Catch-22 Travels in Argentina

Argentina — one country, one dysfunctional airline. Two airports in Buenos Aires, international and domestic, one hour apart via high traffic, congested roads. Two enthusiastic travelers leave Tucson on November 8 and cannot wait to be back in the USA on November 20. Thanks, Argentina for a great trip spoiled.

We only met five Americans, and enjoyed the company of hundreds of frustrated European travelers — hardy hikers and backpackers with sturdy boots. Flights were frequently cancelled or delayed. When mechanics threw down their screwdrivers or air traffic controllers shut the tower, tourists lined up at the Aerolinas customer service office looking for hotel/taxi/food vouchers and alternative flights.

November 10 – Night flight to Trelew [Puerto Madryn & Peninsula Valdes] confirmed. We have boarding passes and seat assignments. Flight AR1866 departed but left fourteen of us in Buenos Aires. Once the vouchers were distributed, we took a one-hour bus ride with a map-challenged driver to the Torre Hotel. Our food vouchers for the pizza joint opposite the Torre entitled each of us to three slices of pizza or three empanadas filled with mystery meat. We had to order from the Aerolinas menu. We were also promised an airport bus at 5:30 a.m. Catch-22: The bus did not arrive, and three of us shared a taxi to the airport.

Ron, an IT guy from Toronto, had been in Ushuaia (Argentina’s most southern city). His next stop: Iguazu Falls, a domestic destination. For some reason, he took a flight that landed at the international airport. Of course, he missed the flight to Iguazu.

Four Swedish women were at Iguazu and going south to Peninsula Valdez. They wanted their luggage checked through to Trelew. No, no. They must recheck their luggage at the Aeroparque in Buenos Aires. They didn’t get on the flight to Trelew either, but at best they had their luggage.

November 11 – Since we missed the flight to Trelew, we also missed the 8:30 a.m. excursion to Peninsula Valdes. Only option, pay $200 USD for a private guide, driver, and car. We paid, had an excellent guide/driver, saw a herd of guanaco, and caught the 4 p.m. whale-watching boat. The southern right whales showed us their stuff, flukes and flippers.

I chatted with a cardiologist in one of the airports. His Catch-22: He and wife (who will only eat at McDonald’s) were on a boat excursion out of Ushuaia. “Is this the trip where we see the penguins?”  “No, that’s the other boat. This is the Beagle Channel cruise.”

We met Lauren and Frank, a couple from Connecticut at the Hosteria Los Hielos in El Calafate. They had traveled to Mendoza, the wine-producing region. However, their return flight to Buenos Aires was cancelled. Catch-22:  A 15- hour bus ride to make the flight to El Calafate. Lauren said they traveled in 60 countries, and knocked off Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand — Argentina air travel was the worst!

Nov. 15 – Richard and I were at the El Calafate airport for a 6 p.m. departure to Ushuaia.  Flight delayed until 8:30 p.m. No, change that. The flight was cancelled! Forget our trip to Tierra del Fuego. (I’ll never walk in Charles Darwin’s footsteps.) We could get stranded and miss the flight home. Decision: become “stand-by” for Buenos Aires. We were given seats on the 11:30 p.m. flight. [Minutes before take off, six backpackers raced to the exit door in first class. They thought the flight was going to Ushuaia.] We checked into the Castelar Hotel at 3 a.m. courtesy of Aerolinas and another voucher.

Nov. 16 – We stopped at a multiplex cinema and planned to see Flamenco Flamenco at 16:40 the next afternoon. Taxied over, and we read the times listed under each movie poster. 16:40 was gone. The new time: 18:20 and we did not want to wait. Here’s the Catch-22: In Buenos Aires movie times change on Thursdays, not the films necessarily, just the times. [One advantage over American movie theatres — no previews, no commercials, just buy your ticket and watch the film.]

We had highlights – a hake and mussels dinner at Los Colonos (Puerto Madryn). In Buenos Aires, the Japanese garden and restaurant, a city tour, the dusty Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, a bus excursion/boat ride to Tigre and its delta islands, and an Italian street festival with gladiators, great pizza, and a life-size Jesus laid out horizontally on a cross. Mothers posed their children for photos with Jesus.

November 19 – Eduardo arrived on time for our transfer to the international airport. Rain slicked the highway. Flight AA 996 to Dallas had a hour delay.  We took our pesos to an exchange.  Catch-22: The agent insisted on our original U.S. dollars to AR pesos document from Banco Nacional, which we did not have or were not given. Screw it! We spent our last pesos on an $8 beer, an $11 chocolate bar, and tossed the remaining money into a charity container.

November 20 – Online, safely at home, I groaned at a final Catch-22 — one that failed. Alaska Airlines erroneously sent an email stating American Airlines 996 for Saturday, November 19 had been cancelled.

Yosarian lives! Situations beyond our control made no sense. If you do not understand the Argentine paradigm, you lose and you learn.

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