As I mentioned earlier, our expedition aboard the Ocean Nova started in Ushuaia, Argentina. It is not the easiest place in the world to get to, so I hope this post helps you out a bit if you ever go there.
First Stop: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Most people fly to Buenos Aires first, then catch a connecting flight to Ushuaia. Fortunately for us, Air Canada has a flight from Toronto to Buenos Aires via Santiago, Chile. So the first leg of our trip was going to be the easy part.
At Pearson Airport in Toronto, the Air Canada agent weighed our checked-in baggage and they were just under 23kg each, so no worries there. My ThinkTank Airport Ultralight V2.5 Backpack with camera gear (carry on) weighed just over 13kg, but since the bag is pretty compact, no one seemed to care about it. We boarded the flight with no extra fees incurred 🙂
With the exception of a flight attendant with a major attitude problem (she seemed to think that helping passengers was a major inconvenience and not in her
union job description), we had a pretty uneventful flight. International flights into Buenos Aires land at Ezeiza Airport (EZE), about a 45 minute taxi ride (about $USD 40.00) from the city centre. One thing to note is that upon landing at Ezeiza Airport, Canadian, US and Australian citizens must pay a “reciprocity fee” to the Argentine government. Since we are Canadian, we were charged $USD 70.00 per person. It varies for other nationalities.
We could not get a connecting flight on the same day, so we had to overnight in Buenos Aires. Just as well as we were pretty tired and wanted to get something decent to eat (the term, “airline cuisine“, is an oxymoron) and go to bed early.
I use Trip Advisor when looking for accommodation (they have a great iPad/iPhone app too). I appreciate the fact that actual hotel guests write the reviews and to date, I have had nothing but good experiences with the highly rated accommodation that I have found on this site.
We arrived in the evening and stayed at the Duque Hotel in Palermo, a small boutique hotel and spa. It is in a word: most excellent (OK, that is two words). I have nothing but great things to say about our stay there and highly recommend this hotel in you are ever in Buenos Aires. You can read the hotel reviews and see for yourself.
Where’s The Beef?
Argentina is world famous for its beef, so the hotel staff suggested we go to Don Julio for some fine steaks and wine. It is a 4+ star restaurant and the prices are extremely reasonable. For two
large, juicy, succulent, tender, properly aged, grass fed steaks, a fine bottle of Argentine Malbec, mineral water, appetizers, salad, two side dishes and dessert, the final bill was under $USD 80.00 including a modest gratuity. I could never get a meal like that for two people in Canada at that price. Both the food and service were fantastic (do I have drool on my face?).
I am going to dream about this meal for years to come.
We got a good night’s rest and after breakfast, headed to the airport for our domestic connection to Ushuaia. BTW, the domestic airport, Jorge Newbery Aeroparque (AEP), is close to the city centre and our hotel (a $USD 12.00 taxi ride). Unfortunately, it was closed for repair, so we were forced to fly out of the international airport, Ezeiza (EZE).
Areolineas Argentinas (Areolineas)
Areolineas has an “interesting” reputation when it comes to domestic Argentine flights. They are a force unto themselves. A few people have a good experience with them, and everyone else, well, let’s just say they had a “challenging” time.
Most of the feedback I heard/read about this airline prior to departing for our trip was not good. Common complaints I heard were:
This feedback did not inspire much confidence in me. Aerolineas had actually changed/cancelled our flight about a dozen times over an eight month period before we left Canada. I was worried.
We arrived at the airport two hours early and check-in was pretty chaotic.
stuff place small photography items (such as batteries, filters, memory cards, etc.) in my coat pockets to help reduce my carry on baggage weight (hey, at $USD 12.00 per kilo, it adds up very quickly!). I also took a Nikon D3 body out of my carry on bag and attached a lens to it… apparently, you can go through security with a camera around your neck and it does not count as carry on baggage.
After I did that, my wife informed me that I looked dorkier than usual.
The Moment Of Truth
After queuing for 30 minutes, we finally made it to the Aerolineas check-in agent and I greeted her with my only Spanish word, “Hola!” (OK, I also know “cerveza” and “vino tinto”). She looked on her computer monitor at our reservation and then asked me (I think) to put our bags on the scale.
She didn’t even look at the scale. She didn’t care about the weight.
Our bags were tagged to Ushuaia and a really big guy grabbed them and put them on the conveyor belt behind the counter. We were handed our boarding passes and she told me something in Spanish. I think it was either:
We were on our way with no extra fees. Inconceivable.
Our flight departed about 30 minutes late and we had to make an unexpected landing in El Calafate and wait there for 2 hours due to high winds in Ushuaia. That obviously was not the airlines fault. We arrived 3 hours late, but we did arrive safely and the overall experience was actually fairly painless.
As an aside – several people on our expedition were not so lucky having their Areolineas flights cancelled and being stranded for a least a day or two – both going to, and returning home from Ushuaia.
I guess we got lucky.
Next Stop: The End Of The Civilized World (Ushuaia)
Ushuaia is the capital of the Argentine province, Tierra del Fuego and a city of about 70,000 people. Its claim to fame is that it is the most southern city in the world, although Puerto Williams in Chile (across the Beagle Channel) seems to now have that distinction. A local had told us that Ushuaia’s population had doubled in the past 10 years due to tourism (local and Antarctic) and oil exploration in the area. She didn’t seem too happy that the city had changed so much.
Given all of the stories we had heard about Aerolineas, we decided to arrive a couple days early just in case we were delayed getting here. Since we had a little free time on our hands as we arrived on schedule, we checked out the town a bit and relaxed at our hotel. There are quite a few tourist shops, restaurants, hotels and tour operators in the city. It seems that tourism is really thriving in Ushuaia (there a couple national parks and it is not that far from Patagonia) and it has made quite a name for itself in Antarctic expeditions.
There were lots of colourful murals and things to see around town. The following did get my attention though:
Do you notice something odd with that penguin on the far right?
Quark includes one night accomodation (prior to the departure date) at a local hotel as part of your expedition fee. It was good, but nothing out of the ordinary, so I won’t bother commenting on it further.
Before boarding the Ocean Nova in the afternoon for our expedition, we had a little more time to look around Ushuaia. Here are a couple of shots of the Ocean Nova in port:
The Ocean Nova accommodates 73 passengers and 38 crew members which is important – when you go ashore in Antarctica, the tour operator cannot allow more than 100 people at a time to be on land. That meant all of the passengers could go ashore at the same time. I did not know that prior to boarding the ship.
It is one of the smallest vessels in the Quark fleet which was to our advantage: we could sail into shallow bays and small coves/fjords that larger vessels couldn’t venture into. It also has a unique gangway that made getting into/out of the zodiacs much easier. You can see it here:
We were shown to our cabins (3m x 3.6m – more on that later) upon boarding the ship and then issued our Wellington boots and parkas. My Antarctic wardrobe was now complete.
After I took my sea sickness medication, the ship’s first officer proceeded to give us a mandatory lifeboat and evacuation drill. As he was speaking, I could feel myself getting “woozy” and everything started to get brighter. I guess I will find out soon enough if this medication works.
If you look at the following image, we’re quite the motley looking group, eh? I wonder what the penguins will think of us when they see a bunch of bright yellow parkas coming toward them?
I also wonder if penguins can laugh?
Departure time has come and we are leaving Ushuaia through the Beagle channel. Here is another shot of Ushuaia from the ship:
As you will find out in time, I love black and white (B&W) photography. I spent much of my youth inhaling photographic chemical fumes in my darkroom as I have developed thousands of B&W images. Ansel Adams is one of my heros… I just love his B&W landscape images.
Here is the above shot converted to B&W in Lightroom and modified using the channel mixer (look Ma, no chemicals!):
We have a pilot on board so that we don’t hit anything in the Beagle Channel that we are not supposed to… that is a very good thing. We were also warned to secure everything in our cabins, for when we get out into the open ocean, you don’t want things flying around in your room in the event we experience some inclement weather. Apparently the Ocean Nova’s return to port that morning was really rough, so we were told to expect rough sailing for next day or two.
The clouds and sun put on quite a light show for our departure. There is an old sailing superstition – you should never look back to where you left. Obviously I ignored it.
So, we are finally on our way to Antarctica! It has taken a lot of time and planning to get here and I am really excited about our expedition.
Please support this website! Purchasing cameras, lenses, books and other items from our sponsors (Amazon.com and B&H Photo) using the links provided on this website does not cost you any more than purchasing items directly from them. It helps us keep all of the content on this site available for free.