Starting Our Hurtigruten Adventure In South America
“Life itself is a quotation.”
– Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Of all the books written on Antarctica’s most (in)famous explorers, few actually start at the beginning. Most fast-forward through the boring bits to get straight to the action: arrival in Antarctica.
My journey to Buenos Aires and Hurtigruten‘s FRAM in Ushuaia, while long by today’s standards, looks lightning-fast compared with the journeys of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton. And a heck of a lot easier.
From Vancouver, I flew on American Airlines to Dallas, and connected on to my flight to Buenos Aires. The most work I did all day (other than writing, naturally) involved reading “The Madmen of Benghazi” by Gerard de Villiers and changing from Terminal C to Terminal D at Dallas-Fort Worth. I even scored the Economy Class Flier’s Jackpot: a window seat with no one next to me on the 10-hour Boeing 777-200 flight to Buenos Aires.
So while I was feeling very pleased with myself as I sipped red wine out of a plastic cup on the massive Boeing as it sailed along at 35,000 feet, the arduous journey I would have had to make a century ago to reach Antarctica was not lost on me.
For Scott and his compadres, just getting to the starting line was a journey that lasted for months. The expedition planned to set out for Antarctica from New Zealand as that was the closest point of departure to access the Ross Sea, near which their bases at Hut Point were located. Scott’s team, however, were all located in the United Kingdom. This wasn’t called the British Antarctic Expedition for nothing!
So, to reach New Zealand, the team set out from England on a journey across the Atlantic, around the horn, across the Drake Passage, and on to New Zealand. It was a voyage that lasted months.
Worse, this was no pleasure cruise; this was a real, working voyage where preparations were constantly being made to receive provisions, supplies, and other items for the years ahead on the ice. Even as the men sailed for Antarctica, Scott was tweaking the expedition, cajoling his sponsors into parting with more cash, and doing what we’d now term “media relations” for the Dailies back home.
There were no shuffleboard tournaments, no games of bingo, and definitely no bellyflop contests. The latter would have been particularly lost on the men aboard the Terra Nova: there weren’t any women around to impress anyway.
Bluntly put, the voyage is just not that sexy. That’s the reason no one writes about it. It’s long, boring, and ultimately depressing.
These days, things are much easier, though entering Argentina is a bit confusing. First, you need to ensure you’ve paid the Reciprocity Fee if you are a citizen of Australia, Canada, or the U.S. The fee varies by country, and must be purchased prior to your trip. You’ll need to show it at the airport to gate agents before your flight. Curiously, no one zaps, scans, or otherwise keeps that expensive piece of paper.
The customs card is also a bit intimidating, and requires careful reading. You are required to declare your mobile phone, including make and model. In fact, most if the questions revolve around duty-free goods and goods you are bringing into the country; the card doesn’t even ask for your citizenship. It does however seriously ask if, along with plants and fruits, you are carrying any semen into the country with you. I’ll just pause here for a moment so you can chuckle at the puerile and tasteless joke I hope you’ll make.
After exiting customs, I met the Buenos Aires representative for Hurtigruten, Iliana. She didn’t have me on her list, but I had documents stating I had the Hurtigruten transfer to the Hotel Emperador. Not a problem at all, she said, and added me to the list.
While we waited for the other guests on the shared hotel transfer, I used my free time to pull out some Argentine Pesos from an ATM. Then, I went to use said pesos to purchase McDonalds breakfast. Don’t judge; you do a lot of wacky things when you’re hungry!
Here’s what is truly interesting: I got out $300 (a little under $50USD). The machine spit out three $100 bills – less than $20USD apiece. The girl at McDonalds looked like I’d handed her a thousand dollar bill. “Smaller?”, she asked. Since that was literally all the cash I had on me, I said no, at which point she holds it up to the light to check if it’s real, rubs her hand on it to feel the texture, and eyes me suspiciously before grudgingly accepting it. Lesson learned: credit cards seem to be the preferred method of payment here. Carrying cash makes me about as cool as parkas on a hot day.
Speaking of – it is HOT out today here in lovely Buenos Aires – which is why I am glad to be in the air conditioned splendour of the Hotel Emperador.
Once we’d arrived at the hotel, check-in was easy and effortless, and I found my way to my room on the first floor – which would be the second floor for those of us in North America.
The room is large and plenty comfortable for the one day I will be here, if not overtly luxurious. Think Marriott fifteen years ago and you’ll be on the right track. Still, it has all the right things in all the right places: comfortable bed, television (with some English channels to boot), nice toiletries and a cavernous bathroom. Wi-Fi isn’t free (an hour is 30 pesos, or 80 pesos for the day – about $10US), but it is fast and reliable if you need to get some work done.
We were also given a detailed three-page printout of what’s going to happen between now and tomorrow. Tonight, luggage has to go out at 22:00, or 10:00 p.m. for collection by the porters. Tomorrow, breakfast will be served from 05:45 until 06:30, at which point we’ll all pile into several motorcoaches and depart for Buenos Aires’ other airport, National Airport Jorge Newbery, which handles most of the city’s domestic flights. There, we’ll board our LAN Airlines charter flight to Ushuaia, departing at 08:05 in the morning. And the adventure will continue.
This afternoon, I decided to beat jetlag and take a nice stroll through the streets of Buenos Aires. Google Maps tells me I walked just shy of eight kilometres today; that’s not a bad first day at all. So, to close our first day’s Live Voyage Report, here’s a look at Buenos Aires, Argentina on this sunny Thursday, January 15, 2015:
Stay tuned; there’s much more to come!
Our full journey:
Hurtigruten's FRAM, Antarctica
|January 15, 2015||Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|January 16||Buenos Aires - Ushuaia, Argentina|
|January 17||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 18||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 19||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 20||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 21||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 22||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 23||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 24||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 25||Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula|
|January 26||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 27||Crossing the Drake Passage|
|January 28||Ushuaia - Buenos Aires|
|January 29, 2015||Buenos Aires, Argentina|