Antarctica Part 5: Ushuaia or Back To The Beginning!

2nd verse, not quite the same as the first.  ~Herman Hermits, modified

Up and at ’em! It’s time the get The Really Big Trip up in the air….or on the water. Okay….on the bus…to the airport.

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An overview of The Really Big Trip.

 

But first, we had to show up ready or not with our luggage promptly at 5:00am. Luggage was weighed, tagged, and we were measured to see if we were worthy of this grand adventure. Kidding about the last part but when face-to-face with the grandeur that is Antarctica, one can feel very insignificant and under the right (or wrong) circumstances get swatted like a gnat. Those manly men who were the first to explore this most beautiful unforgiving land (with really, really crappy equipment compared to modern standards) were made of sterner stuff not often found today. I tip my hat to them.

So breakfast is over, everyone is checked out from the hotel, buses are loaded….and at 6:00am we are on our way for our 9:00am charter flight operated by Andes Airline out of EZE. If everything went according to plan, we would be in Ushuaia around Noon-30-ish….and we were!

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Brunch snack aboard Andes Airline | January 2016

Ushuaia…one of two locations that was the genesis of The Really Big Trip…we’re back for round two.  Love that name….along with Ulaanbaatar…but that is another story for way later on.

Going from close to 100°F in BA to 49°F  with rain sprinkles in Ushuaia, added to the dynamics of the trip. Most of us were prepared for the extreme change in weather with the exception of a few fellow travelers (out of a group of seventeen) from India. A few of them were operating under the not-reading-the-briefing induced misconception that they would have immediate access to their luggage after landing. Wrong! The luggage went straight to the boat so no jackets or rain gear.  Mr. TxP had chatted with one of the men back in BA, so meeting up with him on the street and seeing his not-correct-clothing choice, Mr. TxP loaned him one of his many layers.

It’s past Noon…the first priority was to eat lunch. Of course.  After walking in and out of a few cafes, we settled on Andino Gourmet. I wouldn’t call it ‘gourmet’ by any stretch of the word but it served the need.  Andino has a crazy setup, two restaurant concepts sharing the same space, same entryway with only a step dividing them.  One was a little pricier and a bit more wanna-be-upscale than the other. We were seated in the upscale portion unbeknownst to us but when I saw that the menu did not match what I had seen through the window, I questioned a waiter and learned of the difference. Absolutely no menu crossover so we switched to the other section without too much fuss and waiting. The menu looked right this time…basic but exactly what we wanted. We happened to have a pleasant enough server but observing other diners having to flag down a waiter (or do the neck crane thing), we knew we needed to initiate a course of action every time our waiter walked by. Following that strategy, service was okay: Bring the water > place food order. Bring food > ask for check. Bring check > ask for any refills, etc. I have to say, the onion soup was delish! Stars? Service 3.5. Food 3.75. Location/Vibe 4.0.  Pretty mediocre overall but knowing what to order, I would eat there again for a lite meal.

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Andino Gourmet | Ushuaia | A rather dry chicken cutlet, good fries, terrific onion soup.  Not really into fizzy drinks but this was yummy as I like citrus.

After lunch it was time to walk off a few calories, shop for souvenirs we didn’t need and then head to the shuttle bus for a 4:00pm departure that would take us down the restricted-access pier to the boat.  The pier is smack in the middle of town and all of about two blocks from pier entry to the boat but rules are rules.

Once onboard and duly logged in, we headed to our home for the next thirteen days. Cabin 5067.  Cabin selection was another thing I did to make the trip a little more palatable for Mr. TxP.  In looking at cabin categories –something less than a suite– I spotted what was called a Twin Window Plus 2. The ‘Plus 2’ turned out to be two bathrooms. Why not! It was the same price as a Twin Window with only one bathroom.  Wow! I surprised myself. I knew there would be a chair or small sofa but it turned out we had a partitioned sitting room…our cabin was more like a mini-suite.  And there were two televisions!  Not that there was much programming but it was impressive. Terry robes were nice and fluffy….nicer than what I’ve had in many hotels. Towels were thick and absorbent. Plenty of hot water. There was built-in bath gel and shampoo dispensers. There was a small boo-boo in that the wrong length shower curtains were shipped and being about two inches too short, allowed water to splash on the floors. No big deal but I heard a few passengers complaining. Sheesh.

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Ocean Endeavour | Cabin 5067

A few hours prior to boarding, we had darkish clouds and a light sprinkle. Not a great portent for crossing the Drake Passage. But just as everyone was gathering on deck for the sail away, we saw this:

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Sailing out of Ushuaia | We actually had a triple rainbow at one point.

And then the skies turned to this.

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Cruising through the Beagle Channel | Ushuaia

Both were a good portents.  Our Really Big Trip is officially underway.

So if it’s evening time, what happens next? Dinner! Dinnertime was a seated/menu affair. One open seating…if you didn’t eat then, you were out of luck. Tables ranged from two-tops to a few tables for six. The two-tops were close enough to the four-tops that one felt that six were dining together. Expedition Staff made it a point to mingle with the passengers and often shared table space. Wine was served with dinner as was a non-alcohol beverage-of-the-day.  Executive Chef Manfred Umfahrer was genius. Being able to take on provisions only once for a fourteen-day trip challenged his planning and culinary skills.  It’s not like one can pull to the nearest iceberg for milk and eggs.  He passed with flying colors. The vegans/gluten-free/lactose intolerants/carnivores were all taken care of.  The only thing….desserts especially the cookies were a little on the weak side.  But ice cream with sprinkles and toppings was available lunch and dinner to help make up. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style with an imaginative selection. The kitchen even made Indian cuisine on a regular basis as there was a group of seventeen on board. Fifteen were vegetarians, two ate meat. They were happy.

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Typical salad bar options at lunch | Veg option at dinner.

After dinner it was time to get suited up against the cold. Besides being fond of saying….’depending on the wind and ice’….the word ‘waterproof’ is also heavily used. Making life much easier for the passengers, Quark supplies waterproof parkas to keep and arctic-rated Muck boots on loan. The original parkas have a nice zip out fleece liner, the newer updated style has a zip-out quilted liner. The only thing, the large outer patch pockets are not waterproof so you have to watch what you store in them.  Ask me how I know.  The Muck boots were terrific and comfortable.  I have a tendency to be cold-natured but one pair of thick wool socks kept my feet plenty warm.

No picture to illustrate, but by groups we headed to the Nautilus lounge to try on parkas for sizing and then went to another area to pick up our jacket. Afterwards, we moved to the Mud Room to try on boots. Unless one has weirdly sub-human feet, there will be a pair of boots to fit. I did read on a forum somewhere that one lady had really massive calves and smallish feet which made for an impossible fit, so she sourced her own boots and traveled with them. So unless you are 2000% out of the norm, these boots should fit. ~Let me interject that not all expedition cruises loan boots. For the others, one has to either rent them, or purchase and take up precious luggage space. I guess the boots could always be worn as your primary travel shoe. Hmmm. Stylish!~  We were assigned lockers where our gear lived when not being out on an adventure.

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Mud Room | Trying on Muck Boots

Previous to this Project Runway moment, we queued up to be assigned to zodiac groups which in a very egalitarian manner allowed us to rotate being first on shore.   ~200 peeps (or less), divided into four groups, each group broken down to ten to a zodiac plus a Expedition guide/driver. And that is how we would roll daily after the Drake Passage crossing.

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Dave Merron | Canada | Expedition Coordinator and zodiac driver extraordinaire!

Oh…and remember my toe issue that kept being put on ignore? Well, it turns out that I had bruised the nail during the 7+ mile walk. I finally examined more closely why my toe hurt while trying on my boots and discovered a nice lovely purple-colored nail. The Merrells let me down and the walking in Ushuaia was the last straw. Because of the tender toe, I had to go up a size for my boots which made for a sloppy fit and doesn’t facilitate scrambling around the rocks you’ll see in upcoming pics.  I was very careful.  No way was I going to wipe out on this trip like I did in Mongolia…another story for another time.  ~ No need to honor the bruised toe with a pic.

Side note about our cabin: Only two issues…as we got closer to the peninsula, our cabin  become really, really cold.  We thought it was just a proximity thing…to be expected…it was the Antarctic after all.  But when the hallways were warm but our cabin was freezing, we decided it wasn’t a whole ship temp thing.  It was a vent-stuck-open issue and was promptly repaired.  Further into the cruise, I started smelling exhaust fumes which eventually drove us out of the cabin and to the Passengers Services Desk.  By the time Maintenance came –which was pretty darn quick– other passengers were stepping out of their cabin complaining of the same issue.   The problem was discovered, rectified and life continued.  Great crew!

After a really long, amped up day…it was good to hit the sack. Instead of good night wishes of sweet dreams, the final words of wisdom from our Expedition Crew was to anchor down anything that could break because one never knows when the Drake would go from being a calm lake to feeling like we were in a martini shaker.

The Southern Ocean was straight ahead!

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Antarctica Part 4: Buenos Aires pre-trip

21 January 2016…Finally!

~ Flight and Transfer ~

Pre-Day 1:  Memories are weird things. If there were no high points (happy, good…) or low points (disasters, et al) associated with a certain event, then the nuances of that event becomes fuzzy. At least that’s how it is with me.   Since I don’t remember any dramatrauma surrounding our flight to Buenos Aires….I guess it was nicely uneventful. Our pre-arranged driver –booked with Nestor of Colores de Argentina– was at the airport albeit hard to pick out in the crowd as he was holding our name sign waist-level….with a big crowd of people between him and us. Duh. But he was there and that is what counts.  Cash only.

~ HOTEL ~

The hotel selected by Quark for our first official night was the NH City Towers and Hotel. Quark provided one hotel night for what I call Fly-In Day…to make sure everyone utilizing their charter service was on-site for an early next-morning flight.   If this hotel was good enough for Quark, it should be good enough for our early arrival gap night.  I’m all for cruise companies making additional money on tours and add-ons but really? Booking our extra night independently resulted in a much better rate versus booking via Quark.  I was even able to book a slightly upgraded room for less than what Quark had quoted. Strategically, I was hoping the hotel would allow us to keep our same room. They did. I was happy. Props to the hotel!

NH City is a 4-star rated hotel according to that website that goes by the initials TA. I would say it is fairly accurate. Clean, neat and tidy, basic breakfast, helpful staff. Great location for walking although the very immediate area around the hotel is a little more commercial in feel. But just a few blocks away, things become lively. We walked everywhere never feeling like we needed a taxi. Well, maybe my feet felt the need but there was never a safety issue.

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NH City Hotel and Tower.  Quiz:  Who is on the building graphic? (This is not NH Hotel)

Rant On: The one thing that was irritating (and it’s not just this hotel) is the placement of electrical outlets. I really get tired of playing ‘find the outlet’, moving furniture, do I unplug the clock/light/if there is even an option, or not having an outlet within six to eight feet of the bed. In this case, there was a power strip hidden underneath the desk. Across the room from the bed. And hardwired to the wall. What?!?   That was it, no other outlets on that side of the room. The bedside lamps were mounted on the wall. There was no bedside clock…battery or plug-in…so bring your own.   Zero outlets on that side of the room.  So what’s a girl to do?  Drag out my six-foot extension cord and mini-power strip that lives in my suitcase.   Thank goodness our room was a skinny, rectangular shape….I had just enough stringalong to be able to sit in bed and read/charge my phone if I occupied the right side of the bed.  Mr. TxP had no choice in the matter….this is one situation where I always win. He gets preference for optimal television viewing angle but my electrical outlet access trumps his TV if there is a toss-up. /Rant!

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~ How We Spent Our Time ~

After checking in, we headed out the door to find lunch. The hotel recommended Aldo’s Vinoteca. We enthusiastically do also!  Based on our other BA adventures in dining, Mr. TxP would have been perfectly happy to have all his meals there.  Weekday lunches are the best in BA as most places serve a pre fixe menu that includes a glass of wine or a bottle of water.  Great value!   Most restaurants also close between lunch and dinner and dinner generally does not start until 7:00pm at the very earliest.  It’s good to check the hours and highly recommended that one make reservations…even for the most casual restaurants.

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Aldo’s Vinoteca

Well satisfied with lunch, we head out to explore.  Oh my gosh, the area where we stayed was so easy to wander around.  All 7+ miles we walked that day.  We would have continued but my feet were tired and my right foot, large toe was a little achy.  Feet hurt more than toe, so the toe issue was dismissed.

We typically don’t do much currency exchange for a few reasons: 1) We don’t want to wind up with unused currency especially if we don’t plan on returning. 2) We’re on a mad points chase to acquire lifetime status with large chain that starts with the letter M using their affinity card. 3) If we can’t make the purchase with a credit card, then we probably don’t need it. 4) And not having pocket change saves me from things like this:

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Croissant-like pastry filled with dulce de leche

Time for dinner so another rec from the hotel…ratified by a looksee at Y and TA. We head out. Toe is a little twingy. Hit ignore button.

Steak! We are in Argentina after all.  Gran Parrilla del Plata was our goal.  Good ratings, hopeful for a tasty experience.   It’s more of a locals’ place with a few tourists thrown in….to write reviews. Stars? Service 2.5, food 3.5, location 4.   Average overall but I can see how this restaurant could cultivate neighborhood regulars.  But since they had only one crack at my business, they failed. Too many other places to try if we were to return to BA…

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Gran Parilla del Plata Restaurant

…Like Desnivel.  Smelled soooo yummy but when we walked by the first time it was pretty empty so we passed…literally. But by the time we walked back by a few hours later…it was like a rip-roaring party was going on.  Don’t the Argentines know that eating after 6:00pm is not good for you?

Pre-First day was good.  Beds are firm but that didn’t interrupt my sleep.

Pre-Day 2, 22 January

Walking, and more walking.  And it was hot that day!  Like 97°F hot plus humidity!  The only real packing mistake on my part was not packing a more light-weight top.  I was heading to Antarctica for gosh sakes and BA wasn’t supposed to be so hot during winter time.

My toe was still a little achy.  Hit ignore button.

Over the course of two-days of tourwalking, we taste tested the requisite empanadas all along the way even making a special trip to La Morada to taste what was billed as the ‘best in town’. They were okay but I preferred the ones at the shop affiliated with the hotel.  ~Props to Mr. TxP for letting me drag him around to check out La Morada.  It wasn’t that close to the hotel but walking there did contribute to the step-count and helped to work off the calories.

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Empanada tasting at La Morada and NH City Hotel

 

Even better, I prefer the ones we ate in Montevideo, Uruguay…Empanadas Carolina.  Even Mr. TxP preferred these.

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Empanadas Carolina, Montevideo, Uruguay

We accidently happened on a market we had visited on our first trip a year earlier.  I had wanted a particular antique doll but the store was closed and the owner not to be found.  This time, I was going to persevere a bit more.  Success!  The owner happened to be milling about and opened the store for me.  The doll I wanted originally had been sold but I was willing to settle.  Mr. TxP kept saying…”But the toes are broken.”  I said, “Shush! I want it anyway. I’m buying it.”  It’s an interesting doll.  Happy!

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Walking around BA UL-LR:  Fast food.  Antiguo Mercado…where I bought the doll.  A photo shoot.  Shopping of all sorts.  ‘Celebrity shoeshine’.  Happy hour time!

Dinner time! Earlier, we found a small restaurant Deluca during our walk and decided to try it for dinner later that evening.  I can say that the wait staff person was nice. The food….pretty…but not so great. Pasta was awful…even with an Italian name.  Because Mr. TxP could not figure out what beer he wanted to try (as we try a local beer everywhere we go when overseas), a small sampling was offered gratis.  In reality, the samples totally satisfied the amount he usually imbibes (which isn’t a lot) so we really didn’t need to purchase a full drink but did so because the waiter was so nice.  Aldo was ever present on the mind.

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Deluca Restaurant

Arriving back to the hotel, there appeared to be more people milling around that we guessed were Quark passengers. We were right!

A good day ended with a good sleep.   The real start of The Really Big Trip is just a few hours away!