We slowly leave Port Stanley but only after we have looped around town, looking at all of the places that we have visited and have grown to like. We then focus on flying towards Weddell Island which we had overflown on our inbound leg to the island. As we establish radio contact with Mount Pleasant we are once again “embellished “by two RAF Typhoons who zoom past us as we depart. Chris is disappointed as he did not have his camera at the ready and get a close up shot. I am just pleased that they flew by to say good bye. Over Goose green and Fox bay we here another voice on the radio stating that they too are going to land on Weddell Island. We find out that they are a Sea King helicopter and part of me wonders “could it be the lovely Prince William?” As we approach we realize it is not an RAF helicopter but a civilian one, which is still pretty cool. Chris does the landing as it is a grass field runway, and although the runway is nicely mowed it is a little uneven. I also notice that the wind has picked up a lot, and I know I can do it but I would rather he with all his experience take control. Good call (I later tell myself)because as we flare the crosswind picks up, Chris has to fight with the buffeting wind as he forcefully puts the plane down quickly so it does not float, glad I did have control I say to myself!! We chat to the Sea King pilots, take a quick peak inside their aircraft and wave them take off which is pretty impressive when you are up close.
We are met by Martin Beaton, a delightfully humorous, gentleman who not only helped us refuel our tanks in the increasing wind but has a warm flask of tea and homemade cake from his wife Jane!! As we sip our tea and look around us the view is pretty spectacular. Weddell has a wild rugged feel to it but is beautiful at the same time. Martin and his wife live alone in this remote part of the islands for 6 months of the year and love the undisturbed, uncomplicated lifestyle. Once we have finished our tea, with an extra slice of cake for our journey, we board our plane, wave goodbye to Martin. We start our engine, readjust our lifejackets and taxi to the end of the runway. Our plane starts making weird noises, as we do our run up, I can’t believe it, what now! We turn off the engines and start again this time all is well and we lift off now towards initially Rio Grande where plan to do our first port of paperwork drama and then on to Ushuaia. When we reach our water crossing we keep a close eye on the ground speed, and we both agreed if it drops below 90 we may be in some trouble. We figured despite extra fuel there may be a point of which if the headwind becomes too much we may have to turn back to Weddell Island. But so far so good we stay at 90-100nm of ground speed. I worry a little about the weird noise the engine made on takeoff, but then forget about it as I watch the wind whip the waves forcefully and notice the many white caps down below us.
The wind died down as we progressed along our route and the leg was actually really enjoyable, our ground speed remained at 90 knots and we started to hear the Argentina air traffic controllers as we got closer into their range. Back to Spanish speaking airports we were tried to contact Comodoro Approach but after a while we came in range with Rio Grande tower who handed us to the Ushuaia Tower. We flew over the most incredible snowcapped mountains I have ever seen in my life, which had the most stunning deep blue ice lakes and glaciers between them. This is something I have only seen in travel magazines or documentaries. As we soared around the Andes, words could not describe the outstanding beauty these mountains have. We see the crossed the beagle channel and are now Tierra del Fuego province. We first land at the big international airport at Ushuaia where people are confused and baffled where this little 172 Cessna has come from. Our intention is to fly to the aero club which is two minutes away after getting our paperwork done, and get fuel, as we have been directed to do so by our Comodoro Friends, who also say we can also park our plane in the club’s hangar. We explain all this to the customs and immigration people but they are still puzzled with why we have landed here and what we were doing in the Malvinas. Language barriers do not help as none of them speak English and we of course don’t speak Spanish, after Chris shows them an Argentina newspaper article of our flight they seem to lighten up. Luckily a security or flight planning guy called Nicholas (Nico) arrives; he speaks English and is a member of the Ushuaia aero club, the place we want to fly to. Nico explains that unfortunately there is no room in the aero club’s hangar for our plane but the Navy Base hangar right next door is happy to let us keep our airplane there at a cost. With help from him and some translating we are on our way!! We still need fuel, so we head for the aero club, and on arriving at the aero club we are greeted by two young men who immediately in clear English welcomes us to Ushuaia. We have a chat about our journey and they have seen articles about us and our journey in their papers and also on the TV. The current political climate is a bit messed up at the moment in Argentina, and there is friction between the Falklands, UK and Argentina. We have been staying clear away from getting involved having made friends in both Argentina and the Falklands. But some articles in the UK and Argentina press got it all wrong!! They said we were flying in a jet plane THAT had to be escorted into Port Stanley for our own safety by the two typhoons, and others say we were intercepted as we were suspected of wrong doing. We had to put them right as both stories was utter b……t and we did not want to be involved in political propaganda. We all had a laugh about the ridiculous stories they had read, they help us refuel, chatted to us about the local area and wished us good luck for the rest of our trip.
Having spent from five days in the Falklands we began to feel very much attached to place. It seemed only right and appropriate to spend both Chris's birthday, 11th Feb and Valentine’s Day, (a day I now dread) in such a peaceful place. Valentine's Day marks the 2 year anniversary of Chris collapsing and going into hospital, and despite it being 2 years ago I still remember vividly the whole day of seeing him unconscious and connected to the life support machines.
I like the people, the place and the friendly atmosphere that seems to everywhere. Being such as small community we would chat to someone in the morning in our hotel and later on that day we would see them in the post office, bank and local supermarket. Everyone appears to know each other, went to school with each other, or are related in some way, and although some say it may be a bit overwhelming at times, they all seem to support each other. While talking about our donor awareness cause and what the money we receive for Kings College Hospital goes towards (global and national research, patient support, Listen Lodge/family support) it seems that the Islanders also have a similar local charity called the Stephen Jaffy Fund which also supports the family members.
The day before departing from Port Stanley, Chris and I talk about our flight back north and on to Ushuaia. Chris has been watching the weather and winds for the last few days and has seemed very edgy, as the winds have not been our favour. I start to get nervous because although I know we will not do anything silly or dangerous I hate to see my comfort blanket (my 747 captain husband) nervous. We establish a new plan to get over our 400nm water crossing to Ushuaia, as the headwinds are so strong that if we go the same way we came we will definitely not make land, run out of fuel and have a nasty surprise in the South Atlantic!!Chris comes up with a plan to get a couple of Jerry cans of fuel, so we have extra fuel and head for the far west part of the Falklands called Weddell Island, here we can top up our tanks, this way we will less of a water crossing by 100nm and full fuel tanks.
The last night in our hotel we begin to feel sad, we have a delicious meal of Patagonian of tooth fish, and say goodbye to the lovely hotel staff, Carl, Jasper, Christine. We even have a visit from Robin Godwin a local amateur photographer who gives us great pictures of our plane and the island, who we met on our first day in FI.
In the morning we say our goodbyes to all our new friends, we feel that we still have not seen enough of this amazing place and vow to come back for more sightseeing, but next time in a faster, bigger plane!!Our friend James drives us to the airport and we see our friend tour guide Tony smith and his daughter Aline waiting to see us off. The local TV station interviews us as we prepare to leave and Robin Godwin also arrives to take a couple of pictures of us as we depart.
With our airplane packed, jerry cans full, we take off into the clear blue windy, sky, heading for Weddell Island; both of us feel very emotional as we leave. Chris does a buzz of the airport and I see I think Andrew waving from the tower, and Robin taking pictures as Chris does a low pass. On to Weddell Island we go, goodbye Port Stanley.
We discovered from the beginning, that the Falklands islands has a magical and welcoming allure about it, and from landing into Port Stanley to checking into our lovely Malvina Hotel, I felt an odd sense of familiarity about the place. As I explained to my friends and family when describing the Falklands, it felt like the England I knew when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Locals seem to have a strong sense of community spirit among them, neighbours appeared to be real friends, and visitors are treated with a kind, hospitable, and trusting manner. For example; we arrived on a Friday night, and found the island does not have cashpoints (ATMs)!!! As we have been traveling for 8 nearly weeks, we have a varied collection of different currencies. We thought that although we had some sterling (about 100 quid) between us, we expected to be able to draw more cash out of “the hole in the wall” for meals, sightseeing, and, sundries, etc. In hearing the news about the Falklands having no ATMs, I was horrified and a bit shocked. But people reassured me that most places accepted credit cards and for those who wanted cash, we could go to the bank that accepts UK cheques! This was good, but it was Friday, and the bank did not open until Monday and much to my surprise people who preferred cash said "no worrying about paying by credit card, it’s OK pay us after you have had time to go to the bank!!!! So we had dinner, hired a car, booked a tour, brought gifts and did IOU’s, no one seemed concerned about us not paying them!
We found when talking to people they seemed to show a genuine interested in both getting to know us, and about our cause. Some people went out of their way to help us, or introduce us to someone they knew who may be able to help get our organ donor awareness drive some publicity. The kind staff at our hotel alerted the local paper the Penguin News about our journey and we were able to do an interview with a lovely man called John Fowler, and our friend Andrew contacted the local TV station who also kindly came to interview us.
After spending our first night feasting on a lovely local lamb dish (a sheep is on the Falklands coat of arms) and sleeping like logs. Andrew had organized for his friend James from FIGAS to lend us a car. We had great fun driving around and hiking across the countryside. The island was amazing, with its impressive mountains and hills and romantic windswept beaches. Parts of it looked like the Cornish countryside, and some areas reminded me of remote isles in Scotland. Chris said he also saw similarities to the Yorkshire Dales, in which I must agree.
The next few days was spent sightseeing the island, either with just myself and Chris, or in the company of the island’s most knowledgeable tour guide Tony Smith and his lovely daughter Aline. We would drive and hike up hills exploring the island and learning about the history. We also got to be driven in a super comfortable 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser banging through "camp" with Nobby Clarke. He took us to the far North end of the eastern part of the island, Volunteer Point. This is a unique place in the world where you can observe nature up close and personal. We was able to spend approximately three hours with an large colony of King Penguins, who live alongside colonies of Gentoo and Magellanic's with the total number being around 1-2000. Because this was the summer, the season when many babies have been born, the young “toddler” penguins come from their nursery areas and are playful and overly curious of our presence. If we sat still and waited, after a while they would walk up to us peck our jackets or shoes and sit next to us. It was truly an amazing experience!!
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!