Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ushuaia before Antarctica

The flight from El Calafate to Ushuaia was full. It is hard to believe how many people visit this most southerly City in the world. The City itself is not very large and does not look too pretty.
It is a mix of commercial harbor and transitional tourist town. Here you can pick up provisions for the Antarctic; here you need to prepare yourself by taking your last glimpse of civilization.

We had arranged a B&B stay in Ushuaia with Bruno from the Hostel del Glaciar in El Calafate. All hostels in Ushuaia were filled to capacity and a B&B was our only option for a stay at a reasonable price. Still the charge was 320 pesos per night (US$ 75.-) incl. breakfast. Our taxi driver had a hard time finding the B & B we had booked for 3 nights. La Maison d’ Ushuaia is a regular house with no name on it and run by a young woman with a 1 year old child. Her name is Solange. She lives in this house with her mother and her grandmother. We were given the uppermost room in the house, right next to the child’s bedroom.
The layout of this place was like an array of stacked boxes with staircases going from one to the next. We felt like an intruders in this private home and kept to our room, especially as it was raining outside and going out of the room meant mingling with Solange and the dog and the small child and the mother and the grandmother who talked nonstop in loud voices from one box/room to the other. The TV was on, the radio played and the tile floors amplified the sound even more. Our bathroom was shared with the family. The little girl cried like all small children do.
During the first night strange sounds woke me up. It sounded like a strong wind blowing someplace. I even got up, looked out the window to see if it came from the outside but all was calm outside. This noise lasted for hours. I checked the room for any sign of water running, for heater fans running but found nothing. I never did find out what that noise was at night but I made up my mind to move the next day. Never mind the price I would have to pay for the next hotel or hostel.
During breakfast the next morning Solange tried very hard, too hard, to sell Carol and me an Antarctic Cruise. She had a friend who knew someone etc. I listened, took notes and then walked out to find a better place to stay. Solange was just too intense for me, too much at home in her home to have guests.
After breakfast Carol and I found the Hostal Malvinas
in the center of town and booked a room while our suitcases were still at the B & B. The price was only marginally higher at 390 pesos/night.
Then we walked to the Info bureau down at the harbor to look for a trip to Antarctica. The Information people told us to check with the Antarctic Information Center next door and we did just that. During all of these talks, we learned that there is a Travel Agency that only deals in tickets for cruises to the Ultimate Continent and they will have ‘last minute deals’. This travel agency, “Ushuaia Turismo” is on a street named Gob. Paz, helped us a lot. We knew already that the prices ranged from US $ 3500. - to US $ 4000. - per person from Solange. But we wanted to be sure to get the best price and we wanted to deal with a reliable agent and not with some ‘maybe’ shady ticket seller and then get stuck holding just a piece of worthless paper. Additional concerns were what ship we were going to be on. Did they have lectures on board? Did they stop at good spots in Antarctica? Was the trip for 8 days, 10 days or even 11 days? Did we have to buy extra boots for the muck, jackets? What languages did they speak on board? How good was their performance record? How many years have they been in business? Etc, etc, etc.
We were going to spend a lot of money and wanted the best we could get. When we walked into the travel agency, a quick check on the computer gave us the option of three ships. One ship was eliminated immediately because it meant getting two single rooms that were very, very small. The other two ships, the Terra Nova and the Antarctic Dream had just one or two open spots for a trip starting two and three days later. While we were talking, the Terra Nova filled their last open cabin. We missed that spot on the Terra Nova, which left us with only one ship to book on, the ship named Antarctic Dream. Even getting this spot on the Antarctic Dream turned into a cliff hanger because when we finally said yes to the agent, she was told the last cabin had been booked already.
Luckily for us, this agent knows her stuff. Some time ago she had reserved a number of spots on this ship and had sold all but one. When she went to book this last cabin for us, she was told it had already been sold. She immediately told the booking agent the cabin was not his to sell; she wanted it back and had customers right in front of her who had already paid. We later returned to the travel agent to find we had our cabin.
We literally received the last cabin available in all of Ushuaia with a sailing date in two days for the lowest price we could get, US $3990. - each. Our ship was the Antarctic Dream. We had no clue what the ship looked like, what the accommodations were, how good the English of the ships personnel was, etc. We took a chance on this trip but it was this ship or nothing
Excited that we had secured our trip to Antarctica, I was apprehensive never-the-less. We still had to do a couple of things before leaving. First we had to move out of the B&B, so we walked back towards it, a long distance from the center of town and, as fate would have it, we were picked up by Solange and her mother in their car. During this car trip I told Solange a fib and we moved out delivering our suitcases to the Hostel Malvinas. I told Solange that ‘friends’ had booked a cruise for us already and she let us go with a smile. Solange is a nice person; it is just me who cannot deal with little kids under my feet, a very small dog that I almost stepped on and noisy surroundings.
Now we have 2 days to wait for our ship to come in. Talking to the agent at Ushuaia Turismo, we learned that we needed to have warm and waterproof clothes. Yes, I had brought along some warm clothing but waterproof? But that is why Ushuaia exists; there are businesses all along San Martin, the main street, that cater to the tourists.

Carol and I bought what we needed, namely water proof pants that fit over regular pants and waterproof gloves. I needed long johns too. It took us a full day to buy these things. Walking from store to store to get the best fit and the best ‘bargains’ we managed to find what we needed. Yes, there are ‘rental’ stores for items needed but I would rather have my own, thank you. We were told that the ship would supply a warm jacket and the rubber boots so we did not bother to buy those. Having learned from riding bikes that dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm; I felt we had the right equipment.
Now there is just another day of waiting for our ship to arrive. Antarctica, here we come!

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