It was time to leave Bogota and head for Santiago. We only have 8 days before we fly out to New Zealand for a short stop over and then on to Jakarta, Indonesia. It was an early start. Don't you just hate a 5.15am alarm? I should have got used to it in the job.
We took a taxi to the airport. It was like being driven by Jensen Button with his eyes shut. Warp 9 Mr Sulu. I was cringing in the back. Our driver on the other hand clearly enjoyed it. When we got out he had a big smile and patted me on the back when I paid him. Gracias amigo he said and jumped back in his car and sped off to the next unsuspecting fare.
We had booked the flight via Expedia. Things to know about air travel in South America. If you stay inside a country it's quite reasonable. If you cross borders it's expensive. We had opted for LAN as they are a continent wide company. We headed for check in (bear in mind we have not had a cup of tea yet). We joined the queue and were soon approached by a LAN lady. Nope, not a clue what she was saying. Fortunately another lady helped and said we needed to pay a departure tax. We needed to go to desk 19.
Off we went to join another queue. Once at the front we were told we didn't have to pay the tax. The lady stamped our passport and gave us a slip of paper.
Have you ever stood at check in and wondered why you can do it in two minutes and some people take forever? Usually the people immediately before me.
Our turn came and we duly went to the desk. Passports were handed over and all was going well. Then the check in lady started trying to explain something in Spanish. Fortunately the chap in the next queue spoke English. He explained that what she was saying was that we had paid the departure tax in our ticket price but we were exempt. We needed to write to Expedia and ask for a refund. To help us she was going to photocopy our passports and give us some paperwork. Off she went. I can only assume the photocopier was in another building. We are now those people who are holding up the queue and looking sheepish. It must have been 15 minutes before she came back.
After the usual security stuff we went in search of a cuppa. We sat down in the coffee shop and waited. Eventually the waiter came to take our order. Uno cafe negro y uno te un aqua por favour. No aqua caliente was the reply. What? I'm in a coffee shop in the countries international airport and it doesn't have hot water. Agghhhhh. Fortunately the next cafe did. Phew.
After that all went well. We were soon on board. It was a 3 seat block and our travelling companion was a young Aussie from Melbourne. My kind of guy. After a breakfast of a muffin and coffee he asks for a scotch and coke. Nope, not on this flight. He is a little peeved. In fairness he is running on adrenalin having not slept for some time.
Anyway we are no sooner up than down. It's only a 3 hour flight. Lima airport. We've been here before. Sometimes luck is on your side. I still had 30 Peruvian Soles in my wallet. Guess how much two pints of beer is at Lima airport? Correctomundo. All is now right with the world.
We are soon on the next flight to Santiago. It's 3.5 hours. Another stingy meal but at least we got a glass of red with it. The flight has in flight movies. Well it does for the other 198 people on board. My system doesn't work. Oh well staring out the window can be fun.
On landing we grab a cab from the airport. It's a bit over priced but a nice car driven by someone who can't possibly be from South America. We decided to rent a small apartment in Santiago. We wanted a breather and some home comforts before we headed to Asia. You know what it's like when you are headed to a hotel. You see some right s*** holes and hope it's not your hotel. This was like that. Fortunately when we pulled up outside the tower block it looked ok. Inside there was a concierge. Cool.
We showed him our slip and he said 'Oh Marcelo'. A few minutes later and Marcelo arrived. It seems he rents out quite a few flats in the building. He was a nice chap and we were soon sat in the flat on the 18th floor having everything explained to us. Included in the briefing was what to do in an earthquake. Chile has loads. As many as 1 a month. Basically the building is sound but it helps if you open the front door.
The apartment is excellent. Really well furnished and in a great location. A real little home from home.
Ok a bit about Santiago. The city was founded in 1541 by the Spanish. A third of the population of Chile lives there. That's about 5.5 million people. The Mapocho river runs through it, right opposite our flat in fact. The city is bordered by a dozen mountain peaks nearly all over 6000 metres. On a clear day it is a spectacular back drop.
We've taken the opportunity here to do some normal things. We've been to the supermarket etc. Cooking every night has been a real change from trawling round restaurants which all offer the same menu.
Santiago feels very safe. There are plenty of Police around and we've not seen any issues. The city is a real mix of styles. High rise buildings like New York edge against shopping areas that look like Croydon. Other areas are like older parts of London. There are the usual grand plazas.
Things to note. Museums etc charge for entry except on Sundays. Then they all shut on Mondays. We managed to get round a few on Sunday. The centre is pretty easy to get around. It has a good bus system and a modern metro. Interestingly the metro trains run on tyres not rails.
Today we took a trip to Valparaiso. It was a short metro ride then a coach for two hours.This used to be the biggest port but has now been replaced by San Antonio. It's an odd place. Sea side it's a big port with a huge container depot. It's also a big naval base. The city centre is on the shoreline and all the residential areas are on the hillsides overlooking it. Valparaiso or Valpo as it's known locally is yet another UNESCO world heritage site. The streets above the city have brightly coloured properties. Locals use the Ascensores to get up and down the steep streets. These are small funicular railways linking the shoreline city with the hillside residential areas. They are really like two garden sheds on a meccano rail track. To be honest they don't look overly safe but they've been working for a long time so who knows. We had a go. The city also has a system of Pullman trams running around it.
We've had a lovely time in Santiago. It sounds crazy but after 6 months of travelling we needed a break. We have one more day then it's off to Auckland, New Zealand for a few days before we start phase 2 in the Far East.