Quark Antarctic Expedition – Day One Boarding in Ushuaia

As much as we were in desperate need of sleep, the bus taking us the Tierra del Fuego National Park and to see the End of the World was going to be picking us up at 0750 and we had to have our bags all packed in in reception, be checked out and had our breakfast by the time the bus arrived – which meant another stupid early start with not enough sleep.

But we got there. Dressed, packed, checked out, bags in reception, breakfasted and ready for exactly 0750 on the dot. We then pottered around town picking up passengers from other hotels before heading directly to the Tierra del Fuego train station. I wrote quite a lot about the history of the prison train that operates in the Park and how it is now used to ferry tourists around, last time I was here so instead of repeating myself… here’s a handy link for anyone who is interested in the history…   <cheeky re-used blog post>  😛

I decided to take the train in again – it was a beautiful trip last time and a beautiful day today, so why not. The train has a multilingual audio guide and we had a very noisy group of German tourists behind us last year when I was on the train, so I was hopeful of hearing more of the commentary this time. Alas, it was not to be, this time we had a bunch of inconsiderate Italians who wouldn’t shut the hell up when languages they didn’t need were coming across the PA system. Oh well… so be it. :/  Have I mentioned how much I hate tourists? Yes, I know, probably only every other post – but travel would be awesome without other tourists about.

The park was still beautiful and in spite of not being able to hear most of the commentary… again!

Okay – I can’t explain this, but when I went into my travel wallet to dig up some currency to pay for our train tickets, of all the pieces of paper and entry tickets to all the museums and attractions I have been over the last year (from Hong Kong to Moscow, from Rio to Stockholm, from Tokyo to Vancouver) for some reason, I seem to have kept my ticket for this very train trip from February last year…  😮  

After the train ride, we met back up with our guide, Mikaela and head to Lake Agamaco to the exact same spot I visited last year. This tour we walked from the lake through to the large Visitor’s Centre across the boggy peat around the lake. The walk was only about 20 mins long but we had a beautiful fresh breeze and gorgeous blue skies.

At the visitor’s centre, which was packed for some reason, we had *the* most amazing hot chocolates ever, and a quick look around the museum/gift shop before hopping back on the bus for the picturesque drive down to the boardwalk at the End of the World.

When I was here last year we arrived in this beautiful place and there was just our group of barely twelve people – today there were busloads of people here. Everyone was jostling to have their photo taken in front of the famous sign showing how far it is to Alaska, and then they were jostling for positions along the barriers to have their photos taken in front of the view. It’s still an amazingly beautiful place, but decidedly less serene than my last visit.

As a side note, I now quite strongly believe that whoever invented those Selfie Stick things should end up in Shepherd Book’s ‘Special Circle of Hell’, which as you all know is reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the cinema – and now the inventor of Selfie Sticks.  People, when you travel, stop waving those things around inconsiderately – be social and ask someone nearby to take your photo, most of the time people are only too happy to oblige. </rant>

I am kinda pinching myself a bit today; I distinctly remember being here last year and thinking, “I want to just drink this place all in, I don’t imagine I’ll ever be back here.”  The End of the World is singularly beautiful and I was so glad to be back here admiring the view again and looking at the gorgeous cloud formations, in spite of the crowds of pushy tourists.  Seriously – click on this picture, or right click and open it in a new tab or something to see it in a decent size, it is so beautiful here…

We head back into town after our walk around the End of the World and had about an hour before we had to head to our meeting point to embark the Ocean Diamond to begin our expedition. We decided to quickly find a few last minute supplies and then head back to the bar at the hotel we had stayed at last night because we knew they had reliable wifi and well… we already had the password. 🙂  The internet on the ship was a bit of a mystery – we had no idea how much it would cost or how reliable the access would be, so we figured we better say our goodbyes and send last-minute messages while we could.

So – what can you expect on a Quark Polar Expedition? We all still had absolutely no idea, but we were about to find out.

Eventually, 3:30 pm rolled around and we went down to the meeting point near the dock. We were filed onto buses and driven around the block into the commercial port area.   There waiting for us was our Quark Expeditions, Ocean Diamond expedition ship. The atmosphere was a mix of excitement and anticipation with a palpable sense of apprehension… see, no one of really knows what to expect from this trip – once we were on the ship we are entirely in the hands of the expedition staff and no one appeared to have had done this type of trip before.  Antarctica really is a once in a lifetime experience it would seem.

We were greeted by staff at the door and given our room keys and cruise cards, then escorted to our cabins to ensure our baggage had arrived. Our room is very cool – nice and larger than your average twin oceanview cabin.  It’s well appointed and tastefully decorated – complete with cool penguin photos on the walls.

After this, we had our first briefing, where we were introduced to the Expedition Crew, which is comprised of about 20 polar experts from all over the world – geologists, ornithologists, marine biologists, a historian and all sorts. I will post up all their bios on a separate page or I’ll get too distracted. They are an extremely well-qualified bunch and it was rapidly apparent that they seriously enjoyed their jobs and were full of enthusiasm for the expedition even though they have all done it many times before. We dispersed from our initial briefing to go unpack, check all our luggage items had arrived and to await a safety drill that would be happening in the early evening.

We stored all our stuff carefully in anticipation of the dreaded crossing of the Drake Passage, and explored the ship a little – it is a beautiful small ship, with the Main Lounge for lectures, a Club Bar for recreating, a Dining Room large enough to seat everyone on board at once, a small fitness centre, health and beauty Spa and a wee Gift Shop. With only seven floors, the gangways and Dining Room are on Deck 3 and our cabin on Deck 6, so I could foresee a lot of stairs in our immediate future. 🙂

Safety drill was simple and pretty much as per every other ship safety drill I had done. We drilled in the Main Lounge with our life jackets and listened carefully to instructions about our muster points and what to do in case of emergency.

We were then shepherded down to our designated lifeboats where we were waiting for the crew to do their drills before we would be given the ‘Okay’ to head back inside.

While we were standing around underneath a happily very well secured lifeboat, waiting in our lifejackets for the drill to finish and some typical traveller small talk type conversations were happening around us – and while the following conversation is remarkable, it is also increasingly commonplace if you are a travelling Australian.

It went something like this:
Polite Man: “So, where are you guys from*?”
Me: (noting his Austrailian accent, I answered more local) “We’re from Brisbane.”
Polite Man:  Really? (with a smile) “We are from just up the range, in Toowoomba.”
My Mum: (laughing) “I grew up in Toowoomba!”
Me: (also laughing) “And I was born in Toowoomba.”
Nearby Stranger, joining our conversation: “I’m from Toowoomba too!”
Me:  (grinning now) “No way!”
Polite Man: “Unbelievable!  We live in such-and-such-suburb.”
Stranger: “OMG, I grew up in SameSuburb too! And went to the SameSuburb School!”
Polite Man’s Wife (also laughing): “I used to teach at SameSuburb School!  But you are far too young for me to have taught you.”
Stranger: “My Dad used to teach at Same Suburb School too! Do you know Jeff H.?”
Polite Man & Polite Man’s wife: “Yes! We know Jeff and Kate H… so that must make you, Jessica H.! Oh my! You know, I was just talking to your father before Christmas and… etc.”

Talk about a ‘Small World’… Happens on nearly every trip – someone runs into someone they know from a past job or an old school friend or an SCA acquaintance. It was a lot of fun to see this interaction unfold, with everyone shaking their heads at the coincidence of running into someone they were so closely connected to, some13,000 kilometres from home.

*Without variation, every single conversation between travellers start like this, by the way – “So, where are you from?”  🙂

Then it was time to be returning our lifejackets to our cabins and before long we were being summoned back to the Main Lounge to be issued with our official Quark Expeditions Polar Parka. Quark have for many years now issued their passengers with a parka of their own design for passengers to for use during the voyage, and which passengers get to take home to keep. I dare say it has stemmed from a recurring problem of people turning up ill-equipped to deal with the conditions here, and then over time has resulted in a jacket that best suits the type of zodiac expeditions that passengers will be taking part in every day – it is waterproof, insulated, hooded, has a pocket for room keys and plenty of snaps, bells and whistles. Very fancy, very warm and very bright fucking yellow. I dare say I will be very grateful for it over the next couple of weeks, but it is unlikely to ever see the light of day once I get back to Australia – so I opted for a Men’s L size jacket which is long enough to keep my butt warm and will perhaps make a good ski jacket for Mr K down the track. Besides, yellow is so not my colour!  (NB:  That is Pato photobombing in the background, we will find out more about Pato later).

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. At 7:30 we were greeted personally by the Maitre D’Hotel (Alex from Ukraine) and shown to a table with a very friendly waiter named Paulo.  We were treated to a lovely five-course meal with complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks to accompany our meals.

The sea was obviously expected to get a little rougher later tonight and we found this out in the traditional manner of passenger ships – sick bags had been placed in the stairwells for any guests who unexpectedly started to feel green around the gills!  Ominously, an announcement also came over the PA system just after dinner that Dr Shannon, our onboard physician, would be in The Club after dinner handing our free seasickness medication for anyone who needed it…

All up an exhausting first day and we turned in fairly early being rocked to sleep in what turned out to be moderately rough seas overnight.  I love being at sea!

Transit Day – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

We left Buenos Aires this morning – early. Too bloody early. Our flight wasn’t until 0920 and even though it was a domestic flight, we have been advised to get to the airport two hours beforehand – like you would for an international flight, on top of which it was going to take up to an hour to get to the airport… So our transfer was booked for 0630 with Jorge… Jorge was recommended to us by Ceri as a reliable driver with a vehicle large enough to take the four of us and our four largish suitcases. So yeah, we were up stupid early after being up drinking until 0130 or so. Clever, huh?

We made it to the airport in plenty of time – Jorge sped us safely through the early morning traffic while we watched the most startling pink sunrise come up over the shanty town areas of Buenos Aires. Again with the speed landscape photography, only the blurred mess I shot out the window of Jorge’s flying Mercedes minivan matched my foggy mental state perfectly on this occasion.

Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike ‘slum tourism’? By that I mean tours that take obviously financially comfortable/wealthy tourists into the favelas or shanty towns (which our tour yesterday did briefly) so they can gawk at how the people are living in poverty? I hate that shit. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be living in a run-down shack with a piece of corrugated tin for a roof and watch a $300,000+ bus roll through your neighbourhood with 50 or more wide-eyed, Sketcher wearing, fanny-pack wielding, (largely white) tourists staring at you from behind UV tinted windows. Fuck that. These people are living their lives and doing their best to get by – it’s not a spectacle, it’s survival.   🙁


But I’m off topic – we flew from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia with Aerolingus Argentina, a local airline who, unbeknownst to us had a 15kg luggage limit. Great, my bag with all its bulky warm stuff in it was nearly 20kg when we left home – the heaviest my suitcase has ever been when leaving the country (it’s routinely over 20kgs on the way home but never over about 16kgs when I leave). I got it down to 18.5kg but I still got slugged with a 590ARS (about $40) excess luggage fee anyway.  (*Ed: I just met a woman named Shirley at dinner who flew with the same provider and her baggage was 6kgs over but her husband’s was right on 15kgs and she didn’t get charged. I was the only one of the four of us who was over, but I got charged. Bastards!). Any-hoo… in for a penny in for a pound, I say. So if I’m going to get slugged on the way home, I may as well go the full hog and head home with 25kgs – they’re just going to hit me with the fee anyway!

We also had a ‘hidden stopover’ on our flight – which meant we made a scheduled stop somewhere to refuel and to dump some passengers and pick up a few extras, only 95% of us just stayed in our seat during this roughly 45min process. I still have no idea where we were stopped, as most of the in-cabin announcements were in Spanish and English versions were so thickly accented I couldn’t understand them anyway.   So a hidden stop-over and then onto Ushuaia.

Ed:  I did find out from Jorge where this ‘hidden stop’ was – a place called, El Calafate in Patagonia which is famous for its Peiro Moreno Glacier which, just a week after we were there, had an enormous ice bridge calving…

Anyway, we arrived in Ushuaia and the first thing that happened was Aunty Mary left her backpack on the plane thinking one of us had grabbed it for her – which of course we didn’t as we had our hands full with overweight hand luggage that was supposedly keeping our checked bag weight down. So she had to go back to try on to the plane to try to find it – the staff had apparently moved it on her, but thankfully she managed to reclaim it.  I was so relieved the missing backpack didn’t become a ‘thing’.

On the drive from the airport into town… I’m back in Ushuaia!  Unbelievable.

We exited the airport (funky building it is too) where we were greeted by Quark Expedition staff, they helped us with our luggage and transferred us to our hotel… only it turned out they were transferring us to our hotels – plural.

For some reason, Aunty Mary and Lyn were staying at a different hotel, we had no idea why because neither of them had brought paper copies of their booking with them, and they were (initially) none too pleased. Then Aunty Mary went around the back of the van to get her suitcase and it just wasn’t there either – whereupon a small panic ensued before it turned out they had already offloaded her bag while she was trying to ascertain why she was at a different hotel…   A misplaced backpack and now a misplaced suitcase = not fun.  Did I mention that we were all really rather tired?!  :/

The view at their hotel apparently ameliorated the inconvenience of being in a hotel somewhat out of town it seems… and we received this pic fron them shortly after they checked in.

Trish and I were ferried to a different hotel, the Canal Beagle, right in downtown Ushuaia which was decidedly older and less flash and had a view much more like this – complete with construction, smashed windows, stray dogs and all good things.

Didn’t matter we were only going to be there for one night.

At 1830 we had a Quark Expeditions briefing where we found out that we wouldn’t actually be embarking until 1600 the following day. So this pick up day in Ushuaia was officially Day 1 of our trip, and we thought we were embarking first thing the following morning, but not so – we just had to have all our luggage at reception by 1000 so it could be transferred to the ship but we wouldn’t actually be embarking until 1600.

Which meant we had zero plans for an unexpected day in Ushuaia. Lyn and Aunty Mary decided they would book a helicopter tour over the area, and Trish and I decided to go to the Tierra del Fuego National Park – I went there on my last trip and it was positively spectacular, so I was happy to journey into the park again. I figured I would decide in the morning if I wanted to do the prisoner train again, but at least we roughly had a plan.

Next things next.  Dinner.  I found us a choice of two restaurants after a bit of Googling – the Restaurant Villaggio for seafood and Italian style dishes, or the Estancia Parilla for Argentinian BBQ. Well, we thought nothing was going to top our Desnivel steaks from the night before so we opted to go to Villaggio. Chosen for the enormous king crab options on the menu – not disappointed!

It was a lovely restaurant with delicious foods – we had a beautiful meal and then headed back to our hotel/s.  King Crab Casserole with Roquefort cheese, Grilled Atlantic Salmon and fries, Tenderloin Steak (fillet) with Potatoes au Gratin and that whole crab platter photo was snapped at a nearby table.  🙂

After dinner, we went for a quick wander through town back towards our hotel, but of course, most places were closed for the evening so we will have to double back and explore more tomorrow.

Gifts made from Rhodocrosite also known as Rosa del Inca or Inca Rose stone.  It is the national stone of Argentina and is particualrly stunning for it’s beautfiul red and pink hues.

And thus endeth our uneventful transit day… all things being relative.


Tigre Delta tour and Desnivel

One of your ‘must do’ items in Buenos Aires is apparently a tour of the Tigre Delta. Tigre is actually a separate town about 25kms north of BA, that gets it name from the ‘tigers’ (jaguars actually) that used to be hunted here.  It is accessible by bus, car, train and of course, by river boats.

Tigre has become a huge tourist destination in recent years with large resort/spa locations being built in among the rivers and canals.  Important celebrities, ‘such as Madonna, you know the Madonna?’ have been known to holiday here.

Oddly, touring the delta by river felt a lot of like doing a Florida swamp tour.  Tourists are loaded onto river craft of varying size and modernity, and are then taken powering up the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) until you reach the mouth of the delta.  From there you find yourself winding through canals and effectively peering into people’s backyards!

Each home has its own little jetty or pontoon as this is a community that thrives on its waterways.  They have mail boats, rubbish boats, supermarket boats and even ice-cream boats that service the community.  Kids get to and from school by boat. Houses are varying from grand to dilapidated, some have permanent residents and many are able to be rented as holiday destinations.  The guide on the boat mentioned that many of them are weekend homes for people who live and work in the city. In the centre of the delta is this odd house covered by a glass cube – it is the house of one, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, considered the ‘Father of Argentinian Classrooms’ or the founder of modern Argentinian education.  Built in the 1860s, the house has been placed in the glass cube to preserve it from the wind, weather and constant humidity. The area is well known for its rowers and the Argentinian Rowing Club is located in the delta… leading to the common site of crazy people out rowing at midday… without hats. Further towards the town of Tigre, you can see large marketplaces where people can come (by boat) to do larger shopping and pick up supplies. Also nearby is the famous Parque de la Costa, which is like the largest amusement park in Argentina or South America or something or other… I kinda wasn’t paying attention when he said that bit  😛   In my defence, we do live barely half an hour from a handful of theme parks, so I’m not all that interested in them. After our genteel pottering around on boats for the morning, we got to go visit the beautiful Cathedral de San Isidro which, oddly enough, is located in the centre of the small town of San Isidro.  The Cathedral was built in 1898 on the site where a cathedral had stood since the early 1700s.  As per usual for South American structures from this period (well, so it seemed from our extensive tour last year), it was designed by French architects and is built in a very aesthetically pleasing, neogothic style.  It has gorgeous stained glass windows and its spire reaches just shy of 70m tall (which is the same height as Buenos Aire’s Obelisk, don’t you know?).  It has recently undergone extensive renovations which is why the entire building looks brand new.  It is a truly lovely church. After we visited the Cathedral we had a quick stop, just long enough for a lemon gelato and then it was time to head back to Buenos Aires.  We decided to make like the Spanish for the remainder of the afternoon and have a much-needed siesta.

Now, yesterday Ceri – the loquacious Canadian – had recommended to us ‘the best local Argentinian steakhouse in Buenos Aires’ that has ‘steak so tender you can cut it with a spoon!’.  Well, this is a pretty big call and we thought it needed to be checked out – but we were so tired yesterday that we had planned on going this evening instead.

The restaurant is called Desnivel and is on Defensor Av, about a kilometre and a half from our hotel. So we decided to walk down and cab it back.  It was a nice evening for a stroll through the cobbled streets of Buenos Aires.  🙂  Everywhere you walk you can see the strong European influence – and moving through the different streets feels like going from Paris to Italy just by going over a block or two.

We stumbled onto these cute sculptures set up on a park bench – you can see these guys on souvenirs everywhere.  The little girl is called Mafalda and she is the star of a comic strip.   Mafalda, is supposed to reflect the Argentinian middle classes combined with the thoughts of the more progressive youth. She is often depicted concerned about world peace and the state of humanity and apparently has somewhat serious, but endearing attitude problems.  You see her on everything here – from aprons and stationery to mate cups and keychains. Anyway, we made it to Desnivel just as the place was opening at 7pm.  Argentines traditionally dine quite late and while we wandered into a nearly empty restuarant, the place was getting quite busy as patrons kept walking in as late as 9:30pm to 10pm.

As you enter, you get to parade past the BBQ, which smell absolutely delicious.  Ceri had told us yesterday they don’t use any spices on the meats while cooking, just a light salt rub.  Any flavours are added after the cook.

AND we saw this massive stack of sliced provolne ready to be cooked… looks like piles of wax.After we ordered some drinks – caipirinha, margartita, and pisco sours… our lump of wax came out like this – well cooked and covered in peppers, bacon, provoletta, and herbs.  Absolutely beautiful.  Add a tiny bit of chimichurri and Bob’s your uncle. After sharing some provaletta for an entre, we had steak tenderloins (what we would just call a fillet steak) that was served drowning in delicious mushroom sauce and with pomme noisettes.  None a pesky vegetable in sight at this steakhouse  😉   And Ceri was right, I have never – and I mean that literally – I have never had such tender steak in my life. Thanks to Ceri’s advice we ordered one steak between the two of us and didn’t have to be rolled out of the restaurant.The steak cut like butter and almost melted in your mouth.  It was beautifully cooked and so light and tender.  Phenomenal… we were all commenting what a shame it was we hadn’t made the effort to come last night as we would have been back for a second meal tonight as well, it was that good!

In lieu of dessert, we decided to have some limoncello… about nine shots later!

Eventually our waiter just brought over the damn bottle.  🙂
Finally, well fed and cheerful, we paid for our meal in what looks like a king’s ransom and spilled out onto the street to find a cab.

We finished the night with mojitos on the rooftop bar back at the hotel… nattering until the bar staff kicked us out!  😛  What a great night!  We will have to come back and do it again some time.

La Boca

Woke up this morning bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to tackle the city with verve…! Yeah, I can’t back that up.  We all pretty much woke up bleary-eyed and feeling like wrung out dish rags.  Long-haul flights and drastic time changes will do that to you – every. single. time.  We breakfasted at the hotel and decided to jump on the HoHo (Hop-On, Hop-Off) bus to get a feel for the place with minimum effort.  We have a walking tour booked for tomorrow, so we were trying to see different parts of the city that we wouldn’t see tomorrow.  The one area that wasn’t on tomorrow’s itinerary was the bright and colourful La Boca neighbourhood, so we decided we would ride the bus there and make sure we jumped off to have a poke around.

The primary HoHo terminal in Buenos Aires just happened to be directly across the street from our hotel, so we didn’t have to go far to get our day started.  Lined up, bought some tickets and jumped on the next bus.  Unfortunately, the upper deck wasn’t covered like they usually are and there is no way I was going to spend a few hours in the midday sun, so we sat downstairs which limits your ability to view the architecture.

La Boca is a barrio that has a strong European flavour about it – having been settled quite early in the city’s history by Italian immigrants largely from the Genoa area.  It has some winding little pedestrian areas called the Caminito, where local artists are creating and selling their arts in markets and shops.  It’s well known for its colourful houses that have been built up for tourism over the last few years and it attracts a lot of visitors who are interested in tango, local art, food and culture.

The buildings here are old timber and corrugated iron construction, but they have been brightly painted by the bohemian community that lives in the area.  Other than these few very colourful streets that are decidedly touristic, the wider area is quite poor and unfortunately known to be a high crime area. It’s a very funky little barrio though and well worth checking out – with lots of markets, cafes, souvenir stores, people dancing the tango at midday, and a cool buzz about the place. Everything that stands still appears to have been painted in bright colours creating a very festive and cheerful atmosphere.  The markets are full of bright and interesting souvenirs as well, with lots of artwork and plenty of toruisty stuff.

We had a good look around, found a cafe for some overpriced lunch and watched the tango dancers strutting their stuff intently in the front of the restaurant. After that, we hopped back on the HoHo bus and head back uptown to see some more famous buildings. I’m not a big fan of HoHo buses in general – the droning of the guided audio tour tends to be a poor quality and not very engaging commentary that just about sends me to sleep, but it is a nice way to meander through a city and get a feel for a place.

We stayed on the bus until it took us full circle back to our hotel, where we all had a bit of a kip before heading out for a late tapas dinner.  We ended up at a great little tapas restaurant a few blocks from the hotel called Tancat Tasca – the food was delicious and the sangria was excellent too.

After that it was back to the hotel – we were all exhausted from doing what, I don’t know.  Probably the flight still catching up with us.

Buenos Aires Bound.

Well, we are off once again… this time to see a man about some penguins.  Antarctica!

Trish and I keep pinching ourselves – I can’t believe we are actually doing this.  Antarctica is on just about every traveller’s ‘Bucket List’, and it’s usually one of the hardest ones to tick off.  Apparently, Antarctica sees only 34,000 visitors a year, which is not a lot when you consider Disneyland gets around 44,000 visitors a day.

Anyway.  We had an uneventful transit – unless I count the quite severely damaged suitcase that greeted me in Buenos Aires.  Seriously, every corner was dinged in and it looked like it had been used to play football on the tarmac, but thankfully the bottle of port inside was safely intact.  I’ll be having words with Air New Zealand about that – a decent Samsonite suitcase is well around the $300-$400 mark and they just throw your shit around like it doesn’t matter at all.  I’d never buy really expensive luggage that was ever going to be checked on a flight.  But c’est la vie.  It turned up, which is better than the other most common travellers’ luggage problem, which is standing around the luggage conveyor belt wondering where the hell your suitcase is.  🙂

Border control and customs were uneventful too – well for us… saw the most ridiculous thing I have seen at any immigration control desk (with the exception of Russian immigration officers signing official paperwork for Chinese tourists by putting a pen in their hand and pretending to sign on their behalf, that is) in a long time. There was an over-coiffed, overdressed, overly made-up American lady trying to get through passport control and she was being asked to put her right thumb on on a scanner but was unable to comply – because of crazy long acrylic fingernails!  And by ‘crazy long’ I mean 3″ long fingernails?  She was literally unable to lay her thumb flat on the scanning pad.  The lady customs officer was unimpressed and took the issue to her supervisor – we could see them all laughing over the ridiculousness of the situation behind some frosted glass.  And those of us still standing in the queues were wondering if she was going to be refused entry to Argentina because of her fingernails!  Eventually, the customs officer came back and processed her with very ill temper without the scanned fingerprints – my guess is she wanted to come out and hand the silly woman some scissors…

Anyway, we got through the airport with minimum hiccups, a little guy with a sign bearing our name was waiting for us just outside – always love that, and it was off to find our hotel. We are staying at 725 Continental which is really well located in the centre of the city, and has huge rooms… 14′ ceilings and a bedroom about 5m x 5m, which felt like a startling contrast when compared to the shoebox we encountered in Shinjuku after walking off our last long-haul flights into Tokyo!

We were all a bit stuffed, so we pottered around a bit and went for a walk down Florida Avenue to find something for dinner.  Stumbled upon a local restaurant called Havannas, with a guy playing easy listening tunes on a saxophone and Italian food… so naturally we walked in and ordered empanadas – as you do.

Early night tonight and hopefully an easy day tomorrow.