Monthly Archives: January 2016

December 26: Back to New Zealand

I left Santiago just after mid night  on the 25th of Dec and arrived back in Auckland at 4:30 am on the 26th December. A 13 hour flight, and losing a day in the time zone change – which meant I completely missed Christmas Day!

The flight was not better or worse than any other long haul flight. I was a bit worried about making my connecting flight to Wellington due to the luggage belt breaking down delaying the bags coming off, and MAF inspecting my bike and fumigating my tent etc. The domestic terminal was busy and it took ages to get my bike box checked into oversize luggage, but thankfully I got to the boarding gate in time.

We had perfect weather and great views from the plane. When I got to Wellington my daughters Kelly, Shellbe and Lizzy were there to met me with my grandchildren Xavier and Lucy. I was not sure how Xavier and Lucy would react, given that six months is a long time in a small child’s life, but they were both delighted to see me.

Waiting for my luggage, excited to be talking to my family again

Waiting for my luggage, excited to be talking to my family again

Then it was home for family celebrations 🍴🍷. My family had stocked up on my favourite food and wine 👧👩‍👩‍👦 My house was sparkling clean and the section had had a good clean up as well (there had been a working bee a couple of weeks before I got home organized by my son Daniel). Even Benji had had a bath and was wearing a Christmas ribbon  😀😀😀😄. I felt very spoilt.

Benji the Excellent Dog wearing his Christmas ribbon

Benji the Excellent Dog wearing his Christmas ribbon

My grandchildren reading books - both so much bigger than before I left!

My grandchildren reading books – both so much bigger than before I left!

So almost 6 months later, I am back home. A  kaleidoscope of memories of stunning sights and sounds in my head. It has been an epic adventure, and mentally and physically it is the second hardest thing I have ever done. The first of course, as any parent knows, is parenting!

As a close friend told me during the trip, looking back it is the things we achieve that were hardest that we value the most.

So until the next adventure “Ciao amigos”.

Home for only a few hours, and already well comfortable in my favourite chair - look how happy the cat is!

Home for only a few hours, and already well comfortable in my favourite chair – look how happy the cat is!

Categories: South American Epic | Tags: , | 4 Comments

December 24 : Unexpected stay in Buenos Aires

I woke up at 5:30 but managed to go back to sleep until nearly 9. Then I got up, showered, and went down to the restaurant. I am a whinger I know, but I was disappointed that the water for the tea was lukewarm, as was the coffee. I asked for some hot water but was still waiting when I left. Unlike the two airline pilots who had hot water rushed to them as soon as they sat down. Apart from that the hotel staff were excellent.

After breakfast I went to find out if transport was arranged today to the international airport. Not as far as they were aware, so after discussion with them I booked my own transport at 3pm which they assured me would give me plenty of time to get to the airport,with 2 hours to spare. Off to the cash flow machine to get money to pay for it (equivalent of $100 USD).

I could not believe how warm it was. When I got back to the hotel I changed into a dress and sandals for the first time in weeks. It was nearly 11 am and I was feeling guilty about not taking the opportunity to explore at least some of this city. But I was over being away and decided to catch up on the last few days of the blog. I decided to charge my iPad – unbelievable the plugs here use a different charger than the rest of Argentina that I have been to. The plug for Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia also did not work.  Fantastic I think, I have no phone and now no iPad as well. But thankfully the NZ plug worked.

Luckily I decided not to go touring as at midday the phone in my room rung and the Lan arranged transport had arrived 6 hours before my flight. I had to frantically repack as I had unpacked everything looking for the NZ charger plug. The ride to the airport went smoothly, not a lot of traffic. The hotel staff had said it was much quieter than usual as it is Christmas tomorrow, and lots of people have gone away or already started being on holiday. The international airport is in a totally different part of the city and usually is a bit of a nightmare getting between the two due to traffic.

There are hundreds of apartment buildings, most 20 levels high, stretching for ages after we left the city and got on the motorway. I guess in a city of 15 million there are too many people not to mostly live in apartment buildings. A number of apartment buildings had big grass areas out front.

I got to the airport just before 1pm, two hours before I could check in so I went to find a cafe that I could fit in with my bike box and bag. The airport today (and yesterday) had free wifi but it was pretty overloaded and took forever to send a simple email (up to 3 hours). If you moved a fraction it would log you off! I discovered (what most people know already) that for some reason Facebook messenger was much more likely to actually send and receive messages, so at least I could keep my children updated with progress with the various flights.

I needed to go to the bathroom, but as I had the bike box and bag I couldn’t go and leave them. Thankfully Brett arrived at the airport, so I was able to leave my box and bag with him. Unfortunately they clean a number of women’s toilets at the same time with a different cleaning crew. By the time I found the 4th and it was also being cleaned I was getting pretty desperate and pushed the cleaning trolley out of the way. The cleaning lady was not happy but let me through when I managed to convey to her that if she did not, she would have to clean the floor again!

Brett was flying home to Australia a day behind me, but due to my delay we were now on the same flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago.  At 3pm I was able to check my bag and bike box which made it much easier getting around the airport without lugging both of them around.

The plane to Santiago boarded and left on time. I managed to get a few glimpses of the Andes out the windows of either side. I was in the middle row of seats.

The connection at Santiago was fine, and I got to the boarding gate in plenty of time and the plane took off 😀😄😄😄😄

Categories: Argentina, Chile, South American Epic | Leave a comment

23rd December 2015: Home time!

The day arrived to head home. I can’t wait to see family and friends, plus give Benji my dog a big hug. I will be travelling for close to 30 hours, 20 of it flying, to arrive 8am Christmas day.

I was a bit concerned that I had not had a message confirming my pick up time from the hotel. Rachel, my awesome travel agent, had already re-confirmed with them the day I arrived that I needed the pick up, but I had not heard from the company itself. I had tried ringing the number for Gateway Travel in Ushuaia a number of times and got an answer phone in Spanish. This morning a man answered the phone twice, but also only spoke Spanish.

I decided not to risk not being picked up so I asked the man at the hotel reception if he could book me transport to the airport that would take a bike box. We had the following conversation:
“It will not fit in a taxi” he said
“So who can we get instead?” I asked
“I do not know” he said
“So who could you ask?” I asked
“I do not know” he said
“There must be someone, you have had over 30 cyclists here, and a number have gone to the airport already” I said
*unhelpful shrug* was all I got in return.

At this point I realized he could speak Spanish, so asked him to ring Gateway Travel for me which he did. He told they have already confirmed, and I replied  that I have not had a message. “It is on the guest notice board” he said, which he points to in a corner of the lobby. I had walked past this numerous times, but as it was back against a wall I had not seen it. But that’s ok, I was just relieved to have the message now, and it says “10 am pick up from the hotel”.

Ready to go home!

Ready to go home!

At 9:50 am I was outside the hotel with my box and bag, and just after 10 a lady came up to me, she was the pick up person. She informed me she was just waiting for the car to arrive.
“Will it fit my bike box?” I ask.
“No” she said!
“I have to take it with me” I say. She says they did not know about the box. I say I am sure when the transport was booked over 6 months ago this would have been made clear by my travel agent. “So what do we do now? I have a plane to catch?”. She said she would ring her boss.

Then two big taxi trucks arrived, having been booked that morning by one of the TDA staff for the riders who had not booked anything. Their bikes and bags were all loaded. At this stage the “boss” has yet to answer his phone, and the taxi trucks are about to go. By now I am agitated and in tears, as I have lost any confidence with this agency and don’t want to miss my plane. I could imagine the next step would be the agency person saying: “I can not get hold of my boss”, me replying: “So what do we do now?” and then the agency person saying “I do not know”!!! So I decided to go with the bird in the hand and threw my bike box and bag onto the taxi truck, before it left me with possibly no options.

I got to the airport in good time and there was basically no queue to check in.

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Saying goodbye to Sue

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Bye bye, about to board

The plane boarded on time and I started to relax! Yay on my way home 😀😀.

Sadly we just sat on the tarmac, and after an hour disembarked. Then another 49 minutes we were told the plane was now cancelled due to mechanical issue 😬😬  So we had to get our luggage and go back to the check in counter. Of course bike boxes were the last thing to unload, and while I waited in the queue for nearly two hours I was thinking all the flights will be gone until the new year by the time I get to the counter 😂😂😂😂😂.

Thankfully the Lan staff were excellent and had someone rebooking long distance travellers from the moment the plane was cancelled. When I got to the counter my flights were booked, I just needed to confirm them, and I would now arrive home 24 hours later than planned.

My new flights were 9pm to Buenos Aires, stay overnight (what remained of it) and then fly to Santiago at 6pm, then Santiago to Auckland leaving at Mid night. An 11 hour flight getting into Auckland at 5:15am Boxing Day, and then into Wellington at 8:05am. I did have the option of staying tonight in Ushuaia and then flying to Buenos Aires tomorrow and getting a better sleep, but I did not want to risk the chance of getting stuck in Ushuaia due to bad weather tomorrow.

The next step was Lan sent me to a hotel to wait, which was nice as the airport was pretty small. Lunch was provided at the hotel, and wifi but it took forever to connect. It was pretty sad telling my children I was not going to be home for Christmas 😞 but better to have a plane with problems stay on the ground! I like to think that there were people who could not get flights home on standby who would now be able to.

We were given a taxi transfer chit and I asked when I got to the hotel for a return trip to be organized. The man at reception said come back at 6:30 and we will arrange then. Of course this man was not there at 6:30, and the young receptionist informed me I had no booking!
“I know that” I said “please can you arrange it for me?”
Off she went and came back 10 minutes later and confirmed “I had no booking”!!! Trying not to weep with frustration I said “please just ring me a taxi to the airport”. Luckily at this point Mark, (Chef from TDA) who also delayed on the same flight as me, intervened and spoke directly to the transfer people and arranged for us to be picked up.

Back to the airport, huge check in line, we were late boarding onto the plane but we finally took off! While I was waiting to board my cell phone died! It had got wet nearly a week ago, and has been threatening to die ever since. So of course why not now !!! 😬😬😬.

I arrived in Buenos Aires at 12:30 am, then had to get the bag and bike box, find the counter that deals with stranded Lan customers, get transport, and then to the hotel. It was 2:30 am by the time I got to my room.

Categories: Argentina, South American Epic | Leave a comment

22nd December 2015: Day one in Ushuaia

Even though I could sleep in I was awake early. It was nice and sunny outside, and from the restaurant a great view of the harbor and snow capped mountains. Ushuaia is a lot bigger than I expected it to be.

The morning was spent finishing cleaning and sorting out stuff into 3 piles: Take home, give away (tyres and parts etc to Luis for his charitable foundation) and throw out. Then packing and boxing bikes.

Brett kindly boxed my bike for me and helped me get my bike box and bag onto the scales hanging off the truck. It was a balancing act getting the rope in the right place to weigh and support the bike box. Thankfully, unlike coming over, I am under the limit with the bag and box – Just! So I don’t have to cram heavy stuff into my carry on and try not to fall backwards whilst carrying it.

Then off into town for lunch. I found a nice fish restaurant, and had cod which was really fresh – still glistening – and a salad. I looked at a couple of shops but as always my tolerance for shopping was low. On the way back I stopped at the supermarket to get some cheese and crackers as a group of us are getting together at the hotel at 5pm to celebrate Jo and Nicks awesome achievement (EFI). Jo and her husband Nick are the first couple to ever have both achieved EFI on a trip together.

We met in the bar at the hotel at 5pm which was deserted apart from us, but were not allowed to drink the champagne Jo and Nick won the night before, as the champagne had not been bought there. Fair enough I can understand that, so we moved to an alcove up a hallway. What I don’t get though is they refused to let us use any glasses to drink the champagne out of, even though we offered to pay for cleaning! Poor Jo this was just about the final straw!

But not to worry, we are TDA riders used to being resourceful. Fred got 6 beer glasses from the upstairs bar whilst the staff were busy guarding the downstairs bar, and a couple of us had beer glasses in our room from the afternoon before, and I have a glass that I use at camp rather than plastic so we made do.

The hotel staff also refused to let TDA use a hose to clean equipment, and when taking messages for guests, instead of putting into the pigeonhole with the room key and giving to you when you came back for the key, they put them on a notice board they hadn’t told you about!

The hotel staff attitude demonstrates what I found in a number of places here. This is where the cruise ships leave to go to Antartica, so there are numerous cruises and the main income here is tourism, so you would think they had some awareness of being helpful. However I am not sure if it is the culture here, or just a lack of awareness, but the general attitude of the service staff is not to be helpful. My thoughts are, if they are aware it is based on the belief that the majority of people who come here:
1. Need to come here to get onto a cruise and after
2. They won’t come back again any way so it does not matter how you treat them
(the Lan airline staff are an exception to this they were excellent).

I went into town after towards and picked up a couple of additional small presents to give Xavier and Lucy, and then had grilled lamb for dinner and off back to the hotel to bed. I was feeling tired due to the late night last night, waking up early, and excited about heading home tomorrow.

Unfortunately another group of TDA staff and riders were also not allowed to drink wine late at night in the totally deserted restaurant or lobby, so they also used the alcove in the hall which was unfortunately right outside my room!  It had poor sound proofing so I was awake for awhile.

Puerto Ushuaia

Puerto Ushuaia

Categories: Argentina, South American Epic | 1 Comment