The first time I had heard of Foz do Iguacu (Iguacu falls) was from Chris, after he had returned from a trip from Brazil with BA. I remember exactly how I found out about this wonderful place as it was a bit of a shock. I was in our apartment in the UK, and I had been up very early as I had been worrying all night about an exam that I was taking that week for my degree .I decided instead of lying there worrying, to get up and revise and await returning to bed as Chris’s flight was due in early. We could catch up with each other and I could and hear how Chris trip had gone. I looked up the BA246 flight which I knew he was on, and sat at my computer studying. I had heard a weird scratching sound at our front door about 7.00am; I ignored it thinking it was some bird or animal outside. But the scratching noise, which at first was very faint, began to get louder and turned into a banging sound at the front door. I ran to our vestibule and saw through our glass front door Chris struggling to open the door with a blooded hand, as he returned to unload his car I noticed a huge gash to his head, he was limping, and when he threw his jacket off his shoulder to grab his flight bag his other arm was in a sling!!!! I was really taken aback and thought OMG he must have been mugged on his trip. But even before I had chance to open our glass front door I noticed he looked surprisingly happy!!!! He beamed as he said “Corrine I have had a brilliant trip, I went to one of the most amazing places in the world, Iguacu falls!!” He then began to jabber on excitedly about what a great place it was and how we must go there together one day. When I pointed out his injuries he laughed and shrugged it off saying “no problem, we had a few Caipirinhas with dinner and we decided to go down and look at the falls at night, but unfortunately the falls were not lit, so I tripped, lost my balance and fell head first down the stairs, don’t worry it looks worse than it is, I have only cracked my collar bone!
So I have a very clear memory of this place, and remember how desperate Chris was for us to see this place together. The flight seemed very long and a blur today, but I think it was due to the stress of both our family issues. We were about 10 miles out Chris immediately spotted the falls in the distance. He asked the air traffic controller if we could circle the falls and to my surprised they agreed. Chris went wild and for about 20 minutes or so he clicked away at every angle he could, shouting at me to bank the plane this way and that, and lift the wing so he could frame the shot better or have more sunlight. I was stunned at the spectacular sight of these huge falls. We both agreed that we had seen Niagara, Victoria and Angel Falls but this was our favourite.
In arriving at our hotel I was VERY impressed!!!! This was an Orient Express hotel, one of the best, prestigious, old colonial stylish hotels. We were greeted by Patrick who escorted us to our room, gave us our complimentary Havaianas (Brazilian trendy flip flops) and showed us around our plush hotel. We were blown away at the wonderful manicured grounds of the hotel, and the pool was a full size with an elegant lounging area surrounding it. We did a nature tour and boat ride on the river and down and under the Iguacu falls(literally).We got thoroughly soaked but loved every minute of being in an inflatable under the falls!!We a met a pleasant friendly couple called Judy and Billy from Alabama on their 25th wedding anniversary, and what a great way to spend it in a luxurious hotel seeing incredible animals and nature up close and personal. In the morning we had the most remarkable breakfast I have ever had. It was a buffet style but there was every kind of fresh fruit juice and fresh fruit available. Much ham, sausages, bacon, salmon, and assorted meats were available. Also eggs done in different many ways with various added flavourings such as eggs mixed with cheese, or potato or meat or simply plain. The thing that bowled me over was there was also on offer for no extra charge champagne, and although I was very tempted I could not see myself climbing the falls in a 100 degree heat after partaking in alcohol at breakfast. Times that I have done this (which is not often) is when I have gone out with a group to celebrate a birthday or I have been in a top hotel in the world and it is a “must do thing” with the BA crew. I can remember arriving in our hotel Sydney, having smoked salmon and eggs with Champagne, but then waking up 7 hours later missing the whole day because the alcohol had knocked me out!! I definitely did not want this to happen on this trip!! At breakfast we got to see many animals and birds parrots, coati mundi and all kinds of lizard types. There was a full moon on our second night so we were able to see the lunar rainbow over the falls at night which is only seen 4 nights per month.
I was still very worried about my sister; I woke in the night having had a couple of panic attacks and told Chris I needed to get back to the UK. Not impressed with me spoiling this adventure, baling out on our mission, and abandoning him, he convinced me to call my family before either taking a 15 hour bus ride to Sao Paulo or flying there for 5 hours, staying in a hotel for the night and then getting a BA flight home. Chris would then have to continue the rest of the route alone. I called my brother Jamie and he was very supportive, he assured me that Belinda had improved and she was up and saying she wanted to go home. We still did not know what the results of her test were but we were awaiting and hoping for good news, the doctors had said and they would let her go home if this was the case. This is the thing about under taking a trip like this, although it is for an important cause, and our mission, it is also a fun, once in a lifetime experience exploring amazing faraway places. But when you need to get home in a hurry, or “when the shit hits the fan” it is a long way from home and a pain in the neck!! After a long debate/conversation we both decide that I would not leave for London until we hear the doctor’s result of her test. We go down to breakfast and see several parrots and a dozen toucans flying low over the breakfast area, Chris of course grabs his camera but alas they were too quick for him to get a decent shot. We proceed to the remarkable breakfast buffet and wonder at the fresh pineapple, mango, and guava jam. Chris stands up after serving his self with a hot breakfast and screams in agony!!It turns out that the fancy chandeliers have metal leaves hanging way too low over the food area. No one comes to our aid until they see blood pouring out of his head. I look at the leaves and realize they are really sharp like a knife edge. Chris now has a couple of cuts and a deep inch incision in the top of his head. The hotel staff finally gets a first aider who rushes around, gets bandages and swabs Chris cut and calls the manager. He comes and talks to us and apologizes but all he can say is that it was a clean lightening fitting and this is the first time it has happened. Not impressed we how they handled the incident we return to our room to pack and get ready to leave for the next stop. I am not really in the mood to carry on I feel deflated I email my family and I am reassured by my sister in law they will contact me when they hear any news about my sister. I tell Chris I will carry on with him to the Pantanal but if necessary, I will return to Sao Paulo so I can get back to the UK to be with my sister. We are heading for a nature lodge recommended by a friend of a friend in the Pantanal/ Amazon jungle, but first we need to refuel on the way.
We unfortunately received bad news just before we left Montevideo, that Chris’s poor mum who is elderly and bedridden had been taken to the hospital again. She has been in and out of hospital for various reasons this year, but when we called the hospital, they reassured us she was stable and would be back home in a couple of days. When we spoke to his mum she was a little shaky but insisted we should carry on our trip and mission.Torn between trying to get a flight back to the USA and continuing our journey, she reassured us she was OK. So we continue on to Brazil, Porto Alegre being a first place of entry into the country. We know this will be a long paperwork drama with customs and excise, as well as much paper shuffling with immigration. The weather from Montevideo was not good, it was bumpy, turbulent, hot, with the odd thunderstorm thrown in the mix all along the route. We of course have a head wind which contributes to a rough ride along most of the way, and as I am still not feeling very well and the bumps and the extreme heat are really not helping!! We take it in turns to dodge around the bad weather, avoiding nasty looking thunderstorms and heavy downpours. The bone rattling turbulence is making me feel really ill, I never get sick in turbulence but somehow with this tummy flu thing going on its not good. I try to concentrate on the lovely lush green landscape as we approach Brazil. Chris happily snaps away taking pictures, as I fly the plane. I am pleased that I have something else to focus on rather than my increasing nausea as we advance into Brazilian airspace.
When we finally land at Porto Alegre, I am soooo pleased to be on firma terra!!! We are met by two men in Lider uniforms, and although we do not recognize them, we are pleased to see them because we know we are in good hands, as we have found every one of them to be helpful and friendly. Today we meet Sergio and Heider. Sergio, we find out after talking to him, is also a walking miracle having also endured a hideous accident a few years ago. Heider comes from Salvador and recommends places we should visit on our return leg. After a while of organizing our paperwork, our friend from the outward leg, Fernando turns up, he tells us he did an early shift this morning but returned to the airport after taking a nap to meet us!! Within moments of getting reacquainted Fernando jumps into action, whisks us through customs and immigration formalities. He knows everyone in the airport and they all seem to love him. He knows where to go, who to see, and what to do. The normal slow painful, long drawn out process seems easy and almost fun with Fernando as we chat to people along the way of completing our paperwork. We meet a beautiful Brazilian immigration lady who also has the travel bug, and she tells us her dream is to do a long trip like ours but on a boat sailing. We chat to many people while “hanging” with Fernando, but on our return to the Lider office and chatting with the gang, Fernando tells us that he has lined up a TV interview at our hotel that evening. We are so pleased!!! Although we are both pretty tired we are almost re-energized by this news. We now have been given a chance to spread the word of organ donor awareness on Brazilian TV. A stunning lady called Candice and her camera crew showed up at 7pm, Chris is of course is clear, concise, and accurate when he speaks about organ donation and our flight in front of the camera, I on the other hand feel wooden, but speak from the heart about the experience from a family member perspective with a dry scratchy throat. I am told it sounded good but I am still not confident with my “media” image!! The following morning I wake up feeling REALLY rotten, I cannot face breakfast, I am not sure if standing is a good idea, I feel sweaty, weak and pathetic. I know I can’t stay in the room but cannot face being in our beloved plane which now begins represent to me a hot metal box!! I take a cold shower and check my email. I found an email from my lovely sister-in-law informing me that my poor sister Belinda, who has been bravely battling cancer for a many years, had been admitted to hospital in England with new problems. I am in a state of panic I am not sure what to do I am ready to jump on the nearest BA flight home to the UK, but I am not sure how to get there as we are many miles away from Rio or Sao Paulo which is the nearest international flight I can get with my flight pass. I try not to worry the guys from Lider about this new personal information. I talk to Chris who is also very concerned like me about this news. I am also worried about Chris’s mum, as is he. We board our little plane and although I feel extremely poorly, I now have bigger things to worry about. We say our goodbyes to Fernando, Sergio and Hieder, and make tracks for Foz do Iguacu or Iguacu Falls, which is on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. We depart knowing we are traveling north now in the direction towards the USA, and closer to Sao Paulo, where if necessary I can catch a flight to London to be with my sister. I feel a little panic in my chest as we progress along our route to Iguacu Falls.
We both loved staying in Montevideo as the Uruguayan people all seem very polite, relaxed, unruffled and calm, but when we arrived at the hotel that we stayed in on our outward bound leg, unfortunately for the first time we experience very untypical traits from a unfamiliar staff member who we did not recognize from our last visit. Although we had booked online for our room for 3 nights that morning, and it had been confirmed, we were told by a very officious, agitated, front desk individual that, because it was a Friday evening and the reservations office was now closed they may not have a room for us! Chris being on the ball pointed to his ipad which showed the booking confirmation but this did not seem to appease this man. We were made to wait so he could check for availability of rooms, and although we were both totally exhausted, we waited and waited and waited patiently. Chris was told to email the confirmation to the hotel, and checks of this and that went on for some time, and then he reprimanded Chris for not sending the confirmation to the right address, despite it being the one that he had written on a piece of paper. I have not often felt an instant dislike to many people but with this man I did. His condescending tone of voice and his lack of eye contact grated on me. When we were finally given our keys and walking to our room, I was ready to make huge note in the “we loved to hear from you, comments card” in our room!!! My suggestion to improve the quality of the hotel, I thought was to fire this guy! I have no idea why this man upset me so much, but I know that tiredness can have a powerful effect on one’s mood. I have witnessed it first hand at work with some passengers on long-haul flights. They board behaving charming and polite but after an 8 hour plus flight, they can become rude, discourteous and offensive. Just as children "throw their toys out of their prams" when they are agitated, frustrated or tired,(this I think is an English expression) I was really ready to bop this guy with my teddy bear!! I don’t remember un-dressing or getting into bed so I assume I must have fallen sleep asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The next morning was brilliant sunshine, so we headed off to Poscito’s beach, where there is much people watching to be done, and I was able to chilled out listening to “old school’ tunes on my iPod. I was not really impressed with Chris’s foolhardiness of not listening to my suggestion of keeping his cut dry, because within minutes he was diving in head first and telling me not to fuss. I couldn’t really blame him for ignoring my “nagging” as it was about 100 degrees!!! We spent all day at the beach, enjoying the sun, swimming and marveling at how so many Uruguayan people love their Mat'e. We saw many different people on the beach, and no matter if they are young or old they were carrying their Mat'e cups and flask of hot water. We saw cool biker dudes, old grandmothers, sexy thong chicks, and total families with their Mat'e gear. Some had special Mat'e leather carrying bags. And no matter whom we watched they all had the same ritual; they added the tea to the cup stirring in the hot water, let it sit for a while so the tea could brew, a small stir and then slow sipping until a slurping sound is heard.
We planned for our first night back in Montevideo to return to the local resturant up the hill that we both enjoyed on our outward bound sector of this trip. So we headed up to savour their lovely lamb, but as we neared the entrance we realized the doors were shut, the front dining room was dark, and no one was around, because it was closed. We had not expected this, but because we were so hungry we decided to go for the easy option, a resturant a couple of doors down, which turned out to be magnificent! The décor inside this resturant looked like a rain forest, with huge tropical plants and lush blossoming trees. The food was also incredible!!!
The next day became the normal drama day(it seems that there is always one ).We could not get our money from the ATM machines and although we had informed the bank before we left that we were going to be traveling for three months and where we were going they have kept blocking our money and stopping it from being dispense to us.One bank person told Chris it was for his own protection that they stopped him from taking out money from his own account(go figure!) We had for some unknown reason been unable to pay for fuel in local currencies or credit cards as they prefer dollars.So we have had to use USA dollars from our money funds and it was starting to be depleted. Chris called on a good loyal old friend of ours to wire us some emergency money (in which we will pay back on our return to the USA) so we could have peace of mind of not running out of cash. Thankful our nice friend kindly obliged, so we had that huge stress off our minds. But the whole process was long winded and mindless in which both parties was asked stupid questions, had to give irrelevant details, and prove everything near close to one’s blood type!! Chris went to the bank to collect the money and we spent all day again relaxing at the beach. It was so hot that I was actually getting too much sun and I felt a bit dizzy and sick, like I had a little sun stroke. I staggered back to the hotel and laid down in our cool air conditioned room, I drank as much cold water to rehydrate myself, and after a while I felt better. I knew I was alright and getting back to my usual self, when my mind was returning to where and what I wanted to eat for dinner!!!
So our last night, we readied ourselves for dinner, but out of nowhere here was a loud thud against the window. We both jumped out of our skins and Chris said it was probably a poor bird which had flown into the window and had stunned itself. Horrified that it might be hurt I ran to the window only to see something which I could not quite make out. Outside our window was white stuff falling, it took a minute or so to realize that there was balls of snow was falling out of the sky!!How could it be snowing now and still be hot nearly 90 degrees? I had just been suffering from heat stroke!!We looked out of our window with our eyes bulging like we were trying to make sense of what we were seeing; we hardly said a word to each other until we heard another huge bang against our window and the snow had now turned to hail! I watched in awe as the wind suddenly picked up, the trees started whipping around and the leaves and anything not solid or held down bounced and swirled around the street! It was like something out of one of those corny horror /drama films when the sky suddenly goes dark, the weather picks up and whistles, just before the baddie comes into town.
Chris had a total melt down and began freaking out, he started shouting at me for not caring about our poor plane (old Blue Jay) and frantically called the airport because our plane was not chocked or tied. He insisted on us going to the airport to try and secure the plane and became inconsolable when I tried to calm him down. The main problem was when he called the airport no one could speak English so they kept putting the phone down on him, but after a while he got through to someone in operations who said he would get someone to check on our plane. Meanwhile we tried to get a cab from our hotel but of course many other people were also trying to do the same thing, as it was dinner time and people were going out to restaurants. A front desk staff member called us a cab and said it may be 20-30 minutes which seemed like a lifetime watching Chris stomping around, going to pieces, and repeatedly ranting about “old Blue Jay “flipping over” While we waited Chris made several more phones calls to the tower, he found out that the wind was dissipating and had gone from 50knots of wind to 20. People kept stealing “our cab” because as Chris paced up and down in the lobby speaking on his cell phone frantically, by the time I dragged him out they jumped ahead of the line!! The final call to the tower seemed to placate Chris as the wind had now dropped from 20 knots to 7.
We returned from the lobby back up our room and after a harrowing couple of hours but we had still not eaten. We decide to still go our favorite resturant with the outstanding lamb; we chatted to the friendly staff and shared with them our story and our mission for our flight. Although less anxious we still kept an eye looking out of the window checking the weather, noticing that the wind was almost calm and the rain had also died down. We returned to our room totally stuffed, but both less unnerved about “old Blue Jay” being flipped over by the wind and praying it would be in one piece in the morning.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really weak; I staggered around all night feeling sick, dizzy and generally rotten and sorry for myself. In the morning I still felt dreadful and knew I must have the same type of tummy flu that Chris had in Tigre as the symptoms were the same. I was tempted to stay in bed and curl up in a ball but I knew we had to forge on to Porto de Alegre our first port of customs and immigration for Brazil.
We were both looking forward to return to San Fernando Airport, not for the airport itself but because we were going to meet up with our friend Martin and the guys who looked after our plane from Cielo maintenance hangar, Gustavo and Leo. When we arrived we of course went through all the paperwork drama with PSA but somehow it did not seem so bad this time around, and I wonder is it because we are starting to get used to the stupid charade we have to do every time. We are warmly greeted by Gustavo and we get reacquainted with him sharing stories of our travels since we last saw him and hearing what has been happening with him, his work, and family. He looks at the damage on the plane that was done by my “incident” from Cholila and says he knows a guy who is an expert in repairs. I am really pleased as I still feel guilty for the damage I did despite knowing it was not my fault. Leo arrives and we also do some catching up with him, and the brothers as usual help us get a driver, and book us into a delightful hotel in Tigre a suburb of Buenos Aires about 20 minutes away.
The Villa Julia hotel was a delightful place to stay in, as it was once the family home of a wealthy prominent resident in the belle époque era (Edwardian to my British friends) and the building has been restored to its former glory, with original fixtures and fittings. We are staying in a suite which overlooks the pool area, and despite now being a hotel, the building itself had the feel of being a glamourous home. The huge crystal lantern in the living/bedroom area was really enchanting, and our large bathroom had a wonderful free standing deep bath. Our hotel is situated on the river so on our first day we did some tourist sightseeing,visited the Naval Museum, and took a boat ride along the river Parana which was really nice as we had some lovely warm weather .This was almost a perfect stop on journey because; in the grounds of the Art Museum of Tigre, I saw up close for the second time on this trip, green and red parrots flying around and nesting (not in cages in zoo), I caught up with my sleep,and had a magical lunch on an island not far from Tigre called Martin Garcia, after Chris and I were lucky to get a ride in our friend Martin’s beautiful Aero star. The only down side to this leg was that Chris got stuck in bed for almost a whole day with tummy flu/bug. I stayed in the room with him reading but it was not the most pleasant experience for either of us. But I suppose traveling to many places, drinking and eating at various locations,and despite being careful what you eat, tummy issues like this cannot be always avoided!!!
We leave Tigre late afternoon, Chris is still not feeling good and I do almost all of the flying. It is just getting dark when I land at the huge Carrasco International airport. We hope to see the friendly operation manager Jorge who we met last time we came to this airport.
On unloading our luggage on the ramp we are met by a friendly ground operation guy, Chris gets busy talking about airplanes as I of course unload the bags. It is now becoming a long standing joke at each airport we stop at , but also a bit frustrating on my part. As soon as we get out of the plane Chris talks to the ramp guys and “forgets” to help me unload the heavy bags saying “She likes to do it”. Tonight is no different from the rest he stands talking for ages as the ground guy is also a pilot. He shows him pictures of our trip, and I am not sure if it was because I was very tired but I don’t automatically go to unload the bags. Chris eventually starts to help but as he reaches into the airplane to lift out a bag he gashes his leg open!! The cut is pretty deep, the blood is everywhere, and I actually felt nauseous seeing this but go into “cabin crew mode” and drag out our first aid kit and look for a dressing and antiseptic cream. Chris being a man tells me not to fuss and carries on talking to the ground guy. I look at his cut and tell him he needs to go to a hospital or doctor as it looks pretty deep and may need stitches, but of course he refuses, but allows me to clean it and put a dressing on his leg. We enter the customs and immigration hall with our entire assortment of luggage. We are met by a ground operation officer who assists us right through security and notices that Chris limping. He directs us to the Farmacia (chemist)where we get extra dressings and creams for his leg, we jump an in taxi and head for the same hotel we stayed in on the Southern outward bound leg .
On reaching the hotel Chris looks up the notam on the internet and, yes it states that there is no gas today but it also has information backdated to 2008 that is no longer relevant. Although we have a car in which we are the masters of our destination. I know both Chris and I are both bummed out about our dilemma, as it means we may be delayed for a week!!! Once again Chris emails and texts people we know in Argentina asking for advice, as this type of thing has never happened to us in the USA, and we are stumped. We prepare to go to dinner and we both agree to try and enjoy our time tonight and deal with the fuel issue tomorrow. We hear rolling of drums in the nearby streets, and I suddenly remember that it is carnival month and wonder if Trelew also takes part in this festival. We asked in the hotel at the front desk and yes indeed there is a local carnival going on tonight. Of course Chris grabs his camera and we head to the streets, we see many people running towards the sounds of the drums and see groups of young adults dressed in bright sparkling costumes. The female dancers are wearing skimpy bikini type outfits with beaded tassels, feathers, and sequins attached to various parts of their costumes. Some are wearing very revealing attire others more modest, but all are very vivid, dazzling and glittering. Most of the males are also brightly clad, but are mainly carrying huge drums while performing impressive dance moves while marching along the streets. We were thrilled to have unexpectedly arrived on the night of Trelew’s carnival parade but managed to witness a magnificent display for a couple of hours and get to eat a dinner at a great resturant. The next morning our dear friends in Comodoro were going to help us out of trouble again!!We received a telephone call from our friend Martin who was preparing plan B, and instead of us following plan A and waiting helpless until fuel arrived in Trelew. Tinti his nephew was going to fly his plane up from Comodoro with fuel and let us siphon some off some for our plane. This was very reassuring as we now had our fuel issue solved and set off for the Welsh tea house in Gaiman. We had also found out that the dinosaur museum in town was brilliant, because beside China; Patagonia is said to have the most dinosaur fossils in the world. The museum was indeed superb, and although dinosaur stuff is normally not my thing, I was totally in awe with the amount of bones and pristine fossils displayed that had been discover in this area .The Welsh tea houses in Gaimen were also great fun, it seemed weird to see many Welsh flags flying in windows in houses in a Patagonia village. And when we finally sat down in one of the tea houses to sample their afternoon tea, we could hear a Welsh choir singing in the back ground. Apparently the reason behind the Welsh Village is many years ago when Argentina was developing and looking for new settlers in a rural primitive area, there was also a town in Wales going through flux and unrest. The people of the town were scared that the English would take over their area and they would lose their language. So when the Argentina government heard about this they welcomed in the Welsh people promising to allow them to kept their language, culture, and traditions and so they have. A local explained that many residents are descendent of the first settlers and some can still speak Welsh. We noticed that many of names of the area are still traditional Welsh names such as Jones, Evans, and Davies. The day driving around this area was surprising bonus and I learnt about another art of Argentina. On our return to our hotel we got an email from Air Journey in Florida (the people who have organized travel permits and paperwork for us) that Viedma now has plenty of gas. Trouble was we had already alert Tinti to fly down with gas from Comodoro!! More phone calls and organizing, and of course drama!! Chris finally manages to sort it all out and we were able to double check with a telephone call that this was indeed the case. So tomorrow Viedma for gas and on to new place, an area outside Buenos Aires on the river, recommended by Gustavo and Leo from Cielo called Tigre. We are in good spirits as we head for the airport, we are excited about checking out a new place in BA. I have to send some postcards at the Correo (post office) so we drive around before we go, looking at the bustling town. A group of stray dogs run across the road out in front of our car. Chris slams on the brakes as one small dog and bounces off our bummer, rolls and without missing a heartbeat continues to follows the rest of his rag tag friends racing away unscathed. Chris is totally horrified, as he has seen a similar incident happen with a car in front of him hitting a cat, only to find the poor animal by the roadside moments later dead. He decides to drive around the block several times to make sure that the silly dog really did get way ok and after a while we cannot find it so decide it must be ok. Both being big animal lovers, we are now a little dazed by this incident, subdued we drive slowly towards Trelew airport tr.
Staying at the Cholila lodge was a great break in our journey. We ate huge delicious meals cooked by Silva, hiked up to a waterfall and went for a boat ride with Daniel. We went for walks, managed to go kayaking around a small part of the huge lake which was 600feet deep(we later found out) but the highlights of this stop for me was horse riding with Align, Daniels daughter(an endurance champion rider)and low level flying while being filmed by Daniel and Ali(his son-in-law). On the horse riding trail we had two colts along with us following their mothers, and the two friendly sociable family dogs, which seemed to enjoy diving into the lake and rolling in the mud as we rode along the trail. We saw green parrots and strange plants that only flower every 70 years. It was fun crossing lakes and the rivers on horseback as we got to see a different part of the area that we may not have otherwise seen. I also found out that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once lived in Cholila, very peacefully for a few years but apparently there was a bank robbery in the area and the sheriff blamed them and so they went back to their bank robbing ways, or so the locals say. In our low level flying Daniel had managed to mount a camera on the tail of his plane, and was able to film every move we made.
The weather had been very varied while we were staying in Cholila Lodge but that was ok, as we having fun! I was able to sit by the huge open log fire, look at our pictures from the trip, or be still, do nothing but stare out of the window at the wonderful vista !! It had been raining pretty hard all night, I had been listening to the heavy down hitting the roof, thinking how peaceful it sounded, only to remember our poor plane was also sitting outside the lodge and I began praying that the plane was not leaking again! While flying in a small plane fuel is always a consideration when planning our stops.We can decide to go to one airport which may be convenient but they may not have the fuel we need for our airplane.So we had planned to get fuel in the local airport Esquel but we were told by Daniel there was now none available. But we were not too concerned as we had enough to get to a couple of airports such as Bariloche,or Viedma (little airport which we used on the way down). We also knew that Trelew has the right fuel for our plane(AV100 LL)which will be our main refueling at the next stop.
We felt very sad to be leaving this little tranquil oasis, as we had been able to completely chill out being the only guests, and build a real connection with Silva and Daniel. But it was time to move on now and make tracks back up north towards Trelew. We had planned to go over the mountain pass so we could get a good look at the snow -capped mountains that we had been looking at every morning from our bedroom window. I volunteered to do the take- off today as this was such a great opportunity to take off on a grass runway and be able to immediately soar over the beautiful blue lake after the wheels have left the ground. So there we were, ready to go I make sure that the nose of the plane is not digging into the wet ground on the runway as I taxi. So plan to do what is called a soft field take off and pull the stick fully back so that I will lift off quickly without digging the nose wheel into the muddy ground and avoiding any holes. So as I start going down the runway avoiding puddles and holes I do as planned and hold back the stick fully but as the nose popped up off the ground as I expected the seat shot backwards and I was unable to reach the peddles. I was now almost pulling the nose way too high which usually results in hideous accidents (and is a common occurrence with Cessna seats). We swerve down the runway, we hear a thud and a scraping noise as we hit a muddy hole but luckily Chris being six foot seven and with long legs, was able to quickly grab the controls and take over. I can’t believe I have damaged the plane, how bad is it? What is it going to cost? I have never had an “incident “before in an airplane, but Chris reassures me that it was just a scrape and that it is probably a just a crack in the fairing. We continue flying towards Trelew and most of the way I am feeling pretty bad. I look at the beautiful views from outside my window and try to enjoy the great scenery, but I start to think about what I could have done to avoid my “incident”. I question my flying ability and swear to let Chris do all the take offs from now on, and begin to worry about how much damage I have caused. We decide that we have enough fuel to get to Bariloche and then refuel properly in Trelew. In Bariloche we inspect the damage that I did to the plane from Cholila, and see that the plane is covered in mud, and the plastic on the fairing on the tail is cracked with a big clunk missing. I feel awful and I know that Chris is trying not show that he is really annoyed with me as he patches the damage with duct tape , but this is not the first time my seat has slid back and although it gets “mended “every time we have a service on the plane, the repair never lasts for long and I am continually having to jam the seat into position on every take off. We both agree that it was an accident waiting to happen, and the solution may be to buy new rails, as the pins are not good enough. I thank god I was not on my own when this happened as I would have surely crashed, and know that most of the crashes I have read about with sliding seat issues have resulted in deaths. We forge on to Trelew, but as we approach we are told by the air traffic controller that the airport has no fuel. OMG!!!What are we going to do now? We had not planned on this little delight! What do we do now, as we do not have enough fuel left to divert to any other airport or know anyone here to help us. While we are unloading our bags, we are approached by a pilot who vaguely looks familiar and it turns out he is from Comodoro Rivadavia aero-club and is also in the same dilemma with no fuel. We discover there is an notam,( a pilot’s report) which we unfortunately did not read this today that states that there may not be any fuel for up to five days. Shocked and a little bit frustrated, we decide if we are going to be stuck in a place such as Trelew, place we had not planned on staying in for long, we should hire a car and go and explore. One place we both had talked about visiting is Gaiman, a town which we had both heard about which is a few miles out of town where the people speak welsh, have a Welsh choir and have several Welsh tea rooms which you can visit.
We decided to hire a car which is really expensive in this country and head for the same hotel that we stayed at before on our way south, we know it comfortable, and clean, and we also know where a lovely resturant in town is, and are planning to head there tonight for dinner.
It is amazing in life that it is somehow not what you know, but who you know, can sometimes get you out of trouble or put you on the right path to what you want to do!! After a hideous night of both of us not sleeping well, Chris frantically texts, emails and calls friends we know in Comodoro Rivadavia from the flying club, asking if they know where we can get my computer repaired ASAP. Good old Sebastian, who has helped us out so many times on this trip, knows a place in town and tells us to go immediately. A lovely “computer geek” called Herman who speaks English, sighs, mumbles, and rolls his eyes looking at my computer for about 30 minutes, trying to find out the problem, and decide if he can mend it. Both Chris and I beg him to try, and explained how important it is for us to have this machine up and working, our photos, our films, my documents, etc. I had also remembered when I woke once in the night, that my case studies and my long slogged project for my master degree are also on my computer, and I shuddered at the thought of losing them. I think that I have probably backed up most of my stuff, but I mentally questioned myself saying “did I save that one, not sure if that one was backed up?” I have a cloud that backs stuff up also and I know it restores most stuff as I did it to this new computer from my old one. But it is a long couple of day’s downloading and a real time consumer, a total pain!!Having this “machine” broken made me realize how much we both rely and use this thing, and it kind of horrifies me to think I would be lost without it! Herman eventually tells us he can fix it, and it will be ready for tomorrow at 12. We had planned on leaving early morning but when we hear he can fix it we are both ecstatic! I tell him I could almost kiss him and I meant it!
When our friend Martin hears what has happened, he advises Chris that we are both need to go to a place to de-stress. He knows a place that we can fly to which is run by a good friend and his wife. They have a lodge in the Andean mountains on a lake, which is tranquil and peaceful. You can, fish, hike, horseback ride and best of all do nothing!! He tells Chris he is carrying too much on his shoulders and needs a place to clear his head and recharge his batteries. So after collecting my computer with an extra added stress of us getting a message saying it won’t be ready until 6pm instead of noon. We packed up our stuff, pay our bill, check out of our hotel and are on our way.
Cholila Lodge is on a lake and in order to fly there we are supposed to fly a certain grass slip and Daniel the owner will come out in his plane and meet us. Then we will follow him to the lodge, where there is another grass slip in front of the lodge. The journey to the Lodge is wonderful as it is over the vast Patagonia country side which transforms from a dry and dusting looking land that looks like a desert with guanaco running around, to now various tones of green and lush vegetation ,with gorgeous wild horses dashing along trails, and deep valleys. We find the grass strip which is just pass a small airport called Esquel where we had planned on topping up our plane with fuel but find out from the air traffic controller on approach that they have run out of gas. We have enough to get to the lodge and on to Viedma or Bahia Blanca on our way north so are not concerned about this issue. We soar over the mountains and keep our eyes peeled for the grass field which after a few minutes is plain as daylight. We land, and as we step out of our plane we are greeted by a silver haired, kind faced man who is the Daniel the owner of the lodge, who has flown in to meet us in his vintage 1955 Cessna 180, with a friend who is going to take pictures of us as we fly to the lodge, what blast!!! How incredible to have a picture of us flying our plane with stunning landscape and mountains as backdrop!!!The flight was not only magnificent but the view from the plane was spectacular. The lake was the most bluest of lakes I have ever seen in my life, it looked like it had been photo shopped as the colour was so vibrant and bright. We flew in formation for a while, which was such a delight, and really good fun thing for both of us, I could not stop myself smiling at the thrill of it, and when I looked at Chris I knew he was feeling the same pleasure I was, as he grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat!
When we landed I was totally impressed, as this was one of the most glorious picturesque lodges I have ever seen. It looked like it should be on the front of a post card, as it had all the features you expect that are pleasing to the eye. The sun was shining brightly, the temperature was hot, and in front of the lodge was a stream trickling down from the mountains that led to a couple of ponds with wild geese and ducks swimming on it,, this in turn ran down to the lake. In front of the lodge were friendly dogs bounding about and if you looked up at the front of the lodge towards the chimney, you could see the smoke bellowing out, this coming from the open log fire which was burning inside. On unloading our bags and leaving our plane COMPLETLY parked in front of the lodge (see pictures on website) we were warmly welcomed by the charming Silva, Daniel’s wife who showed us to superb room. The room had wooden beams as did most of the ceilings in the lodge, and a rustic, very cozy feel about it. The best thing I liked about the room was it had double doors that led to a balcony; and from that balcony, one was able to see snowcapped mountains! After settling our bags in our room, Silvia brought us coffee and cakes and Daniel, Silva Chris and I had a friendly chat about what we wanted to do. Silva explained that they had just had a huge group of guest leave and was expecting some more the next week but this was a bit of a lull and we were the only guest staying at the moment so we had free run of the lodge and to let her know what suited us. What a result!!! This was just what we needed no schedule, plenty of sleep, and peace and quiet. The best thing about this place was although there was internet; this was the Andean mountains so our expectations of sending emailing or receiving mail were low. We had come to rest our tired bodies, get over the expensive accident of the broken computer and calm our frayed nerves. We hoped to explore the beautiful area that we found ourselves in and take advantage of this unique opportunity to do some mountain activities.
Rio Gallegos returning to Rada Tilly
On our last full day in Rio Gallegos Chris, Leny, and I took a flight up to the El Calafate mountains which is also part of the Andes. The mountain range which is named Fitzroy is supposed to be the most impressive, with huge blue glaciers. Apparently there is a time every so many years that the glacier forms a type of bridge across the valley and when it eventually thaws and breaks the noise is spectacular. Tourists from all over the world come to witness this event and last time this was predicted to happen many waited for months to see and hear it break. In going around the mountains on this flight we were told by air traffic to maintain 6,000 feet which we thought would be way too high to get any decent pictures. But as we turned the corner looking for Fitzroy there was no mistaking which one it was. 11,000 feet high with the most incredible glacier road swirling down the mountain there it stood. “Look at THAT” Leny sighed and in deed, all three of us were mesmerized and could not stop LOOKING AT THAT!! We circled around and zig zagged along the edge of the mountain getting as close as we could without violating air space. We unfortunately was unable to see the mountain top because it was obscured by cloud and although we could chance climbing high to get a peak it was not worth the risk of getting caught in clouds without knowing where the top were. . We were all really excited as none of us have been up close to a glacier and this is mountain is one that that everyone talks about and comes to see.
Flying back to Rada Tilly was not as exciting as it was first time around. The amazing dry and barren deserts looked pretty unimpressive this time, as we have seen so much on each leg down to the Southernmost tip of the world, and having seen the glaciers day before which were pretty impressive and still on my mind, this landscape with its many oil derricks(nodding donkeys) now seems very bland. On arriving at our hotel we were given an ocean view room which was lovely, but the internet seem very slow and intermittent. We didn’t think much about it because we had been invited to a BBQ in our honour at the aero club in Comodoro on our first night back and although we were sad that our friend Martin was in still in Buenos Aires working and unable to join us, we were looking forward to seeing the rest of the club members who met before on outward leg such as Sebastian, Tinti and Javier, to name a few. The BBQ was outstanding, I am not a big meat lover, but the pork, which I normally like least of all meats, melted in the mouth and the “chef “who was this cheeky chap, promised to return to the USA with me to be my private cook!! We had a great night with the Comodoro aero club members, the food and the conversation was great despite a language barrier. No one seemed to mind our sign language and Spanglish. We were asked to share our pictures of our journey using a slide show, which was an honour, and which we were proud to do. I know Chris was in his element surround by pilots talking shop but despite being “one of them” I wasn’t quite. I do love the thrill of flying, and I am always amazed at the changing terrain and different landscapes that I have the privilege of viewing from a plane as a pilot, but I do not feel and urge to always talk about planes, be it be new engines, new GPS, new parts in the cock pit, Apps for maps. I love the experiences one gets to have in an airplane and like to share stories of what I have seen and hear about others but I sometimes feel isolated if I am not completely plane mad like many of the pilots I have met are. That said, I think I was a bit of a novelty being a black, woman pilot in most places we have flown into included the Comodoro aero club,which only have a couple of women pilots.
The next day was supposed to have terrible weather; the forecast said it was going to be wet, cold and raining. Chris and I had decided to stay in for most of the morning as to catch up with all of our emails, blogs, and journals. But when we woke up, the sun was glorious and as we had a front seat view of the beach I was desperate to go out while the weather was so nice. But Chris was in a foul mood, the internet had been down when he had woken up early in the morning and now he said it kept logging out half way through some of his writing. Apparently he had “lost several documents” and some important emails not be could not retrieved.We went to breakfast and both set about doing our email tasks but the room was hot, the internet was REALLY slow, and I was not into it as I could feel a long walk on the beach beckoning me. So I asked Chris if he wanted to go out, and “all hell broke loose” and we both lost our tempers and had a huge row. I left for the beach with my tunes on my iPod and Chris carried on sitting in a hot room battling the slow internet. When I reached the beach, I decided to walk for 30 minutes to an hour. This way I would get some fresh air, a little exercise, and cool down from our row. I had plans to return to hotel to do email, but the weather was so pleasant that I got carried with collecting shells and stones!! Mad as it may seem to some, a good friend from home asked me to bring back a couple of stones from places I have visited, and now it has become a compulsive habit to me!! Once you notice a stone that has an interesting colour or strange marking you see another and another. I also like collecting shells, so I was engrossed in my simple pursuits of shell and stone collecting in tidal pools while the tide was out, and I managed to for walked for miles and miles. I enjoyed talking to the local people along the way, most were out to get fresh air like me, or to walk their dogs, but all very friendly and chatty. One humorous old man especially, also walking his dog stopped me to practice his English on me, and show me where muscles were growing on some rocks. He also talked to me about the local area and reminisced how the area was many years ago when he was a boy. Feeling less stressed out by our silly row I returned to our hotel to find Chris still fuming and upset with me for “abandoning him” to have a nice day alone while he slaved away. We had lunch both pretty glum, and we both thought “bugger this!” we are going for a walk together today!!! Went in the opposite direction of the beach walk I had done in the morning, and saw totally different shells and rocks. Chris left pictures down loading on his ipad and explained why he was braving out his emailing until he felt that he needed a break and some fresh air. We go for a walk and as we talked I realized that many people have been following our story and supporting our cause which has been wonderful, but Chris got many emails saying “when are you going to post more pictures?” “When are you going to update your blog?” I had not realized how important the blogs had meant to some people and how Chris felt some obligation to keep up with the demand of others. I felt less inclined to do so, not because I didn’t want to write my journal, because I enjoy writing it, but I am only human and if there is an internet problem or issues that are more important to me then I will do it at the next place we stop.
On returning to our room we feel better, refreshed and a bit calmer.We write post cards, look at our next leg of the journey, and talk about places we want to visit. Chris eventually checks the pictures that were supposed to be downloading on his ipad while we on our walk, but for some unknown reason they had not down loaded and he had lost email he had written a couple of hours previously. Bang!!Frustrated, aggravated, irritated and tired he threw his ipad on to the second bed in our room, unfortunately it landed hard with a huge bang onto of my computer!!!! Not impressed at all, in fact I am fuming, as it seems that now my computer is broken and won’t work. Tomorrow we need to find a computer repair shop ASAP as it is our last full day in Rada Tilly. My computer is only a few months old, and although we have backed up stuff most of our trip on a hard drive from my computer, it still has all my old pictures, films and documents on, I have a good shout at Chris for a few moments and then we both go to bed quietly subdued. Another drama to deal with!!
The next morning after the grueling the experience of Chris’s peanut drama, Chris receives a response from the Chilean government stating that we have to land in Chile pick up a Navy personnel, get more permission and have someone come onboard with us while we take our picture of the rock at Cape Horn. We receive more emails in Spanish in which we can’t decipher, and after much consideration we decide that time is running short and we can’t afford to be stuck in Chile if things go wrong, all for a picture of a rock!!! We decide that we have come as close as we could to the Cape Horn and the most sensible thing to do now is continue to Rio Gallegos to see our friends at the aero club at Rio Chico.
We return our hire car and the nice rental man runs us to our airplane, where we load all our stuff in. We are greeted by a man introduces himself as Peter. He starts asking us many question about our plane, our trip, and our journey. We have become accustomed to people being curious about our US registered plane but after a while I get suspicious and ask him “are you a helicopter pilot?” as there is a helicopter sightseeing place next door. No Peter explains he is the commander of the Navy base!! My first reaction is “on no what is wrong and does he want now?” He asks for all our paperwork and a copy of the flight plan from Stanley. He jokes with me about the hangar fee being higher now he realizes we are a USA registered plane, shakes our hands and leaves. A little later at the international Ushuaia airport, we land and give the PSA our paperwork and show our entry to the flight plan office. We see Peter the naval commander again and Chris reckons that we have got them all baffled as we did not land in Rio Grande our first place on our flight plan not Ushuaia. Chris explain our need for “gasoline” and “mucho vento in Patagonia” After a while he understood our reasons for landing in Ushuaia joked with us about our language barriers and left. After the PSA took a picture of our plane as usual, we continued on our way, flying over Beagle Channel, and zig zaging through the mountains valleys, looking in wonder at the amazing ice lakes and snow covered mountains. Our route direction now was towards the east coast of Tierra del Fuego, as we proceeded along our course the ride began to get bumpy, we were certainly back into Patagonia I said to myself through gritted teeth as I banged my head on the plane, “this is Patagonia!”
Before long we were descending into Rio Gallegos main airport where we were pleasantly surprised to be met by our friend leny. Unfortunately more paperwork is needed to be done, Chris does this part while I attend to our refuel issue. The same people are there and they smile and laugh when they see me. Next leg is a short five minute flight to the Rio Chico aero club. Of course Chris has to do a couple of buzz jobs over the club hangar. We hope that some of our friends will be waiting there for us. As we do a low flight pass of the club we see several people on the ground. Chris continues to complete the landing pattern and as we taxi up to the hangar we see many people waiting as we step from the plane, we see Leny and a camera team. Leny says “I hope you don’t mind, but a local camera crew is here to interview you, I will translate for you”. Chris is on great form in front of the camera, he rattles off our mission and the cause we are trying to highlight by doing this flight. He states the importance of organ donation and the reasons why everyone should be a donor. I am very proud of the way he can speak in a confident and calm manner despite microphone pointed in his face and camera right in front of him. I on the other hand am not natural in front of a camera but feel my whole body either going rigid or I clam up. Once the camera goes away we get reacquainted with the friends we made on the outward board, and I am pleased to see Jose and Juan are here as is leny. The club have kindly organized a barbecued of cordero, or lamb (which Chris had jokingly requested on our way out). The evening was a great as we not only got to show the guys our pictures of our trip, catch up with the friends made on the way out but also make new ones. I felt touched that they had all made an effort for us, and kind of understood what all this meant to Chris, to be involved with a great aero club, the camaraderie of pilots, all talking about their adventures, their flights, and their shared experiences. I watched all the guys and saw although we spoke a different language they all had the same passion about airplanes and flying.
We are now in the most southern tip of the world, or as the locals call it “Fin del Mundo” the end of the world. We get a ride into town from the airport by a friendly local helicopter pilot and decide to do some sightseeing in this unique town. The people have a native Indian look about then with dark eyes and dark eyes. The local people seem totally intrigued by Chris and I, the children especially look at Chris with awe because of his 6’7 height and me because I appear to be the only black person in town. On our first night we just order room service and crash out, we try to catch up with our emails as the Falklands internet was unbelievably slow and expensive. We find this is also a huge problem in Ushuaia, but then we are at the end of the world. The local helicopter pilot who gave us a ride to town told us in order to fly to Cape Horn our last stop for our mission a few miles south, we need to apply for a permit as the rock is “officially Chilean” Chris sends emails applying for a permit to fly to the rock and so we can take some pictures and while we await a response we do our sightseeing.
We decide to hire a car which is both incredibly expensive and REALLY slow! The whole process took two and a half hours despite having the hotel call the night before to book it for us!! We venture to the old jail which is now a museum and a can kind of an Argentine Alcatraz. The conditions in which the prisoners lived in were barbaric with concrete floors and no heating. The prisoners were used as a kind of slave labour to build local buildings, including the local rail network. We also went to another museum to learn about the most earliest and primitive local Indians called Yamana Indians. They lived a wild nomadic life in which they lived off shellfish and wild vegetation, they also wore no clothes. Unfortunately just like many native inhabitants in history who have interacted with the western white man. Missionaries came and “civilized them” and unfamiliar with wearing clothes they picked up germs and infections and eventually the Yamana tribe was wiped out.
The next day we drove around in the National park which was picturesque, with huge mountains and great lookout points for scenic views. The park had huge lush green trees, alpine forests, lakes, streams and rivers. We saw a native red fox and many interesting birds. Camping seemed popular in this park as it seemed ideal for those who like to hike and climb mountains, in fact we saw many people just doing that. We found a little old steam train in which the network and rails as mentioned in the museum was built by the prisoners many years old. We decide to take an hour ride in this train and as we felt like treating ourselves for an extra $20 we also got a lunch which entailed a tasty crab meat sandwich, a glass of champagne, a local chocolate cake (alfajor) and muffin. All was going well and we was enjoying the views from this this charming little First Class carriage which we shared with another four people. The food was delicious and on the way down Chris mumbles something to me about not feeling well. He was suddenly very quiet so I asked him what was wrong and he refused to answer me. All of sudden I knew what was wrong as his face went bright red and started to look swollen. There must have been peanuts which he is highly allergic to the cake! Of course we didn’t have his Epipen with us; it was of course back in our hotel room which was about a 30 minute drive away. Chris’s face continued to get redder and redder and as we neared the town, I suggested that we should find a farmacia (pharmacy). I looked at Chris and I knew it was getting really serious when he said “no I think I need a hospital”. Now I was really scared, I knew that he may go into full blown anaphylactic shock any minute and he was telling me that he was having trouble breathing!!We looked for signs for a hospital, and frantically looked on our ipad for map for a hospital sign. Suddenly we saw a red cross, and then a hospital sign which we aimed straight for. This was one my worst nightmare realized; in a hospital, in a foreign country trying to tell the doctors that Chris is sick! I frantically tried to explain to the receptionist that Chris was allergic to peanuts and he may go into anaphylactic shock any minute as he was now making a choking sound! Luckily after us both shouting” allergic! allergic!” several times, a wonderful angel appeared and “said I work for the Red Cross and speak English can I help you?” The lovely lady was Eloisa Dougherty who had unfortunately hurt her shoulder and was there to get a pain shot. Thankfully for us she was able to translate the importance of Chris seeing someone immediately and within seconds we were ushered to a room where the doctor and the nurse sprang into action. The doctor gave Chris a hydrocortisone shot and the nurse put a mask on his face and gave him oxygen!! We waited for 2-3 hours as Chris began to start breathing normally and look less red. The delightful Eloisa with excellent English stayed with us the whole time, amusing us with funny stories and just hanging out with us. We left the hospital after the doctors gave Chris the green light to go and paid the minute bill of 70 pesos which is about 12-15 dollars (10 pounds).After facing my huge fear of taking Chris to foreign hospital being realized it all worked out in the end! We drove Eloisa home, got a takeaway meal from the resturant next door to our hotel and crawled into bed.