All Good Things

February 1-3

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There is a good thing about being back in the Drake Passage: there are no excursions, and we can sleep in. So we successfully ignored Bill's wake-up as well as Annie's breakfast announcements. I woke up just in time for Fishbone's presentation and later dragged Essan to lunch so that she gets some food. Unfortunately for her, the sea is much rougher now than on the way south, and she's suffering from both motion sickness as well as the annoying side effects of the anti-sick patch; I suffer only under the latter, which is annoying enough.

Most people took it really easy with lunch, and so did Essan who left halfway through, heading straight for the bed. Dr. David gave her some pills to make her better; either way, we will be on this rough sea only for 30 more hours, so the torture should be over soon. Making the best of it I headed to the bridge to snap a few pictures of the waves crashing over the ship's bow. I missed the mother of all waves, but that was probably good because the whole platform next to the bridge was swept clean by it.

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The sea wouldn't calm down until we entered the Beagle Channel Monday night. Still time enough to give us passengers who weren't ill a tour of the ship, including the engine room. This satisfied the geeks! More for a general taste was the last dinner, which was even more glamorous than usual, and was attended by a special guest, the ship's captain. After dinner everyone else got to hang out at the ship's bar. Karin and Woody were busy handing out drinks at an unprecedented pace, since for once we didn't have to get up early morning for an expedition - we just had to leave the ship and for that one doesn't need to be sober nor rested =)

Our bags disappeared as promised during breakfast, and after the crew said individually goodbye to every passenger we were bussed the same 200m to downtown Ushuaia. Our pick-up to the airport would be at 13:15 - but what do with the remaining 4+ hours? We slept in the Albatros Hotel lounge, and watched how people were getting ready for Akademik Ioffe's next journey - to the Falklands, South Georgia, and the tip of Antarctica, the longest trip Peregrine offers. It seemed that the profile of the travelers on that journey is more culturally diverse and younger. While we had two Asians on board - my wife and Edward from Australia - this group had plenty of them, and - gasp - even a black person (since I don't know what the proper Politically Correct expression is today, besides, it may be an insult to call someone African American if she's actually from South Africa, right?).

We had a quick lunch in one of the sketchy cafes of Ushuaia and transferred to the airport. Quite surprisingly our bags did make it this time, and all we had to do is check them in; we already had our boarding passes. Then pay the mandatory airport tax (US$ 7) and off through security, where we were neither asked to remove our boots nor the laptops from the case.  

In Buenos Aires we had to transfer to the international terminal. American searched one of our bags but it was a much quicker and smoother procedure all the way to the boarding pass than in Lima less than a year ago. That was a mess, but back to the present. Of course we also had to pay the airport tax, US$18 each - which was also done in a much more orderly manner than in Lima.

With three hours and 40 Pesos to kill, we looked for some food and power outlets. We did end up buying two bottles of 7-Up, but there didn't seem to be much food and definitely no power outlets. So we proceeded through immigration (no lines here, unlike in Lima) and security (shoes on, laptops in bag) to the international waiting area - which was different from anything else I've ever seen: It was one big duty free shop, and you had to go through it to your gate. Note the difference between walking past numerous duty free shops vs. through them. The whole scam became even more obvious when we finally arrived at the end of the shop and the pointer to gate 4 pointed 180 degrees back. Did I miss something or was this real? So once we parked at the gate I went and double-checked that indeed, even if your gate is right past immigration you will be guided through the duty free shop on a grandiose detour.

And no power outlets. None. Not one. I walked though the whole waiting area and to get power I would have to unplug the Coke machine. I wonder how they vacuum here. On my search for power I ran into other people on the same quest. However, once I found my knock-out pills in the bag I stopped looking for juice since I would be able to sleep on the flight to Miami - and I did. We arrived on time so we could afford losing half an hour while being thoroughly searched by customs. -"Where did you go?" -"Antarctica" -"Was that a cruise or vacation?" -"Hmm, since you can get there pretty much only via boat, I guess both". This was the first time that this kind of search happened to me, and I have entered the country about 30x so far. I guess our somewhat unpolished look and my rather scruffy face made us look more like dope smuggalaz. At least we fit very well into the profile of the people in the "search" line, while pregnant women and orthodox jews (just to name some easily identifiable counter-examples) were exempt. Since no dope was found we still had enough time to find to the right terminal, to recharge the Powerbook and to learn on CNN that Janet Jackson was profusely apologizing for something - now if we only knew what. Seemed to be a big deal, though.

The real fun started when we boarded the 767 which was to bring us to San Francisco. Just around departure time we were told that the technicians are looking into an issue and so far have no clue about what gives. An hour later we were told that the flight was cancelled and we would be re-routed through Chicago. That's exactly what we needed - add five more hours and god knows how many miles to our already long enough trip, plus the whole security hassle, ticket re-issue and running to yet another terminal to catch a flight that is leaving 10 minutes ago - and the cheering passengers greeted this news exactly as such. There was of course at least the hope of food on board, and maybe even a movie. Neither happened: while Aerolineas Argentinas serves a full (and quite tasty) hot meal on a 3-hour trip from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, American gives you a cup of Coke and apologizes for the broken tape player on board. Since we had two Powerbooks, five batteries, six movies and two headphones with us this was less of a problem - we enjoyed our very own private screening of American Beauty. But despite all the technology (or maybe because of it) the only two places where we had Essan's brother's phone number written down was on a piece of paper in checked luggage and on my Clie which as always lost its charge (does yours also keep charge only for two days, even if off?) so we had no way to tell our ride how or when he should arrive at the airport or even which flight we were on. It's funny to see how you rely on your cell phone, which is of course at home. Maybe it's time to memorize some key numbers.

We got some food at the airport from Panda Express, "gourmet fast food" - whatever that means. Just one plate, Essan claiming that she was not hungry ate away half my plate, so I ended up getting another one, very much to her amazement. And O'Hare is very similar to EZE in a different way: no power outlets. It took some serious searching to find one where I could plug in my G4 and juice up.

We made it home finally around 6 in the evening, smelly and tired. The furnace was dead and the house was cold, but it was still warmer than where we just came from. Long shower and six loads of laundry later, we were almost presentable again and ready to deal with traffic jams and 24 hour shopping.

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