Sunday, July 7, 2024

Antarctica 2023 ✈ Olá Brazil • Rio de Janeiro

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. 

8 December 2023 (Fri): Buenos Aires - Rio de Janeiro

Took an Uber from our hotel to AEP airport at 8am. We were back in the same airport again after less than 12 hours. AEP airport was pretty busy but the line for Latam airlines weren't too bad. I booked our flights from AEP - GIG on Latam airlines for 12,500 Alaska miles + $89 per person. 

Yes we decided to squeeze in a quick detour to Brazil before heading back to the US. Quick as in 9 hours from 1.55pm - 11pm...'Amazing Race' style. Our mission was to see Christ the Redeemer.

We originally booked the GOL flight with AA miles but it was rescheduled to depart later at 12.10pm, and we were worried we wouldn't make it to Rio in time for to visit Christ the Redeemer so we opted for the 10.55am Latam flight instead. 

Arrived Rio de Janeiro 15 minutes behind schedule at 2.15pm but thankfully immigration was quick and we got our bags at 2.35pm. 

Our next flight to the US was booked on separate tickets so we couldn't check out bags all the way through to the US. As such, we had to store hem at the airport before heading out to the city. We found this luggage storage place as soon as we exit baggage claim. However, they don't accept credit card so I had to find an ATM to withdraw some Brazilian Real (cash). It costs about $14 for a medium sized luggage and the total for our bags were ~$85.

After sorting out our luggages, we went up to the departures level where the Uber pick up was located and bought some sandwiches for lunch. We finally left the airport at 3.15pm and was on our way to see 'Jesus'. The weather looked cloudy but we were glad it wasn't raining. There was some traffic along the way but it wasn't too bad. The last train up to Christ the Redeemer was at 5pm so we should have enough time to make it. Our 45 min Uber ride costs R$70 ($15), not bad at all! 

I went ahead and brought our tickets for Christ the Redeemer during the Uber ride.

Tickets for Christ the Redeemer can b bought onsite but many people recommended buying tickets online in advance to avoid queues. It was very easy to buy the tickets from the official website and it costs R$97.50 ($20) per person for the entrance ticket and roundtrip tram ride. We had to select a time slot when we bought the tickets. Even though our ETA was about 4pm, we booked the 4.40pm slot to avoid rushing.

Arrived Corcovado tram station at 3.55pm and we were glad it wasn't raining. However, when we went up to the ticket counter, the staff informed us that 'Jesus' was not visible due to heavy fog. Then he showed us the TV with live stream of the top of the mountain and indeed we couldn't see 'Jesus' at all. He told us that we can still go up today if we wanted. Alternatively, we could come next day or request for a refund. 

We didn't have the option to come another day and this was the only reason we came to Rio so we decided to proceed with the visit and hope that we can at least get a glimpse of the statue. I was thinking there was no way we couldn't see anything if we are right next to the statue. We exchanged our 'paper' tickets and the tickets also showed 'No Visibility'...ugh!

The one bright side of this situation, there was no queue at all. P.S. This place is usually packed. Our tram was scheduled a 4.30m, giving us about 1.5 hours to spend up there before they close at 6pm. We boarded the tram at 4.30pm and chose the right sidem which was supposed to have better views. But all we saw on this 20 min ride was fog...what the! The weather and tram made it feel like we were going up Penang Hill, mom even spotted jackfruit trees.

Made it to Christ the Redeemer at 4.50pm, but Jesus was hiding. The fog was no! There were elevators and escalators to get to the status so no hike required.

This was what we saw when we arrived at 5pm...a very mystical Christ the! 

We basically stood there for 20 minutes waiting for the wind to blow the fog away. It was so funny coz everyone started cheering and clapping whenever the fog cleared up a lil' giving us a few seconds to take photos before the fog returned.

 At this point, we were happy enough just to get a glimpse of Jesus.

After spending 30 minutes waiting for the wind and getting a glimpse of the status, we were ready to leave. But then the fog suddenly cleared up for this amazing view overlooking Rio!

We were so excited for this bonus surprise and quickly took some photos...crazy hair don't care.

The wind blew all the fog away and we were blessed with a clear 360° view, including a clear view of Christ the Redeemer! What a huge difference 30 minutes can make!! 

So glad we stayed a lil' longer and we are certainly very thankful for the opportunity to see this Seven Wonders of the World!

After a surprisingly successful visit, it was time to head back to the tram station. Saw a nice sunset and the Maracana stadium as we were leaving. P.S. Rio hosted World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016.

Thankful to check off my 6th Seven Wonders of the World and my 7th continent on this trip!
2010 - Colosseum, 2013 - Great Wall of China, 2015 - Machu Picchu, 2016 - Chitchen Itza, 2022 - Taj Mahal, 2023 - Christ the Redeemer

We took the last tram downhill at 6pm so the tram was full but it didn't depart until 6.15pm. We chose to sit on the left side going downhill and was finally able to see a view. We came mentally prepared for the 35°C hot and sweaty weather but the fog made the weather so much more pleasant.

It was 6.35pm by the time we got downhill, and waited 10 min to get an Uber back to the airport. We saw people standing in the middle of the highway selling snacks with motorcycles zipping through between cars. Just as I thought this R$160 ($33) Uber ride was double the price of what we paid earlier from the airport, this was a good reminder that we have a lot to be thankful for.

Arrived Rio (GIG) airport at 7.25pm, collected our luggages from the luggage storage, and checked in for our American Airlines flights. I was able to use the priority check-in line and got priority baggage with my AA Platinum Pro status.

Immigration took a bit longer and it was quite a long walk to the lounge. It was already 8.30pm by thte time we got into the GOL Smiles lounge with our Priority Pass so we had about 2 hours to shower and grab dinner. This lounge was pretty basic and the food options weren't great, but at least they had shower rooms which was much needed after spending a day in Rio and before another long travel day back to the US.

I decided to hop over to the AA Flagship Lounge next door to check it out. I could only bring 1 guest so mom came with me. It was more crowded in this lounge (there were a few AA flights departing from GIG at night). The shower room was much bigger and nicer compared to the GOL Smiles lounge.

Food options were slightly better in this lounge. I was surprised to find Antarctica tonic water in Brazil.

9 December 2023 (Sat): Rio de Janeiro - New York JFK - Charlotte - Huntsville

Our trip back to the US was a long 3-flight journey. We booked our AA flight from Rio de Janeiro - New York JFK - Charlotte - Huntsville for 20,000 AA miles + $38.44 per person. Our flight to New York JFK departed on time at 11pm. This 10-hour flight was full but we each got an aisle seat. It was a pretty uneventful flight, but the temperature in the plane was so cold that I had to use 2 blankets. 

We arrived New York JFK at 6.50am and I was impressed with the speed getting through immigration and customs at JFK airport...
6.50am: Landed at JFK airport
7.05am: Disembarked from flight
7.10am: Got through immigration
7.20am: Got our luggages
7.25am: Rechecked our luggages

Since we arrived from an international flight, I was able to access the Soho lounge with my Oneworld status. I could only bring 1 guest so hubby came with me. This is a fancy lounge and there weren't many people.

After 4.5 hours transit in New York, we hopped on a 2-hour flight to Charlotte at 11.50am. We had a 3.5 hours transit in Charlotte so mom and I went to the AA Flagship lounge while hubby and MiL went to The Club lounge with Priority Pass.

Final leg of this 2.5 week trip... 1hr 45 min from Charlotte to Huntsville at 5.30pm. Landed Huntsville at 6pm and officially completed our 33.5 hours journey from Buenos Aires to Huntsville.

10 December 2023 (Sun): Huntsville - Houston - London - Singapore - Penang (Mom)

While we were done with our travels, mom's trip wasn't over yet. After spending 16 hours at our place, it was time for mom to begin her 34 hours journey back to Malaysia. I booked mom's roundtrip flights from Penang to Alabama for 84,000 Unite miles + $157.45).

That's a wrap for our Antarctica trip! =)

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