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South America on the Way to Antarctica

TIME : 2016/2/27 14:40:24

Would a trip to Antarctica ever be within my means? When I read that GAP Adventures was selling bunks in a triple cabin at a very cheap price, I called immediately. The bunks were gone, but I shared a cabin on the main deck – cheap, compared to what had been available the year before, in 2003.

After booking the cruise out of Ushuaia, it was time to think about air, baggage and side trips. Air tickets had to be bought carefully, baggage had to be light, traveling in a huge country like Argentina would not be cheap. Iguassu Falls was a must, though.

At the time, Travelocity had a search engine for cheapest fares within a given range of time; careful searching would save hundreds of dollars, beat the consolidators and get me a lot of frequent flyer miles. I kept checking and jiggling schedules, turned the trip upside down. I got a cheap fare on LAN Chile, even managed to fly Oneworld airlines often enough to qualify for upgrades.

I worked the websites over and over, but could not seem to improve on a round trip to Buenos Aires with separate tickets on Aerolineas Argentinas. Booking Southern Wind would have provided extra advantage miles, but I could never find a way to do it. Only when I got to Buenos Aires did I see evidence of Southern Wind flying a full schedule. Perhaps I should have made some phone calls.

I got a round trip from Buenos Aires to Iguassu, including Montevideo for the same price as a simple round trip. I went there after Antarctica because returning from Argentina later in the season got me the lower fare on LAN Chile. Booking the B.A. to Ushuaia (with a stop on the way south at Trelew) was through GAP Adventures at a premium over the nonstop round trip fare, but a savings over the routing our group took.

I used Buenos Aires as a base, not because I thought I would like it that well, but I knew I'd need a rest occasionally. The internet rate in the well located four-star Hotel Dazzler was $40.00 a day for a single. When I decided to stay longer, I could not get that same rate; booking ahead was a good deal.

I walked almost everywhere; from La Boca to La Recoleta Cemetery. A stroll down Defensa on a Sunday afternoon proved to be a treat. I loved the city; downtown was clean, except for the graffiti on the bank buildings. Their failures had damaged the economy, making Argentina a cheap country to visit.

When I took the cruise, I found I had made some mistakes in packing, as did many others. We should have used duffle bags. Everything had to be stashed in small compartments on the ship. Also, I overpacked. My lightweight "parka" was perfect, even in 35-mile-per-hour winds on the Antarctic mainland. Of course, I wore thermals, a shirt and a sweater underneath. We did not spend much time in our four trips ashore, so we didn't need a fresh change of clothing. I was the only one, though, with ski mask and goggles not to suffer in the one landing with high winds.

Most of the time I was comfortable in a flannel shirt with my jacket open. The sun was bright. It was a few degrees above freezing in early March; the tail end of summer. It was warmer in February; the peak of the Argentine vacation season – bigger crowds and higher prices.

I spent three days in Iguazu Falls seeing it from both Brazil and Argentina, which included a local bus ride to Paraguay's Ciudad del Este for lunch. I took only a carry on for that trip. I bought a Brazilian visa for $100.00, and I stayed on the Brazilian side. Had I lodged in Argentina and taken the local bus across the border, I would not have had to show a passport or visa to get into Brazil. I did not need one for Paraguay, or to get into Brazil from Ciudad del Este. Once in Brazil though, you cannot buy a bus ticket or find a lodging without producing a passport and a visa.

Spending money was easy. At one restaurant I got a check payable either in dollars or Brazilian, Argentinian or Paraguayan currency. For the heck of it, I offered a combination of currencies, which were accepted without comment. Every shopkeeper was a math wizard. At that time Brazilian and Argentinian currencies were at par on the Brazilian side, at 2.95 to the dollar. That has now changed (a lot) as Braziian reais keep rising in value against the peso and the dollar.

Had I been younger, I would have added more of Argentina and Chile to the trip, but I knew three weeks would be long enough.