Whenever I fly to the U.S., I plan at least one night’s stay for each leg. In case of delays, cancellations, some extra shopping, and finally, to recuperate before jumping into another aluminum tube with wings.
Everything was planned perfectly.
Fly from here to Buenos Aires and stay one night. Leave the next evening to Miami. Stay in Boca Raton for a week and go to Pittsburgh. Stay in Pittsburgh for a week and fly back to Florida. Stay in Boca one night and fly out of Miami the next evening for Buenos Aires. Stay in Buenos Aires one night and fly back home the next evening.
Well, like usual, from the start, Aerolineas Argentinas had to f*ck something up with their usual bullsh*t. It’s a given with them. This time, without any warning phone call, we found out a few days before flying that our early morning flight had been canceled. (Always confirm your flight multiple times if flying with them….seriously) We can put you on an evening flight the same day out of Ushuaia. Great, there went one whole day of Buenos Aires free time. Oh, and a three hour drive to Ushuaia and reimbursement for the fuel or transportation. That’s right, we canceled your flight without telling you and now you have to figure out your own way to get to Ushuaia but if you give us the receipt we’ll see about reimbursing you.
Being in no rush to reach Ushuaia on departure day, we decided to check out a few spots along the way. Don’t ask me why, but one of them was a small coast guard station just off the main route on the banks of the majestic Lago Fagnano. I have mixed feelings about what I witnessed.
When we arrived, I thought nothing of a man and woman unloading what appeared to be blankets from small delivery van onto a folding table. A small bus and van, both nondescript, were parked nearby while about 30 people or so chatted and wandered about. While walking about 20 yards from the truck to the shore, a larger coach bus pulled up. More tourists with their red or blue North Face jackets.
The mixed feelings hit me upon jumping into the truck to leave. I saw the true purpose of those who were unloading the delivery van. A makeshift gift shop. Tourists proceeded to hover over tables layered with wool hats, blankets, ponchos, and gloves.
First of all, I was wondering why the hell tourists were being taken to this location that is comprised of a small simple building, two trailered boats, and two catwalk-like docks along the water. It’s a coast guard station! Ok, the view is nice and it saves the tour company 20-30 minutes of further driving to Tolhuin for another perspective of Lago Fagnano but really! As we left, I counted 6 other buses on the way. If it is such a popular attraction on the tourism circuit why not develop a special area that is more accommodating? Anyway, to top it off, someone pimps goods from a truck after a five minute viewing of a lake? COME ON! Were they really there for the view or just given another chance to buy more touristy crap?
However, when I saw that many of the tourists actually had interest in the products, I thought if it floats their boat then all is good I guess. But then again is it really? Sooner or later word spreads and I’m sure at some time there will be fifty trucks there selling items thus creating another cheesy tourist trap. Hopefully things will change for the better, I mean this island is still in early development stage.
Just to let you know, I have nothing against the gift shop after tour spectacle in general. Many museums and theme parks have you walk through a gift shop after the tour or attraction. It works and I’ve come out happy on occasion with a few trinket purchases of my own. Something just felt wrong about this situation. Why not take them back to a shop in town or maybe they did that too.
At about 13:30 we arrived in Ushuaia with our empty stomachs gurgling away. Let’s grab lunch. Little did we know how hard that task would be.
First, Ushuaia has the typical touristy city set up where 90% of the restaurants are located in one area. Second, it was Sunday. Third, it was a city election day. Forth, there were two docked cruise ships.
Whoa, I think I saw two people who might have been locals walking the streets. If someone wrote a book called Hilly Hiker and the Camping Factory, this would be the perfect setting. Attack of The Clones? Block to block we saw packs of cruise sheep. All wearing either red/black or blue/black winter jackets, tan cargo pants, and hiking books. Were we in some sort of North Face advertising nightmare? Are there no other colors/patterns available?
I hate the whole cruise ship concept. I hate it. It’s like a plague the destroys all things good with seaside towns or cities. I’m not talking about the fly into town and catch a round about trip to view various islands and Antarctica type of cruises. The ones I hate are the multi-port hop off to buy some stuff and hop back on kind. Once they step off that boat, they hit like a swarm of locusts. Either confining themselves to the shopping area close to port or hopping on a bus for some brief excursion. Mucking up a pleasurable experience in those areas for both locals and short-to-long term travelers on a daily basis. The national park here becomes one major dust cloud due to all of the chartered buses in season. Restaurants are practically standing room only at lunch time. At least they have to shepherd themselves back into their pens in the late afternoon for departure. I could go deeper and yes I know that they bring in a boatload of cash for local economies and businesses but that’s a topic for another day.
We parked and walked a bit down Avenida San Martin, the main strip for restaurants and shops that is about two blocks north of the docks. The restaurants were packed. Peeking through various doorways showed that restaurant owners or managers fit in as many tables and chairs they could while paying no attention to available space in order move around. Milanesas or lomitos were on our minds not platters of centolla, trout, or lamb. After realizing our mission was futile, we ducked into a buffet restaurant with Chinese characters on the signboard. The buffet would not be restocked we were told. Not happy, yet hungry, we resigned ourselves to the clutches of oily remains.
Hours after camping out at a relative’s house and watching heavy snow fall while praying our flight wouldn’t be canceled, we were finally able to start the real journey that was intended from the beginning.
As a somber note, only recently did I learn that some of those tourists that we saw roaming around on our departure day, would soon board the MS Explorer. Glad everyone made it out safely.