Friday, 7 March 2014

South American Adventure - Day Sixteen, Friday 7th March 2014

We woke up this morning overlooking the Straits of Megallan – not a bad view – and the sun was shining!  The day started off with a bonus – the hotel had an egg station, and the chef was from New Zealand, so it was easy to convey what sort of omelette we wanted.  There was a bit of controversy over what time we were being picked up – our flight was at 10.40am, and when we arrived last night the hotel gave us a printed itinerary which said the transfer to the airport would be at 8.15am.  The guy that checked us in said that the transfer would be at 9.00am.  Hmm – what time do we go for?  The airport was about half an hour away, so for the two hour check in 8.15am would be about right.  He insisted that 9.00am was the up to date time, so we plumped for 9.00am.  At 9.00am on the dot the transfer arrived!  Phew.

We made our way to the airport.  On the way, there was a  replica of the ship that Ferdinand Magellan sailed over to Chile on when he discovered the water channel that was ultimately named after him.  It looked surprisingly like the Golden Hind – same era I suppose.  When we arrived at the airport, the queue for LAN was nearly out of the door.  No problemo, said the guide, and then scuttled off!  Up to us then!  An American couple behind us was on the same flight, so hopefully they wouldn’t go without both of us.  There were self service check in machines that we were supposed to have used if we hadn’t checked in online.  I tried – it was all in Spanish – and it didn’t like my name, my passport number or my booking reference.  Just hope I don’t get to the front of the queue then have to go back and try it again. 

The check in man was very helpful and checked us in – and didn’t notice the excess luggage kilos.  We have a connecting flight in Santiago – 35 minutes from landing from Punta Arenas to taking off for Calama.  Once we had given the luggage in, he asked me to sign for the baggage.  Never had to do that before.  Was this a sign that this was going to be the last we saw of it? Hope not! There was a later flight, but what is the point if the earlier one is sold as a connecting ticket?  He assured us that there would be no problem at all – I believed him!  We had time for a quick coffee (the second worst that Paul has ever had!) before we realised that the flight was delayed.  This is the first flight that has been delayed, and the only one that we really needed to take off on time.  Delayed for 35 minutes would you believe.  I saw the same check in man, so decided to see if he could change the flight now.  No problem he was still saying – it will arrive at 2.20pm.  How?  He is going to put his foot down!  OK – so the next flight takes off at 2.45pm.  We have now gone down to 25 minutes connection.

The flight actually takes off at 11.25am.  Que sera sera – whatever will be will be.  Nothing I can do about it now, so no point in speculating.  This flight is really full.  I have a very nice young man sitting between me and Paul who speaks a little English.  Quite pleasant.  We take off and the scenery soon changes from the green spaces to hills and mountains.  We leave the coastal waters behind, and head north for three hours to Santiago.  Paul takes his ticket to the air crew, and tells them to hold the plane – we will run!  They say no problem!  I have never had a plane that takes so long to disembark passengers.  Everyone seems to be taking their time, getting their bags down from the overhead lockers, putting their jackets on etc etc.  One person out every ten seconds or so.

Eventually it is our turn, and we run up the ramp.  The first chap we ask sends us in the wrong direction, but I notice the gate number on the overhead screens.  Backwards, down the escalator and along to gate number 30.  Some foreign gibberish comes our way when they scan the boarding cards, and we are the last on the bus to get to the aircraft, and they shut the doors and start reversing before we have hardly chance to put the seat belts on.  This was not a full flight, but someone else was sitting in our seats.  We are then shown to two empty rows, so we get three seats each.  The bonus of being last on!  Not sure about the luggage though.  Did they have it marked up for a short connection?  I don’t think so.  Oh well – have to see when we get there.

The flight was just under two hours.  The scenery now had really changed.  We had flown up the spine of South America with some good views of the Andes.  Now we were in the desert region, with nothing but sand for miles and miles.  I could see an airport below, but it had lots of construction vehicles all around.  As we landed, I could see steam rollers seeming to be laying out a runway.  The terminal building was nothing but a shell.  It was like the holiday in the Carry On movie that they rolled up to that had a half built hotel.  We walked off the plane, through a walkway made of red and white plastic shields, past all the workman knocking and painting, and past the back end of the luggage carousel.  The first lot had come off the plane – ours wasn’t on the trolley that I could see.  I was confident that if it wasn’t first off it didn’t make it.  We walked around to the front of the carousel and waited – I couldn’t help but think this was a futile exercise.  It was!  We were the last people standing, watching an empty carousel chug around.

We went to one official that didn’t speak any English.  I saw the Explora driver waiting for us – and he spoke English.  Good.  He could translate for us.  The first time ever I have arrived and the bags haven’t.  Could be a good few days in the hot desert, trekking, with jeans and shoes on.  I had the baggage receipts, so thought they would be scanned and the computer would tell them whereabouts the bags were.  No.  Had to fill in a form, and tell them what was in the case.  I am sure it will be on the next flight.  But still had to fill in the form.  I got a copy, and they said they would let me know when and if it turned up.  I could see the look on Paul’s face – he had already asked me why I booked such a short connection.  Why exactly?  Wish I hadn’t now.

We set off for the one and a quarter hour car journey to the Explora Hotel.  The landscape was amazing.  We went over mountains, past desert, past rock formations that looked as if we were on the moon and a huge volcano.  Wow.  What varying scenery we have had on this trip.  Just out of nowhere, we turned off the road and was transported into a little town that looked as if it had come straight out of a spaghetti western.  The little houses looked as if they were made of mud.  I expected Clint Eastwood to come around the corner at any time!  We turned into the hotel, and drove around the stables and onto a little courtyard at the front.  We were met and taken in to get the keys to the room – it looked like the High Chapparal (for those old enough to remember it).  The rooms were very authentic, and looked like we were staying on the ranch in the TV programme.  We had a wander, and found a beautiful pool.  I took a picture of an enormous caterpillar – but it turned out to be a bean.  I could have sworn I saw it move!

We then had a “presentation” of the hotel and all the excursions that are on offer.  It actually boiled down to only a couple for tomorrow, as the others were all booked.  Bit like Centre Parcs – you have to be first in the queue to get the ones you want.  JP – where are you?  There were a couple of nice ones – so as long as the bags arrive with our trekking boots we will be OK.  If not – massage and pool I think!

Dinner was very good.  The restaurant was lovely, and the food good.  The unfortunate thing about this hotel is that it follows Awasi – and that is never going to be easy.  I think it is going to take several years to get anything that comes up to the standard I feel!  But, the bags arrived at about 10pm, so full steam ahead.

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