I covered the ‘why’ of this trip to Argentina and Antarctica in an earlier (2018) blog post so this series covers the trip, and after, based on my notes and referencing a superb detailed voyage log written by our Expedition Crew. The ‘Antarctic Mission’ title is a reference to two films from the 1980s, their soundtracks part of my life since then, and a significant inspiration for this journey.
I was scheduled to arrive in Ushuaia, to join Dr Karl’s Expedition Cruise, on November 23 2019. I began considering this trip mid-2018, booking late October 2018, so had plenty of time to prepare. World Expeditions NZ handled all my bookings, so it was just gear and ‘background knowledge’ which was up to me.
The trip notes came with a detailed list of required and recommended items. I also sought advice from a few people who had done similar trips. Oceanwide do rent gear but I decided most of it would be useful for other travels so mostly got my own. I did take up their option for landing boots (heavy rubber boots) for the zodiac landings. They also provide gear for the kayaking, camping activities and snowshoes.
I already had a fair bit of cold weather gear (from the 2014 Himalayan Cycle) but needed new GORE-TEX Coat/Trousers (my 14-year-old ones were past it) and Boots. I also got a Down Jacket (recommended for the camping), proper snow gloves, a waterproof daypack and additional merino socks etc in case it was really cold. Because I wear photochromatic prescription glasses I got cheap ski goggles to wear over them if the weather got stormy, or extra bright. My staff discount at Torpedo7 (part of The Warehouse Group) was put to good use and I had awesome service and gear advice from “John” at the Westgate branch.
In addition to the recommended boots I also got, almost as an afterthought, Salomon GORE-TEX shoes (sold for ‘Trail Running’) with a similar construction. It was only because my walking shoes were pretty tired (fraying in part) and I thought they would be good for the getting there/after portions. Waterproof, comfortable and with a brilliant quick lace system they proved to be superb for the whole trip; flights, shipboard wear, Buenos Aires city walks/cycling and Iguazu tropical waterfall heat & wet. Recommended!
The Quicklace pull, tuck, done is great for those ‘remove shoes’ airport transitions or just easing the lacing in flight.
All that fit in my World Expeditions soft bag from the Tibet trip (seemed fitting), weighing in at 16.5kg. That was a little over the 15kg domestic bag limit (well under international limits) but was never queried. The Day Pack was my carry on with some clothes (as bag loss insurance), ski goggles, Bose QC headphones & Surface Go PC. I took a small separate camera bag for my photo/video gear: Canon DSLR (18-55 & 75-300 lens), IXUS compact camera, Cycliq bike camera (to use like a GoPro) and (new for the trip) DJI phone gimbal.
To prepare the brain I wanted to learn more about Antarctica and discovered the Auckland Antarctic Science Meetup early in 2019. It meets monthly (approx.) at Auckland University and I attended ten meetings before departing. They covered an amazing range of topics with presentations from Antarctic scientists, Young Explorers (students sponsored by the Antarctic Heritage Trust) and “The Explorers Club Polar Film Festival” screening which usually is only seen in New York. It was so good I will keep attending!
Getting to Argentina
I deliberately took a few days off before departure for time to prepare, being away for about a month, and not depart tired. It proved to be a good move as think the leisurely pack, wind-down from work helped minimise jet-lag. The evening departure meant travelling to the airport in rush hour traffic. Allowed plenty of time but the GPS recommended going off the motorway (the old route via Mangere Village, Kirkbride Rd) and I avoided the SH20 split tailback. My old Bravo spent the holiday in the airport long term carpark as, bizarrely, it was cheaper and more convenient (with a 5am return) than a shuttle, only a few dollars more than off-site parking.
Check-in was the familiar self-service even though I was flying on Aerolineas Argentinas. They were cheaper than Air New Zealand because, I think, of the associated domestic flights. The first leg to Buenos Aires is code share on Air NZ! It was a Boeing 777 but had the same (cattle class) seats I had experienced in their newer 787 to Aussie last year. For me they are not great; lacking lumbar support and with oddly firm cushions do not make for a comfortable time. Otherwise the flight was fine, food great (for an aircraft) and good selection of inflight entertainment, even free wi-fi until we were well south. Our NZ 20:00 departure is 04:00 Arg time so I decided to treat the ~22:00’ish ‘dinner service’ as ‘brunch’ and stay awake as long as possible to see if it helped adjust time zones (spoiler, think it did).
Not sure "The Art of Racing in the Rain" was the best film choice to kick off a holiday, was rather emotional, but enjoyed it. I haven't read the book but thought the film was superb. The family dog, voiced by Kevin Costner, is the star but the Oamaru built Tempero Ferrari looked mighty fine too. Recommended, don't let the title put you off if motor racing isn't your thing, it’s not really about that.
I started watching 'Yesterday' but drifted off to sleep. Finished it over breakfast, liked it, fun if lightweight. The basic premise is silly, but the story, performances, and (Beatles) soundtrack are all great.
Perhaps due to watching SciManDan’s Flat Earth Friday (a serious and funny debunking series), and flying on a Friday, it struck me the twelve-hour flight path is troublesome for Flat Earthers. On the (admittedly flat projection) flight map you leave NZ heading South East (between Gisborne & Napier) and after going a long way South, great circle route and chasing favourable winds, then head North East to get ‘up’ to Buenos Aires.
It all works fine and looks the same when you plot a direct track on a sphere.
The shortest route on a Flat Earth would take you North West from NZ over North & South America.
The cereal option for breakfast was familiar (same Vogel's ‘Luxury Café Style’ muesli, yoghurt and fruit I have at home) but the other cinnamon hotcakes option didn't appeal. There is no arrival form required for Argentina; immigration & processing was very straight forward. Both NZ & USA could learn from this…
A bit of a queue at 'Foreign' cleared when they diverted us to the ‘Resident’ desks when free. Chatted to a Kiwi Guy, by me in the queue, going to crew on French ship departing Ushuaia for Antarctica same day as us. He seemed surprised, impressed I had done some research beforehand, mentioned the meetup etc, as said many don't have a clue about it! Seeing his ship, when we departed, I think it was a very different (posh) type of cruise. It was straight through the green lane after that.
Decided to get a ‘bite’ GoPro mount for my Cycliq at the duty free store as thought might be good for the kayaking. My first attempt with (terrible) Spanish and local currency went ok but I guess airport staff are more tolerant!
Due to the late afternoon arrival I had an overnight stay at an OK (but generic) Airport Hotel before flying south to Ushuaia. Nothing remarkable about the journey there other than passing an enormous Police escort (armored cars, police cars and motorcycles) for two “Brinks” livery truck-trailer units. I guess there was a lot of valuables in them?! The other thing I noticed was people parked up, picnicking, in the shade of trees alongside the motorway near the airport. I presume waiting there for arrivals, rather than parking inside, but not sure.
I went for a short walk but there was nothing much to see around the hotel. Lots of locals were out; many jogging over a long footbridge to a recreation area (park, football, scale model sealed/dirt racing track) on the other side of motorway. My room had a view of a service station but, car geek alert, I didn’t mind as was curious spotting South American cars new to me. Appeared most were filling with gas (CNG) rather than petrol/diesel. As I couldn’t see many food options nearby dinner was a (nice) burger & fries at the hotel bar. Most there were watching Davis Cup Tennis; Argentina v Spain (who won) so the locals were not impressed.
Stayed up till 23:00, woke around 04:00 (so my normal 5-6 hours), watched YouTube (including HubNut touring NZ) for an hour or so then dozed, podcast listened, till 8:00 but felt OK after that. Next step, breakfast and fly to Ushuaia!
Random travel notes;
- I was carrying Peso, us$ and Euro (for the boat tip). Most places in Argentina accepted Peso or us$ (with all change in Peso) but their pricing uses a plain $ symbol for Peso. A bit freaky till you realise that a burger isn’t 350 Dollars! 100 peso was approx. nz$3, seemed prices for restaurant food etc converted similar to NZ.
- No facecloth provided in the hotel, used the spare hand towel. This was the same everywhere I stayed.
- Need to practice more Spanish basics. Got by but do that awful 'resort to English and wonder why the blank looks' thing common of tourists.