“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
― Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach
There was a strange lead-up to this trip, for the longest time, including when I was on the way to Buenos Aires, it didn’t feel like it was happening. I’d booked this trip 21 months before, right after it was made available, and had a lot of time to plan, research, and anticipate. Maybe because of that, or because this is something that I’ve wanted to do for over two decades, it took a while to sink in that it happening.
Anyone wanting to skip the reading and get right to the pictures can visit the Antarctica Album on Flickr to get the full, mostly unedited photos from the trip.
The trip down to Buenos Aires was relatively uneventful, with a few small takeaways.
- The Flagship lounges for American Airlines are worth it on a long layover. Better accommodations than the Admirals Club, the food was decent, good bar selection, but my favorite was a suite of showers. Being able to take a good long shower on a layover before jumping on a 10-hour flight is amazing.
- Lay flat seats have me spoiled. I never sleep on flights, if I’m lucky I’d doze off for a few moments and then wake. With these I was able to lay down and sleep almost the entire flight, waking just in time for a decent breakfast.
Once we landed I turned my phone back on and got a “Welcome to Buenos Aires” message from Cesar Zelaya with detailed instructions on where to meet him at the airport. Immigration was a breeze and within about 20 minutes of landing, I was sitting in his car and on our way to pick up the other couple joining me on the city tour.
Booking an airport pickup and tour on arrival was honestly the perfect idea and way to start a vacation. I didn’t realize it, but pretty much all flights between the US to Buenos Aires are red eyes, which worked out perfectly for me to maximize my time there. All the more reason to love lay flat seats now!
Digression aside, we headed into the city and picked up Gary and Joanne, who we quickly realized were not only going to Antarctica too, but were taking the same flight as me down to Ushuaia, and the same ship when we got there. Small world, and a delightful surprise.
One of the first things that struck me about Buenos Aires was just how much greenery was in the city. Not just trees planted, but in many balconies and windows there were plants growing, making everything feel more welcoming and like home.
And streets just filled with these jacaranda trees with purple blossoms
We spent about the next 5 hours doing a fantastic tour of the city, hitting up several neighborhoods, including my favorites, La Boca and San Telmo.
I ended up buying a couple of small paintings here, a huge assortment of paintings and photos by local artists showing the culture of the area, and a lot of street photography.
Ooo, all I’ll say is this was a HOT day, close to 90 degrees and humid as heck. Luckily Cezar had bottled water for us and there were plenty of places to stop for liquid refreshments!
Caminito was such a beautiful and interesting area
Now these are all more tourist-heavy areas, but they’re incredibly well-maintained, not something you see in most cities. That extends out to everywhere we visited, the city itself was beautiful and well maintained, just a lack of litter and it smelled good. Not what I’m used to from most larger American cities.
Here we stopped for lunch in an open-air market just stuffed full of restaurants
And off we went again!
Now unfortunately this is where the first setback of the trip came, but luckily fairly minor. Just as we were walking to the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral I got a huge cramp in my calf, enough that it was hard to walk. Took a couple of days to get it fully healed, but for the rest of the day, it slowed me down some.
The tour was done (and not many pictures were taken from this point on) I got dropped off at my hotel and Cezar confirmed my pickup for a couple of days later to take me to the airport.
The hotel I picked was L'Adresse Hotel Boutique in San Telemo which was adorable and the right choice for both the hotel and the area.
I love that it’s so open to the outside rather than being a standard hotel.
I’d 100% stay here again if I’m lucky enough to be in Buenos Aires someday.
Not only was the hotel itself lovely, but it was in the perfect walkable area to just explore a bit, stop for drinks, or something to eat, and relax and enjoy life for a couple of days.
Suspecting that the cramp in my leg had to do with dehydration more than anything, I took some electrolytes, chugged some water, and took a nice shower before heading out to explore.
Now, this is where I have to say, I prepared, but not enough. One of the things I like to do before visiting any new country is try to learn a bit of the language, at least enough to get a few of the basics out of the way. I didn’t do much of that on this trip. I know a tiny bit of Spanish, and Google Translate is a lifesaver, but I think it’s courteous to know the basics and show that you’re at least trying when in another country.
I got around without any issues, but would have preferred to know a bit more. Next time!
Honestly, though, the next day and a half was just filled with me walking around, sampling some food, having a few drinks, reading a book in a cafe on the sidewalk, catching a tango show, etc. Enjoyed having the time with no plans once the city tour was done and would happily go back for a bit more time there. (Maybe December 2025...)
Sunday comes and my flight to Ushuaia is scheduled for 08:45, around 3 am I’m woken up by a huge storm coming through. Didn’t think much of it at the time, I love storms so I just relaxed in bed and listened to the wind, rain, and thunder, enjoying what for me is a peaceful and great start to a day. Driver shows up at 06:00 to pick me up and off we head to the airport!
We’re having to dodge an odd enough to downed trees, some billboards that’d fallen over, or roofs that’d been ripped off buildings, but I’m still not really thinking much of it until we start getting closer to the airport and it’s getting worse and worse.
We finally get there and outside the airport is packed, inside isn’t too bad but it looks like nothing is moving, and no one’s manning the check-in desks. I get into line since I was debating on checking my bag and Joanne sees me and comes over. The airport is closed until 8 am due to the storm.
With almost 90 MPH winds causing a 737 to be pushed into another plane and some ground equipment, a total of 16 planes incapacitated by wind/lighting or other causes, flights were being delayed.
Deciding against checking a bag I went over with Gary and Joanne to grab some breakfast since they’d snagged a table at the cafe and wait to see what was happening. A little before 7, our flight was canceled and we were moved onto a flight that was scheduled to leave before ours! It’d been delayed and rescheduled for 09:45, so I headed upstairs to see if I’d be able to get into the boarding area, but alas no luck. Started hearing rumors that my new flight was canceled, but decided to keep on trying until it was formally canceled. Eventually, around 08:15 they opened security for all flights and I got into the boarding area.
Unfortunately, no gate was assigned. Out of all the flights for the day, only four had gates assigned at all. At this point, I didn’t realize how bad the airport and planes had been hit so I still had some hopes of the flight taking off. Sadly, at 09:10 my flight was canceled and I was rebooked on one for the 19th, getting in at 19:00 to Ushuaia. This presented some problems since the ship was scheduled to leave at 17:30!
I got in line right away to talk with someone, but the only thing they could do was refer me to either WhatsApp or the customer service line downstairs. Found a seat and started working on getting my flight changed, but since I’d already checked in, I couldn’t change it on the website, and they had no customer service other than the desk downstairs. I started heading down to get into line for that and I got an update that I’d been rescheduled on a flight that left at 03:30 getting to Ushuaia at 07:20!
Never had I been happier, especially once I saw the line at the customer service desk, it went the entire length of the building and then some. I’d guesstimate close to 800-1000 people waiting in line trying to get things rescheduled. Decided to take my win there, book a hotel for a couple of days, and reconfigure some plans. Rather than hunt around I just booked the Intercontinental, grabbed a taxi, and headed there.
Messaged the Intrepid Travel rep to let them know I wouldn’t make it to the hotel down there, but I would make it to the meeting point on time for the cruise and found out almost half the ship, plus 10 guides and the doctor were impacted too. The guides and doctor weren’t scheduled to get in until 17:30, so whew! They’re not leaving without the doctor, I’ve got some wiggle room again!
The next couple of days were largely uninteresting. After a bit of a stressful morning and Buenos Aires still getting a decent storm, I ended up in a cafe for the afternoon to do a little reading, decompress, and figure out the next few days.
This is a great example of why I always build in buffer time, especially on a trip like this. I really wanted to explore Ushuaia and spend a couple of days there, but losing out on that is a small price to pay for being able to make it to the ship on time. While there was a lot of frustration in dealing with this, it’d have been infinitely more so if I didn’t have that flexibility already planned for. Might rarely need it, but when you do...
Next up, Ushuaia!