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Argentina - Buenos Aires, El Calafate & Ushuaia First TR from me (just realised how much I've written!). I had some inspiration in planning from DDF so only fair to share. Still here so pics to come hopefully in due course.

Booked in the fashion that I like - not too far in advance - we started looking into the trip about 6 weeks before leaving and booked about a month in advance. What started off as five days to a week in the sun (villa in Spain?) was to become a bit more.

In the end with the dates set to take advantage of a bank holiday, Argentina was booked. I'd already taken to the web to have a look at ideas of where to go, what to do and what to see and had a look at some forums.

In the end, we dismissed the conventional the vacation route of Iguazu (save for a Brazil trip, Zika, flights didn't work) for Patagonia.

With about a week to go, we sorted the internal flights and some activities (and food) and and I picked up some last minute necessities (cooler bag, waterproof trousers, thermal socks - it's been a while since my Boy Scout days).

We were booked on the only direct UK - Argentina route (to my knowledge) with BA, which takes off at 21:55 and lands around 07:50 in BsAs. In any case due to working that day and needing the return flight with BA, this was the only option. Not cheap, to start with, I ended up going for World Traveller Plus and used (bought) points to upgrade to Club World (Business, no First Class cabin on this route) on the outward leg.

Checked in at LHR and spent some time in the Galleries lounge which does the job.

The flight itself was long but I was able to sleep well in the bed (10hrs plus!) so it went by pretty quickly. Only let down was being advised that the hot part of the KSML hadn't arrived (apparently this was the case for all BA flights ex LHR that evening). Either way, it was a bit annoying but when I woke up to eat at about 3am, the smoked salmon starter was more than fine. Apparently the executive club will call in due course to work out some points compensation.

Landing and immigration in EZE was uneventful and no one asked to see the customs form that we'd filled out on the plane. My friend was able to buy a sim (~$30) in the airport and we found a taxi from the booth situated outside the main entrance to the Terminal (though there were plenty of car service firms with offices inside).

The cab ride took around 1hr through the rush-hour traffic, the fixed price of $35 had been set by the men in the booth before we got the taxi.

By the time we arrived at the Park Hyatt, it was close to 10am. Even though, I had emailed in advance about early check in, they were fully booked and assured us, that we'd have a room as soon as possible. Nonetheless, they were very accommodating and we were able to use shower facilities in the spa and they gave me use of a conference room to daven.

The rest of the morning was spent going to the travel agent who'd arranged our internal flights and Patagonia activities and picking up food.

I'd ordered food to take to Patagonia in advance from Open Kosher - making good use of Google translate in the process. They'd sent me a list of different meals which they offered from which I selected a few choices. With the help of other customers in the store, I was able communicate who I was and they soon had the order ready. We picked up some packed bread rolls and a few things for the room for Shabbos and went back to the hotel to store the food in the freezer.

By now, we were pretty hungry so on to Luba for lunch. Quite a bit has been written about this place but I just expected a modern, cool cafe. Anyway, yes it's a cool place, but the food is really excellent. As of writing, I'm sure we'll make at least another trip back. I also got a bit carried away ordering various cakes to go.

What was left of Friday afternoon was spent relaxing in the hotel. Again, plenty has been written about the place so I don't need to add. Either way, we had the spa pretty much to ourselves.

We spent Shabbos with Chabad of Recoleta where everyone we spoke to was friendly and welcoming. The Shul has a real 'family' vibe and any hot kiddush lovers out there will love empanadas they serve. For those of you who were worried, there was chulent too...

Shabbos day it rained pretty much throughout so not much chance to walk around the neighbourhood. That said, I always find that being in a place for Shabbos, simply walking around - even to shul a few times - helps one get a more real life 'experience'.

Motzei Shabbos we had a booking in Asian though we really needn't have. We got there late for our 9pm booking and it was still empty. By the time we left at gone 11, it was fairly busy.

Again lots has been written about Asian. I had the sweet bread and tried the Asian rolls followed by a steak with an Indian chutney sauce on the side and passion fruit pie for dessert. They still do the passion fruit vodka shot which was really great.

Sunday morning we had a 7:50 flight from AEP, which is much nearer to the city centre and only about a 20 minute drive from the PH. We were able to leave some of our luggage with the hotel to avoid taking on the internal flights which was useful too.

The flight to FTE wasn't full so we were able to spread out a bit and my friend took the opportunity to create a ghetto lie-flat seat. Seems that El Calafate is a top choice for our brethren at this time of year, certainly didn't expect at least 9 other yidden on the flight.

At both EZE and now at FTE, they scan all your luggage at customs after you've collected it. I now had the Open Kosher meals, some biscuits and candy from home and some baked goods from Luba with me as well as some La Briute meals. The customs lady came over to me after I took my bags from the machine. I can't be entirely sure what she asked I was carrying, in any case I assured her that I wasn't carrying any fruit which was of course the truth.

A taxi from the airport to town is AR$360 and the ride is about 20km. Immediately, you get the feel of how remote the place is (especially if you hadn't been looking out the plane on the way down). The taxi took us to the office of the tour operator where we picked up tickets for the trips before taking us on to the hotel.

We'd booked the Esplendor which is a sort of semi rustic ranch style boutique place. The decor is all new and the rooms are modern with various ranch style features which add 'ambience'.

Shortly after we'd checked in, we were off on the Jeep excursion. This is done in a Land Rover Defender 110 (for all the car buffs).3 seats at behind the driver and 2 sideways bench seats in the rear. Alejandro and Gustavo put some energy in to the ride including livening up the driving to enhance the need for a 4x4.  The ride takes you out of town and to the shores of Lake Argentino. There are  stops at scenic points for pictures and a final stop at a zip wire which added a bit of fun before a refreshment break (half the party unable to partake - I'm not sure El Calafate has yet woken up to the influx of frum travellers - perhaps next year?).

Back to the hotel who kindly heated some of the Open Kosher meals. One Meat medallion and another pastrami - both good. Later, we went to check out the town centre. This is essentially a strip with a variety of mostly tourist trap venues - a casino, outdoor clothing stores and various restaurants and bars. We ended up in bar with a South American theme (surprising) which was part of a sort of Alpine (should that be Andes?) style lodge complex with a few different shops and stalls. Being remote, things aren't cheap here, 2 beers was AR$220.

Back to the hotel after a long day, here You really feel night. Beyond the houses and small network of street lights, it's properly dark but also even considering the amount of people that live here, it's just very quiet.

Monday brought another early start, though thankfully later than the previous day's 5am wake up call. We were down and ready to be picked up for the full day glacier trek at 730. Shortly after we were picked up and got on the minibus with around 20 others. At the national park, we joined another bus were you pay the entry fee AR$330 for foreigners. We then drove on to the shore, where we boarded a boat (by now around 930). The boat ride lasts around 20 mins and offers some great views - by now you can see the glacier. Being winter, not only was it cold, but there was also light rain. We disembarked and were split into English / Spanish groups at the cabins and given instructions before starting the mini trek. To reach the ice, they've erected a network of wooden bridges that take you down to a beach type area where after a short walk you reach huts where you're given crampons. Correctly booted, we started the trek. The walk on the ice lasts around 1.5hrs and actually involved some steep inclines as well as a look at sink holes and obvious lot some great views. The group was a lively mix that added to the experience and kept the guide on his toes - giving instructions in German and mandarin. Whilst on the glacier, it started raining really hard (glacier micro climate) which made it feel all the more authentic rather than just a photo op. The trek was topped off with a whisky served - naturally on the (fresh) rocks - at the glacier 'bar'.

Views were great, and the trek was good fun - I got soaked too despite various layers of waterproofs with varying levels of efficiency.

Back at the cabins, the La Briute meal caused some amusement amongst our various companions with my friend offering others the opportunity to touch this cardboard that was suddenly very hot. Off the glacier, the rain had stopped, and we got some great shots.

At 230pm, the boat took us back to the buses and then we went on to the balconies overlooking the other side of the glacier. More than being just a different side, here we actually got to see large chunks of ice breaking off and crashing to the water and again plenty more great shots although it did rain a bit here too. There are various routes here, and we took about an hour to do the ~1.5km walkway which takes you to the national park restaurant and waiting buses.

Thoroughly exhausted, the bus had us back at the hotel at about 6. Some more of the Open Kosher meals and (Chicken - good, though the beef was even better). Time for another early night. Another flight and another trek to come tomorrow.

August 29, 2016, 09:43:21 PM
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