published Friday, December 9th, 2011

Trip to Antarctica: Planes, trains and automobiles

Thom Benson
Downtown Buenos Aires
Downtown Buenos Aires
Thom Benson/Tennessee Aquarium
Follow live updates as the Tennessee Aquarium's Thom Benson travels to Antarctica from Chattanooga

The past twenty-four hours have been a whirlwind. When I left Chattanooga, the temperature was 40 degrees, but local mountains were getting white with snow. Sure enough, the reading at Palmer Station was 41. “We’re colder than Antarctica again?” I thought to myself.

Once in Atlanta, I miscued on the train between terminals. But while backtracking from Concourse D to Concorse E, I was surprised to see a photo gallery of Antarctic images lining the hallway. Then, after boarding the flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, Argentina, I noticed that one of the in-flight movie choices was “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” I spent the first part of the ten-hour flight chuckling to the antics of gentoo penguins and thinking about Nipper, Shivers and the rest of the crew at Penguins’ Rock.

The flight was smooth and by sunrise, we were a little more than one hour from landing in Argentina right at 5,118 miles from Atlanta. The weather was sunny and warm with highs in the 80s. Our group toured the so-called “Paris of South America” for much of the afternoon.

December 8th is “Virgin Day,” a big Catholic holiday in Buenos Aires. Many of the city’s three million residents head out for a long weekend, along with a large portion of the 12 million or so residents living in the surrounding area. We were told that if you are not going on holiday, this is traditionally the day to put up the Christmas tree. We saw several public trees going up, along with scaffolding near the presidential offices. A big city event is planned for Saturday, when the Argentine President takes her oath of office.

The city is amazingly large and feels very European. On our tour of the city we saw countless historical figures cast in bronze along with a stunning amount of public art. Even though the town felt rather empty to those in our group who arrived one day earlier and saw the typical hectic pace of this big city on a work day, many people could be seen enjoying green spaces throughout the city. Because of the warmth, one of the large city pools was already quite full on this early spring day. And everywhere we went we saw soccer being played, practiced or simply soccer balls being kicked around in this “football”-crazed country.

Our tour of the city wrapped up with an unusual, yet fascinating tour of the Recoleta Cemetery where Evita Peron and many others are laid to rest. The mausoleums are intricate tributes to family members that are built nearly on top of one another and laid out in a vast mini-city. It was quite a history lesson for everyone.

Tomorrow we’ll all meet in the hotel lobby at 4:00 am for a “grab-n-go” breakfast. We’ll head back to the Buenos Aires airport for the flight to Ushuaia – “The Southernmost City in the World.” We’ll have a short tour near the Fuegian Andes before boarding the ship bound for Antarctica.

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