La bici no pasará!

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We hung around in Buenos Aires in the afternoon, keeping out of the sun and making preparations for our journey to the airport. We explained in vain to the very laid-back staff at the hostel that we would need a taxi which could take a LARGE bike box. The taxi that arrived was, as expected, too small and we had to flag down another so that we could get all our stuff to the airport. Peli had a very interesting chat to her taxi driver about politics (he was a fervent supporter of their Presidenta Cristina) and bikes. He was a racing cyclist in his youth, and was astounded that the two of us had climbed ‘El Tourmalet’.

It’s nice to think that it takes two taxis to carry all the stuff we manage on our bikes. What wonderful machines bicycles are.

We had around four hours to kill in the airport, the smaller ‘Aeroparque’, before the check-in opened up. We pumped up a Downmat and had a bit of a kip and sleepily read our books.

When check-in opened we rushed to the head of the queue to make sure we’d have enough time to get our heavy stuff on. We were flying LAN.com (apparently the South American version of Ryanair). The first staff member was very efficient and even put Peli’s boxed up bicycle on the conveyor belt and sent it along with normal-sized luggage. When it came to mine he tutted and made negative noises. Something was up.

As it turned out, they don’t do oversized luggage scanners in Argentina…

As you can imagine, there followed a period of panic. A second check-in chap was brought into the fray, and he tried calling the security staff to see if the box would fit the scanner. But, the only thing we heard back were the fateful words: “La bici no pasara el escaner!”

It was about 03.30 at this point, and Peli was doing a good trying-not-to-panic-having-had-no-sleep face.

The first check-in guy insisted that the only way we’d get my bike on the plane was to ‘desarmarla’, i.e. take it apart completely. In order to do this we needed, yes, you’ve guessed it, tools. The very tools that had just been checked in in Peli’s luggage.

So, check-in guy number one got our bags back so we could retrieve the necessary allen keys, and in case we were not able to board the flight after all. We were so distracted at this point then got our bags back but not Peli’s bike box. That might have made for an interesting twist to the tale if Peli’s bike had made it to Ushuaia without us.

At this point we were desperately racking our brains trying to figure how to make my box smaller. Do we take out the trailer? Can we cut this box down and make it smaller? Can we get hold of another box? Was our South American adventure about to abruptly end before it had even begun?

Just then, we spotted a couple with (normal-sized) bike boxes in the check-in queue. Perhaps they would have some allen keys handy which we could use to desarmar the bike… They did! We’re very grateful to them – I think they were from the USA and were flying out to Salta and then cycling south. Thank you, whoever you were! You were lifesavers and I’m sorry I didn’t get your name and I wasn’t so friendly, we were rather panicky at that time to say the least. I owe you a pint or two. With the help of the allen keys, I ‘desarmed’ my bike even more and, with a bit of brute force and ignorance, made the box smaller. It was still rather long, but it was exactly the same height as the others.

At this point, a cycle touring couple approached us to chat about their adventures in Europe – they’d ridden from Holland to Spain. They were a lovely Argentinian couple with great stories to tell, and we’re only sorry that we were in such a panic that we couldn’t talk properly. Hopefully they will see this post – hello again, and happy travels to you!

With everything crossed, we tried again to see if it would pass security and the fateful ‘escaner’. Check-in guys one and two were peering through the hatch to see if the box had made it through. Ten loooong minutes later, we got the all-clear with the wonderful words, “Si, pasa”. What’s Spanish for “phew”?

But that wasn’t the end of it. In the chaos of being dragged back from the plane, the bags which contained our panniers had started to fall apart, so we had to give them a few wraps of tape before again checking them in.

After all this excitement, we headed to the boarding gate and Peli calmed down with a cup of tea and piece of cake. The flight itself was fine and at around eight in the morning we descended, with views of snow-capped mountains, into a sunny, but around 30c cooler, Ushuaia. And then the nervous wait started, did our stuff actually get on the plane?

Thankfully, everything did, though the boxes and panniers were rather worse for wear. Full damage report: two panniers had holes in them from being dragged about. The two ‘gipsy’ bags we’d used to transport the panniers were beyond repair. The skewer for the trailer was bent. And, most painful of all, a dent and a massive scrape on Peli’s bike’s downtube, from the rear wheel axle hitting the frame. But, nothing that would prevent us from starting our journey as planned.

We went straight to La Posada del Fin del Mundo, the fancy B&B we’d previously booked, with the help of a very helpful taxi driver, who gave us a little tour of this small city’s three streets.

We were warmly welcomed at the B&B and even invited to have breakfast while waiting for our room to be ready, which was much needed after the eventful night we’d endured.

After a delicious breakfast of eggs, cake, bread and tea with the delightful company of Ana and Jaime from Barcelona (hola a vosotros si estais leyendo esto!) we fell asleep for a siesta. We then realised our luck. We hadn’t actually paid any excess luggage fees at all on either of our flights. Peli had done some mild flirting with the check-in chap at Gatwick and got us out of paying for the London to Buenos Aires leg, and in the chaos before our Buenos Aires to Ushuaia leg, the staff must have forgotten to charge us. Viva la bici!

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