Friday, November 20, 2009
South America Day 2: In Which Nothing Much Happens Either
It was pretty cool watching the plane try to find a flat place to land in Santiago. If your South American geography is as shaky as mine was, check out this relief map (Thanks, Wikimedia Commons). Chile's the long skinny one down the left hand side, and Santiago is tucked in a nice valley between the coastal range and the Andes (the high mountains on the right). What that means is that the pilot needed a certain precision and...panache...to get us landed properly.
Inside the airport, we stood in line for a long time waiting to pay our $130 Reciprocity Fee. Apparently we charge Chileans $130 to get a visa for the US, so they charge us the same amount to enter their country. Then we went through Customs, where I had to declare a Snickers bar as an "agricultural product". (I could sort of understand this, since there are actual peanuts in there. If it had been a Twinkie, I think I'd have felt I was perjuring myself.)
Outside the airport, we caught a glimpse of the Andes
on our way to the bus that took us to our hotel, where we were held captive in a ballroom without luggage or a meal for the next six hours as our room keys trickled in at glacial speeds. We gradually figured out what happened:
The Santiago Airport had apparently been victim of a wildcat air traffic controller strike that morning. I guess I feel grateful they came out to land our plane! Of course, this meant that no flights were leaving Santiago this morning; therefore, none of last night's guests were willing to leave their comfy hotel rooms until the last possible second; therefore Housekeeping couldn't get into the rooms until after noon; therefore, we couldn't check into our rooms for a much needed NAP until - well, it ended up being around 2 PM.
To his credit, Eduardo (our GCT Program Director) arranged for coffee, tea, juice, and some little trays of cookies to give our caffeine levels and blood sugar a boost and stave off actual physical violence. Dad just zoned out, and I had my book and my knitting so I was OK. I also wandered the ballroom and located a couple of other knitters with whom I exchanged shop talk.
Part of the problem, as well, is that this group is just enormous. I thought Egypt was bad with four buses worth of vacationers, and China was great at just one bus-worth. But this is the first time in years that Grand Circle has done ocean cruises, and I guess they just kept selling tickets as long as people kept buying them. There are about 200 in this group, and there's just Eduardo with a couple of assistants on the other end. This was not his favorite day, I think - he got chewed out a lot.
When we got our room at 2, I fell unconscious on the bed. Poor Dad was stuck awake waiting for our luggage that had the alarm clock in it, since he was afraid if he fell asleep we'd miss the briefing and Orientation Walk at 4:30. Note to self: next time, the alarm clock goes in the carry on bags!
Dad skipped the Orientation Walk, but I went on it and made mental notes while Piedad, our guide, showed us useful locations nearby: a currency exchange (actually in the same building as the hotel, couldn't be more convenient), an ATM, a little grocery store that sells bottled water for cheap, a good sandwich shop, the subway. Our hotel (the Crowne Plaza Santiago) is in a great location.
Right after this we boarded a fleet of buses, crossed over the Mapucho River
and drove to a restaurant halfway up San Cristobal Hill, a huge hill overlooking Santiago. (There's a 22-meter-tall statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on top of this hill, which just tickles my little Catholic soul. You can see it from all over the city. View gorgeous photo panoramas here!) We ate a tasty meal of salmon, I think, pâté, curried soup, and a millefiore cake of phyllo dough layered with orange syrup (yum - but oh so sweet! Apparently South Americans have an even worse sweet tooth that we do.) While we ate, we were serenaded by a mariachi duo:
After dinner, we were given some time to wander around the hilltop admiring the local flora
and the view over the city.
I also got in trouble wandering too high on the hill; a staff member shooed me down, saying "No es seguro!" I actually understood he was saying it wasn't safe.
We went over to the grocery store after they brought us back to the hotel, to pick up bottled water. It's Friday night, and guys were in the store buying baskets full of wine and other booze; it seemed pretty cheap if I understood the currency conversion. Dad and I didn't need alcohol to fall right asleep, though!