Sunday, April 14, 2024

Journey to Antarctica 2023 ✈ Hola Argentina • Buenos Aires

Antarctica had always felt like a distant and unreachable bucket list destination, not just because of its geographical location, but more so because it is so expensive. I never thought it'd be possible to check off this bucket list item but we decided to make this trip happen and celebrated our 10th anniversary with an extraordinary adventure to the end of the earth - Antarctica! I am so grateful for the opportunity to finally step foot on my 7th continent and to experience this incredible journey with our moms. 

Trip Planning
I've had the privilege of traveling to 6 continents so it has been my travel goal to step foot on all 7 continents. We had the idea of traveling to Antarctica for our 10th anniversary since 2020. As you can see from our post-Covid travels, Covid has definitely reminded us to travel more while we can coz life is unpredictable. 

We booked and paid the deposit for our Antarctica cruise in July 2022,  which was more than a year before the trip, but waited till January 2023 to book all our flights and hotels. Even though we couldn't travel hack the expensive Antarctica cruise, we were at least able to use points and miles to pay for our flights and hotels to Argentina, where we boarded the ship.

Packing for Antarctica required more preparation than what we usually do for other trips and the main items were warm and waterpoof gears. The difficult part was to avoid overpacking. I was also helping mom to pack (we share the same size) so all these were stuffs we packed for 2.5 weeks for the 3 of us. I had a bunch of Uniqlo Heattech stuffs which came in handy. We also didn't need to buy any waterproof parkas as we were able to use what we had. The few things we bought were hubby's wool thermal layer, wool socks, hand/foot warmers, rubber gloves, and sea-sicknesss meds. Big thank you to Penny for sharing her experience and also borrowing her parka and waterproof gears.

22 November 2023 (Wed): Huntsville - Dallas - Buenos Aires
Our journey to Antarctica begins! We booked our flights to arrive Argentina on Nov 23, 2 days before our ship's departure on Nov 25 to ensure that we had enough buffer in case of flight delays or cancellations. Even though we bought insurance for this trip (which cost quite a lot because the trip cost was expensive) we definitely do not want miss the embarkation of our ship to Antarctica nor have to deal with insurance claims for this expensive trip. This was our most expensive trip thus far.

Mom traveled from Malaysia and spent 2.5 days at our place before we began our journey together. We intentionally planned for her to fly to US first instead of meeting us in Argentina to break up her trip and also to give her some time to adjust for jetlag.

Thanks to MIL's friend, Mayra, for dropping us off at the airport. Glad our luggages all fit into her car!

We checked-in 3 medium size and 1 cabin size bags. Was able to get priority baggage for all of us with my AA Platinum Pro status. :)

Booked our American Airlines flights from Huntsville - Dallas - Buenos Aires for 21,000 AA miles + $5.60 per person in January 2023. On time departure at 1.30pm for this 2-hour flight to Dallas.

Tested out the T-mobile inflight wifi that was included in my work phone package. 

Arrived Dallas at 3.30pm with a 5.5 hour transit before our next flight to Buenos Aires.

Even though we had to wait for about 30 minutes due the the lounge being full, we were glad we were able to hang out at the Capital One Lounge during our long transit and had our 'free' dinner. We were able to get access for all 4 of us with our Capital One Venture X credit card & complimentary authorized user card. The food in this lounge are all individually packed and portioned. 

I also had access to the American Flagship Lounge with my AA Platinum Pro status and could bring only 1 guest so mom and I did a quick hop next door to this lounge to check it out and enjoyed some champagne and a quick bite.

Boarded our 9pm flight to Buenos Aires. I was hoping to get a row to ourselves but this flight was completely full. Mom was already asleep even before the flight took off. 

After everyone boarded, the captain made an announcement saying that there was issue with the cargo door. Everyone was asked to deplane at 9.15pm and wait until they provide more information. 

This was our first time experiencing this type of situation and of course it had to happen to the flight that we cannot afford to miss. While waiting, I went ahead and used miles to put on hold 4 tickets for the flight departing next day as a backup. 

Fortunately, they were able to find another new aircraft after waiting for about 1.5 hours. However, as the new plane was smaller, 49 people would not make it for the flight and will have to depart the next day. Thankfully, we were on the 'good' list and were able to depart that night. It took some time to re-check everybody in as everyone had to get a new printed boarding pass.

Honestly, we were very impressed by how quick American Airlines was able to find a new flight (especially at 9pm after normal working hours for the HQ staff), cleaned and checked the new plane, reloaded all luggages and catering, and started boarding all within 3 hours. Our departure time ended up being delayed by 3hr 55 min in total.

We finally boarded at 12.40am and were ready to take off (again). Our seats were changed but they were similar to our earlier flight. I  was chatting with another lady next to me and she was also going to Antarctica. Apparently quite a number of passengers on this flight were going to Antarctica. Had dinner at 2am, slept for about 7 hours, and a simple breakfast was served before landing.

23 November 2023 (Thurs): Buenos Aires

Finally arrived Buenos Aires EZE auroirt at 1.35pm! 3.5 hours behind schedule but happy to finally make it here after a long night. There are 2 airports in Buenos Aires - EZE and AEP. Majority of the international flights arrive and depart from EZE, which was further from the city. 

Immigration and customers were pretty easy. We got off the plane at 1.45pm and were out of the airport by 2.25pm. We booked our airport transfer online with Tienda Leon from EZE airport to the hotel for ARS 27,900 ($35). We went to the Tienda Leon counter right after customs and provided our booking information. They were able to pull up our information pretty quickly and followed our assigned driver to the waiting area right outside of the airport.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the cost of our airpor transfer with Tienda Leon (ARS 27,900) was almost triple the price of Uber (ARS 10,452). However, since we had 4 luggages and we weren't sure if we could get a larger Uber, we decided to pre-book the transfer online. We were also glad we had booked this as it saved us time not having to figure out how to exchange money or wait for a taxi/uber, especially since we have already arrived later than planned.

Our ride from EZE airport to our hotel in the city took about 35 minutes. We were glad to be welcomed by beautiful weather and blue skies. 

Finally made it to Holiday Inn Express Puerto Madero at 3pm after traveling for about 24 hours. We redeemed this stay for 25,000 IHG points/room. The rooms were pretty basic but it was conveniently located in the city and was good enough for just a 1-night stay in Buenos Aires.

Headed out at 4pm to explore the city after a dropping off our luggages, changed, and left all our valuables in the hotel. There are lots of articles online warning people about safety in Buenos Aires, like petty theft, phone snatching, pickpocketing, etc, so we were a bit paranoid initially. I even strapped my phones to my wrist as I had to use my phones for photos and videos. But honestly, it wasn't that bad and we didn't feel unsafe at all walking around the city.

Our first stop was early dinner at Parrilla Cero5. We wanted to try Argentian steak and wine while we were in Buenos Aires so we chose this restaurant which was close to our hotel and had pretty good reviews. We had some language barrier ordering our food as we don't speak Spanish, but luckily we got a funny waited who provided us with some recommendations. We ordered steak, pork chop, spaghetti, potato salad with tuna, omelette with asparagus, local beer, and a bottle of red wine. 

The food was pretty good and the best part....this whole meal for all 4 of us, including the bottle of wine, cost only ARS 34,290 ($38) + tips in total. The inflation here has been skyrocketing and Argentina's inflation rate has been among the highest in the world for the past five year. If you look on google reviews, you'd notice how much and how frequent the price on the menu changes. 

Their currency, ARS, is also very confusing because there are too many exchange rates in Argentina. Those exchange rates do not follow the official exchange rate you can find in Google. instead, there is a 'Foreign tourist dollar'...called Blue Dollar, which is valued more than half of the rate on Google. The blue rate was about $1 = ARS 900 when we were there and luckily we were able to get th eblue rate for all our creidt card payments there. P.S. Credit cards are widely accepted here and we didn't need to exchange any cash throughout our trip.

After a satisfying meal, it was time to continue exploring the city...a quick photo stop at Theatre Colon. This Belle Époque theatre has been compared with the Palais Garnier in Paris. It even has an octagonal crystal dome. It looks spectacular during the day and is impeccably illuminated at night. It was spring time and we saw lots of those purple flower blossoming all around the city.

Next photo stop...The Obelisco of Buenos Aires and the plant-covered BA sign. The obelisco is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city and probably all of Argentina. The tall, skinny tower was built almost a hundred years ago and restored in 2005. 

Another quick photo stop at Centro Cultural Kirchner. The architecture of Buenos Aires is entirely rooted in European influence. I felt like we were in Europe instead of South America. The one thing that impressed us the most about Argentinans was how orderly they were! We saw people standing in long lines (with safe distance in between) at almost every bus stop.

Last photo stop for the day...Casa Rosada, also known as the Presidential Palace, is a Spanish-style rose-covered building located on the east side of Plaza de Mayo.

Unintentionally stumbled upon the flag lowering ceremony for the day at 7pm. We headed back to the hotel at 8pm after watching the ceremony. We were flying to Ushuaia early the next morning so that's a wrap for our quick sightseeing of Buenos Aires. 

Next stop...Ushuaia!

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