#933034 by honey lamb
24 Feb 2017, 23:44

The Trip of Lost Seat Assignments, Part 2!

Our next flight was to Easter Island but before that how about a quick trip around Santiago?

Our hotel was in the centre of the city near St Lucia subway station. The area was busy and not really a tourist area but I enjoyed the bustle. Within walking distance was Barrio Lastarria, an area full of bars and restaurants and some of the nicest ice cream ever! We lunched there on our first day before joining a Tour for Tips walking tour of the area. If you read my TR of the flight to Santiago you will have seen that when I landed, my nose was running like a tap as was my left eye as I sneezed and snuffled with a head cold. By the time we joined the tour, my right eye was watering like mad, probably because of the heat as we hadn’t had time to become acclimatised. As a result I was finding it more comfortable to keep my eyes closed - not the best situation when you are walking through a city! I was really struggling with the tour and when we fetched up near the restaurant where we had had lunch, I decided to quit and made my way back to the hotel. However before I did so I learned about the quiltros. These are stray dogs which populate most of Chile. By the 1970s they had become a nuisance in terms of population and disease with many of them rabid. The government embarked on a programme of culling them but there was so much opposition to the extent that people were sheltering the dogs when they saw the dog-catcher coming that they modified it. Dogs were caught, neutered and treated for any disease (with the rabid and very sick ones being euthanised) and then returned to the areas in which they had been caught. Dog houses (akin to kennels) were located in various parks and at regular intervals water bowls and feeding bowls were established.
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Neighbourhoods took responsibility for feeding them or, if the dog was sick or injured arranging veterinary care. The dogs themselves were very docile and in fact in Valparaiso one threw himself down on his back in front of me to have his tummy tickled! I asked if there was a problem with dog poo and was told that they generally “performed” under bushes. I later saw this myself and indeed the streets were remarkably clean in this respect.

This was the view from our hotel
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and we decided on our second day to take the funicular up to the top of the San Cristobal hill. The queues were lengthy to get tickets for the funicular but we found out that there was a zoo halfway up the hill and many families were waiting to go there. We by-passed it and at the top found it was a place of semi-pilgrimage (for want of a better description). The summit was dominated by a statue of the Virgin Mary
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(which was floodlit at night) and there was an outdoor Mass chapel and a statue of Pope John Paul II who had visited there in 1987. In fact Chris spotted that the carriage in the funicular we had taken was the one in which he had travelled to the summit as there was a plaque there to that effect. There was also a chapel dedicated to the Motherhood of Mary with some beautiful stone carvings on the wall depicting her life.
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The whole of the summit area was a religious theme as there were also crosses decorated by local artists depicting various aspects of the death of Jesus but it wasn’t a place of pilgrimage like, for example, Lourdes. You could take from it what you wanted and certainly the views over the city were stunning.

We had lunch in one of the ubiquitous street cafes and, on passing a tourist office, booked ourselves on a tour to Valparaiso the following day. That evening we headed to the Plaza de Armas which is the main square in the city. En route we passed the Moneda Palace which is the seat of the President of Chile and on a corner near to it, the building where Salvador Allende made his final speech to the people of Chile at the time of the coup which brought to Pinochet to power, before shooting himself.
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The square itself was buzzing at 7.30pm with street theatre, dancing exhibitions (including one which looked suspiciously like English Morris Dancing) and street artists. We also passed the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. James and the Central Post Office as well as the seat of government which was used until the coup when it transferred to Valparaiso.

The next day we were picked up at the hotel by our tour bus and brought to a central location of the company which incongruously was situated in the middle of a residential suburb (and judging by the houses, rather an affluent one at that!) There were several buses and mini-buses there heading for different directions - to wineries, the mountains, a city tour and ours for Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. Our bus was full and included a sulky teenage girl who immediately reclined her seat and spent the time on her phone as well as three blowsy women long past the first flush of youth who spent most of the time posing for selfies with trout pouts! The bus was one with a toilet on board but the guide told us it was for pee-pees only and that if we wanted to do a number 2 we had to tell him! Yeah, right! Most of the passengers were Brazilian and with the rest from other South American countries but Chris was the only American and I the only European. It did not matter as the guide delivered his information in three languages and we never felt left out.

Halfway to Valparaiso we had a “pee-pee stop” (and presumably a number 2 stop) at a winery where there was (free) wine tasting. Another bus from a different company also turned up and we surmised that there had been negotiations between all the companies in the hope that we would stagger out laden with wine. Some people did but it wasn’t the best wine I had had and also I felt it was very expensive. I can get better Chilean wine much cheaper at my local supermarket! After that it was on to Vina del Mar, an affluent seaside town adjoining Valparaiso. It was full of lavish hotels, condos and homes but little enough character. We stopped at the beach so that we could dip our toes into the Pacific Ocean and the three ladies changed into swimsuits and took photos of themselves lying on the beach in provocative poses! The poor guide had difficulty in getting them to come back as we needed to be moving on. Our next stop was a floral clock which had been installed because of a G8 or G20 or some similar meeting which had failed to take place.
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There was also a casino in Vina del Mar but we didn’t visit.

After lunch we headed for Valparaiso itself which had been the major port in South America before the opening of the Panama Canal and was still important to South America. It is built on a series of hills and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our tour was to be on foot but although we were starting at sea level, the city has seven funiculars to bring you up to the top of the hills so we could work our way down. At one stage there had been 101 funiculars but with the advent of the car and taxis only about seven remain. The views from the top were great and some of the architecture was stunning but what was most noticeable were the colours of the buildings. This had stemmed from the time that Valparaiso had been a bustling port. Many ships, after crossing the Pacific or the Magellan Straits performed some maintenance work which included painting and once the ships had sailed, the workers in the port took the leftover paint to decorate their own homes.
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Also colourful was the street graffiti. It wasn’t political or racist statements but more pictorial.
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It is encouraged by the authorities provided that permission is sought beforehand. It was a lovely city and at the end, our guide told us he had brought us down two of the hills, Concepcion and, I think, Mirabel. There was a quick trip around the harbour where we saw frigates from the Chilean navy and sealions relaxing on buoys! On our return to Santiago we were welcomed back at the bus headquarters with a shot of pisco sour, the national drink. It’s a lemon based alcoholic drink and the best way I can describe the taste is that it’s like an alcoholic bitter lemon! After that we were deposited back to our hotels but not before we booked a trip to a winery the following day.

That night we went to Barrio Lastarria and entered a restaurant intending to order shrimp risotto which we had seen on the menu at the door. The wait staff told us that they had just got in some king crab and somehow managed to persuade us to order it. It was ma-hoo-sive! As was the bill! But it was gorgeous, although Chris did feel the after-effects the next day!

The winery tour was probably the most disappointing part of our trip. We were picked up as had happened the previous day and it transpired that there were only four of us - ourselves and two delightful Japanese girls who were studying in Brazil and had come to Chile for a break. They too were heading for Easter Island and we were to keep meeting them again and again! Like I said, the winery trip was disappointing. We had both been to wineries in America and Argentina but on this occasion we only went to the one winery and the wine was nothing special although the tour was informative enough.

OK, so now on to Easter Island.

When planning our trip I had begged for Easter Island to be included. I knew that the fare would probably be expensive but I decided it was going to be my x0th birthday present to myself. Apart from the statues, I was fascinated to be going to the most remote inhabited island in the world. So, one wet afternoon in July (and God knows we had many of them) Chris in Seattle and I in Ireland courtesy of whatsApp or Messenger embarked on a search together for fares. We had learned from previous experience that to use the Lan.com sites meant that the fares were going to be significantly higher and so we headed for the LanChile site which was in Spanish with no option to use any other language. So with the help of Chris’s High School Spanish, my knowledge of French and Latin and good old Google Translate we found flights on the days we wanted to travel and at a price that we were prepared to pay and given there is only one flight a day to Easter Island that in itself was some achievement. Even better, the outbound leg was in Business and when we checked the fares for other dates for comparison, the fares were still the same even though both legs were in Economy. We seemed to have hit the jackpot! Simultaneously we booked the flights for ourselves and when the confirmation came through we booked adjoining seats - 2A/C on the outbound and 19A/C on the inbound hoping that no-one would be in the middle seat on the return flight but if that happened one of us would sacrifice our seat. We were delighted with ourselves and really looked forward to the trip. Hotels were booked and the only fly in the ointment was that, although the hotel provided transport from the airport, there was no means of contacting them to arrange this. We decided to leave this until we got to Chile and indeed our hotel in Santiago did the needful.

The flight to Easter Island is five hours long and although it is a domestic flight, we were instructed to be at the airport no later than an hour and a half before the flight as it is treated as an international one. According to all our e-tickets, confirmation emails etc., our flight was due to go out at 9am so, having got up before dawn even cracked and forcing a quick bowl of cornflakes and a mug of coffee down ourselves, we presented ourselves at 6.15am to our pre-booked, pre-paid taxi who zipped us along to the airport within half an hour and so with two and a half hours to go we presented ourselves at check-in. Omigod! Anyone who has checked in at a west coast USA airport to Hawaii will know exactly what I mean when I say the number of boxes, cooler boxes and bags being checked in are over and above the norm checked in by the average American - and we all know that if they could carry on the kitchen sink, they would! I surmised - correctly -that for the most part it was their weekly/monthly shop! This meant that check-in was slow but there were plenty of desks open and the line was being managed well, although from time to time people had to repack bags because of weight issues. Oh, and there was no dedicated Business class check-in area! Finally it was our turn and we were checked in quickly and efficiently. We had asked about lounge access but were told that as this was essentially a domestic flight, it was not available. Ah well!

As we walked away from the check-in area we noticed something that we had not seen before. Our 9am flight was now scheduled to leave at 9.35am but no-one had told us that. We later learned that it was a complete schedule change. We hadn’t been informed. However we then noticed something more insidious! On our boarding passes the gate closing time was now 10.05am! We hadn’t been told that. There was obviously a delay! And then we noticed something else. Our seat assignments of 2A/C had not been honoured. Chris was in 2D and I was in 5H. Granted we were on separate PNRs and there was nothing to link us as people travelling together other than that we fetched up at the check-in desk together. As far as we were concerned it was a classic case of “Caveat emptor - buyer beware!” We should have checked before we left the desks. Feeling mightily disgruntled we decided to head through security as there was nothing pre-security other than a Dunkin’ Donut place. Once through security we tried to access our gate which was Gate 23 but the access to the gate was locked and between it and ourselves was a very tempting looking restaurant. In the main concourse the only thing available was a Starbucks and as we were feeling more than peckish we had no option but to join the line for the over-priced and distinctly uninteresting snacks on offer. The only redeeming feature at this stage was that the free wifi in the airport was good. Its only problem was that if you closed down your device, when restarting it wanted to show you a video. I quickly realised that if you clicked on Done, that was the end of it but Chris moaned about having “to watch this fecking video over and over again” until I told him he needn’t!! Shortly after that we realised the doors to the gate had opened and so we headed there.

At the gate area the monitor showed a departure time of 11am which confirmed our suspicions about a delay. We took our seats and in the fullness of time notices were rolled out for boarding procedures. For this flight there was a row for families with young children, the elderly and special assistance, one for priority boarding and two for rows 12-24 and 25-36. We all fell in to our respective lines (we choosing the priority boarding one) and a gate agent came around looking at our boarding passes and where necessary shunting people into different lines if it looked like they were queue-jumping. We were all straining like greyhounds on a leash when all of a sudden there was an announcement in Spanish which elicited a collective groan from the crowd. Departure had been pushed back till 11.40 because of a mechanical fault. Some people remained standing, others drifted off to find seats and others just sat on the floor where they had been standing in the queue. They had fought to get to near the top and they weren’t going to let it go. My phone beeped with an apology of a delay but we already knew that. Coming up to 11.40 the lines formed once more but minutes later there was another announcement which elicited an even greater groan than the first one and people began to disperse from the lines as the monitors showed a new boarding time of 1pm.. At this stage all seats were taken and many of them by small children and I railed inwardly about the number of times I was forced to give up my seat on a bus to an older person - especially when they were just coming off the beach in Blackpool and I had had a particularly hard day at school. How come I, at x0 years of age was now having to sit on the floor? Then the positive side kicked in - it was something to write and moan about on my TR!! We weren’t long there before there was a third announcement which prompted a cheer and a sudden dash to the lines and the gate agents jumped to it with alacrity anxious to get us on board for a 1pm departure although the boards and my phone now beeped with a 2pm departure.

Once on board we settled in our seats and the crew came round with water or orange juice. No champagne! It struck me that Lan Chile could be selective as to whether Business was indeed Business or not. I wangled that Chris should sit beside me which he did with ill grace but if he wanted to remain in row 2 why didn’t he wangle a change for me? I ignored his tantrum (I got plenty of practice of that with Aer John) and settled myself. The IFE was turned on and Chris tuned in to a film he wanted to watch. Although everyone was on board the doors remained open which was a bit disconcerting. The captain then came on and said there was still a fault and we were going over to the maintenance area to sort it out. At this stage a niggle that had been at the back of my mind came to the forefront - would the flight be cancelled? Would the crew go out of hours? I didn’t dare to think of the options but St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases got a bit of an ear-bashing from me!! As did a few other saints - I’m turning into the traditional Irish Catholic mammy! Over in the maintenance area they worked on whatever was wrong, Chris’s film finished and I finished my book! Eventually the captain announced that the problem was sorted and they were now re-fuelling the aircraft. Hallelujah! We taxied to the runway and after a nerve-wracking “will-we, won’t-we?” wait, we surged forward and soon were heading west in the big blue yonder after a four and a half hours delay.

By this stage I was hungry and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one as the food offerings post-security weren’t great and in any case, no-one wanted to wander too far away from the gate. However once we were in the air the crew hopped into action. They were obviously as hungry as we were and wanted to get us fed and watered so that they could do the same themselves. Hot towels were produced followed rapidly by two trolleys, one offering food and the other drinks. As we were in row 5 we were in the last row of business which had Chris chuntering away to himself but the reality was that he was served well before me so God knows what his problem was. The meal was a very tasty chicken salad followed by a beautifully moist and tasty lemon drizzle cake. It was all washed down with a very nice sauvignon blanc. Tea and coffee were also available but I stuck to wine. Incidentally, a little titbit I learned in Santiago was that surprisingly, coffee was only released fairly recently into Chile and the beverage of choice was tea. As a marketing ploy, coffee shops were set up in the business areas but at that time women in the workplace were something of a non-entity and it was realised that the main customers were men. As a result, this market was actively targetted and many of the coffee shops became akin to lap-dancing bars!

Back to the flight! Once the meal was over I requested and was given another glass of wine (Incidentally, I don’t thinks that there were any spirits on board. I hadn’t had a G&T since leaving the BA flight and I didn’t ask) I settled down to watch a film, Florence Foster Jenkins, while Chris, having watched a second film, bedded down for a snooze as he was still feeling the after-effects of the previous night’s crab! Once the film was over, I repaired back to another book and my iPad. The crew patrolled the aisles at regular intervals and any request for a top-up of wine was graciously granted. They were lovely! However, once I had returned to my book etc., and had ditched the semi-noise cancelling headphones that LAN had provided, I became aware that the people in the seats in front of us and also the ones in 4A and C had hooked up and were having a lively and very noisy discussion about various topics one of which was adoption. However the only person’s opinion we heard was the lady in 4C who at this stage was sitting side-on with her legs hooked over the arm of her seat! Try as I might, I couldn’t block her out and it didn’t help that she requested and received copious amounts of wine. OK, she wasn’t shouting or being a nuisance because of that and it wasn’t at a level to which I felt I could complain but it was a nuisance. When Chris emerged from his blanket, I asked if he had slept, he said he hadn’t because of her.

After the film I had put on the flight map which I love to follow but when you are travelling to the remotest inhabited island in the world, there is little to see except a plane travelling over an expanse of blue sea! Eventually, though, the island hove into view and we prepared for landing. A word about time zones. When we were in Santiago I was surprised to learn we were only 3 hours behind GMT. As Easter Island is 2 hours behind, it means it is on the same time zone as NYC and Chris had difficulty in getting his head around the fact it was 3 hours ahead of Seattle! So, some five hours after take-off we landed on Easter Island at about 5pm, their time! The lady in 4C, who by this time was sitting appropriately for landing, whooped and hollered as we touched down! So unseemly in Business Class!

There are no jet bridges on Easter Island due to the fact that there is only one flight a day in and out on most days. On a couple of days each week there is a flight from Tahiti leaving at midnight. Because of ETOPS regulations for flights over the Pacific only one flight at a time can land and leave Easter Island and that is only when no other aircraft is within range of the island. The runway itself is over 4km long and was extended as a contingency landing site for the Space Shuttle. The times of the flights and the necessity of abiding by this regulation can have a knock-on effect for connecting flights. OK, our flight delay was because the plane went tech. I don’t know if or how it affected flights that would be flying in that zone but when we arrived in Easter Island, I learned from our hostess that on previous days, incoming flights to Santiago had been late or cancelled which meant in turn that people had cancelled their trip to Easter Island as it was not worth going there for one night.

So having clambered down the steps (and being in row 5 we were among the first to leave) we headed for the airport just as it started to rain and just as we arrived in the building, the rain became a deluge! The arrivals hall was about the size of a village church hall and built long before the advent of wide-bodied aircraft! As it filled up it became hot and stuffy especially as there was no sign of our bags appearing. And given that it was pelting down outside, who could blame the baggage handlers for waiting for the rain to pass. As we waited, I strolled around the area, as much as one can stroll when the place is constantly filling with passengers from a 787. I caught sight of the returning passengers and felt sorry for them at having to wait so long and then not arrive in Santiago till 2am. Mind you, that lessened when I realised how near the airport was from the town and that they probably checked in, dropped their bags and went back to spend the day relaxing.

On my travels around the arrivals hall, I spotted our hostess outside with a placard with my name on it and told Chris. He gallantly suggested I go out and meet her while he collected the bags. I was happy to do this although I had been warned I would not be allowed back and so went out and introduced myself to Edith, a delightful Rapa Nui lady who immediately placed a lei of fresh flowers round my neck as a welcome. She was lovely and as we waited she told me that no-one had said anything about the flight being delayed from Santiago so everyone had turned up at the airport at 12.30 and had waited an hour before anyone told them of the delay! So they all went back home and waited till someone texted that they could see the plane coming in! At this stage it was still raining quite heavily and as we chatted, I learned something about life on the island. I told her that I surmised that the amount of luggage some people were checking, especially stuff in cooler boxes, was in fact their shopping. She told me it was and that she herself was going to Tahiti, a 6 hour flight away, to do shopping on Monday! FFS! I crib if I have to go to Cork some 30 miles away!!

At long last the rain stopped and so the baggage handlers went to work. People started to leave the arrivals hall with bags with priority tags on them. “We have priority tags”, I told Edith. “He shouldn’t be long now” Such hubris! The stream of priority tagged baggage slowed down and the stopped altogether. Tourists arrived including the sweet little Japanese girls we had met the day before. Natives arrived with their loads of shopping. Families were re-united as young people arrived from the mainland but there was still no sign of Chris. Occasionally a rogue bag with a priority sticker passed by enough to perk up your senses but still no sign of Chris. There comes a point where you begin to wonder if your bag ever made it and I was beginning to wonder what the alternatives were - especially with regard to clean undies - when Chris emerged with the bags. His had been one of the last to appear and was sopping wet! He thought that it had been one of the first off-loaded when the rain started and had been left there on the tarmac while they off-loaded the rest. As mine had come out with the others, he was probably right.

Once Chris had been suitably lei-ed with his garland, Edith popped us into her jeep and, pointing out the lane to the hotel which was more or less round the corner from the hotel, proceeded to give us a quick tour of Hanga Roa, the only town on the island, showing us places of interest as well as places where she had secured 10% discounts for her guests before delivering us to our rooms. The hotel consisted of a central Reception and dining area and the rooms were in annexes on either side of the main building. There was a row of rooms on one side but ours had an adjoining room with a shared patio. We settled in; Chris made a delicious cocktail from some mango vodka he had brought from home and I made a new friend.

To be continued.
#933041 by buns
25 Feb 2017, 06:58

Thanks for the detailed account and I suspect you will be able to trump most V Flyers on such an aircraft journey :)

My admiration goes out to you for your stamina in such challening conditions!!

Thanks once again

#933180 by pjh
28 Feb 2017, 21:44
Another wonderful missive from lands far away and experiences most of us wouldn't even think of having....

buns wrote:HL

Thanks for the detailed account and I suspect you will be able to trump most V Flyers on such an aircraft journey :)

And you go and spoil it by using the "T" word...and I don't mean "Thanks".
#933193 by honey lamb
01 Mar 2017, 01:09
pjh wrote:Another wonderful missive from lands far away and experiences most of us wouldn't even think of having....

Next instalment coming up soon - a jaunt around Easter Island and the flight back to the mainland.
#933272 by honey lamb
02 Mar 2017, 21:47
Eggtastico wrote:Hope Easter Island made up for the delay.
Im still collecting Avios for my trip - Its possible to use Avios to book LATAM.
My paperwork I done a while back shows 12500 Avios + £9 in taxes!

It will feature in the return TR :D
Virgin Atlantic

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