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Author Topic: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report  (Read 14299 times)

Offline Joe4007

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A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« on: December 22, 2015, 11:00:01 PM »
Planning and Arrangements:

Visiting the in-laws in Buenos Aires for Sukkos presented us with a great opportunity to tag on a quick trip to someplace we'd normally have to travel halfway across the globe to get to. Additionally, we'd have free - and more importantly, dependable - babysitting. Having visited Iguazu in the past, we were looking into Rio, but in the end Patagonia was just too hard to resist. Also, as you might know, Argentina doesn't exactly make it easy for their citizens to get their hands on US dollars thereby creating a black market of what's called the blue dollar. For Americans visiting Argentina this creates a great opportunity to get Argentine Pesos at sometimes close to double the official exchange rate. At the time of our trip the official rate was hovering in the area of 9-9.5 ARS per USD, while we were able to get pesos at an awesome rate of 15.85 ARS per USD. Giving us an over 40% discount on everything. Traveling within Argentina meant that we could utilize these savings.

Out of the 3 cities in Patagonia we considered (Bariloche, Ushuaia, and El Calafate), El Calafate was the most exciting to us due to the glaciers in the area. It also seemed like 2 days will be a fair amount of time to see the highlights of the area, and since we'd have to do this trip Chol Hamoed, 2 days was about as much as we'd get.

There are 2 airlines that fly BUE-FTE. LAN and Aerolíneas Argentinas. With the latter operating about 3X the amount of flights. After some award chart searching it was evident that booking LAN through AA was by far the best option at only 6k + $4.10 per leg (not to mention the 10% rebate). By comparison, Avios - the next best option - was 10k + $38.13. For Wednesday morning LAN had 2 flights. EZE-FTE at 5:55AM, and AEP-FTE at 8:25AM. With our itinerary still in the works and not knowing which flight we'd want, I first called AA and held 2 seats on the 5:55 flight. I kept on checking BA's website and both flights showed 7+ seats available, so when after 5 days my hold was about to expire I wasn't in a rush to call AA and renew our hold. Mistake! Turns out AA occasionally can't see 4M award availability. BA was showing the same 7+ seats available, but AA reps couldn't see it. I knew it was AA's problem because I found other reports online about the same issue, but I also knew that there are times when they're able to book it as I had it on hold the week before. So after a week of daily phone calls to AA, they finally saw availability again and we were able to book the 5:55 flight.

For the return, LAN didn't have any flights that would work for us (they have the most weird flight schedule I've ever seen, with different times/frequency of flights every day) so I started looking into Aerolíneas. Considering Aerolíneas' notorious delays, our only option was the 2:00 AM flight Friday early morning. Going through all mileage options, DL seemed to be best at $12.5k + $9.40. However, with rev tickets going for only $175, transferring MR would've been a poor redemption (+ the excise tax) so I ended up just buying tickets for our return.

Next up was Hotel. A quick search revealed that there are no major point hotel chains in the area, so that was off the table. After some more research I ended up booking a room for 2 nights at the Unique Luxury Patagonia for about $120 per night. What helped seal the deal was the fact that they offered free cancellation until a couple of days before travel while most other hotels had much higher refundable rates. It turned out to be a great decision as a couple of weeks later this deal came around and I was able to cancel and re-book and save $100 in the process. Of course I hadn't learned my lesson, and now being only 2 weeks to our trip I cheaped out and went with the non refundable rate. Guess what happened next… 2 days later they doubled the promo to $100 off $100. Oh well. In the end I still got a good deal with about $65 total out of pocket after the promo and some orbucks (or $0 if you count A+ points  :P).

Wednesday 09/30 EZE-FTE:



After little to no sleep, we got out of bed bright and early and at 3:45 the car service we had prearranged the night before showed up (245 ARS). 25 minutes later and we were at Ezeiza heading to terminal A to check-in a bag (we were allowed 2 free checked bags with a total of 50 pounds per person). While check-in is in terminal A, the flight departs terminal C which is a 5-10 minute walk. Initially I was worried about passing through security with my Lulav, but security was very lax and no one even looked at it. At the gate there were some great semi-reclined seats facing the tarmac which made waiting for boarding much easier. We boarded at a remote stand and after a couple of minutes we were on our way.


Sunrise over Buenos Aires suburbs:




At time of booking AA assigned us seats in row 2, which was space + on the A320 we were flying. However, I changed it to row 4 during online check-in as I wanted a row with an empty middle seat.  In the end the flight was quite empty and we were both able to have a row to ourselves and catch some much needed shut-eye (ghetto first class is the new term?). They served the usual LAN snack boxes (nothing kosher in there AFAIK) and a quick 3 hours later we touched down in FTE.


Approaching FTE:








We disembarked through the jet bridge (did not expect one at an airport of this size) and went through screening by Senasa (National Animal Health and Agri-food Quality Service). Of course no one mentioned anything beforehand, but I was now facing a sign saying that if you travel to Patagonia you cannot take with you the following products 1) Plants, 2) Canned food, 3) Meat, and 4) Fruits and vegetables. Right… We pretty much had all of the above. So we just put our luggage through the X-ray machine while I marched through with, most probably, the biggest plant anyone has ever brought to this airport. A lulav. Luckily, we were in Argentina and other than an awkward stare by the agent manning the machine, no one seemed to care.

With that under our belt, we proceeded to find a way into the city which is about 20km to the west. There are basically 3 options; Rent a car, take a taxi, or ride the airport shuttle. Since I don’t drive manual, a car rental was out (they sometimes have automatic cars, but it’s prohibitively expensive). RT taxi from the airport to hotel was going to be 500 ARS, while the shuttle RT for both of us was 340 ARS. I normally wouldn’t recommend bothering with the shuttle for only 160 ARS difference, but since we were going to the first hotel on their route which meant first D/O-last P/U, we figured we’d save the money.

As soon as we exited the airport, we were met by the unusual - for a NY native - and magnificent patagonian landscape. Steppe-like terrain stretching for miles and rugged mountains in the background. Even further out we could see the snow capped mountains marking the edge of the southern patagonian ice field - the third largest ice mass in the world following Antarctica and Greenland. It was quite chilly, but nothing NY'ers can't handle. The issue here is mostly the wind, due in part to its geographic location.

15 minutes and several bumps later, we pulled into the hotel parking lot and were greeted by the bellhop who took our luggage inside. As it was only 10AM our room wasn't ready yet, so we left our luggage with the front desk and went to the hotel dining room to eat breakfast. The dining room affords great views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Argentino which we enjoyed while spending some time there.


Hotel (online pic):



Hotel Lobby and Bar:



Hotel Dining Room (online pic):




As we had a couple of hours until our 3:00 jeep tour, we decided to head out to the Glaciarium (glacier museum) in preparation of our scheduled visit to Perito Moreno Glacier the next day. The museum is about a 5-10 minute drive from town and they offer a free shuttle from the city center, but instead of walking to the city center and waiting for the next shuttle we opted for a taxi instead (130 ARS). Admission was 200 ARS PP, and we spent the next 2-3 hours educating ourselves on everything there's to know about glaciers. They also have an ice bar you can visit for an extra charge, but we didn't have time for that. Overall this is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't say it's a must. We then took the shuttle back to the city center, browsed Main St - a/k/a Avenida del Libertador General San Martín - for some souvenirs, and hopped into a taxi for the short ride back to the hotel.

Glaciarium:


Source

Views surrounding the museum:







Main St - a/k/a Avenida del Libertador General San Martín:






At 3:00 we were picked up by the jeep tour, and after picking up 2 more couples we started climbing the mountain overlooking the city. The drive was beautiful with every turn revealing different views of the surrounding mountains and lake argentino. This was some serious off-roading and for most of the ride we pretty much felt like we’re going to flip over. After about 45 minutes of sampling all different angles but 0°, as well as the engine going on strike a couple of times, we finally stopped at a viewpoint about ½ mile above the city and got out of the jeep to walk around and enjoy the expansive views and spot some andean condors.

Ascending the Mountain:




















Views from ½ mile above overlooking the city










Andean Peaks:






The 2 lagoons visible here are a bird sanctuary called Laguna Nimez (more on that on day 2):




Whoops! Wrong turn...:




Our Jeep:





Let’s play I spy:






We then continued to drive around the mountain to some shack in the middle of nowhere where we got to warm up a bit next to the fireplace while they served coffee and tea along with alfajores (nothing kosher, of course).










Shack in the middle of nowhere:







After some more schmoozing around the fireplace, we continued our journey back to the city. Somewhere on the way down - while we were at a 90° angle (don’t correct me on this one…) - there were some troubles with one of the seats in the back of the jeep. No worries, our driver/tour guide just stretched to reach the back seat while the jeep remained in drive, with the tip of his toe being the only thing keeping us from turning into the first ever flying jeep. Sheesh that was scary. Overall, this was a fun experience and a pretty good value at 540 ARS PP.




After dropping off some passengers at the other side of town and getting to see the city from the other side of the lagoon, we were dropped off at the hotel where we had some food warmed up then went to check out the hotel pool and sorry excuse for a "spa".  Finally, we retired for the night to get some rest for tomorrow's glacier trekking.


El Calafate from the other side of the lagoon:




Our Hotel Room, at last (online pic):





Next up: Trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier.



Offline Aaaron

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2015, 11:24:41 PM »
Looks great!  Keep it going!

Online TimT

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2015, 11:37:43 PM »
beautiful trip report !!!! can't wait to write up the second part!!!!!   :) :)
FTFY :)

Offline Luvtotravel

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2015, 11:40:06 PM »
wow! great grandparents if i may add...
Don't wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.

Offline Joe4007

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2015, 11:42:13 PM »
FTFY :)
Lol. That's what happens when other people have access to your PC...

Online Something Fishy

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2015, 11:58:23 PM »
Awesome so far, looking forward to the rest. Patagonia has been on my bucket list for a long time.

My favorite part so far - around 1.5 seconds in, I see that you were planning this trip report already ;D ;D ;D:


Check out my site for epic kosher adventures: Kosher Horizons

Offline Joe4007

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2015, 12:37:34 AM »
wow! great grandparents if i may add...
The best!
Awesome so far, looking forward to the rest. Patagonia has been on my bucket list for a long time.

My favorite part so far - around 1.5 seconds in, I see that you were planning this trip report already ;D ;D ;D:

Thanks. Nice catch  :D

Offline @Yehuda

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2015, 09:56:50 AM »
Woohoo! Can't wait for Perito Moreno!

Online sam28

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2015, 11:42:09 AM »
Wow keep it coming .

Offline stbaum

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #9 on: December 23, 2015, 11:49:48 AM »
so nice! my MIL is from Argentina too maybe we're related!  ;)
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Offline Joe4007

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #10 on: December 23, 2015, 02:08:46 PM »
Looks great!  Keep it going!
Woohoo! Can't wait for Perito Moreno!
Wow keep it coming .
Thanks.

so nice! my MIL is from Argentina too maybe we're related!  ;)
Ha! Have you ever visited?

Offline stbaum

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #11 on: December 23, 2015, 02:09:10 PM »
My greatest achievement? I am fluent in FRIENDS quotes

Offline Marco Polo

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #12 on: December 23, 2015, 02:21:09 PM »
The driver has this really creepy look in the first picture from the jeep. Very interesting TR.
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Offline Yehoshua

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #13 on: December 23, 2015, 03:23:04 PM »
Wow, those pictures are excellent! Next time we go back to Argentina we'll have to check out El Calefate. Seems like they have similar restrictions to HI in terms of what you can bring in and out.

Offline Yaalili

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2015, 07:35:01 PM »
Great tr!

Offline Luvtotravel

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #15 on: December 23, 2015, 07:40:00 PM »
 just curious, how did you manage without a sukkah?
Don't wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.

Offline eli1571

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #16 on: December 23, 2015, 07:41:26 PM »
Thought for a second you're referring to the caliphate (Isis)

Offline Yehoshua

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #17 on: December 23, 2015, 10:35:43 PM »
just curious, how did you manage without a sukkah?
Probably didn't eat any food that requires a sukkah.

Offline Luvtotravel

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #18 on: December 23, 2015, 10:50:35 PM »
Probably didn't eat any food that requires a sukkah.
figured, and therefore asked how he manged since its a two day trip
Don't wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.

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Re: A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« Reply #19 on: December 23, 2015, 11:21:01 PM »
figured, and therefore asked how he manged since its a two day trip
We were in Bangor, ME this past Chol HaMoed Succos and had plenty to eat, in part due to the freezing temps and rain.