It was one of those days…

It should have been a breeze; a four hour flight from Buenos Aires down to Ushuaia at the bottom of the continent. We’d done it before, knew the airport, had our tickets and even booked into the Antarctica Hostel months ago. We’d gone as far to plan what we’d do with our afternoon in Ushuaia and where we’d have tea while relaxing.

We got to the airport at 8:30am and checked in. So far so good. At 10am we went to the gate as requested, ready to fly thirty minutes later.

Ninety minutes later we were still sat at the gate with no clue or information about the delay (it’s good to be back in South America!). Looking around at the other passengers, we amused ourselves by playing the ‘whose a backpacker, local, or Antarctic tourist’ game. It was quite easy to distinguish the three: the backpackers were sat either reading some version of the Lonely Planet or a trashy novel while guarding their over-sized hand luggage containing all their ‘valuable’ possessions; the locals thought the flight was still early and the Antarctic tourists were clad head to toe in Gortex, clutching a shiny ‘Your Voyage’ brochure, pacing up and down double checking their tickets and gate number muttering things like “Well, this doesen’t happen in the UK”

Er, have they forgotten T5 opening?!

Anyway, we eventually boarded and took off about an hour later than planned. Having taken the same flight before, we knew the next stop was Ushuaia and the dramatic landing over snow capped mountains…except when we started to descend, the view was flat, desolate scrubland and we’d only flown for forty minutes.

Hmm. We definitely weren’t in Ushuaia, in fact we didnt think we were anywhere. We were on a dusty runway next to some tiny outpost being buffeted by the prairie winds. It turns out they had to refuel (obviously forgot that bit in the pre-flight checks!). Reassuringly however, they opened all the doors and asked us to unfasten our seat belts in case of emergency. You dont get that scenario on the safety card!

With a full tank we set off again, next stop Ushuaia! An hour later we landed again and looking outside; still no mountains.

Double hmm. Now, it turned out that we were in Rio Grande, a town ten minutes flight or three hours drive from Ushuaia. We managed to establish that either there was severe weather or a severe technical problem stopping planes from landing and we were stuck while the officials worked out what to do.

Three hours later, it was decided that we would have to get bussed to Ushuaia. When we say ‘decided’, we actually mean that everyone simply got up and started queuing by the exit with no announcements or anything. Once again we compared this to how it would work in the UK. For starters, after three hours there’d be riots with people demanding compensation, explanation and apologies left right and centre. All we got was the facts – your plane’s not going anywhere so you will now get there on a bus. At some point. Take it or leave it.

We boarded the mini bus with our hand luggage whilst watching the main luggage – with our backpacks on top – be dragged on a trolly in the opposite direction. Reassuring.

Driving south towards Ushuaia, the terrain became decidedly rugged and the clouds got darker. Then it started to rain. We were in a small mini bus with some other passengers and the rain was lashing against the windows as we struggled up the steep hills. Looking out, Evie saw a magnificent double rainbow and said she should make a wish. Then the bus spluttered to a halt and the driver squirmed in his seat. We all groaned but he managed to start it and we were off. A few metres later it stopped again and the driver muttered something, fidgeting as if deciding to get out of the bus or not. He decided not to and we carried on rather gingerly, all of us hoping that the whatever the problem was, it wouldn’t strand us on the roadside. A few minutes later we pulled into a petrol station.

Ah! Maybe this is another refuelling problem we thought as the driver dashed out…until he headed to the toilets. Nope, the driver had his own exhaust problems and obviously couldn’t see a suitable bush by the road!

Toilet break over, we carried on and rolled into Ushuaia airport at about 9pm – only seven hours later than planned! The really strange thing was that the sun was high in the sky as if it was only 4pm. This really was a long day – so much for the simple journey and afternoon tea.

If only that was the end of this post…

As you have probably guessed, just because we arrived at our destination, that didn’t mean our bags had. Our bus was the last to arrive and we were greeted with the site of a crowd of tired bagless passengers. Yes, our bags were still going…in the opposite direction.

We met a nice British couple, Olly and Georgina who were about our age and strangely enough got married exactly one month before us (our first wedding)! Luckily he spoke good Spanish so was able to ascertain that our bags were on a truck that should arrive in the next hour, or we could go into town and come back for our bags the next day. We think not.

This is a big continental trip for them that they’d just started so it was nice to pass on some hints and tips about South America. (Olly and Georgina – if you read this, we hope your cruise was good and check out our previous emails on our site for some more stories!).

So, an hour later our bags turned up and we caught a cab to the Antarctica Hostel, where we planned to have a quick drink before bed…

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