Monday, February 29, 2016

Arriving in Ushuaia

[Kyle]The sun came up in Ezeiza just as we were getting dropped off for our flight to Ushuaia. There were only one or two other cars dropping off. I realized I my have overestimated the time required to check-in, but at least we wouldn't have to worry about not making it.

Once inside the building, I had the opposite thought. The entire ticketing area was standing room only with crowds of people crushing this way or that toward some general goal with hardly any order evident. I turned toward the check-in machines and got pushed by the people behind me into the people ahead of me until the guy in front of me turned and pushed his way back, revealing my part of a bank of machines. I checked us in under the prying eyes of the woman behind me and then ducked out sideways at leg level to find Maryanne, who had sensibly kept out of the fray while looking after our luggage. We repeated the process a couple more times with each one becoming less chaotic before we all calmly boarded busses to our plane, a wide body Airbus 340.

The flight was mostly over an undercast layer obscuring the route. We watched a couple of movies, occasionally lifting the window shade to peer out for changes.

It wasn't until after the landing gear came down that we finally got a glimpse of the ground below. We flew past and away from the edge of the giant cloud that had enshrouded the whole east coast. Suddenly we had a view under a bright blue sky of the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel . A peek out of the window on the opposite Argentinean side showed us to be at the same level and very near to some very steep mountains. Something didn't seem right. On our side, we were way up in the air. On the other side, we were way too low. It did not seem possible that the mountains on our right had enough room to end in the space under the plane. The mountains backed away a little, a small Mesa appeared on our side and, bam! We were on the ground. The pilot did not even try for a smooth landing as he did not have the luxury of enough runway to do so. Everybody clapped.

We collected our luggage and were heading out to hail a cab when we saw someone holding a card with our names. It turns out G Adventures sent a ride for us anyway, even though we were technically a day early. A short ride later and we were deposited at the Albatros Hotel right in the middle of town.

We dumped our bags and immediately headed down to the front desk to order a cab to take us to the Martial Glacier. I had originally intended to walk there since the map indicated that it was just at the edge of town, but we wanted to be sure we got back by dark. {Maryanne: in other words, I gave him 'that look' when he suggested walking}

Ushuaia was a little bit bigger than I thought. I was glad we weren't on foot, although I did feel a bit lazy as our cab passed hikers on the switchbacks to the top.

At the top was supposed to be a ski lift that would take us to the trailheads going farther up the mountain. We went in to ask about it and the guy inside told us it hadn't been running for two years now. No problem! We'll walk.

The trail started on the wide swath that made up the former ski slope. It had been unmaintained since the lift closed, but since nature moves slowly at this high latitude, it looked like it had closed more recently.

We neared the top of the tree line and started to see glimpses of the majesty beyond peeking through the vegetation. There was a big, u-shaped glacial valley that started in the foreground as a river flowing through a mossy field. It curved upwards to ring of bare scree above which precariously clung fields of snow and ice. Farther up was a ring of cliffs with jagged tops that wove their way in and out of a clinging mist.

Since we were short on time, I made the goal of climbing above the tree line and making our way over to a viewpoint that was said to overlook Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. Maryanne (yes, my Maryanne) was convinced that wouldn't take too long, so she suggested we try to get as far as we could up the much longer and harder trail leading up to the main glacier before finishing with the viewpoint on the way down. Her reasoning for starting with the glacier was that it was facing away from the sun so would be the first to lose the light.

We climbed clear of the trees just after passing the top of the derelict ski lift. The trail followed the river and then could be seen in the far distance breaking off and traversing the slope at a forty-degree incline before disappearing behind a small ridge in the vicinity of what appeared to be our target glacier.

We had only been out in the open for a minute or two before we encountered our first williwaw. The Wiiliwaw is the name for the local katabatic wind, similar to the Greek Meltemi or the Italian Tramontana. Air along the slopes cools, in this case with the help of glaciers, and then races downward picking up speed. Sailing stories of vessels passing through the region are rife with stories of boats getting knocked down (when the mast hits the water) by sudden williwaws before the crew had time to reef. The Tierra del Fuego/Cape Horn parts of the stories of circumnavigations or voyages of discovery are invariably the most gripping and fraught with the dangers of powerful nature dispensing humility to even the bravest, most experienced mariners sailing the stoutest ships.

One moment it was dead calm and then the next, a blast of cold wind would try to take us off our feet. We hunched into it. Every time we would take a step, the leg not planted on the ground would get blown away from the path. This would go on for two minutes or so and then it would stop just as suddenly, returning us to a nice summer day. We had twenty or so episodes of this by the time we reached the end of the path at the base of a big expanse of slushy snow and ice.

Even though it had been a tough trek, the views of the city, the channel and the mountains on the Chilean side were totally worth it. {Maryanne: it wasn't that bad - only a couple of hours of actual walking - and a great choice to fill our arrival day}

What an amazing thing it was to be stood on a rock looking down at the Beagle Channel after having read so many dramatic accounts of the place.

At 54° South, Ushuaia is 5,000 to 7,000 miles south of our "normal" latitudes of 30° to 50° North. There are a lot of places on the beaten path that are separated by this range of distance. Most of the cities in North America and Europe are approximately this removed from one another. The thing is, If you flew from San Francisco to Paris, you could just keep going and find yourself in Moscow or New Delhi. Do it again and you could be in Tokyo or Sydney. Stop in Hawai'i and before you know it, you're back in San Francisco. In this way, most places, even far away places, feel like they are on the way to places even farther still.

To get to Ushuaia, though, it is necessary to turn 90° and leave the beaten path behind. Beyond Buenos Aires and Santiago, roughly at the same latitude as Cape Town and Sydney, the major cities of the world are left behind and what is left of civilization exists almost entirely on another thousand miles of increasingly narrow and inhospitable land that terminates humanity's cul-de-sac at Ushuaia. Down here, they call it "El Fin de Mundo"- "The End of the World". It really does feel like it, like all of humankind is far behind us except for a hearty few perched in this place on the farthest tip of the planet.

We have been planning to come here for a very long time. Even so, it seemed astonishing and unreal to finally find ourselves actually in this place, bracing against williwaws and crunching through the dirt of Tierra del Fuego as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It isn't, though. It's an amazing, incredible thing to be able to do.

We are constantly looking at each other in wonder and disbelief, not only in the beauty of the place, but just in the fact that we are actually here. We get that feeling a lot with our travels. You'd think we'd get used to it, but we never do.

After leaving the trails, we shared a cab back into town with an Irish woman in her twenties who had been hiking all over South America for months. It seems like we are about to start meeting a lot of people who spent months travelling around South America.

We swung by a grocery store for some provisions before heading to a restaurant for dinner. We were served by a genial waiter in a bow tie. Bow tied waiters at the end of the earth... astonishing. We were pretty hungry, so we ordered a lot. We hadn't yet learned that portion sizes around here are geared towards super fit mountain climbers with super fast metabolisms. We left feeling Thanksgiving stuffed, wishing that we had ordered for one and then split it. Fortunately, getting back to the hotel required only a two-block waddle.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


[Maryanne]Work has been crazy busy and I've been working 12 hour days for weeks, with the occasional weekend work on top of that; I was so happy and excited to be headed off on a 3 week vacation - one that we'd planned for years - yay!!!

[Kyle]We arrived at the Buenos Aires, Argentina airport stiff and tired from the 10-hour flight from Houston. The flight to get us further south is inexplicably scheduled a couple of hours before our international flight arrived in Ezieza. This left us needing a hotel, but without time to explore Buenos Aires, we picked one close to the airport to minimize travel time an maximize rest time before an early morning flight.

Selecting a cab when arriving at a new airport can be anxiety producing; you can be swarmed by locals offering 'taxi' as soon as you leave immigration, but we stuck with the easy route and just pulled up at one of the outside stands and verified we could pay in $US.

The cab driver turned out to be quite the entrepreneur - he offered us tours of the city (and any other place we wanted), on line Spanish lessons, and money exchange. We attempted gratitude while decline all 'for now', but really we were too exhausted and excited to focus. It turned out the exchange rate he was offering was pretty good... but ... too late after the fact. But he did also give us a bit of background about the area we were staying in, aside from the airport it is also Polo club territory, where many of the city elite have second homes. For us it was simply a place to rest up while waiting for the following flight onwards.

The hotel ended up being in a (modern) Medieval-Italian-themed self-contained shopping plaza - with restaurants, boutique stores and high end fashion stores (our driver explained that not only was the area the hub for the Polo Set, but also where Many of the richer Buenos Aires residents kept a get-a-way home). While the complex we found ourselves in was totally fake, it was a really pleasant and easy place to spend the few hours we had. We ambled around and sourced breakfast, and lunch provisions (from bakeries and delicatessens) and a cute Rosé Malbec from the wine store (it seems that 90% of the wine on the shelves here is some form of Malbec).

Scenes from our stop over - Maryanne found a cook shop, and we ate well from the restaurants and delicatessens at this pretty Medieval mall

Despite little sleep on the flight, we were also hungry so we decided to eat a late lunch/early dinner in one of the restaurants available; we were pretty much between meals I wasn't sure if it was open, Maryanne encouraged me in and it turned out to be open with friendly staff and great food.

We returned to our room for a quick nap, woke up later than expected (just as the last light was leaving) and broke into our supplies for 'dinner' and were asleep again within an hour. Poor Maryanne was so exhausted that she managed to sleep through all my clank and clatter as I packed and cleared up ready for an early departure.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Catching up on the last year...

[Kyle]It's been a while since we've posted anything. Ostensibly, it's because we haven't been doing much in the way of travel or cruising with Begonia. The real reason is that we've just been really busy and it's been hard to carve away some time to write.

Here's some of what we've been up to since we arrived in San Francisco towards the end of 2014:

An birthday treat - a cruise around the bay aboard the Potomac

We arrived shortly before Maryanne's birthday, and were lucky enough to be invited on a tour/cruise of the Potomac by Hugh (one of the marina residents). The potomac is a metal motor boat - once the presidential yacht under Roosevelt, and later owned by Elvis. While pretty basic, it was fascinating and a wonderful way to spend a birthday.

Getting to know Oakland

We both went back to working full time. Maryanne was unexpectedly first. I followed almost a month later, thanks so some signals getting crossed at my company about the end of my leave. This has us both away from the boat most of the time at our respective jobs. Weekends have been short, with what feels like little more time than necessary to complete the backlog of chores and errands that were pushed ahead from the busy work week.

Getting to know San Francisco

The first "Winter" in California was incredibly mild, which did make for some nice days. A persistent high pressure ridge diverted pretty much all of The season's nastiness to the north, leaving us with t-shirt and shorts weather most of the time.

We learned from some of the people at the marina that there was a Coast Guard approved Captain's course in the area that would allow us to meet all of the requirements locally.

We initially studied for our licenses many years before when we were still in Norfolk, Virginia, before we really set off cruising. The problem back then ended up being that we would have needed to drive several hours to Baltimore and Washington, DC on several different occasions in order to jump through the necessary hoops to get the license. That made it really impractical to try to do on weekends, so we eventually gave up on the idea.

In Oakland, everything can be done within a ten-mile radius. It was still a fairly big hassle, but now Maryanne and I are both officially licensed Captains who could technically charge for rides aboard Begonia, although we have no such plans. Getting the license was really just if we found ourselves wishing we had such capability sometime in the future "just in case".

Family Visits provided for some a wonderful memories

In the Spring, Maryanne's sister and father came for a visit from the UK. We enjoyed showing them our new city. Their visit coincided with the Strictly Sail Pacific boat show, which took place at our marina. We had to remove Begonia from her slip to make room for the show, which gave us the perfect excuse to kick up her heels with a bay tour on our way to her interim slip at Treasure Island.

Once we were there, my mom and brother joined the group and we all spent a couple of days in California's wine region for even more fun.

A change of scene as the boat moves to Treasure Island, separate visits from Darren and Warren, and a chance meeting with Catp'n Fatty Goodlander, all help with winter pass along

Maryanne volunteered for a day at the boat show while I was away at work. I was in Chicago in the snow when she sent me a picture of her and Cap'n Fatty Goodlander. Auuggh!! We have been hoping for years to cross paths - we almost did in Greece, but missed him. Now he was smiling into the camera with Maryanne and I was 1,800 miles away!

In late Spring, I was awarded a base transfer from Newark to Denver, making me the number three pilot there. This would take three and a half hours off my commute each way. I could go either to Oakland or San Francisco on various airlines and I would get to spend more time with my oldest friend Geoff, who lives there.

Alas, the next morning, not even twenty-four hours later, the company sent out a memo saying the Denver base would be closing within a few weeks. All bid awards were cancelled. On impulse, I put in a bid for the next closest Houston base, figuring it would at least save me a couple of hours each way.

It turned out to be a horrible mistake. Direct flights between Houston and San Francisco have an irritating tendency to fill way up in the last hours before departure. In four months, I only made it on a direct flight three times. The rest of the time, I had to two-leg it through various cities to get home. I ended up spending more time on my commute than I did to Newark. The schedules were worse as well, giving me fewer days away from work. I kept track and I was gone from the boat an average of 160 more hours per month. Yuck! I bid back to Newark again at the first opportunity. Even though it's a long way, I'm much happier there.

During the busy summer, we managed to get a few big boat jobs done in the little time we had. We replaced our cooktop and oven. The old cooktop was down to one functioning burner. The oven had so many rust holes in it that it wouldn't keep the heat in.

We replaced our trampoline with a stronger, more secure one. The new one came the size of a placemat and had to be stretched into place using a lot of purchase for mechanical advantage and then A LOT of brute force. We must have pulled every muscle in our bodies getting it in place. It's so much nicer to walk and lie on than the old one, though.

New sails, engine, windows, trampoline eventually are installed (along with cushions, mattresses and what seems like 101 other little jobs are completed)

New propulsion was next. First, we got a new set of sails, and then a month later we replaced our port engine with a re-manufactured one. The starboard was replaced a few years ago just before we bought Begonia, so now we have two low time engines.

After that, we had a go at replacing the big wraparound salon windows. We had new ones shipped in from France. We didn't feel confident enough to install them ourselves, so we arranged with an installer to do the job. They fell through, so Maryanne found another and then another, none of whom ever actually showed up. Defeated, we chugged our way up the steep learning curve of doing it ourselves. It was horrible work that took ages, particularly getting the old ones off, but we got the new ones on all by ourselves. The finished job looks pretty good and there are mercifully no leaks.

After all of the work on the boat, we decided to treat ourselves to some "us" time. Instead of resting, we took a strenuous four-day backpacking trip in one of the local parks along the Coast Range. We were testing out some new gear and refining some of the procedures we would use for longer excursions. The emphasis was on making the packs heavy and going over as many steep hills as possible, including the highest one in the park, as a counterbalance to the relatively short duration.

Some backpacking time in the hills

Notable on the hike were a couple of the creatures we encountered. The first was a rather largish looking black wasp with small, tattered wings. Maryanne spotted it poking it's way from one hole in the ground to another. It was completely unbothered by us and went about its business as if we weren't there.

The other we met as we were resting underneath a tree trying to escape the afternoon heat. We were chatting away when Maryanne suddenly grabbed my leg, lifted it in the air and told me not to move. Out from underneath me, a big tarantula slowly ambled its way over to a nearby patch of dry grass. It too, did not appear to be bothered by us.

Maryanne did exactly the right thing. Had she yelled, "Tarantula!" or "Spider!", I probably would have put my leg down as the first step in jumping up. That would have surely got me bitten. That thing was as big as my hand, too.

After we got home, Maryanne looked up the wasp and discovered that it was a fearsome creature known as a Tarantula Hawk. Apparently, it hunts tarantulas. Entomologists that study it have observed that it wins battles with the much bigger spiders over 99% of the time. It turns out that it also has the most painful sting of any insect. The next most painful is supposed to be the Bullet Ant, named so because it's sting feels like getting shot. The only good thing about being stung by a Tarantula Hawk is that it won't actually kill you even though it feels like it will for about three hours. Advice from those who have been stung is to immediately lie down as it gives you fewer things to run into and fall off of once the writhing starts. I'm glad the thing wasn't aggressive. Not knowing all of that information at the time would have made for a very frightening experience had one of us been stung.

We were sufficiently sore and limpy after that excursion to be in need of some actual fun. For that, we were fortunate enough to be able to meet up with our good friends Kate and Mark for the California part of their vacation. We met them in Santa Monica at their fancy hotel, joined them for a couple of days and then headed north. We spent some time in the Bay Area, including a day sailing aboard Begonia. We then spent the next weekend in wine country sampling and enjoying incredible views. We got there by driving up the Pacific Coast Highway in a rented convertible. It was just about the most perfect vacation ever!

Tagging along with Kate and Mark on their wonderful adventure through California

I had some more time off the following month, so I spent my time doing a little bit of everything while Maryanne went back to her job. My brother Darren and I drove up to visit our dad in Oregon for a couple of days. When we got back, I immediately hit the trail for four days of solo backpacking with an even heavier load than I had the last time. Maryanne and I took a long weekend to attend her sister Sarah's wedding in Sandwich, England before heading to my mother's house in Arizona for a few days of being spoiled and catching up.

A great trip to the UK for Maryanne's Sister's wedding and family catch-up

On to Arizona for more great family time

Some time outdoors

Brining in the new year aboard KiwiCat

The busy air travel season is now in full swing, so I'm back at work again with little time for much else. Maryanne's job finally gave her approval to work overtime, so she's been putting away as many hours as she can in one last push to get the cruising kitty as fat as possible before we both have to try to live off of it. We are missing our time together, but it helps to know it's only for a short while.

I suppose it's a good time for it. Winter is cold and dark. It would be harder to be doing nothing but work in the glorious days of summer. We are both looking forward to the upcoming year.