Sunday, April 14, 2024

Journey to Antarctica 2023 ✈ Hola Argentina • Ushuaia

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. 

24 November 2023 (Fri): Buenos Aires - Ushuaia

Complimentary breakfast at the hotel before we checked out at 9am. The food variety were pretty standard but we like staying in Holiday Inn Express because of the free breakfast.

After checking out, we took an Uber from the hotel to AEP airport to catch our flight to Ushuaia. As compared to EZE airport, AEP airport is much closer to the city. This was our first time using Uber in Argentina. Thankfully, the hotel concierge staff helped to send message to the driver via the app and provided the exact location for the driver to pick us up. There is no option for Uber XL in Argentina and we thought we may have to get 2 Ubers. Amazingly, we managed to fit all 4 of our luggages and ourselves into a small! One of our luggages had to be placed in the front seat, so we all got tight and cozy at the back. It was only about a 20 minutes ride so it wasn't bad at all. Our 20 minutes ride from the hotel to airport costed only ARS $4,826 ($5). We wanted to tip more but the maximum tip that could be added was ARS 2,500 ($2.50), which we did so our total cost was $7.50.

Arrived AEP airport at 9.30am for our domestic flight to Ushuaia at 11.45am. The airport was quite busy but the lines moved pretty quickly. Check-in went pretty smoothly with no issues. Our check-in baggage limit was 15KG, and 3 of our bags were good. MIL's bag was more than 15KG so she had to go to another counter to make the payment.

This was my first time flying with Aerolineas Argentinas. We booked the flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia back in March 2023 and thanks to my friend, Penny, for letting me know about the trick of setting the country to Argentina (instead of US) on the website to pay in ARS instead of USD. As mentioned previously, there are 2 different exchange rates in Argentina. If I had used the US site, we would have paid almost double for our flights because the website automatically converts the fare to USD at the higher 'official' rate ($143.82). By switching the country to Argentina and booking in ARS (and entirely in Spanish - thanks google translate), we were able to save almost 50% as the transaction was charged on our credit card in ARS and Visa converts it to $74.19 using the 'Blue rate'.

We originally booked the 8.45am flight but thanks to a schedule change (which happens a lot for Aerolineas Argentinas if you book early enough), we were able to switch our flight at 11.45am for free by emailing them a summary of our original flight, the new flight, and our preferred flight.  We got through security and arrived at our boarding gate around 10am. There is no lounge at this airport so we just hung out around the boarding gate for about an hour before boarding.

Found out that the scenic side landing into Ushuaia (with snow-capped mountains) is on the right side. We were not able to select our seats for this flight and ended up on the 'wrong' side. MIL's seat was on the 'right' side so she was able to get some nice videos on her side. I took a photo of how I attached a strap to my phone to avoid phone-snatching and it also came in handy to avoid myself from dropping my phone into the waters when we were in Antarctica.

The 3.5 hours journey was pretty uneventful...but as we landed in Ushuaia at 3.15pm, the other passengers started clapping and singing together. The song was in Spanish so we had no idea what was going on. We thought there would be more foreigners/tourists on our flight but majority of the passengers were argentinians. It was nice seeing them so excited about arriving in Ushuaia, which made our arrival into Ushuaia a lil' more special. We were also excited to finally make it to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world is, where we would board our ship to Antarctica the next day!

Ushuaia is a small airport with a pretty cool backdrop surrounded by snow-capped mountains. This airport is so small it took only 1 minute to walk from the plane to the baggage claim area. We got out of the airport around 3.45pm and were welcomed by a windy, cloudy, and chilly weather (approx. 15°C/59°F). It was colder than Buenos Aires so we had to layer up while waiting for our Uber.

When our Uber arrived, I was pretty certain it wouldn't fit all 4 of us and our luggages. However, Francisco (our driver) just calmly loaded our luggages into the 'hidden' trunk from the backseat and managed to fit 3 luggages into the trunk! He was gonna try squeeze the 4th luggage into the trunk but we told him (in sign language + limited spanish) that 'quaddro' can sit in the back and he can put the 4th luggage in the front seat. Fortunately, it was only a short 10 minute ride to the hotel so we were fine being tight and cozy. We got a glimpse of the beautiful scenery heading into town.

We arrived Hostal Malvinas at 4.15pm. We booked this hotel using our Capital One Venture X $300 travel credit for 2 rooms. The hotel was pretty basic but it's good enough for our 1-night stay. The name of the hotel sounds like a 'hostel', but we had our own room and bathroom.

After dropping our luggages, it was time to explore the southernmost city in the world.
It was cloudy so the photos didn't look as good. Spotted our first 'penguin' on this!

Wanted to take photo of the Ushuaia sign but there was a big crowd at the area. Apparently, we found out that La Renga, an Argentine hard rock band was having a concert in Ushuaia the next day. That probably explains the people who were singing on our flight as they were there for the concert.

Puerto Ushuaia is where we would board our boat to Antarctica the next day. We spotted 3 other ships that were departing to Antarctica that day. Our ship has not arrived at the port yet

 Ushuaia is where most people embark the ships to Antarctica, and it's one of the main Antarctica gateway ities because it is relatively close to the Antarctica Peninsula. Close as in ~1,100km (680 miles), which takes about 48 hours by boat. So the 'Malvinas' in the name of our hotel is probably taken from the name Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands). It's interesting to learn some history about this part of the world. P.S. Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are currently considered British Overseas Territory together with few other ones in the Caribbean.

Ushuaia town is pretty small and we were able to explore the entire town by foot.

Ushuaia is located on the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the “End of the World.” Took a photo with the 'fin del mundo' (End of the World) sign. We also stopped by the tourist information center to get a free 'diploma'. They also had free Antarctica and Ushuaia stamps rather than paying $3 for the ones at the End of the World post ofice. P.S. We don't want to stamp anything on our passports to avoid it being voided so we stamped it on the diploma. We also got some postcards and souvenirs from the gift shop just up the road from Albatross Hotel, across from Worlds End. Tip: Get the postcards in Ushuaia as they will be nicer and cheaper than the ones on the ship.

Ushuaia is known for King Crabs so we decided to try it out for dinner at El Viejo Mariono restaurant based on the good reviews. The restaurant only opens at 7pm and it was already full when we arrived at 7.15pm. We thought about going to another restaurant to avoid the wait but ended up coming back and stood in line for 30 minutes before we got in at 8pm.

Argenitian white wine + beers from this region to start off dinner.

The main highlight of this meal was this huge King Crab! This restaurant is popular because they only serve freshly caught (not frozen) King Crabs. We ordered a normal size one for ARS 40,000 ($44), which was more than enough for the 4 of us.

Another reason why this restaurant is popular is because the prices are very reasonable. The prices shown on the menu changes month to month because of the crazy inflation in Argentina. 

Some other things we ordered...Grilled pink salmon, Seafood stew, Cream caramel, Almond ice cream. The food was all good and the total price for this meal was ARS 80,800 ($89) + tips. We thought it was very reasonable (in USD tems) especially with this being a touristy town.

25 November 2023 (Sat): Ushuaia - Embarkation day

Complimentary breakfast in the hotel before checking out. We found out later that the family of 5 sitting next to us at breakfast were also on the same ship and are also from Alabama (Birmingham)! What are the! 

After breakfast, we went ahead and put on the seasickness patch in preparation for the Drake Passage later that day. We checked out of our hotel at 10.30am and dropped off our luggage at Oceanwide's storage location. One thing we found out quickly was that Ushuaia is a hilly town. Even though our hotel was only a few blocks from the storage location, it was all the way downhill so it was 'fun' pulling our luggages.

Oceanwide is the expedition company that we are traveling with to Antarctica. Due to local regulations, passengers are not allowed to carry their own luggage onto the ship so we were asked to drop off our luggages at the designated location between 8am - 11.30am. The staff tagged our luggages with our room numbers and informed us to make our way to the pier for boarding at 4pm. In the meantime, we were free to roam around town until boarding time.

I was under the impression that Ushuaia is mainly a touristy town for people going to Antarctica but I was wrong coz we saw a lot of locals too. We didn't know until we arrived but it was a busy Saturday in Ushuaia. Apart from the La Renga concert, we also saw a big group of bikers, and found out that it's the 'International Bikers Meeting at the End of the World' event that gathers bikers from all over the world. Glad we booked our hotel early at the end of March before all the hotels got booked up.

It was spring in the southern hemisphere so flowers were blooming. 

Glad we had more time to walk around town before boarding the ship because the weather was beautiful with blue skies! What a lovely day to walk along the waterfront harboaur with views of the Beagle channel and surrounding mountains.

Gotta get a photo with the Ushuaia sign. 

Eva Peron Memorial in Ushuaia. Cue the song "Don't cry for me Argentina~~~". For those who've watched the movie Evita, played by Madonna, you'd know the tory of Eva Peron, an Argentinan actress who eventually became the wife of Argentinian president Juan Domingo Peron. I know I've heard the song but don't know the story until I googled.

Had lunch at Tante Sara Cafe because of the free wifi. We are not planning to pay for internet on the ship so this was the last chance to be connected to the internet before we go on an internet-detox for the next 2 weeks. Total for this meal was ARS 41,200 ($44).

Spotted our ship, M/V Hondius, as we were walking down towards the harbour. There were 2 ships departing to Antarctica that day...Quark Voyager and Oceanwide Hondius.

Next stop...Antarctica!

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