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questions of place & home

Posts tagged ‘Santiago de Chile’

Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, Morande, Region Metropolitana, Santiago, Chile, fotoeins.com

Fotoeins Friday: Dungarees vs. Suits (Santiago de Chile)

20 October 2006.

Shortly after moving to La Serena, Chile, I headed back to the capital city of Santiago for a few days. After visiting the Cultural Centre at La Moneda, I stepped out to the streets and turned the corner to witness the afternoon traffic on its primary east-west axis, Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’ Higgins. I saw a skateboarder heading towards me and not far was a man in a black suit standing to the side. My intuition leapt, and I quickly lifted my point-and-shoot camera. The gap in economic class continues not only in Chile but throughout South America.

I made the photo with the Canon Powershot A510 on 20 October 2006. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-95n. The following excerpt from “WKRP in Cincinnati” parodies the struggle between “suits” and “non-suits”.

Taxi in Chile, image by GatoOH on Wikipedia, CC3 license

How I spent $400 USD for a taxi in Chile

Imagine a cold foggy day in early-June, which is close to the end of fall here in the southern hemisphere. In the southeastern Pacific region along the Chilean coastline on which the town of La Serena lies, a wave of moist air can descend quickly from the ocean to sit snugly over town as a thick white puffy blanket.

On Friday, June 6, 2008, I was on my way from La Serena, Chile to a week-long meeting in Cambridge, England. I awoke on that Friday morning, puzzled by the unusually “dark” morning light. I pushed the drapes aside, and I was in a world of trouble.

I opened the front door and stepped outside onto the front porch – the fog was so thick I couldn’t see beyond about 10 metres (30 feet). I knew no airplanes would either land at or depart from La Serena airport in the thick grey soup, because at the time, the airport operated only under visual flight rules (VFR).

I asked around for possible options: taking a bus, driving a rental car to Santiago airport, or getting a taxi. The fog wasn’t budging by noon, and I made my decision. Instead of heading out to the airport in time for the scheduled early-afternoon flight, I asked a friend to drive me to the town’s bus station.

Throughout the country, long-distance transportation by bus is relatively inexpensive, is used by many, and works well. Although there are rail carriages carrying coal or other minerals, there are no longer any passenger train service between Santiago and the northern reaches of the country. Travel from La Serena to Santiago means plane, car, or bus.

I arrived at the La Serena bus station at about 1215pm. Through fault only of my own, this turned out to be about 15 minutes too late, because I had waited until the last possible minute to leave for the bus station.

I went around to the booths for various bus companies, asking when the next bus would leave La Serena to Santiago. Unfortunately, buses were leaving at either 130pm or 145pm, which was too late. Depending on the traffic on the Panamerican highway and through the outer suburbs of the capital region, the bus typically takes 6 to 7 hours to the terminus in downtown Santiago. With my flight from Santiago leaving at about 9pm, the math didn’t add right for me; I didn’t have enough time to go cross-town from downtown to the airport in time for check-in.

I was in a quandary, because I needed to catch my departing flight that evening from Santiago. The distance between La Serena and Santiago is about 475 kilometres on the highway. What to do, what to do … and I walked out the front-entrance of the bus station, considering my options.

Three vacant taxis were parked in front, their drivers in conversation. I then asked in broken-Spanish: “Excuse me, how much is a fare to the airport in Santiago?”

You know that moment when time slows down and you can see an individual leaf fluttering in a tree, or the up and down flap of a bird passing by. There’s also the moment where you can clearly see the thought bubbles go up over people’s heads, the words within the bubbles which are roughly translated as: “!!!”

In real time, only a few seconds had passed. One of the three gentlemen answered: “200 thousand mille (pesos)”, which at the time was about 400 US dollars. Without hesitation, I replied: “Great, let’s go!”

You know that moment when time slows down and … I can see the gears turning in their heads, and the bubbles in their heads suddenly popped, as they were clearly surprised that I’d been “silly enough” to take one of them up on their offer to drive me the 400 kilometres to Santiago.

At 1245pm, I stepped into one of the taxis, and we soon made our way south on the Panamerican highway. I offered to pay half of the fare up-front, and the other half upon arrival in Santiago. I have to admit that for about a minute I thought I was going to get robbed, and then dumped out of the taxi in the middle of nowhere.

About an hour south, the fog cleared, and it was crystal clear on the highway. Through most of the drive, I occasionally looked out the window to see if there was a plane with LAN-colours flying overhead on its way from La Serena to Santiago.

The taxi-ride itself was uneventful, I sat in the backseat, looked out at the scenery, dozed here and there, but I didn’t converse much with the driver. However, he received two interesting calls on his mobile in the first couple of hours.

I think his wife called first, because I imagined the first conversation to have gone something like this:

“Hi, honey … yeah, I’m not going to be home later tonight … yeah, I’m taking a gringo to Santiago … I’m taking him to the airport there … yeah, he’s paying me 200 thousand mille, can you believe it? … I’ll be okay … I’ll drive back tomorrow … love you …”

I think his drinking buddies called next, as I imagined the translation of the subsequent conversation to have gone something like this:

“Hey there … yeah, I can’t go out for a beer tonight … I’m taking a gringo to Santiago airport … yeah, the fog really messed things up … the guy’s paying me 200 thousand mille, can you believe it? … yeah, I know I’m buying a few rounds when we’re out for a beer … I’ll be back tomorrow night … yeah, talk to you later.”

I’ve taken the bus many times before, but the signage all state a maximum speed-limit of 100 kilometres per hour for buses on the highway, but the taxi’s crushing that limit in the middle stretches of the highway. From previous visits, I’m familiar with the scenery, the beautiful coast-hugging highway, weaving around the cliffs, saying hello to the waves crashing against the rocks from the Pacific.

Apart from a short break to tap a kidney, I stepped out of the taxi at the departures level of Santiago airport at 545pm – not bad for a brisk 5-hour taxi-ride. I hope the guy got back home to his wife okay, and bought many rounds for his buddies.

After check-in and clearing both passport-control and security, I walked into the American Airlines lounge, and connected the laptop to the internet. One of my colleagues was logged onto Skype, and I had to ask, I had to know : did the fog ever clear over La Serena?

She replied: no, still thick as ever, nothing got through the thick grey soup.

For the first time in hours, I exhaled a deep sigh of relief. Finally, I was on my way.

This really did happen on 6 June 2008 and I forked over 400 American dollars for a 5-hour 475-kilometre taxi ride. The top (featured) photo is from Wikipedia with the CC3 license. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-as.

Pluna Airlines from Chile to Brazil, via Uruguay

With a planned trip in the next few months to visit a friend in southeastern Brazil, I’d initially priced some fares with LAN and TAM.

Of course, I remembered that LAN and TAM are planning to operate under the same merged and umbrella organization (re. LatAm Airlines Group), which means they each have in effect a monopoly or, at least, a serious stranglehold on many of the routes within Chile, within Brazil, and direct non-stops between the two countries. For the fares I sought, prices reached $1000USD with taxes, which is essentially equivalent to a significant amount of a fare to either Europe or Australia. Ouch.

For a couple of days it was difficult to get around this, and I was having difficulty thinking about the alternatives.

Fortunately, I spoke with my friend and work-colleague from Brazil, and they reminded me of smaller airlines, namely Azul and Pluna, flying in and out of Brazil, and offering lower fares.

Pluna (*) Airlines is based in Montevideo, Uruguay, and it makes sense to fly from Santiago to Montevideo in order to reach southeastern Brazil. Sure enough, the fares I now found were half as much as they would be on TAM. Moreover, the total travel time between Santiago and southeastern Brazil would not be significantly different with either TAM or Pluna.

According to their website, Pluna uses the Bombardier CRJ900 series of planes, which look pretty sweet. It’s too bad, however, I’ve been unable to find the seat-pitch or seat-width numbers for Pluna. I’m still looking forward to seeing how good the ride is in the newer RJs.

(*) thanks to Wikipedia, PLUNA is a Spanish acronym for “Primeras Líneas Uruguayas de Navegación Aérea”.

HL, 2300h GMT, 20 May 2011.

Initially published on Posterous, this post has moved and now appears on Fotoeins Fotopress (fotoeins.com).

SFO International Terminal, Wikipedia by user Coolcaesar, CC3 license, fotoeins.com

10600 km and 47 consecutive hours of travel, door-to-door

A trip from North America to Chile typically takes 24 to 30 hours door-to-door, depending upon connections at a hub airport. The following is a tale of 47 hours of travel from San Francisco, California to La Serena, Chile.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1030h PST (GMT-8), East Bay : BART from El Cerrito Plaza to SFO.  There’s a lot to like about BART rapid-transit, especially when the train goes through the tunnel beyond San Bruno and comes out onto a thin cement viaduct which appears to hang gingerly over US-101/Bayshore Freeway.

1230h PST, SFO (San Francisco Airport) : plane is late; scheduled departure delayed by 30 min.  It’s raining and the ceiling or cloud-deck is low over San Francisco airport – no big surprise there.

1400h PST, SFO : after some problems which had nothing to do with the plane itself, flight leaves 45 min late.  No problem; I’ve a scheduled 2.5-hour layover in Dallas.

1600h PST, in the air over eastern California : plane descends below cruising altitude, we’re told we’ve got a problem with cabin pressure, and we’re landing in Las Vegas.  No oxygen masks were deployed, and everybody was calm and breathing normally.

1645h MST (GMT-8), LAS (Las Vegas McCarran Airport) : Checkmark one – plane lands safely at Las Vegas airport.  The pilot explains there was slow pressure leakage, but they couldn’t localize the origin; for safety reasons, the pilot decided to descend and land.  All pax are asked to leave the plane, as firemen/safety crew board the plane.  Checkmark two – we get to leave the plane, and everyone’s in the terminal.

1730h MST, LAS : I call American Airlines’ call center to find out if there are other options, but since I checked luggage, the agent advises best to stay put and see what happens.  Besides, the daily AA945 DFW to SCL flight, which usually leaves at 9pm from Dallas and I thought I was going to miss, has been delayed by 11 hours to 8am the following morning.   Someone comments that it’s a holiday weekend in the U.S. about which I had completely forgotten.  Swell.

1930h MST, LAS : after a couple of hours of increasingly cautious optimism, we’ve the green light to fly onto DFW. We’re asked to board the plane “quickly”, as the present crew is about to reach their time-limit.

2030h MST, somewhere between Arizona and Texas : … zzzzz …

2330h CST (GMT-6), DFW (Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport) : plane lands at Dallas Fort-Worth airport.  Pax are given hotel/meal vouchers, and the weary folks pile into shuttles, and pour out into the lobby of the Ramada (DFW North).  Oh look, there’s a Denny’s, but I’m too tired to even think about chicken-fried steak and a milkshake. I’ll be up at 0530h to catch the 0615h morning shuttle back to DFW to see if I can catch my delayed morning-flight to SCL …

Friday, January 14

0630h CST, DFW : Time to check in.  The nice agent says my DFW-SCL portion was canceled when I called American Airlines call center from Las Vegas last night.  Yikes.  “No worry”, she says.  She calls a couple of people to get the proper seating codes, and she calmly types away, trying to insert my two final flight segments ‘back’ into the itinerary.  After about 15 minutes, there’s an “aha!” from her side of the counter, and I sigh with relief.

0830h CST, DFW : Flight AA945 is on its way to Santiago de Chile.  It’s just another step forward, even if the “step” is 7800 kilometres in distance. Completely uneventful flight, and zzzzz …

2015h CLST (GMT-3), SCL (Santiago airport) : Usually, flight AA945 is an overnight flight which arrives in Santiago after sunrise. The 11.5-hour delay has flipped the script. With a beautiful orange-hue to the early-evening summer sky, the plane lands safely in Santiago airport. Border control is a breeze (with my Chilean work visa), and my luggage is already on the carousel. So far, so good. My work-colleague P was also on the Dallas-Santiago flight, and thanks to his vastly superior Spanish, we try to get the attention of an AA agent to see if we can get our hotel/meal vouchers, because there’s no way we’re flying to La Serena tonight.  An agent tells us his colleague will be on their way shortly.  We head on over to the AA counter near the luggage carousels.  Another agent comes by about 15 minutes later, and asks us to wait in the terminal land-side, outside customs control.  Customs is a breeze, because I declared my one jar of strawberry jam : no granola, seeds, or turtle-shells.  And then we wait, and we wait some more …

2145h CLST, SCL : The second AA agent finally appears with our hotel/meal/travel vouchers, and we find out we’re staying at the Sheraton San Cristobal on the southeastern flank of the hill at the edge of Bellavista in Santiago.  We get our shuttle-vouchers verified, and we get multiple slips of paper for our shuttles to and from the hotel.

2230h CLST, SCL : After the usual wait about what shuttle we’re taking and about how full our shuttle is going to be, our vehicle finally leaves the airport.  As there are three other pax in the shuttle, I tell P we’re probably going to be last.   I was so happy to be wrong as …

2250h CLST, Providencia, Santiago : … we’re dropped off first, and we arrive in the hotel to check-in.  I ask the gentleman at the hotel counter if we can use our meal voucher at one of the hotel restaurants. No, unfortunately, the restaurants are closing in 5 minutes, but the bar is available. OK, whatever : dump stuff in room, head to the bar, please give me a burger, fries, beer. Eat, drink, be merry … zzzzzz …

Saturday, January 15

1030h CLST, Providencia, Santiago : Up at 10am, pack what little I unpacked.  After check-out, I finally get to see how the hotel appears in daylight – not bad, very fancy – nice pool, too, and are … those … Argentinian/Brazilian pool-bunnies? Sadly, before I learn the answer to this very important question, the shuttle arrives to take me back to SCL airport.

1200h CLST, SCL : At Starbuck’s in the airport’s national terminal for their free WiFi, I’ve begun collecting notes to write this story of hilarity.

1400h CLST, LSC (La Serena Airport) : Flight LA312 arrives in LSC early. At the 47th hour of travel, I’m in the apartment at long last: unwrapping, unpacking. I head outside to my green front-lawn, looking up into that bright glowing ball high in the sky. The sky is clear and blue, there’s a slight breeze off the Pacific, and the air temperature on this summer afternoon is a very usable +22C/72F. With a beer in hand, I finally begin to unwind, over 48 hours after leaving my friends’ home in the East Bay.

Less than 24 hours later, I’m on a shuttle up to Cerro Pachon. The mountain is at an elevation of 2800 metres (9000 feet) in the lower Andes, and I’m at the telescope to begin my nighttime duty-function shift for a number of nights. Them’s the breaks, and time to get right back to work, and tackle the 500+ messages in my work mailbox …

LAN plane on tarmac, LSC airport, fotoeins.com

This post was originally posted 17 January 2011, and appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-T.

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