Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Hardware

Now its time to tell you about the important part of our recently completed trip to Argentina: the hardware we flew on.

Our trip was booked entirely on LAN. We did this for two (2) reasons:
(1) We had a domestic flight to Iguazu and thought that it would be best to book all the flights together; and
(2) There is always a risk of a work stoppage with Aerolineas Argentinas, and with such tight schedules, we preferred to avoid unnecessary delays in our travel.

We booked flights from JFK - which is where it was easiest for us to catch a LAN flight. From JFK, we flew to Santiago, via Lima, Peru. This leg of the flight was on a B767, sans winglets, much to my disappointment.

For a few years now, LAN has been operating the short hop from Santiago to Mendoza on the A320. This flight across the Andes offers, in the humble opinion of this writer, the most bang for your buck. From gear up to touch down, the flight can't take more than 30 minutes, but each of those 30 minutes are spectacular - if the weather cooperates, that is. On a clear day, you get a stunning view of the high Andes, including close ups of Aconcagua and Tupungato (both of which, I kindly remind you, are in Argentinian territory).On our trip, we were fortunate that the sky was clear enough to offer this spectacular view. However, Aconcagua and Tupungato were not visible due to a white out during the middle portion of the treacherous cross.

We also flew on LAN A320s to Iguazu, via Aeroparque Metrolitano Jorge Newberry in Buenos Aires. Aeroparque is set beautifully in downtown Buenos Aires and offers both a great view of some downtown skyrises as well as the majestic Rio de la Plata (which is the world's widest river). Landing at Aeroparque is always entertaining, and at times terrifying.Our scheduled return trip on LAN had us flying from Iguazu to Aeroparque, transferring in Buenos Aires to the international airport at Ezeiza and then flying (on an A340!!!) to Santiago, where we would then board a nonstop flight to JFK. Yes, quite a roundabout way to get to New York, but on the bright side, I was excited about flying on an A340 for the first time of my life. I was going to lose my A340 virginity!

Well, as it turns out, the A340 which was going to carry us to Santiago was running very late - so late, in fact, that LAN rebooked us on American. Our new trip home would be more direct, but less exciting. We ended up flying from Buenos Aires to New York via Miami. At least the Buenos Aires to Miami leg was on a B777, which provides a greater level of excitement than the B767. Sadly, we were all stuck in middle seats in the 2-5-2 seating plan.

Here are some parting thoughts about the travel and service:
(1) LAN has excellent service. We were given snacks and meals on every flight (even the 30 minute hop from Santiago to Mendoza). The flight attendants offered (and in fact almost insisted on) multiple drinks. The booze was free on the international flight, which is a nice touch since it does make sleeping a bit easier when you have a glass of wine.

(2) ALWAYS check your LAN itinerary for changes. I am one of those people that books a flight and does not keep looking for changes, or confirms the day before, or tracks flight status before heading to the airport. Well, it turns out that LAN likes to change things up quite a bit. And for the most part (actually for the entire part) the changes were negative. For example, they moved our departure time from Mendoza from 10am to 7am. Our flight from Iguazu to Aeroparque was delayed from 10am to 1pm. This particular change was rough since we had scheduled the trip into Buenos Aires with a 6 hour layover to allow for some speed tourism and a relaxing transfer to Ezeiza (which takes a good 1 and a half hours). Instead, we only had 3 hours between flights and were not able to see any of Buenos Aires and instead had to hurry hurry hurry to the next airport.

(3) Less is more in terms of onflight entertainment. Both of the long hauls (one on LAN and the other on American) had seat back entertainment units. The problem is that neither of them worked. AT ALL. I would much rather prefer a working movie to help me fall asleep to nothing. So while the fancy screens with on demand movies seem like a nice touch, they are only worth it if they work. And it was not just my bad luck - none of my fellow travelers had working screens.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Argentina 2010: Meet the Storelli Castros

Yesterday afternoon we (Diane, her parents, and yours truly) returned from a lovely two+ week trip to Argentina which encompassed time spent in wonderful Mendoza and stunning Iguazu. This trip was a chance for the two families to get to know each other before they see each other again next year at our wedding.

Long story short, it was a GREAT(!!) trip. We did A LOT ... so much, in fact, that I think we all need a vacation to recover from the vacation. Although quite a bit of the time was spent hanging out with family, we still had outings nearly every day, and here are some of the highlights:

Arrival and asado at my uncle's home with nearly all the family.Time at the Chacras weekend house where we played some pretty intense ping pong matches.
City tour - here we are at Plaza San Martin.Another asado, this time on a Sunday at my Grandma's weekend home in Chacras.
We even had time to take in an Argentinian soccer game. This is a Nacional B game, which is the second division of soccer. We went to see Independiente Rivadavia (home team) take on Atletico Rafaela. The good guys won 3-1. Diane and I had been to a soccer game together before (Argentina vs. USA at the Meadowlands in 2008), but this was an entirely different experience with the local crowd (and, plus, Diane finally got to see a GOOOOOOOOOOL).
Of course we did some bodega tours - on bicycles (thanks Chacras Bikes!). We went to Alta Vista and Clos de Chacras. This worked out great since they are both very different types of bodegas. Alta Vista is a large operation and Clos is much smaller - so small in fact, that they hand label their bottles. Being on the bikes presented a challenge when it came time to transport our purchases (see the water bottle holder), but it also helped us moderate our tasting intake, since riding a bike with a buzz can't be that easy.We also took Diane's parents on the same High Mountain Andes tour that we did in 2008. Sadly, the road to the Christ the Redeemer statue at the Argentina-Chile border was closed due to poor conditions. The road is bad enough in perfect conditions ... so we had to leave that for another time. The statue was placed on the border after a history of border disputes between the countries and the premise of the statue is that the countries should not fight over the border because Christ knows exactly where it is. We did of course make stops at Aconcagua and Puente Del Inca.We spent the last few days of the trip at Iguazu where we went to see the greatest, most spectacularly amazing waterfalls in the world. There is literally no way to transmit what one feels at this location, since even pictures do it very little justice. We essentially took in all the attractions at the national park, including a boat trip that makes the Maid of the Mist seem quite tame. We also visited the Triple Border area, where one can see Argentina, Paraguay and Brasil (in the last picture below, the picture is taken from Argentina, Paraguay (and Ciudad del Este are on the left, and Brasil is on the right).That is a rundown of the activities. I will have separate posts with commentary and, of course, a summary of airplane and airplane-related activity.