...and coffee, with more chocolate.
...and coffee, with more chocolate.
Mongoose
Mongoose

Those of you who have been viewing the website regularly have probably noticed that we have switched continents again. In fact, I am writing this post in hot and sunny Windhoek, Namibia. About 12 days ago we were packing our bags in tropical El Nido, Palawan which is tucked away in a remote corner of the Philippines. Since then we have passed through Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and South Africa. Quite a bit of flying for 12 days!

The crazy routing was mainly due to a bargain redemption that I spotted on the United award chart a couple months ago. One-way awards from Japan to Southern Africa (that is, most of the continent south of the equator) are 40/50/60k miles in coach/business/first respectively. 60,000 miles for an intercontinental first class redemption is a good value but this one in particular is spectacular due to the overall distance traveled and the very generous routing allowance.

Boeing-Lufthansa 50 years of partnership special livery
Boeing-Lufthansa 50 years of partnership special livery

United’s Mileage Plus awards are now governed by a “maximum permitted mileage” (MPM) rule that limits how far you can fly on a given award. The MPM is based on the given origin/destination city pair you are traveling between – basically, they look it up in a big table. For Osaka to Windhoek, the MPM allotment is a whopping 15,880 miles – to put that in perspective, the straight-line distance is a mere 8,627 miles!

Krakow to Vienna, again with EuroLOT
Krakow to Vienna, again with EuroLOT

With a huge cushion of routing allotment to work with, I set to work finding a good set of flights on our desired travel dates. Lufthansa had some nice availability on their Osaka-Frankfurt flight and, as an added bonus, there was a rumor floating about that it would be operated by 747′s featuring their new seat+bed first class product. Even without the new seats, Lufthansa First is a fantastic product that I was eager to try again.

Vienna to Zurich, my first flight with Austrian
Vienna to Zurich, my first flight with Austrian

The next challenge was finding award availbility on the Europe to Africa portion of the trip. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a flight that lined up well with our inbound flight from Osaka. Award space on the long-hauls to the southern tip of the continent is pretty scarce. In the end, I found space with Swiss on a flight but it was four full days after our inbound flight from Osaka. This would be a deal-breaker for some, but it was still usable with a little bit of work.

Our Joburg-bound A340-300 as seen from the first class transfer limo.
Our Joburg-bound A340-300 as seen from the first class transfer limo.

United one-way awards don’t allow stopovers so it wasn’t possible to scheduled a stopover in one city for a few days without paying for two award tickets. What their rules DO allow are an unlimited number of connections provided you still observe the MPM restriction. Connections are defined as stops of less than 24 hours in a given city. The Star Alliance has an incredibly dense mesh of routes across the European continent so it feasible to bounce from city to city to pad out the schedule. So that is just what we did!

Getting closer to our final destination.
Getting closer to our final destination.

The routing I pieced together gave us 23 hours in Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow plus nearly a full day in Zurich and an overnight in Vienna. What’s amazing is that we still had 2,880 miles left in our MPM allottment. If I had really tried, I probably could have fit Portugal, Norway and Turkey all on the same ticket!

Namibia, at last!
Namibia, at last!

Actually getting United to ticket this five-airline, eight-segment, 13,303 mile routing was a challenge in and of itself. At first, the agent expressed complete disbelief that such a redemption was possible. Foruntately, she was open-minded and was willing to go through the rules with me. Eventually, she took down the routing I had come up with and called the rate desk to see if they would authorize the booking. This took quite some time but she gave me updates every few minutes. She let on that the rate desk was very unhappy with the routing but that it was indeed within the bounds of all their published rules. When it was all said and done the tickets came to 60,000 miles plus $220 in taxes per person. Not a bad deal since even the cheapest economy ticket from Osaka to Windhoek was over $1800!

Lots of interesting airlines on the apron at WDH - that's Windhoek
Lots of interesting airlines on the apron at WDH – that’s Windhoek

Positioning ourselves in Japan was fairly easy.  We used Zest Air (“Asia’s most refreshing airline”) to get from Palawan to Manila and then continued with Cebu Pacific to Macau.  After a day in Macau and two nights in nearby Hong Kong, we flew Cathay Pacific to Osaka on award tickets issued by American Airlines (a friend owed me some miles!).  So all in all, Philippines to Namibia the slightly long way!

Readers who have been watching the map on the website have probably noticed that we are no longer in Sri Lanka.  Indeed, we left the Pearl of the Indian Ocean a little over a week ago.  After almost 25 days of frequent use of Sri Lanka’s public transportation, coach seats on a Bangkok-bound airplane felt absolutely luxurious!  I still have quite a bit more to write about Sri Lanka but I thought I would interrupt the normally scheduled broadcasts and share our upcoming adventures.

During our last week in Sri Lanka I spent some quality time looking at airline award charts.  Ever since we left the States in July, I have been carrying hard copies of redemption charts for United, America, British Airways, British Midlands, and US Airways – all airlines in which I have a fair number of miles sitting in the bank.  I am sure I really confuse other travelers and locals alike when I sit someplace public and pour over these tables but staring at them for a long time is the best way for me to find the fun corner cases.  While planning our escape from Sri Lanka I think I had some good luck finding one of those corner cases.

The basic goals we had were as follows:

  • Thailand for a quick jaunt to Cambodia/Laos
  • Hong Kong – a city neither of us has visited
  • Mongolia – a country that has long been on my must-see list
  • Philippines – for more SCUBA and snorkeling

The first idea I had was to cash out some British Airways miles for an award with Cathay Pacific.  This would take us from Sri Lanka to Thailand for a stopover then onward to Hong Kong for another stopover.  Finally, the award would terminate by carrying us from Hong Kong to either Manilla or Cebu in the Philippines.  This seemed to be a good value but I wanted to stretch it even more.

Mongolia has long been on my must-see list and we are in the same neck of the woods, sort of.  OneWorld has no service to Ulaanbaatar but Air China, a Star Alliance member, has once daily service from Beijing.  Nesting a second award ticket inside of our Hong Kong stopover was doable but the miles required wasn’t all that attractive and the Chinese visa issues even less so.

Image from Wikipedia Mongolia article

Mongolia

Eventually it occurred to me that I could probably accomplish most of our goals with a single ticket using my British Midland (BMI) miles.  BMI allows stopovers, even on one-way awards, and prices their awards with a zone-based system which favorable groups all those destinations into adjacent zones.  By booking two one-way reservations I was able to construct a ticket to take us from Sri Lanka to Thailand for a stopover and then onward to Ulaanbaatar.  After a 16-day stay from Ulaanbaatar a second one-way ticket will take us from Mongolia to the Philippines…but wait, there’s more!

While I was checking the Star Alliance timetables for Manilla, I noticed that Continental’s Micronesia division has twice-weekly service from Manilla to Palau.  I also noticed that Asiana has four-times-weekly service from Seoul to Palau.  I wasn’t sure if the airline would accept the detour through Palau but I was determined to give it a shot.  After checking award seat availability I phoned up BMI and read off the segments.  The agent commented on the long routing but also noted that routing through Singapore, a much longer distance, was legal.  He had to get a supervisor involved but eventually all was approved.  15,000 miles were used for the entire ticket: Sri Lanka to Thailand to Mongolia to Palau to the Philippines.

My good friend Charles opined that we will perhaps be the 55th and 56th people ever to fly from Mongolia to Palau.  It is certainly a strange routing and a testament to the power and flexibility of air miles and global airline alliances.  Even if we aren’t the 55th and 56th, travel that day should be a radical change of scene after 16 days out on the steppe!

Palau image from Wikipedia

Palau's Rock Islands

So in the end we didn’t accomplish the goal of visiting Hong Kong but we did add the bonus destination of Palau!  Hong Kong should be easy enough to hit up some other time as its a major hub.  Our stop in Thailand is scheduled to last 12 days; not enough time for Laos but certainly enough time to visit the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  We could have stopped longer but the Mongolian winter is closing in.  Even this week, the second full week in September, they are already seeing lows around 15F (-10C)!  It’s high time to shop for some cold weather clothing!

Map showing our routing across the Pacific.

After I returned to the States in early June, I had no specific plans as to where to go next.  The volunteer opportunity I had pursued in Africa all but fell apart so I really didn’t have a specific reason to head in that direction – at least not yet.  I spent hours combing through airline award charts and award seat availabilities.

The Republic of Palau, a small group of islands in Pacific, looked to be an awesome destination.  It’s an island paradise with all sorts of natural wonders to explore.  Continental operates its “island hopper” flight which makes stops at cool places like Truk, Kosrae and Kwajalein as it plies the Pacific from Honolulu to Guam.  I’ve heard that the flight is quite interesting but award availability was extremely scarce for the dates we wanted to travel.

Eventually, I came upon some nice availability for travel to the Cook Islands.  The Cooks are a popular destination for Kiwis and Aussies but are relatively unknown to North Americans.  Surprisingly enough it is possible to fly nonstop from Los Angeles to Rarotonga (the priciple island in the Cooks) once a week with Air New Zealand.  But why fly nonstop when you can go by way of Auckland (a 2000+ mile detour) on one of Air New Zealand’s brand new planes for the same price?!

Air New Zealand recently took delivery of Boeing’s latest addition to its 777 series, the 777-300ER, and made headlines in aviation circles with their innovative seat designs.  They have a “Sky Couch” product in economy, some very comfy looking “Spaceseats” in premium economy and a revamped lie-flat seat design in Business Premier.  As luck would have it, award space was available on NZ1, the flight operated by the new plane, so I snapped those up as fast as I could.  Using my United miles, business class tickets to the Cooks came to 60,000 miles and $2.50 in taxes.

Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback

After a bit more searching around I was able to piece together an exit plan for getting off the Cooks.  We would fly to Malaysia Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) by way of Sydney and Seoul with a stopover in the latter.  I know it sounds a bit roundabout but it is the most direct routing available using Star Alliance carriers.  Even so, it took a supervisor at British Midland to authorize the long routing.  The total worked out to 18,750 miles and $401 in taxes and fees for the business class booking.  Oh, and if anyone is wondering the total flown mileage on these two tickets is about 19,025 miles.  The Pacific is one huge ocean!

Dinner and a movie well underway
Dinner and a movie well underway

So…on to the flights.  Air New Zealand Flight 1 from LAX to AKL was incredible.  The new seats were easily the best business class seats I have flown and I would say they compete nicely with many carriers first class products.  In particular, the quality of the cushioning when the seat is in “bed mode” is superb.  The back of the seat actually folds forward to reveal a separate matress for the bed.  In most lay-flat seat designs the seat itself just goes flat and isn’t a true matress.  Another nice feature of the plane is the fact that the galleys are equipped differently so that the crew can actually cook (as opposed to reheat) food on the aircraft.  I had some great waffles for breakfast just prior to landing in AKL!

Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast

After some showers in the Koru Club we boarded one of Air NZ’s older 767 aircraft.  Nothing too exciting in terms of the seats or in-flight entertainment but the service was exceptional as it always seems to be on Air New Zealand.  The load was light that day (5 of 24 seats occupied in business) so it did feel a little like a private jet.

Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga

Arrival into Rarotonga was a nice firm landing runway 8.  I guess pilots don’t like to waste precious runway…especially then it comes to landing a widebody on a 7,500ft runway!  Much like Easter Island there are no jetways so everyone takes the stairs and immediately gets to soak in some of the great island weather.  A local band was playing in the baggage claim area and before we knew it we were through customs to meet the representative from our guesthouse.

Across the Pacific
Us and our shiny Air New Zealand 777-300ER
Us and our shiny Air New Zealand 777-300ER
My seat number, just in case I forgot.
My seat number, just in case I forgot.
Air NZ's new generation of herringbone suites.
Air NZ’s new generation of herringbone suites.
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
Some bubbly and nuts prior to pushback
A tasty seared tuna appetizer
A tasty seared tuna appetizer
The chef's selection plate as a light main.
The chef’s selection plate as a light main.
Dinner and a movie well underway
Dinner and a movie well underway
Time for bed.
Time for bed.
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
Waffles with strawberries and banana whipped cream for breakfast
There is nothing quite like I nice hot shower just after a long flight.
There is nothing quite like I nice hot shower just after a long flight.
Nicely appointed showers at Air NZ's Koru Club
Nicely appointed showers at Air NZ’s Koru Club
Some vegemite at the lounge.
Some vegemite at the lounge.
Climb out from AKL
Climb out from AKL
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
Our first glimpse of Rarotonga
I love it when there is no jetway!
I love it when there is no jetway!

My apologies for the delay in posting.  Getting access to the Internet while on Rapa Nui was a bit harder than expected…at least until I repaired our guesthouse’s connection towards the end of our stay.  Our flight from the mainland with LAN Chile was uneventful and we had a great view of the Juan Fernandez archipelago along the way.

Arrival at Rapa Nui’s Mataveri International Airport is a fun experience in and of itself.  Of course the airport doesn’t have a large terminal building with jetways and the like.  All passengers take the stairs and stroll across the tarmac into the open air terminal where a local band is playing and girls are handing out flowers.  Before we knew it we were packed into a late 90′s Nissan being whisked away to our guesthouse in Hanga Roa, the island’s only village.  I will post more about our accomodations, the village and our budget in later posts.  But first, some moai!

Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa
Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa

Before we flew to Rapa Nui we had read that while many tourists rent cars for their entire stay, it is possible to see many of the sights on foot.  On our first full day we decided to walk part of the northwestern coast check out the moais, lava tubes, and rolling green countryside.  The tourist office told us that the loop would take 4-5 hours and to bring lots of water as there is no safe drinking water outside of Hanga Roa.

Much  of the island's coastline is like this.
Much of the island’s coastline is like this.

Just outside of Hanga Roa is Tahai which is a restored ceremonial site where one can find three ahu (stone platforms) with six moais (stone heads).  Further up the coast, there are some nice lava tubes at Ana Kakenga which you can explore if you have a flashlight.  Two of them are frequently visited by tourists and lead out to the sea where there is a nice view of the ocean.  Heading into the caves was a nice repreive from sun.

Amy explores the cave with a headlamp
Amy explores the cave with a headlamp

After Ana Kakenga the road turns inland and climbs gradually to Ahu Akivi.  Ahu Akivi is a complex of seven moais that are unique in that they face the ocean.  All of the other ahu on Easter Island are located along the coast and their moais face inland.  Ahu Akivi was gorgeous and arriving on foot meant allowed us to wait until a tour group departed.  After that, we had the place to ourselves.

Ahu Akivi and its seven moais
Ahu Akivi and its seven moais

The walk back to Hanga Roa from Ahu Akivi was arduous.  When it was all said and done, our four-to-five hour walk had turned into a seven hour adventure.  Nevertheless, it was well worth it and best of all it was completely free.

Sunset at Hanga Roa
Sunset at Hanga Roa
Easter Island – Day 1 (Ahu Akivi)
Juan Fernández Islands
Juan Fernández Islands
On final into IPC.
On final into IPC.
Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa
Ahu Tahai, just outside of Hanga Roa
Much  of the island's coastline is like this.
Much of the island’s coastline is like this.
Amy climbing into a lava tube
Amy climbing into a lava tube
Looking out to sea from the lava tube
Looking out to sea from the lava tube
Amy explores the cave with a headlamp
Amy explores the cave with a headlamp
Inside the lava tube
Inside the lava tube
The banana cave
The banana cave
Ahu Akivi and its seven moais
Ahu Akivi and its seven moais
The rolling green hills of Rapa Nui
The rolling green hills of Rapa Nui
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Two important forms of transportation on Rapa Nui
Sunset at Hanga Roa
Sunset at Hanga Roa

Chile is a big country.  It is certainly possible to travel by bus but distances are absolutely vast.  Before I left on my RTW trip I researched mileage redemption options within Chile in hopes of finding a cheaper and more comfortable way around.  As it turns out, British Airways has a very generous mileage award for travel within Chile.Chile award routing courtesy of gcmap.com

Easter Island has long been on my list of places to see and, being part of Chile, is accessible using this British Airways award on their partner, LAN Chile.  At the suggestion of some friends I decided to see just how far I could stretch one of these tickets.  Surprisingly, the agents at BA allowed me to piece together a very elongated routing (over 7,500 miles!) that would not only allow me to visit Easter Island but also the far south of Chile.  20,000 miles and $59 in taxes later it was ticketed.

The first flight on this ticket was from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas in Region XII of Chile.  It is a relatively short two-hour flight and, provided it is clear, you are treated to spectacular views of fjords, mountains and glaciers.  Upon arrival in Punta Arenas we immediately made our way to the bus terminal to catch a bus north to Puerto Natales which is the jumping off point for Torres del Paine National Park.

Chiloé to Puerto Natales

 

It is 8:30am local time and we are sitting at gate 25 at Santiago’s airport.  At 9:30 we are scheduled to depart to Rapa Nui, one  of the world’s most remote islands.  We will be flying in a shiny LAN 767 complete with winglets modifications and have secured some nice exit row seats.

Amy has informed me that the distance from Santiago to Rapa Nui is equivalent to the distance between Punta Arenas and Arica which are Chile’s southernmost and northernmost cities – 3760 km or 2336 miles.  We departed Punta Arenas yesterday morning just after their first snow of the year and we are definitely looking forward to the warmer weather on Easter Island.

Stay tuned this week for posts and photos of our time down south which included a spectacular day at Torres del Paine National Park.

Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile

Ancud and Chiloé Island are absolutely verdant so it is no surprise that they get about 300 rainy days each year. Our first full day in Ancud was just that. Somewhere between a drizzle and a mist. The good news is that it was light enough to be tolerable for some sightseeing around town.

Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches

One of the priciple attractions on Chiloé are the UNESCO listed wooden churches that dot the island. There is a nice little museum in Ancud that discusses the very clever carpentry techniques that were devised to build these impressive structures. Another draw of the island is the scenic coastline that is dotted with colorful houses.


Since we only had two full days on Chiloé, we once again opted to rent a car to see some of the surrounding countryside. Seeing the island using public transportation is certainly doable but it takes a bit more time. We picked up another Chevy Corsa (the budget car of choice in S. America I am learning) from a local rental argency for about 50USD for 24-hours which included a generous 450km. Our little hatchback included my newly-appreciated feature: power steering!

Pink fog as the sun sets
Pink fog as the sun sets

Despite the setting sun, we decided to make a dash for the Faro Corona (lighthouse) at the end of the Lacuy Peninsula west of town. We made it there about 30 minutes after sunset and found ourselves in front of a closed gate at a dead end in the road. A guy in a naval uniform came out and told us that the visitor center had closed a few hours earlier and that we should come back the next day. Bummer, we thought.

Just as we were about the jump in the car for the hour drive back to town, his commander leaned out the window of one of the buildings and shouted something along the lines of “oh, just let them in!” A short while later one of the officers was giving us a private tour of the facility. It was foggy and drizzly but that made the lighthouse even more spectacular.

We learned that the lighthouses are staffed by naval officers who are on a four month rotation. The man showed us photos of some extremely remote lighthouses where he had been stationed in the past. One of them was perched on a jagged rocky island somewhere in the middle of nowhere, only accessible by boat then helicopter. What a crazy place to live! In addition to maintaining the lighthouse and fog horns, the officers are also responsible for tracking ships once they depart for the open ocean. If they don’t come back on schedule then help will be sent.

Ancud, Chiloé Island, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Penguina by the sea
Penguina by the sea
The sun sets on our first day in Ancud
The sun sets on our first day in Ancud
Amy enjoying the view from the sunroom at the hostel.
Amy enjoying the view from the sunroom at the hostel.
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Some crazy carpentry
Some crazy carpentry
A kingfisher
A kingfisher
Man gathering seaweed.  He said it was for use on your hair or scalp.
Man gathering seaweed. He said it was for use on your hair or scalp.
Steamer ducks and gulls
Steamer ducks and gulls
Lawn mowers
Lawn mowers
Pile of sleepy dogs
Pile of sleepy dogs
On the way to Lacuy Peninsula
On the way to Lacuy Peninsula
Pink fog as the sun sets
Pink fog as the sun sets
Xenon lightbulb for the lighthouse
Xenon lightbulb for the lighthouse

4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!

The day after our trip to El Bolsón it was time for us to cross the Andes to a new country for the both of us – Chile! One of the classic ways to cross is the famous “cruce de lagos” which is a full day of switching between buses and boats as you trace your way across the mountain range.  Unfortunately, this trip is quite expensive and from what we read the quality of the experience is highly weather dependent.  To save some precious pesos we bought a Bariloche to Puerto Montt bus ticket for about 30USD each from the ever-present Via Bariloche.

A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.

I had visions in my mind of a harrowing 14,000ft mountain pass on a gravel road but in reality the Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass is pretty tame: below 1300 meters and beautiful tarmac the whole way.  About an hour of the journey is spent on border formalities and most of that was on the Chilean side.  Chile is very protective of their agriculture and import bans on fruits, vegetables and animal products are strictly-enforced.  At the border they completely unloaded the bus and ran all the bags through the xray.  Meanwhile they have a working dog sniffing the ins and outs of the bus.  It was impressively thorough, I have to say.

Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.

Within thirty minutes of our arrival in Puerto Montt we were already on another bus headed south to Ancud on Chiloé Island.  The total journey (8 USD) takes about three hours and maybe 30 minutes of this are spent on a drive-on, drive-off ferry.  Cruz del Sur, the bus company, also operates the ferries so the timing is nicely orcestrated and wait times are minimal.  The water crossing was smooth and we even managed to spot a few penguins.  We pulled into Ancud around 5PM and made our way to an excellent hostel (Hostal Mundo Nuevo) on the waterfront that was to be our home for the next three nights.

Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


Bariloche to Chiloé Island
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!
Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.
Penguins!
Penguins!
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Hostal Mundo Nuevo - a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Hostal Mundo Nuevo – a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


Fortunately, our marathon bus ride from Buenos Aires was the hardest part of our journey from the biggest city in the country to one of the least inhabited parts of the country.  We read about Bahía Bustamante in a NY Times article a few weeks ago and decided that a visit was an absolute must.  Bahía Bustamante is a tiny village and nature preserve that now accepts a small number of guests each night.  The village calls itself “el único pueblo alguero del mundo” or, the only town dedicated to producing seaweed in the world.

Bahía Bustamante is on the coast about 200km north of Comodoro Rivadavia.  One option for getting there is to take a bus to the nearby town of Garayalde and from there you can arrange car transport to the estancia.  The other option is to rent a car in Comodoro and drive the whole way yourself.  We opted for the latter for the flexibility and we were glad we did as there are a number of sights in the area to which you can drive.

Renting was a piece of cake.  You can either use a local firm (there are dozens) or you can use one of the corporate giants (Avis, Hertz, etc).  We ended up with Avis as the seemed to be the cheapest of the bunch.  Total price for a three day rental of a VW Gol came out to $145.  While I was shopping around I discovered that it is often helpful to pick up from the city location (as opposed to the airport) as you can avoid the nasty 20% concession tax.  This trick also works in the States…good to know.

While I was working on the rental car situation with Avis, Amy ran to the grocery store and stocked up on food for coming days.  At Bahía Bustamante you can choose between self-catering (some houses have kitchens) and having your meals prepared for you.  We opted to self-cater to keep our costs down.

My first Argentine truck stop!
My first Argentine truck stop!

With a (very small) car full of groceries and backpacks we headed up Ruta 3 towards Bahía Bustamante.  It is a good thing we stocked up before we left town because there is very little along the highway north of Comodoro.  On the two hour drive we only saw one truck stop and by that I mean a shack along the side of the road that didn’t even sell gas (only meals and refreshments).  Once we turned off Ruta 3, it was about 40km further to Bahía Bustamante along a gravel road.  It was on this road that we had our first guanaco and ñandu sightings.

The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante

The village was exactly as promised.  Laidback and quiet.  The streets here are all named after different species of seaweed!  It took us a little while to find the staff (read: this place is quiet!) but they soon showed us to our house.  I believe that the house we are staying in was originally workers housing, although it seems they have been modified to make room for a kitchen and large bathroom.  Our place was $110 a night and was more than enough space for the two of us.  There will be more tomorrow about Bahía Bustamante including lots of pictures of penguins! 

Bahía Bustamante – Day 1
My first Argentine truck stop!
My first Argentine truck stop!
First guanaco sighting!
First guanaco sighting!
Then some ñandúes!
Then some ñandúes!
Steamer ducks (patos vapor)
Steamer ducks (patos vapor)
American Oystercatchers and some seagulls
American Oystercatchers and some seagulls
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
The quiet village of Bahía Bustamante
Home cookin
Home cookin
Moonrise
Moonrise


Roughly 1300 miles of this.  That is Boston to Miami.
Roughly 1300 miles of this. That is Boston to Miami.

Yesterday was exciting.  We checked out of our apartment in Buenos Aires.  It was a bit strange to go from having a nice comfortable apartment to being nomads again in just a matter of minutes.  That is the way it is though, the trip must go on!  I will post more about our month in Buenos Aires in the coming days.

Our plan was to fly LAN Argentina last night from Buenos Aires to Comodoro Rivadavia – a three hour flight to the south.  We jumped on the 160 colectivo from Plaza Italia, snagged some seats and enjoyed the short ride over the Jorge Newbury Aeroparque.  We were greeted at the airport by a half dozen or so media trucks.  That is never a good sign!  Inside we found lines of passengers that would even make the TSA jealous.

News crews at the airport!
News crews at the airport!

A LAN employee informed us that the Buenos Aires airports (both AEP and EZE) were shutdown due to an air traffic control problem.  We had heard rumors of there being a strike planned for that day but apparently this was unrelated.  They said it was some sort of technical issue and that it may not be resolved for a day or more.  We were supposed to depart around 11pm but we were told to expect a cancellation.

After our flight last night, we had a hotel reservation in Comodoro Rivadavia followed by a rental car reservation, followed by a booking at Bahía Bustamonte (much more on this later!), followed by a bus, etc…  In other words, we had a long chain of bookings that had just been derailed.  We opted to abandon the flight and switch to a bus then try to push everything else back by a day.

It took us about an hour to call hotels, change the rental car reservation, book bus tickets, etc.  I worked through some of the issues on my laptop and Amy worked some of the others on the phone.  When it was all said and done we had tickets in hand for a bus departure later that evening.  I have yet to get a straight answer out of LAN but I believe we will be able to refund our tickets from lsat night.

We departed Retiro station at 8:30 PM and made only one stop during the first twelve hours of the trip. A hot meal was served a couple of hours after departure and breakfast around 9AM the next morning.  At about the 13.5 hour mark while crossing a flat eastern Montana-like savanna we had a blow out.  Nothing too exciting just a few seconds of buzzing, then a bang and a short while later we came to a stop.  Thirty minutes later we were back on the road.

The first blowout on my RTW trip. Oh goodie!
The first blowout on my RTW trip. Oh goodie!

As I write this we are in the 24th hour of the trip.  Due to a few other delays here in there we are still about four hours from reaching Comodoro.  I just finished my fourth consecutive bus meal (roughly equivalent to a airline coach meal) and I am really longing to get off this thing.  The good news is that the gaggle of cackling old ladies as well as a crying baby disembarked a couple stops back.  Hopefully we are only one or two dubbed movies away from arrival!

Update: We made it!  27 hours and 8 minutes to cover just short of 1300 miles.

MET: 25 hours, 22 minutes.  Are we there yet? Nope.
MET: 25 hours, 22 minutes. Are we there yet? Nope.
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Where we had the flat.
Where we had the flat.

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