We traveled 18,140 air miles in six days! That’s a record for us.
Several months ago, prior to Omicron, we made a commitment for a 2022 departure on a cruise out of Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica, or pay a significantly higher rate to do the trip later (or lose our deposits). The cruise company said that they were following strict Covid protocols, that there would be testing prior to embarking and while on board so that part of the trip sounded like it would be safe. It was a small ship with only 170 passengers and crew, much easier to manage than one of the big mega cruise ships with thousands on board.
And, under Covid, Argentina requires all visitors to be fully vaccinated and to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours before arrival. They also required their online immigration paperwork to be completed within 48 hours of arrival.
The trip seemed manageable until Omicron hit. The number of people requesting PCR tests made it impossible to get the results through normal channels within the required period. We managed to find a rapid PCR test location that had the results back to us in a few hours, but at a premium. The trip would be over before it started if we missed this step or tested positive. We had been staying away from people for two weeks except for a couple trips out for food and last-minute necessities, and helping our neighbor with an emergency in order to reduce our chance of infection. Our tests were negative and we were able to complete the online immigration requirements.
The next worry was the possibility of infection while traveling to Buenos Aries. We’ve been saving air miles for years and were able to upgrade our tickets to first class on both flights, Seattle to Houston and Houston to Ushuaia. We were sitting by ourselves to Houston and in lay-flat pods to Buenos Aries. Plus, we were able to use the airline lounge in Houston and sit comfortably away from other travelers.
We had arranged a private car transfer and guide in Buenos Aires. Carolina picked us up at the airport, took us to the hotel, and on an outdoor walking tour of the San Telmo district. Everyone was masked (in decent masks), the driver was separated by a plastic partition, and all the windows were open. It was all very safe.
Unfortunately, the flight to Ushuaia was like being in a cattle car and the domestic airport was a nightmare. We were really happy to have a guide/interpreter. The only reassuring thing was that Argentina has a mask mandate in congregate settings that is backed up by fines of $100 to $790. Everyone was wearing a mask. In fact, the Argentines are better at wearing masks then we are.
We were very relieved to get off of that airplane and on to the cruise line’s shuttle to our hotel. Everyone on the shuttle should have been fully vaccinated and have had a negative test. We were now entering the cruise line’s Covid “bubble”. We were all required to wear masks and would be tested the next day prior embarkation. We were told to stay in the hotel and not visit Ushuaia, which was four miles away. That was okay because we planned to visit when we returned from the cruise.
We settled into our room and went to the restaurant for some dinner. Around 11:00 pm, while eating, our server told us there was a meeting in the ball room for the cruise people. This was the first we had heard of a meeting. The cruise shore staff that checked us in had not mentioned it. We started to be concerned. About half of the passengers were in the ball room, but the shore staff couldn’t/wouldn’t tell us anything. Finally, a representative from the ship called and said that she was not yet cleared to get off the ship. Later, a staff member held her cell phone to a mic and the representative read a letter (that we received later) telling us the cruise was canceled due to Covid infections on our ship. We found out later that Argentina had shut down all cruising from Ushuaia.
We debated on whether or not to stay in Ushuaia and looked for a place to stay. The hotel where we were scheduled to stay after the cruise was full as were nearly all of the hotels in town. Omicron was running rampant through the city, closing many of the stores and restaurants, and filling the local quarantine facilities (hotels). It just wasn’t going to work so we worked into the night changing our flights and canceling other post cruise arrangements.
The cruise line arranged for a special flight to Buenos Aires for the day we would have embarked on the ship. The flight was on an Argentine Airforce Boeing 737 and everyone that boarded had to test negative that morning or would be stuck in Ushuaia. They had also arranged for one night in a five star hotel in Buenos Aires. We were on our own after that.
The military flight to Buenos Aires was much nicer than the flight to Ushuaia. The seats were wider and there was plenty of leg room. Uniformed military personnel flew the airplane; it was good to know that everyone on the flight had had a negative test.
(Side note: We managed to get two geocaches at the airport in Ushuaia…. At least we got something…)
We were taken to the hotel in Buenos Aries by chartered bus and the hotel quickly checked everyone in. There wasn’t much day left so we got some dinner and crashed for the night. Our flight was at 10:00pm the next day, so we spent that morning taking the antigen test that is required to get back into the US. Then we walked to the famous Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried and did some geocaching along the way.
The flights home were uneventful except we didn’t get the upgrade to 1st class from Buenos Aires to Houston, but we did get first from Houston to Seattle.
Now we have begun the process of recovering some of our money. We’ve been promised a full refund for the cruise and the activities and hotels that were scheduled for after the cruise. We hope that our travel insurance will reimburse us for our airfare as the trip was ruined because of the cancelation.
We’re home, tired but healthy, and very disappointed that we couldn’t go on the cruise. We are still in a kind of disoriented travel shock. We’re back several weeks earlier than we thought we would be. We had a list of projects that we’d do when we got back next month but can’t seem to get our heads around doing those projects now! We’ll take some time, rest, and get ready to start again next week.
There will be future travels. Other than trips to see our granddaughter, we have no other plans – yet…