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!

Admiring Historic Buenos Aires

We started day 2 in Buenos Aires with a continental breakfast in the hotel and then boarded a bus for a half day city tour, which included some of the historical and cultural sites of Buenos Aires.  The group on the bus was bigger on Sunday than it had been the night before.  Several people hadn’t made it out for the tango show and the time between our different destinations allowed us the opportunity to get to know some people we hadn’t spoken with the night before.  There were probably 20-30 of us now, including Mike, a guy from Seattle who was visiting all 7 continents in a 3-month period, and Mona, a girl from DC who had recently spent time working in remote areas of Africa.

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Our first stop on the tour was La Recoleta Cemetery, a burial ground located in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires.  It is known as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, characterized by its large mausoleums and statues (over 90 of which are national historic monuments) and for being the resting place for Argentinian elite, including Eva Peron.  While she passed away in 1952, her body was not placed in the Duarte family mausoleum for 20 years.  Her remains have been placed in a heavily fortified crypt several meters underground to protect her remains.

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The sun shown brightly on that summer day and what could have be an eerie place with shadows cast by the tombs was quite tranquil and quiet, despite the number of visitors.  A few cats wandered the pathways, seeming to be tenants of the area.

As we walked around, we paused to appreciate the mausoleums – some ornate and well attended to while others were draped with cobwebs, a symbol of the end of a family line or a nod to how expensive the upkeep is.  We had been told the mausoleums are often more expensive than apartments in the city.  The tombs were surely something to behold and we could have spent much more time at the cemetery than the hour or so that we did.

La Recoleta Cemetery was followed by a stop near La Casa Rosada (the Pink House), the President of Argentina’s mansion and home to the balcony that Evita often used to address the Argentinian people.  While unable to visit the building, we spent some time nearby in the Plaza de Mayo walking through an outdoor market.

From there, the bus took us to La Boca, a barrio of Buenos Aires and a port (the mouth of the Riachuelo River).  Sports fans may know the area as home to the futbol club, Boca Juniors.  However, it is also a popular tourist destination because of the colorful houses that align Caminito, a pedestrian street.  Immigrants from Italy who settled in La Boca brought their traditions with them, painting their homes with the leftover paint from the shipyard.  While the area was small, only a few blocks, it was an inviting and a sharp contrast to the cemetery we visited  earlier in the day.

At the end of the tour, Melisa and I opted to be dropped off so we could explore a bit more on our own before returning to the hotel.  We walked along the water and had lunch outdoors.  Despite the shade, the heat was overwhelming and we were happy to have ordered frozen lemonade to sip on.  After the busy morning, we returned to the hotel for a short nap and to plan for the rest of our time in Buenos Aires.  The remainder of the day, and our time in the city, was at our leisure.

 

Arriving in Argentina

img_7514Melisa and I were all smiles as we boarded our plane from Atlanta to Buenos Aires late the evening of December 9th.  While our flight from Atlanta had been delayed, it couldn’t diminish the excitement we had for our next journey together – one that would include us both visiting our 7th continent, something we had discussed doing since we had begun traveling together a few years earlier.

We had booked our trip through Quark Expeditions with Antarctica being the end goal, a final check of the continents on our list, but putting down our deposits in June afforded us a few days in Buenos Aires.  For this Boston girl, the thought of enjoying some summer sun in December was highly welcomed.  However, I worried going from cold to hot to cold was going to make Antarctica seem even colder than I imagined (more to come on that).

img_7538Despite our delay, we able to make it to Hotel Emperador Buenos Aires around noon.  The Christmas tree in the lobby that greeted us felt slightly out-of-place in the mid-80 degree weather, but the hotel was beautiful with a manicured patio in the back, enclosed with greenery that made you forget you were in the middle of a city.  We were early for check-in, so were pleasantly surprised when our room was ready for us.  We quickly dropped our bags, changed into some weather-appropriate  clothing and left the hotel to explore the city and get some lunch.

We strolled the sidewalks and took a turn when we saw a park surrounding a clock tower.  After passing a brightly colored market and a bus station, we found our way to a quaint little cafe.  We ordered empanadas and took in our surroundings, which included a number of locals watching a fútbol game.  Had we had more time, and foresight, we would have loved to see a game in person.  The “Superclasico” River vs Boca took place the weekend we were in Buenos Aires and it was sold out.  We watched fans enter the city on buses a day later with music and drinks.  The spirit of the game was infectious!

img_7552After a little more exploration and food in our bellies, we made our way back to the hotel to rest a bit and freshen up before the night’s activity – a tango show at La Ventana, located in the heart of San Telmo, the oldest barrio in Argentina.  Melisa and I eagerly anticipated the night, both because it offered us a chance to see a dance Argentina is so well-known for, but also because we knew we would be meeting a number of people who would be aboard the Ocean Endeavour, our expedition ship to Antarctica.  We beautified ourselves (more than we would for the rest of the trip, which was much more active) and headed down to the hotel bar for a drink.  As our glasses clinked, we celebrated the beginning of our trip and the adventures that would unfold over the next 2 weeks.

That evening, we boarded a bus without about 10-12 other people for the show.  Melisa and I kept to ourselves a bit on the way there, but when we got to La Ventana, we were seated at a table with 3 other women – Anne who is from North Carolina, and a mother/daughter pair, Dorothy from Connecticut and her daughter, Margaret, who lives in New York.  We got to know one another over wine (which was unlimited with the meal) and shared a lot of laughs.  We had time to connect and talk about what we had packed and our expectations for the trip while we ate.  The tango show didn’t begin for a couple of hours after we had arrived.

We weren’t allowed to take photos of the show itself, but it was a mixture of song and dance.  There were three pairs of dancers who at times performed all together and, on other occasions, were highlighted separately.  They danced to live music and would take breaks for singers to perform.  While songs were in Spanish, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina remained recognizable.  Our night ended with a ride back to the hotel – full of our typical silly selfies – and the knowledge that we would be having an incredible trip.img_7558

And so the adventure begins…

I’ve always hated that the days I have the time to sleep my body won’t let me, but today when I woke up early, I wasn’t upset by my internal alarm.  I feel like a kid on Christmas morning, full of excitement and eager for the day ahead.  Even though I won’t land in Buenos Aires until tomorrow, today is the day the adventure starts!  It’s been a rough few weeks and this trip is coming at the perfect time.  I’m ready to unplug for a bit.

Bags are packed and, shockingly, despite needing attire for two climates (mid/high 80s in Buenos Aires and the frigid cold of Antarctica), I was able to fit everything in a carry-on and a small personal item.  Assuming I survive the trip with so few belongings, I’ll share some tips for packing light upon my return.

Anticipating Antarctica


“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” 
Saint Augustine

For years visiting all 7 continents has been on my bucket list.  Traveling the world and experiencing new places is something that truly gives me joy.  In less than a week from now, I will be on my way to crossing my last continent – Antarctica – off the list.  I will have visited all 7 continents at 31 years old.  I had hoped to do it before I turned 30, but no complaints! It still seems unreal that I’ll be traveling to a place so few visit, a continent that is so untouched by man.

SEVEN IN THIRTY-ONE will help me document this adventure of a lifetime, so I can recall the details of the experience for years to come.  Subscribe and follow to hear about my upcoming trip to Argentina and Antarctica… and future trips!