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Punta Arenas is not Antarctica

Punta Arenas, Chile

It's so disappointing to wake up somewhere other than Antarctica.
But, at least we got to sleep in a bit.
We checked out of the hotel and went to find something to do in Punta Arenas. The town seems to be a jumping off point for trips- Antarctica, Patagonia, cargo. But it doesn't have much in town for tourists to do.
We started at the tourist-trap handicraft markets. One is located in a market building that also sells fresh seafood. So, you can buy your alpaca-fur-wool woven goods while inhaling a *wonderful* fishy aroma.Market


They actually sell lots of interesting items. Plenty of the stuff for sale was standard plastic souvenirs probably made in China, but a lot were actually nice things made in Chile. One vendor had homemade soaps. Another did wood artistry. Most had alpaca wool items. I love the sweater patterns they made!
From the handicraft center, we went on a walk through the town. We saw some signs that pointed to a viewpoint, so we headed that way, taking in the town on the way. I actually liked how wide and open the streets were. Some had nice long green park areas in the middle. We walked along one with a bunch of statues. Just like everywhere else in Chile, this town has real street art. I enjoy it.Street Art

Street Art

I also enjoy the cool-looking flowers here. My mom says that they're Lupines.Lupines


Eventually, we arrived at the viewpoint. Unsurprisingly, it had a nice view of the whole city and the ocean beyond. Well, as nice of a view as you can have. After the views we had yesterday, this was a bit of a letdown. Like many other areas, the fence here was full of locks, presumably left by couples who wanted to leave their mark. Most were regular-sized padlocks. But one was some sort of huge industrial lock. Maybe it's the kind used on large ships?City View

City View

We continued walking the town until we saw an interesting "restaurant and emporium" for lunch. The food was ok. THe highlight for me was trying a local soda- Bilz. It basically tastes like sweet cough syrup with bubbles. I liked it.
And that was it. We went back to the hotel to get our stuff and get to the airport waaay too early. This time though, we had a high level of confidence that our flight would take off and land in the right place ;)

Posted by spsadventures 11:52 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Almost Antarctica

Punta Arenas, Chile

They didn't wake us in the middle of the night to say we had to go early. In fact, at the morning briefing, they told us our flight would be at 3pm instead of 1pm. That gave us the morning to explore.
We walked along the sea in the opposite direction as yesterday. The buildings here are also covered in murals, although unlike Valparaiso, they are not brightly colored. The are mostly scenes from everyday life by the sea.Street Art

Street Art

We passed a monument and a closed tourist information booth before arriving at our prize- the dinosaur playground. When we left the hotel, we were wondering why the flight had been delayed as the weather looked gorgeous. There was no sign of anything inclement anywhere. By the time we got to the dino playground, we understood why. The sky had darkened considerably and it was obviously going to rain shortly. They needed a 6-hour window of clear weather in order to get the planes across the Drake Passage and back, and we were not in such a window.Dino Playground

Dino Playground

We headed back to the hotel, hoping to beat the storm.
We didn't.
About a quarter of the way back, I felt droplets. About halfway back, the hail poured down, soaking me through all my many clothing layers. I arrived back at the hotel drenched and spent the next hour or so rotating my clothes and shoes on the radiator and drying them with a hair dryer.
It took a while, but everything was dry by the time we had to check out and go to lunch. Rainy


Lunch wasn't stellar. Pretty much everything was meat or white carbs, and some items were not worth eating, including much of the dessert. I would expect a bit more out of a hotel of this caliber.
We left our bags that aren't coming to Antarctica in a special storage room. Everything else got loaded onto a bus to the airport. We went through a normal check-in process, normal airport security, and waited in a normal sewting area. Except that everybody matched in their bright yellow Quark jackets. While waiting, they delayed our flight again by an hour, so now we were scheduled to leave at 4.
We hung out at the airport.At the Airport

At the Airport

Luckily, there were no more delays and we walked out to the small plane on time. The plane seats 96 passengers, but they only fill it part way (to about 70) so that there is lots of extra room and unused capacity. It's safer, but also more comfortable for us to not be packed in like sardines. To be fair, even if it was full, it would still be more comfortable than most flights as the legroom was more comperable to "premium" seats on a regular plane.Boarding


They served us another meal not appropriate for vegetarians- even the salad and yogurt had animals in it.
Then came the real kicker- the weather had changed and it was not safe to land in Antarctica. An hour and a half into our 2 hour flight, the pilot turned the plane around and we headed back to Puntas Arenas.
We landed, unloaded, and waited for info. The weather wasn't good for tonight, so we went back to the hotel. We all had rooms because since the plane couldn't get out to the boat, the people who have already been on the boat for a week can't get back.
Tomorrow, we try again. They expect a noon flight, but will let us know if things change.
This is certainly an adventure.

Posted by spsadventures 02:48 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas, Chile

5 am is a less-than-ideal flight departure time, but that's what we had. The airport was surprisingly active for this abhorrent hour.
Most of us slept the whole way to Punta Arenas. The cruise company (Quark) picked us up from the airport and drove us to the hotel.
We passed a bunch of small settlements with matching cookie-cutter houses before getting to town. This seems to be a very active shipping town, as most of the businesses we passes on the way were cargo or sea-related. The hotel we're staying at, Dreams, is the biggest building in town, and easy to see from anywhere.
View from the Hotel

View from the Hotel

We grabbed a quick breakfast here, and then tried to check in, but the rooms weren't ready. some of us went out on the town to see what they could before the rain started, and some of us went to donate some money to the casino.
The casino is quite a process. First, you have to get a ticket to get in. If you're staying at the hotel, that means getting something from the front desk to get in for free. Otherwise, you pay an entrance fee at a machine. Then, you have to go get registered to get a card. You fill out a form, show your passport, and several long minuter later, you have a card pre-loaded with your entry fee of 3500 Chilean Pesos (a couple of dollars).
Then, you have to take your card over to a machine and set the PIN. You can also load additional money. Only then can you finally start playing.
At noon, none of the roulette or card tables were opened. We were only able to lose our money to the slots.
After losing our free money quicker than we would have liked, we proceeded to fall asleep on the lobby couches by the check-in counter. Some rooms were available early, and the front desk worker came up to us to offer them, possibly just to get us off the couches.
The rooms are huge and fancy. One entire wall is made of windows, so we have a great view of the town, but it also means that we heard the wind the whole time. The windows constantly creaked and moaned to the poor weather outside. The other side of the sleeping area also had a huge window- looking right into the bathroom. Like the Asian hotels I recently stayed in, you have to lower a curtain to prevent people from watching you shower or on the potty. I have no idea who came up with this fad, but I hope it stops.
Today's program is simple- we get our new supplies and pass weigh-in and then have a briefing and group dinner in the evening.
We got our boots and jackets without issue. Then, we went to the desk for weigh-in. There is a very strict weight limit for tomorrow's flight, and they make sure that every single bag is going to be ok. I was concerned about one of my carry-ons, but it turns out we were well under the limit. Also, if people had used their outer gear elsewhere, the guys needed to check and clean it to make sure that it wouldn't bring foreign contaminants into Antarctica.
After weigh-in, we had more rest time at the hotel, admiring the rainy, windy, cold weather from the warmth of our nice hotel room. When it cleared up a bit, we went for a brief walk by the sea and touched whatever ocean is here.Punta Arenas Ocean

Punta Arenas Ocean

It is so far south here, that 6pm is as bright as 3pm is at home. Even at 8:30, I could have been easily convinced it was 3.
Our group briefing informed us of the plans for the trip as well as safety procedures. Summary:
The weather in Antarctica is unpredictable and controls everything. Be prepared for anything and be flexible.
Don't do stupid stuff and listen to the guides.

We had a nice group dinner, packed, and went to bed. The plan was to leave at 10 tomorrow, but they told us that if the weather changes, we might end up getting a call in the middle of the night to come down and go.

Posted by spsadventures 04:49 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Classic Valparaiso

Valparaiso, Chile

Our guide picked us up just before 9 and we headed to the coast. On the way, she pointed out one valley as the "food valley" (where much of Santiago's produce comes from) and another as the "wine valley".
In the wine valley, we saw non-stop wineries. Every billboard advertised one and every exit had a sign for at least one. We briefly stopped at one that had a store with free tasting, but no sort of educational tour. One of the wines in the free tasting was Chicha- a traditional one. It is golden-colored and cloudy, not clear. I'm told that the cloudiness comes from the yeast, which also give it a very tangy taste.Winery


Late morning, we arrived in Valparaiso. Today is market day, so the main road was filled with produce stands and flea-market blankets. The produce was gorgeous, but also huuuuge. Some of the cabbages were significantly bigger than a basketball. Some of the corn was thicker than biceps. We even saw celery stalks that were over half a meter long with a base wider than my palm.Veggies


In the flea-market area, they had typical items- used clothing, electronics, household goods. Each set their wares out on their blanket for display an waited for an interested passer-by.Flea Market

Flea Market

We also stopped by a market that was in the market house. It was similar to the one we saw yesterday, but it wasn't as fancied-up and it lacked restaurants.
From there, we headed down to Plaza Sotomayor, one of the main plazas in town. Several important buildings lined the square, but one side was open so that a monument was the only thing blocking full view of the sea. The monument remembered some national heroes that died at sea during a battle.Statue


The piers were on the other side of the monument. We had a great view of the sea activity. This is a very active cargo port and I was able to watch some ships loading and unloading their containers. Seaport


We got on a small ship for our boat ride. The captain took us around the bay and did a great job of explaining what we saw. He seemed to know intimate details about every other ship in port- how much cargo this one held, who owned that one, or where another took their fish. Some of the ships were military ships and he explained who used them for what. He also told us a bit about the city.
We had such a great view of the city from the bay. It rises up the mountains like an amphitheatre, so you can see all of the brightly-colored neighborhoods, important churches, and famous houses.
When we got off the boat, we got to walk amongst the city and the brightly-colored houses.

First, we took a historic cable-car through the lower part of the city to get to one of the funiculars. The cable car system is very much like the system in San Francisco, but the cars themselves remind me more of the Soviet-era cars like they have in Prague, and some other European cities. They're relatively "modern" and yet old. Cable Car

Cable Car

Next, we took one of the funiculars up. As mentioned, the city rises from the sea. Some areas are very steep, so the city installed "ascensores" to bring people between levels. They're not quite elevators, in that they ride a track, but they're much steeper than normal funiculars. The ones we rode were also more along the height of a building elevator than a funicular. They are windowed so that you get a nice view of the city out the window. In our case, we got to see a special cemetery. They've been declared a UNESCO world heritage site, and some are maintained properly as such. Others have fallen into disuse or disrepair.Ascensor


The houses and businesses in the old neighborhoods we walked through were all covered in street art or otherwise brightly painted. I guess people figured out that tourists would pay a loot of money to come see and stay in these art-covered buildings and also that graffiti artists wouldn't graffiti over the murals. Our guide also pointed out as we walked past the first buildings that had been built in the neighborhoods. Pretty much the whole historic area has been converted into boutique hotels and restaurants, so we were able to go into one of these historic buildings and check it out.
It is currently a boutique hotel that keeps the old-style maintained. The ceilings are very tall in the typical Spanish-colonial style, and the floors are gorgeously tiled. The furniture and area rugs are very clearly antique. The hotel feels like a museum, except that you are allowed to touch and use this one.
Street Art

Street Art

We continued walking through the neighborhoods and admiring the open-air art gallery that is the walls of the city. In a few streets, artists set up stations where they both made and sold goods. One girl had her pliers out and was making jewelry right in the street. Another guy was painting, and I even saw someone with a small bracelet-sized loom.
We descended a different funicular than we rode up, but it was similar enough.
Now, we finally had lunch! We ate chorillana at a bar called Mastodon. This is apparently where the locals go to eat, and what the locals eat there. Some of us tasted the beers, and the rest of us filled up on a massive quantity of food. We were split into 2 booths, and each received one huge plate. Chorillana is sort of "loaded fries." Chorillana


Our pile of fries was topped with egg, onion, and melted cheese. The other table had the same, plus beef. Despite three hungry mouths at each table, no table got near finishing their bohemoth. I thought it was delicious, especially with a squirt of the hot sauce from the bottle on the table, but it was just too much. I came away from there feeling as if I didn't need to eat anything for the next 3 days.
But of course, we all still had dinner at the hotel. It took a while to get back, and we all nappped in the car. Then, we met up with the two last missing members of our party and caught up on family gossip. Around 8, our tummies finally were willing to accept more food.
The restaurant was nice and the food was good, but I didn't really need to eat so much of it after that huge lunch. I can recommend the pumpkin soup though.
We went to bed a bit too late considering our flight is at 5am, but by staying at the airport hotel, at least we know there won't be traffic on the way and we won't have to worry about a late ride.

Posted by spsadventures 11:29 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Santiago again

Santiago, Chile

Today, my family got here!!!
We packed up our things to go move to their hotel by the airport. As we walked to the bus, we got stopped by a surprise parade. Carabineros (police) on horses and with instruments paraded past playing a marching tune.Parade


The hotel we moved to is very nice. It also costs 10 times as much per night as the air bnb we were staying in. But, for people who are arriving and leaving in the middle of the night, it's perfect as it's right at the airport- no car needed.
After happy greetings, we took a cab downtown. For the 6 of us, it was 30000 pesos. I think we might have been able to negociate that down, but it was the price we got from multiple people and we had to take a van instead of a regular car, so it made sense to us that it was a little (bu not so much) more than what a regular cab was supposed to be.
As we walked around the Plaza de Armas, I regurgitated some of the info I remembered from the city tour. I was able to remember why all the Spanish cities had one (so that in the case of attack, the citizens knew where to go for protection and arms). And I was able to remember what the guide recommended.
One of his recommendations was to go into the pre-Columbian art museum. I recommend it as well. It's not only about Chile, it also covers up to Mexico, but it was very interesting and educational. I got a real feel for the various cultures, their art, practices, and even dances.Museum Piece

Museum Piece

Next, we stopped at Rapido, the empanada place beind the museum that the guide said has the best empanadas in Chile. I believe him. The dough was fluffy. The cheese was perfectly gooey. And the pico de gallo was just the right blend of flavorful and spicy hot.
Now that we had put something in our bellies, we walked over to the Mercado Central. It used to be the building containing the marketplace where locals picked up all of their food. People still shop here, but much of the produce is across the river at the other market. This one is more for fish. Also, a lot of the market has been converted into restaurants for tourists. The guide recommended not eating here, but eating at the restaurants outside the market as the prices were half as much as inside, and the seafood is just as fresh.Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I mentioned the river. The river is a brown trickle of loose sludge that flows through town. Clearly, based on the rocky bottom, the river is very low right now and must be higher at other times of year. It might even be nice to look at during those times. However, right now, the river is ugly. Instead of walking next to the river as we followed its path through town, we walked through the Forestal park. This park runs next to the river for a good portion of downtown, and took us past the Fine Arts building to the Bellavista neighborhood.Dog Playing in Park

Dog Playing in Park

The plan was to take the funicular up the mountain, but it was closed for maintenance. Instead, we took the "substitute bus" which wound up the mountain and brought us to the top.
Although some of us had already seen the view of the city, the newer-comers hadn't yet. They really enjoyed looking out and getting their first glimpse of what was below.
The bus took a different route down the mountain, giving them a chance to see a slightly different part of the city, and then dropped us back in Bellavista, close to the park entrance, but even closer to the craft fair there. Craft Fair

Craft Fair

The artists sell a wide variety of goods from handmade jewelry and tchotchkes to leather boots and woven clothing. We didn't buy anything, but it was interesting to look.
We ate dinner in the area as well. The restaurants are clearly set up for tourists since they have English menus, but the food was good, so I'm not complaining. Most of our party got seafood. One had the very traditional "pobre style steak," which meant that it had fried eggs and caramelized onions with it. I shared an interesting tomato-olive-sesame/peanut sauce salad, a regular salad, and some delicious gnocchi in a sweet creamy cheese sauce. I'm not sure how traditional it was, but it was tasty.
Costanera Center

Costanera Center

Our last stop for the evening was the Costanera Center- the tallest building in South America. It didn't seem that tall after being at Taipei 101 so recently. It's about half the size. But it was interesting in the the top level you can get to has an open top. You can see the sky and feel a bit of openness. And of course you get a fabulous view from the top. View from Costanera Tower

View from Costanera Tower

The base of the tower is a mall. Since it had a grocery store, we picked up a few things for breakfast for tomorrow. Conveniently, the mall also has a taxi stand in the basement, so we were able to get a six-seater back to the airport.

Posted by spsadventures 03:06 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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