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Published: April 6th 2020
R: The next morning it was time so say our goodbyes and head off. I was booked on a flight from El Calafate airport in the early afternoon which required an early start. The tour company had told me that the could take me to the airport but it wouldn't be till later in the day, so I had booked my own minibus transfer. I was considering the public bus but my prior experience with Argentinian public transport told me that I didn't want to leave this to chance. I was sat in the kitchen with some of the other people from the tour, when suddenly the driver showed up early! Without saying full goodbyes to all, I was whisked away. The minibus went round and around the town picking up people before making the 3 hour journey to El Calafate airport. On route I basically stared through the glass, enjoying the sunshine, and noticing more than when I was with other people; groups of hare, guanaco, rheas all spread out amongst vast tussocky fields. There were also wild flowers starting to come through, something we had missed out on a bit because the winter had been so cold.
joke of all of this was that the tour group, or rather those extending their tour with a trip to Buenos Aires, were flying the same day, and their flight had been changed to within 1 hour of mine, so I could have travelled with them after all, but ho hum. After 10 days together, it was time for me to have a bit of an adventure to myself. The bus went round Lago Argenino once more, stopped at the grubby old caff that we had stopped at previously, then on to the airport. All the time I was looking over my shoulder, half expecting the tour bus to catch me up.
Once at the airport, chaos ensued. There had been some problem with Aerolineas Argentinas flights everywhere, and there were people everywhere! My flight was still showing as running so I got in the line, but the line included everyone who needed to arrange re-bookings as well as those looking to check in. Some of the guys I was queuing with told me that they were on a flight that only ran twice a week and were going to be re-booked for 4 days time. Others were just
loudly complaining about the whole situation. It took 1.75 hours to reach the front of the line, and by the time I had, some of the tour group had arrived and checked in for LATAM airlines, which had no problems. I met them and we went through security together then parted again for our separate flights to Buenos Aires. I did get a chance to sit and have a beer with the tour group leader, Alf, and he told me that he just does this trip in a loop from November to March, then does a six month rotation in central America the rest of the year. He loved the life, but was getting more and more concerned about the political situation in Chile. So much so he was now doing all his trip admin before heading to Chile to literally scoop up the new tour groups and usher them out of Santiago.
My flight to BA passed without incident. I had sorted a hotel for myself in the centre of town, close to where the airport shuttles dropped off. It was noticeably warmer in BA and I enjoyed the bus ride into town that essentially runs along a
palm tree lined dual carriageway getting increasingly more built up as we got closer to town. It didn't take long before I started to recognise buildings and the smart Puerto Madero waterfront from our previous trip here. By now I was starting to feel the effects of a cold creeping in, but I pushed on through. I hiked uphill from the bus station to the hotel and checked in - this would be my smartest stay of the trip - it was a old-world style but very comfortable and I enjoyed having a bed to myself with no blood in it! After a quick chat with Cate, I headed into town to meet the others from my group who were having dinner and drinks in town close to the Casa Rosada.
After dinner, we went for a final walk to Plaza del Mayo from which you can look up at the Casa Rosada. It was a very different place to last time - no Peronist protests, and more fences. After a good look around, we had a round of hugs and handshakes in the square and I left the group. Determined to get every last minute out of this
trip - I ended up going to a long hike round the back of Casa Rosada, down to Puerto Madero and looked at how it had changed since our last visit. There was nightlife and restaurants spilling out onto the street and the various building were lit up. I noticed a police officer watching me from inside a security booth and decided not to linger. This was the point of the trip where I began to feel sad that I had to go. Just one more day? After filling up on that feeling I get when I wander around a foreign city, I headed back for a good night sleep.
My flight back to London was mid-afternoon, so I decided to push it and get up early. I had a Sube card (like an Oyster card) left over from our last visit so I headed into the Metro and see a) if it still worked, and b) how much credit I had. It turns out I had enough for one journey. I had already decided what I was aiming for - Teatro Atheno - a theatre that had been converted into a book shop with books on all the
tiers, and in the stalls area, while the stage had been converted to a café. I stopped for a coffee (which cost about all the Arg cash I had left) and took it in (while also nursing my cold which had gotten worse overnight). It was great to sit and just take in the comings and goings, though I did realise I had sat down in the family planning area! It was time to head back - I picked myself and my cold up and headed through Plaza Rodriguez Pena which had blooming purple trees which looked lovely (I couldn't smell the blossom though!) and stopped at the obligatory Carrefour for biscuits to take to work, tissue for my flight home (I felt I might need them) and proper orange juice, as breakfasts in South America only ever give you that sweet nectar stuff and I needed some vitamin C. I tried to pay on my Mastercard much to the disgust of the clerk - it only came to about £1.50, but I had no cash left. It was then she wanted to see my passport for the card - no one else had asked this in my whole time
away. I didn't have it. However, she did let me write a 9 digit number on the receipt and accepted that in place of my passport - how trusting! (It was actually my passport number - I do actually know it).
Back at the airport it was long passport queue to get out. I managed to stop and mime "cold and flu medicine" to the pharmacist in the airport and acquired something that had a sneezing person on the front - either I got it right, or I bought sneezing powder - it didn't seem to work either way... Upstairs in Ezezia airport there is a large Falklands memorial which I stopped to read about for a short time, then mozied on to Burger King, feeling a bit peckish and bought my weight in food shortly before my 13 hour flight. Not that sensible as they fed us within an hour of take off!
On the way back I had a whole bank of 3 seats to myself which was the height of luxury, but unfortunately due the cold - I couldn't sleep either way, so this was completely wasted on me. Feeling completely un-refreshed, I was back
to work within hours, another bucket-list item ticked off. So that was it, my trip over. And all it did was whet my appetite for another trip to South America!
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