Touching the Cosmos in Antarctica

See article in Huffington Post.

To get to Ushuaia, the starting point for the cruise, you can fly to Buenos Aries on America, Delta, LAN, United or any of several other major airlines. From Buenos Aires to Ushuaia its either Aerolineas Argentinas or LAN.

I recommend stopping over in Buenos Aries on your way to or back from Ushuaia. If you’re traveling all that distance and spending all that money, why not take the opportunity and explore one of South America’s, and possibly the world’s, most attractive and cosmopolitan cities? I had planned to spend two nights in BA on the way and one night coming back, but the airlines — United and Aerolineas Argentinas — thwarted my plans and cut those three days down to a day. But I enjoyed every minute of my day, walking around and exploring the Palermo district, one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city.I stayed at the Polo Suites by Hollywood and would enthusiastically recommend it (full disclosure — I was not comped by the hotel). I found and booked it through and got an excellent price, significantly less than $100/night. I had a very quiet one bedroom suite and the hotel staff was very helpful, especially when I arrived at 5 am (rather than at 7 pm the night before). The staff at the front desk spoke excellent English, which was very much appreciated since I know little Spanish beyond the words for “hello,” “thank you,” “bathroom” and “beer.”

The town of Ushuaia, arguably the southernmost city in the world, is also worth spending at least two days, and possibly more, to rest, walk around and visit nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park. I didn’t plan to spend more than one night, but a surprise one day strike shut down almost the entire country and gave me an extra day to explore the town.

The town itself is more interesting and picturesque than I expected. Houses march halfway up the slopes of steep snow-covered mountain ridges behind the town and look out over the Beagle Channel, made famous by Charles Darwin. The air is as clear as crystal and as fresh as the winds that sweep down the channel.

The hotels in town are pretty expensive, but I found a comfortable place for about $75 on, the Del Bosque Apartment/Hotel. The Del Bosque is a few blocks up from the waterfront — and I do mean up — so expect a vigorous walk if you stay here. But its quiet and roomy, essentially a bedroom cottage.

I had dinner one night at Kaipua, one of the best restaurants in the city. Kaipua would compare well with some of the better restaurants in LA, NY and Miami. With a spectacular view over the channel and the best snow crab I have ever had plus an excellent sea bass in black butter, both fresh from the nearby waters, and a bottle of white wine as crisp as the air, the total cost, including tip, came out to about $60 per person. It wasn’t cheap, but it would have cost a lot more on Abbot Kinney Blvd. (“the coolest block in America” according to GQ magazine) in Venice Beach where I live.

One comment about our ship, the Ocean Nova. The company that leases the ship is planning to use a larger ship next year, one with stabilizers so that the crossings are not as rough. I have to admit that I didn’t mind the roughness of the journey through the Drake Passage. Of course I didn’t get sick. The tossing and rolling made the crossing seem more like an adventure, evoking in my hyperbolic imagination the age of discovery and the great polar explorations.I also liked the intimacy of the smaller ship. I was able to talk to almost everyone on board, even if it was just to exchange pleasantries like “would you please help me off the floor” or “do you have an extra puke bag?”