Group of 10 Malaysian tourists, all over 60 years old, traveled by car in Argentina for two months, but encountered uncertainty when Covid-19 arrived.
The following article recounts their nightmare journey as they race against time to return to their home countries, just like fleeing the end of the world, posted on The Star .
In early March, 10 of us flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to start the epic two-month adventure. Upon arriving at the airport, the group rented two cars and went to Valdes peninsula, visited the Patagonian coastal nature reserve known for many animals like whales, faithful Magellanic penguins, black dolphins … This is also a UNESCO world heritage.
On the first day of the reserve, we were greeted by the colonies of Guanaco and South American ostriches ( Rhea ). We stop at Punta Norte to see the sea lions and seals playing with the birds … We also went to Punta Tombo, the residence of Magellanic penguins, walking on the trails, or Wooden walkways walk through their nest bushes. More than a million birds come here every year to breed and from March to September is the peak tourist season, while November is the best because you can watch the new penguins born.
Next destinations are El Chalten and El Calafate villages in Los Glaciares National Park, the gateway to other famous places such as Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy in the northwest and giant glaciers. Upon reaching El Chalten, we climbed the Mirador de los Condores to admire the breathtaking views of the village amid the snow-capped mountains and Viedma Lake.
The next day, the whole group began the biggest journey – walking 18 km back to the infamous Laguna Cerro Torre to see the glacial break. The delegation starts at 7 am and 5 hours later to the ice lake. The weather was great that day and we watched the icy peak of Cerro Fitz Roy and the view of the valley of the Cerro Torre River on an exciting day.
We drove to El Calafate with the desire to see the vast Perito Moreno glacier and its breathtaking icy landscape. But that was when the nightmare began. When the town was only 8 km away, the group met a police barrier and thought, it was a common road barrier, but it was not.
We had a hard time communicating with the police because they only spoke Spanish. After an hour of waiting, the delegation was told to go for quarantine and escort to the hotel. But every policeman was busy with other guests so the group had to wait another three hours at the checkpoint.
At the hotel, we waited for the police to come back to measure the temperature but no one came. On the second day of isolation at the hotel, the reception forced the group to check out because the government said the hotels had to be closed, visitors had to leave. The receptionist said we could register in government approved apartments for temporary residents.
We booked for a few nights but upon check-in we were notified only for two nights, completely blocked by Argentina. Immediately, we contacted the Malaysian embassy and was advised to return to Kuala Lumpur as soon as possible. After many difficulties, the leader of the group booked tickets for all flights of Qatar Airways, departing on 22 March.
However, before flying out of Argentina, people have to arrange many things. Meanwhile, we are 3,000 km from Buenos Aires and have to return the rental car at the airport there. We had no other choice but to drive back in a very limited time.
The group planned to stop at Comodoro Rivadavia and Bahia Blanca to rest. The Embassy of Malaysia helped us by sending a letter of introduction to the 10-driver group to Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires in order to catch the return flight on March 22. The letter was presented to the authorities where we drove by not to be detained.
The group also had to go to El Calafate hospital to have their body temperature checked and certify that there was no problem with flying. At the first checkpoint when we got out of El Calafate, we gave the police a letter, a certificate, and permission to go through.
There were many checkpoints along the way and people realized just how serious the situation was. All shops were closed, not a single person on the street except the police and the army. Luckily, the gas station was still open, some public toilets were still in operation and when we reached some towns, we were not even allowed to get out of the car.
After 13 hours of driving, we arrive at Comodoro Rivadavia and check in the hotel reservation. However, the police did not allow us to check in, forced to continue the remaining 1,700 km distance ahead.
People from the Malaysian embassy helped us by talking to the local police, but to no avail, we had to continue the journey. Two hours later, we saw a gas station open so we thought we could spend the night there by sleeping in the car. But after a few minutes of stopping, a police car arrived and told us to return to the road.
Fortunately, when we arrived at Trelew in the middle of the night, we were stopped because this place was curfew from 7am to 7am, cars were not allowed to continue. The group was taken by the police to a parking area until the curfew ended.
7 am, the whole group continues the journey of 1,400 km. Everyone decided not to stop anywhere but to go to the airport and sleep there. However, we have to get to the airport before midnight, if we don’t want to miss the flight, we have to go through too many time-consuming checkpoints. Everyone is afraid of not getting on the plane in time.
During the entire ordeal, the Malaysian embassy staff kept in touch with our tour company in Argentina. At around 9 pm, the team leader who received a call from the embassy reported we had accommodation for the next flight. That was the best news during 35 hours of continuous driving. We wish for a bed to sleep, take a bath and eat a hot dinner even just a bowl of instant noodles.
They all returned home safely on March 25 and are secluding themselves, strictly following the government travel restrictions. We are lucky to have returned but do not forget to think of many other people still stuck somewhere around the world.