Santiago, Day Two

We started our second day in Santiago by congratulating ourselves on our wise decision to take it easy on day one. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for a pair of weary travelers.

First on our list was La Chascona, one of the three homes of Pablo Neruda. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is. I certainly didn’t, and this is the second time I’ve been in Santiago. Not only was he a Nobel prize winning poet, but he was also a politician, and a very quirky collector. What did he collect, you ask? Well, clearly houses, given that he had three of them, all kinds of art, books, knickknacks and women. I’ll let you read about the women and all the steamy stuff on your own. I’m doing this post on an iPhone so have to stick with the essentials, because I am so high minded.

La Chascona is now a very well run museum, complete with a short, but very informative video about Neruda’s life. You also get one of those “press the button” audio guides, which explains what you are seeing as you move from room to room. What makes this house so fascinating is it was built according to Neruda’s specifications and it is multi level.. Big deal, you might be thinking. LOTS of houses are multi level. Yes, but do you have to go outside to get from one level to the next?

No ranch style living for THIS aging Chilean!

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but I was able to get this shot of the dining room from outside. The table is very narrow, to facilitate conversation and extends almost the entire length of the room.

What I loved most about the dining room is something I unfortunately couldn’t photograph—the back wall. The left side was occupied by a hutch containing china and crystal. what looked like paneling on the right was actually a door to a secret passageway, with a spiral staircase leading to Neruda’s bedroom. The treads on the staircase were so small, I was afraid by very tall, very big footed husband wouldn’t be able to climb it, but he did. For him, the outside staircases were far easier to navigate.

See, I wasn’t kidding about multiple levels!

La Chascona is close to Cerra San Cristóbal, so even though we fully expected it to be a tourist trap (thank you, Esther, for the warning)it made sense for it to be our next stop. We rode the funicular to a viewing area for a look at the HUGE metropolitan area of Santiago. I knew the city was big, but didn’t know HOW big till then.

At the summit is an enormous statue of Mary. It appeared some sort of religious service was taking place there, so we climbed the 6o steps (yes, I counted) to ride the cable car. Although you get even more views of the city, to me it wasn’t worth waiting in line. And yes, the hill IS a bit of a tourist trap, although most of the tourists appeared to be South American.

On our return trip, I noticed a couple of clearly North American ladies in our funicular car. What are the odds, that among all the thousands of visitors to Cerra San Cristóbal, those two random strangers we encountered would be two of the other five travelers on our OAT trip? A quick question got us the answer. It was 100%. They too had come in a day early, and had been touring via the Hop on Hop Off bus.

Returning to the hotel, we met the remaining three OAT travelers who had arrived at the normal start date. Our guide took us on a short walking tour, which ended at Chile’s “ground zero”, the Plaza de Armas, where the Spaniards initially settled. At one corner of the square is a statue of the Moche’s leader, Caupolicán,

and diagonally across is Pedro de Valdivia, the Spanish conquistador.

Isabel Allende’s wonderful book “Inés of My Soul”, gives a historically accurate, but fictionalized account of the founding of Chile, as told by Inés Suárez, the only known female conquistador, and mistress of de Valdivia. It is well worth reading.

Our day ended with a fabulous welcome dinner at Casa Lastarria. We were the only patrons because we were dining at the ridiculously early hour of 7 PM, to make it easy to get up for our 6:45 AM departure for Easter Island.

Pisco Sours for all!

And if all goes well, my photos will upload.

Santiago, Chile

Expect to find these words carved on my tombstone: “She never passed up the opportunity to use a clean bathroom”. Good thing, because it took us two and a half hours to get our butts off the plane, thru Santiago airport and into a taxi. The airport’s long lines would have been even more of a challenge with a full bladder.

One reason it took so long was the computers at passport control went down for 30 minutes. Can you imagine what the crowd would be like if that happened in a NY airport? But here, everyone chilled. No groans, cursing or eye rolls. Free Wi-Fi helped. It gave everyone an opportunity to check in with friends and family.

Was this a regular occurrence? We will soon find out, because over the next six days we will be experiencing Santiago airport three more times: back and forth to Easter Island and to Buenos Aires.

Another reason for the long lines is Chile seriousness about not allowing agricultural products into the country. If the dogs don’t get you, the scanning equipment will, so there were no nuts or granola bars in OUR luggage.

We followed our tour guide’s instructions, paying for our taxi inside the airport. 20,000 pesos sounds like a lot, but it is only about $30, and they accept credit cards, so I didn’t need to stop at the ATM to the right of immigration, but I did anyway.

Although we don’t usually stay at Crowne Plaza Hotels, I signed up for their loyalty program when I made our on line reservation. Not only do loyalty members get free Wi-Fi, they also can request early check in. By the time we arrived at 10 AM, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that our room was ready.

A less pleasant surprise was how very tired we were. Or maybe we are just having to acknowledge that we no longer have the stamina that we did in our younger days. Back in “the day”, we would have ignored our weariness and started checking things off our (actually MY) list. Instead, our goals for day 1 are: eat, walk a bit, rest, get acclimated to the new time zone. That was ONE To-Do list we completely accomplished!

By 1 PM, we were so hungry that we ended up having pizza and beer at La Junta, a bar with outside tables. I tell you the name so that if you are ever in Santiago, you will avoid it. The only problem with outside dining—that’s where all the smokers hang out. We ate inside.

Yeah, it was every bit as bad as it looks.

Thanks to the OAT Forum and Trip Advisor, we fared MUCH better for dinner. Both recommended Boca Nariz, a wine bar offering tapas and entrees.

If you don’t have the time or the energy to tour a Chilean vineyard, this is a great alternative. Here, you can choose from a wide variety of wine flights. We opted for wines from the Pacific coast and were pleased with our choice.

Although it looks empty, that appearance is deceiving. Those empty tables are reserved. If you plan to visit, it is wise to make a reservation. We lucked out. Initially the hostess seated us at the only available table, one designed for munchkins. Poor Mike looked like he was at an elementary school parents’ night, sitting at his kid’s desk. The hostess took note and moved us to the big kid’s table as soon as one opened up.

Once again, my blogging is lagging behind our experiences. More about Santiago next time we encounter cooperative Wi-Fi

WAY South of the Border

So far, our South American adventure is off to a great start. We had been worried that our government would  shut down again,  resulting in TSA being under staffed and flights being cancelled. Once THAT got resolved, we turned our attention to the next potential spoiler, the weather.  

It was hard to believe that yesterday we had a snowstorm bad enough to cause flight cancellations, given that by today’s  2 PM pickup, the roads were clear and dry. Surprisingly there was very little traffic, so  we were at JFK, checked in and through security by 3:30. Pretty amazing.  Right now, we are feeling pretty lucky, especially because OAT was able to get us amazingly inexpensive business class tickets—much cheaper than we could have gotten on our own. I feel like we won the lottery!

My family will not be surprised to learn that despite my lists and careful planning, I forgot something. Not an essential item, like my passport, or credit cards or camera or Mike. Nope. I forgot my iPad. So much for my plan to run down the battery on one device while charging the other. But considering what COULD have gone wrong, this is a minor hiccup. Just be prepared for lots of typos, (or at least more than usual) as I peck out my blog on my iPhone.

We will be in Santiago by 7 AM tomorrow, a day ahead of our OAT tour group.  We built in that extra day because of the aforementioned weather worry, but also because it gives us time to adjust to the 2 hour time difference (Chile is ahead of us, so our bodies will think it is 5 AM when we land) and to get over that disoriented feeling that always accompanies an overnight flight.

It is not immediately obvious from the map above how great the distances are between the places we will

be visiting. Easter Island is 2,300 miles from Santiago, which translates into a 5 hour flight.

From El Calafate to Buenos Aires is 1,300 air miles, roughly the same distance as Boston to Miami. And, like someone whose vacation plans include an extended period in Boston, followed by an equally lengthy time in Miami, we needed to pack for the two climate extremes. We managed to jam everything in—at least I THINK we did. Of course, I also thought I packed my iPad, so we’ll see.

View from the lounge

Our plane is here, so time to sign off. See ya in Chile!