I ‘m very keen for you to see some of the most special parts of our trip. But like us, you will have to endure the ‘getting there’ stages first. The actual flights to Buenos Aires were good. However, upon landing we learned that an unexpected strike of baggage handlers had been called for that very afternoon. All of my anxiety was at attention and getting ready to say ‘I told you so’. The airport handled things pretty well, sending out workers with room temperature soft drink, ick, and little snacks of some kind of sweet Argentinian sandwich biscuit. There were two flight-loads of us waiting, so hundreds of people, gathered in a space with three luggage belts.
And one bathroom.
To their credit, there was toilet paper, and soap to wash hands, but only two of the three stalls in the Ladies’ toilet were working. Typical. (remember, COVID-19 was not reported in Argentina until March 3, this was 21 Feb) We had been among the first to disembark and get through immigration so, incredibly, there were a few seats left. We grabbed them and settled in for what could have been a long wait, or worse, no luggage appearing at all. After two hours outside workers came in to perform the duties of those on strike. We finally spotted our bags among those making their way along the conveyor belt. By this time, our booked and paid for transfer ride had left the scene. We had been warned they would only wait for an hour in case our flight was delayed, but no one mentioned baggage handlers striking. We wandered around trying to find how to get in touch with them, because by now it was out of hours, after 5pm on a Friday. A couple of workers tried to help us but to no avail until one young woman pointed us toward the window of a transfer service. We thought we would just ‘eat’ the already paid for service and get a new one. As we walked up to the window, there on a piece of paper stuck to the glass with tape, was our surname! Excitedly I said to Don, ‘Look, look, that’s us!’ When a young woman approached us at the window I pointed to the sign and then to us saying ‘That’s us’! She smiled and said she would contact the driver who would come around in fifteen minutes or so. As we would discover, the ‘or so’ was the local way of doing things. But in about half an hour we were on our way to the hotel.
Arriving at what was now deeply dusk, we decided we really didn’t have the energy to go looking for food and weren’t particularly hungry, so we skipped dinner and went straight to bed. Happily, the Magnolia Hotel was everything it had sounded like when I found it on booking.com. The boutique hotel was owned and run by Maria for the last 12 years. Maria and her husband had lived in Miami for years and so she spoke perfect English. She had bought the house with a clear idea of the type of hotel she wanted to run. ‘Like everything,’ she said ‘it has been much harder than I ever imagined’. The rooms were furnished with a few pieces of tasteful, vintage furniture, and large comfortable bed, good air conditioning and a clean bathroom. There was no TV, only Netflix, but we weren’t there to watch TV, and with good WIFI we were able to access email and news.
The breakfasts were delicious with two kinds of croissants, the light and crispy French style and the other, a slightly more dense version with a thin glaze of icing. They were my favourite. Fresh butter, marmalade and Dulce de Leche (caramelised sweetened condensed milk) and a rich, yogurt type of accompaniment, were available each morning, as were an array of fruit, cheese and eggs to your liking. The little courtyard accessible from the breakfast area was calm and restful, and one morning there was even a local bird in it, perched and quietly watching.
Until this trip, I had gone for three years without eating anything but the smallest scrap of wheat and most of the time no grains at all. I also could not seem to digest fruit. Onion and garlic were off the menu as well. As you can imagine this made traveling very challenging. However, having not challenged the status quo in a while, I was determined to do my best to enjoy the local cuisine. I dived into the deep end and ate one of the pastries…and fruit. As the days went by I repeated my sins, only to discover I was experiencing NO ill effects whatever. I could scarcely believe it.
After a night’s sleep we did some research and to our dismay, discovered we had landed in Buenos Aires on the long weekend before Carnival. Time to implement Plan B. These are the things that can really mess with your travel plans, not that we had much choice. Our charter flight to board the ship left on the Carnival holiday, Tuesday, and we had come a few days early to try and recover from jet lag. So, you get what you get sometimes. And it was all fine, though more crowded than it might normally have been, due to many locals being off work and out to see the sights and attend celebrations.
To be honest, Buenos Aires was a little underwhelming. We made the most of it and walked many miles and rode the ‘hop on-hop off’ bus to various sites. But the city is sprawling, and kind of tired looking. That being said, we had some delicious food, and saw some things we had never seen, like the most amazing cemetery called Recoleta—where Eva Perone is laid to rest. Don’t you love a good cemetery?? We also achieved our goal of getting some rest before boarding the cruise. And the bonus for me was staying in the Magnolia Hotel, probably my all time favourite hotel ever, certainly in my top five. We attended the oldest market in BA, and I even chatted (LOL) with José the busker, who only spoke Spanish. Through my ancient knowledge of Italian I gathered he wrote his own music, was also a poet, and was from Santiago, Chile. And he was a charmer.
And that chocolate cream cake…Yes. Absolutely.
We had a brief trip to the zoo that was heavily under construction, in transition to an Eco Park but no one seemed sure what that was. We also spent a couple of hours at the botanic gardens, always a favourite shady place for us, especially when the days are hot and humid as they were in BA.
On Tuesday we had an early transfer at 6.30am from the Magnolia Hotel to the airport. Again the casual local habits threatened to derail us when our booked transfer didn’t appear. The lovely breakfast lady/server/receptionist at the Magnolia apologised and persevered until she got us the desired result. We were very ready to move into the next phase of our journey.
For as long as I can remember Tierra Del Fuego has been one of the most exotic names and places I can recall. Even saying it is music to my lips. I remember my year 7 geography teacher mentioning it, and little else about it, but the name stayed in my psyche all these years.
Once aboard our charter flight from BA to Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra Del Fuego, we felt we could relax and let Ponant take care of us in luxury, as promised in its corporate description. The flight was two hours and as soon as we landed we were whisked onto buses and off for an afternoon tour through Tierra Del Fuego National Park and finally to the docks in Ushuaia where our home away from home, Le Lyrial was moored. We were served a very nice grilled/barbecued lunch in the Argentinian style while in the National Park. Sorry, no photo—picture beautifully charred meat, poultry and veggies piled on a huge serving dish with plenty of chips (french fries) for everyone. And bread. And butter. And for the first of many times over the next three weeks, dessert.
Our bags had already been transferred to our stateroom aboard Le Lyrial. Already we were in the lap of luxury. We were greeted by the Captain and a couple of the crew, who we would soon get to know and think of as advisors and protectors. Every one of our crew was not only friendly but very funny. I suppose partly it was their job, but I have always found, with the only exception being a very cranky shopkeeper in Paris, the French to be accomodating and helpful if you approach them with respect and just the tiniest smattering of their language.
It is always a bit painful when starting a cruise, whether it be ocean or river. It is mandatory to attend the safety demonstration, try on your life vest and listen to the sounds of ‘abandon ship, abandon ship’, which you hope never to hear again. After the huge day of flying, bussing and vesting, we were served the first of many delicious meals with 122 others who would travel with us for the next 22 days. It was a lot to take in. Fortunately, the next day was ‘at sea’ and we could settle in as we made our way to our first destination, the Falkland Islands.
there’s more to come…