Thursday, December 29, 2016

Looong Flights.....

I finally arrived in Munich - exhausted but happy. I love traveling, but this is getting too literal.

My flight out of South America was with LATAM (a merger of LAN and TAM) airlines, and it was the cheapest flight out with 2 transits. From Buenos Aires (AEP) to Sao Paulo (GRU), to Madrid (MAD), and then to Munich (MUC).

A message came over the PA system just as I was about to get out of the plane in GRU after an almost 3-hr fight from AEP. It was past 10pm at night. All those connecting to MAD were to look for the LATAM ground staff outside. When I got out, a group of 15-20 people were gathered around a uniformed guy, who was talking away in rapid Spanish.

Another uniformed guy saw me and approached.

"You speak English?"

I nodded.

"Your flight is canceled."

I stood dumbfounded.

"The plane have problem. Another plane will fly tomorrow morning 10am. Now will you please collect your baggage and........"

His instructions and words sort of floated around my head while my brain could only process my own uncertainties.

What about my next connecting flight from MAD to MUC? What about my booked room in Munich? Would I lose a day? And other such variations.

I finally calmed myself and was given a formal letter on the flight cancellation/replacement. The group of us were issued a big red card that stated "Reboarding", which apparently allowed us to bypass immigration and went staight to the baggage claim area. I thought it would be some kind of controlled arrangement to a hotel within the airport but after claiming our luggage, we were told to catch an airport hotel shuttle at the public area outside. It appeared to be a "own time own target" operation.

Outside, there were a few bewildered looking persons which I recognized, and we found the right hotel shuttle. After waiting for everyone, the bus brought us to the airport hotel some 15 minutes away.

There were only a few situations in my travels that I am now in a country without having formally "stamped in". My last status in the interconnected airport systems of today, is that my passport got scanned and stamped out in Argentina. I am in a "limbo" state since I am not formally registered/stamped in any country. I could have got kidnapped or took a taxi to join a Sao Paulo mafia gang or something. But of course, all I wanted now was just to get some sleep.

The queue for checking in looked horrendously long. It was past 11pm, and as part of the arrangement, we got free buffet dinner, so I thought I'll have some free hotel food before checking myself in. After a quick dinner, I came out to find the queue twice as long! And then it occurred to me. Of course, when a flight got canceled, almost the entire flight passengers need to be accounted for. And these can come from various other incoming flights! So now it looked like passengers from an entire flight is checking in....

Should have continued queuing before I decided to go for dinner first

There is a first for everything, and it is the first time in my life that queuing to check-in in a hotel took me 2 hours! It was way past 2am when I finally got to lay on my bed.

And 3+ hours of fidgety sleep later, I woke up to catch the 6.30am shuttle back to the airport. More queuing for checking in ensued, and there and then, the LATAM staff managed to put me on the earliest connecting flight from MAD to MUC. My current flight from GRU to MAD takes 10hrs arriving at 12 midnight. The MAD to MUC flight is at 8am. I did not have a good feeling about this....
(Oh, I flashed the all-powerful red 'Reboarding' card, and sauntered through immigration. I am so keeping this card for future Brazil visits ;) :O :D )

Reboarding card ;)

Three movies and more fidgety sleep later, at almost 1am in MAD, it was deja-vu. This time though, I was rightfully stamped into Spain, but it was 3+am before my head hits the pillow :(. So I had only 2+hrs of sleep this time :( :(.

Well, things can't get any worse right? Well, Princess Leia just passed away :(.
But as for my journey, I finally arrived in Munich.

I left Buenos Aires Argentina on 27th Dec afternoon. I arrived in Munich Germany on 29th Dec afternoon. I am so happy to arrive. And New Year is gonna be just round the corner. Less news of deaths in 2017 ok?

Onward go!!

Wonderful morning alpenglow from the air! Last leg from MAD to MUC flight.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Dream Revisited

Sometimes, when you have had an exceptional experience, the bar had been set to that exceptional level. Anything else will bound to fall short. And so it is with my trek to Laguna de los Tres.

Almost six years ago, when I did the trek in El Chalten, it was with 2 friends, and the weather was really quite good. An early morning alpenglow, followed by a pleasant day of trekking, and when it mattered, at the the Laguna itself with Mt Fitz Roy as backdrop, there was times of blue skies and serene reflections on the lake.

I had pretty much trekked the past 3+ hours in super windy and cloudy conditions. Never mind that, but as I reached the final part of the trek, the final 1km of rocky gravelly ascent, it started to drizzle. Things are looking wet and bleak. Somehow though, I was still very much anticipating the view when I would summit the ridge and gaze upon the sight I missed so much.

Perhaps it was age, but I didn't remember it was this exhausting. And the wind! It wasn't this strong back in March then. This is prime summer season, but it didn't looked or felt like it. I trudged on, water droplets drenching my face, and angry wind slapping it at whim.

Grey cloudy skies on the ascent

And drizzling as well!

And when I finally reached the top, it was ..... underwhelming, truth be told. Laguna de los Tres was unsettled, as waves of ripples washed across its surface, dancing in sync with the wind. Dark clouds churned around Mt Fitz Roy, with the sun valiantly trying to shine through. It was a tumultuous scene completely different from my first encounter. But still, memories come flashing back.

Very windy day!
Making the best of the situation

I had wrongly chose to come for sunset. The sun is setting behind the mountains and if it had been a good sunny day, there possibly still would have been phenomenal light. But the day was characterized by grey cloudy skies, and the poor sun had been just a pale shadow (ha!) of its glorious self.

I made my way down to the lagoon, and up to the other crest that will overlook another lagoon, Laguna Sucia, as well as Laguna de los Tres. And it was here at this elevated point that I encountered the windiest experience of my life. I have encountered 3 times in my travels where I was literally blown off-balance by the wind, staggering a few steps by the force. Once in Chilean Patagonia (near Glacier Grey), once in Iceland, and once in Antarctica. It seemed Argentine Patagonia would not be outdone.

I was bracing myself for some photos when it started. Gale force winds that buffeted me in all directions, quite literally. I tried to seek refuge behind a rock half my size, but to no avail. But I must looked a comical figure leaning and circling a rock in a half squatting position. But every position is the same! In the end, I just leaned on the rock for support, and waited.

I withstood more than 5 minutes of pummeling by the wind before there was some reprieve. I thought I would use the chance to try to take some more photos. I "ventured" to a position away from the rock that allowed a good shot of both lagunas, but before I could really compose anything, the wild winds came on again, screaming like a mad banshee. It was so strong and relentless that I was immobile, literally fighting against the wind to stay upright; a mere lifting of a leg to make a step would surely topple my stance. And it would seem I was losing the fight! I resorted to crouching on all fours. For the briefest of moments, I had some horrifying thoughts. But all I had to do was wait, and it was a good 3-4 minutes before it died down. I contemplated going back to my "rock" to review my situation, but decided to go back down. After all, the images I take would be similar to the ones I took during my last trip, and in worse lighting conditions.

It was only 8pm, and "sunset" was supposed to be 10.30pm. There were but 2 persons left on site and looking at the clouds and the insane winds, I didn't think it would be sane nor fruitful to wait. It was mission aborted, but as I descended down the rocky slope, there wasn't any real disappointment. I think I had been lucky on my first visit, and even on this trip, I had a day of glorious weather. Today, I was just being presented with the real and realistic Patagonia.

And I am back in Patagonia after 5 1/2 years! A dream destination revisited. How can one be disappointed?!