San Luis – and simply getting there

by ChessBase
10/14/2005 – For ten days now the ChessBase news team has been reporting on the World Championship directly from San Luis. We are comfortably settled, with excellent facilities provided by the organisers. However, just getting to the central Argentinian province was an adventure of its own. Here is the belated tale of our 12,000 km journey.

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San Luis – and simply getting there

By Frederic Friedel

San Luis, I discovered, long after I had decided to go there, was very, very far from where I lived. More than 12,000 kms as the crow flies – if any of that species were able to calculate the exact great circle route, let alone fly there. But once the decision was taken I had to go, thankful in the knowledge that it was at least on the same planet.

My journey started last week on a Wednesday, at 9 a.m., driving to Hamburg Airport, where I met up with Nadja Woisin, the editor of our Spanish news page. We were well on time to catch a KLM flight to Amsterdam, due to leave at 11:40. A gruff KLM check-in clerk, however, insisted on weighing all of Nadja's belongings. This included a carry-on bag with her most important technical equipment. The clerk impolitely insisted that she was eight kilograms overweight and had to pay $150 for excess baggage. "I am sorry, that is our charge," he said. The gruff clerk also wanted us to check in our technical equipment, which we refused, pulling out Nadja's notebook and camera case to take on board the plane. I was raring for a fight, but Nadja, gentle girl, decided to pay up and avoid any complications at this early stage of our journey.

Leaving from Hamburg, but unfortunately not with Lufthansa

We got on the plane and waited 45 minutes on the tarmac, while the pilot explained blithely that the current delay was due to a previous delay of the aircraft when leaving Amsterdam. We arrived almost an hour late, rushed across over a kilometer of the gigantic Schiphol Airport, to the very opposite end, where we were greeted by an anxiously waiting staff. "Hurry, hurry, you are the last to board," they cried. "Our bags have made it?" I inquired. "Oh, no, of course not. They will come on a later flight," was the cheerful reply. I was this close to not boarding the aircraft. But once again reason (our Spanish news editor) prevailed and we were off on the eleven-hour hop to Sao Paulo.

On the plane there were a bunch of Brazilians who did what Brazilians do: set up a little music and dance corner and start a Samba session – to the delight of the other passengers. We have it all on video and will provide it at a later date (when our bandwidth concerns are not so serious), and definitely on our ChessBase Magazine report. The Samba session, unfortunately, was brought to an abrupt end by a KLM stewardess who insisted the Brazilians stop their racket since some of her colleagues were trying to sleep.

Approaching Sao Paulo, Brazil, our first stop in South America

In Sao Paolo, late in the evening, nobody could tell us what would happen to our bags. But they did take a note of the exact address of our hotel in Potrero de los Funes, probably just to get us to board the flight to Buenos Aires without further hassle. There we arrived at 1:30 a.m. and repeated the procedure at the KLM desk. The address of the hotel incidentally is Ruta 18, Km. 16 Poterero de los Funes, which translates somewhat disconcertingly to Highway 18, kilometer stone 16.

The night in Buenos Aires was spent in a first-class hotel, with a very friendly staff which spoke excellent English. The bellboy, also fluent in our language, told us that there were 24-hour fitness and sauna facilities. The rooms were very comfortable and I enjoyed the four hours of sleep that were on the schedule. At eight an Argentine chauffeur named O'Higgins, dressed in a suit, took us to the domestic airport, giving us a guided tour of the city, of course in fluent English.

The muddy waters of the "River" Plate, taken from the plane. In the distance you can see the shores of Uruguay – and possibly the curvature of the earth?! Probably not – just barrel distortion from using a wide-angle lens.

The airport was directly by the sea, or so we thought, until O'Higgins told us that this was the River Plate. Apparently it has been named after the famous football club, or the other way around, and is at that point 60 km wide. Quite a shock for people from the city of Hamburg, through which flows the mighty Elbe river, which you can wave across to invite a friend for a glass of beer.

Berik Balgabaev on the plane to San Luis

Manisha Mohite on the last leg of her 61-hour journey

On the flight from Buenos Aires to San Luis we met the first chess people, GM Miguel Quinteros, one of the world championship organisers, Berik Balgabaev, a close advisor to FIDE president Kirsan, and Manisha Mohite, who writes for the Indian newspaper Deccan Herald and covers many chess events.

Our Buenos Aires to San Luis City Hopper – just kidding, we flew in a regular Boeing. The above was an oldtimer parked on the San Luis airfield.

The embarkation stairway moves towards our plane

San Luis national airport, at 2 p.m. under a beautiful blue sky

We are met by Claudia, who has become our attache figure ever since

We were picked up by a limousine provided by the organisers and arrived in our hotel in Potrero de los Funes, 19 kilometers from San Luis, at 2 p.m. on Thursday. That made for a total door-to-door transit time of 34 hours. Before we had time to indulge in self-pity we learned that Manisha had spent 61 hours for her trip from her house in Pune to the hotel in San Luis, and that Ian and Kathy Rogers took 63 hours from their home in Sydney: "One car, five planes, two buses, two taxis, one train, one tram," Kathy told me with a grim smile.

Driving to Potrero, the venue of the World Championship

Turn left to the hotel, where it is all taking place

There it is, the hotel and the event building on the banks of the lake. Very keen eyes will spot Alexander Morozevich taking his pre-game constitutional.

The place we will call home for the next twelve days

The Hotel Potrero de los Funes is located on a lake surrounded by low mountains – an exquisitely beautiful landscape. Exotic birds fly around the big wooden decks that are built over the water, and most rooms, lobbies and restaurants have a panoramic view of the surroundings. Judit Polgar, we learn, has circumambulated (sorry, Nigel's influence) the lake, but she said it was rough going and took her more than three hours. Nobody is willing to try climbing one of the mountains with me, at least not until the end of the event. Peter Leko has said that he will do so on the tiebreak day, "since there is not going to be a tiebreak anyway."

You cannot take your eyes off the spectacular landscape

A view of the Hotel Potrero, as dusk falls

A crescent moon greets us in Potrero, in unusual orientation.
Venus is also there, a brilliant jewel in the evening sky. Gravity is normal here – no one hanging from trees, as they do in Australia, just a slight southward drag, which may be a figment of my imagination.

Naturally our bags had not arrived, and there was nowhere to go easily to get some bare essentials. The only shops in walking distance are the ones in the hotel, where you can get drinks, crisps and some emergency souvenirs. We had to make do with the equipment we had hand carried and the clothes we wore during our the trip. Vishy Anand, learning about my plight, said "Ah, that is why you are dressed so swankily!" Peter Leko was more sympathetic and told me about his trip to Monaco earlier this year. His bags, too, did not arrive, and he had had to attend the formal reception in the Yacht Club in a tracksuit and sneakers. "I know how you feel, Fred," he said. The offending carrier lost his luggage was Air France. "What really upset me was that they delivered my bags four days after my arrival, without even the smallest words of apology," Peter said.

The bus terminal where we try to retrieve our bags with the help of La Nacion journalist Carlos Iladro (left) talking to our taxi driver.

Ours were of course not there the next day, Friday, although the very efficient and friendly hotel staff were able to ascertain that they had arrived in Buenos Aires. However, the airline hadn't been able to deliver on the Thursday, when they arrived, or on the Friday, for unspecific reasons. Now it was a long weekend, so the next possibility would be delivery on the Tuesday, almost a week after our arrival in San Luis. It is impressive how cheerfully, once again, such statements are made. Instead of an equally cheerful "Okay, then Tuesday it is" I presented the airline with two options: (a) I would fly back immediately to Germany, where I had spare clothes and spare equipment, and continue reporting from there; or (b) take a taxi to Buenos Aires and pick up the bags myself. In any case we would be charging KLM $1000 per day for the inconvenience. "I am sorry, that is our charge," I said. This and a few phone calls by the hotel staff and the organisers led to a promise of delivery the next morning at 10 a.m.

The next morning we took a cab (am I boring you?) and arrived as per instructions with our passports at the main bus terminal in San Luis. Naturally it was not the end of the saga. "Unfortunately the bus had a breakdown and your baggage has not arrived," they told us. "Try again at three." By this time I, for one, had lost my will to live. People were offering me donations of clothes, but more serious was the equipment that was missing – things like cables, power supplies or chargers, without which life slowly grinds to a halt. At three the organisers provided us with an air conditioned limo and a driver in a suit; and with the help of the La Nacion journalist Carlos Ilardo we were able, at last, to pick up the lost bags. There was collective jubilation that evening when we appeared for dinner in fresh new clothes.

Nadja cannot believe they have actually arrived and hugs her bag

The tags tell a story of a wandering suitcase

The accommodation provided by the organisers of the San Luis event is excellent, with a frugal breakfast followed by scrumptious lunch and dinner menus. There is free wireless LAN available in the press center and in the rooms, which makes work very pleasant indeed. On free days, and on some of the match days as well, there are outings arranged for journalists and dignitaries. The place is full of bubbly young translators and helpers who leap into action if there is anything missing. The atmosphere amongst the players is very good, with all of them meeting in the restaurant during lunch and dinner. Even Peter Leko, who has lost more games here than in the entire last quarter of his career, it would seem, is always cheerful and up for jests and jokes. And with this spectacular view, the sunshine, the mild climate and the good food, we are actually enjoying one of these usually very stressful trips to top events around the world.


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