Category Archives: boat travel

Arrival in Argentina

The ferry from Montevideo to Buenos Aires was quite enjoyable. It was nice to be back in the city that helped me fall in love with South America, but I didn’t want to stay long. My goal was to be in Mendoza by Sunday. It was Friday afternoon.

I hadn’t been able to plan my next steps because of the lack of Wi-Fi on the ferry. On the ferry, in lieu of the internet, I decided I would make my way to Cordoba, Argentina for the night. It was about halfway between Buenos Aires and Mendoza.

After disembarking, I found myself around the corner from where I had eaten lunch a year ago with the boyfriend and friends. There were restaurants lining the waterfront and I found myself asking for a table for one. Aside from the waiters, the restaurant was empty because of the time of day.

Confirming the sticker noting they had Wi-Fi, I double checked upon entering and I was told yes. So I ordered a glass of wine and some lunch. I took out my netbook. I turned it on and nothing. No signal. I tried connecting to the network a few times and nothing.

Since I had already ordered, I wasn’t about to leave. I let one of my three waiters (oops, this wasn’t a budget restaurant) know that I would really like to get a Wi-Fi signal.

Problem solved!

I was moved to a corner so I could pick up the signal from the restaurant next door. The corner table wasn’t as good as my original window seat but the restaurant was empty so I still had good views.

Over a glass of wine and a jamon y queso sandwich, that’d be ham and cheese, I was able to make a loose plan for after lunch — head to the bus station and get myself on an overnight bus to Cordoba. Yes, it didn’t take rocket science since I had already decided what I was going to do on the ferry. Then I sipped some Argentine Torrontes wine as I sent an email letting my family know I was perfectly fine. Especially since I was overlooking the waterfront on a gorgeous summer day in Buenos Aires.

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Adios, Uruguay

Saying good-bye to Romina and Mariela was sad because I had such a good time with them. They helped get rid of my loneliness and I was well taken care of in Montevideo. After we said our good byes, I took a cab to the terminal, bought my ticket and was efficiently stamped out of Uruguay and into Argentina as I headed to the waiting room to board the ship.

Thinking the ferry between Montevideo and Buenos Aires would take three hours, I was confident I could take the time to use Wi-Fi on the ferry to make my next plan, and book that night’s accommodation (wherever I would wind up!)

Once I bought my ticket, I had some time before boarding and met a Canadian couple. They had just spent a week in Punta del Este and showed me photos of their trip, and hotel. It was definitely not the Punta del Este I saw! It was glam and glitz and luxury — which is what most people go to Punta for.

I boarded the ferry (which is a rather large ship), took a seat at a table by a window, opened my laptop and was ready to connect to Wi-Fi.

Except there wasn’t any. I couldn’t even pay to get internet.

I wasn’t worried because I would be getting into Buenos Aires around lunchtime so I would have time to figure out my plan, I just thought I’d be able to figure out my plan in the three hours on the boat. Buses in Uruguay had Wi-Fi (which I never used) and I had just assumed it would work on the ferry. By the way, I would never see the Wi-Fi on a bus ever again on my trip.

So, realizing I had three hours to myself, I watched Uruguay slip away into the distance thinking about the adventures that await as I headed into Argentina.

Adios, Uruguay. I will definitely be back.
bye2

bye

uruguay


The (Impossible) Search for Change

The ferry to Uruguay was a quite enjoyable ride. You may ask if I knew I wanted to start my journey in Uruguay, why didn’t I fly into Montevideo?

Here’s why. I can sleep well on flights, and there are no direct flights to Montevideo from New York. I chose to fly into Buenos Aires on a direct flight and start in Colonia. I highly suggest this option as the ferry was quite nice as was the (nearly) uninterrupted sleep.

I also suggest getting small change prior to boarding so you can get something to eat or drink on the ride over because…

Once aboard the boat to Colonia, all I wanted was an apple juice. Remember, I had basically just taken an overnight flight, raced to the ferry and finally collapsed in my seat.

Back at the airport I had been so focused on getting Argentine Pesos for the taxi that I never thought to break them into smaller bills.

I also knew I was going to Uruguay so there would be no need for Argentine Pesos until I returned sometime the following week. So I had taken out only what I knew that I needed for the taxi fare. I was left with only 100 Argentine pesos, which is about $25USD.

On board, while the concession stand took both Argentine and Uruguayan Pesos, I couldn’t get change of 100 Argentine Pesos for such a small purchase. I even offered to add a bag of chips and a banana (my standard travel fare), still no luck.

The man at the register told me to check in with the duty-free shop on board to see if they could change my bill.

I walked into the shop, which had two floors, and it was like Black Friday in there.

How much chocolate, perfume and alcohol do people need?

As soon as the announcement had come on that duty-free was open, people rushed to the doors and I didn’t think much of it. Until I had to go in and try to change money.

I could hardly get to the register because of the number of people jammed between myself and the register, I was nauseated by the overdose of perfume in the air and I was overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to shop. I wish I took photos because I had to laugh. It was crazy in there!

I quickly gave up on mission: apple juice and went back to my seat to enjoy the view of my river crossing from Argentina into Uruguay.


Would I miss the boat?

I had my heart set on making the earlier ferry which in turn made me feel like I was in an episode of The Amazing Race when teams realize they have a bad taxi. I certainly didn’t have a million dollars on the line but I felt like I had enough time to realistically get to the Port.

So what if I missed the boat, literally. The alternative wasn’t all that bad. I could park myself at a cafe, have lunch and people watch for the better part of the afternoon. Though I was keen to get to Uruguay in the afternoon, especially since I still didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night.

After driving in circles and asking some construction workers, the taxi driver went to the front of the terminal and told me to get out.

When we finally made it to the port, even I knew where I was! I had eaten lunch there with the boyfriend, A and C last year. But what made me nervous was that the signage at the Port said BuqueBus. Everywhere.

I trusted the taxi driver. We said goodbye and I had thirty minutes to figure everything out, which was great. The ticket asks you to arrive ninety minutes ahead of the departure time to allow for customs and immigration at the terminal. Plus, I still had to see about changing my ticket.

I entered the BuqueBus terminal looking for the SeaCat ticket counter. No signage anywhere for SeaCat. Finally, I asked someone who had heard of SeaCat and then he told me to get into the BuqueBus line. Now I was utterly confused.

So into the line I went. When I made it to the front, I was informed to go to a different counter to change my ticket. Then I had to go back to the original line to check in. None of these lines are labeled for their particular purpose, nor does any signage say SeaCat, further confusing me, but I went along with it.

After a successful check in, I was directed to customs and immigration, where I was stamped out of Argentina by one man, who handed my passport to the lady sitting next to him, who stamped me into Uruguay. Very quick and very efficient. Before embarking, I was asked for my passport and ticket one last time. That’s right. I made it! I was on the 12.30pm BuqueBus to Colonia! I would arrive into Uruguay in one hour!

Note: It was explained to me later, in Spanish, and this is what I think I understand.

There are several operators selling tickets for the ride across the Rio de la Plata. Each company, including SeaCat, operates their own website and each has their own logo. And their own prices too. Yet they are selling the same exact service on a BuqueBus route.


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.


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.