One of the older expedition members reminds us often to pray that we and our luggage arrive in Ushuaia together. Ushuaia is in southern Patagonia, a 4-hour flight south from Buenos Aires, and hub for most visitors to the Antarctic Peninsula. If one’s luggage does not arrive with you, there can be considerable challenges as the ships wait for nobody. My challenges on this journey were of a complete different nature.
The check-in official at Oribi, Pietermarit\burg wanted to check my bag through to Sao Paulo. I insisted that I wished to collect my bag in Johannesburg, and check it through personally to Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. All good, until they announced that the plane was delayed indefinitely. This hour delay resulted in a run through ORT to secure boarding passes and check in for Sao Paulo. The LATAM official initially booked bag through to Ushuaia, until I pleaded to collect my bag in BA as I was spending the night there! The confusion led to my only being issued a boarding pass to Sao Paulo. The new Swissport security system women before the boarding gates at ORT (crazy system) wanted to see my accommodation arrangements for Sao Paulo! There being none to show, I began explaining that Sao Paulo was a stop en route to Antarctica. Where is that? What is that? Where is your visa? My detailed itinerary sufficed to pass that check, then storms over the Atlantic forced us, already an hour late departing, to fly an arc northwards making arrival in Sao Paulo rather late. Passage between Terminal 2 and 3 requires one to go through Security again – only this time sans English-speaking staff. Where were my onward boarding passes they gesticulated? Please bear in mind, it is now 7.10pm, with the BA flight due to depart at 8pm. In South African terms, I was up at 4.30am – it is now 11.10pm SA time after hour flight to ORT, then 11-hour flight to Sao Paulo. My boarding pass for Sao Paulo thankfully contained evidence of onward travel to BA and Ushuaia, and I was rudely sent on my way.
I arrived at the hotel in BA after midnight, or 4.20am SA time, utterly spent. The room was very hot and stuffy, so I requested the A/C be looked at. In the morning, with pleasure the Reception responded. Thank Heavens for a Leatherman, which was required to remove the grid to get to the air conditioner filter. I often wonder how many guests have actually seen the A/C filters anywhere, especially hotel rooms? This one was hideously filthy and clogged, but performance improved immediately. A cold shower and cool room saw me in dreamland in seconds.
In the morning, Reception informed me that legislation in Argentina prevents there being plugs for the basins? Can you believe that, so the toothpaste along with some paper was required to block the basin in order to shave?!
I have flown out of BA’s Newberry Airport a fair number of times now, yet the heaving mass of humanity trying to check in still astounds me. It is a very long, very narrow building, and in true South American style everybody comes along to bid family farewell, including bambino’s and dogs. Security officials at 7am appear far more concerned with coffee and their cell phones than trying to create some semblance of order.
Le Lyrial’s sister ship Le Soleal sails this evening with largely French guests onboard. It beggars belief that so narrow a body of water as the English Channel separates the finest queuing nation in the world from possibly the worst! The less said, the better. Our flight to Ushuaia was delayed by 45 minutes, and I sat next to couple from Sydney – both ex-South African journalists, who left our shores 24 years ago. Conversation was lively and engaging, with much being asked about the Drake Passage, what to see, etc. The excitement amongst those going to Antarctica for the first time was palpable, and a special reminder of just what an extraordinary privilege this vocation really is.
Of course, as soon as the plane stopped, cold weather apparel was donned making most look ready for a glacial walk, rather than the walkway into the Ushuaia Terminal. The medical clearance for visitors to Antarctica requires than one can comfortably walk 400 meters with your luggage. Clearly these folks are on very good terms with their doctors, as the vast majority man-handled their suitcases off the carousel straight onto trolleys – clearly unable to comfortably even pick them up. Thankfully there are able staff onboard who transfer all luggage to their cabins.
Weather in Ushuaia is glorious today. Largely blue skies with some clouds about, rendering this frontier town worthy of postcard status. Many inhabitants are dependent on tourism, so this short 4-month season is crucial to their survival. The taxi driver drove me to the hotel in a manner clearly indicative of a man keen to get back for his next ride. Sadly, he was in a Fiat, and lacking all of Sebastien Loeb’s skills. There is much building work, road work and development afoot, boding well for the future of this wonderful place at the bottom of the world.