Tag Archives: santiago

Notes from One of the Worst Travel Days I’ve Ever Had

28 Mar

I can imagine that you have similar horror stories when traveling. Aside from a couple of close calls in bus terminals and airports, a bus hijacking and such, yesterday’s return from Chile was a new disaster I never want to experience again. Here are the notes I took throughout the day.

6:45 am: Wake up in darkness. Prepare for day and head out around 7:15 am from the beach village of Tongoy to La Serena Airport, about 50 kilometers away.

8:30 am: Arrive to La Serena Airport after getting slightly lost on the way, with zero road signs pointing to the airport. Check-in for 9:40 am flight to Santiago.

8:45 am: Embarkation begins for LAN flight.

8:50 am: Announcement of 1.5-2 hour delay due to thick fog.

9:40 am: Announcement of delay until 10:20. Told that though I’ll miss my connection, they can put me on an Aerolineas Argentinas flight at 4 pm from Santiago to Buenos Aires.

10:20 am: Announcement of delay until 10:40.

10:40 am: Announcement of delay until 11:20.

11:20 am: Announcement of delay until 11:40.

11:40 am: Announcement of delay until 12:30 pm.

11:50 am: Begin boarding next flight to Santiago, first flight is seemingly forgotten.

12 pm: Manage to get one of last seats on flight to Santiago leaving at 12:05 pm. Board plane.

12:30 pm: Take off for Santiago.

1:20 pm: Land in Santiago. Told 4 pm fight doesn’t exist, but I’m moved to the 7 pm flight. Check-in begins at 3:30 pm, when I can receive a food voucher too. Also told that they’ll reimburse me for the flight.

3:30 pm: Begin to wait in the check-in line. Previous flight at 5 pm is canceled.

4:50 pm: Given boarding pass for 9:50 pm flight and food voucher at a cafe.

5 pm: Eat first meal of day* (To be explained later)

6 pm: Pass through Customs, boarding is scheduled for 9:10 pm.

8:30 pm: Gate is changed to other end of the airport.

9:10 pm: Crew no where to be found. Readerboard now says flight leaves at 11 pm.

9:40 pm: Change gate again to other side of airport. All lights in gate are turned off and we wait in darkness.

11 pm: Begin boarding Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Buenos Aires.

11:30 pm: Return from taxi on runway for “technical problems”. Told it will be 5-10 minutes more. Can see ground crew loading a wheel chair into the plane.

11:45 pm: Begin taxi on runway again.

12 am: Take off from Santiago.

1:20 am: Land in Buenos Aires.

1:30 am: Begin line for Customs and struggle to explain my passport/DNI situation. Officials aren’t sure what to make of my status. Bosses are called over and they refuse to let me pass without stamping me as a tourist and having me pay U$140 ($568 ARS).

2:20 am: Leave airport after paying tax.

2:30 am: Arrive at home.

*5:50 am: Begin vomiting from the meal at the airport.

*7:20 am: Vomit again. It looks like the free meal gave me food poisoning on top of everything else that went wrong during the day.

As you can see, it was a pretty miserable day in which 2 flights of 40 minutes and 1.5 hours wound up getting me home 12 hours later. We were lied to and abused by Aerolineas Argentinas, and my theory is that because it was a holiday weekend they offered more flights, yet they were undersold. Thus, they canceled a few of them to consolidate and fill up the remaining flights, saving them gas. I think this because the 9:55 pm flight was essentially filled up with passengers from the 5 pm flight.

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Fingers Crossed for Chile…and the DNI

21 Mar

This week is a short one with Thursday and Friday as national holidays. On Thursday Argentina will celebrate a remembrance day for the military dictatorship of the 80s and Friday is a bridge to promote tourism. I’m taking the advantage of the early fall long weekend to go to Chile. While I thought that I’d originally just be going back to Santiago or even to the Colchagua Valley, my friend Nicole surprised me by saying that she had found an incredibly cheap flight to La Serena, a small city in the Coquimbo region about 450 kilometers north of Santiago.

The U$30 flight was too good to be true, and since a beach house awaits, on Friday we’ll be driving up to La Serena and on Sunday morning I’ll fly back to Santiago and then back to Buenos Aires. This will be a new place for me to visit in Chile, so I don’t mind, especially since it’s still summer-like weather there. Though the water is always cold in Chile, we’ll be able to go to the beach and just relax, which is what I need. Desperately. I still have another month to go until my long vacation, so this long weekend needs to hold me over until then.

The only problem that’s surfacing is transit in Argentina. We got lucky with the proposed transit strike canceled for today, but just as we dodged one bullet, another flew at us. All of a sudden today the control towers at the airports in Buenos Aires lost contact, and every flight From Ezeiza International Airport, Jorge Newbery Domestic Airport and San Fernando Airport has been suspended. Estimates initially said they could be up and running again by 9 pm, or suspended for another 48 hours. All I can hope is that this mess gets cleared up before Thursday.

Until then, this week finds me busy as usual, occupying part of my time with my DNI again. Today I went back to the Registro de las Personas to pick up my birth certificate, and tomorrow I’ll have to take it back to the Registro Civil so they can mail it all back to the Registro de las Personas. The woman in the office today was kind but didn’t give me much confidence as she said they’ll probably wind up rejecting it again without a signature on the bottom. I’m going to need a lot of luck this week.

A Short Reflection on Chile

17 Oct

Santiago

While I was in Chile last weekend I had some interesting conversations with both the friends and family of my hostess, Nicole. The first time I visited Chile my friend had warned me that people don’t want to talk about Pinochet, and when I asked about it in front of the Presidential Palace, he actually told me to shut up. That’s why last week I didn’t say anything, but the topic was brought up by the locals, so I asked questions which anyone might be curious about. As it turns out, the topic is pretty well discussed, though still controversial.

Just like any society, there are many viewpoints and everyone has a story or pitch for how a politician has affected their lives. For example, on my last night in Santiago we went to the W Hotel for drinks, but were surprised that everything was closing down by 12 am and the streets were dead. Granted, it was a holiday weekend and a Sunday night, but I was told that Chile doesn’t have much of a nightlife like Argentina because of the Pinochet days. In order to prevent subversion, there was a standing order for soldiers to shoot anyone out in the street after 10 pm. Thus, the bar scene kind of died and never really came back.

There are some Chileans who say that Pinochet, while he was a cruel dictator who killed many civilians, also laid down the groundwork for a functioning society and had the foresight to say, “Look, I’m a soldier, not a politician. I don’t know anything about building a country, but I know how to kill people. But what I’m going to do is keep things in order for long enough for the country to get its act together, and then I’ll step away quietly.” And to an extent, this can be seen in the public works project that now pit Chile with the strongest economy in Latin America and a model for other nations. (On another note, I find it ridiculous to continue to say that Santiago is developing, when in my opinion, it’s quite developed. If we must continue saying it’s developing, then other cities in developed nations like Flint, Michigan or East St. Luis should be demoted to developing.)

Yesterday I sat in on a taping of BA Cast, and Fernando Farías of Radio Nacional in Buenos Aires said that Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1980s was essentially trying to do the same thing but failed. Under that logic, you can see how Santiago now has a burgeoning climate whereas Buenos Aires is stagnant. Again, that’s if you buy the line that Pinochet helped Chile in the long run. I’m not taking sides on this one because I just don’t have all the facts yet.

And if you don’t agree with that side of the story, there are other opinions from those who say Pinochet was a cruel dictator who disrupted democratic order. I didn’t catch this until the next day, but a friend of Nicole’s said something about a political group known to work for Pinochet (something like secret police), and how her dad was a member. Since Nicole’s family is anti-Pinochet, she was offended by the comments. These are little things which take years to get over in a country that deals with post-dictatorships.

I have to think about these things though when I consider that Santiago and Buenos Aires are similar in some ways, but worlds apart in others. What was different for the two countries, both of which had military dictatorships in the 1980s?

Leaving Chile, Back to Buenos Aires

14 Oct

Santiago

My last day in Santiago, the last day in Chile, and instead of going out on a crazy spree by cramming it all in at once I was sitting on my friend’s bed watching National Geographic specials. For hours. She was sleeping well past noon just like her brother and his girlfriend. Her parents had gone out to shop for a birthday present for a niece, but when I was asked if I wanted to go I said no because I thought we’d soon be heading out anyway. Instead, Nicole slept off a couple of days of playing tour guide and drinking the part, and I caught up on some familiar programming.

It wasn’t exactly a waste of time, though. As I’ve written before, I spent a lot of time just relaxing in the countryside, which was what I needed. This short rest on the bed was also necessary. I didn’t exactly want to show up to work exhausted after a three day weekend, but come back feeling refreshed and clean. Our plan had been to head out to San Cristóbal Hill and maybe sneak in another touristy thing, but with an overcast day and hangovers looming, I was on my own. The other problem was I had no money and couldn’t get any. I brought no Chilean pesos with me and was unable to take money out of the ATM the only time I tried to in the countryside, so I couldn’t just go out and explore much on my own.

Yet after a couple of hours of TV I was itching to make the most of my time, so just as Nic0le was getting ready to shower up I went out for a walk around the block. Just as I got downstairs the sun began to poke through the clouds and it heated up a bit. October is a weird time in Santiago, just like in Buenos Aires. You can’t really predict the weather well, and it can quickly go from sunny and hot to rainy and cold. I took a right on Vespucio and walked a few blocks, quickly at first with my usual Buenos Aires pace. I had to think about walking slower until my legs would do so.

Las Condes

In the Las Condes neighborhood, surrounded by high rises and beautiful houses, I took a leisurely Monday (holiday) stroll by myself. It could have been like any other day alone in Buenos Aires when I go for a walk alone, but this felt different not only in location, but in knowing that I wasn’t really alone. A few blocks down and I turned on Errazuriz, and was stunned by how quickly it went from city to neighborhood in the suburbs. It was quiet and calm, with just a few cars going by and random people walking by on the sidewalk. I took in the neighborhood, it’s groomed streets and comfortable-looking houses. I was looking for a plaza which my friend suggested I walk to, but wasn’t really heading towards it and after a while decided to head back for lunch.

To go back a different way I went down Malaga, passing English Tudors and the Algerian Embassy. There was nothing wrong with the walk and I probably should have gone even longer. To cap it off, before crossing the street I stopped as a bus was coming, and the driver actually stopped and let me pass. This was definitely not Buenos Aires. Back at the apartment, we had a final lunch together, and as usual the food was excellent. I felt so grateful and didn’t know how my simple gift of alfajores and continual “thank you’s” could truly capture just how much it all meant. Some ice cream, my treat, would just have to suffice, for the time being anyway.

A quick trip to the park with the dogs and soon Nicole was driving me to the airport, where I quietly got back on the plane to Buenos Aires to call an end to the trip. Landing around midnight, I was surprised to find that now, after already leaving the country, border control was giving me a hard time. The woman said she believed me and understood that I had citizenship, but didn’t know what to make of my papers. She went to find a supervisor while I stood in line and everyone looked at me like I was a criminal. I thought that maybe I’d get thrown into the Customs jail and have to make a late night call to a friend or the Embassy, but she eventually came back and said it was OK, then gave me a new 90 day stamp. My taxi driver thought himself a professor and gave me a lesson on the Falklands War and current situation as he drove about 10 kilometers an hour until I actually had to ask him to drive faster, probably the only time in my life I’ll have to ask a cabbie to do so. But I made it home in one piece.

The trip to Chile was short for sure, but it was helpful in so many ways. I realized once again that I need to travel to keep me happy, and that it helps bridge gaps in so many aspects of life. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to Chile, but then again, the last time I left I don’t think I had any thoughts of going back so quickly. At least now I know that when I do go back, I’ll have a special place with some friends waiting for me.

Touring Around the Colchagua Valley

14 Oct

Viu Manent

In driving through Chilean Wine Country we passed through various estates and villages, always surrounded by the vineyards and mountains. Heading from Nancagua, we took a stop at Bodega Viu Manent, which had a wonderful restaurant before the earthquake I was told, but it’s roof collapsed and was being rebuilt. We talked to a couple of the employees who seemed to know my friend Nicole, and they recommended that I buy a bottle of their Secreto Caremenere. Caremenere is a special grape that originally came from France and was brought to Chile. After a disease wiped out the grape in France, it was sort of forgotten in Chile, and people labeled it as another variety until realizing what it was.

Now it’s basically the only place in the world where it’s grown with success, and Chile is able to boast this as a claim to fame while Argentina touts the Malbec grape as their cash cow. I didn’t buy a bottle at the winery because I wasn’t sure if I’d get it through customs, but I did eventually buy this bottle at Duty Free shopping. At the very least, it will make a nice addition to my wine tasting series.

Cochagua Valley

We headed off to the Apalta region, with vineyards at the base of hills with a deep green. We didn’t stop at Clos Apalta, but went for a quick look around Viña Montes, where several tourists were beginning a tour. Throughout the time in Wine Country, we didn’t actually do any wine tasting. Kind of weird, right? But there was really no need as my friend Nicole put it, because why should we pay for just a small glass when they already know what the best wines are? Instead, we can just buy whole bottles and enjoy it comfortably at home. Of course, that logic will only work if you’re a local and a seasoned wine drinker.

We took a walk through the town of Santa Cruz, where a laid back feel was mixed in with tourism driven by wine and luxury accommodations at Hotel Santa Cruz, where I found some delicious manjar (like dulce de leche, aka caramel but better) with different flavors. A quick nap upon returning to the house and another glass of wine, and soon we were headed back to Santiago as darkness fell over the peaks of the Andes. The time spent in the Colchagua Valley was slow paced and relaxing, and exactly what I needed. There’s nothing that I would change about the trip there.

Finding Peace in the Colchagua Valley

13 Oct

Country House

I was sitting on the swing lounge chair in the backyard letting the sun slowly bake my light skin and the breeze blow little parts of tree dandruff on me. My wine glass wasn’t empty but the little particles somehow avoided the rim, as if an invisible wall was keeping the dirt out of my drink. The dogs came and went, and the dog named “Black” kept coming over to me until he jumped up on the chair with me. Instead of just sitting still he went through this process of sticking his nose into my armpit and scratching my wrist with his front paws. It was funny at first but after a while I thought of him as an annoying person who just wouldn’t go away and let me enjoy the moment. But in the small village of Nancagua, about an hour and a half southwest of Santiago, nothing could really bother me, and all I had to do was sit back and relax.

My second full day on the trip to Chile and I was already taking laid back lounge time. There was no time for rushing around. We’d arrived to my friend Nicole’s family country house the day before after waking up with hangovers from Friday night’s welcome party. But by 12 pm we were on the road to get there in time for a big Chilean asado (barbecue). The ride was beautiful and quiet, with the music blasting as the windows rolled down allowed in a rush of air. The two girls in the front seat talked the entire time about various things while I stayed silent and looked out the window with the snow-capped Andes Mountains on the left and vineyards on the right.

Colchagua Valley

Immediately upon entering Nancagua we could see some of the damage from the earthquake. The smaller towns were hit hard, but my friend told me that the tsunamis were what caused the most damage, just about a half hour after the first tremors hit. Pulling into the family house I felt at home, a feeling which hasn’t been to familiar to me for a long time. A glass of wine started things off while Nicole’s dad and I talked about random things until the food was ready. Later that night her cousins showed up and we talked well into the night, going out to look at the thousands of stars, totally undisturbed by city lights.

So the next day after the cousins had left and Nicole kept snoozing, I sat on the chair in the sun thinking about lots of things. I thought about how long it’s been since I was able to sit in a backyard and listen to the wind rustling through the trees, or feel grass under my feet and hear someone cooking from within the house. Tucked among vineyards, this house seemed nearly secluded, and the silence helped me clear my head. Things haven’t been totally easy for me over the last year, and it was important to take stock of things. I didn’t necessarily come to a perfect solution, but a better understanding and acceptance of things.

Aside from other things, I realized that at some point in life, I’m going to need a little country estate of my own where I can just chill out and get away from it all. For the time being though, this little break in the Colchagua Valley seems to have given me a bit more steam to get through this rat race in Buenos Aires.

Off to Chile, Po

12 Oct

Flying Over the Andes

On Friday afternoon I took off for Jorge Newbery Domestic Airport in Buenos Aires to take my afternoon flight to Santiago, Chile. Excitedly I got to the airport early in the event of having any trouble with my passport, because if you remember, I hadn’t left the country in almost a year. The 90 day tourist stamp had long since expired, but the reason I stayed is because my dual citizenship allows me to be here, and though I have papers in process, I wasn’t sure how it would pan out. Fortunately it went smoothly, and aside from an hour delay in the small International section, we were soon flying over the pampas and eventually over the sharp and beautiful Andes Mountains.

It was a clear day with a bright blue sky and I could see all across to the northern edge of the Andes chain, even sighting Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of the Himalayas and the highest peak in all of the Americas. It was stunningly enormous, and even though I saw plenty of mountains and volcanoes in my travels through Ecuador and Peru, it was magnificent. This was the first time I’d been traveling since January, and it’s amazing how even just a little bit of travel can bring you back from a slump.

Dinner in Santiago

Landing in Santiago, my friend Nicole and her mom were waiting for me on the other side. It was the first time we’d seen each other in over a year and a half but we found each other right away. We drove to their house in the Las Condes neighborhood of the city, one of the nicest sections of town. It’s amazing how Santiago sits on the foothills of the Andes, yet because of so much smog you don’t see the mountains with clarity even on a bright and sunny day. I was glad to be back in Santiago with a friend, and the first surprise was a house party in my honor that night.

First and foremost, we went to the supermarket for some supplies and I was able to pick up mote con huesillo, a sweet drink I loved the first time I visited. The sugary, iced tea-like refreshment has bits of cornmeal and peach. Nicole’s family went above and beyond for me, and I’m still stunned with how well I was treated there. A feast of specialty foods like Chilean ceviche, salmon and gourmet pizza were brought out as her friends showed up throughout the night. At first I was slightly lost among the Chilean dialect and slang, so from time to time her friends had to dumb it down a bit and speak in slow Spanish. I remember the first time visiting Chile, it took me about a week before I understood anything. Now, with so much more Spanish experience, it only took me a few hours to get the hook.

The best part of the night was the sense of feeling completely welcomed immediately. I was immediately joking around with her friends as if they were my own, which is something that has been harder to do here in Argentina. Out on the terrace, shivering in the night, we could see the outline of the Andean peaks and the orange lights all over the city. I had to realize quickly how much more I liked Santiago than Buenos Aires, even with just a short amount of time and limited scope. The quick reasons:

Santiago has organized streets with good public transportation, both in buses and metro. The highway system is impeccable, resembling a system you would find in the United States or Europe. This of course took years to form, but it’s obviously paid off well. I though about Buenos Aires’ cracked streets filled with dog crap, spotty public transportation and limited metro, and the traffic nightmares. For me anyway, just having the mountains in your line of sight makes any other problem acceptable. But Buenos Aires is just flat and with no natural attractions. Santiago’s architecture is decidedly modern and they are currently building what will be the tallest skyscraper in Latin America. Buenos Aires’ architecture is old and decrepit, which could be chalked up to Old World charm if they were actually 500 year old buildings, but they were built in the 20th century for the most part. To put it short, I was beginning to wonder about how I could stay in Santiago.

Santiago at Night

Celebrating long into the night, we discussed everything from politics and Pinochet to shopping in the United States. Eventually the night faded down and we went to bed, needing rest for the big day ahead: off to Chilean Wine Country.

Preparing for the Trip to Chile

5 Oct

Santiago, Chile

On Friday afternoon I’ll be leaving Buenos Aires (*hopefully) for the first time since January, and leaving the country for the first time in almost a year. I’m heading to Santiago, Chile for the long weekend to visit a friend and stay with her family. *The reason I say hopefully is because there’s still some doubt on my passport situation. The thing is, I entered Argentina on October 16th for the last time, so the 90 day stamp in my U.S. passport has long since expired. But the reason I never left again or got the stamp extended is because my dual citizenship allows me to stay in the country as long as I want. That’s part of the reason I went to the Registro Civil 13 times to apply for my DNI.

However, because the bureaucracy is so bad and I have to wait so long for the document to arrive, all I have to prove that it’s being processed is a piece of paper. There’s a fine for overstaying the limit in a passport, roughly $300 pesos last I heard. I’m hoping that if they tell me I need to pay the fine to leave the country, my Argentine papers will suffice. However, this also raises questions, because they might tell me that since I’m Argentine and have no DNI, I can’t leave. I need to hope that things work out and I get a sympathetic customs agent. Otherwise I’ve wasted a lot of money on airfare.

Aside from that potential from disaster, if I do successfully cross the border, this will re-up my passport, allowing me to possibly take a weekend trip to Uruguay in the summer. Once I land in Santiago my friend Nicole is going to meet me at the airport, and from there she supposedly has some surprises lined up. I know that we’ll be spending one day in Chilean Wine Country, drinking wine and enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been to Santiago before, when I visited my friends from back home for the Christmas/New Years’ Eve holiday time in 2008-2009.

I might not be able to give updates from the road because I’m mostly trying to just disconnect and clear my head for a few days. But once I’m back I’ll do some writing on how the trip went.