Who Am I?
After two years working in the Middle East I have money in the bank and itchy feet. I'm on a mission to visit every continent in the world and experience as much as possible while I am there.
An adventure to the frozen continent
I woke again at 4:30am but this time there was snow falling outside my window. Overnight we had passed the invisible line denoting the 60th parallel south (latitude) and had officially entered into Antarctic waters. This line was designated by the Antarctic Treaty of 1961, an agreement between the 12 countries present in Antarctica at that time to maintain the country as a peaceful scientific preserve, free of sovereign claims and military activity.
At 8:30am we were enthusiastically encouraged to head to the port side of the boat as the staff members on the Bridge had spotted our first iceberg. Far off in the distance, enveloped by fog and falling snow, was a massive tabular iceberg (chatacterised by a flat top and straight sides), drifting aimlessly along in the Southern Ocean. At dinner the night before, Boris had announced that there would be a prize for the person who guessed the closest GPS coordinates for our first sighting so we were all keen to find out who had won.
Sometime in the early hours of the morning I was awoken by the more pronounced pitching of the boat. We were out of the safety of land and had entered the notoriously unreliable waters of the Drake Passage.
The Drake Passage is the body of water that separates Cape Horn from the South Shetland Islands at the top of the Antarctic Peninsula. At around 1000 km in width, it is the shortest crossing to Antarctica from the rest of the world. This feature also means it acts as a funnel through which the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (the massive oceanic current that runs, relatively uninhibited, from west to east around Antarctica) must pass. In these seas the cold, dry air rises off the Antarctic continent and mixes with the warm, wet air from the equator, resulting in a constant progression of wild storms.
At 7:30am I was woken to the soothing tones of Boris, our Expedition Leader, over the PA speaker.
“Good morning Akademik Ioffe,
It is now seven thirty am, on Tuesday, the 9th of November.
The weather is fine in Ushuaia, it is six degrees outside, wind speed at around ten knots.
Today we plan to sail the Beagle Channel. We will also have a number of presentations from our expedition members that we will keep you informed of throughout the day.
Breakfast will be at eight am in the dining room. We hope to see you there.
Due to our southern location on the earth, the sun had already been up for a few hours and the clouds were slowly lifting off the mountain tops. I jumped out of bed, full of excitement for the new day and the lingering answer to our itinerary problems. I began working my way into the neat piles of thermal clothing I had unpacked into my cabin closet, a sense of order that would not last.
When my alarm went off at 1:30am I felt like I had barely closed my eyes. I dragged myself out of bed, showered and dressed in clothing appropriate for my winter expedition. I packed up my bags yet again and made my way down to reception to check out. A few people were already present in the foyer, all of whom I correctly assumed were part of our small group of 10 who were catching the 4:30am flight, because really, who else in their right mind would be up and checking out of a hotel room at such an ungodly hour?
United in our sleepiness and sense of adventure, we introduced ourselves and made small talk until one of the young men on reception asked us if we were the ones waiting for the transfer and pointed out that the van was already waiting at the entrance. We shrugged off our surprise at the clearly obvious answer to his question and loaded our luggage and ourselves into the van. As we prepared to leave our driver had the sense to perform a head count and came up two short. In the meantime, two other women had appeared in the lobby and were uncertain of where their group was until casually asked by the receptionist “Are you part of the group that is outside in the van?”
The day that I was waiting for had finally come. Today I packed up my things and left Giorgio’s House for my new hotel, the Eurobuilding, located much closer to the city center near Lima station. I wheeled my already heavy suitcase over the broken sidewalk to the corner and hailed a taxi. It was only noon when I arrived at the hotel, three hours too early for check in, so I left my luggage with reception and walked down Avenida de Mayo to find lunch. I found a restaurant to sit down and eat and looked through the packed of information relating to my tour given to me by the hotel receptionist, while I ate a horrible interpretation of ravioli with bolognese sauce (really, really horrible).
I already knew my flight the next morning was at 4:30am but I hadn’t thought to extrapolate that information to the fact that I would require a hotel pick up at 2:30am. Just to add salt to the wound there was an additional flyer listing optional city tours one could request through the tour operator. Not exactly useful for a 12 hour stay in a hotel. Armed with this knowledge I decided that my evening’s entertainment would include a decent meal (to make up for the awful lunch choice) and an early bed.
I got up this morning to find my guesthouse buddy Karina on the phone with a look of despair on her face. Last night she had lost her wallet in the back of a taxi while traveling to Palermo to meet some new friends for dinner. Her distress was amplified by the fact that she was bound for Puerto Iguazu in the morning and her credit card company was giving her all kinds of headaches about her location in the coming days and where to send her new credit cards.
Our plan for the day was to visit the San Telmo markets to check out the local fare and watch some impromptu tango. Ana had informed us that a local tango star who had gotten too old for the business (over the age of 35 seems to signal the end of a dancer’s career) decided to start bringing a portable stereo and his dancing shoes to the market, where he performed in the evenings after 6pm to a crowd of appreciative shoppers. Ana had also told me about the Feria de Mataderos, which is also classed as a “must see” weekend market. This market is located in the outer suburbs of Buenos Aires and has some interesting displays of skill by the local Gaucho horsemen. My only problem what that it would take almost an hour to travel there and I find no pleasure in traveling on a tight schedule, especially when I have to find my way there and back again via public transport.
It is 9pm on a Saturday night in Buenos Aires and I am thinking about heading to bed. I didn’t accomplish much as far as “taking in the city” is concerned but I did make an effort to wash some clothes in my terribly inefficient washing machine/bath tub. The locals would be thanking me tomorrow in the inevitable crush of the weekend markets if they knew. At least I won’t smell like an old sweaty shirt and dirty socks. Not for the first 30 minutes anyway.
My other task for today was to purchase and consume some of the local helado (gelato) that my guest house buddies have been raving on about. While that would only require me to walk to the end of the block, I decided to get side tracked and have a bit of a wander around the local neighbourhood. I spent around an hour window-shopping, bought a pretty hand-crafted necklace and found the dessert to end all desserts in a confitería. I decided to I will have to go back another time for it as there was no way I could do both helado and dulce de leche in the same day. I’d fall into a sugar-induced coma for a week after such an indulgence. I always wonder how it is that the countries with the best sweets also appear to have the leanest population. Probably something about self-control… maybe… hrm.
Today it rained. I was actually pretty happy about the cloudy weather because after the past two days in the sun, my shoulders were looking rather pink and I was hoping to give my skin a rest from all the UV rays I had been getting.
I put together a fairly simple plan for the days activities, which required getting myself to Recoleta to visit two tourist sites, both revolving around the Argentinian icon, Eva Perón. My Argentinian history is pretty rough so while I had heard of Eva Perón, otherwise known as Evita, I really had no idea about who she was. As I now know, the movie and stage play of the same name were about her life, but as I have never seen either of them I was still drawing a blank. Ana had given me a pretty good introduction to the controversy surrounding her life and death a few days earlier so I wanted to find out a little bit more about her life by visiting the Eva Perón Museum and her final resting place in the Recoleta Cemetery.
I was up early again today and decided that I would buy a ticket for the Buenos Aires hop-on/hop-off bus and see some of the major city sights. I made my way back to the Plaza de Mayo on the subway and walked up to the ticket stand, where I found a long line of other tourists taking advantage of the beautiful weather and buying a ticket for the bus. After about 30 minutes waiting in line I finally purchased my ticket, however I was required to wait for 1 ½ hours before I could get on due to overwhelming demand.
In true jet lag form I woke up quite literally at the crack of dawn on my first day in Buenos Aires. At around 6:30am two of my new guest house cohabitants joined me in the kitchen for coffee. Nan & Kathy were preparing for another big day of sight-seeing, which put my lack of planning completely to shame. Obviously, I was only just arriving in the country and had a lot to catch up on but I’d actually arrived in Buenos Aires with no real plans to see anything in particular. In my guest house there was a shelf full of assorted Buenos Aires guide books so I looked through one and decided that the first place I should go was into the city centre to orient myself a little. I figured as long as I got out for a few hours I would be more likely to get accustomed to the local time zone.
Ana, our extremely friendly host, arrived at around 9:30am and prepared some pastries for breakfast, while explaining to me some of the places that I could go to and the ways I could get around the city. The guest house is located on Avenida Rivadavia, the main road that cuts the city into north and south. The Acoyte subway station is located on the corner, no more than 50m from the guest house. During breakfast, Nan & Kathy expressed an interest in attending a Tango show that evening, which I was eager to join. Ana said that she would book everything for us and we would just need to be back at the house by 9pm for a taxi pick up. After breakfast I packed my camera and went down to the Subte (subway) where I caught the train into the Plaza de Mayo.