Monday, March 1, 2010

Off to Ushuaia

Dear the bed bugs that have been ravaging me the last two nights – if you could please stop, that would be great.

I woke up in the middle of the night with red spots all over my left arm, back of both hands, left and right foot, and the right side of my belly. They were as itchy as any mosquito bite I've ever experienced. Had I know of their existence I would have slept in my sleep sheet – but they had lulled me into a false sense of security by taking a week to build up to full force.

As I it now on the plane to Ushuaia I find I'm doing everything in my power to ignore the terrible itching. It is – shall we say – less than ideal.

When I woke up this morning I grabbed breakfast, and then headed back to my room to watch the recap of the Olympics' closing ceremony. Not having been nearly as addicted to the games as in years past – due to terrible soccer matches finding screen space instead of bobsledding, ice dancing, and the link – I didn't think it would be that tragic when the flame went out. Still – there was a slight tinge as the torch was lowered away and out of sight. I wonder what the feeling must be like for the city of Vancouver, planning for these weeks for so long, and then having them disappear.

There was no time to dwell on these thoughts as soon I was headed to the bus to get to the airport. Then it was a brief wait, a slight delay, and a perusal of Lonely Planet's guide to Antarctica (really Lonely Planet? Now you're just being silly.) Then I was up into the air. I tried my best to stay interested in the LotR: Appendixes, but once I got past the time lines to the family trees I started to nod off. And then I reached the three or four pages explaining the various calendars used in Middle Earth and that was just the end for me. Still, it could have been worse. Frodo could have kept popping up to fill me with rage.

I plan to do a breakdown on my feelings towards this epic text just as soon as I finish it. With only forty pages left, you'd think I'd press right on and power through. But I peeked ahead. Those pages explain the alphabet. The names of the letters, the various alphabets, and how they came into being. This has just become tedious.

On the flight I discovered that our voyage of the MS Expedition will be the first for the season as it has been having problems, and was held up in dry dock for quite some time. I'm glad that I knew nothing about this, otherwise I probably would have been tracking the progress of the ship with crossed fingers. As it is, I just learned of the problem after said problem ceased to exist.

Landing in Ushuaia is an experience. The airport is more like a delightful ski lodge than anything else. All wooden interior, with large glass windows offering a view of the snow capped mountains that surround the town in all directions. The town itself? For being the southern most in the world, it's rather large.

I checked into the hotel, allowed myself a moment or two to be amazed by the amazing room with kitchen, flat screen tv, couch, and plush chairs. I should be so lucky to end up with a place like this in Toronto when I get back.

And then I quickly dropped my gear and headed out to wander the city. All the while trying to ignore the crazy itches of the bed bug bites. I'll accept that this is a cultural experience that is important to have under my belt so that I may talk to fellow travellers about it – but that will be in the future, when the bites are gone, and I'm no longer feeling their wrath!

The town has two main tourists streets that extend down the waterfront. For the most part it's just souvenir shops mixed with restaurants, capped by an outdoors store at the end of each block. There's nothing all that special to it, but that's to be expected from a place like this which thrives mainly because of where people go from here. This is the Siem Reap, or Cuzco, of Argentina. You come here not to stay here, but because it's the doorstep to your real destination. Still – it could be a lot worse. There are apparently some great hikes, including one over a glacier, accessible from here. But, like I said in Peru, I hiked my last hike. And if I can't try to keep myself honest, well then what's to be expected?

After some wanders that introduced me to yet another hot dog (so much better than the New York variety, if only due to the double size, and the half price) and a soda I retired back to the hotel. Eight o'clock and the sun still shining. I'm told darkness will fall near ten. I wonder how this affects the locals.

The hotel was blessed with free wi-fi, and a lending library which consisted of eight books. I looked at them, one after the next, and couldn't believe what I was seeing. I wanted them all! The all needed to be mine! And quickly four were added to my collection. I replaced them with two that I'd been carrying around, not yet read – tragic that I'll probably, now, never read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or Jane Eyre, but I know in my heart I made the right decision.

The fact that Go West, by the Pet Shop Boys, plays now over the loud speaker only confirms my decision. Could there have been a better sign? Nay. There could not have been!

Tomorrow – boarding the boat to Antarctica. See you in two weeks!


  1. Mike, I know this is probably the furthest thought from your mind right now, but please please please be careful not to bring bed bugs home with you in your pack. It's not really that big a deal now because you're not staying in one place for very long (though it's well-documented that bed bugs are great travellers, too), but you don't want to be dealing with them at home.

    I think it was only a matter of time until you got bit - considering your nomad status and the fact that the spread of bugs is largely due to global travel. Anyway, just throw a shitload of all your clothes - or really, anything and everything that can be washed - into a hot hot hot wash cycle and dry on high for 30-60 minutes. As for books and all that gear - which bed bugs can live and propagate in just as easily, too - well, that's a lot harder to treat without having to toss everything out. Hopefully it won't come to that. I just wanted you to remember to take precaution. Try to keep everything off the floor. Not to be alarmist or anything!!! Hopefully this was your first and last encounter. I don't know of any bed bug cases in Antarctica so consider this to be the safest leg of your trip. Hahaha.

  2. ha! i was gonna do the same as annia and warn you - these pests do not just "go away." they are the most persistent, annoying creatures i've ever had to deal with: YOU DO NOT WANT TO WAIT TO DEAL WITH THEM LATER. Fortunately it sounds like you caught this early.
    I don't say this to put a cloud over your trip - much to the contrary: I say it as a friend who is telling you you do not want to deal with the families these bugs will inevitably produce very soon, a friend who wants the rest of your trip to be pleasant.
    Being obsessive about checking around your bed (and any bed on the first night you're there) for at least two weeks (incubation period) will eliminate the problem while it is still early (annia's suggestion of washing / drying clothes is a good one). If you're persistent, scrupulously thorough, and traveling from place-to-place you can rest assured to rid yourself of these guys.
    Well after all that alarm I'll just say happy travels and God bless you!


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