Friday, May 18, 2012

Seven Down, One to Go

UPDATE: Now with pictures, thanks to free wifi at the Punta Arenas Airport.

I have now officially visited seven of eight continents. The only one I'm missing is Antarctica - if I were visiting the Falklands in the summer, then I'd knock that one out on this trip, too. However, as it is currently too cold to undertake the passage to Antarctica, I'll have to make another trip. Oh, darn.

I left El Paso Thursday afternoon, beginning my epic journey. Surprisingly, my bag full of technology and my winter attire did not faze the TSA…but they did have to pat down my head. That's the last time I travel with pins in my hair. While waiting for my flight to Dallas, I noticed that the departure sign did not say "Dallas - Fort Worth," "DFW," or any of the more common phrases. Instead, it said "Dallas -FTW," leaving me asking "is Dallas really for the win?" I think not. That flight was short and decently comfortable as my neighbors managed to engage me in conversation about air travel and A Song of Ice and Fire.  At DFW, the boards were not showing the correct time or number for my flight to Santiago, so I had a moment of panic before confirming at the gate that my flight would proceed as planned.

And so began the longest leg of my trip. I lucked out big time. The plane had seats grouped in 2/4/2 and I had a window (as usual). My neighbor abandoned his aisle seat for an empty row before we even took off, giving me an extra seat to stretch out on. Wrapped in my dorky purple coat, using my furry hat as a pillow, I fell asleep in no time. I woke up around 4am in time to see morning arrive over the Pacific Ocean.  Based on this flight, though, American Airlines seems pretty junky. We spent almost ten hours in the air, but our seats didn't have the personal screens I've come to expect from lengthy international flights. There was a space on the back of each seat where a screen would fit perfectly, but nothing was there but upholstery. 
See what I mean? The screen should be right there!
Flying in over the mountains was incredible and a thick layer of fog covered the city as we descended. Waiting in line at immigration and customs always makes me wish for my diplomatic passport. Back in the day, all I had to do was flash that black cover and walk on by.
Morning in South America.
I made a mistake after customs. I needed to find a place to check my bags for the day, so I shot out of the secure area and past the mob of chauffeurs and gypsy cabs. Unfortunately, one of the more persistent ones followed me about 20 feet out of the crowd, when it became obvious that I had no idea where I was going. He actually proved rather helpful as he led me to the baggage storage and translated for the attendant and I. Free of my backpack and suitcase, I went to change some money. I generally do not change money at airports, but I knew I'd need it to get into the city, the rate was decent, and I'd rather change once at an OK rate, then keep changing money all day. I almost evaded the eager taxi-man as I left the exchange office, but he caught up to me. Before I knew it, I had agreed to pay 25,000 pesos for a ride to the funicular station in a private taxi. Oops. My brain caught up with me in the backseat of the car as I plotted fleeing the vehicle at a stoplight if I smelled anything fishy. When I arrived safely at the Funicular station I paid the driver 20,000 pesos. This was still almost double what the trip was worth, but he didn't have the English to argue with me and I didn't have the guts to pay him any less. However, I did not tip airport taxi-man for ripping me off.

I think my boots are even more out of place in Santiago than in Texas. Then again, my Spanish is nonexistent and I'm only here for a day, so I've given up my usual struggle not to look like a tourist. The purple dork coat definitely doesn't help, but after I took it off I was apparently convincing enough to be yammered at in Spanish a couple of times. Santiago, surprisingly enough, reminded me strongly of Eastern Europe…but with friendlier people, who were very forgiving of my Spanish throughout the day. It really doesn't help that when my brain is in foreign language mode it goes automatically to Russian. I caught myself saying "да" more than once.  I do know some basic Spanish words, but not the basics I would want to get around (I swear, in Russian you could manage with just можно, сколько, где, and a few pleasantries). In fact, the only full sentence I know in Spanish is "mi pantalones en fuego por Jesus" - not really a useful phrase when navigating a new city, if ever.

I arrived at the funicular station 15 minutes before it opened, perfect timing for me to catch my breath and the second tram up to the top of Cerro San Christobel. I opted not to stop at the zoo (though it was recommended several times), but took in the incredible panoramic views of the city and mountain.  The funicular itself is a rickety old thing running on a track that looks like it was carved into an old stone staircase. As I was waiting to board a large group of American adolescents arrived at the station. They looked like middle-schoolers and they just kept shouting in English. One of them was even wearing a Tony Romo jersey. Was I that annoying as an adolescent in foreign countries?
Santiago from above.
I climbed further up the mountain to the giant statue of the Virgin Mary and the Sanctuario of the Immaculate Conception. After all, what is a trip to South America without enormous religious statuary? I also took some time to peruse my guidebook and plan my next move. I had already decided that I wanted to visit the Plaza de Arms, but wasn't sure how to get there. Somehow I came to the conclusion that I hadn't done enough climbing and set off on foot. Almost immediately, I was hopelessly lost, but I enjoyed my stroll through winding streets near the university and even came upon an art class meeting al fresco. Further wanderings found a couple of metro stations, but brought me no closer to the Plaza. Eventually, I gave up, studied the map, and descended into the nearest station. I must have looked so pathetic as a tried to buy a ticket. The lady at the counter almost immediately said "ticket" holding one up to show me. I handed her my pesos, ashamed that I couldn't manage even this simple transaction. The route involved two train changes, but I made it to the plaza! It was lovely, but very crowded with people, dogs, and pigeons.
Can Giant Virgin Mary see her son in Rio?
After orienting myself, I found the National Museum of History and set off. Again, I turned into a three-legged kitten as a very well-dressed security guard greeted me in Spanish, then explained to me in English that the museum had free admission today. I still have no idea why. The main exhibition tells the story of Chile's history using a wonderful collection of artifacts. I only wish I'd been able to read the text accompanying them. A smaller gallery housed an exhibition of 19th artwork depicting Santiago and other places in Chile. These pieces were really wonderful, but again I wished there was some kind of supplementary guide in English.

Sitting back out at the Plaza, it was 1:10 pm and I was pooped. My legs were so exhausted that I couldn't stand still without them shaking. Nothing else in my guidebook really grabbed me, so I just wandered around the area for a while. Finally, I resolved that I was ready to go back to the airport and embarked on a mission to find one of the buses that offers affordable transport between the city and the airport. I ended up at the central train station. I didn't find the buses, but I did find a рынок, which only added to the feeling that I was in Eastern Europe. Realizing that I had walked all the way to the next metro stop in search of the elusive bus, I gave up and hailed a cab. A REAL cab this time. He had a meter and everything. The trip back to the airport cost less than 10,000 pesos. Damn, I really did get ripped off this morning.

At the airport, I retrieved my luggage with a plan in mind. I would check in for my flight, clear security, then splurge for the VIP lounge to enjoy wifi, food, and a shower. Like most of my plans in Santiago, this one didn't exactly come together either. After repeating about a dozen times that my flight left tomorrow, the girl at the check-in desk informed me that she couldn't accept my suitcase until 6 hours prior to departure. Girl, if my flight leaves at 1:45 am, I don't have a hotel room, and I don't get to sleep, then for all intents and purposes my flight leaves tonight.  Seeing as how I couldn't check my bag until 7:45 pm, I now had almost 5 hours to kill pre-security in the Santiago airport. Delightful. After a brief transformation into my alter-ego, Madame du Cranky Pants, I grabbed some food and took a nap outside domestic departures. Better-rested, fed, and changed into a clean shirt, I feel much better. Still no wifi, though.

Today I travelled on 5 different forms of transportation: airplane, taxi, funicular, foot, and metro. Doesn't break my mom's record*, but still respectable.

8pm: Through security, but still hunting for Wifi. I'm so early that my flight isn't even on the board yet, but there's a Starbucks with a wireless network. Maybe if I order something, they'll give me the password. How do you say "tall raspberry chai" in Spanish?


*My mom set the transportation record during out 2008 trip to Istanbul, when she managed to get us on 7 different forms of transportation in one day: tram, foot, taxi, ferry, funicular, metro, and trolley.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you are having an amazing adventure so far! ... and I shouldn't be surprised that there's a Starbucks in the Santiago airport, nope. Think of me in Seattle?