The flight to the Falklands/Malvinas appeared to be less eventful than predicted, as the Patagonian winds were in our favour today. The weather forecast, and calculations from our flight planning suggested that we would pick up a strong tail wind, putting our ground speed over 170 knots for some of our route, and making travel pretty fast over the long water crossing. This in itself made the leg less intimidating, our flight time shorter, and giving us less concern about not making it all the way!!!The weather en-route at first was not too bad, the visibility was good and the sky was blue, yet slightly overcast. It seemed like the black cloud of worry had been lifted from both of us, and we felt less daunted by this daft, crazy, idea of flying in a one engine aircraft over 400 miles of mostly sea. I am not sure where the added optimistic and less concern came from but Chris jokingly suggested that maybe the pilot Antoine de St Exupery was looking down on us, myself being more spiritually minded suggested God may have a guiding hand, or maybe my dad who had passed away many years ago, and strangely or not the idea popped into my head that his organ donor was also watching over us.
The flight was not too turbulent, in fact on about half of the flight route the weather was calm, and flying smooth although never got our predicted groundspeed of 170 knots, it was still pretty fast, more like 140-155. I soon forgot we had a life raft at the ready and was wearing a life jacket, and began to relax and enjoyed the view. Over long stretches of water in a small airplane, we have no radio contact with VHF or air traffic control so for a couple of hours of this leg we heard no one. Flying together, looking out over the beautiful ocean does not require much talking, as we were just enjoying the view, and hearing nothing at first was eerie, but felt very peaceful and almost surreal as we progressed along our course. After a while we began to hear muffled voices on the radio, and as we moved closer into radio range we could faintly hear people talking English. The language seemed bizarre, almost odd to me, despite this being MY language. But for the last few weeks we have heard nothing but Portuguese and Spanish voices both, on and off the airplane and somehow my ears have been tuned into these accents and tones. After a while the more I heard English voices across the sea, and the more I listened, felt like I was listening to an old friend from home. Although I have had twinges of missing my family and friends, it was not until now did I realized that I was actually homesick. As we started to get closer to Port Stanley the weather started to change, it looked less bright, and it began to rain. As the rain increased, we approached from the West of the island, and we spoke to island radar who asked if we wanted to “be embellished”. Neither of us had any idea what this was but said “yes please, of course” as it sounded good, very exciting. We maintained our flight routing over west of the island, talking to Mount Approach who were very clear and concise about our heading and altitude. We both noticed how green and lush the island was, it seemed bigger and better than I imagined. But exactly just like the pictures in the books and magazines I have seen over the years, it was both rugged and rural in some parts and but quaint and pretty in others. We both could not believe that we had finally made it to the Island so easily, without a problem, without a drama!!!!! We were both so totally delighted in achieving our goal of making to such an amazing place, when two typhoons pleasantly surprised us by flying alongside us (for a couple of minutes or so)!!!! They said hello by radio and gave us a warm welcome to the Island, and then continued on their way. Chris was beside his self!! Not only had he got to see two typhoons up close and personal (well about half a mile) but he was able to take a picture from our airplane window. I was at the controls PIC, (Pilot in Command) I tried to remain focused on not straying off course, as I was also really excited, and touched by the kind gesture from the two pilots. I stayed on course heading, flying towards a small farmland called Weddell Island( which would be very important to us later on in our journey).We were directed to fly over Fox bay, and then as we continued in, bearing towards San Carlos water, we were handed over to the Stanley Tower. The wind and rain picked up and although pretty confident in my landings, I really felt that Chris should be the one to touch down at this airport. Port Stanley was one of the significant, important places that Chris had continually talked about visiting when planning this donor awareness flight. It had been one of those many magical destinations that had been on his “bucket list”.
On landing in Port Stanley we were greeted by a friendly Customs man named Alan, and three hunky fireman who were kind enough to stand in the rain and pose for photos with Chris and I. Donna and Jane, the friendly air traffic controllers guided us to a hanger where we met by the welcoming FIGAS (Falklands Islands Government Air service) maintenance crew, who helped us to put over planne away safely out of the wind and rain. Ian, Stu and Robin were very sociable, and chatted with us, suggesting “must do” places to visit on the island. They called us a taxi and we headed off to our hotel, where I was looking forward to a hot shower and nice glass of wine. We finally made it, the Falklands had been one of our biggest challenges had achieved it safely without getting wet!!
Rio Gallegos to Port Stanley
Ready to leave bright and early from our Rio Gallegos hotel, Juan arrives as promised and kindly drives us to the aero club despite having worked long hours the night before. In arriving at the Rio Chico aero club, we were met by Jose and another club member called Leny. In order to leave for the Falklands/Malvinas we unfortunately have to return to the big airport do some paperwork and then leave. Chris and I had not hardly slept a wink because we have both had been experiencing many mixed emotions I have gone from being totally excited about going to a place that not many people have been to and hoping that we get many people donating/ signing up to be an organ donor, to and being overwhelmed by the scary wind of Patagonia which goes from 15 gusting 25 to 30 gusting 50 and more!!! I know Chris is also going through similar fluctuating emotions, but he tries hard not show his feelings at first, as he is going to visit a place that has been a school boy dream for a long time, and despite ticking off his “bucket list” and realizing that he is in fingertips of reaching Port Stanley, I know he very anxious about the weather conditions and “getting the wind right on the day” as the old sages have warned us. We both share our concerns and agree on procedures and plans (and if things do go wrong for us). We know we if leave with too a strong a head wind we won’t make it to the Island but fall short and take a dip, we know if we don’t make a fast enough ground speed we may find ourselves only part of the way across the 400 miles water crossing and run out of fuel unless we turn around, and if the airplane decides to have a technical problem or a power issue unless, our only alternative route would be to land on water for a ditching.
After loading the plane, completing our pre-take off walk around checks, and donning our lifejackets, we check our borrowed life raft and wave goodbye to our friends at the Rio Chico aero club. With butterflies in my stomach we lift off into the bumpy Patagonia winds. This will be probably the most challenging leg of our journey, with 400 miles of open water over the icy South Atlantic ocean.
We had a wonderful time in Comodoro Rivadavia, being shown around town and given a tour of the area by a "local guide" our friend Martin. On our first night we dined with Martin and his nephew Tinti and settled in nicely to our hotel.This hotel had a different concept to the hotels we have ever stayed in before. In order to stay in this lovely squeaky clean accommodation someone has to vouch for you, or recommend you to the owner. The place had a fully equipped kitchen and dining area, with a fridge stocked with juices, soft drinks and water. There is also a fully stocked bar in which there is an honour system, so if you use anything you tell the housekeeper who comes every morning, with fresh croissants, pastries and bread, and marks down the use of the bar etc. She also makes fresh coffee and services your bedroom. It is least formal than any hotel we have ever stayed in before but it is much more comfortable and homely. After Martin left to return to work in Buenos Aires, although we lost the valuable guidance of a “local”, we found having our own car gave us autonomy to do some sight-sightseeing as well as practical chores such as finding a lavadoro (Laundromat).Although we had plenty of clothes, in fact too many clothes, we have devised a system of washing our clothes and changing around our wardrobe depending on the climate, where we are staying, and what activities we will be doing, (also trial and error, and much heated discussions on who REALLY needed what!) At each leg of the route we would both have our own wheelie bags with wash bags, plus both our own computers, and of course Chris’s ipad which had vital Apps for our flight planning needs.
We enjoyed staying in Rada Tilly, a small little town South of CR, it was safe and the people were friendly, and although we spoke no Spanish we were always helped along the way, be it ordering food in a resturant or buying goods in the supermarket. In the hotel, the housekeeper spoke little English but we used Google translate with her when we came unstuck. We drove to a lovely but neglected seaside resort called Caleta Olivia which could be a beautiful beach if people took timeout to clean up the many plastic bags we saw floating around. I don’t think that people deliberately left it unkempt, but I think that with much unemployment in this area, picking up rubbish is not a priority for most residents. We found a decent looking hotel that did an amazing warm seafood salad, and a refreshing homemade lemonade drink.
We stayed at this location for three days enjoying, the setting, the beach and people. With the help of Martin, Sebastian, Tinti, and local pilots from the CR aero club we planned our next leg to Rio Gallegos and final routing to Falkland Islands/Malvinas. Taking into consideration the changeable weather, the harsh gusting crosswinds, the 400 miles of flying over open ocean and not many alternative routing options other than to return back to Comodoro Rivadavia or go down for a dip in the sea!!
The vantage to our next stop to Rio Gallegos was not as inspiring as previous legs along our route, as it appeared to us that much of the landscape was desert like with oil rigs or diggers blotting the countryside. At first stayed inland as this was the direction we had planned, but along the inland route the winds had picked up and were either blowing us, in a sideway fashion so we had to crabbed along, or becoming turbulent and shaking us around. We continued for about 30 minutes or so, on this uncomfortable path to follow our planned routing, all the while viewing many salt lakes, sand storms, and flat terrain. As we progressed along our course, we talked about wanting to aim for the coastline, because whenever we have flown over the coast the wind is usually less severe and it has always been interesting viewing. Chris has got beautiful shots for his Face book page when we have flown over high sea cliffs, and it can be interesting to see different rock formation from an airplane. However as soon as we were was almost directly on target for the correct heading to Rio Gallegos, South of San Julian along the coast, the wind changed to a head wind, in which it felt like we were hardly moving. This went on for about an hour or so along with gusting winds leaving us being pounded about. I was feeling drained and exhausted from the turbulence, and although I knew “this is Patagonia” the norm for local pilots, did it really need to be bumpy ALL the way along OUR route!!!! We reassessed our routing and realized if we flew at a safe distant further out over the ocean, we would have less head winds and gain more speed. After a while this strategy was working, we had picked up speed and the ride was much smoother. I began to feel less bothered at the odd bump in the sky, and began to look out of the window and focus on the scenery. At first I noticed what a beautiful shade of blue the sea was, and then I looked at the white caps which were enormous, and started to feel very vulnerable, very scared, and very silly!! I asked myself “what the hell do you think you are playing at?” You have just finished your master’s degree, you have a great job with the airlines, are relatively healthy, why did you think WE could complete this mad trip to the Falkland Islands/Malvinas, EVERYONE has told us along the way we are crazy?” I remain silent, the sea, and looks angry and cold. I look at Chris who also seems to be also focusing on the sea. We fly along not saying much and finally head towards the airport, and although usually I like to do the landing, I tell Chris to do it. The wind, and the sea have deflated my confidence in making this trip and I want Chris to be PIC for this bumpy landing.On the ground we both quickly disembark the airplane, trip has been jarring and we both feel the need to stretch and fresh air . We do the usual paperwork palaver but need to fuel up asap, as we are not staying at this main airport but going on to an aero club(which does not have fuel)nearby to hangar our plane.Sebastian from CR aero club has kindly organised this for us and the pilots and members have generously agreed to allow us to keep our plane in their hanger. After waiting for over an hour to get fuel at this main airport and more messing around, we are able to take off and land at the aero club five minutes away.
We were welcomed by the delightful Jose and Juan who give us a tour of their aero club and flying school, they also helped us put our plane away into their historical hangar This hangar was used by the pioneering airmail (Aeropostale) pilot Antoine de St Exupery many years ago. He would fly from Paris to Tierra del Fuego and all points in between creating links with France and developing an airmail postal service. Chris was not only blown away by this detail (as Exupery is one of his hero’s) but honoured that our little plane was going to be housed in a hanger he used for the night.
Juan and Jose were very hospitable to us; Juan kindly gave us a tour of Rio Gallegos, took us to our hotel and promised to pick us up in the morning so he could help us with our airplane. We have been so lucky with most people we have met along our journey, they have been so giving, so approachable, and open hearted. I am very grateful and appreciate the warmth people have shown us, as it has re-enforces my faith in human nature.
We were pleasantly surprised when looking at the forecast for the day, as the prediction was for a clear sky and calm winds which spelt out to me good flying weather. I was usually famished at breakfast time and was looking forward to the lovely mixed meats and cheeses, plus fresh sliced fruits and amazing tropical juices that we had experienced in most of the hotels along our route. In entering the resturant I soon realized that things were very different in this hotel, and as a disheveled young breakfast waiter shuffled passed us and refilled the coffee pots, my hunger was to turn to nausea. I glanced at the breakfast buffet, which seemed to have the usual, croissants, meats, cheeses, and juices, but on a closer scan I noticed almost every food item that was on display was uncovered, and crawling with flies! All my friends and family know this is the worst kind of turn off for me (this and crawling rodents), and I watched in horror as other diners flicked away the flies, helped themselves to the food, and chopped away! I may be slightly over the top about flies on food, it may be odd phobia, but my huger disappeared, and the only food I was able to eat was cereal that was in a container and coffee.
In getting to the airport we were greeted by the same security officers as the day before, and with the usual drama of departing, the usual paperwork exercises, which have now become so “norm” I don’t even bristle at the silly questions we get asked anymore, but just smile sweetly, and eventually we are our way. After the terrible winds of 35 gusting 50 of yesterday, we were pleasantly surprised to see that today would be more like 15 gusting 25 at the most, which was a great improvement. When we finally lift off and are on our way, the sky is a bright blue, the weather is calm. We are almost hysterical laughing at the difference a day REALLY makes and cannot get over how smooth the flying is on our route. We fly along the coast line and although at first our groundspeed is pretty slow, we start to speed up as we turn the corner from a cross wind to a tail wind and pick up a little speed. The landscape at first had huge mesas and impressive peaks but gradually it became a dusty flat patterned floor. Patagonia really looks like the desert, no people, no houses or no structures for miles.
On reaching the coastline again, Chris reminds me to keep my eyes peeled for penguins, as this region, Punta Tombo is supposed to be one of the biggest penguin areas in the world, and has 1 million Magellanic penguins. I fly the plane for 10-20 minutes or so, craning my neck to see where these little creatures are, when all of a sudden Chris shouts “there they are!” At first I was not really aware that they were living beings, as the area that Chris was looking at seemed like a beach with many grey rocks. It was only after we swooped down low and Chris focused his camera on the “rocks” and they moved; did I realize they were indeed penguins. Excited by the many endless numbers of birds, we swooped down to 500 feet for a closer look. They seemed undisturbed by the presence of an airplane above them and most barely moved from their original position as we took many pictures.
Back to the task of flying our plane, the air traffic controller tries to tell us to land at the big airport Comodoro Airport, but we have planned to land on a smaller airstrip five minutes away at our friend’s aero club in Comoro Rivadavia. We explain our intentions and request to land at our friends airstrip, and he continues to try to guide to the big airport. Problem is we find, is the air traffic controller speaks no English, and we speak no Spanish. Ten miles or so out Chris continues to request to land at our friend’s aero club, trying all his school boy Spanish (I have none!) and after a long period of silence, (his tone of voice sounds totally fed up with trying to force us to land in the big airport) we hear a huge sigh, he begrudging “says “alternative airport approved”. That s means by agreeing we are changing our plan, he allows us to continue to Comodoro Rivadavia. We head to “our new planned airport” and hear a voice saying “November 758Delta Whisky clear to land”. It sounded familiar, I cannot at first place where I have heard it before, it is only when the voice says “Chris and Corrine welcome to Comoro Rivadavia”, does the “penny drop” and I realize it is our friend Martin. Chris just HAS to buzz the aero club, and do a zoomy touch and go before we land, because boys will be boys!!We land to see Martin’s smiling face, and a group of the aero club members, who give us a lovely warm welcome, and seem keen to look at our plane, know where we are from, and ask us questions about our trip, which we are only too happy to share with them. The kind Sebastian arranges a hire car for us and lets us put our plane in the club’s hanger away from the Patagonian wind. After the friendly, greeting from the wonderful people from the aero club, and a sight sighting drive around delightful Rada Tilly, a lovely seaside resort in which Martin had family and friends, and also manage to book us into a private guest house, the previous dramas of trying to get here seem all worthwhile.
I must admit I have been looking forward to spending time with our new friend Martin and getting to see a different part of Argentina from a local, highly educated, well-traveled Patagonian’s eyes. On getting to the airport early we were ready to go through the normal paperwork dramas, but as we meet the PSA (TSA Argentina style); we are greeted with blank stares and negative responses. After a while an English speaking customs lady helped us through security, but only after we showed them an article in which our flight had been reported in the local Argentina news.
A long wait, paperwork; the normal drill, I have almost got used to it now!! I wait for Chris to sort the flight plan out and collect the plane (only one is allowed to do this) while I am told to wait with the bags. Chris finally arrives looking flustered and moans about the delay, and the complications of leaving the airport etc., and “I think, really, did you believe after all this time it was going to be simple!” We pre-flight our plane and quickly load our bags as the wind has now picked up and it is raining. A man comes running out to tell us that despite THEM delaying us we cannot leave now as the weather is bad and we need to file a new IFR plan!! Very pissed off to be honest now, we return to the tower to get the weather update and they tell us to go now as the bad weather is building up for later, so we return to the flight planning office and wait, and wait until a lady strolls out to tells us it is raining and we need to wait for at least an hour. I ask why, as the increasing bad weather is not good, and later may ensure we encounter bad weather, and her colleagues says “this is the rule, the norm” We had previously planned to go to Viedma for fuel and onto Comodoro Rivadavia, but she stipulated that there was no gas, no security and the airport at Viedma was a no go zone and closed. She insisted that the only place for us to buy gas and land was Bahia Blanca.
Thank god for our friend Martin who had his finger on the pulse, and knew, informed, and alerted the fuel guy in Viedma that we were on our way. After an hour of flying in bright skies, the wind picked up and we began to be shaken like a cocktail in a blender for almost an hour. I was starting to think fuel or no fuel this is a stupid decision. I was also really fed up with being in the plane and going a little stir crazy, when the turbulence stopped the sky lite up, and Chris said we were landing very soon. On meeting the lovely PSA officer Vanessa, we completed basic paperwork, got refueled and continued on our original route to CR, with the weather turning hideous again. The winds were increasing every minute, and we were getting pounded in our little plane continuously. We both made the decision that although we wanted to get to Comodoro Rivadavia it was a no way decision, not a safe option. We determined that landing at our safety alternative airport which was best both psychologically and physically. We had both had enough of having our heads hit on the roof and our backsides pounded, and were now ready to stretch out, have a loo break and breathe fresh air. Trelew was going to be our night stop and unfortunately we were not going to make CR to meet our friend.
On heading to Trelew, we were pleasantly surprised, after the nasty weather and turbulence, and neither one of us had much time for taking pictures,but now we crossed the large Golfo San Matias at 1000ft where the air was smooth and calm, and the view was stunning. We flew over the coast line and water’s edge of Peninsula Valdes which is one of the world's most concentrated spots for marine wildlife. To our surprise not only did we encounter wonderful sculpted multi- layered rock cliffs, but at the foot of these amazing natural beauties were fur seals, elephant seals and sea lions. Once we headed inland we spotted herds of wild sheep and Guanacos who looked both surprised and puzzled by our presence in a plane soaring above them. What had started off as a flight of misery was now becoming a flight of total joy. On landing at Trelew, we refueled again (never passing a chance as some airport do not have fuel for our type of plane), and completed the usual paperwork. Chris got sandbags to hold down our plane due to gusting winds in the area, and we hopped in a taxi, ate an gorgeous meal and stayed in the best affordable hotel in town. This a lovely place to rest for the night, and we are told somewhere out of town is a village which is a welsh speaking, with a wonderful Welsh choir that has amazing tea rooms!! We hope to visit this great place again on our return route.
We stayed in Buenos Aires for four days, in a lovely hotel in the centre of the city. The weather was unusually hot most days (95-100 degrees) and as we walked around the city enjoying our sight sighting and taking many pictures in the blazing sun. We enjoyed visiting Plaza de Mayo ( the city’s main square),the city parks, and the old quaint historical districts, it was also really good to be able to go inside to check out an old building or a museum which had air-conditioning or cooling fans!!
We were fascinated by the old area of Recoleta, as it did indeed have the feel of a European city such as Paris as many local boast. With intimate cafes along tree-lined avenues, and ornament designs on the building which looked like they should be in France. This area is an exclusive glamorous residential area, with designer shops and upscale hotels. It is also the area of the La Chacarita Cemetery in which Eva Peron is buried. The cemetery is full of wealthy and prominent Argentines, but the elaborate crypts and mausoleums in which whole families are buried were so extravagant and ostentatious, that the vast displays of wealth being flaunted on the ornate decorations seemed obscene to me in a country that was deemed to be poverty-stricken.
The Tango show in which we chose from several, was recommended to us from the Inter-continental Hotel’s concierge (lady named Silvia), and as predicted was amazing!!!, The American couple Matt and David who we sat next to at the show, also told us that this was one of the top Tango show in Buenos Aires. The location for the show was a 1920,s restaurant, still had some of its original fixtures and fittings and was renovated to look like it did when it was first opened. Chris was even impressed with the show, and dancing is definitely not one of his” likes”!!
We spent an afternoon traveling on the subway (Subte) which was unfortunately hideous due to being packed in like sardines in an underground tube in the 100 degrees heat. But on our return journey we were told about Remise, local drivers who quote a price and have comfortable air-conditioned cars, better than the taxis that take you around the city.
Buenos Aires was fun, but I was a little disappointed with how dirty and impersonal people were towards tourist. A hand full of people were really kind and open to us such as; the Cielo crew looking after our plane, our friend Martin, Silvia at the intercon, a lady who helped us with directions, and a couple who told us about the Remise driver. I suppose BA is a huge city and just like most huge cities people are in a hurry to get to places, and do not usually have much time for tourist.
Although I had fun exploring the city with Chris I was ready to move on to our next place which is Comodoro Rivadavia, Patagonia.
On leaving Montevideo,I somehow thought we may have some problems, I don’t know why but on landing it all seem pretty easy, once customs and immigration realized we were “the crew”. No problems coming into a country has usually meant issues down the road when leaving, but I try to stay positive. We found the right place to file our flight plan, pay our landing fees and met the lovely operation manager called Jorge, who offered to help us get 8DW refueled and escort us through security. On getting to the main terminal we met Thatcher a friend from Nantucket, and although Chris did receive an email telling him he would be in Uruguay it still amazed me that on coming all this way to South America we met a friend from the USA!
To get to Bueno Aires, we planned to fly to a small airport called San Fernando, about one hour or so flight from Montevideo. I have been to Argentina for work with BA and I have been really looking forward to going to the Tango Show” again. I love dancing, and just found this show incredibly moving, and like most people think the Tango is a very sexy dance. The dancers drape their limbs around each other, whilst they move at a fast pace with their hips and legs totally in sync, gazing intently with passion into each others eyes. I know this is definitely not Chris’s thing but he says he is open to going as it “the thing” to do in Bueno Aires.
At the airport Jorge tells us there is a three hour delay for refueling, but there was a nearby small airport called Adami that will be able to help us straight away. So we pay our landing fees and are on our way. On landing in Adami, three local dogs all growling at each other, fight to climb under our plane for shade. We enter the building and meet Roberto the customs officer who speaks no English. He directs us to the immigration lady, to the flight planning man, and of course we have to pay more fees. I leave Chris with Roberto as I go to refuel and meet a charming man called Nelson, we have some friendly banter and he jokes with me about not speaking Spanish. Chris suddenly appears looking really flustered and informs me that all of our belongings have to be unloaded and taken into the building for Roberto to inspect. I could not believe it!!! No one has ever asked this of us before they mostly come to the plane move stuff around and then leave. I knew we were going to have problems today!!!So we unpack, and unpack, and unpack ,the airplane is loaded up with two months of clothes, baggage, maps, emergency kit, spare tires, oil filter you name it. As we unload I worry about Chris carrying stuff and mention this to Nelson our new friend who translates to Roberto about Chris’s liver transplant and immediately Roberto softens. It turns out that Roberto has also had a new organ, a kidney transplant. After looking at his scar and Chris and him having the best banter they could about their operations with Nelson translating, we are now finally on our way to Bueno Aires!!
Once we had landed in Bueno Aires we see our friend Martin. We have never met him, but Chris has built a friendly connection over the last few months through emails and he was the man who kindly helped us get the permission to land in the Falklands. Martin warmly welcomes us and guides us through custom/immigration formalities, as well as helping unpacking our plane again!!! We taxi to a hanger where Martin introduces us to the maintenance crew at Cielo hanger, who generously share with us their Mate. This traditional green tea is passed around the group and sucked until a slurping sound is heard. The concoction is not unpleasant, it tastes better than it looks and has a strong minty bitter flavor, which I could almost get used to. The gentlemen who were share Mate with are Pepe, Leon, and Gustavo, they will be giving our plane a check-up and an oil change in the next few days. We want to make sure the plane is running smoothly, and does not have any problems, as in the next part of our journey as we will be facing some harsh weather conditions and strong winds in Patagonia and the Falklands. Martin takes us on a tour of the hanger where he keeps his airplane a lovely’s Piper Aerostar and we get to see many great looking planes that we could never afford, including M17.
Martin generously drives us to our hotel in the city centre and gives us tips and advice about Argentina. We have finally made it to Bueno Aires!
Montevideo, I like the name of this city, I am not sure why, but it just sounds like it might be interesting. We decided to get a cab to the old centre, wander around and then go to the famous Parilla center in the old market place for meat a fest. I am not a big steak fan but like other meat (as long as it is not any disgusting parts, seen being eaten on survival shows) I am always ready to try something new.
On leaving our hotel which is in quiet, safe, suburb of the city and heading for the city center, we notice how wonderful old buildings seem abandoned and unloved. Beautiful ornamental architectural designs are everywhere, with variations of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian decorations, on once almost regal houses, apartment blocks, and even shop fronts. Unfortunately they appear to be broken, chipped and crumbling. Churches and old town building have weeds growing from their roof tiles, with broken stained glass windows, and people sleeping rough in the doorways. As in most cities some areas had beggars, and “undesirable individuals” hanging around street corners, in places you obviously avoid. It soon became apparent that this capital city was once spectacular and wealthy, but had unfortunately fallen on hard times. I just needed a little makeover in bringing it back to its former glory.
Lunch in the old market place was better than I had hoped; the rustic venue was fascinating with its original ceilings and floors, which date back to around the early 1800’s. The meat is grilled on a massive fire in front of you which is an entertainment by itself; it is fascinating to watch mammoth sides of beef, half a lamb, chicken parts, and several types of sausages, of various shapes and colours being cooked a stone throw away from your plate. We tried the famous black sausage which was tasty and more appetizing than you think, and the chicken and beef were both mouthwateringly unbelievable!! After lunch we just wanted to curl up for a nice nap ,but decided more walking is good to burn off the enormous amount of calories we have accrued, before we keel over from overeating!!, We walk for about two hours in the 30 degree heat around town. We both start to become grumpy and decide we need to get a cab or bus back to our hotel. But despite waving frantically to every free cab we see they do not stop. Maybe we can get a bus to the hotel? So we walk to the nearest bus stop which happens to be a bus terminal and wait. We have been waiting for some time when a staff member tells us that because it is Sunday we need to get two buses changing halfway along the route to the hotel. Chris not impressed with this delay decides we should walk, and flag down a cab. Again no one stops, and we are both getting frustrated, with each other and the situation. Suddenly we hear a rumble of drums in streets one block away. On reaching the sound we find we have come upon a local street drumming crew with dancers!!We are transfixed, enchanted and charmed. We had heard and read about bands like this but to find one by chance was amazing. This was a Candombe (can-dome-bey), in which many drums beat in a certain rhythm derived from the drumming of African former slaves. It has been an important part of Uruguayan culture for over two hundred years and is seen in carnivals, street parades, and like today, local neighbourhoods. We are told by a captivating couple, Ignatious and Mary that this traditional thing, a social event, a community getting together to dance and drum. Chris and I walked from one end of the locality to the other, bewitched with the sound of the drums, the way the people move, the way they interacted with each other, the whole deal!!! Once they stopped playing we hung out with Ignatious and Mary, who explained ethos behind “Llamadas de Convencions” (the crew).It seems that everyone is invited to join in this dancing and drumming, and as we witnessed old, young, women and men do. Chris got some fabulous photos and film of the whole event, which we watched again and again after our cab ride back to the hotel, which we finally got after asking a nearby hotel to call one for us!!
The next day we planned to go the local zoo and spend some time at the beach for a swim. On arriving at the zoo we were told that it was a maintenance day and it was closed, but when we explained that we were leaving tomorrow they kindly allowed us a free entrance! We met a lovely man who was in charge of the sick turtles, who took us behind the scenes to check out his three patients, and we wandered around looking at the various animals. The zoo was a bit run down and actually did need some major maintenance. We noticed broken paths, broken fences and a lot of plastic bags and bottles. The zoo also had many wild feral cats which were sweet but I noticed was scaring some of the birds in the sanctuary area. We felt sad for some of the animals as they clearly didn’t have enough space, or were in the wrong habitat, such as big birds in small cages and big cats on broken concrete floors .On arriving at the primate’s area, we notice what looked like a rat trying to get into a cage. It was running up and down frantically and the animal inside was also doing the same. After a while realized that it was a tiny baby Aguti on the outside who had somehow fallen out of the cage and was trying to get back with its worried mother who was inside. We did not know what to do, as due to it being a maintenance day, no one was around. Chris was really upset and told me we could not leave this tiny baby outside it cage for long as the feral cats were close by, and it would not be long before they pounce on it. After a lot of running around I found a lady in an office, I told her that an animal was not in its cage, had fallen out, (I even mimed it!) But she seemed not that she was not interested or due the language barrier just didn’t understand me. It was a hard situation to explain, and as she flipped through her book saying “no problem” I realized that it was going nowhere. After a while I know this is bad, but I said “monkey escaped” and she instantly got to her feet and immediately understood me. She summoned a keeper with a net to the rescue, and after a while she and the keeper had mum and baby reunited. We left the zoo for a swim at Positos beach, and we could not help but feel a little pleased with ourselves for being part of helping save our furry friend.
At the beach we watched almost every other person, old and young, take out a flask and pour a liquid into a wooden mug with a silver straw. This was Mate the national drink, an herbal green tea which seems to be drunk and shared together at most social gatherings. I really like this country, and it has a laid back friendly atmosphere and is truly unique.
This was our last night in Uruguay, tomorrow Buenos Aires!
Porto Alegre to Montevideo
After clearing customs and immigration to leave Brazil we felt quite sad as this had been such an excellent country to recharge our sapped energy levels. We really enjoyed the people, food, music, and culture.
Fernando had picked us up from our hotel as promised, and both he and John assisted us through all the formalities of international red tape and paperwork for departing a country. I noticed that in each Brazilian station we had stopped at, people had empathy and were open to listen about organ donor awareness. It seemed like fate that we always met up with someone who was in need of a transplant, or had a friend or family member who had just had a transplant. We also encountered those who knew people that were not so lucky, and did not get a transplant in time or too sick to survive the long transplant operation. When we took just five minutes of people’s time to tell Chris’s survival story, it seemed like they really listened. And if telling a painful story with a positive end, with a healthy pilot standing in front of them, flying an amazing journey in a tiny Cessna can help people decide or even think about ticking the donor box on their driving license then this journey has been for a good reason, as well as fun trip of a lifetime. In Porto Alegre, for example John shared with us that his mother had been a liver organ coordinator for a hospital/clinic, and he had been educated and understood the importance of being donor, and “recycling ourselves to give others a second chance”.
On reaching our plane and completing a walk around inspection before takeoff, I discovered water dripping from underneath the tail (third storage compartment) which had all our leaflets for schools, giveaway pens, badges and also Chris’s extra medication. Unfortunately the previous flying in heavy rain had found a small gap in our window sill and the carpet and boxes were drenched. A huge unpack and repack on the ramp was required before we set off to Montevideo. Always a delay of some kind it seems before we leave an airport!! The flight was very easy, weather good, not much wind, pretty county side. On rounding the corner of the coastline into Uruguay, and flying over Punta Del Este, we spotted the Rio de la Plata, a huge chocolate coloured river which looks like a sea, divides Uruguay and Argentina.
Landing in Montevideo, Uruguay, I must say was a piece of cake, although it would be easy for any pilot as it had a huge long runway, equipped for 767 and A330’s, but I was still pleased that I kissed it down, gently settling on the international runway!!! Yeah!! I was a bit nervous as we disembarked our plane as this was the first airport without our friends from Lider to help us through customs and immigrations, and paperwork drama. Fortunately it appear to be very easy, and although we baffled the officials in the international arrivals halls with our “crew paperwork” and only two crew members, we were whisked through to land side pretty quickly. Once we found a cab we were on our way, the taxi took us along the coastline route to our hotel (although technically a river) of Punt Del Plata. It seemed really dark up close and I hoped it was not dirty, as I badly wanted to swim. The sun was still shining brightly at 6’ o’clock and the temperature being 25 degrees, I was really ready to cool down in the sea. On arrival to our hotel we found out it was only three months old, so everything was sparking clean and shiny. The staff were friendly and a bellboy called Juan Diego, who spoke English pretty well and recommended restaurants in the city and briefed us on the local area.
On unpacking, we decided a cold shower, a cold drink and a nice local place to eat was on the cards, a swim would be for tomorrow. Once outside our hotel and walking up a fairly steep hill we spotted several different types of eateries. One menu had various delicious sounding dishes which had all kinds of meat dishes, we found out that this was a traditional Uruguayan Parilla (grill resturant). The meal was scrumptious as we sampled the juicy, melt in your mouth local dishes, and when full, we rolled down the hill, back to our hotel contented from our first meal in Uruguay.