Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Penguins Be Trippin'....: Chapter One, "Philadelphia, Miami, Buenos Aires, and Ushuaia, 'The Jumpoff'" (Friday and Saturday, December 7 and 8, 2012)

Since I moved into a high rise building in Center City Philadelphia this past Summer, family and friends have taken to calling my spot "the deluxe apartment in the sky."  It was not, however, until I began the first leg of the trip that I experienced the real "George Jefferson treatment."  Apparently, to hail a cab outside my building, I need only ask the concierge in my building to flip a switch and a blue light on the awning of my building alerts every cabbie within sight that a fare is waiting.  By the time I made it to the street with my bags, a taxi was already waiting.

And my cabbie's name was "Luis."  True story.

I am officially 3-for-3 flying first class on American Airlines and having a celebrity fly with me.  For those of you who have read my New Zealand-Australia-Fiji blog from last year (below), you may recall that Nick Jonas was two rows ahead of me on my DFW to LAX flight and Jane Lynch was two rows behind me on my return LAX-DFW flight.  This time, on my PHL to MIA flight, I sat next to a former NFL star who retired as a Philadelphia Eagle and is now a prominent commentator on various national and regional sports networks (including Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, one of the networks my team and I represent).  Ironically, though I had never met anyone prior to my trip who had been to Antarctica, he had, and when I told him to where he was flying he knew immediately that I was headed to Antarctica.

Even just before a Midnight flight, Miami International Airport is colorful, vibrant, and full of energy.  There are roughly 47 languages being spoken in the building at any given moment, and easily 20 of them are beautiful Spanish dialects that are like music to the ear.  There's a constant din in the air that isn't loud or distracting, but gives the hint that at any moment a salsa-meringue fete might jump off.  That vibe - and concern that you might miss a bangin' party - is enough to keep anyone awake long enough to board a redeye.

There was no celebrity next to me on the 9 hour flight from Miami to Buenos Aires, but I did have a seat that laid out completely flat, a pillow, a blanket, two meals, and a backpack  containing every electronic gadget, adaptor, and plug I own.  The flight was smooth and I slept well.  Before I knew it, we were in Buenos Aires, where it was roughly 145 degrees... Celcius.
I collected my bags and beat it over to Passport Control, where I was confronted with the strangest language I've ever heard.  It's worth noting that, including junior high, high school, and college, I've had about 8 years of Spanish.  I've travelled to several Spanish-speaking countries and done quite well.  I've even applied my Spanish to get by in Italy.  But THIS... this was NOT Spanish.  This was people attempting to speak while balancing six marbles on their tongues, only to become frustrated on the third attempt, swallow the marbles, and speak to me in English.  Everywhere I turned, the Argentinians spoke to me in this "Marblespeak" that sounded about as much like Spanish as English does.
Perhaps this is why they turned on Evita.
I had to change airports in Buenos Aires, which required a hour-long cab ride across town to Newbury Aeroparque for my flight to Ushuaia on the Southern tip of Argentina.  I'm not sure what I thought Buenos Aires would look like, but I didn't count on a trip down memory lane... to the 1970s.  Although it's a clean and beautiful city rich with history, culture, and gastronomic delights, every building in Buenos Aires looks like it was designed by Mike Brady.  Some of the haircuts looked like his too.
Jorge Newbury Aeroparque, Buenos Aires' domestic airport, is undergoing renovations, but I was pretty sure I'd seen it somewhere before.  Then it hit me: this was the airport I built with my Girder & Panel set, circa 1980, and only slightly larger.  If you've ever been to New York's LaGuardia Airport and thought it was jammed precariously between the Grand Central Parkway, Flushing Bay, and Rikers Island... yeah, you ain't seen NOTHIN'!!!  And just when I thought it couldn't get worse than Marblespeak... there was Marblespeak over the PA system!  Vaya con Dios, indeed....
The three and a half hour flight from Buenos Aires took me to the very picturesque Ushuaia (pronounced "ooh-SHWY-uh"), the Southernmost city in the World, effectionately known as "El Fin del Mundo" or "The End of the World."  The temperature in Ushuaia was a balmy 4 degrees (Fahrenheit), so the fleece jacket that I wore to leave Philly went back on.  Collecting my bags and making my way to the shuttle that would take me to my overnight accommodations, I began to notice an aroma that was both gamey and ripe all at once.  I emerged from the airport and boarded the shuttle and the scent lingered, and as I checked in at the Hotel Los Nires and the smell didn't fade, I chalked it up to this being "what Ushuaia smells like."  I have a colleague who breeds and raises llamas, alpacas, and suris, and I was reminded that this is the part of the World from which the furry beasts originate.  But by the time I reached my room, set down my bags, and began to settle in for the evening, I was struck by an alarming revelation: like George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, I was "the source of some incredible funk"! 
After a thorough shower, I dressed and went down to dinner.  Unbeknownst to me, while I noshed in the hotel restaurant, several people who would become very important in the course of the expedition dined at tables nearby.  Just across from me, a man and a woman got acquainted over food and wine.  As I got up to return to my room after dinner, a gentleman dining with another gentleman introduced himself and asked if I was departing for Antarctica tomorrow... but more on the four of them later.

As I flipped through my Antarctica travel guide and got ready for bed, the sun was just beginning to set.  It was 10 PM.  Tomorrow... Snoopy gets his own TV network and we watch it on the way out!