I still have some nice things to say about Bucharest and had some other fun travels in Europe in 2015 so we will get to them over time. First, though, I have decided to dabble in a more recent adventure…
A really long time ago I read a very well-written travel piece about a trip to Cape Horn around New Year’s Eve on a small ship. It sounded like an adventure and I knew that someday I wanted to complete the same voyage.
Luckily, the internet came along between the time when I read the article and now. I may still have it somewhere in my house. I have folders of travel dreams that I used to rip out of magazines when I was younger and had the desire – but not the funds – so folders full of dreams were all I could afford.
I figured out that the company that runs the ship he was talking about is called Australis. They now operate two vessels custom-built to explore Tierra del Fuego where the climatic conditions are not for the timid. It is one of those trips of a lifetime things as the price tag is steep but it’s not too often you really feel that you are at the end of the world and can see some of the same sights as Charles Darwin.
Of course, getting to the end of the world takes some planning…
First you have to get to Santiago. From there, you likely want to fly to Punta Arenas where you will board the ship. You can then decide if you will get off the ship in Ushuaia, Argentina or if you will stay on board and return to Chile.
The only thing I had seen of Chile was a short passage through Santiago airport on my way to Buenos Aires so I was anxious to spend some time in Santiago and Punta Arenas in addition to the journey on the ship. Most people just use Santiago as a point to connect with flights to other parts of Chile but I wanted to spend at least a couple of days there.
I managed to find a great deal using airline points to fly business class all the way to Santiago and back. It meant a little more time in airports most likely but the price was amazing and I rarely get to fly business class so I decided I would just spend a few extra days in Santiago to get the deal.
One of the parts of travel that I love the most is the mystery of what will happen… hopefully good things… but often the bad things make the best stories… and you need to be prepared for uncertainty as soon as you leave the confines of your own home where you have more control over what will happen.
Of course, flying on points means you are more of a second class citizen to the airlines so it’s best if nothing goes wrong. I have been incredibly lucky and that has normally been the case. This time my luck looked in jeopardy… The first flight was fine. I got to Toronto with plenty of time to clear US customs and get on the next plane without stressing out.
But then the stress began as the plane’s departure time kept getting delayed. On the plus side, at least I would be the first person off the plane if and when we got to Houston.
I was pretty sure I would be in Houston for a night if I couldn’t make the connection. The challenge was more that I might lose my business class status on the long, important leg of my journey and I might be paying for a hotel room in Santiago I wouldn’t be using.
I have not yet set foot in Houston but I have been through the airport a few times and have been really impressed. Luckily, I had already cleared US customs and didn’t have to switch terminals so would just have to run fast with my bags, something I have experience with 😉 The flight attendant was especially wonderful so it was a delightful experience despite the stress.
And I got on the flight to Santiago! And finally got proper business class service. Booking on points can mean you don’t get the best flight or plane… Santiago airport was a total gong show. I think Chile hasn’t quite adapted yet to its economic success.
To its credit, there are strict agricultural controls. They just need some better procedures to enforce them. I breezed through passport control and got my special paper that I knew I had to keep and present back when I left Chile. Luggage wasn’t as efficient but it wasn’t until I finally discovered the end of the gigantic line to deal with customs, present my declaration and have all my bags scanned that the time really dragged.
Thank god Mario hadn’t abandoned me. He did consider it and I couldn’t blame him as it was well over an hour from my arrival to my scrutinizing the ginormous crowd for a sign with my name on it (or at least an approximation… ) They really could do some work on scheduling flight arrivals. It was insane. I found Mario but then had to search for him again as we both disappeared into the crowd and I couldn’t track his movements.
I had chosen to stay in two different neighborhoods in Santiago pre and post ship so my first day in Chile would be spent in LaStarria using the Ismael Hotel 312 as a starting point. I had found them on the internet and it was a risk but, now that you don’t have to take that risk, it is definitely where you should stay in Santiago!
It was one of the best hotel experiences of my life. It’s a small boutique hotel with lots of modern design and creature comforts. There is a park across the street. LaStarria is a delightful neighborhood full of cafes, restaurants and bars. It’s only a few minutes from the metro, which is a cheap and efficient way to get around. I didn’t figure it out until my last morning but they will also make you all sorts of items for breakfast in addition to what you see on the buffet table.
They were also the ones who sent Mario to pick me up at the airport. Since I travel alone most of the time, I normally have the hotel organize an airport transfer so I don’t have to navigate the myriad systems in foreign countries. It’s more expensive but I am a fan of reducing my risk. It’s also proven to occasionally be delightful. This has been especially true in Latin countries.
If you haven’t spent time in South America, you should really correct that 🙂 It would also be really helpful to learn some Spanish… but there are enough people who speak some English that you will still have a good time. If you’re really lucky, you will meet someone like Mario. He had worked in California so has really good English.
There was enough time between the airport and the hotel for us to have a great conversation and I booked a private tour for Saturday so there will be more of my adventures with Mario… stay tuned…