Santiago Chile 2
Easter Island Chile
Santiago Chile 3
Puerto Montt Chile
Puerto Chacabuco Chile
Punta Arenas Chile
Puerto Natales Chile
Punta Arenas Chile
Puerto Williams Chile
Buenos Aires Argentina
Puerto Iguazu Argentina
Ciudad Bolivar Venezuela
Puerto Ordaz Venezuela
Cayenne French Guiana
Pointa A Pitre Guadaloupe
Back Home in California
Hello from Santiago Chile,
I see it has been two weeks since I last recorded progress on my odyssey. Somewhere along the way in rewriting this postcard the code got corrupted and sentences garbled. Several rewrites later this version seems O.K. Frequent readers of my journals know these records often arrive long after the exciting dramas have ended. So too is this one a bit tardy and with my cheery apologies. After all, 'tis the season to be jolly, right?
8 December 2005: La Paz - At the last minute I did decide to shift over to the more convenient cheap $18.75 Hotel Latino across the street from the bus terminal in La Paz. Catching the 07:00 bus for Arica Chile made more sense from the closer location. The eight hour ride through surreal desert landscapes made the trip memorable. Long stretches of highway presented natural sculpture gardens of red sandstone. The weird formations must have been created by powerful blasts of sand whipped into a frenzy by furious winds... with the guiding hands of an extraordinarily gifted artist. Some of the creations could have been inspirations for Pablo Picasso's work and might easily qualify for inclusion in the collections of most modern art museums.
Interspersed with the stone carvings were large expanses of strange bright green moss-like plants that covered the rounded surfaces of large flat stones. Here and there small clumps of naturally charcoal black plants gave the appearance of usually green growths having been put to the torch. Mile upon mile of open range with no signs of civilization hosted numerous mixed herds of wild Vicuna, Llamas, and Alpacas. I especially liked the Vicunas with their long delicate necks and fluffy chest fur.
19- December 2005: Santiago Chile. The two hour flight arrived about noon and a waiting airbus rushed us to within a few blocks of the Plaza de Armas. As soon as I found the underrated three star $48 Pan-American Hotel I stopped my search for a first nighter. I had hoped to be in Easter Island for Christmas, but the LAN Chile Airline could only confirm a flight out to the islands on 31 December, though I am wait-listed on a flight the 24th. So, don't be surprised if you receive a "Merry Christmas from Easter Island" greeting in a few days.
Santiago is not a bad place to kill time and to spend Christmas day, if it comes to that. Santiago has the most highly developed shopping districts of any country in the world. The city is wall to wall pedestrian malls lined with extravagant shopping galleries. The ground floors of most commercial buildings for several blocks around the central Plaza de Armas are shopping malls themselves and the street exit of one mall meets the entrance to a mall across the street. So it seems like an endless complex of shopping centers interconnected by the extensive grid of pedestrian walks, themselves lined with stores. Most of the stores seem to be selling what is available in other similar stores, so it is hard to see why there are so many of them... except that there are an awful lot of people here. Of course, this is the week before Christmas and things should calm down a bit next week. People in this part of the world take Christmas shopping very seriously. The crowds are enormous, filling every nook and cranny. People anxious to find those remaining few gifts at the last minute push their way through other groups of shoppers equally anxious to reach some special destination. When I return from the islands after the first of the year I wonder if I'll find January sales like we have in America.
Unlike other major South American cities, I don't see any new construction in progress; every inch of the existing central business district has already been developed to its fullest. Fifteen years ago on a previous visit to this same section of the city I remember enjoying the impromptu bundle vendors who lined the single four block long pedestrian mall. Like a linear swap meet, the vendors all had their own special technique for "disappearing" the minute anyone sounded the alarm that a police/military sweep had started. No one ever got caught; the uniforms formed a line the full width of the mall and slowly marched from one end to another. The vendors gathered their bundles and faded into the side streets barely ahead of the oncoming tide of law enforcers. Seconds after the law had passed the vendors returned to instantly redisplay their goods. Every evening the same performance repeated itself several times without variation. No one appeared the least perturbed by the perfunctory show of lackadaisical enforcement. Today so many shops offer so many products, the sprinkling of sidewalk vendors is easy to overlook, especially with so many rushing shoppers bumping into one another.
Christmas day in Chile, where ever I am will be much like any other for me, except quieter and less hectic... after all everyone else will have finished their shopping and retired to enjoy family and food. Holiday food here includes the traditional Pan de Pascua, a kind of local fruit cake and Cola de Mono, meaning monkey's tail. It is a unique 14% alcoholic beverage a bit like our eggnog. My little hotel refrigerator still contains portions of both. If I don't make it to the islands for Christmas, I'll finish off the bottle of Cola de Mono the night before Christmas.
As I don't know when I'll next have a chance to write... or from where, I'll close this with a seasonal wish from Chile: Feliz Navidad y un Prospero Ano Nuevo (a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year).
More in a future postcard from the Easter Islands.
I returned to Santiago to make final arrangements to fly out to Easter Island. Returning to Santiago I chose the excellent $49 Tur Express Hotel conveniently located on the third floor of the Tur Bus terminal itself. Any other hotel presented the problem of arranging a transfer out to the airport. Tur Bus offers a choice of airport transfer options, one of which leaves from the main terminal. So, spending the night here means it is only a few steps to the place where a bus leaves every fifteen minutes for the airport. The hotel has two Internet terminals in the lobby with few guests tying them up like I do. On 31 December I caught the flight for Rapa Nui where the story started at the beginning of this postcard.
But, I get ahead of my story. You will recall in the last postcard I waited in Santiago hoping to make the day before Christmas flight to the island.
24-26 December Santiago Chile.
'Twas the day before Christmas and all through the skies, airplanes to Easter Island were all just big lies. To be honest, the chances of getting a stand-by seat on the Christmas Eve Saturday flight were slim, but I continued to hope right up to the last minute. Once the reality became clear, I determined to make the best of the situation and searched for someplace great to spend Christmas day. The $210 five star boutique hotel, Park Plaza had a stuffy receptionist who quickly softened as I went through my tale of abandonment. A brochure on her desk advertised a special day before Christmas seafood buffet at $15 and an exquisite Christmas night banquet for $20. Quietly she suggested I check the hotel's website where special deals sometimes were offered. I did and found a "secret" weekend rate of $75. That did it. If I must be marooned on the mainland, silk sheets and fancy food should help dull the boredom. When I returned Friday morning the three day reservation I had made at their website got me VIP treatment for the next three nights surrounding Christmas day.