Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Buenos Aires

After stupidly leaving my camera in a taxi, I was a touch depressed. Unfortunately, I have form in this area. Many years ago, in Bangkok, I lost a Nikon on the way to photograph preserved steam locomotives. My trip to St. Helena was threatened when I found I’d omitted to take a battery charger. The purser was very sure that a spare charger could be found in his stock of things acquired, but he was wrong, so I finished the trip using the camera in my mobile phone which was much better than nothing but I did miss the optical zoom my camera provided. Near the end of a recent cruise, another pocket camera suddenly died with the lens turret hanging at a crazy angle. These are motor driven to retract when you switch off – I assumed I’d not waited for the motor to finish its work after taking a shot and that I’d managed to thump the exposed lens whilst energetically climbing stairs.

A possibility was to use the camera in my mobile phone (a different one to that in use on the St. Helena trip) but again I was worried about the lack of optical zoom so, after enquiring locally about camera shops, I decided to explore on foot and see what was available. The answer, it appeared, was very little within my walking limit. Prices were also high, compared with the U.K. but I eventually purchased a Canon from a sort of ‘Argentinian Currys’ called Garbarino.The store was very modern, brightly lit and fully computerised. Language was more of a problem than I anticipated, considering the store was on the main tourist shopping street, Florida, which is pedestrianised. The assistants were, however, used to using their smart phones to capture a phrase using speech-to-text software or typing and then using the internet to translate into the appropriate language. I assumed that, having made a decision, the actual purchase would be quick. I was wrong. As a new customer, the salesman had to set up an account. Although I was asked to supply very little information, the confident keyboard entry seemed interminable. Then, a computer stock enquiry was necessary (I think the stock was held in a room at the back of the store). Next, my credit card had to be checked. A sales voucher was then printed and I was led to an accounts counter staffed by three ladies. Here, payment was taken from my card by both ‘chip and pin’ and ‘signature’. I then discovered that the purchase price was split into two (I wasn’t quite sure why, but the total was what I expected) so a second payment was taken in the same way. The sales voucher was then solemnly receipted by the accounts lady but we were not done yet. I was directed to a Despatch desk, where I waited for a previous customer to complete the exchange of a mobile phone. Then, the despatcher disappeared into stores to locate my purchase which he unpacked in front of me so that we agreed that the kit was complete. After re-packing, the box was placed in a plastic carrier bag and handed to me with a smile. Everybody in the store had been helpful and friendly but a transaction I expected to take five or ten minutes had taken over three quarters of an hour. I realised that I still had much to learn about the ‘South American Way’.

Back at the hotel, I was delighted to find that the broadband really was fast so I decided that, although I was very tired, I ought to try to do a bit of blogging and photograph management, as I didn’t know what I’d find later in the trip. It was very late when I finally reached the large, comfortable bed and I slept well, if not for very long, since my taxi from the Plaza Hotel had been booked for six. I was to travel to Ushuaia on a Silversea charter flight operated by LAN which would take all the cruise passengers. from Buenos Aires Domestic Airport. Flight LA 4962 was intended to board at 07:50 for an 08:25 departure but arrival at the airport was required to be 2 hours before departure, hence the 6.0 a.m. taxi.

Part of the lobby at the Plaza Hotel, Buenos Aires.

The taxi was a few minutes early but I was waiting after a brief well-presented continental breakfast in my room provided by Room Service. It was still dark when I left the hotel and it had been raining quite heavily during the night. With light traffic it only took around 20 minutes to reach the domestic airport. I identified my flight on the depatures screen and made my way towards the check-in. Suddenly, a porter brandished a printed sign saying ‘SILVERSEA’ in front of me and, when I confirmed that I was a passenger, he moved a tape barrier to allow me to join a small group of passengers who, like me, were joining the tour at the airport. Most of our fellow travellers, I learned, would be arriving in two coaches shortly, having used one of Silversea’s ‘Pre-cruise options’. Presently, a local Silversea lady representative came up, identified the waiting group on her list of passengers and allowed the porter to take our heavy luggage, saying that the bags would magically re-appear in our cabins on the ship. She distributed boarding passes to us, so all we had to do was run the gauntlet of security to enable us to enter the departure hall, overlooking the apron, and wait for our flight to be boarded.

Buenos Aires Domestic Airport, with the city in the background.

Before half past seven, there were more than 100 people waiting near gate 11. It was after eight o’clock when we started to board but everybody seemed quite cheerful and only slightly less pleased as we had to descend stairs to ground level and board a transfer bus. My bus was very, very full but after we’d driven across the apron to a rather tired-looking LAN A320, we discovered at least one bus had already dropped-off a load of passengers, so there were some delays in reaching our allocated seats. I didn’t note our take-off time but we must have been at least 75 minutes late leaving but the weather was good, we were pretty sure our ship would wait for us and the mood remained cheerful.

Next post in this series.

My pictures

When I can, I'll post pictures of the trip to the album South Atlantic Voyage.

You can find all my pictures on the trip in the Collection Cape to Cape (still being added to, at the time of writing).

['Cape to Cape' collection added 2-Apr-2016]

Delays at Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires Airports

In the first post in this series here, I grumpily described the trip to Sao Paulo. I joined the queue for security which inched forward at a rate which would have shamed any self-respecting snail until a couple of staff appeared and started to divert the rear of the queue, including me, a different route. It seemed that they'd decided to open up another security lane to clear the backlog. Unfortunately, the lane they'd opened only lead to Terminal 2, which none of the queue wanted. Two more staff impatiently urged the 'cleared' passengers down the stairs (no namby-pamby escalators in this part of the airport) and we all, rather naively, assumed they'd made arrangements to route us back upstairs. They hadn't so two passengers opened one of the moveable tape barriers and we appeared at another staffed, but otherwise quiet, security. We quickly gave up trying to explain we'd just been through a different security and submitted to a second check before finally being allowed back into Terminal 3.

There was then a fair walk to locate the TAM Airways lounge, which was quite an impressive affair. Because of the delays we'd suffered, I didn't think I had sufficient time to set up my laptop computer and log on the free WiFi, so instead I had a decent wash before scurrying off on the walk ("allow 20 minutes" the desk told me) to the gate for my onward flight to Buenos Aires. There were plenty of people waiting but no movement. The check-in staff advised me of a 70-minute delay so I traipsed back to the Lounge where one of the girls apologised profusely - they'd been unaware of the delay. I then hunted for a 'fixed' computer. I only found one (not one free, just one computer), carefully set on a high shelf with no high chairs, forcing the user to stand. I assumed this was a cunning plan to stop people from 'hogging' the computer but I hurridly published my first report before returning to the gate.

The crew managed to board everybody and ran the safety briefings. This one was a rather irritating affair with Computer Generated Images. Unfortunately, it was a while before we were cleared to taxi so, by the time we took off from runway zero nine left, we were about two hours late. The Boeing 767 appeared more modern than the 777 on the first leg - I even managed to watch the rest of the James Bond film with sound. However, they were running the passenger cabin so cold, I had to make use of the duvet they provide.

On our arrival at Buenos Aires, when we finally stopped at the gate, everybody was on their feet ready to disembark. Although the air bridge moved across to us, apart from some rather ominous shaking as the air bridge repeatedly 'rammed' us, nothing else happened for about fifteen minutes. Whilst parts of Buenos Aires International Airport are fairly modern, we were clearly at an older part, with older air bridges. I don't know whether this had any bearing on the final late disembarking. Immigration Control was fairly quick and friendly, but did require foreigners to have a photograph and right hand thumbprint taken. One consequence of the delay opening the cabin door was that lots of luggage was already waiting when we got to the baggage reclaim carousel and the baggage loaders were sending through even more bags. At each bend, the overloaded belt was dropping bags on the floor and, just after I spotted the distinctive multi-coloured strap on my bag, the conveyor started issuing painful noises and slowed almost to a standstill. I didn't see what happened next, as I was trying to locate the end of a long queue of people with bags waiting to go through customs. My assumption that over-zealous customs officers were causing the delay was quite wrong - no customs officials were apparent and the customs forms we'd filled-in on the aircraft didn't seem to be being collected. The hold-up was caused by all arriving bags being X-rayed by a battery of machines. Although there were lots of staff in attendance, passengers were being allowed to do all the lifting-on and lifting off. With all the delays, I was more concerned as to whether I would be met in the arrivals hall, as arranged but this, and the rapid transfer by taxi to my city centre hotel, was the one part of the day which went to plan.

However, tired and hot, I'd only just found my room on the 8th floor when I discovered that my camera, which I'd been using regularly from Heathrow until just before arrival at my Buenos Aires hotel, was missing. I assumed it was on the back seat of the taxi, overlooked as I struggled to collect the other items. The hotel reception staff phoned the firm who'd provided the taxi transfer but, at present, nothing is known regarding the fate of this important accessory. As you can imagine, this rather limited my enjoyment of my short time in Buenos Aires as, the following morning, I faced another flight to Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina where I was to join the ship for my South Atlantic Voyage.

Related posts

Next South Atlantic post.

All my South Atlantic posts.

My pictures

You can find all my pictures on the trip in the Collection Cape to Cape (still being added to, at the time of writing). There are a few pictures of the trip in the album South Atlantic Voyage.

['Cape to Cape' collection added 5-Apr-2016]