Eighteen months. That’s how long Jane and I waited for our much anticipated trip to Argentina, and now the day arrived. Recall that Jane experienced a hit and run bicycling accident while commuting on October 26, 2012 and the resultant pelvic fracture caused us to postpone the trip for a year. We left our payment with Rio Manso Lodge in exchange for locking in the rate for December 2-8, 2013. And now it was November 27, the day before Thanksgiving, and we were about to board an American Airlines flight to Buenos Aires. Two and a half days later we would fly to Bariloche and then on Monday, December 2 we would be picked up by Rio Monso Lodge and transported to the pristine lakes and rivers of Patagonia.
South America, the Andes Mountains, and Patagonia were places I studied in sixth grade social studies. Could we possibly be going there? I asked Jane to pinch me to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Adding more to the allure was the prospect of late spring weather, warm temperatures, and extended hours of daylight while our friends in North American rushed toward winter. What about the food and wine which are reputedly the reason many travel to Argentina? And how about the fishing? The Rio Manso web site was blanketed with photos of grinning anglers holding oversized brook, brown and rainbow trout. Could all of this be real?
Since it was the day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year, Jane suggested that we arrive at the airport four hours early, and that is exactly what we did. This wasn’t your common over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house Thanksgiving. This was special. According to plan we arrived at DIA four hours early and began the check in process at the American Airlines kiosk. An AA employee approached us and helped us scan our passports and then asked for our reciprocity forms.
Before I continue, a word on Argentina reciprocity forms. Apparently the United States, Canada, and Australia charge some sort of fee to visitors from Argentina so they implemented a similar charge that applies only to travelers from the U.S., Canada and Australia. Jane and I purchased ours in October 2012 when we expected to be making the trip prior to Jane’s injury. Prior to the 2013 trip I searched through my Gmail folders and found the confirming email I received back from Provincia and printed it and sent it to Taylor Edrington to confirm that it was necessary document to enter the country. Taylor replied that it was, and we gave no futher thought to the matter.
Unfortunately when we presented this document to the check in agent, he informed us that we needed a form with a bar code that could be scanned. We protested and showed our proof of payment, but to no avail. Finally one of the agents suggested that we go downstairs to the workforce office and ask for help in the form of a computer to log on and print the necessary document. We quickly retreated with all our heavy luggage and found the suggested workforce office and made the acquaintance of Carl Jardine, a helpful employee and an angel dressed in casual business attire.
Carl patiently opened his browser and found the Provincia web site and helped me log in, but life is never very easy. After many attempts, we discovered there was no reprint button on the web site under my log in, and with minutes flying off the clock we quickly decided to abandon printing what we’d already paid for, and initiated a new tactic of repurchasing reciprocity forms. We clicked on the button for a new registration and then filled in the required fields; name, passport number and birthday. The screen paused and the cursor spun and we waited and finally it informed us that we couldn’t register and pay because the person registering was already in the system and had already purchased a reciprocity ticket. Jane and I were caught in the ultimate catch-22. We couldn’t reprint and we couldn’t buy a new one because the data base said we had already purchased.
We quickly enlisted the help of Taylor Edrington and the folks at Rio Manso Lodge. We decided that we needed to call the Provincia number in Argentina listed on the web site, but neither of us had thought ahead and purchased international calling for our phones. Perhaps we could call using a pay phone? Jane and I charged from the office and found the closest pay phone, but this morphed into another deadend since the pay phone only accepted pre-paid calling cards. We were now approaching panic mode and I couldn’t even begin to think of what our plight might be if we could not board our scheduled American Airlines flight.
Jane decided to return to the AA check in counter and plead our case using the document that stated that we’d already registered and paid. I meanwhile decided to call Verizon to see if I could add international calling to our account. I dialed *611 and waded through numerous hierarchical menus until I finally connected with a live human being. She told me she could indeed add international calling to our plan, but first needed our password. The account is under Jane and I made a couple futile attempts to guess the password, but both were rejected. Next she asked for the last four digits of Jane’s social security number, but I couldn’t recall that as well in spite of typing it every year on the tax returns. I was forced to hang up and find Jane.
Jane meanwhile was getting nowhere with the American Airlines agents who were under strict orders to accept nothing besides the bar coded form. I handed the mobile phone to Jane and asked her to talk to the Verizon customer service person and eventually she was able to purchase international calling and added it to her phone. I now had the wherewithal to communicate with Provincia so I immediately dialed the Argentina number after struggling with international calling codes a few times. A man with broken English answered from Buenos Aires and after a disjointed conversation he advised me to purchase new reciprocity tickets. I countered that I’d tried to do that, but that I was blocked because I was already in the system as having purchased them (the irony of this never seemed to dawn on him).
Finally after much back and forth repetition, the Provincia agent suggested that I change my birthday by one day, and by doing this I could circumvent the system matching my previous registration. I was concerned that this would lead to some other complication at customs and passport control, but he assured me it would not and offered the excuse that I made a typographic error! I rushed back to Carl’s office armed with the suggested workaround and we repeated the registration process, entered our credit card information, and eventually printed two reciprocity forms with bar codes on them. These pieces of paper were like gold and I clutched them tightly as I rushed up the stairs to join Jane who continued to argue with the check in agents.
I waved the forms in front of him and he grinned and scanned them and issued our boarding passes. Whew! We passed through security and arrived at the gate in time for the final boarding call. Four hours later and shaking and perspiring from the intense stress of our predicament, we were comfortably seated on an American Airlines flight to Dallas. The rest of the day passed without incident as we boarded our flight to Buenos Aires and attempted to sleep in a cramped upright position before arriving in Buenos Aires on Thanksgiving.
How much adversity could one trip provide? Much more we would eventually discover.