The great adventure Antarctic adventure begins – Buenos Aires and plenty of walking!

26 February

The farewells

The day was finally here, Sunday the 26th of February, and the great mother-daughter adventure to Antarctica, 5 years in the making, was about to commence. I was rather nervous about leaving the kids for 18 days, the longest I’d ever been away from them. I knew Anto would have it under control, despite him being entirely unenthusiastic about having to solo kid-wrangle for that long. A totally understandable position when the alternatives was South America and Antarctica kid-free.

The kids were all a little bit worried about me going. Astrid thought I might die, Zinnia didn’t want me to leave at all, and had been in tears constantly, and Soren was claiming he was fine with it but not overly convincing.

We’d done some fun paddle boating on Lake Burley Griffin the afternoon before as a distraction from my impending departure and there were a few tears before bed time, but I promised not to leave without saying goodbye.

I’d decided it wasn’t worth dragging them out of the house early to take me to the airport. So Di, with Max as chauffer, collected me at 7.30am and after some final hugs we said goodbye. Zinnia was particularly upset but I promised to bring back plenty of souvenirs and Anto had some shopping distraction planned for the day.

Canberra – Sydney

Once we made it to the airport and through security, it started to feel a bit more real …… and some breakfast and coffee in Qantas club helped with the downer of leaving the family. Our first trip selfie in Qantas club, and we were soon on the flight to Sydney and ready for the long trip to South America.

Aside from the flight to Sydney being a bit bumpy, it was otherwise uneventful and we were soon off and on the transfer bus to the ‘fun’ side of the airport. By the time we made it through immigration we didn’t have all that long in Qantas club but Di decided it was time for wine and snacks.

After scoffing down our food, our flight was then delayed by 45 minutes, so we could have chilled. It gave me time to finish off all the swimming club admin and messages so I could ignore it for a couple of weeks. We were well and truly ready to get on that long flight though!

Sydney – Santiago

On our Qantas flight to Santiago we had managed to book premium economy seats. Heaven compared to the trip home! The flight was on the new Dreamliner’s and it was plenty comfortable enough and we settled in for the almost 13 hours to Santiago, Chile.

Our seats had plenty of leg room and I loved the button controlled window shades. Very handy as we chased the sun for most of the flight. After a mid-afternoon lunch and several movies, it eventually got dark for about 2 hours.

Di had a little sleep and I think I managed an hour or so before snacks and another couple of movies and ‘breakfast’ at midnight Aussie time.
Without kids to wrangle I manage to plow through plenty of movies and a tiny bit of sleep.

As we approached Santiago, we flew over the Andes, a truly magical experience. Those snow capped, giant peaks that you could see rising up just behind the city. It truly looked like a painting!

We were just transiting through Chile, but I was looking forward to a trip into the Andes on our return from Antarctica and our few nights in Chile.

We ended up landing about 45 minutes late, at 11.40am on the Sunday, an hour before we’d even left Sydney due to the time zone change! It should have been a simple transit through the airport and rechecking our bags for our Aerolinus Argentinas flight to Buenos Aires, but no. As we came to learn nothing about Santiago airport was ever easy.

Our nemesis – Santiago airport!

We’d had to book the flights within South America as a separate itinerary as it was vastly cheaper. This meant collecting our bags in Santiago and needing to re-check them before checking into our next flight. Chile also requires Visas for Australians, and we’d spent quite bit of time and money getting our Visa for our return stay in Chile. We’d also carefully checked several times that you didn’t need a visa when transiting through the airport.

Unfortunately after a very long wait in the immigration queue, we found the crankiest immigration official who was not going to let us into Chile to collect our bags and transit to the next flight without a Visa. Despite me explaining (in bad Spanish) and showing her the flight bookings and Visa requirements she was not budging, and much arm waving from her, and calling over of immigration officials ensued. In desperation I showed her the Visas for the return trip in March and explained we had a Visa but it was for a different date and with a hotel booking over 2 weeks in the future. She then decided that was good enough and entered all the details (a problem for later in the trip we found out), and waved us through.

Tired, we were rather relieved as quite a number of people were being escorted away from immigration, and we weren’t fancying being popped on the next plane home. We finally located our luggage and commenced waiting around for the not very efficient Aerolinus staff the check our bags while we sweltered in the hot.

Buenos Aires bound…

Our flight was delayed again, but we eventually made it off the runway and back over those magnificient Andes. The flight was crowded and hot but the 2 hours passed quickly enough with plenty of micro naps as we were both too tired to read, and Aerolinus Argentinas definitely didn’t do in flight entertainment.

We eventually landed and were shuttled off to stand on the tarmac, waiting for buses to drive us to the terminal. Unlike in Australia, where you get some cones and a barrier to stand behind, we were just standing in the middle of tarmac, as planes rolled past and right next to the runway (a 2m strip of grass separating us from the runway). We were so close that a plane taxiing next to us had it’s wings so close we could touch them and the pilots gave us a big wave. Soren would have been in heaven, I just wanted to go to the hotel!

We eventually got into the airport, located our bags and were mercifully ushered through immigration with zero issues (Argentina did not require us to have a visa). Of course our transfer that Di had booked, and confirmed was not there. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact them via WhatsApp and phone we eventually got through, and the hotel informed us the transfer would not be coming and to get a taxi. After being told previously under no circumstances to take a taxi. They recommended a company which we could prepay (the taxis in Argentina weren’t unsafe but did rip-off tourists). Unfortunately, the taxi company informed us it was an hours wait. It was now over 24 hours since we had left our houses so we were just wanting to get to that hotel!

Luckily our taxi appeared in a little over 20 minutes and it was a short 15 minute drive to our hotel, Blank Hotel Recoleta.

First night adventures……

We resisted the urge to flop on the bed and decided to go straight out in search of phone sims and food. I had downloaded an offline map before leaving Australia, to a mobile store that carried sims that would work in all our locations. Despite being rather tired we navigated the 2km to the shopping centre and found the correct store. It was Sunday evening and the streets and shopping centres were packed with people enjoying the end of the weekend and Summer holidays.

I found someone who could speak enough English to determine exactly which sim we wanted, and then he informed us that the shipment hadn’t come in (something we quickly learned was typical of Argentina) and to come back tomorrow, after 1pm. At this point we decided to head back towards the hotel for dinner and that long awaited shower and bed.

We established there were plenty of places to eat near the hotel and settled on a pizza place just around the corner as it was open and had food. My Spanish wasn’t going all that well (and Di’s was non-existant) but we managed to order a margharita pizza and a Verduna (spinach) empanada and they tasted delicious. We also quickly discovered that despite it being after 8pm it was too early for dinner for locals. They eat incredibly late and most people around us were eating their pre-dinner dinner.

Our unsuccesful sim-hunt had us excited to explore more the next day as there appeared to be plenty of interesting buildings and lots of delicious looking food.

The long day of travel had finally come to an end, but we had plenty on the agenda for the next few days!

27 February – Buenos Aires

Despite the incredibly long travel day, and little sleep, the 14 hour time change meant we were both wide awake at 3am. At 4am I decided it was a good as time as any to do a video chat with the kids. The time zones, and limited internet in Antarctica, meant I wasn’t going to be able to talk to them very often while away. It wasn’t the only 4am video chat I did!

We did eventually nap for a bit longer then rather hungry headed down to breakfast where there were no end of delicious treats. The Argentinians are huge fan of cakes and dulce de leche, which appears in everything! The kids would be in heaven.

We were quite hungry so definitely made the most of the breakfast. A good thing before the long day of walking we had ahead.

Recoleta walking tour

With limited time in Buenos Aires, we had decided to make the most of the day and had pre-booked 2 different free walking tours to cover off a large number of the sites we wanted to see.

Our morning tour covered the area we were staying in and ended in the Recoleta area, where our hotel was. We were starting at Teatro Colón, which was around a 2km walk away. We hadn’t been able to get sims yet so I again downloaded our maps offline in the hotel Wifi and hoped they’d suffice to get us to the starting point, as we hadn’t yet got our bearings.

We headed off around 9.30am to give ourselves plenty of time to get there and admire the neighbourhood on the way there. There were bakeries and cake shops on every street and while not quite Paris, you can understand where the Paris of South America title comes from.

There were quite the variety of buildings from the ornate, Parisian style to ultra modern and 70s inspired.

We also quickly discovered that Buenos Aires is full of beautiful little gardens, trees and fountains everywhere you look! Given the whole city area is packed with apartment buildings it was amazingly green and there was plenty of open space.

We successfully navigated to the start point of the walking tour in Plaza Estado del Vaticano, and were even early so hung out in shade for a bit as it was already warm! There was quite a large group of people waiting and we were split into 3 groups – 1 Spanish and 2 English. Our English speaking group had Victoria, who turned out to be a fabulous guide.

The tour was run by Freetour and was on donation basis. Victoria definitely earnt tips from us as she was engaging and very knowledgeable and the time flew by.

We started in the Vatican square and learnt about the major buildings in the area, including the Teatro Colón, the main opera house in Argentina. If we had more time, we would have booked a tour inside as it was meant to be beautiful.

We were also fascinated by the large number of huge Morteon Bay figs scattered throughout the city. So huge they needed supports!

As we headed out of Vatican square we explored the surrounding buildings including the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Catholic Church’s main site in Argentina.

It was a Monday morning and already in the low 30’s, so pleasantly warm and sunny. We stuck to shady areas for most of the talks and there were always plenty of shady spots around. We were surprised at how many of the trees were familiar. There were plenty of gum trees, so we didn’t feel far from home!

Buenos Aires had so many parks and green spaces due to the influence of French and English landscaping, they were always trying to model European cities! It was also designed to improve quality of life for residents in the very urban environment of the city.

On our morning walk we’d already seen large numbers of dogs out walking. We learnt that over 70% of households (which in the city area were all apartments) owned dogs and cats. Not little dogs either, many were quite large. There was a thriving business for dog walkers who’d walk 10-15 dogs at a time and take them to dog parks, which were more frequent than kid parks!

Our next major stop was Avenida 9 de Julio – the July 9 Avenue. This is named after Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816 and is famous for being the widest street in the whole world, with up to 14 lanes of traffic at many points. It is however, up for debate as it’s a series of different roads built parallel to each other, and some with different ‘names’ although still considered part of the 3km long avenue.

As you can imagine, it takes quite a while to cross that many lanes of traffic, and we seemed to need to cross it many times during our Buenos Aires stay and our various walks around the city.

The Avenue has 13 bus stations and connects many major landmarks and is flanked by many Embassies.

Next we wandered the neighbourhoods admiring the different buildings and the pretty trees.

We learnt quite a bit about the history of Jewish communities in Argentina. Jewish communities had been the target of 2 significant terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires. We visited the sites which were now memorials.

We stopped by some of the many famous statues in Buenos Aires. As we quickly learnt General Jose de San Martin was famous in all of South America for his efforts in securing their independence. Pretty much every city and town has streets and statues named after him. In Buenos Aires, there is an entire Plaza, and also the Don Jose de San Martin statues.

The fences around the statues have all been installed in the past few years due to increasing vandalism. The economic situation in Argentina is pretty dire, and with Covid lockdowns, looting and vandalism had become very problematic. We had learnt that many of the buildings were missing door knobs (something we noticed) as they were being stolen for the brass!

Another interesting stop on our tour was the Falklands memorial – Monument to the Fallen.

The Monumento a los caídos en Malvinas is a cenotaph in Plaza San Martín, in Buenos Aires, dedicated to the 649 Argentine soldiers who were killed in the Falklands War.  It is guarded by different soldiers, from different regiments on different days. Victoria said, you never quite knew who you were going to find there on a given day!

It was very interesting hearing an account of the Falklands war from the Argentine perspective, rather than the British. Let’s just say they have a very different interpretation (and rightly so) and are not a fan of Margaret Thatcher!

We continued to enjoy the shade of the beautiful parks. Victoria was great at explaining the types of trees and flowers but our poor Spanish accents made it impossible for us to pronounce any of them. The Pink Lapacho trees were particularly stunning throughout the parks.

The Torre Monumental (formerly Torre de los Ingleses – Tower of the English) is a clock tower in the Retiro neighbourhood. It was renamed after the Falklands war. It had originally been gifted by the English.

The later parts of our tour were through the expensive neighbourhoods where there were many palaces. Palaces in Buenos Aires for not for royalty, rather for the rich. Most were privately owned by families for many years and some were now embassies and others still in the same family.

This rather unattractive building – the Kavanagh Building is famous for being reportedly the most expensive building in Buenos Aires at one time. It overlooks Plaza San Martin. It has some fascinating back stories, many of which are up for debate, but was named after Corina Kavanagh a millionaire of Irish descent. It is said she built the unattractive building as revenge against the family of the wealthy and aristocratic family of the man she fell in love with. They did not approve of the engagement and the building blocked the view from their palace to a church they had built.

We also stopped past some expensive hotels where fans of Ricky Martin were camped out, as he was apparently inside. We didn’t see Ricky but his fans were definitely dedicated. They had apparently been there for days!

Our tour finished off near the famous Recoleta Cemetery (which we planned to visit the next day) and The Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of Pillar Basilica). A rather beautiful building and the second oldest and most visited church in Buenos Aires.

It was now almost 2pm and our tour had taken 4 hours, rather than the advertised 2.5, but we hadn’t worried as the time had flown. The only issue was our next walking tour started in an hour and we still had to have lunch and get there! Our morning walking tour had us covering 8.5km. Luckily the cemetery was a mere 500m from our hotel, so we quickly found our way back in time for a quick drink and some more sunscreen.

City centre walking tour

Unfortunately the city centre walking tour, was also only available this afternoon. Two walking tours in a day isn’t ideal in the heat but we were going to make the most of our time in Buenos Aires.

We had run out of time for a leisurely lunch, and now rather hungry we grabbed some sandwhiches from a bakery across the road from our hotel. Argentinans eat lunch around 2pm anyway so we wistfully looked at people sitting at cafes having relaxed lunches, as we hightailed it towards the city centre while munching on our food. With no time to go back to the Claro store to attempt to get sims, we again used offline maps and managed to get there despite venturing to an area we hadn’t been before.

Our second tour was also a free walking tour by Freetour. When we arrived there were even more people than the morning tour and alas, this time we were only split into 2 groups – 1 English and 1 Spanish. The English group had at least 40 people, which made it a little difficult to hear at times. Our guide for the afternoon was Maru. She was lovely but not quite as engaging as Victoria had been in the morning.

The tour started at the National Congress building. The Palace of the Argentine National Congress is a monumental building, seat of the Argentine Parliament, in the Balvanero barrio. It’s informally known as the Congreso Neighbourhood. Again the European influence is strong in the buildings in this area, you could easily think you are in Rome, Berlin or Paris. There was a quite a bit of copying going on!

The tour covered in detail the historic and political influences in Buenos Aries and Argentina. We started from the National Congress and walking the grand boulevard of Avenida de Mayo.

We did learn about the various buildings and sculptures linked to Dante’s 14th Century poem The Divine Comedy. Palacio Barolo is one of the landmark buildings and there is also a copy of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’.

We again wandered over Avenida 9 de Julio, but this time past the Obelisk – apparently every city needs an Obelisk, and then down towards the Ministry of Public works building which has a very famous picture of Eva Peron on either side. We heard some lengthy background stories about Evita, which while interesting got a bit tedious in the late afternoon heat.

We then had a lengthy lesson on the exchange rates in Argentina and the reason we could never figure out how much things were actually costing. There are actually 22 different offiical exchange rate, and it did explain the ‘blue rate’ our hotel kept referencing. As an aside, we were very glad we’d turned up to Argentina with US dollars as it’s very difficult to use credit cards for anything, and it’s almost impossible to get cash changed other than US dollars.

We were now tiring of the heat and the slow pace, but hung in there to finish the walk down Avenue Mayo Y Bolivar. We finally arrived at Casa Rosada – ‘The Pink House’, one of the most famous and recognisable buildings in Buenos Aires. This is the office of the president of Argentina and is officially known as Casa de Gobierno or ‘Government House’. The frequent protests in Buenos Aires usually involve marches from the National Congress building down the Avenue to the Pink House.

We made a quick exit towards the end of the tour as we were rather tired and hot, and it was a long walk back to our hotel. Without data, we were relying on offline maps and got a little side-tracked a few times but eventually made it back. Luckily we were now recognising enough street names and landmarks to find our way back on track. I think we accidentally crossed 9 Julio another few times and had a couple of extra trips around the obelisk where the roads all change names.

We clocked up another 11.5km of walking during our afternoon adventure, bringing us in at over 20km for the day. The last couple of kilometres I may have had to lie repeatedly about how far we had to go, or Di would have stopped! The heat and lack of sleep had made for a long day.

A well deserved feast……

We successfully navigated back to our hotel and arrived around 7pm. Di had made an 8pm dinner booking at a highly rated restaurant, Brut Nature, conveniently directly across the road from our hotel. You are lucky to find much open at 8pm!

Our walking had resulted in giant blisters on Di’s feet and we were both sunburnt, despite constant application of sunscreen and wearing our hats. A welcome shower and we spruced ourselves up for dinner. An Argentinian meal that didn’t disappoint!

The restaurant was family owned, and the owner had remembered us from Di wandering in to book the night before. He also remembered our Spanish was appalling and spoke to us in English and presented the English menus.

We ordered a well-earned glass of wine each, and were surprised when they brought out the whole bottle. It turns out the price was for the bottle. We didn’t complain!

With too much to choose from, we feasted on salad, breads and delicious non-meaty crepes for me and a veal dish for Di. Of course there were also more crepes for dessert and ice-cream with dulce de leche.

The meal was fabulous and if only we had longer in Buenos Aires, we would have returned. It was well after 9.30pm when we dragged ourself back to the hotel. About regular dinner time for most Argentinians, but well and truly bed time for our weary feet and jet-lagged bodies.

Up next….

Our final day in Buenos Aires we took on the Recoleta cemetery, visited more gardens and an amazing library and then had an adventurous but long trip South to Patagonia.

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