Monday, December 18, 2006

La Paz to Santiago and Beyond...

Day started early. Big breakfast (have to take advantage of what Rosario is known for!), then to the airport. I checked in, glancing at my ticket and realising with horror that I'm in L class, i.e. ECONOMY!! Only because the plane is an all-economy plane. Little to be done. Worse, the woman can't check my luggage through, so my backpack is coming out in Santiago. Ah well, presumably I can calm down in the lounge as a OneWorld Sapphire? Wrong! There's only one lounge, it's an AA one, and as the only AA flight left two hours ago they've closed it! The horror! And no stamps because it's Sunday, so no postcards. Marvellous.

Sat next to a nice lady on the plane, a Chilean magistrate called Sandra. She talks to me in fast Spanish even though I obviously understand about 10% of what she says! The plane touches down in Iquique (donde?!) to pick up a few passengers, but for this we all have to alight, exit via Chilean immigration, admire the sand-dunes for 30 seconds, then go back through security and board again! Marvellous fun!

Finally arrive in Santiago, and I manage to check my backpack in for my flight that is about 9 hours later in the Preferential Check-in area. Saves me the cost and effort of a luggage store. Sandra offers to share a cab into town, and ends up paying, which is nice. I am dropped in the Providencia area. After a quick cappuccino, which from the surprisingly intense flavour I can only assume is the first good coffee I've had since Cafe Andino in Huaraz several weeks ago, I walk the wrong way for several blocks, then take the tube along to Baquedano, or Plaza Italia.

From the Plaza, I walk through the Bellavista area to a funicular railway which goes up to the top of Cerro San Cristobel hill, which has a huge statue of Mary at the top, gazing over the city.

[GPS: 33.42661S, 70.63338W] The views are great, but I don't linger, as it's a bit touristy.

The views of Santiago show it to be fairly flat, but surrounded by large hills, none of which appear to be snow-capped.

After several abortive attempts to find restaurants in my guide (I guess this is a sign of a city which is alive - fast turnover of eateries!), I pick somewhere off-guide (oooh how brave) called Patagonia (seemed appropriate).

The place was quite inside, but had a large area of seating on the pavement, which was full of locals chatting away enjoying the balmy evening.

After a few minutes, a table came free. The waitress advised I wrap my bag around a chair, presumably to avoid it getting snatched. Confidence booster, but to be honest I felt safe everywhere I visited in Santiago. The city is like a slightly less-vibrant Buenos Aires. The streets are wide, tree-lined, there are parks, but less cafes, less people, more closed up offices etc. Of course it's Sunday, so perhaps I'm being unkind. Still, I don't sense the energy of BA. I do notice that there are lots of people selling little walking-stick shaped red and white striped candies!

First strange thing - the beer I order gets poured into a white mug, i.e the sort of thing you'd enjoy a nice cup of tea in. I ask, and am told it's the Chilean way!

Then, when I switch to wine, this continues! I would feel like I was been played, but locals seemed to be doing the same thing. Strange. Reminded me of being a student, when any kind of receptor for liquid will do (just thinking back wandering whether I ever enjoyed a beer out of a saucepan. Perhaps not. However there was that time I tried cereal with water instead of milk. Never again!)

Food is good. I order what I think is a salami on crostini thing, it turns out to be ham and cheese toasty! Then beef with chips stacked up like jenga, veg and a salami sausage. Nice. Came to $11,200 plus tip. Ah yes, I should mention the way things are priced here. It's fairly shocking to arrive and find that internet access is $600 per hour. Takes some getting used to in remembering that $ = Peso not USD, and it's about 1,000 to the pound. The only mitigating factor is that like the Europeans, they use a "." not a "," as a thousand separator, so when you see $2,500, for a coffee and orange juice, it tends to be written $2.550, which doesn't get the heart racing quite so much.

Taxi to airport is $7,000, which the taxi driver seems very reluctant to accept (i.e. going that low), so after we chat about his family and his 20-day-old son, I end up giving him the 8 he wouldn't go below (originally) anyway. I'm such a sucker!

Santiago airport more like it. Preferential route through security avoiding big queues, and two LAN lounges, though for the period I'm hanging around for, I will have to cut over from one to the other. I hope they have someone to carry my bags for me, anything less won't do. Am sitting on wifi enjoying some Chilean red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) and salami. Flight's not for 4 hours! The sun sets...

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