Oops!

Ok, we saw many,many penguins on Martillo Island in the Beagle Channel.Three varieties, Magellanic, Gentu and King, sunbathed ,waddled and danced for our cameras.

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We had chosen a tour that pulls ashore beside birds, without disembarking. Darragh, a former Ballygarvan NS Green Schools Committee Member,loves nature and didn’t want to upset the habitat.

It didn’t affect our view or enjoyment and Darragh felt like a better citizen.

Nan made gurgling, cooing sounds and clicked, clicked and clicked.

I’ve always been more interested in the chocolate variety than the animal kind, but I admit they were cute especially the King Penguins.

Enroute, we marvelled at cormorants and sea lions and even I was mightily impressed by the beach master, a leader male seal who theatrically scared off his smaller companions.

I enjoyed the boat trip down the channel dividing Argentina and Chile. Between Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and Port Williams on the Chilean side, Darragh and I stood on the blustery bow,  doing Titanic ‘I’m the King of the World’ impressions.

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We had borrowed Nan’s prized camera with wide angled lens to record our performance.

Blustery bows,with salty sprays, and expensive lenses is not a match made in heaven.

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Nan came, saw and snatched the wet lens, wiping it dry.

Later,reviewing her prized penguin photography, she spotted a blurry smudge centre stage.

She checked the camera, immediately identifying a scratch or stain.

Oops!

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Waiting For Penguins

Standing on a ship’s bow engages the senses. Staring at open seas,wind in your hair, a salty spray on your face and lips. It jogs the memory,  stirring up forgotten moments while whetting the appetite for future trips.

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Forgive the diversion but on today’s jaunt out the Beagle Channel, I tried to draw up ‘A Best Ever List’. As one does when New Year is nigh.

Tripping around the Galapagos would have to be on it.  We luckily caught a last minute deal from Quito,  sharing the deck with rich retired Germans.Like stowaways,we were second class citizens, picking up scraps from the guide’s German explanations.

A stunning steam boat trip through the Stockholm Archipelago would be on my list. As would a Gulet cruise up the Turkish Turquoise Coast to Fetyah.

A summer trip from Ros a Mhíl, out Cuan Casla to the Aran Islands would make anyone’s list. Argentinian readers take note, this is a ‘must do’ when you eventually visit Ireland.

Our Argentine friends long for the Emerald Isle, especially after Star Wars. In Buenos Aires, there was a gasp in the cinema when Skellig Mhicil appeared on screen.  A trip aboard a Kerry fishing boat to Skellig would make any Best Of List too.

By the way, we had our Christmas dinner with the Christian Brothers in Buenos Aires. A proper Irish Christmas lunch,with all the trappings in 32 degree heat. A Christmas to remember especially when Br. Sean told me about his maiden sea voyage.

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He sailed from Ireland to Buenos Aires in 1958. It took him three weeks. Stopping in Vigo, Lisbon, Las Palmas, Sao Paulo and Rio. His description of the ship’s arrival in Rio was so vivid,I nearly think I was aboard myself.

He described spotting flying fish as they approached the Harbor de Rio De Janeiro, then the marvellous sight of Christ The Redeemer engulfed in clouds high above them. He continued on to Montevideo and Buenos Aires and has stayed since. 57 years!

None of these boat trips had penguins though,  and today was all about penguin spotting. So Nan told me.

I really hope there will be penguins today,  we’ll be so disappointed if there aren’t!

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El fin del mundo

We’re at the end of the world, as far south as possible in South America. In Ushuaia , 55 South 68 West, further south than Australia or New Zealand.

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 Nestled at the foot of the snow topped-Andes with views stretching out the Beagle Channel,Ushuaia is blessed by geography.
A stunningly beautiful but remote location, the world’s southernmost town is hard to reach and difficult to leave. Buses in and out are infrequent and fill up fast. No sooner had the three of us stepped off our plane, we were planning our departure.
Ushuaia began as an Anglican mission amongst Yaghan Indians who were later wiped out by epidemics brought by the Argentine navy.
Naval presence remains and there is strong evidence of the country’s war with the UK over the Malvinas.
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It’s  an issue that often came up in Buenos Aires where students sought my opinion, while their parents spoke of many friends lost during the war.

Based on the strong emotions I encountered,  I understand why Jeremy Clarkson’s illjudged Top Gear adventure to Ushuaia was so controversial.

The Ushuaia settlement graduated from Naval base to convict station, now a wonderful museum. While the setting is glorious, the town divides opinion. It’s a mix of gritty port town and tourist chic, full of single-story, corrugated iron houses.

 

A last-century escape from this remote prison would have been an impressive, dramatic feat.

Today Nan has planned our escape, a morning excursion by catamaran in search of penguins.
They had evaded us on our September trip to Puerto Madryn so Nan was determined to capture the critters at first light. With her camera of course!
First light came fast. It was bright up to 11 pm and got bright really early. The birds were singing by 5.

Nan marches us with a steely resolve in her eyes to the port at 8am where we board the boat and head out the Beagle Channel, out over the rim of the world.

The boat is full of well equipped travellers; designer labels must be making a packet with this new navy of eager travellers dressed in multi-zipped and pocketed trousers, expensive hiking boots, buffs, gloves, hats, scarves and sunglasses.

This bottom of the world has always captured the imagination. Here you will find the Patagonian origin of Coldridge’s Ancient Mariner and Darwin’s theory of evolution.
It’s no wonder that this boat load of wanderers seeks the spark that inspired works by Shakespeare, Swift and Verne
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Our companions and I jostle for prime positions to snap the beauty and wild life around us.
We adventurers are armed with all the latest cameras, phones and selfie sticks.
 The gadgetry is ready, I just hope the penguins turn up!
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O Magnum Mysterium

In Ireland, it’s the 21st of December, shortest day of the year and feast day of St Thomas, a date Nan loves for its promise of longer light and better weather, heralding hope for the future.

This year, our world is upside down, everything’s different.

It`s definitely not our year’s shortest day, nor is it officially St Thomas’ Day as his feast day was changed years ago

Our weather’s new, as we awake to a southern hemisphere summer; blessed with bright twenty-three degree sunshine.

We walk Peña, to`Los Bolivianos’ on Billinghurst, for breakfast fruit. Strolling in flip-flops and shorts is not our usual start to Christmas week.

Normally, we`re up to our oxters in pantomimes, pageants and purchasing. Rushing round crowded Christmassy streets, packing presents for family and friends.

There is little street  or shop decoration here, except an odd metal outline of Christmas trees, draped in lights ,placed in public parks where people sunbathe, lying in their shade.

The Bolivian fruit shop is not decorated; they’re busily organising incoming deliveries of perfect produce. Often they’ll chat, if they`re not watching soap-operas on the small TV overhead but their Monday morning routine is demanding.

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There’s a queue outside in the sunshine, there always is. The shop is tiny, packed so full of fresh fruit, there’s no room for people.

Unlike Christmas week queues at home, this fruit queue disperses quickly yet, as we wait, I think how different this year is.

Perhaps choosing this routine-less, topsy turvy life for a while gives us a new perspective and an opportunity to pause and reflect on our lives: what`s worth holding on to, what to give up.

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After breakfast of ripe cherries, strawberries and mangos,  we`ll pack for our flight. It’ll be easy, we have very little to bring. Everything we have here fits comfortably into three simple back packs.

Later tonight, we’ll seek out Christmas and go to Plaza de Mayo to enjoy a friend`s choir in the beautiful Jesuit church, Buenos Aires’ oldest and favourite of Pope Francis while Bishop here.

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Brid Treasa and Sr Karol will be proud of our attempts to capture the magic of Christmas through classic choral works by Tomas L. de Victoria, Di Lasso and Sweelinck. What better way to, as Dickens tells us, ‘honour Christmas in our hearts` then through music?

Tonight`s concert marks the end of our BA stint as we look forward with hope to our three and a half hour flight to Tierra del Fuego on St Stephen’s Day.

In Ushuaia, we`ll enjoy more long days and great weather with 5am sunrises and 10pm sunsets giving us 17 hours of daylight and plenty of  time and space to open our eyes and explore.

Iguazu Falls

 

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She didn’t look like a happy camper,sat smoking, red-faced and pouting, across from us in a gap between two shop fronts on the bus station platform.

I thought it a weird place to sit, till I understood she positioned herself there to charge her mobile phone in the socket high above her head.

We had sat opposite her in the searing jungle heat for the past three hours, waiting for our delayed night bus back to Buenos Aires, guessing where she was from.

I didn`t feel great either. Sweat dripped down the middle of my back, my pants stuck to my legs; my t-shirt collar scratched my tender sunburnt neck.

My head was heavy from the humidity while mosquito bites on my ankles and legs screamed at me.

She came over, threw her back pack at my feet and through pursed lips asked ‘¿Vale la pena?’ ‘Was it worth the pain?’

It was.

We had been in Iguazu, visiting the falls. Crossing over and back from Brazil to Argentina to take in the sight from every angle. What can I say, the falls are awesome.

How can you put such beauty, power and glory into words? The whole experience will stay forever in our memories. The sight, sound, smell of the falls, its jungly background, lush vegetation and wild life. Amazing!

We arrived at the Brasilian side in the midst of a thunderstorm. Rain lashing, lightening flashing.  It only added to the magnificence of the falls. Huge volumes of brown water plunging over cliffs across the river from us on the Argentinian side. What a view!

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We walked the path, onto decking, over the thundering river to the Devil’s Throat;the falls appearing and disappearing in clouds and spray.

I stood for a moment, eyes closed, listening. `Meditation and water are wedded for ever’ wrote Melville in Moby Dick`s opening chapter and standing there, eyes closed, listening to the raw power of the falls was a moment of magic.

Opening my eyes, a delicate Para Mini butterfly settled beside me.

Peaceful, fragile, beautiful.

Worth the 20hr bus trip, heat, humidity, bites …

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It’s beginning to look not like Christmas by (D. Illustrator)

Christmas spirit just isn’t coming to us this year, it`s thirty degrees outside and we`re struggling to get out of the apartment at all. There’s hardly any air left and you can feel the heat evaporating from the street. I still can’t believe that it’s going to be hotter and more humid when we go to Iguazù this weekend.

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My plan is to just go to the falls and the national park and spend the rest of my time in the pool. We are very lucky with our accommodation; we managed to book a hotel in BRASIL! I’ve always wanted to go there, and now we are, so I’m very happy. We also get to see both sides of the falls. First we are going to the Brasilian side to see the whole falls from a distance and then we are going over to the Argentinian side to get absolutely soaked and look at it up close. We also got drenched when we went to Africa a year ago and  saw Victoria Falls, we travelled with the wonderful ZAMDA charity and I really enjoyed it.

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Back to the present, today is my second primary school graduation of the year and we are going to that at seven o` clock and probably stay there for much longer than we expect to.

We haven’t had a lot to do for the last couple of days, all we’ve been doing is just going to random museums and pretty much staying in the apartment all the time because it’s too hot to go out.

We occasionally go out for a small coffee though. My Dad and I try to get out of the house to play football but it’s impossible with the weather. I’m getting worried about my dad he has a weird obsession with buses. I think we should send him to a specialist; he keeps on comparing them to dinosaurs.

My dad’s cracking up about leaving Buenos Aires, he really loves it here but we have to move on. Mom, she’s like a mad dog on a leash restless to fly down into the unknown and take lots of pictures, I’m sure she will miss Brother Thomas and her new found friend Maru.

I don’t really mind leaving BA but I will miss all the people we have met on the way such as all my teachers in the school like Angie, Tulio, Ludmila and Sandra and Brother Thomas, all my classmates and Flor who has been very nice to me.I wouldn’t mind going home now but if we do, I`ll kick myself in years to come, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m not willing to miss it.

On the road again!

We`re moving on! It`s nearly time to catch the bus so we are busy preparing, taking up our roles.

Darragh is our student, reader and illustrator. He draws maps of Argentina, sketching our route south from latitude 35 to latitude 54. To Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and Magellan Straits. To the end of the world, last stop before Antarctica.

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Nan is our researcher, planner. Tracking penguins in Tierra del Fuego, plotting treks on Perito Moreno Glacier and walks through Torres Del Paine National Park.

The plan is set; we know where were going. Nan`s spent weeks studying accommodation, routes and buses.

I study buses too, dreamily sipping coffee outside Tolon on Coronel Diaz y Santa Fe.

I love Buenos Aires buses. There are so many of them, colourfully skulking the streets. Nan and Darragh laugh and think I`m cracked when I say they remind me of prehistoric creatures prowling the avenues of Capital Federal.

 My head is still in Buenos Aires; I have threatened to stay. Jokingly of course but I have really loved it here and am reluctant to leave.  It’s such an interesting place.

My responsibility is the family budget, figuring out costs, making sure we`ve enough to get us home.

Managing finance in Argentina reminds me of Shelley`s Ozymandias

 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

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Don`t worry family, we`re not broke but Argentina is. It’s a financial wasteland and Prat Gay, newly appointed Minister for Finance, has a huge challenge ahead. He`s a very highly regarded past pupil and parent of our school here; I wish him well but don`t envy his task. He will be a key member of,fellow Newman past pupil, Presidente Macri`s team.

It’s really difficult to figure out costs here, a trip on my beloved 152 bus from Palermo to Boca costs 3.50 pesos. Using the official euro rate, this costs about 33 cent or 22 cent with the parallel blue rate. Buses are heavily subsidised at the moment but no doubt prices will soon rise rapidly. Porteños won`t like that.

 Presidente Macri is being inaugurated tomorrow and has committed to introducing a single rate for the dollar from his very first day of office, so no one knows how much things will cost.

 For us booking accommodation for the new year down south is totally confusing as we don`t know the most cost effective way of paying. Do we change euro to pesos now or next week or pay by credit card?

My Argentinian friends nod knowingly and laugh at me when I ask their advice. This is their life; they live with inflation and financial uncertainty. Unable to access loans and buy homes.

They tell me about hyperinflation, when they shopped not knowing how much things would cost on a day to day basis. Waiting at tills, hoping they would have enough money, deciding in their minds what could be left behind.  Baby’s diapers were the first to go; they’re imported and very expensive. Most switched to cloth or relied on friends bringing them in from Chile.

 I have a new found respect for my Argentinian friends.Since it’s impossible for them to plan with financial certainty, they have developed impressive skills; they`re resourceful, innovative and able to react quickly to emerging situations. They look at problems from a variety of angles, finding solutions I would never have considered.

 My friends have spent weeks looking at the developing economic situation. A currency devaluation looks likely, so they are carefully making decisions such as whether to buy new tyres for their cars or stock up on provisions.

Argentina is on the road again and I hope Presidente Macri has a good team with him.

Jim Collins’ brilliant book on Leadership, ‘From Good to Great’, states  that people assume great bus drivers( leaders) begin by announcing to people on the bus where they`re going,setting a new direction and vision. But Collins says good leaders don`t start with ‘where’ but ‘who’. They get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people on the right seats’

Let’s hope the right people are on the bus. For me, it’s time to move on from Buenos Aires and turn my attention south.

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