Somewhere Near Antarctica El Fin Del Mundo

Almost instantly, the ocean temperature drops by several degrees. Pods of humpbacks and orcas start surfacing. The albatross and petrels that circled the ship since launch begin to grow in number. We’re approaching the Antarctic convergence; where the Atlantic and Pacific meet and give way to the distinctly polar region below.

The first icebergs should come into view any time now.

It’s all very exciting.

I stayed up all night packing before heading off to the airport. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got on the first flight to Dallas – but not so exhausted that I actually managed to get any sleep.

Dallas airport is still just as ridiculously huge as it was the first time I passed through. It’s possible it may have grown even larger. At the international terminal, I asked a woman at the information booth for directions to a mailbox, so I could return my unwatched Netflix before leaving the country. She walked me over to it.

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“These halls are incredibly wide,” I said.
“I know. Isn’t it lovely?”

Evidently in Texas, calling something “incredibly wide” can only be interpreted as a compliment.

“Why is there so much empty space?”
“This is the newest terminal. It was only finished a couple months ago. They anticipated an increase in traffic flow.”
“It’s just so…big!”
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Well…it’s big, anyway.”

The international terminal of Dallas-Ft. Worth airport is also home to plenty of hideous macro-sculpture.

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I was approaching delirium from lack of sleep, so I sat down and watched some CNN. It was Texas CNN.

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The anchor, Nancy Grace, wears a blonde helmet and barks like a pit bull. She was worked up about a bunch of spoiled celebrities trying to get murderous former gang leader Stanley “Tookie” Williams off of death row.

How dare they? Who do they think they are? He’s a convicted murderer. Give me one good reason why we should allow him to live?

…Hmm. How about the Sermon on the Mount?

Tookie is probably dead now. We don’t have much access to the outside world on this ship, but I know his execution was scheduled for Tuesday and it’s Wednesday now.

I don’t have a strong personal conviction about the death penalty. I think we should be very very sure about a person’s guilt before they’re sentenced to death, but aside from that, I have no major objections to the practice, nor would I be at all upset if we abandoned it.

I’m stumped as to how Christians justify it, though. Jesus gave us a message of mercy and forgiveness, therefore we should murder criminals. I have trouble seeing across that gap.

As CNN went to commercial break, they updated us on our current terror alert level. Everyone set your fear to yellow!

…People are still using this? Didn’t the Department of Homeland Absurdity sheepishly retire the system to avoid further mockery?

I guess it’s still useful in Texas; where terrorists lurk around every corner.

For the packed ten hour flight to Buenos Aires, I got the middle seat in the center row. The seats were, as always, designed for amputee dwarves, so despite my inability to see straight, I couldn’t get any qualitative rest for the duration.

I read Kurt Vonnegut’s new book: Man Without a Country. He keeps promising never to publish again, and he keeps breaking that promise. This one is really just a collection of short essays about how the world – and in particular, the US – is going to hell in a hand basket. You can read the whole thing in an hour or two.

Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite writer. In my mind, he’s a historical figure; someone entirely of another era. To have him alive and commenting on our present circumstances, confirming that they are, in fact, very very screwed up, is quite affecting to me. In a way though, it almost makes it okay, because it puts us on the shelf with other times when things were very very screwed up and we’re not much worse by comparison.

That line about the Sermon on the Mount – I stole it from Vonnegut’s book. But he stole it from Powers Hapgood, so I don’t feel that bad.

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Changing planes in Buenos Aires required a $10 bus ticket and an hour-long ride from the international to the domestic airport. My brief glimpse of the city didn’t inspire me to want to visit for any longer period.

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There was a protest going on at the domestic airport. Some former employees of Aerolineas Argentinas set up tents in the terminal to voice their grievance at having been fired for no good reason. It seemed an unpleasant predicament for the airline, which has its ticket counters only a few feet away.

My last flight was to Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina along the Beagle channel. Many of the other passengers were obviously on my cruise. It was, as anticipated, an older group of people, but there were one or two in my Nielsen demographic and a few kids and grandkids being dragged along as well.

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Ushuaia is a very scenic town, positioned at the base o f Tierra del Fuego and surrounded by water and mountains. The mountains are uniquely Patagonian; sharp and pointy and impossible-looking, and the sunlight bounces off the snowcaps, making them shimmer like I’ve only seen in New Zealand.

But wow, the food is terrible. I’d heard Argentinian beef is great. If it is, I must have been going to the wrong places, cause everything I ate in the country was bland and lumpy.

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They tout themselves as the southernmost city in the world: El Fin del Mundo. It’s a shaky claim. There are one or two towns across the channel in Chile that are farther south. Ushuaia is certainly much bigger than any of them, at 40,000, but by the standards I’m familiar with it takes 100,000 people to even begin to qualify as a city.

At any rate, I checked into my hotel, had a late dinner, and went for a walk around town before sunset hit around 10:30.

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Teenagers! Always tango-ing in public like they own the sidewalk. No respect!

The next day I headed down to the pier to get my first glimpse of the Polar Star.

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And a fine ship she is. The others along the pier were all much bigger and more luxurious, but without the Polar Star’s icebreaking ability, which is crucial in these waters. I’m told it is, in fact, the only commercial icebreaking vessel in the Antarctic, though some have told me otherwise. It is, at least, one of the very few.

The two essential qualities that make an icebreaker an icebreaker are a super-reinforced hull for battering, and an extra pair of giant propellers in front for extra power.

By late afternoon, everyone was onboard and we were ready to shove off. There was a brief welcome meeting with champagne, and then this happened:

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The closest I’ve ever come to a cruise before was my week searching for whale sharks around the Seychelles islands. That was a much smaller vessel, so by my standards, the amenities on the Polar Star are quite satisfactory.

There’s a big dining area serving reasonably good meals:

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The one thing they serve in abundance is cheese. They’ve literally got tons of it. At time of departure, I estimate this ship was about 30% cheese. That percentage is dropping fast.

There’s a very large meeting room/lecture room/observation deck:

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A cozy library full of Dan Brown novels and political thrillers in random languages:

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And a bar that is usually much less populated than this:

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The first few hours of the cruise took us through the Beagle channel; named after the ship Darwin took through to the Galapagos islands and beyond. Shortly after going to bed, we rounded the bend and came out into the Drake Passage.

The Drake Passage constitutes some of the roughest waters in the world. It’s the only latitude in which there is no land the whole way round, so the water can really get swirling. I don’t think any of us fully anticipated what that would mean for us during the thousand mile crossing, though most were smart enough to bring seasickness medication.

Not me. I’ve never been seasick before, so I didn’t give it much thought. Around lunchtime on the second day, I spent a little too long focusing on my GameBoy screen without looking up to regain my bearings. The feeling hit me like a punch in the gut. I ran out to the railing of Deck 5 and hurled all over Deck 4. Five times. It sucked.

I certainly wasn’t alone. I’d guess around half the ship vomited at some point. One of my roommates, Xiaonan, couldn’t make it to the side of the ship, so he let loose on the carpet outside our cabin.

It was an awful, no-good, very bad day. And then it got worse.

After getting the taste out of my mouth with some Altoids, I decided to try to sleep through the rocking. I woke up an hour later to an announcement that we were turning the ship around due to a medical emergency.

The details came out slowly. One of the passengers; a woman in her seventies, had evidently boarded the ship despite knowin g full-well that she had emphysema. She didn’t bring her medication, nor did she inform the crew in advance. The rough seas exacerbated her condition until she reached the point where she could no longer breathe on her own. There was oxygen onboard and a ship’s doctor who could look after her, but the oxygen wasn’t going to last forever and they didn’t have the resources to fix her.

The crew arranged a Medevac by helicopter from the nearest safe landing: Cape Horn…”safe” being a relative term.

They held an all-ship meeting and Jørn, the expedition leader, delicately explained the situation. A couple aged passengers of the “I’m an American! Don’t try to rip me off!” variety put up a stink about the lost time, but ethically, there was clearly no alternative.

It was 10 hours back, followed by a hairy procedure of lowering a zodiac boat by crane with the woman onboard, racing to shore, and then carrying her up the rocks to where the helicopter was waiting.

Cape Horn is a landmark of great historical significance and it’s very rare to get to see it up close. Alas, I slept through the whole thing. It went fine, though. The woman was raced off to Punta Arenas, then flown home to the states after a couple days. The report is she’s doing fine.

The gossip mills churned full-blast after the incident. There was a lot of speculation about insurance. The woman was with her daughter, and the rumor was their insurance would only cover the unbelievably expensive Medevac for one of them. As for the ship, someone managed to glean that it burned through a ton of fuel per hour at a cost of $700. For the unanticipated 20 hour roundtrip added to our itinerary, the fuel cost was around $14,000. No one knows who is eating that, but surely there will be some lawyers and insurance agents involved.

With a little less than a day lost, the crew raced across the Drake Passage once again and managed to regain some time. It’s been an uneventful couple days since the Medevac. There’s been lots of bird-watching. We’ve got a resident ornithologist as part of the staff and it’s possible to absorb some of his enthusiasm through osmosis. The albatross, with wing spans up to 12 feet, are pretty incredible. My particular favorite is the wandering albatross, because of its unusually poetic name. But when someone spots a southern sooty snow petrel or whatever, I retire to the ship’s bar and order a tall glass of who-gives-a-crap?

They’ve been filling our days with lectures from the expedition staff. Some of them are quite good, some are boring. All-in-all it’s a great perk to have experts available on every subject relevant to the journey. In addition to Simon the ornithologist, we’ve got a marine biologist and a historian – both of whom lived in bases on the continent. There’s also a geologist, and an expert on marine mammals – which I think might be called a cetologist. They’re a knowledgeable bunch, and it’s apparent that despite their familiarity, they’re as keen about getting to go to Antarctica as we are – if not more so.

There’s a total of 10 expedition staff. And, by the way, a crew of 45. The bridge crew and most of the higher rankings are of Polish origin, while the guys down in the engine room and most of the hotel staff are Filipino. They serve a theoretical limit of 96 passengers, which I think we’re very close to on this cruise – or at least we were before we lost emphysema lady and her daughter.

Anyway, when I’m not bird-watching, listening to lectures, reading, playing videogames, sleeping, or vomiting, I’m spending a whole lot of time looking out at this:

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…which is not such a bad thing.

I’ve got an idea for an invention. It’s a pair of goggles that’ll allow me to see through the ocean surface at everything below. Here, in the fertile waters around Antarctica, home of the largest animals ever to exist, there’s an assortment of wonders swimming beneath me right now: sperm whales diving into pockets of the ocean unexplored by man, wrestling giant squid, colossal squid, and creatures we’ve not yet even discovered.

4000 meters underwater sounds like a long way away down, but it’s only a short stretch toward the horizon. If I could see through these confounded waves, a simple pair of binoculars would show me giants and monsters as strange as anything Ray Harryhausen ever animated to film.

So I’ve got the idea for these goggles. That takes care of the hard part, right? Now someone just needs to make them.

Anyway, that about brings me up to speed. Everything about the Antarctica trip not actually related to Antarctica itself. My next post will probably involve a whole lot of penguin pictures and ice.

Brace yourself.

49 Responses to Somewhere Near Antarctica El Fin Del Mundo

  1. Ed

    Seasickness, Vonnegut quotes, The Death Penalty, Medivac…What, no old esquimos drifting off on the iceflows?

    You don’t sound like you are having the “time of your life”?

    !!! I’m Still Ssoo0 friggin’ Jealous !!!

    Aren’t you glad WA doesn’t have The Death Penalty. I always felt that TDP has no value – like The Tonight Show – just another spot for forgotten celebs (including The Convicted) to posture when they can’t draw the paparazzi on their own anymore. I like theater as much as Lissa, just not in the courtroom.

    Go dance on an iceberg, doctor’s orders.

  2. alex

    ah, vonnegut..
    my gahd man, this site is defintately amusing, i had to check it out for myself, kind of not actually believing you really did this..

  3. alex

    ah, vonnegut..
    my gahd man, this site is defintately amusing, i had to check it out for myself, kind of not actually believing you really did this..

  4. Susan

    Saw you on Ellen.
    What a great idea…the traveling around.
    I’m jealous.
    Re: Dallas airport being large – I’m from Houston, and yes, I guess we think if it’s big it’s got to be good.
    Have you been to Ireland yet?
    Keep on Trucking!!!

  5. Samantha

    Hello, I was just watching Ellen, and I saw you. You’re an awesome dance, by the way. Wow, Antarctica. Don’t only like 12 people live there? I can’t imagine why anyone would want to…

    So you travel all around the wrod to dance? Wow, interesting. So, you’re blog is halarious, just so you know.

    I’ve been to the Dallas airport, a few years back, but I do remember it was huge. I was only about 8 or 9 at the time, so I don’t really remember alot.

    Yeah, I’m 13. Turning 14 in three months!! Woot woot. Anyways, I’m rambling.

  6. I’m here as a newbie. Your Texas observations gave me a laugh. We do think large is big. I think it’s State law or sum-thang.

    Saw you on Ellen. I have a grown son who dances like you. As I write these very words it makes me think of how funny that sight would be (the two of you dancing side by side).

    Dance on Matt.

  7. Drexel

    Talking about big, did anyone else notice the big pair of bazookas in the picture of the lady on the ships leather couch. At least if the ship starts sinking you can cling to life on those two mini life rafts…wow…just wow.

  8. Cara Forshaw

    It sounds like fun, except for the whole turning back and being seasick….but you know, YOUR GOING OR ARE IN ANTARTICA RIGHT NOW! And thats just beyond cool.
    Litterally.

    have fun dancing!

    Love Cara

  9. Lindsay

    Holy shitt haha you are one funny feller :p but yes I seen yuo on the news or some kind of tv sho wand its quite th efunny thing I just had to check it out lol sounds legendary ya so keep dancin
    Love peace and chicken grease 😛
    Lindsay

  10. Ruth

    I also saw you dance on Ellen and it gave me quite a laugh. I have never done this before–wrote to someone I don’t even know a clue about but there is a first for everything. I am intrigued by your itinerary and love to travel. Thanks for sharing the world with us. Keep on dancing. Have you ever been to Utah?

  11. Anonymous

    my friends and i love your dance! we’ve started doing it now and hope to travel the world dancing too :) best wishes and safe travles!

  12. Hey Matt,

    Awesome to hear about your trip to Antarctica. Sorry to hear about your face but even more sorry to see the picture of it. Yikes!

    By the way, you’re wrong about Buenos Aires. Your short site-seeing route was’t a good representation of the city as a whole. You just saw the grungy outskirts of town rather than the beautiful inside. I was there around the time you were on your trip and I have to tell you, it’s a pretty awesome place.

    Keep traveling man. You’re my hero!

  13. Rich

    “But when someone spots a southern sooty snow petrel or whatever, I retire to the ship’s bar and order a tall glass of who-gives-a-crap?”

    Thank you, I just wet myself…

  14. Kristina

    I haven’t laughed so hard in a long while. I cried and quite nearly pee’d my pants. Pretty picture, I know. You see, I have this horrible habit of laughing at people when they’re in pain, not because they’re suffering, but because of the odd noises, expressions, and other reactions that they make. Your entry on your skin condition was extra funny, even if I didn’t witness it.

    Please know that I laugh in compassion.

    Saw you on Ellen…

  15. Matt, just found you from Rocketboom. I love the site. Good stuff.

    Here is one Christian’s take on the death penalty. I think that we have to keep the death penalty because with actually having it then we can’t have any mercy. But instead of actually excuting anyone we need to just make them realize that we might have but then show mercy and let them live. But you have to SENTENCE them to be able to show mercy. Otherwise you just have no penalty.

    Okay, that isn’t actually a useful solution. It was the best that I could come up with.

  16. Rebecca

    i like ur dance….if u can call that dancing… i read ur journal and think its funny, hope u get to keep traveling!

    -Rebecca ^.^;

  17. Lori

    I loved the penguin pictures! This is an awesome opportuntiy for you and the rest of us who are landlocked and married with children. LOL I think you will cherish these pictures and your journal for the rest of your life. Your kids will get a huge kick out of it, I am sure. By that time your clothes will be out of style and they will prolly call you a dork but be fascinated that you could do something as wonderfully free and fun! Looking forward to your next destination :-)

  18. matt

    You might want to check your facts on the blue snow ice. I went snowboarding at Mt Baldy in southern California last year (They had an unusual mount of snow – about fifteen feet) and most of the snow we dug into was blue like that. But maybe the ice is different than snow.

  19. Christian

    He’s right about the blue ice. Glacier ice is that color because it is so pure from being compacted for thousands of years. I was hanging out with some Kiwis at Scott Base, Antarctica that really knew how to party. We were pretty hammied and all of a sudden they pull this big chunk of glacier ice out of the freezer and set it on the bar next to the pool table and decided we should put it in our drinks. We were able, with great effort, to break small pieces off with a hammer that lasted an extremely long time in our drinks. Once the giant chunk was rounded some, we couldn’t damage it or remove any more, no matter how hard we tried with the hammer.

    Hey dancin’ Matt, what’s the deal with getting a cruise on the Polar Star? Did the US Coast Guard retire it or what? I got a tour of the Polar Star at McMurdo Station, Antarctica in ’03 and it was very much in active duty for the National Science Foundation. I have some great pics of her sitting at the ice pier tied to her sister ship, the Polar Sea. You mentioned that it was the only icebreaker doing private tours to the extent of your knowledge. I saw some rusty, blue, russian piece of crap dumping people on Zodiacs in the McMurdo sound. I am not sure, but I assumed they were sailing out of New Zealand.

    Thanks for the great site.

  20. Martin

    Hola, hello, im argentinian, i live in buenos aires, i know the best beef is here, so i dont know how you couldn´t recognized it. You missed the best parts from argentina: The iguazu falls, the glacier perito moreno, el valle de la luna, mar del plata. So please Argentina has the best turist spots, pitty you did not add them in your video

  21. Fabrizio Camarena

    heyy Matt, congratulations, you have been everywhere, i have been in 41 countries im 23 years, im from Mexico, my next trip is gonna be antartic, is the best place in the world. good luck man.

  22. Ana

    hey there. i just wanted to say that you’ve got a wrong impression about buenos aires. i was there for 2 weeks, and its a really nice city.
    by the way, cool dance :)

  23. ayelen

    creo que tienes que venir a la argentina porque te faltan muchos lugares por recorrer. 23 provincias que nunca olvidaras
    adios

  24. Carol

    hi, tienes que volver para la argentina, no digo buenos aires, creo que te quedaste con un mal recuerdo, es mas te puedo reomendar buenos lugares para que comas un buen bife de chorizo. Recuerda que argentina no solo es BsAs, Iguazu tiene las mejores cataratas del mundo, Calafate (sta. cruz) el graciar perito moreno. Bariloche, San martin de los andes. Puerto madryn, puerto piramides, ideal para ver todas la ballenas (entre mayo y octubre) tengo fotos, es alucinante el lugar. y el norte arg. es espectacular, jujuy, catamarca, la puna. es barato y lugares como esos no los encontraras en el mundo. me encanto el video, muy original. saludos. carol

  25. Rick

    The next time you travel by sea bring a small amount of cannabis. If you start to feel seasick, take a couple hits. Works like a charm for nausea.

  26. Greg R.

    Dear Matt,

    Great videos and great job on your travels around the world. I am American living in Buenos Aires. So far in my life I have traveled to 29 countries (USA, Canada Argentina, Uruguay, France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Germany, Egypt, Israel, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Seychelles, Jordan, U.A.E., China, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand.) If your are ever in Buenos Aires again. Come visit my school, Asociación Escuelas Lincoln. It would be a great pleasure to meet you in person.

    -Greg R.

  27. Noelia

    Hey Fat ASS! you should lear to eat another things that arent Mc Donalds! you fat estupid American! you dont even have a taste for good food and culture! You should wash your mouth before you speak about Argentina ok? I´ve been to the US and I have never had a worse time in a trip than when i went there!,
    Never come back please, we dont want these kind of poeple here (meaning Stupid American).
    Kisses EMPTY HEAD FAT ASS BOY!

  28. EiPi

    places to go to eat in argentina, buenos aires:

    “pobre luis” (arribeños y amenabar).
    “estilo campo” (puerto madero).
    “sarkis” (thames y jufre).
    “las cholas” (arce 302).
    “siga la vaca” (puerto madero). (all kind of meats, all can you eat by u$s15, includes wine and dessert)

  29. Sergio

    No tenés idea de dónde viniste. En Argentina se come de la mejor comida del mundo, lo dicen todos los turistas que vienen. No dijiste nada de la vida nocturna y de las mujeres de Buenos Aires (y Rosario, y Mendoza…). Jodete por boludo, andá a bailar así adentro de un volcán, que parece que te quemás los pies. Rico McDonalds, no? Ask about the meaning of “pelotudo”, it fits you perfect!!!

  30. xim

    jhajajjajaja , los argentinos…(yo soy argentina!!) me hacer reir con su argentinidad desmedida…jajajaja….que argentinos que somooooossss, empakados y seudo nacionalistas. Aguante la vaca argentina!!

  31. Come to Suth America

    Hey dude, I like so much your video and thats a good idea, Travel around the world most be cool…Sometimes I want to do the same, congratulations!! and well, if you ever come to venezuela I can help you here in caracas, you just email me [email protected] Im a 24 years old and I work in the industry of television, production, direction and postproduction, see ya and have a nice trip.

  32. I have also been to the Antartctica, and it is the most amazing place in the world! I felt exactly the same, so small in this big world! I also have some footage, great stuff!

  33. I have also been to the Antartctica, and it is the most amazing place in the world! I felt exactly the same, so small in this big world! I also have some footage, great stuff!

  34. I have also been to the Antartctica, and it is the most amazing place in the world! I felt exactly the same, so small in this big world! I also have some footage, great stuff!

  35. Ryan

    I was there only a week after you! Christmas in Antarctica was pretty amazing. But reading this is bringing back amazing memories that I forgot over the last couple of years. Thanks again, Matt.
    The “Drake Shake” is the worst thing I have ever experienced, but seeing Antarctica was well worth it.

  36. Manolo

    > …. Matt, I live in the United States, and I’ve also taken that bus ride from Ezeiza to Aeroparque.. Your gripe about the brief glimpse of the city is stupid, and retarded at best, especially coming from a lard-butt who has travelled to so many places in the world. I have taken brief rides through Atlanta, Orlando, New York City, Houston, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, and believe me brother, those rides are shittier than the one you took. So rather than badmouth a city you haven’t been in, the wisest thing to do would be to shut the fuck up until you’ve experienced it. Then again, a spoiled fatboy like you with constant intestinal problems would do best to stay at home, masturbating in front of your PC and eating at Mickey D’s.

  37. Manolo

    > .. There are terrible restaurants everywhere, but if your fatbody is used to only eating Mc Donald’s or Burger King, I guess anything outside that healthy diet is bound to cause you the diarrhea you very well deserve. Next time, try to go to a real restaurant instead of haggling over a 1 Peso hot dog, or eating shit from the street.

  38. Kevin

    I agree Matt, your constant intestinal troubles and your negative and sarcastic comments are a clear sign that you are an overfed and intolerable asshole. A pity this job wasn’t given to a human being.

  39. Ismael

    Graacias por venir a nuestra hermosa Argentina !
    Amo tu intencion de bailar por todo el mundo y trasmitir esa actitud y onda a donde vallas. Segui asi 😀

  40. Elvio De La Fuente

    WHAT AN ASSHOLE THIS PIECE OF SHIT IS!! – HE HATES PEOPLE UNLESS IT’S OTHER EXPATS LIKE HIM – THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THAT THE OTHERS TRAVEL, EAT AND MEET THE LOCAL PEOPLE, NOT JUST JUDGE AN ENTIRE NATION ON THE BASIS OF A BUS RIDE TO THE AIRPORT. – A LONELY MAN WITH INTESTINAL PROBLEMS EXCEPT WHEN EATING 10 BIG MACS A DAY – JUST MAKE SURE WHEN YOU FINALLY KEEL OVER LIKE A BEACHED WHALE, YOU ARE IN THE USA – AS YOUR PUTRID CARCASS WILL BE THROWN TO THE SHARKS OR THE COYOTES. – ODIOUS FATBUTT MOTHERFUCKER!

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