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Posts tagged ‘australis’

DO cry for Argentina ;)

We are jumping continents again… back to finish my South America adventures…

Argentina was the first country I visited in South America.  The trip had an unusual origin.  I invited a friend who had just come back from a five month sabbatical in South America to a wine dinner with some Aussie friends.  They asked him his favourite country and he replied Argentina.  At that point I had never been to South America.  It was my missing continent so when my Australian friend decided we should go, I was in.  She was married so we only had 10 days since she was leaving her husband at home in Canada.

That’s when I discovered Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world!  So we wouldn’t be seeing all of it in 10 days… I decided we could spend some time in Buenos Aires, drink wine in Mendoza and check out Iguazu Falls.  It was a magical trip.  What was most amazing is that the logistics mostly worked.  We never got to the Brazilian side of the falls (despite paying a hefty fee and enduring insane archaic bureaucracy to get a visa so we could spend a day in Brazil) because there was a strike…  There were also strikes and protests that meant we never got to eat steak as the strikers were blocking its delivery to restaurants.

part of the culture

Welcome to Argentina!  You should absolutely go!  Just recognize that it is the kind of place for which the term banana republic was created.  It’s a gorgeous country full of natural resources and some of the world’s most beautiful people.  Part of the reason Danny was so keen on Argentina was how many attractive people he met there.  I’m not sure what they put in the water but he was right 😉  While strikes and protests can mar your travel plans, there are lots of lovely people in Argentina.  You feel so sorry that their country is such a mess as they don’t deserve it.

My first trip was back in 2008 when the economy was only starting to recover from the most recent economic catastrophe so there were a lot of cynical Argentinians jealous of Chile.  Buenos Aires was once the Paris of South America and it was the 10th wealthiest nation per capita in 1913.  They did elect Macri and there is finally some hope.

That’s the Argentina that I visited the second time.  When you take the Australis ship you can do a return trip or you can go in one direction.  It’s very expensive and I didn’t get the sense I would see a lot more returning to Chile so chose the Punta Arenas – Ushuaia route.  Ushuaia bills itself as “The End of the World” as there is no population settlement further south anywhere in the world.  It’s where you go if you want to check out Antarctica (so I will likely be back at some point ;).

You likely want to spend the extra to get a transfer to your hotel when you leave the ship.  I was cheap and did not… it all looked easy on the map 🙂  It wasn’t very many blocks to drag my suitcase but what I hadn’t realized was that the entire journey would be on a steep incline with questionable infrastructure like sidewalks… I made it without succumbing to a taxi and the reward at the end of the journey made it very worthwhile.  I would highly recommend the Alto Andino Hotel.  It’s quite small, the staff are very friendly, there is a good breakfast and – the biggest treat – there are sweeping views of the mountains and the Beagle Channel from the top floor. On top of all that, I also had a Jacuzzi bath in my room.  Ushuaia is a small frontier town so it’s an easy walk (without a suitcase!) to find souvenirs, food or drink.  I did have an incredibly difficult time finding water, though. so you may want to pack some.

beautiful breakfast

Just to make sure I knew I wasn’t in Chile any longer, there was a giant protest!  Welcome to Argentina…  Didn’t do anything especially memorable in Ushuaia.  It’s really a transit hub – but it is in a gorgeous location so worth a day if you end up there on your way to somewhere else.

Getting back to Santiago was challenging.  There are only a couple of flights a day from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires so I spent hours at the airport.  It was one of the most abysmal airport experiences of my life.  I had far more fun drinking beer at the outdoor café in Arusha watching the tourist groups come and go and local Tanzanians hang out.  The food and entertainment options were extremely limited and the pizza I finally decided to try tasted like cardboard!  They made it fresh so I was hopeful but maybe they forgot the yeast… At least I didn’t have to switch airports!  LAN Argentina changed my flight several times and I had to call them to finally sort everything out to make sure I could connect to Santiago and what airport I needed.

Argentina is like a telenovela star.  Gorgeous –  but temperamental and difficult at times.  She drives you crazy but she is so seductive you can’t resist… The people of Argentina need your pesos.  Go and meet them.  You’ll fall in love…

 

cape horn or bust! ;)

Our final day on the ship was appropriately dramatic.  The hopeful climax of the cruise is to be able to embark at Cape Horn.  Cape Horn is the southernmost tip of South America and a legendary place.  If the weather in Patagonia is challenging and unpredictable, the weather and sea surrounding Cape Horn takes it up a few levels.

Sailing around Cape Horn and then through the Drake Passage is one of the most challenging nautical routes on the planet.  The waters between South America and Antarctica are plagued by icebergs, gale force winds and giant waves.  The opening of the Panama Canal was not great for Patagonia but saved the lives of many sailors.

worth the hike

worth the hike

We began our final day on the ship with a less daunting initial destination.  This time I decided to sign up for the medium hike instead of the hardest one.  We got to walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, going ashore at Wulaia Bay.  He did his walk through the Magellanic forest on January 23, 1833 but it likely hasn’t changed much since then.

My fitness had obviously improved a little and I was hot on the heels of the guide the entire hike.  It was a decent hike with enough vertical for some heavy breathing showcasing the native flora and fauna, including the reward of a panoramic view of Wulaia Bay at the top of the hill.

This was also one of the largest settlements of the original inhabitants of the region, the Yamana.  There is a small museum which features exhibits on the history of the Beagle Channel (including Darwin and Fitz Roy) and the Yamanas.  Lots of controversy amid the human achievements in science and navigation – the progress of civilization is never a simple and straightforward path.

Prepare some photos to submit to the slide show that will part of the final night’s entertainment and wait for us to reach Cape Horn.  I watch the weather and it doesn’t look promising.  The water looks really choppy and the sun doesn’t magically appear calming the sea.

We are all herded into the lounge for a briefing about Cape Horn.  We are shown a video and instructed on what to do if the zodiac

testing the waters

testing the waters

starts to fill with water.  If the conditions aren’t safe, we will have to fly the pirate flag in lieu of an actual excursion and Cape Horn photo shoot.

We all wait around anxiously as a small team of experienced staff members is sent out in a zodiac to test the waters and report to the captain on the conditions.  It looks challenging but the captain says it’s a “go” so we don’t want to miss the opportunity.

The zodiac rides are slower and more somber but we manage to not take on water so it’s only a small adventure.  I pile on all the warm gear I brought – the polar worthy fleece, thick gloves and a wool hat I bought in equally weather challenged Iceland.  It was totally worth the space in my luggage!  The wind is blowing so hard we can’t go into the lighthouse but we can climb up the stairs and take photos with the wind battered albatross that marks the spot as Cape Horn.

cape horn!

cape horn!

The Cape Horn Memorial was erected in 1992 to honour all the sailors who died trying to round the Cape.  The albatross is supposed to support winds of 200 kilometres per hour but there has been some damage already from the wild weather and it’s a little crooked in places but still impressive.

Our voyage ended with a delicious dinner, the group slideshow and more people hanging out at the open bar.  The Germans I had met the night before gave me a hard time for not doing the hardest hike and I had a lovely conversation late into the night with Lee from England.

One of the trips that had been floating in my imagination for over a decade was complete.  I would have loved better weather but it was still spectacular and worth the journey to the end of the world…

 

 

not for the faint of heart…

So we will head back to Chile for a little while at least… I have so many travels that have not yet made it to the blog but will try and catch up in 2017…

I grew up in parts of Canada that feel a lot like Patagonia so I was ready 🙂  I also packed a lot of fleece with varying levels of warmth.  As previously noted, I wore everything that I packed.  I did end up tantalizingly close to Antarctica so the adverse weather shouldn’t have come as a big surprise.

One of the biggest surprises in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego is that the weather is famously unstable and unpredictable.  It did not disappoint 🙂

pia glacier in the rain

pia glacier in the rain

As you will have seen from the photos, the first day aboard the Australis ship was brilliant in every way.  On day two, we still had the same impeccable service but the weather had turned against us.  There was only one zodiac excursion, a soggy trek on the Pia Glacier that was still magnificent even in the drizzle even if the photos wouldn’t show it in its glory.

We didn’t get to witness a huge chunk of ice breaking away from the glacier and rushing into the sea but we did see remnants of recent activity and hear rumblings.  The most fascinating part was how even the murky light played with the textures of ice on the glacier creating stunning kaleidoscopes of ice, shade and sunlight.

ice as art

ice as art

There was a second event that day but it didn’t require us leaving the ship.  We entered the Beagle Channel (named for Charles Darwin’s ship The Beagle).  This brought us into Glacier Alley.  This is definitely something you would want to see under better weather conditions.  I tried to take photos but it was a bit like my famous photo of the Matterhorn in the fog.  I KNEW I HAD seen it but it was hard to convince anyone else 🙂

entering glacier alley

entering glacier alley

The glaciers are spectacular so they still look compelling in the rain under freezing temperatures but running outside to try and get a photo of them isn’t pleasant and feels a bit futile.  Nevertheless, it was a fun experience.  It’s all rather imperialist but each has a European identity – Spain, Romanche, Germany, Italy, Holland, France.  Each is a bit different in character and the ship served cheesy stereotype food as we passed each one.  The food may not have been creative but that doesn’t mean it was bad and it made the whole experience more entertaining – particularly since the weather was so terrible.

In the evening, they screened an interesting film about Shackleton.  It resonated a lot more when you have spent the day in chilly waters full of glaciers.

The other interesting experience that day was that we actually saw another ship!  The Beagle Channel is wider so conventional cruise ships can traverse it.  It reminded me of how special our journey on the Australis was.  We weren’t Darwin or Shackleton but I did feel very far from the populated world enroute to the farthest reaches of human civilization.

the beauty at the end of the world

Patagonia is not a land for wimps.  I had been drawn to visit by a travel article that made the trip to Cape Horn sound like an adventure.  The Australis team is very zodiac-experienceprofessional and you feel that you are in safe hands.  It will be an adventure but draped in first world safety standards.  Quite different to being trapped on a runaway elephant sans driver in the Thai jungle…

It was my first time on a zodiac though and I had seen enough of the Strait of Magellan by then to know I did NOT want to be in that water!  First you are suited up in lifejackets.  You then go through detailed instructions, which are repeated every time.  It isn’t particularly difficult but you do need to follow the procedures to avoid tipping the raft.  It’s an adventure for small-a adventure people.  People who likely don’t swim with sharks, climb Mt Everest or paraglide over the Grand Canyon.

We all got on the zodiac without incident but everyone was pretty quiet and there wasn’t even a lot of photos being taken.  No one wanted to tilt us into the Pacific Ocean.  The zodiac driver employed only modest speed and tried not to scare us.  I am always fascinated watching pampered first world travellers morph into greater adventurers.  Even by the return trip to the ship, you could see people were relaxing on the zodiac and the driver gunned it once he knew we could handle it.

That was probably because the harder hike was indeed harder.  By Navy Seal standards, a walk in a particularly pleasant park but we had been expecting something more 60+ friendly.  Everyone made it but our tour leader just quickly led the way without paying too much attention if everyone was right behind her.  There was enough elevation for heavy breathing and. in some places, you had to pull yourself up by grabbing a rope and making your way along its length, frequently through enough mud to destroy your footwear for any other future purpose.

22-stunning-patagonian-landscapeIt was all quite exhilarating and the view from the top made it totally worthwhile. And this is a luxury cruise, so all physical efforts are rewarded with hot chocolate, whiskey or both.

There is a lot of time on the ship to chill out – or be brave and take photos in the frosty air.  I did a lot of the latter.  Luckily, I grew up in one of the coldest places on the planet so freezing my fingers off for a photo seems a fair trade-off.

In the afternoon, we got to put our zodiac skills to use a second time.  This time we just cruised around a couple of islands admiring cormorants and penguins.  It’s always amazing to see wildlife in abundance IN THE WILD in our over processed modern world.  Patagonia has done a good job of maintaining its natural splendor.

cormorants posing for tourists ;)

cormorants posing for tourists 😉

Part of the credit goes to Doug Tompkins, one of those rare local hero types who can actually turn money made from being a good businessman to money spent actually doing something good for the entire world.  He was the guy who created, along with his first wife, The North Face and Esprit.  He first travelled to Patagonia in the 1960s and in 1968 did a famous trip with Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia Inc.) where they put up a new route on Mount Fitzroy.  Growing disillusioned of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, he channelled his Esprit profits into conservation.

yes I know I'm cute ;)

yes I know I’m cute 😉

He moved to Chilean Patagonia.  At first, he explored the wilderness of the region, eventually setting up the Foundation for Deep Ecology, The Conservation Land Trust and Conservacion Patagonia.  He also married Kristine McDivitt Wear who had been the CEO of Patagonia Inc.  North Face meets Patagonia… quite the love story.

Not surprisingly, they both shared the same retirement goals – land conservation, environmental activism and biodiversity.  Tompkins used his retail riches to buy up land in Patagonia to save it from mercantile uses.  This land grab by a foreigner was regarded with suspicion by locals.  He was at various points accused of being a spy, of buying up land to create a Zionist enclave, and of planning to ship Chile’s fresh water to parched lands overseas.

Instead, his goal was to turn the land into national parks working with the national governments of Chile and Argentina.  It appears he has made great progress in convincing everyone that there is benefit for everyone in creating national parks in Patagonia along with wildlife protection, biodiversity and sustainable organic farming practices.  It all sounds a little too good to be true but go to Patagonia and see for yourself.  The end of the world is a stunningly beautiful place full of fresh air and star-studded skies.

Sadly Doug Tompkins died in 2015 while on what he thought was an easy kayaking trip with a bunch of old friends.  No doubt it was probably a manner of death he would have chosen for himself.  Kristine continues on their legacy and the future looks promising.  According to The Guardian, the Chilean government announced the day after Tompkin’s death that Pumalín Park, one of Tompkins’ earliest acquisitions, would become a national park in March 2017 but the website suggests that it is already open.

Writing about Doug and Kristine is a great antidote to thinking about the US election and how most of the rich people spend their money.  I am incredibly hard to impress but Doug Tompkins goes on the hero board.  What a wonderful world it would be if this is what all billionaires did with their riches…

 

realizing one’s dreams

finally a post!  lots more to try and get onto the blog…

I had been waiting for over a decade to procure the funds and time to travel to one of the most remote points on earth.  Since I’d managed to knock off the pinguinos the first day, I was chomping at the bit to get on the ship.  I did find some cool handicrafts and plenty of lapis lazuli in tourist shops and in the open air market in Plaza Muñoz Gamero.

living large in early patagonia

living large in early patagonia

Prosperity first came to Punta Arenas via sheep imported

moody punta arenas

moody punta arenas

by some enterprising immigrants.  One place definitely worth visiting is the Braun Menéndez Mansion.  While they made their fortune out of supplying ships rounding Cape Horn prior to the Panama Canal, both had familial links to sheep barons.  The house is now a national museum where you can get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of wealthy immigrants trying to create a life of European splendour in a place so remote it was unlikely they would ever see the European mainland.  The craziest part is that it was only over 100 years ago – but only that short time ago in human history, electricity and indoor plumbing were novel and there wasn’t even an airline let alone on-line booking on the internet.  Turn off your phone for a few minutes and just imagine what their lives must have been like.

The weather in Punta Arenas worsened each day that I was there and by the time I walked with my suitcase to the pier to get on the Australis ship, I was worried I might get picked up by the wind and end up in Oz instead!  I spent my final night at the Dreams Hotel drinking pisco as already noted.  I also found a charming place to have dinner.  It’s called La Cuisine.  It’s also an homage to immigration – a French and Chilean couple.  The serving sizes were far too generous but the food was excellent – home-made terrine followed by salmon with saffron cream and jasmine rice along with artistically arranged vegetables.  It was all accompanied by an excellent rose wine and lovely service.

my home for the next 4 days

my home for the next 4 days

Finally it was time to board the ship!  Many people were not well organized so check-in went on for a long time.  They took my passport!  Officially because we would sail into Argentina but it felt both disconcerting and comforting.  I had just been issued the temporary passport after all the trauma so reluctant to hand it over BUT it meant I wasn’t responsible for caring for it while I was on the ship…

The captain welcomed us and there was some safety information and then we headed to dinner.  I’m not really a cruise person so am not amused by the mandatory seating but does seem to be the norm.  On my two cruises so far, Canadians are rare so I can tell they aren’t sure what to do with me and Americans seem the most obvious choice.

In this case, I got lucky.  I doubt I would have met the people at my table otherwise but it definitely made for an interesting cultural experience.  Diane was a lawyer from Montana in her 60s who had brought along her 30-something son Ryan.  She was a great conversationalist and an intriguing mix of cosmopolitan and naïve so watching her in action was fascinating.  The most interesting exchanges involved her and 93 year old Harlan, who was accompanied by Cézar, a much younger Brazilian who spoke minimal English.  The exact nature of the relationship between Harlan and Cézar remained a mystery.

It was unfortunate that Harlan hadn’t managed to get a hearing aid that really worked for him so the conversation didn’t flow as easily as it might have and we only learned some tantalizing snippets of information.  He was one of those people who might have been the most interesting man in the world for real, not just as a frontman for Dos Equis.  He seemed more likely to drink champagne than Dos Equis 🙂

What I did learn was that he had grown up in South Dakota and then served briefly, without injury, in World War II, which entitled him to the GI Bill.  He chose to go to law school at the University of Chicago.  I have had that same kind of journey so can totally understand how Chicago in the 1940s would have seemed like Oz to someone from small town South Dakota.  It’s that history thing again, too.  There was very limited media in the 1940s so you had little knowledge or imagery of places you had not seen with your own eyes.

That was enough to make him interesting but he was recruited by a Wall Street law firm to article so that

cold but gorgeous

cold but gorgeous

took him to New York City.  Where the story got really interesting, though, was that he didn’t like Wall Street so went to teach law at the University of Minnesota, somehow ending up at Columbia Law School back in New York.  Apparently somewhere along the way he met Mary Hemingway who introduced him to Ernest with whom he shared a love of bullfighting.  He was also obsessed with ballet.  It’s hard to know if it was all true but he was an excellent raconteur 😉

Once dinner is over, there is an open bar on the upper deck where most of the guests congregate.  Diane convinced me to sign up for the harder hike for our first adventure off the ship the next morning.  Most of the people onboard weren’t terribly young… how hard could it be? 😉

desperately seeking penguins ;)

I have seen penguins at the zoo but seeing animals in the wild is a totally different experience.  Some of the Australis routes take you to Isla Magdalena but mine did not so I started researching alternative ways to check out the penguins.  It is part of the Monumento Nacional Los Pinguinos and tourists can visit from October to March.   You can reach the island two different ways.

One expedition choice is less risky.  It’s a ferry run by Comapa.  Between December and February, it goes almost every day.  But by March it only goes twice per week.  It takes more time in transit and there can be 200 other passengers with whom you need to share the island.

welcome to patagonia :)

welcome to patagonia 🙂

The sexier option is Solo Expeditiones.  They potentially go twice a day so you can get the better morning light for photos.  The reviews on trip advisor are a bit mixed and it was hard to know what I was signing up for but I decided to take what seemed a mitigated risk and choose that as my option.

It fit well into the spirit of Punta Arenas.  It is not a climate for wimps. :).  Luckily I grew up in a climate probably even more severe and had packed various levels of fleece, raingear to cover my entire body and assorted gloves and toques.  In the end, I wore it all!  Punta Arenas can be seductive though.  I arrived to beautiful blue skies and only minimal winds.

Everything looked promising for the 6:30am expedition I had reserved.  Shortly after I arrived I found the office so I would know where I was headed in the wee hours of the following morning.  Punta Arenas is a frontier town.  It’s more sophisticated than its origins as a penal colony and its blossoming as a port en route to the California gold rush as well as a home for sheep farming barons.  Nevertheless, it’s more an overgrown small town in a part of the world that doesn’t attract a large population.

It’s a place to access the Strait of Magellan and Antarctica so it has important geopolitical significance despite the weather.  It’s also where you need to go to get on the Australis ship.  If you are not obsessed with penguins, then you can just use it as a transit hub.

I appreciated the challenges of the climate and REALLY wanted to see some penguins so

penguin nirvana

penguin nirvana

ended up spending close to three days there.  It meant I had a bit of time to kill but the pinguinos made it totally worth it!  Do learn how to say their name in Spanish – it makes them even more adorable 😉

So… back to my adventures with pinguinos…

I got a ridiculously early wake-up call and scarfed down some breakfast while they were still setting up the room.  It was all in vain.  During the handful of hours I had been sleeping, the infamous winds had picked up and the harbour was closed so I could go back to bed for a nap before showing up at 3:45pm for a second try.

I kept a watchful eye on the weather as I roamed around Punta Arenas.  It certainly wasn’t clear it was improving but I had two days to try and find penguins so I showed up as instructed with fingers crossed.  After a decent waiting time, it was declared a “go” and we paid our money and filed into the minibus.

worth the waves!

worth the waves!

I had done some research so knew the boat would be small but some of the other participants seemed surprised.  It was not ideal but I had to trust the crew didn’t want to die so would only take us out if they felt we could all get back to shore safely.

It wasn’t a trip for the faint of heart.  I would not recommend it to anyone who is claustrophobic or prone to seasickness.  It was a rough passage but the crew were great and there were only a few of us intrepid enough to make the journey… so we arrived just as the ferry was departing and had an entire hour to roam the island on the well-delineated human path.

The island belongs to the penguins.  We could look but not touch and they had right of way at all points.

The water had been so rough they couldn’t guarantee we would be able to land so, when we did, it was phenomenally exciting.  It was pinguino paradise – for them and for us 🙂

Most of the others headed to the lighthouse but most of the penguins were near the shore and the best light was shooting toward the water so that is where I stayed.  I almost got tired of taking pictures of penguins.  It was that amazing!

As an added bonus, we also got to sail around Isla Marta where there are more penguins

isla marta

isla marta

and also sea lions.

The crew had decided we were hardy (or they just wanted to get home faster :)).  They sent anyone who might get seasick to the back of the boat where they would be outside in fresh air and able to vomit into the sea in a worst case scenario.  Then they gunned the boat and we surfed the waves instead of gently trying to avoid them by taking a more meandering path.

Patagonia has never been a place for pussies 🙂  I was a little worried I might die at sea and my hands were almost falling off from frostbite getting the photos but it was totally worth it!!!

Houston, we have landed :)

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.

http://www.australis.com/site/en-us/

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.

a true room with a view!

a true room with a view!

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!

http://www.hotelismael312.com/site/es/

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.

gorgeous lastarria

gorgeous lastarria

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…

 

 

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