Sunday was our travel day, and we expected it to be a long multi-day experience. Unfortunately we had no idea how challenging it would be to return the United States.
The original itinerary called for leaving Rio Manso Lodge by 1PM and arriving at the Bariloche airport by 3PM thus allowing two hours before our scheduled 5:15PM Aerolineas flight from Baricloche to Buenos Aires. Upon landing in Buenos Aires we had four hours to cross the city to Ezeiza International Airport, and then we were scheduled to depart at 11PM on an American Airlines flight to Dallas, TX where we switched planes and arrived in Denver, CO at 10AM on Monday morning.
When we awoke on Sunday morning we descended to the dining room for one final breakfast. After breakfast we gathered with the California guests for final goodbyes and photos as they had early afternoon flights out of Bariloche. Once the other guests departed Jane and I took a hike to the first waterfalls of the Rio Manso. Jane had visited waterfalls 2 and 3, but hadn’t made the short walk to the first falls, and I had been fishing; and therefore, had not seen any of the waterfall attractions. During our stay most of us had seen the huge Argentine rabbits romping about near the lodge, but for some reason Jane had not yet encountered any of these odd looking creatures. As we walked down the dirt road, a large rabbit bounded across the road, and Jane had her first glimpse. Later on our return hike an even bigger bunny galloped down the road ahead of us. The movement of the rabbit resembled a gallop much more than a hop due to the large hind legs.
At the end of the road we encountered a small dirt parking lot and a short trail that led to an overlook of the falls. The water crashed over some rocks and fell roughly 75 feet before creating a huge mass of spray and mist. A side channel of the river diverted to one side and re-entered the main river via a much smaller waterfall, and the angle of the sun on the mist of the large falls created a small rainbow. We snapped some photos and returned to the lodge for a tasty lunch of stuffed pumpkin and a dessert of crepes with vanilla yogurt. It was a fitting final meal to a week of delectable treats.
After lunch Jane and I said our goodbyes to the staff and jumped in the truck for the 1-2 hour trip to Bariloche. Roberto’s mother joined us, as she was receiving a ride to the home of her other son who lives in Bariloche. When we entered the town of Bariloche, we climbed the side of a hill until we found the brother’s house and dropped off Mom. From there Santiago, the driver, took us to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time and after checking our luggage settled back to wait for our flight. As soon as the entrance to the boarding area opened, we went through security and found the gate for our flight.
At our scheduled departure time a gate agent made an announcement over the public address system in Spanish, and Jane and I didn’t comprehend the content, but we noticed concerned expressions on the faces of the other waiting passengers. Some more time passed by until it was after our departure time, and finally another announcement blasted out of the overhead speakers. This time most of the passengers stood and returned to the lobby, so we finally decided to follow suit. Eventually we found some passengers who spoke English, and they told us that the flight was cancelled, and of course there was now a long massive line waiting at the end of the check in counter to get rebooked on flights to Buenos Aires by one Aerolineas agent.
The scene was rather chaotic and several tour guides pushed to the front and attempted to get their clients priority. Other Spanish speaking Argentinians crowded the counter and spoke with the agent in Spanish apparently attempting to use tactics to influence their priority. Eventually the agent used a megaphone to announce that travelers should relax as they would be called when it was their turn to obtain a new boarding pass for a later flight. Meanwhile Jane and I learned that we had to return to baggage claim to reclaim our luggage, and then we dragged it back up the stairs as there was a huge line waiting for the elevator. Waiting in line apparently is a national past-time in Argentina.
Through this process we met several folks from the U.S. who appeared to be equally bewildered with the flight cancellation process. More importantly there was a young lady from Argentina who spoke some English, and I was able to befriend her and gain some useful information. Apparently the passengers were getting rebooked in order of their original check in. In addition she informed me that the agent announced that we could get free beverages at the adjoining restaurant, and after another hour of waiting she actually sought me out to pass along an announcement that we could have food free of charge.
Finally after waiting for several hours, our name was called, and I went to the counter and obtained two boarding passes for an Aerolineas flight scheduled to depart at 10:30PM. We checked our bags again and went through the same gate entry and security process that we’d completed at 4:30. There was another LAN flight scheduled for 11PM, and many of the passengers from our original flight got on the LAN flight which boarded and departed before our 10:30 flight. As we waited we spotted a young boy wearing a Long Beach Island T-shirt so I struck up a conversation. As it turned out the young man had never been there, but their traveling companions were a father and son from Argentina who currently lived in Connecticut. As we waited, the father took us under his wing and helped us understand the announcements.
Finally at 11PM we boarded the plane and made the two hour flight to Buenos Aires and landed at approximately 1:30 AM. Somehow we found the Aerolineas information desk and asked about lodging for the night, and they directed us to the airport information service. A young man there who spoke English recommended a nearby hotel called Aeroparke and called ahead and reserved a room for us. We found a taxi and made the short trip to the hotel where we checked in, found our room and crashed knowing that we had missed our American Airlines flight and had another travel snafu to deal with in the morning.
Jane woke up before I did, and being in a distressed state, headed for the lobby with her iPad to determine how we could get home. She was unsuccessful in using Wi-Fi and Expedia, so she asked if the woman at the front desk could help, and the nice young lady complied. The female front desk employee used the hotel land line and dialed American Airlines for Jane, but when Jane spoke with the agent, she was told that we missed our flight and needed to purchase brand new tickets. American Airlines told Jane that we needed to contact Aerolineas for compensation.
Jane returned to the room and woke me up with this pleasant news, so I quickly got ready and joined her in the lobby. Once again I contacted Taylor and Diana for help while I had Wi-Fi access, and then because I was concerned about moving to the airport and giving up the ability to communicate, we contacted Verizon and purchased international voice, text and data for the December billing period. As it turned out there were restaurants and cafes at the airport with free Wi-Fi, but we weren’t taking any chances. We ate a light breakfast and paid our bill, and the hotel contacted a taxi to transport us to the international airport.
Once we arrived at Ezeiza we immediately headed to Aerolineas to obtain the “re-protection” that the American Airlines agent mentioned in the phone conversation with Jane. Of course the Aerolineas terminal was separate and distant from the other two terminals, so we had to push our heavy luggage along a long sidewalk, but finally we arrived at an information desk where we described our predicament. After a bit of waiting the front desk agent ushered us into a back room, and the woman there told us she was not authorized to provide compensation beyond paying for lodging or taxi costs resulting from our flight cancellation. Jane and I both reacted in frustration to this so she offered that we needed to go to Aerolineas headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires, the very location we had just left! She also provided us with a phone number to call.
We left the Aerolineas terminal 3 and trudged back to terminal 1 where American Airlines was located and walked to the end of the large terminal building where a single agent stood behind the ticket purchase counter. We remained calm and polite as we explained our situation and asked when we could depart from Buenos Aires on a rescheduled flight. The young lady began banging away at the keyboard and finally announced that the earliest we could leave was midnight on Monday, and there were no available seats from Dallas to Denver, so we would need to fly to Miami and then on to Denver. She then apologized as she told us that this would require a ten hour layover in Miami!
I then asked her what it would cost for this roundabout trip, and she once again typed some information and responded that it would be an additional $450 per person totaling $900. The breakdown was $200 per person penalty and $250 per person for the change in fare between when we originally purchased and now. By now we were frustrated with the entire travel experience and just wanted to return home, so we asked her to book us, but then asked if we could speak to her supervisor to appeal the penalty since it wasn’t our fault that Aerolineas cancelled our flight. The nice young agent replied that certainly we could speak to the supervisor, but she would not arrive at work until 4PM, and that was another 1.5 hours. Jane and I thanked her profusely for her assistance and found a small cafe where we ate lunch and killed time as we waited for 4PM to arrive. After lunch I attempted to dial the Aerolineas numbers provided, and after finally unscrambling the access code, country code and region code; I could not get anyone to answer the phone. We decided we’d try to deal with a refund when we returned to the U.S.
At 4PM we pushed our luggage back to the end of the terminal, and our new friend the agent was still there. We waited while she took care of some customers, and then she called her supervisor who apparently approved waiving the penalties without meeting us in person. We now paid the additional $500 for the fare change and received our tickets and then waited another 30 minutes until the check in agents arrived. A line began to form now so we positioned ourselves eighth and moved through the maze. While moving along a young Asian woman was behind us, and she had a Korean olympic logo on her luggage, so I began to converse with her. As it turns out she was a field hockey referee and coach who used to play for the Korean olympic team. Her English was fairly minimal but I did understand that she’d been to Boston in the U.S. and London, and it seemed she really loved London.
Finally it was our turn to move to the counter, and we checked our three heavy bags and received our boarding passes. Could we finally be getting close to returning to our home? We still had quite a bit of time to kill, so we strolled around the perimeter of the terminal and did some window shopping. Jane’s cell phone battery was getting low, and it was the device that we had used to purchase international service, so we searched for an outlet. Ezeiza offered far fewer outlets than most U.S. airports, but we managed to find an open socket where a vending machine was plugged into the wall near the entrance. Jane and I sat down on the floor to allow the phone to charge for 20 minutes or so, and as we were waiting, we looked up and discovered Marcos and Tomas. Marcos and Tomas were the father and son team that lived in Connecticut that helped us in Bariloche, and we were amazed to chance upon these new friends again.
We told them of our hardships, and then I asked Marcos what he did in the U.S. and discovered that he worked for Bank of America. We also chatted with Tomas for a bit while Marcos was on his mobile phone, and the young fellow was quite impressive with his English and his poise with strangers such as ourselves. Once Marcos got off the phone, we talked some more, and I mentioned that I was from southeastern Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, and Marcos replied that he and his family lived near Philly for three years while he obtained his PHD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. I then informed him that I graduated from Wharton with an MBA, and then I asked him what his role was at Bank of America, and he replied that he was their corporate economist for Latin America. Marcos and Tomas needed to move on to catch their flight, and we planned to eat dinner, so I gave Marcos my Saddleback Design business card and asked him to send me an email with his address upon their return.
Once Jane’s phone was charged we went upstairs to check out the dining options and found a quiet spot in the corner where we rested and had a peaceful dinner. We still had some remaining pesos after paying for dinner, so we wandered over to a coffee shop and bought some alfajores to use up the local currency. Finally it was getting closer to the time of our flight, so we decided to go through security and find our gate. On our way to the gate we passed a large duty free shop so we found the gate location and then wandered through the shops for a half hour or so. The flight remained on time so we boarded the plane at 11:30PM and found our seats, but unlike the flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires, this flight to Miami was full, so there was no spreading out to sleep.
Once again we slept intermittently on the long ten hour flight to Miami and arrived there travel weary on Tuesday morning. It took an hour or two to pass through passport control and then customs, but eventually we found ourselves wandering through the Miami airport in search of our gate that would take us to Denver. There were so many Spanish speaking people in the Miami airport that I felt like I was still in Argentina. We had a small breakfast on the plane before landing, but both of us were in need of tea and coffee so we searched and found a coffee shop. After breakfast we returned to an empty gate waiting area and found an outlet on a cylindrical post and charged all our electronic equipment.
Our flight to Denver was at 6PM so we killed time for most of the afternoon by reading at the empty gate and having lunch at a Latin restaurant. After lunch we stopped and purchased some goodies to eat on the return flight. Fortunately everything went according to plan once we arrived in Miami, and we boarded our plane and made the four hour flight before eventually arriving in Denver by 8PM.
It was quite a trip. Originally we were scheduled to leave Bariloche at 5:15PM on Sunday and arrive home in Denver by 10AM on Monday morning. Instead we left Bariloche at 11PM on Sunday and arrived home in Denver by 10PM on Tuesday. A trip that was supposed to take 3/4 of a day morphed into a two day sojourn. We were extremely happy to arrive at our home in Denver, and we almost immediately jumped into our beds. We had a great time in Argentina, but our traveling travails departing and coming home will not be forgotten soon.