, which by the way is connected to the building we were waiting in (sic), into the plane from where I am reporting to you.
So we are on our way to Ushuaia looking for a problem free arrival and transportation to our little family owned hotel. Pablo has emailed me that he organized a taxi to take us to his Hosteria.
So now I have time to learn a few Spanish words before I write to you again. Please forgive me if I start using them here.