Monthly Archives: June 2012

SeaWhat?

One of the very few parts of my trip that was planned was a confirmed ticket on the SeaCat Ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay. Hours before leaving New York I booked myself a ticket for the 6.30p ferry once I arrived in Buenos Aires the following day.

After my dash around the airport looking for the Business Class Lounge, I gave up. I knew there was a 12.30pm ferry and because my flight arrived on time, I could try to make it rather than sitting at the Port for the better part of the afternoon.

I really wanted to make the 12.30pm ferry. I have seen far too many episodes of The Amazing Race and I knew three things:

  • I had a small window of time to make the 12.30 ferry
  • It was likely to encounter an issue with finding the SeaCat terminal
  • The man at the counter spoke really good English and I knew that was going to be short-lived

I made my way to the taxi stand inside of the arrivals area and inquired about the location of SeaCat Terminal and the man at the counter looked confused. He asked to see my ticket and shared it with others working the taxi stand that SeaCat was, in fact, operating.

This was a little unsettling as I did just book the ticket the day prior. He returned to the counter without an absolute answer but I needed to keep the process moving as a line had started to form behind me.

I was told that I needed to pay for my taxi in advance and I happily handed over my credit card but was immediately told that they only accept cash. And I had no Argentine Pesos. I was directed to the end of the line at the only ATM that was working in the arrivals area.

Thinking I could outsmart the other 20 people in line, I walked over to another ATM that had no line. It had no line because it was out of money. Of course.

As I settled into the line twenty people deep, I immediately remembered my previous trip to Argentina and the difficulties the boyfriend and I encountered each time we wanted to withdraw money and/or make change.

After what seemed like an eternity, I had Argentine pesos in hand and I paid for my taxi ride at the counter.

There was a large group of taxi drivers standing around the counter awaiting passengers. I confirmed with the man at the counter that the driver who would be assigned to me knew where he was going. He assured me he did and I was directed to my driver, who led me out to his car.

Once outside, I officially entered summertime. The sun was shining and I was inappropriately dressed in yoga pants, long sleeves and a fleece.

With my stuff in the trunk, a final confirmation in Spanish that the driver knew where he was headed, we were off! I stared out the window full of excitement and practically pinching myself that I was back in South America!

And then we stopped. We got as far as leaving the parking lot before he entered the address in his GPS.

And then we were off.

And then we stopped.

Throughout the entire drive, my driver asked other drivers, policemen and even a toll booth worker for directions.

He did not speak English but it didn’t matter. In any language, this man had no idea where the SeaCat terminal was located and now time was ticking.

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He would have been 83

Happy birthday Poppy. I love you so much and I still miss you terribly.

Today would have been my grandpa’s 83rd birthday. I miss him terribly. I miss him so much that when I start to cry that I physically hurt.

I cringe when I recall the January night when I got the call. It was absolutely horrible. I had gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night and my phone was on vibrate on the kitchen counter and I heard it going and going and going. I checked it and there were a ton of missed calls and texts with ‘call me.’ Knowing this was not good, and immediately in sheer panic mode, I had the boyfriend call my parents and once my mom confirmed that her, my dad and my sister were okay, I knew. I just knew.

I remember my blood curdling scream (which I found out later woke our upstairs neighbor) and dry heaving in the toilet. I remember sobbing on the bathroom floor and the shock I experienced while curled up on the couch for the better part of the day. I don’t remember packing but I do remember being very angry at the airport the next morning.

In just over two weeks it will be five and a half years since he left us.

It seems absolutely unbelievable to me that it’s been that long already. I guess it’s because I talk to him a lot. And not a day goes by that I don’t think of him yet I am so afraid of forgetting him.

I know he was really sick at the end and really uncomfortable but I wish he were still alive for so many reasons. I know it’s very selfish but I can’t help it. I miss him so much.

I fully credit my love of big band to my grandpa. My sister heard a tribute to Benny Goodman on her way to work this morning. How very appropriate it was today.

I love that he tried sushi even though he shuddered at the thought of eating raw fish. He would tell me he couldn’t believe the little girl that would only eat grilled cheese and chocolate milk would eat such a thing now.

I found out after he left us, that he saved all of the ‘somebody who loves me went to (place) and all I got was this tee-shirt’ tee-shirts that I bought on my travels even though he didn’t even wear tee-shirts.

I miss our hour-long phone calls a few times a week. He hated answering my questions about him, especially the one when I asked how was he feeling and if everything was okay.

Our conversations would cover the weather, the latest news stories and what I was having for dinner. They’d also go much deeper with questions about my day, how was work going and what plans I had for the week. It sounds mundane but we covered enough ground to have long conversations a few times a week. In fact, I talked on the phone more with my grandpa in one week than with other people on the phone in a whole month!

He’d also ask me where I would travel next and if it was outside the US, he would give me reasons why I shouldn’t go. Even though I knew that when I came back and visited he would be so eager to look at all of my pictures and ask loads of questions, which I loved. It wasn’t like five minutes of mindlessly flipping through photos. It was like shutting off the television and turning off all other distractions to properly look at all of my photos so he could focus and ask questions about my trip.

He’d always come up with a silly tune about life and sing a line or two. Sometimes it had no words. That one I know by heart. De diddilly de diddilly dee dee dee dee. If you were lucky enough to hear that tune in person he would usually pull on your ear while he sang to you.

He loved watching Anthony Bourdain on television, and he would be so excited to tell me if Anthony was somewhere I had been.

Apparently, he eliminated one of the choices that my parents were planning on using for my first name. It didn’t work with the nickname he had already planned for me, his first grandchild.

He loved a good piece of pie with a scoop of ice cream and a coffee for dessert. A diabetic who loved pie…

He had a sense of humor too. When we were kids and we would leave after a visit, he would always give my sister something ridiculous, like an empty toilet paper roll, and tell her to hang onto it for him until they would see each other again.

Every year on his birthday, and the day he left this world, I get a six-pack and toast him with a Sam Adams, his favorite beer.

Sometimes I wonder if our relationship would have been the same now, nearly five and a half years later. Would he still be up for hour-long phone calls a few times a week? I think so.

Happy birthday Poppy, wherever you are. I love you.


I’ve Arrived!

Upon arriving into Buenos Aires, I was one of the first from my flight to arrive in immigration. Thank you Business Class.

As you get into immigration, a representative asks where you are from. Because I have a US passport I was directed to the line for US citizens; however, I had already paid the reciprocity fee* when the boyfriend and I visited Argentina last year. When I showed the page in my passport confirming this, I was swiftly directed to a different line where I was quickly and efficiently stamped into the country (unlike in Miami upon my return into the States, but I digress).

The events that follow I can best describe as a clusterf#ck brought on by yours truly.

After immigration, I spotted a duty-free shop and asked where the American Airlines Business Class Lounge was. The woman working there did not know where the lounge was and directed me to another man, who worked for a different airline. I got nothing. I went through Customs and asked at a taxi stand. Nothing. Made my way to the to the American Airlines departures desk. Closed. The woman at the shared LAN counter told me I could only use the lounge if I was departing that day. Kind of defeats the purpose of having a shower upon arrival, no?

Hot (I was still wearing my fleece from the airplane) and eager to shower and put on weather-appropriate clothing, I continued to ask various people working at the airport where the lounge was. Nearly an hour later I decided to give up on that shower I had been dreaming of.

A smart girl would have asked on the plane, or would have referred to the map in the magazine – which I normally do look at. I blame this on my distraction with all things Business Class and thus neglected to figure out the lounge access situation prior to my arrival. Note to self: make this a priority before getting off the plane. Next time…

* Reciprocity fee is the equivalent to what Argentine citizens pay to enter the US. The entry visa is good for US citizens for ten years. Argentina charges reciprocity fees to citizens of Canada and Australia. The costs and validity vary. You can avoid the fees by traveling overland. Note: Chile also has reciprocity fees; however, I did avoid those by entering the country by bus.


Leaving on a Jet Plane

*If you are following along, yesterday’s post took us all the way to the end of the trip. We’re back to chronological order and … leaving (the US for Argentina) on a jet plane.

Soon after I booked my international flight, the boyfriend had encouraged me to upgrade myself to Business Class. I agreed and got myself on the list but the upgrade was not confirmed until the day before my flight.

The boyfriend’s reasoning was that if I were to have a panic attack, it would be so much nicer to have one in Business Class, than in Coach. I have to agree. So I hope you have a laugh with me as you see the irony of starting a budget travel adventure in Business Class.

Upon arriving at JFK, I made my way to the Business Class check-in. It was so pleasant! The gate agent actually invited me behind the counter to view the seat map and pick another seat since the one I had chosen on the phone not more than 24 hours prior was no longer available.

Nervous, because I did not have access to Seat Guru, I trusted the gate agent, and chose my seat based on her recommendation of the bulk head seat.

Once confirmed, I was directed to the Business Class lounge. I was even told that I could use the Business Class lounge upon arriving in Buenos Aires to shower (in hindsight…lies!).

Nothing says Business Class lounge like comfy chairs, great views and free drinks before a flight. Nothing says backpacker like yoga pants, a 60 liter rucksack on the back and small daypack on the front.

I was seated near four business people headed to Rio. I realized I was sitting there in the international departures lounge because I was heading to Buenos Aires! It was really real!

About three-quarters into my glass of wine, my flight was boarding. It was painless as I left the lounge and headed right for priorty boarding. I didn’t even see the seats in Coach as I took my seat in the front of the plane. Per the gate agent’s suggestion, I was in the bulkhead seat and since Business Class was half empty, I didn’t even have a seat mate.

Pre-departure I was greeted by my friendly flight attendant with a glass of sparkling wine. Soon after take-off I was handed a pair of Bose headphones and a menu, (a menu!), with my choice of drinks, dinner and dessert.

I took the first two hours of the flight to discover what was available to me in Business Class. I had down comforters, an assortment (yes, more than one!) of pillows, television, movies and music.

And buttons!

There was an entire panel of buttons to use to control my seat. The buttons kept me occupied for some time as I played around to determine just the right amount of recline for dinner, entertainment and (of course) sleeping.

Since no one was next to me, I took both toiletry bags…socks, eye masks, tisses, wipes, pens, extra toothbrushes and toothpaste…which came in handy since I quickly realized I forgot my toothbrush. At some point my flight attendant stopped by to check on me and my television situation. It was fine. He told me there were problems in Coach as most of the tv’s were not working. How pissed those people must have been…

But let’s not neglect dinner.

After my table was set with a tablecloth and proper silverware, I chose to start with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. My main course was halibut and lemon risotto followed by another glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a cheese plate for dessert. I could have even had ice cream. I hadn’t been in the front of the plane on an international flight in years, and that’s because my job had paid for it.

According to the in-flight route map, I tried to fall asleep somewhere over the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I woke up somewhere on the border of Northern Bolivia. And then went back to sleep and woke up just an hour outside of Buenos Aires.

No more than five minutes after opening my eyes, my flight attendant gave me a breakfast menu. I chose the bowl of cereal, which was accompanied by a yogurt and croissant but Huevos Rancheros and other hot foods were on the menu.

I also took a look out the window and saw this.

All for 25,000 miles and $350. Well worth the investment. I’m not sure how I will ever be able to go back to Coach.

All those miles I have on various airlines…forget using them for free flights, let’s talk upgrades!

And that panic attack, well, with all the comforts of Business Class, it never happened.


10 Ways to Get a Great Galapagos Deal, originally published on SmarterTravel.com

I wrote this post for SmarterTravel.com. It appeared there first.

There are four classes of travel to choose from when sailing the Galapagos. They are Luxury/Deluxe, First Class, Tourist Superior, and Tourist.

I wound up sailing the Galapagos on a First Class boat and was able to get a deal that included airfare. How? I booked the day before.

Two of us together paid less than what one of our fellow passengers paid. The boat I chose had a capacity for 90 passengers but was just one-third full. Was this a terrible company to book with? Not at all. In fact, we found out later it’s one of the best.

Below are 10 tips to help you secure a similar deal, questions to ask, and what to watch out for.

Do your research. As you get closer to departure, ask around. Know the going rates for the dates of travel and the class you want to travel. You will be able to gauge if there is a fair amount of availability or if boats are at capacity.

Understand it may not be possible. I’m sure it can be done, but you’re going to have to work harder during the high season as more boats will be filled to capacity. I was able to pull this off mid-March. That’s considered shoulder season.

Be realistic. The Galapagos National Park has assigned all of the boats a 15-day itinerary. Unless you plan on doing one of these, you will not see every island. You can, however, choose your cruise by geography. The islands are categorized into the Western, Northern, Southern and Central routes.

Prioritize. Do you want a boat that offers hot water? Do you want a private bathroom? Would you prefer a doctor on board? Decide what you must have and what is negotiable. Then make sure your boat meets your needs.

Remember this is nature. It’s not a theme park. If your heart is set on seeing something specific, like albatross mating season, you will need to do additional research to ensure your itinerary includes the island of Española for several weeks in April. That said, this is nature and it’s unpredictable.

Set expectations. Remember it’s an expedition, not a cruise. I can only speak for the boat I took. We were well-fed, but if you are expecting a 24-hour buffet, casinos and Vegas-style shows, you will be disappointed.

Negotiate. I was originally offered a cabin with two twin beds. I asked if it I could get a full or queen at the same rate. The travel agent made a quick call and got the okay to secure my preferred room type at the same rate. 

Talk to other travelers. I had been traveling around South America for six weeks before I made it to Ecuador. Any time another traveler said they’d been to the Galapagos, I asked a ton of questions. And, in true traveler fashion, they were happy to share their experience. This came in handy as I started my research. 

Find out what’s included. Snorkeling was included, as were the mask and the flippers. Had we needed wet suits we would have been charged extra. Find out what is included in the cost. Hint: You don’t need a wetsuit in March.

Ensure that there are bilingual naturalists. This is quite possibly the most important piece of advice I can share. When you’re on land, you will be spending most of your time with the ship’s naturalists. Make sure that you will understand them. You can practice your Spanish with the bartender back on the boat.

Do you have any Galapagos trip tips to share? Have you had success using any of these methods? Tell us in the space below.


Final Packing List

What did I take for two months in South America?

Click here to read what I had originally thought I was going to take. Keep reading this post to find out what actually came with me!

And here she is, in all her glory, all packed and ready to head to JFK!

Deuter 60L +10 rucksack
Eddie Bauer foldable daypack

What’s inside you ask?

Here goes…

To make digging through my pack easier:

Eagle Creek Packing cube (1 quarter cube)
Eagle Creek Packing sac (4)
Eagle Creek Compression sack (1)
Mesh bag (for underwear, bras, socks and bathing suit)

Clothes:


Tank tops (3)
Short sleeves (3)
Long sleeves (1)
Sundresses (2)
Shorts (1)
Convertible pants (1)
Yoga pants (1)
Pajamas – tee shirt and bottoms (1)
Socks (3 pairs of Old Navy ankle socks)
Underwear (10)
Bras (2 regular, 1 sport)
Jeans (1)
Fleece (1)
Scarf
Bathing suit (1 top, 1 bottom)

Shoes:

Keen Voyageur trail shoes
Reef flip flops

Toiletries:

Liquids 30z or less (as seen in Ziploc photo above)

Shampoo (1 travel size)
Conditioner (1 travel size)
Toothpaste
Face wash (Kiehl’s samples)
Body wash (1 travel size)
Hand/body lotion (1 travel size)
Toner (small container)
Moisturizer
Eye makeup remover
Hair stuff (1 travel size)
Chapstick (1)

Non-liquids:

Razors (2)
Biore Facial Cleansing Cloths
Cotton balls
Q-tips (1 travel pack)
Deodorant
Toothbrush
Floss
Concealer
Eyelash curler
Mascara

Eye care:

Contact lenses (4 pairs each eye)
Contact solution (2 travel size)
Contact case (4 cases)
Dry-eye drops (2 travel size)
Glasses (1 pair)

First Aid Kit:

Chewable Tylenol
Chewable Pepto Bismol
Neosporin
Band Aids
Ayr gel
Bio Freeze (sample sizes)
Girly stuff
Sunscreen SPF 30+ (1 travel size)
Mosquito repellant DEET 30%+
Prescription medicine and notes from the doctors saying that I take it
Zithromax
Cipro
Malaria pills
Chewable Immodium
Pill crusher
Travel powder packets; Go Greens Veggies and Benefiber

Electronics (anything with a battery):

Netbook, case and charger
Camera, battery and charger
iPod, charger and earplugs
Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp
Alarm clock
Watch

Stationery:

Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Notebook
Pens
Moo cards

Important Documents:

Passport and copies of passport
Passport photos
Yellow card
Credit cards (2)
Debit cards (2)
Travel insurance cards and information

Miscellaneous:

Travel bath towel
Silk sleep sack
Travel clothesline
Sunglasses (2)
Money belt (1; just big enough for my passport)
Money belt (bigger one when I would need to put more stuff in it)
Waterproof money holder for pool/beach
Decoy wallet
Hand sanitizer (1 travel size)
Wet Ones hand wipes
Gloves (1 pair)
Whistle
Electronic door stop
Locks (2; 1 retractable PacSafe cable lock and 1 REI combination lock)
Hair ties
Shoelaces
Packets of Tide one load detergent
Packet of tissues
Plastic bags
Cheap earrings; wear in my ears
Travel toilet paper (2)
Duct tape; wrapped around a pencil
Carabiners (2)
Sleep eye mask
Ear plugs

I also mailed the following to A, so she could restock me when we meet in Chile.

One more travel contact solution
30 more Biore Facial Cleansing Cloths
Another travel size tube of suntan lotion
Go Greens Veggies and Benefiber powder packets

In retrospect:

Did I pack light? Yes.

Could I have done with less? Absolutely.

Did I use everything? Almost. If you are wondering why some of these things made the list, it will make sense as you keep reading along…


Chasing My Wanderlust

I hope you enjoy the chronicles of my adventure, my stories and my observations.

More importantly I hope it encourages you to chase your wanderlust. No matter where it takes you, or for how long.

***

I finished packing mere hours before the car service was to pick me up and take me to New York’s JFK airport. I had time for a pedicure and some last-minute phone calls.

The first chance I had to catch my breath was as I readied myself to walk out the door of my apartment on 24 January. I was full of emotions and had some semblance of dual-personality disorder.

What was I doing? I can’t wait to land in Buenos Aires. I miss the boyfriend already. Do I have my passport? Is this the right thing to do? I can’t wait to be in summertime. Holy crap, I am really doing this! I still don’t know where I am sleeping tomorrow night. What in the world awaits me? Did I get to say ‘see you later’ to everyone?

Too late. The car service called to let me know the driver was downstairs. I called the boyfriend one last time, shut off my cell phone, shut the door sans keys and set off for an adventure!

I hope you join me as I relive it through stories and photos here on my blog!