Ohana Sailing Adventure

Ins and Outs of Getting Internet Abroad

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “What does foreign internet access have to do with Buquebus, a company that runs ferries between Buenos Aires and Uruguay?”

Well, stick with me for a little background. After a lot of research, our general plan for internet was to purchase pre-paid SIM cards country-by-country, and to use our WiFi extender to pick up free WiFi from shore as able. Although we have a satellite phone, it is narrow-band and not useful for searching the web for information. (Click on “Our Boat” page for more details.)

Fast forward to living aboard in Argentina, where we purchased our first foreign SIM cards. I tried to explain what we wanted in Movistar (one of the big Argentinian providers), and I was certain that my Spanish had failed us when we were told to go across the street to a kiosk (think small gas station store); but, sure enough, the purchased SIM cards were actually activated and loaded there.

We found that with those, speed was severely limited, and we needed to turn on our US phone almost every day to bridge the gap.

Borrowed from researchgate.net

We were expecting the same when we moved to Uruguay, but like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, Movistar there was running a special: a 40GB SIM data card for 300 pesos, or about $10. It was remarkably fast and let us catch up on everything online that had been neglected.

We had already decided, though, that our original plan of purchasing a SIM card after arriving in each new country was not going to work well for us. It wouldn’t allow us to search the internet for anything before entering a new country, and as we had found, service can vary widely.

So we looked into GoogleFi, recommended by one of the other Antares owners. Their international service looked great for our needs. The only problem? It needs to be activated initially with a certain US-purchased cell phone. We had been warned repeatedly about shipping things to Argentina or Brazil. But we found a logistics company in Colonia, Uruguay, that could work with us as a “yacht in transit” and ship the phone without the usual 100% import tariff. We purchased the phone online, shipped it to Ted’s sister who then kindly activated it (by turning it on to ping a US cell tower), and then forwarded it on to Miami; from there it was shipped to the Uruguayan company.

When Ohana was delayed in Colonia, we thought, “Great! Even easier! A silver lining to getting hit!” since we could simply pick up the phone there, instead of having it delivered to us in Punta del Este (on the eastern coast of Uruguay), which is where we had expected to be. But then the company’s courier was delayed going to Montevideo. And then there was a strike at the airport in Montevideo. And we couldn’t delay our departure from Colonia any longer due to external forces, so the phone arrived in Colonia about six hours after we left.

We took this as an opportunity, though, for a family adventure – to experience the fast-moving ferry, Francisco, of Buquebus. (And there is the connection…)

Big smile despite the early hour.

We left Ohana at 5am, drove to downtown Buenos Aires in thick fog through an eerie landscape of freeway construction, and parked in a spot “watched” by a man sitting on the hood of his car. IMG_0362The ferry ride was smooth and fast, covering 50km (about 30 miles) in just over an hour.



We picked up our new phone and data-only SIM card, had lunch at our favorite Turkish restaurant,

AMAZING hummus at restaurant Instanbul in Colonia

and set off back to the ferry terminal. We checked in, went through immigration, and took a seat in line.

And waited.

And waited.

For over seven hours.

Despite radar and the fact that the ferry had run that morning in identical conditions, the Prefectura closed the Colonia port due to fog. As hour after hour passed, many passengers left and changed their tickets. Our girls were troupers for a long time, but eventually boredom and fatigue won out. We had brought basically nothing with us beyond our passports and wallets because this was supposed to be a quick trip; we didn’t even have the backup entertainment of our phones, because we had no chargers with us. Words are inadequate to describe the helpless feeling when your 8-year-old is sobbing and saying, “I just want to go home. Why are we doing this?”

Just when we were about to give up, go to a hotel, and pray that our rental car would still be where we left it in Buenos Aires, the port re-opened. We gathered up our exhausted, spent children (and selves), grabbed a seat on the ferry and some sandwiches for dinner. After getting lost downtown trying to find our way back, we finally rolled onto Ohana well past midnight.

The upside? More adventures to recount around the cockpit, and the GoogleFi has been a gem!

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