Micro Blog: 10th June 2012 (Travel)
With the excitement of getting a emergency exit seat (I just love the infinite legroom), I headed through the passport scanners. The screen read "Place thumb on scanner..." Easy and pretty straightforward, unfortunately, one of the many closed circuit cameras at Changi Airport Singapore would have caught a total nerd putting his thumb on the monitor screen itself....Realising all I was doing was doing was leaving a thumbprint on the monitor and that the scanner was 2 inches below my wrist, I made the corrective move and rushed my blushing face away from the security. Should have just stuck to the old system of greeting the customs officer!
Making a fool of myself this early in a month long trip to South America was surely not a good way to kick things off. Fortunately it was a smooth sailing, butt aching 30 hours flight to Buenos Aires. Reaching at 8 at night and having my connecting flight to El Calafate 12 hours later left me in a dilemma. On one hand, i would have love the comfort of a shower and just dropping onto the bed. On the other, there was always a risk of getting too sound a sleep and missing the morning flight altogether. Thus the hotel option was out and a big thanks to the excellent wifi at the airport, boredom was not a word present then.
At 5 in the morning, after some 9 over hours on the row of seats at the small but cozy domestic departure hall of Ministri Eizeiza (EZE) airport, I headed to what was a hundred odd person queue to wait for the check-in. For the internal flight to El Calafate, I booked a business class seat on Aerolineas Argentina for less than two hundred dollars compared to economy but allowed double the weight for both check-in and carry-on luggage. The added piece of mind was what I was after and since my bags were definitely over the limit for economy seating, this was the best bet at a small price. There were some initial fears of flights being cancelled at the last minute but it was all go at least for this trip.
On the flight, I received what was my fifth airline meal in two days, nothing against them given that I was almost always starving by the time they served up. Three hours into the flight, the pilot began the descent and I hoped over to the right side of the plane and my jaw dropped. In the distance was the peaks of the Patagonia mountain range and the peaks of Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre stood out so distinctively from the rest of the smaller ones that they were easily recognized by a first-timer. Unfortunately, the air stewardess had her eyes on me and I was not allowed to whip the cameras out for even a quick snap. What a letdown.
Carlos, my ferry driver to the hotel met me at the airport and immediately, a problem surfaced and that was to continue throughout the month, the language barrier.. His English was basic while the only Spanish I knew were the names of the soccer players. Hand signs and a map helped our broken conversation to an extent. I was however not so lucky in the restaurants and cafes where ordering food was at times an uphill task.
El Calafate is a cozy little town and city-dwellers will feel doubly relaxed here. Coming from Singapore where towers of concrete loom the skies, it was just refreshing to be free from it all here in this town. From roadside cafes serving piping hot pizzas to the supermarket where I had my first bunch of Argentinian bananas, the place gave little clue of the vistas that laid just a few hours drive away.
Given that I had a few days to myself before meeting up with the rest of the group, I got a map from the hotel's reception and proceeded to roam about for sunrise and sunset shoots. Cerro Calafate was one memorable 2 hour hike that was an experience which will stick with me for life. A 2 hour hike up a hill so that I could get high above the town and a better view of Lago Argentino saw me getting chased by dogs and walking through the housing estates that somehow reminded me of the top-notch movie, City of God.
2 days later, the group had arrived with the 2 workshop leaders, Ian Plant and Richard Bernabe. Both are amazing photographers and having only read of them in books and seeing their images online, it was somewhat surreal to be seeing them in person. As always, mugshots are just a weak initial impression and both of them were totally humourous, unselfish in sharing whatever info they have and very considerate of the participants. The rest of the group were a great bunch as well and I was glad to be in the company of these nice people. Daniel Portal, our logistics manager did a superb job of managing bookings, narrowing the language gap with his strong command of Spanish and English and himself a solid dude to have around.
After a day of warmup photography, we started on the serious stuff with Perito Moreno Glacier barely testing the group's fitness level. The massive glacier was however a sight to behold and everyone was soon challenging themselves to capture the frequent thunderous cracks as pieces of the wall came splashing down into Lago Argentino. All the shooting done there were on boardwalks and with that comes the challenge of dealing with vibration. Eager passerbys rushing past the tripod shook the setup and more than once did I have to cancel the half-done exposure. Using one of the larger tripods (Gitzo 3541XLS) with the largest RRS ballhead, the BH-55 did help but not by much. In such situations, there is nothing much one can do other than shoot when no one is nearby and just pray that no one walks past during the minute long exposure.
Next up will be El Chalten, the town within Los Glaciares National Park and Torres Del Paine National Park. Both places offered diverse shooting conditions ranging from gale-force winds to freezing temperatures.