ARGENTINA……….ANTARTICA……LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
I arrived in Buenos Aires and intended to stay for one week before flying down to Patagonia, El Calefate, to be exact. I reserved an Airbnb for the week and had as a primary desire to see a top flight Tango show. So I went to a venue which in years past used to be the hangout for the gaucho crowd and which I heard had a reputable tango show. Well, it seems things have changed there. I went and after waiting a good while to get in because of its popularity, had a coffee and could soon see that this was not about local culture anymore but totally for tourists with a kind of dinner tango show that was apparently quite cheesy, A place of historic interest however..
So I hung around outside afterward and watched the people, mostly tourists, waiting to get into this restaurant…There was a shop next door and I saw the owner outside, walked over and asked him about this Tango venue. He said definitely do not go to a show there. It is totally touristy and does not in the least represent the Tango culture of Argentina and Buenos Aires. So I pushed him for information. He was rather vague and said something about the best examples being some rather hard to find places known only to the locals, the locations of which he did not divulge, but did suggest that probably the best known show was nightly at El Viejo Almacen. I posted that in my brain to check out further.
I spent Saturday walking through the huge street market that took place on a main street closed off to traffic each Saturday. Shops all along the way with everything you can imagine. And wonderful food. It was great fun tasting the local cuisine, food and drink and simply watching the people. While there I stepped into a travel agency and inquired about the best Tango show in the city. They also recommended El Viejo Almacen so I booked a ticket for the show the next evening. Dinner was also an option across the street from the show. I skipped that. Such arrangements tend to be overpriced and the food not the best. The show was in a lovely small intimate space and was quite lively. I love the Tango, the music, the movement, the energy., the passion and had a very enjoyable evening there. Highly recommended.
On another day I attempted to visit a major art museum but it was closed for several days. Why, I never did find out. So I walked through an amazing cemetery where many of the more famous Argentinian folks find their resting place. My interest here was to find the tomb of Eva ‘Evita’ Peron, which I did. It was actually a rather humble ‘house’ compared to many of the monumental structures surrounding her. So I paid my respects and went across the lovely park to find a restaurant.
I’m not a meat eater and have come to not even like the smell of it, especially steak, but you know that Argentina is famous for its steaks, and meat generally. The folks are big meat eaters here, so I called on my flexitarian capabilities and knew I would have that experience of an Argentinian steak while here. It’s one of the things I enjoy about traveling..So the park was surrounded by many outdoor restaurants. I found one with outside seating whose ambiance I liked and sat down to a 5-course meal. A big chunk of steak, copa de vino, soup, salad, dessert. Quite delicious, actually, but I must admit I am not gung-ho on steak and didn’t enjoy that course so much. For whatever reason, red meat just doesn’t sit well in my stomach, so listen to the body, no? Nevertheless, a very enjoyable experience. One you probably ought to have while here.
Buenos Aires is an interesting city and one I will return to and explore to a greater extent.
So after a week, I was on a flight to El Calafate, in the southern part of Patagonia. I had the good fortune of meeting Jeff and Jaffe Salz while in Ecuador for 6 months. Jeff has spent years in Argentina and specifically Patagonia, climbing all the mountains he could find (see his book ‘The Way of Adventure’) and is now living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Jeff was an incredible source of information for me and I will forever be indebted to him. Calafate is quite touristy because of the many opportunities for hiking, for glaciers, and national parks. The week I was there, I benefitted from a nightly outdoor music show with pop and folkloric groups brought in from around Argentina. It was held in a huge circular stadium for just such events. A yearly festival and all free for the people. In the past, Ricky Martin was one of the more popular features.
Let’s face it. Patagonia is beautiful, expensive, and draws tourists from all over the world. People come for a week or two, pay the price and leave. Many motorcycle groups came through as well. I was jealous! I could enjoy the rumble but most of these bikes were not Harleys but BMWs. I soon found out it is important, when eating at a restaurant, to read the fine print at the front of the menu before going in so you know what you will be charged for. It is not just the food. I learned through some ‘delightful’ experiences that some restaurants have an extra charge for sitting down. I thought l would stand up and eat. That didn’t go over very well. So you are charged for whatever items you order, of course, but it doesn’t stop there. You are also charged for the kitchen to prepare your food! I thought l would eat it unprepared, presented in its natural form. That didn’t go over very well either!! On one occasion, after ordering my food and eating it, a musician came in and began to play some notes, I was finishing up my meal to leave and when I received the check I was charged for the music. There was no information anywhere about this. And I didn’t come for the music. Another thing to watch out for is that after you order, sometimes some bread or other munchies will be brought to your table and placed there. Nothing said about that, but I discovered this is not the American way, it is ‘charge the tourist extra way!’ If you eat any of it, you are charged extra for the whole smear. If you don’t touch it, you are not charged. But either way, you are not advised of this. In the States, it is part of the meal. Here it is part of the check!! You must have a sense of humor and realize you are treated often just as a tourist and not as a human. So after on such experiences, it didn’t happen again. I once asked one of the wait staff at another restaurant when some ‘extras’ were brought to the table if this was included in the price or was it extra. She smiled because she knew why I was asking. Here it was included.
The best part was a museum which graphically gave the history of Patagonia and demonstrated how Patagonia and the continent of Antarctica were one landmass millions of years ago, while dinosaurs roamed freely. Fascinating,, There is also a wonderful nature preserve by the lake with a variety of marked flora and fauna. But the most interesting event for me was Glacier Moreno….
For many years I had the dream of maybe setting foot on the continent of Antarctica. It seemed like a remote and almost impossible dream. For one, early on in this dream, I didn’t really think I would get to Patagonia much less to Antarctica. And I imagined the cost would be prohibitive. As this fantasy grew, however, I imagined riding my Harley to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world on the tip of Argentina. It is known as Ushuaia, the End of the World, So I fantasized about riding it through Central and South America, and once I got to Ushuaia, putting my Harley on a ship or maybe a freighter, taking it off on the continent, doing a 360, putting it back on, and returning after looking around. I thought a freighter or ship that delivered supplies to some of the research stations located there might be a possibility rather than a ‘tourist’ ship, which I generally have an aversion to. So that fantasy hung out in a corner of my brain.
In any case, I wanted to go Ushuaia to see what the end of the world looked like and maybe what was beyond the end of the world. Imagination here again. Gotta luv it. The imagination must be freed up for life to happen. Then anything literally is possible. Otherwise life is not fully lived. So I booked a flight, presented to the Universe again my dream with or without the Harley, let it go with no attachment and knew if it was meant to happen it would. In my nearly 77 years on this planet, I have experienced time and again that anything I let myself imagine, present it to the Universe, let it go without any attachment to the outcome, eventually without fail, appeared in my life as dreamed and usually even greater and more beautiful than I had imagined. Sometimes quickly and sometimes months or many years later. But appear it has. Without fail. It never fails to astound me even after so many times.
I thought while I was in Ushuaia, I would keep my eyes open for perhaps some last minute opportunities to get on a ship to Antarctica but I would only be there for about 3 days and thought that probably any really good possibilities would be taken at this late date. If it was meant to happen it would become evident within that timeframe. I enjoyed seeing some interesting museums there and exploring the history of this southernmost city on the planet. While walking along a main street I did see a last minute deal posted in the window of a travel agency so I thought I would go in and at least check it out. It wasn’t a very good arrangement, only 10 days, which is typical, and was leaving several weeks later when most of the penguins would be gone. Most of these tourist ships go directly to the continent and turn around and go back. The larger cruise ship do not permit you to even get off because the number of people on foot is quite limited to protect the environment…..Which means never setting foot on the continent itself. Totally unacceptable to me.
I began to see a few flyers posted around that advertised a 15-day Antarctica expedition leaving in a few days for $4,500. An unbelievable price. I wondered what the catch was. Some things are too good to be true. In that moment I found myself standing in front of the agency that was handling this expedition. So my usual thoughts bombarded my mind about some catch, or if not, they would be sold out and on and on. Oh ye of little faith, but the Universe has always blessed me abundantly so I do my best to keep in the flow and know that however things turn out it is not a mistake and even if I can’t see it at the moment, it is some kind of a profound blessing. It often takes some time to understand these outcomes but eventually clarity comes. I have gradually come to trust that whatever or whoever appears in my life, whether or not I like it at the time, comes as a teacher and a blessing, and hopefully I learn to love and trust more deeply.
This dedicated introvert did walk into the agency and sat down with Emerson, a relatively young man, very affable and engaging (I guess at my age most everyone appears to be a teenager!!). Yes, there were three slots still available, it was for 15 days, visiting the Continent, South Shetland Islands, South Georgia Islands and the Faulkland/Malvines Islands, including landings. He says that the 3 berths left usually go for about $20,000. So the skeptical part of me hasn’t died yet and I ask him what the deal is. For this price are they going to take us there, drop us off and go? You know, population control, or whatever.
Well, Emerson laughs and begins to fill in more of the details. This is an Expedition ship of 180 peop[e rather than the cruise ship totals of a couple thousand. It was chartered by a Chinese group just for their people, and then Covid-19 hit and they had to cancel everything at the last minute so Quark Expeditions needed to fill the slots because the Expedition is going to happen. They started booking a week and a half ago. Everything is included as normal. Amazing meals, snacks, all the wine you can drink for dinner, on and on. It is leaving in 4 days. SIGN ME UP….NOW! I was almost in tears. The manifestation of another dream. The Universe, the Great Spirit, rearranged some molecules again and made this happen. You just keep blowing my mind. GRATITUDE! And no, I’m not suggesting the virus was created so I could go and the Chinese couldn’t. Absurdity at its finest. I don’t know the answer to why it happened this way. That is beyond my pay grade. I trust the Chinese group will be blessed to go another time.
The story and the dream don’t quite end here though I needed to pay them and to wire the money from my bank account to a person in China and to a bank address in China, Two Chinese businessmen had previously arranged this expedition for their group and the money needed to be wired to them in dollars. My bank would not do so because for my first international wire, I needed to appear at my bank in person. After that, no problem. My banker, whom I know personally, did everything within her power to make it happen, but in the end no go. Next option. My daughter, Lori, is on all my accounts and has full access to them just as I do so I thought she might be able to do it for me from Pennsylvania and my home was in Virginia. Well, that didn’t work either because she would have to appear as well. As I said, she lives in PA and I in VA. My bank does not exist in PA. So the next step was for Lori to wire the money from her account and then transfer some money from my account to hers. Easy, right? No, not so easy. Her bank told her the transaction looked suspicious because of sending the money to the account of a Chinese person and his bank. Security stuff even though it is my money and why can’t I do what I want with it. It is my risk and you have my full permission with no possible loss to you. For some reason banks don’t think the way I do. Maybe they don’t think at all but are programmed robots. Not sure about that but I do understand some security concerns. So maybe this expedition was not going to happen after all. Bummer. But since these colors don’t run, I kept pestering the bank. Or I should say I begged Lori to keep after them. Eventually her bank approved the transfer. Ah, success. Well, not so fast. The second step is that some intermediary agency has to also approve it and they refused saying it was too risky and looked suspicious. Added to the suspicion, the Chinese businessman changed his mind about who to send the money to. So a new person, a new account and bank. Of course, the bank and wiring agency did not know the story behind all of this. So the wiring agency said they would not approve.
Well, that didn’t excite me for some reason. OK Universe, what’s up because all of this has come together so neatly. Even though I wanted to go big time, I came to a place of acceptance. But one more shot at this. I sat down with Emerson and said all the doors have been closed. It looks like I have to give it up. Are there any other possible options? He paused, then said to let him call his boss. He did. He hung up with a slight smile on his face and asked if PayPal would work? Earlier I had suggested PayPal but they need the payment, once transferred, to be available in dollars. Too much is lost when received in pesos. Earlier, they had used PayPal for a time for some large transactions and PayPal got a bit suspicious and said they needed more information before further approval to use this account. Well, Emerson said, they just received word that they had been approved by PayPal once again. We have an account that receives dollars directly. In ten minutes the money was sent from my account and the deal was sealed! Just 10 minutes and I had tried every other avenue for 2 days. You know, sometimes when the door keeps getting closed, you begin to think perhaps this is an indication that pushing needs to stop. Somehow, it felt right not to run, to be persistent, to keep exploring possibilities. The intuition was right again. Logic said walk away, intuition said follow me. Had I walked away earlier from discouragement, I would have missed an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience. I guess I just needed to keep at it until PayPal came through. I don’t know. I really don’t know for sure how these things happen.
I had another two days before the Expedition left and had left my small backpack back in El Calafate. OK, booked a RT flight back to Calafate, picked up my bag and returned to the End of the World, Ushuaia. I was going to see and experience something of what was beyond the end of the world…..I have to admit I was pumped!
PART 2 TO FOLLOW