Things to Know About Traveling to Argentina in 2016

I’m on my second day here in Buenos Aires, Argentina and am slowly figuring out how life works here.  Here are a few of the things I didn’t know about that others may find useful.

  • How to get from the airport (EZE) to Buenos Aires:
    • When you arrive at the airport in Buenos Aires (EZE), there isn’t really a way to get to Buenos Aires via train.  I’m sure there is a bus, but most people take taxis.  You have a number of options, but most of the taxis take cash only.  However, there are a few that will take a credit card. You pay in advance and they’ll drop you off at your destination.  I used WorldCar, but there is also TiendaLeon, which is highly recommended.  These are called “Remis.”  You can get one of these just after you clear customs (which is after immigration) but before you walk out into the area where non-ticketed passengers are.
  • Getting money out of an ATM:
    • I was planning on using my debit card to get cash at an ATM when I got to the airport since I arrived after the government had gotten rid of the “blue rate” for exchanging currency and everything was a standard exchange rate.  I don’t use the money changers (e.g., Travelex) as they screw you over big time (your credit/debit card company will give you a good or the best rate).  Turns out, every single ATM in the airport was out of cash.  So, that sucked.  That’s why I was glad to find the Remis (see point above) that took a credit card.  I’ve since tried three other ATMs in various locations around Buenos Aires and my debit card doesn’t work in any of them.  I needed some cash to pay for a few things and started getting desperate.  Eventually I found out about Xoom. If you’ve got a checking/savings account in the US, this is a great, cheap way to send yourself some money.  They have a lot of places where you can pick up the cash (the primary locations are “]More[: Money Transfers” or “Giros” with a fair number of locations).  This worked really well for me.
  • Buying groceries
    • Now that people actually want to use credit/debit cards because there aren’t multiple rates for everything, any time you want to use a credit/debit card, you’ll need ID.  If you’re a foreigner, that means a passport.  I went to buy some groceries my first day here without knowing that and they almost didn’t let me purchase them.  I gave them my driver’s license, since I had it with me, and they let me buy the groceries, but be prepared to show your passport whenever you use your credit card.
  • SIM cards and cellphones
    • I brought my LG G3 from Sprint (I use ting.com as my carrier).  It has dual modes, so it will work on LTE or GSM.  I used it last year in Ireland, but it takes some configuring to get it working on GSM networks.  The day I got here, I bought a SIM card from Movistar for about $3.00 US, but for some reason you can’t actually pay Movistar for service.  You have to use a Pago Facil location to pay your bill.  The closest one to me has a line that takes forever (nearly an hour).  Also, they only take cash.  So, be prepared for this.  (FYI, the latest iterations of the Android OS for the LG G3 removed the option to adjust the APN; I had to download an app to let me do this after setting the network to GSM.  Once I did that and got the settings from Muvistar’s website, I finally get internet access on my phone.)
  • Cars and Traffic
    • I’ve already almost been hit by cars multiple times.  Cars don’t yield to pedestrians.  Be very cautious!
  • Uber
    • Going to try Uber tomorrow.  I’ll post here how it goes.

Alaska Cruise – back to Seattle

And then we were back in Seattle.  We had everything arranged ahead of time, so we got to enjoy one last meal in the nice dining room on the cruise ship before disembarking.

Debi’s mother had arranged with the same mini-bus company to pick us up and take us to the airport.  However, we had a few hours until we had to be to the airport, so we stopped by the Ballard Locks for a couple of hours to watch the salmon swim up the ladders, let the kids play, and watch the locks.

Here’s a video of the locks:

And here’s a shot of the kids running around:

Toren with one of his younger cousins.
Toren with one of his younger cousins.

From the locks, we headed to the airport, and then flew from Seattle to Salt Lake where we spent the next three weeks.  I’m planning on posting about some of our adventures in Utah as time permits.

Alaska Cruise – Victoria BC

Most of this last day on the cruise ship was spent at sea.  There was another birthday party as it was one of Toren’s cousins’ birthdays.  We also went swimming and played lots of games.

However, in the evening the cruise ship docked in Victoria, British Columbia for a few hours.  We got off and went for a walk to a nearby park where the kids played:

Toren with one of his cousins at the park
Toren with one of his cousins at the park

Right next to the park was a cool dock with floating houses.  I think you can rent some of them and stay in them on vacation, which seems kind of fun.

Debi and Toren on the dock with the floating houses.
Debi and Toren on the dock with the floating houses.

We didn’t stay in Victoria long as the cruise ship was leaving fairly quickly.  We headed back to the ship, packed up our bags, and got ready to disembark the next morning.

Alaska Cruise – Ketchikan

In Ketchikan, our third stop on the cruise, Debi’s mother arranged for us to go sea kayaking with a company that would allow almost all of the kids to go.  The youngest, Zach, who is two, was too young.  But everyone else got to go.

The outfitter was a short walk from the cruise ship.  Once everyone got geared up, we carefully hopped into our kayaks and then paddled across the channel and watched for wildlife.  We saw lots of jelly fish along the way and were even able to catch a few:

Toren is holding a jelly fish in his hand.
Toren is holding a jelly fish in his hand.

We went into one inlet where we had an excellent view of a bald eagle:

The bald eagle is in the center of the photo.
The bald eagle is in the center of the photo.

We then paddled back across the channel, got out of the kayaks, and went for a walk in the touristy section of Ketchikan, where they used to have the brothels:

This is in the touristy section of Ketchikan where the brothels used to be.
This is in the touristy section of Ketchikan where the brothels used to be.  In case you can’t read the sign, it says, “Dolly’s House, where both men and salmon came upstream to spawn.

We didn’t stay long as the cruise ship was departing in the early afternoon.  We stopped for one more photo in front of a nifty totem pole:

A groovy totem pole in Ketchikan.
A groovy totem pole in Ketchikan.

Then it was back to the ship for more food and fun onboard.

Alaska Cruise – Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier)

As with my adventure with Debi in Skagway, when my mother-in-law asked what excursion I wanted to go on, I looked for the one that seemed the most physically demanding in Juneau as well. That one turned out to be a helicopter ride to a glacier followed by ice climbing and hiking on the glacier (see here; it’s called the Extended Helicopter Glacier Trek).  With this excursion, I was supposed to get an hour ice climbing with axes and ropes, followed by a couple hours hiking around a glacier, into caves, tunnels, etc.

Well… There was a hiccup.  The day before my glacier adventure I got a call in my room on the ship from the people who manage the excursions.  They said that there were not enough people who signed up for my excursion.  However, they then said that there were enough people signed up for the same excursion about 30 minutes after mine, so I’d still get to go on the excursion, just 30 minutes later.  That was fine with me.

The next day I got off the cruise ship with the rest of the family (they were going on a seaplane ride) and found the people who run the excursions.  That’s when they broke the real news to me.  Of all the people who were on the three ships in Juneau that day, I was the only one who signed up for that excursion.  No one else wanted to go ice climbing.  However, there were enough individuals signed up to do the glacier trek (not the extended glacier trek), that I could do that.  Basically what that meant is that I wouldn’t get to do any ice climbing with ropes and axes, but would get to hike around on the glacier for a couple of hours.  And they would refund the difference (it’s an expensive excursion).  I didn’t really have an option, so I agreed and waited around until the van from the tour company showed up.

The van drove me to the Juneau airport and into a commercial area where the tours were based. There I met the other people who were going on the trek with me: two men from Belgium who were not on one of the cruise ships and a guy from California who was working as a tour guide on one of the whale watching boats.  In other words, of the ~7,500 people in port that day on cruise ships, none of them wanted to do the extended glacier trek but me.  Their loss!

At the tour headquarters, they geared us up for the hike – red or orange waterproof jackets, waterproof pants, hard shell boots, gaiters, gloves, harnesses, and helmets.  Then they loaded us into a helicopter to fly up to Mendenhall Glacier.  Here’s a view of the glacier from the airport (just after we took off):

Mendenhall Glacier from the airport
Mendenhall Glacier from the airport

This was part of the flight up to the glacier:

And here was our helicopter leaving after it dropped us off:

Once on the glacier, we met up with our guide who helped us get crampons on and then outfitted us with ice axes.  She then proceeded to walk us around on the glacier and teach us about glacier hiking at the same time.  It was actually really, really informative.  I learned that crevasses can only be 150 feet deep (still plenty deep) because there are two types of ice in glaciers.  The top 150 feet are brittle; whatever is below that flows like molten glass or plastic.  I also realized that crevasses are really only dangerous when you can’t see them (e.g., after a fresh snowfall).  If you can see them, you can easily avoid them.  The other danger on a glacier is a moulin, or hole carved by water that can go all the way to the bottom of the glacier.  Where we were hiking, the glacier was 1,000 feet thick.  So, a moulin at that point could be 1,000 feet deep.  Moulins are far more dangerous, though we walked by some that were full of water, since those were plugged at some point and you wouldn’t fall to the bottom – you’d just get wet if you fell into one of those.  Finally, just getting around can be a little dangerous, but once you get the hang of the crampons and how to maneuver with them and the ice ax, it was pretty straightforward and not at all dangerous IMO.

We saw some waterfalls:

And hiked into some canyons:

me in an ice canyon
me in an ice canyon

Climbed into an ice overhang (not exactly a cave):

me in an ice overhang (not exactly a cave)
me in an ice overhang (not exactly a cave)

And stood abreast of a crevasse (that opened into a big crevasse, but was pretty small here):

me standing over a crevasse
me standing over a crevasse

Here’s a panosphere of what the glacier looked like:

 

We probably spent about an hour and a half walking and climbing around.  I would have enjoyed the ice climbing, too, but even what I got to do was awesome.  And having done it, I would definitely recommend that anyone in mediocre shape consider doing it.  It wasn’t strenuous and was an amazing experience.  I felt very comfortable after about 30 minutes and was ready to try something more extreme after that point.  I didn’t, but I would have!

Anyway, here’s a clip of us flying back off the glacier:

After I got back, I headed back into town.  There was a hike near the cruise ship, that sounded fun, but the distance of the hike meant I would get back just as the ship was supposed to leave, so I ended up just getting back on the ship.

Later that day in the hot tub I ran into a family from Tampa who had gone on a similar helicopter ride, but they didn’t get to do the “extreme” hiking.  They just walked in a big circle around the base camp on the glacier.  But they really enjoyed that, too.

The seaplane ride was, according to the rest of the family, pretty fun.  However, most of the kids fell asleep (too much fun I guess).