Visiting the End of the World

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” – R.E.M.

Ushuaia is a resort town, located at the southernmost tip of South America and is nicknamed “Fin del Mundo” (the “End of the World”).  It is also where we left South America for the 7th continent.

Early the morning of Tuesday, December 13th, Melisa and I joined a number of other travelers for a small breakfast in our hotel at 5am and then boarded the bus to the domestic airport.  As we waited to board the plane, I put on a seasickness patch.  While I am usually fine on boats, I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.  I had never been on a cruise or any ship overnight and the Drake Passage (the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica) is known for its rough waters.

captureThe flight to Ushuaia was about 3 hours and when we arrived there we were given a bit of time to explore the town before boarding our ship.  Compared to Buenos Aires, the temperature was chilly (around 50 degrees vs. 85) and served as a clear indication that Ushuaia was the gateway to our Antarctica adventure.  The snow capped Martial Mountains that surrounded the resort town provided a beautiful backdrop, which were reminiscent of the Swiss Alps (or at least how I picture them considering I’ve never been).

The town was quaint and it was clear that it catered to tourists, the streets lined with souvenir shops and places to buy last-minute winter gear for the trip to the white continent.  Melisa and I visited the tourist center to get passport stamps commemorating our trip to the End of the World, then strolled along the streets, popping into shops before settling down for lunch and a local beer (Beagle Pale Ale), which was served in a penguin-shaped carafe.

We boarded the Ocean Endeavor around 4:30 that afternoon.  While the expedition vessel is smaller than most cruise ships, housing approximately 200 travelers, 30 expedition staff plus dining, bartending and hotel staff, I had never been on a cruise and the ship seemed quite large to me at first.  We spent the evening checking into our cabin, unpacking, getting fit for our parkas and muck boots, participating in an emergency drill, exploring the ship and having a welcome briefing, during which we were introduced to the Quark expedition team.  The evening’s dinner and the drinks that followed in the Nautilus Lounge gave us the opportunity to meet a number of passengers.  I was pleasantly surprised the wide age range and the number of travelers in their 20s and 30s.

The ship disembarked around 8pm and, with the help of a pilot, began making its way through the Beagle Channel for Antarctica!

 

Our Final Day in Buenos Aires

With only a limited number of days in Buenos Aires, Melisa and I were only able to scratch the surface of what the city has to offer.

We started our last full day in the city with a continental breakfast in the hotel and then ventured out to El Ateneo, a bookstore, which had been converted from an old theatre.  Bookcases lined the walls and the floor, where orchestra and balcony seats once were and the former stage had been converted into a cafe.  It was quite beautiful and Melisa and I spent time wandering the different levels.  The kids section, located in the basement, had a painting of penguins, which had us excited for the days ahead.

After leaving the bookstore, we headed back to the Recoleta neighborhood to grab lunch.  While we had hoped the restaurant would provide some reprieve from the heat, we left about as warm as we had been when we got there.  Being hot, we decided to forego the trip to the Japanese Gardens that we had been planning and, instead, head back to the hotel for some time in the pool.  We also used the time at the hotel to get our luggage weighed for the next leg of the trip, which we would be kicking off early the next day.  Melisa and I had each prepared for the trip, packing only a carry-on bag and a personal item.  We were quite proud of ourselves given the length of the trip and having to pack for the weather in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia and Antarctica.  After staff weighed our belongings, we had to shift a few items around to have the right weight distribution in our two bags, but were left wondering how anyone who had packed normal sized luggage would have met the restrictions.

A good friend of mine who had spent some time in Buenos Aires had seen I was in the city and said that I should check out La Bomba de Tiempo – a live, outdoor music show -if it was still happening on Monday nights.  After confirming the weekly show was still taking place, Melisa and I decided to get dinner and then catch a cab to see the show.  On our way out to dinner, we were stopped by Ken, a man we had met earlier in our trip, who asked if we wanted to join him and Shelly for dinner.  We decided that it was a good idea for us to get to know some of the folks who would be on our expedition a bit more, so we joined these men for dinner.  The four of us shared travel stories and discussed plans for future adventures.  Ken had mentioned that his goal was to take a minimum of 4 trips each year – 2 domestic and 2 international.  That goal stuck in my mind and is something I hope to replicate in 2017 and beyond!

After splitting a pizza and a bottle of wine with Melisa, we said good-bye to our dinner companions and found a cab to bring us to the La Bomba de Tiempo show.  We waited in line at the venue to buy tickets and then followed others into the Konex, an open space with concrete walls.  As we filtered in with the crowd, we got drinks and took in our surroundings.  People talked, drank and smoked, huddling in circles or sitting on the hard ground, looking completely at ease and without a care in the world as they waited for the Monday night show to begin.  When the show started, a team of nearly 20 percussionists took the stage.  They improvised the music, feeding off the audience’s energy as people danced to the changing beats.

This show (along with Fuerza Bruta) topped the list of things I did in Buenos Aires.  The music and atmosphere were infectious.  The night’s performance, like every other, was unique, offering the crowd a one of a kind experience.  While I enjoy seeing tourist attractions when I visit a new place (they usually draw crowds for a reason), I also like trying to experience things the way locals do.  Monday night’s show at La Bomba de Tiempo is not something I’m sure many tourists see.  The show gave us a chance to interact with locals and experience something unique to the area.  It was a great send off!

Fuerza Bruta is ‘Must-See’

Melisa and I had a day and a half to ourselves before leaving Buenos Aires for our Antarctic expedition.  We did some research on Sunday afternoon to decide what to do, wanting to make the most of our time.  We debated taking a ferry to Uruguay to earn another passport stamp or being early risers the next morning to take a hot air balloon ride over the city.  However, in the end, we decided that we would enjoy ourselves most if we weren’t rushing around and were taking in more of what Buenos Aires has to offer (from the ground).

Prior to the trip, I had read some posts about Fuerza Bruta, an immersive show, which we decided to go see Sunday night.  The show was in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, not far from the cemetery we had visited earlier that day.  After talking to the concierge about it, Melisa and I strolled over an hour or so before that night’s show, hoping to get day-of tickets.  The concierge had warned us that it could be sold out, but luckily, we were able to see the show that day.

887So what exactly is Fuerza Bruta?  It’s a 65 minutes show that stimulates the senses – sight, sound and touch. The audience is on its feet for the full time, partially because the show is that engaging, but also because the room doesn’t have seats.  The focal point of the action changes locations throughout the show and the audience is ushered by the staff to make way for new stages and sets.  The show, which includes music, dance and story-telling, draws viewers in with an interactive experience, using strobe lights, moving projections, loud noises, water, mist and fog.  The show ended with a dance party in rain coming from the ceiling!  Don’t worry though – Water interaction is optional!

Fuerza Bruta far surpassed my expectations and was one of my favorite things we did in Buenos Aires.  I left with a huge smile on my face!  I could describe each changing scene in depth, but think not knowing what’s to come is part of the excitement for those who haven’t seen the show before.  While originating in Buenos Aires, the show tours internationally.  I would highly recommend it if you are ever in a city where you can experience it  – Fuerza Bruta is a ‘must-see’ show!