Archive for the ‘Flying’ Category

Ushuaia, Argentina – The End of the World

February 12th, 2010 at 6:22 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Yesterday morning, Thursday, February 11, 2010, was really the start of our Antarctic expedition with Lindblad Expeditions aboard their vessel, the National Geographic Explorer.

We're in the right line for our flight from Santiago to Ushuaia

We're in the right line for our flight from Santiago to Ushuaia

Approximately 140 of us set forth from our hotel in Santiago, Chile to catch a LAN Chile charter plane to Ushuaia, Argentina. “Ushuaia” is pronounced “Ush-why-ah”, in case you were curious.

It was a nearly four hour flight, taking us past incredible views of the Andes mountain range for most of the flight. I should add that all of our worries about the 17.6 pound carry-on limit appeared to be completely unfounded, resulting in needless stress and grey hair for me. Since the flight was a charter flight the carry-on weight limit was ignored, but a few bags were checked for size. Overheads were overflowing however.

Glacial lakes seen from our plane - photo by fellow passenger Bob Reichart

Glacial lakes seen from our plane - photo by fellow passenger Bob Reichart

Volcano peak in the Andes seen from our plane

Volcano peak in the Andes seen from our plane

Regarding Ushuaia, it is the southern most town in South America, never mind Argentina, and located on an island in the Tierra del Fuego (Lands of Fire – based on early explorers seeing Indian-made fires and smoke on the cliffs) archipelago. The locals refer to Ushuaia as the “Fin del Mundo” or “End of the Earth”. Ushuaia is also one of the key embarkation points for cruises to the Antarctic, which is why we were heading there – to meet up with our ship.

The view from the Ushuaia international airport - beautiful mountain scapes

The view from the Ushuaia international airport - beautiful mountain scapes

The town of Ushuaia has a whopping 70,000 inhabitants, many of whom are there to take advantage of extremely high salaries (triple the going rate elsewhere in Argentina) which the Argentinean government subsidizes (along with very favorable tax savings for large employers and manufacturers) to encourage settlement in this remote area. Buenos Aires and Santiago are both about four hours away by plane, and driving to Buenos Aires is a four or five day effort across roads that aren’t always that great.

The region is incredibly mountainous, but at the same time surrounded by ocean, creating some incredible vistas, mostly forested with several different species of native beech trees.

We learned that over the years the government has tried to introduce various species of animals to the area in order to generate both food and revenue sources. Among the introduced species were rabbits, reindeer, and beavers. Rabbits have thrived, while reindeers were eaten by the humans to the point of eradication.

One of several introduced species to the area - a rabbit

One of several introduced species to the area - a rabbit

The beaver introduction is interesting. Apparently Canadian beavers were introduced in the hopes of creating a thriving beaver fur industry, but not enough research was done on how beaver fur gets lush. It turns out that beaver fur grows best in climates where it gets very cold in the winter and temperate in the summer. But in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago it does not get cold enough to encourage heavy pelt growth, so the beaver pelts they harvested here were of mediocre quality at best, and not particularly sellable. However, by the time they discovered this, the beavers had gotten firmly entrenched and now are responsible for destruction of countless beech trees which cannot survive in the flooded plains the beaver dams create.

Bas and Linda on a footbridge in the national park

Bas and Linda on a footbridge in the national park

Upon our arrival at the Ushuaia airport, we were whisked away in three buses to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. After a scenic, guided ride through the park where the history of Ushuaia and the ecology of the area was explained, we got off for a short walk to board a couple of large motor powered catamarans for lunch and a cruise on the Beagle Channel, named after the Beagle – the ship in which Charles Darwin first visited these waters.

A nature moment in Tierra del Fuego

A nature moment in Tierra del Fuego

Krystyana about to board the catamaran for our afternoon water tour

Krystyana about to board the catamaran for our afternoon water tour

We encounter amazing views, saw the virtual boundary between Chile and Argentina, and even had our first aquatic wildlife sightings along the way, all accompanied by very brisk, cold air (relative to Santiago, anyhow).

An Antarctic Sea Lion with a seagull near Ushuaia

An Antarctic Sea Lion with a seagull near Ushuaia

A flock of Antarctic cormorants with some gulls near Ushuaia

A flock of Antarctic cormorants with some gulls near Ushuaia

Our journey ended in the harbor of Ushuaia, where we came upon our home for the next three weeks – the National Geographic Explorer, owned and operated by Lindblad Expeditions.

Three freighters at dock behind the National Geographic Explorer in Ushuaia

Three freighters at dock behind the National Geographic Explorer in Ushuaia

We spot the National Geographic Explorer for the first time - our home for the next three weeks

We spot the National Geographic Explorer for the first time - our home for the next three weeks

It should be mentioned that Lars-Eric Lindblad, the founder of Lindblad Expeditions, was the first person to run commercial tourism expeditions to the Antarctic region, around a half century ago (1964), and his son Sven-Olof has continued with such expedition efforts, ever improving the adventure while at the same time working to preserve the ecology of areas visited.

Lindblad Expeditions was also a founding member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators), whose purpose is to insure safe, responsible, environmentally sensitive tourism in the fragile ecosystem of Antarctica.

Once settled aboard the National Geographic Explorer – we’re in a spacious stateroom at the stern end of the vessel, while the kids are in a regular stateroom located in the middle of the Explorer – we all participated in a mandatory safety drill in the unlikely event of an emergency onboard.

We also all loaded up on seasickness medicine in anticipation of a potentially tumultuous ride through the roughest waters in the world – the Drake Passage. More on that later, though.

After some more orientation and a pleasant dinner, we retired, enjoying the wonderful view from our balcony.

Our wake as seen from our stateroom on the National Geographic Explorer as we head east out of the Beagle Channel

Our wake as seen from our stateroom on the National Geographic Explorer as we head east out of the Beagle Channel

More photos from this day are at my Flickr photo sharing page. A map showing where the photos were taken can be found here.

I will post

 

GPS Tracking – Santiago, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina

February 11th, 2010 at 8:57 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We left our hotel in Santiago, Chile at 7am this morning to go to the airport, where a private charter flight provided by LAN Chile took us to Ushuaia, Argentina. We spent the afternoon in the Ushaia area before boarding our ship. We are presently heading towards Cape Horn and the Drake Passage.

Internet connection is workable from the ship at present, so I will try and get a story and a few photos up tonight.

Below is our GPS Track from Sanitiago to Ushuaia up until the point we boarded the National Geographic Explorer.

 

GPS Tracking – Bogota, Colombia to Santiago, Chile

February 7th, 2010 at 11:39 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Our Avianca flight from Bogota to Santiago was a bit bumpy right after take off, but otherwise smooth. We all caught some sleep during the four and a half hour trip. Interesting to discover was that Bogota is in Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5), while Santiago is in Atlantic Daylight time (GMT-4 less an hour for summer daylight savings since it’s summer time here in the southern hemisphere now). Bonaire and Aruba are both in Atlantic Standard Time year round.

We were met by our guide Pablo and our driver Patricio and taken to our hotel where we caught an early breakfast and then slept until noon local time. This afternoon Pablo is taking us on a three hour private tour of Santiago.

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GPS Tracking – Aruba to Bogota

February 6th, 2010 at 9:23 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

I wasn’t expecting to post anything today, but we stumbled across an American Airlines Admiral’s Club at the Eldorado Airport here in Bogota, Colombia, where they have free Internet access. It’s good to be a club member!

Didn’t do much in Aruba other than eat and relax today, and escaped just in time before the roads were closed for the Carnival Light Parade tonight.

Below is our GPS track information for the flight. The altitude tracking did not did work properly for this track, so I’m not including it (it has a maximum altitude of 8000 feet, which seems to imply that it is measuring altitude by a pressure sensor and not GPS – 8000 feet is the typical pressure of an aircraft cabin).

We leave Bogota in a couple of hours. Next stop: Santiago.

 

From Bonaire to the Antarctic by Way of Aruba

February 5th, 2010 at 10:30 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Today was day 1 of our five week journey to visit the Antarctic region. As we live on the small Caribbean island of Bonaire, a mere 12 degrees or so north of the equator, we’re actually already a lot closer to the Antarctic than perhaps any of the other people we will be meeting in Santiago for our group trip. But being closer does not mean it’s any easier to get to southern South America.

After researching our options, which including the possibility of flying four or five hours all the way up to the U.S. only to fly all the way back south, or the option of having a 15 hour connection in Guayaquil, Ecuador or Quito, Ecuador, we found that we could fly relatively painlessly from neighboring Aruba (only 80 miles west of Bonaire) to Santiago, Chile. From a travel time and hassle perspective, never mind price, this ended up being the best option.

The Traveling Richters at the Bonaire airport with 8 pieces of luggage and four carry-ons

The Traveling Richters at the Bonaire airport with 8 pieces of luggage and four carry-ons

What we didn’t count on was the challenge of getting all four of us and our luggage to Aruba from Bonaire. The problem is that the only planes that fly between islands are all relatively small and that means they too have luggage restrictions. After researching those options last month we finally settled on Tiara Air, which offers a roundtrip flight several times a week between Bonaire and Aruba, non-stop between the islands. We were able to arrange a deal where we purchased two additional seats (for a total of six) to ensure that we would not have to pay additional luggage fees, and a guarantee that all of our luggage would make it on the flight. The only downside was that we could only fly today, and could not change tomorrow’s flight from Aruba to Santiago, so we had to schedule an overnight in Aruba.

Our Tiara Air flight from Bonaire to Aruba - a Short 360-100 aircraft

Our Tiara Air flight from Bonaire to Aruba - a Short 360-100 aircraft

Tiara Air came through for us today, and we greatly appreciate it. The Short 360-100 aircraft they use for the flight is comfortable enough, although a bit tight for people with long legs, and the flight was quite smooth and short (45 minutes).

Aerial view of Kralendijk, Bonaire with a cruise ship in port

Aerial view of Kralendijk, Bonaire with a cruise ship in port

We arrive in Aruba at aircraft pad 13, where a bus takes us to the terminal

We arrive in Aruba at aircraft pad 13, where a bus takes us to the terminal

Once we arrived in Aruba, we grabbed our luggage, headed to our hotel in nearby Oranjestad, checked in and then went out in search for lunch. We found our meal right next door to our hotel at a place called “Cafe The Plaza”. The food quality and service was reasonable, but nothing really exciting.

After that we went out to find a pair of closed toed waterproof slip-ons for Bas, as he had outgrown his old set of Crocs. It took more than a half dozen beach-oriented stores to find a pair of Croc knock offs that fit him and were not in an offensive color (e.g. pink). He ended up with blue ones, as that was the only color available in his size.

As we wandered about in search of the shoes, we started noticing an over-abundance of jewelry stores. By my estimation, in the half hour of wandering we did to find the shoes and return to our hotel, we saw at least 15 jewelry stores. We were completely dumbfounded at how it might be possible for all of them to survive with such competition. I guess there’s a lot of loose money floating around here from somewhere.

Getting back to our room Linda discovered that both of the pairs of polarized Oakley sunglasses she had purchased in Chicago last summer were missing from her luggage, and while she believes this was a nefarious deed, we found nothing else missing. So, we ran out to a nearby sunglass shop and bought her some replacement glasses. She’ll need them when looking at ice, snow, and icebergs in about a week.

Linda buys two new sets of polarized sunglasses to replace the ones she can't find in the luggage

Linda buys two new sets of polarized sunglasses to replace the ones she can't find in the luggage

We capped off the evening with a couple of rousing games of Five Crowns, and dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant (which employed only South Americans and Filipinos) by the name of Sushi-ya. Nice meal!

Dinner at Sushi-ya - we had the 'Sashimi de-luxe'

Dinner at Sushi-ya - we had the 'Sashimi de-luxe'

All the selected photos from the day (which includes those above and a number more) have been uploaded to my Flickr page.

I will mention that I probably will not be writing as detailed daily commentaries as this one once we’re further south due to time and bandwidth restrictions, and that will also, in turn, limit the number of photos I can share. So please don’t expect huge daily missives from us, but if you get aone occasionally, enjoy!

The next post will probably be late on Sunday after we’ve arrived in Santiago and spent the day out and about.

 

GPS Tracking – Bonaire to Aruba

February 5th, 2010 at 9:50 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

In order to make it easier to follow our current journey, I will be post our GPS tracking information as a separate post from any commentary or pictures.

Here is our first GPS track – flying from Bonaire to Aruba and spending the rest of the day in Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. And since we tracked via GPS while in flight, I have included an altitude chart too. Remember, you can zoom in on the map and also click the red light bulb icons to see more details about those particular waypoints.

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