Vern: We waited another day in Mendoza but when the Argentina/Chile border was still closed we reluctantly decided to fly. We found some discounted tickets, paíd for them in a supermarket because of an odd payment system and hopped over the Andes on a one hour up-down flight. The worst part of flying was that Americans are charged a $140 reciprocity fee when entering Chile by plane. So Andrea had avoided this fee on the four other times when we had entered Chile by bus, but now on our fifth time, with only two days to go before the flight she got stung with this charge. Not for lack of trying to avoid it - Andrea blamed the border closure on them, explained that our stay was so short that it was similar to being in transit and even turned on the waterworks but they wouldn't have it and because they demanded payment in US dollars only and not in local currency she was escorted across the airport and to Baggage Claim to come and collect the debit card which I was carrying and then was frog-marched back again. She actually had US dollars on her, but said she didn't as another tactic not to pay and then was in too deep and couldn't pull them out so had to fetch me for the card. Finally with the fee paid, we navigated the public transport and made it to our Couchsurfer friend, Estefania's house. Estefania's family epitomize the friendliness of Chileans and her mum, Lidia had made a big pot of a typical bean and sausage pasta with squash sauce which we scoffed down while trading stories about what had happened since we last stayed with the family before we flew to the Galapagos.
Juan, Lidia, Estefania, little Isidora and their minature Yorkshire terrier Facundo (which is probably the cutest - and most portable - dog I have ever played with) made us feel right at home. The next day Estefania insisted that we experience a little more of Santiago than Lidia's cooking and took us to a posh mall in Vespucio Norte with all the top international stores. It had been a very long time since we'd been in a mall and we felt quite strange. We bought a big bottle of Chilean wine and stayed in watching a movie - 'Burlesque' - and chomping snacks. On our last day, after homemade completos (delicious over-stuffed hotdogs) we headed for the airport but first swung by a custom frozen yogurt place where you choose two frozen fruits which get blended up with yogurt into dessert heaven. And then sadly it was time to say goodbye. To Estefania and family, to Santiago and to South America. We flew out late on the 19th of August and were to arrive 13 hours later in Auckland, New Zealand on the 21st of August. Oddly because we were crossing the international date line we would never live Saturday 20th August 2011. Andrea, our diligent accountant, saw this as a stroke of good luck for our budget - $60 dollars is allocated for every day and since it was impossible for us to spend any money on the 20th, that's a 60-buck surplus. Yippee!