El Calafate

Ice Cream TimeI am not a happy traveller today!! We had to be up at 6.00am to be ready to be collected from our city hotel at 7.00am for our transfer back to the airport. Being woken by the alarm at 6.00am made me grumpy to start with! Then we ate our self-catered breakfast in our room because the hotel’s buffet breakfast one, didn’t start until 6.30am so it would have been a big rush and two, was so awful (based on last week’s experience) that it wasn’t an appetising option anyway. Then, just as we finalised our packing to go downstairs Bernie received a notification to say that our flight was going to be delayed by AN HOUR. So that’s an extra hour of sleep I could have had.

We went downstairs to meet Andrea who whisked us out to the car for the drive to the airport. We had a very quick trip because it’s the Sunday of the Easter long weekend so there was hardly any traffic on the road. OK, that seems like a positive, but our flight’s delayed by an hour so it’s actually just an extra hour to be endured sitting around in an Black Necked Swanuncomfortable seat. We arrived at the airport and Andrea was able to print our boarding passes at one of the kiosks since Bernie had not been able to print them in the hotel’s business centre last night. Andrea stayed with us to the bag drop which was probably a good thing because – for the first time in all our many, many flights through five South American countries in five weeks – our bags were declared overweight.

WTF? Our bags were only just over 20kg each for this leg and have been sitting just under the 23kg limit for every other flight we have taken during this holiday and that’s been OK. Unfortunately, however, not OK on Aerolíneas Argentinos which we discovered, at the bag drop, imposes a ridiculously stingy 15kg checked baggage limit. Now there’s something that would have been good to know … BEFORE we arrived at the bag drop counter, but Bernie’s research prior to leaving home did not uncover this fact nor were we advised/warned by our Bunnick Tours travel consultant or the local rep, Andrea, from Gateways Travel. I bet Gina would have known and advised us so that we could have redistributed the View towards El Calafateweight between our checked and carry on bags.

I absolutely HATE, HATE, HATE getting to the bag drop and looking like an idiot who doesn’t have a clue about baggage limits and then having to rearrange luggage at the bag drop counter when, with a little bit of helpful advice at the right time the embarrassing SITUATION could have been avoided. So, now I was REALLY REALLY GRUMPY and the day had barely started!! I am awarding this trip’s, maybe even worst ever, Worst Airline award to Aerolíneas Argentinos.

Now this is where the whole situation becomes an absolute FARCE because the lovely young lady on the check-in counter tells us that she will grant us a 5kg concession, but we still need to transfer 5kg from one of the checked bags to our carry-on luggage. WHAT?! That 5kg is still going to be on the plane, what difference does it really make whether it’s in the hold or in the overhead lockers? Maybe the Aerolíneas Argentinos planes are already bottom heavy because all the LAN and yesterday’s LAN TAM planes have been able to cope with our 45 kilos in the hold. And to top things off Lago ArgentinoBernie was too vision impaired to undo the combination lock so I took the lock off and then Bernie detached the day pack from his main bag and transferred 3kg of electrical leads and chargers and a coat and got his bag down to 17.5kg which the check-in clerk declared would be OK so we finally got to see Bernie’s bag disappear onto the conveyor belt … with me still holding the effing padlock in my hand!!!!

Maybe we should have flown back to Oz with everyone else rather than do this Patagonian add-on?? Surely things can only get better?! Maybe not, I just logged onto the airport’s wi-fi and read the notification that Bernie received from ‘CheckMyTrip’ and our flight is actually delayed by AN HOUR AND A HALF. It’s just coming up 9.00am, my bum’s already numb from the crappy gate lounge seat and we are not due to board for another two hours. Groan, I think it’s going to be a long day!

It was nearly lunchtime by the time our flight started boarding, but once we were underway we had a smooth flight to El Calafate. I even have to admit that Aerolíneas Argentinos Lago Argentinoserved a pretty decent cheese sandwich. We have eaten a lot of in-flight cheese or cheese and ham sandwiches on this trip and today’s was definitely one of the best. There was a chocolate cream biscuit to follow so I got adventurous and decided to risk an airline coffee and … it was passable and went very well with the choc biscuit. See, give me chocolate and I’m happy!

It was fine and sunny when we arrived in El Calafate. Once again we were met by a Bunnick Rep who escorted us out of the airport terminal to our ride into town. With it being just the two of us now you can imagine our surprise when we were taken to a bus!! Apparently the bus had dropped a group out to the airport earlier in the afternoon so it was decided that it made sense for it to bring us into town rather than have another vehicle make the trip to the airport.

As we rode into town our guide told us how lucky we were with the weather. She told us it is rare indeed for the weather to be so lovely and that we were Flamingoes and kite surferespecially lucky that the wind wasn’t blowing. We were given vouchers for our accommodation and tours over the next few days and we were told that we would find flamingoes and gooses (sic) down on Lago Argentino. We were dropped off at the Michelangelo Hotel and told that the restaurant next door and the one around the corner were both very good and cheaper than if we went to any of the restaurants in the main street.

Since the sun was shining and the locals were saying what a fab day it was, we decided that we had better make the most of the remaining afternoon and go for a walk. First we walked to the main street to find an ATM to withdraw some Argentinian Pesos. The banks in Argentina charge outrageous transaction fees at their ATMs so you have to be really careful to choose the right one. They all charge an outrageous fee, but some also limit your maximum withdrawal to a very small amount which makes the transaction fee proportionately even more outrageous.

All cashed up we purchased ice-creams and turned our steps towards the lake. When we reached the lake it was obviously Colourful Houseflooded with the water lapping up around the middle of the trees! There were black-necked swans swimming around near the road in an area we assume is normally grassed? Maybe there were even picnic tables under the abnormally high water?? Unfortunately, we were nowhere near the lagoons where the flamingoes are to be found and there weren’t any gooses (sic) either! Hmmn, with the lakeshore underwater we couldn’t see a track on which we could walk around to the right part of the lake.

We headed back to the hotel via the supermarket where we stocked up on beer and water. With our beverages stowed in the bar fridge in our room we set out again for the lake which looked tantalisingly close … if we took the scenic route along the river. When we reached the river it was a big disappointment! It was more of a drain and it was very overgrown and rather spooky looking even in daylight. We decided that we weren’t game to venture along the river path so changed direction again in our attempt to find a route to the lagoon where we hoped to see gooses (sic) and flamingoes. We’ve been on Runaway Horsessome wild goose chases on our travels trying to track down interesting and spectacular things to photograph, but this was fast becoming quite literally a wild goose chase!!

We walked for a-g-e-s through the back blocks of El Calafate. We were so far out of town that there were paddocks with horses in them! And in the paddocks there were also geese. Yay, at least we had found some bird life. We kept on walking and eventually reached an amazing adventure playground/fort right on the outskirts of town on the edge of the lake and, sure enough, we had managed to find our way to the Laguna Nimez Reserva Ecológica Municipal and … we could even see some pink specks that were flamingoes! Unfortunately the flamingoes were still a very long way off but, with our telephoto lenses, we managed to take photos in which the pink specks actually looked like flamingoes.

With the sun sinking over Lago Argentino we decided that we had better set a brisk pace back towards town before it was dark. We even managed to take a more direct route back to town that had us walking past highlights like El Calafate’s rodeo El Calafate rodeo arenaarena and the golf course.

Back at the hotel we thought we would try the restaurant next door for dinner. It turned out that we could actually enter the restaurant – Isabel Cocina al Disco – via a door from the hotel as the restaurant doubles as the hotel’s breakfast room. That was very handy because it had turned really cold after the sun went down! The restaurant specialises in traditional Patagonian ranch-style meals cooked in ‘plough disks’. We decided to share a bowl of melted cheese to start with to go with the freshly-baked mini loaf of bread that was delivered to our table almost as soon as we sat down. Yum! The restaurant doesn’t have a wine list – you just go and choose a bottle of red off the shelf. We decided the ‘Phantom’ Malbec sounded like a wine you would just have to try! It went down really well with the lamb and vegetable plough disk meal that we had ordered. Oh boy, we are going to be drinking even more wine this week now that we are not sharing the bottle three ways with Meredith!!

Steps 16,447 (13.19km)

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