Under a full moon, to which I wanted to howl with pleasure, at 4.30am I escaped to the Hobart airport. Watched wonderful sunrise colours. First Tullamarine domestic, then a streamlined customs process and into the hallowed grounds of the international departures area and off to find the Air New Zealand Lounge. In contrast to Virgin’s lounge this was sparsely populated and therefore quiet and spacious. A perfect base.
Onto the plane for the Melbourne to Auckland leg of the trip; how I love the civility of Business class. The air attendants introduce themselves by name and chat with you (to the extent you want) in a totally relaxed and meaningful way. I was resolute and did not accept any of the wonderful sparkling wines or others; accepted a sparkling water in a sparkling wine glass as the substitute and felt all the better for it. Vegan food arrived over time – vegetables at 30000 feet were very good. Read my novel to the sounds of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto number 3 then 4. I smiled to myself as I sprawled around in my spacious capsule (although I have yet to master a smile with a selfie). I realised my privilege to have a Super to call on so that I occupied the space of perhaps 4.5 people in Economy.
At Auckland headed off through the difficult to navigate terminal while it is under some reconstruction and eventually located the Air New Zealand lounge and was able to recharge my phone and enjoy another cuppa in civilised space. Soon back at the gate and after tiring extensive delays was onto the next plane bound for Buenos Aires. Again, I was looked after by mature age air attendants who were exceptionally professional and pleasant and relaxed; the result is that I cannot recommend Air New Zealand too highly. Again, same marvellous service and food and then it was time for them to make up my bed; fold down chairs to create a flat bed with mattress overlay and as many pillows as I desired. Very comfortable and I slept well.
I woke before the plane was in sight of land and remained vigilant hoping to see the Andes mountain range and some of the countryside of Chile way below. But ahead was a tight layer of white cloud seemingly blanketing the entire South American continent; would my dream be thwarted. As an aside there was only one thing I would change on these Air New Zealand Business Class seats – have them facing out to the windows not into the centre of the plane. By facing inwards, it was an awful twist to be able to see clearly out through the windows. So periodically I went to the windows at the attendant’s stations and looked from there. Suddenly there was land below; green agricultural land. The clouds closed. I returned to my novel. Had a new look. And there below we were starting to fly over the Andes. There were holes in the clouds and down below I could see kilometres and kilometres of whiteness draping endless peaks. The view wasn’t perfect but there it was, the little I could see. Just as in Australia it can seem a long while to fly across the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria or across the bottom of Lake Eyre, it took ages to fly across the Andes. When the agricultural lands appeared, the clouds closed over. Simply marvellous good fortune to see some of the land.
We landed in Buenos Aires over an hour later than planned, then the old technology style customs process with long hardly moving queues took more hours. I wondered whether my pre-booked transfer car would still be waiting at the airport, but it was there.
The drive from the airport to the hotel took about one and a half hours firstly through comparatively open country and industrial areas, passing high rise residential buildings covered in various degrees of mouldy concrete, through grotty old streets, and gradually into wider streets with more expensive real estate. I noticed some whole blocks were cordoned off and wondered why; eventually the driver separated a couple of guarding police man, telling them he needed to take me to my hotel. They let us pass. Earlier in the day thousands of Argentinians had marched through the streets ending at the National Congress (only a block from my hotel which was in lock down) – apparently demanding different allocations of funds to different regions. That drive was hair-raising. It wasn’t as bad as I remember Delhi but there were lots of occasions when there are no lane markings, so that everyone determined their own lanes and routes through the dense traffic; the times when I waited for a massive transport truck or bus to take out the back of the car as they continued turning while my driver scooted in front can’t be counted. I wasn’t myself by the time I got to the hotel reception counter!
However, all things considered the driver was excellent. I was glad to be able to come up with some Spanish which allowed me to ask some questions and for him to tell me a few things; for example, I hadn’t realised but Buenos Aires has 8 million residents while the whole of Argentina has only 15 million all up. There was a point on the drive when I was reminded yet again how much I loathe the waste of time that big cities require in terms of travel to get anywhere. So, I imagine most of my travel in this city will revolve around the CBD’s subway Metro train system.
The Hotel Tango de Mayo, recommended by Verity and Noel, is a gem. I was delighted to find they upgraded my room so that I am on the top floor, in a large room with high ceilings and the largest king size bed, and a tango inspired floor mat and occasional bathroom tiles.
Such a room wouldn’t be complete without a balcony and it has one – to be accessed in daylight. Once unpacked I headed down to the Hotel restaurant and, in the absence of any staff, I left the building and walked a gloomy block (or were my eyes bleary) to a café that sold salads. Grabbed a takeaway and walked purposefully back ‘home’ passing unsavoury characters (or was my tired brain full of imagination).
What a ‘day’. From my 4am start in Hobart it was 9am on the 25th in Australia when I arrived at the hotel last night around 7.30pm (still on the 24th in Argentina); that is, my travel time was around 29 hours. What will Day Two offer?