Violence in Buenos Aires Airport

We dodged a bullet this week!  Apparently there was violence in the international airport in Buenos Aires on Saturday because of a baggage handler´s strike. Frustrated passengers smashed a ticket counter and threw things at employees. Not to mention that most of their flights were cancelled on Friday and Saturday.

We flew through Buenos Aires on both Thursday (the day before the strike) and on Sunday (the day afterwards).  Although we did fly via the domestic airport, which is many miles away from the international airport.

Here is a news article on it: http://www.aero-news.net/index.cfm?ContentBlockID=6a8e6f22-3124-4776-99c8-4e84a1d70277

Day in Ushuaia

The weather here changes faster than it does in Portland!  Woke up this morning and it was a bit cloudy, but nice.  Went to breakfast and when we were coming back it was suddenly pouring rain!  Then it stopped, then it started again.

So instead of going hiking somewhere, we just headed downtown and spent the day shopping and wandering around.  Ushuaia has an amazing number of flowers, especially lupins (which are HUGE and of all kinds of colors), foxgloves, poppies, and scotch broom.

Finally found a t-shirt I liked.  I only brought 2 t-shirts with me because of the aformentioned luggage limits, and I figured I would buy one or two while here.  Of course, I mainly needed t-shirts for Buenos Aires and for Iguazu Falls, where it was very hot! From now on, I´m probably mainly wearing silk underwear and fleece.  But I bought it anyway.

Ushuaia

So we arrived in Ushuaia tonight, got our luggage, took a taxi to the hotel, settled in, had dinner (yum!) and then went out for a walk, getting back to the hotel around 11:30pm — just as it was starting to get dark!

Cindy had ravioli stuffed with Fuegan lamb (Fuegan meaning from Tierra del Fuego) and I had a pork chop in orange sauce with ratatouille vegetables.  And calafate ice cream for dessert!

Much colder and windier here than at Iguazu!  Really beautiful place, surrounded by craggy mountains and wind-swept water.  And the hotel we are staying in is really nice.  Looks handmade out of wood, with all kinds of cute details.  And dinner in the hotel was excellent.

Gotta get some sleep now so we can go sightseeing tomorrow.

Flying

I should have blogged about this before, but I was still gathering information.  Before we left for this trip, we had heard stories about the Argentine Airline.  Not just about how they like to lose luggage, or that they steal stuff out of your luggage, but also that they only allow you 15kg of checked luggage total. That´s about 33 pounds, which is not a whole lot of stuff if you are trying to pack for a trip where you will experience temperatures above 105 degrees F and way below freezing.  But we managed.  Between Cindy and me, we were able to get our checked luggage down to 27kg (which allows us to buy a few very light things on the trip!).  Apparently they are merciless about the weight limit, and charge $5 per kilo for anything overweight.  Since we have a bunch of flights, overcharges would really add up for us.

Then, when I got my final confirmation from the airline, it not only repeated the 15kg limit for checked luggage, but also said that there was a 5kg limit for carry-on luggage. Yikes!  I´ve already mentioned my camera equipment, and you can bet that weighs more than 5kg.  We though the 7kg limit on our flight several years ago to NZ was insanely low, but 5kg?  No way.

Meanwhile, several people had warned us that there was very little space on flights for carry-on luggage, so they might make you check some stuff.  Check my camera equipment?  Over my dead body maybe.

So I was worried.  But I need not have.  Nobody ever cared about our carryon luggage, and we have been on 3 different internal flights and there has always been about the same amount of carry-on space as on a typical flight in the US.  So no problem with that.

Speaking of flying, today was our big day of flying.  We left Iguazu Falls, up in the far north of Argentina this morning, flew to Buenos Aires, then flew from there to El Calafate and finally to Ushuaia.  Way too many chances for them to lose our luggage.  This is why we booked our flight to Ushuaia a day early — to give our luggage a chance to catch up with us if necessary.  We´ve heard at least two stories where people had to buy a bunch of clothes (including expensive parkas) the morning before the ship left because of their luggage not making it in time.

Again, not a problem.  We arrived in Ushuaia about an hour late (which seems about normal here) and our luggage was there too!

Of course, we have two more flights on Aerolineas Argentinas, so they still have a chance to lose something for us…

Iguazu Falls day 2

Well, it rained on and off today, and when it did rain it POURED! Luckily, it is still fairly warm, so the rain didn’t bother us too much, although we did get soaked a few times. Walked out to the “mouth of the devil” this morning, which was AMAZING! So much water crashing around you. Very cool. Just as we got there, it started pouring (of course). So everyone left. Then, after about 10 minutes, it stopped raining, so we had the place to ourselves. Well, and the little swifts that live in the rocks behind the waterfall (!).

We also took a half hour raft trip, and saw a caiman (small aligator-like animal), toucans, monkeys, and lots of other birds. Went on a walk later, and saw more coati, more toucans, and a capybara. Got some good photos and video footage.

Then we went back to our hotel and had our complimentary breakfast served in our room — at noon!  Made a good lunch. There must have been around 2 pounds of bacon with our eggs, plus fruit, cereal, juice, breads, etc.

I am totally loving my photo equipment. My new camera bag (a “speed freak” from Think Tank) is so handy. I wear it around front, so I can change lenses in a jiffy. And the waterproof video camera is great for video, and even still photos when it rains. No need to worry about it getting wet. And then there is my olympus SLR, which totally rocks. There were a half dozen “professional photographers” who would take your photo in front of the huge waterfall, and one of them came over and asked me about my lens (in spanish). I was using the 7-14mm ultra-wide-angle zoom, and he was very impressed by it and the photos it could take of the entire waterfall. He kept asking me about it.

Iguazu Falls

Greetings from Iguazu! As expected our flight this morning was delayed (a little over an hour, announced about 5 minutes before they were supposed to board the flight — sheesh!) but we made it, and so did our luggage! The argentine airline is known for losing luggage, so we were happy!

Once we arrived, we jumped in right away with a jetboat ride that took us right under the falls. And I do mean right under. We were DRENCHED! The company supplied waterproof bags so that you could save your camera and (for most folks, including us) your shoes and socks from getting soaked. We were still completely wet after the ride. Also did a 20 minute drive through the jungle. I got some good photos including lots of RAINBOWS!!! Then we came back to the room and took a nap. After that, did a late afternoon walk along the tops of the waterfalls until the park closed. 

A friend who visited here was worried that the falls might not have much water this time of year, but no worries. Apparently there really is not a rainy season here. The level of the falls just depends on how much rain has happened upstream lately. Today, we could not take the small ferry over to San Martin island. They weren’t running it because the water was too high! Hopefully tomorrow the water will be lower and we will be able to go there before we leave.

Got sunburned today, despite putting on sun block. Probably because it got washed off under the waterfall. Yikes! Will be more careful tomorrow.

I am very happy I have that waterproof video camera. Came in very handy during the jetboat ride.

Also, we have a “romance package” at the hotel here, and they keep feeding us! We had a plate of chocolates, fruit bowl, and other stuff waiting for us when we got back to our room last night, right after we had STUFFED ourselves at the buffet for dinner (didn’t have time earlier to eat breakfast, and had a fast and rather small lunch, so we were HUNGRY). Now we get free full breakfast delivered to our room! Too much food!

Taking lots of photos, but will be a while before I can sort through them and upload any. Good video of us under the waterfall of everyone in the boat getting wet!

Buenos Aires

Spent two nights in Buenos Aires, where it was HOT!  We aren’t sure, but the word is it was over 105 degrees!  Nevertheless, we managed to walk around town a bit, eat empanadas, and of course eat a huge argentine steak.  They have the best beef here!  We even had a hamburger, and it was amazing, like no other hamburger you have ever had.  I should mention that we ate it at a 5 star hotel (the only one in latin america).

It took us no time at all to get into the Argentine sense of time.  They don’t eat dinner here until around 11pm (even full families eat then), then usually go dancing until all hours.  Our second day here we slept until noon (but that might have been more about the red-eye flight we took the night before).

Then a bit of luck.  As we were leaving on our trip, the belt buckle on my money belt broke.  This is a nylon webbing belt with a plastic buckle, but it is handy as it also holds money.  But Argentina is known for leather goods, and we found a great leather money belt for about the same amount of money I paid for the crappy nylon one that broke. A nice coincidence.

Walked down to the Rio Plata, which is so wide you can barely see the other side of it, even though we are 300 km from the ocean.

Unfortunately, we never did find the time to dance the tango.  Oh well, maybe later in the trip.

Gannet Colony

Yesterday we took a trip out to the Gannet Colony.  Gannets are sea birds, related to boobies and cormorants (which they call shags in NZ).  To get there, we got on a trailer hitched to the back of a tractor, and went out along a beach for 9km.  The beach was rather narrow, with the ocean on one side and tall, steep, crumbly cliffs on the other.  In places, parts of the cliffs had fallen down and blocked the beach, so the tractor, with us in tow, went out into the ocean, splashing and slipping.  It was crazy fun.

You can only do this trip at low tide. At high tide the water is too deep and there isn’t enough beach for the tractors to go on. At one point the tractor even got stuck, and at another the driver had to get out with a pickaxe and break up a meter tall boulder so we could get through.

Then at the end we hiked up to the colony, with hundreds of birds.  Apparently this is one of the largest gannet colonies in the world.  If you’ve seen the movie “Winged Migration” (which you should!) gannets are the birds that dive into the water like arrows.  But there was no diving going on yesterday, mostly raising chicks.  This is near the end of the brooding season, and the chicks were teenagers getting ready to fly.  On their first flight, they take off for Australia.  The trip is so dangerous that 70 percent or more of them will not make it back to NZ to have their own chicks.

Pilgrim’s Progress

Well, we arrived in Wellington safe and sound. Spent two days there getting our stuff sorted out. We even had time for a walk on the beach, took in an art exhibition of fantastic photographs called the “Earth From Above” (see www.yannarthusbertrand.org), went for a walk in the bush (what they call forest), and had some wonderful meals. Now we are in Hawkes Bay, staying with friends in a cute house a block from the beach. Ahhhh!

Return Visit

This Sunday, Cindy and I fly back to New Zealand for a (too short) 3 week trip. We are going to sell the car that we left there, get our stuff, visit friends, and hopefully do a little sightseeing before returning home. Both Cindy and I are excited about visiting NZ again.

New look!

Well, I finally got sick and tired of all the blog comment spam. I had turned moderation of comments on, so you haven’t seen any of it, but in the last 48 hours I’ve received several hundred spam comments. This happens every week or so. PITA deleting each of them manually. So I upgraded the version of WordPress I am using to 1.5.1.3, and then for good measure installed Spam Karma 2. I’ve heard good things about it. Hopefully, this will make my life a bit easier. Thanks to the WordPress people for making upgrading so easy.

Hopefully, all you will notice is the new cool look! And the new search feature, of course.

Moving to NZ?

I recently received an email from someone who found our blog. He is moving to NZ and asked some questions about what he should do before he moves there. Some of the answers might be useful to other people who are moving to NZ, so here goes. I hope people find these tips useful:

Sign up for Vonage phone service and take the adapter box with you. This assumes that you have access to broadband Internet when you get over there. Buy a cheap caller-id phone and take it with you. Caller id is not all that common over there, so phones with that feature are pricey. Vonage supports caller-id, of course. And phones over there use a different connector than the RJ-11 used here (and on the Vonage box).

Vonage will allow you to call anywhere in the US and Canada for free (well, for a fixed $25/month). Very important if you are leaving friends and family behind in the US or Canada. Vonage to other countries is very cheap, too. In many cases, it was cheaper to call other cities in NZ using the Vonage phone, than using our NZ home phone!

You can also buy a Vonage adapter box from Linksys. That box works on 230v, so you won’t have to buy a new power adapter when you get there, and it is smaller and so easier to take with you. Buy.com has the Linksys adapter for $50, with a $50 rebate if you sign up for Vonage service.

Vonage worked well with DSL service from Telecom. Even Telecom at 64kbps worked fine. We tried it on one other DSL carrier (iHug) and had problems with latency. I haven’t tried any others.

If you are only going to have dial-up internet service, sign up for Skype instead. The quality is worse, but it works over dial-up. Skype now allows you to get a permanent phone number, so other people can call you.

Buy a tri-band GSM phone over here and take it with you. Make sure the charger works on 230 volts. When you get there, buy a Vodaphone SIM card and put it in the phone. Learn to love TXT messages. Everyone uses them. Actually talking on a mobile phone is NZ$0.49/minute, but a TXT message is only 20 cents.

Take some power plug adapters with you (to allow you to plug US style plugs into the NZ/Australian sockets). You can get them for cheap at Fry’s or other electronics stores. I never found 2-prong adapters over there at all, and 3 prong ones are huge (they block the other outlets on an outlet strip) and expensive. A few “cube taps” (to allow you to plug in multiple US-style plugs using a single adapter) are handy too and impossible to find over there. Don’t take any outlet strips with surge suppressors or circuit breakers, since they will blow up on the 230v.

I found, as a general rule, that things that are necessities of life (food, housing, medical care, prescription drugs, public transport, etc.) are relatively cheap over there, or at least the same price as here. But “luxuries” (electronics, mobile phones, cars, cameras, petrol, parking meters) are expensive. Books are also very expensive, for some reason, but there are good libraries and used book stores.

Keep a US-based credit card and take it with you. This will allow you to order stuff over the Internet at US prices and have it shipped to NZ. This is especially useful for books, cameras, and computer stuff. You can have your credit card statements mailed to NZ, no problem. And I can’t guarantee the same luck to you, but I never had the NZ government charge me any duty or taxes on incoming goods (but most of my orders were around US$100, and the rumor is that the NZ government doesn’t bother with that level of thing). Your milage may vary, and may depend on whether you are there on a tourist visa or something else.

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

We’ve only been in Australia for two full days, but we’ve already uploaded a whole bunch of photos from the Cairns area. You can view them at http://www.leler.com/Oz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to put captions on them yet. When I get more photos, I’ll probably edit these down a bit as well. But be sure to see the photos of Cindy holding a Koala bear!

I just added new photos, including underwater photos from the Great Barrier Reef.