Posts Tagged ‘Chile’

On-Going Travel Plans Still Somewhat In Limbo

March 2nd, 2010 at 10:40 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We did get some definitive word this evening at our nightly re-cap aboard the National Geographic Explorer about our on-going travel plans after we arrive in Ushuaia in a couple of days. That word was that our previously planned charter back to Santiago, Chile this coming Thursday has been canceled. And with it, our continuation to Easter Island. We’re a little disappointed, but at the same time quite relieved to not have to brave the chaos of post-earthquake Chile.

The only other key thing we were told is that Lindblad’s corporate office is working on a charter to get us out of Ushuaia after we arrive on Thursday morning, but at present it was not clear where the charter flight would take us. It was also explained that those of us who had been on the Easter Island extension would be getting a letter detailing how refunds, etc., would be processed and dealt with.

After the brief announcement and discussion about the changes in our travel plans, everyone on board was asked what their final return destination airport would be, presumably so that appropriate return flights and connections could be arranged. That didn’t quite address the issue of how to spend the extra week or so we had planned to be away from home, so maybe we’ll just end up at home sooner than expected. Considering the Traveling Richters were having issues today figuring out to spend a week in Argentina, that might be for the best.

So, for now, all we know is what we’re definitely not doing, which is returning to Chile. We don’t know what we are doing instead, though.

But mystery and serendipity are all part of of expedition and exploration travel, so we’ll let ourselves be surprised, and if we don’t like the surprise, we’ll get it changed somehow. For now, we’ll pack our cold weather clothes away, and assume we’ll be at least a moderately temperate climate from Ushuaia onward.

 

Dealing With Flux In Travel Plans – Santiago, Chile or Not?

March 1st, 2010 at 8:19 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

One of the interesting issues facing us at the moment is the uncertainty of our remaining itinerary for the next week or so. The terrible earthquake in Chile was not a predictable event, and with continuing aftershocks, power outages, and general infrastructure issues throughout Chile, it’s still not entirely clear whether we can safely return to Santiago in a few days, and even if we can, whether we can make it to Easter Island and back to Santiago as previously planned.

Adding to the uncertainty, earlier today I received a couple of e-mails from the U.S. Department of State (because I had registered our trip with their automated systems and asked for updates on Chile).

The e-mails stated, among other things:

“The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Chile. The February 27th earthquake caused significant damage to the areas closest to the epicenter, including the cities of Concepcion, Talcahuano and Temuco. Santiago, Viña del Mar and Valparaiso were also affected by power outages and limited telecommunications. The Santiago International Airport has been closed to all but military operations.

Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a strong earthquake such as this one.”

(The full alert from the U.S. Department of State is here)

This is not particularly comforting advice, and for all that we really want to visit and explore Easter Island, the safety and security of our family is more important.

We’ve been told that there will be a firm decision by tomorrow night as to whether it’s deemed safe and workable to have us go to Santiago on Thursday or not and onto Easter Island from there. My gut tells me that alternatives will come into play, especially in light of the U.S. Dept. of State advisory, and I am guessing that we might end up flying from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires instead of Santiago.

In any case, I’m starting to look at options of things to see and do in and around Buenos Aires for a week or so since we’re in no rush to return home ahead of schedule.

While Buenos Aires is not Easter Island, at least it is a place we have wanted to visit, so we may finally, inadvertently, have that opportunity. Better to be prepared for alternate eventualities, I always say (or something close to that anyhow).

If any of you have suggestions and ideas of things to do in Argentina in the vicinity of Buenos Aires, please let us know.

In any case, we know the folks at Lindblad Expeditions will do their utmost to make sure we’re safe and well taken care of, and once they let us know what they think is best, we’ll let all of you know here on our blog.

Update – March 1, 2010, 20:40AST: I just found this article at Aviation Week about LAN, the airline we’re supposed to use to fly back to Santiago as a charter, and then on to Easter Island. Definitely not encouraging regarding our planned itinerary as it appears that travel later this week with LAN Airlines will be a real mess (understandably so).

Update #2 – March 2, 2010, 06:29AST: Looks like the rest of the family would prefer to minimize time spent in a big city, so if we do end up in Buenos Aires, it would only be for a couple of days.

 

Chilean Earthquake Impact

February 27th, 2010 at 9:37 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We’ve received some e-mails from our readers asking whether we are impacted at all by the massive earthquake (8.8 on the Richter Scale – no relation) that hit Chile early this morning and caused loss of life and lots of damage in Santiago, Valparaiso, and other places we recently visited. The earthquake also generated a sizable tsunami – large enough to cause tsunami warnings from Antarctica to Australia.

We’re able to report that we are east of the Falklands at the present, which also puts us east of Argentina and the other side of South America from Chile, so the earthquake and tsunami are not affecting our ship in any way.

Whether the earthquake and tsunami will impact our travels at the end of next week remains to be seen, however, as we were to return to Santiago next Thursday, and then go on to Easter Island on Friday (and Easter Island is due west of the Chilean coast).

More importantly, our hearts and hopes are with those in Chile affected by this horrible natural disaster. We especially hope that all the new friends and acquaintances we made in Chile a couple of weeks ago are okay.

 

Ushuaia, Argentina – The End of the World

February 12th, 2010 at 6:22 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Yesterday morning, Thursday, February 11, 2010, was really the start of our Antarctic expedition with Lindblad Expeditions aboard their vessel, the National Geographic Explorer.

We're in the right line for our flight from Santiago to Ushuaia

We're in the right line for our flight from Santiago to Ushuaia

Approximately 140 of us set forth from our hotel in Santiago, Chile to catch a LAN Chile charter plane to Ushuaia, Argentina. “Ushuaia” is pronounced “Ush-why-ah”, in case you were curious.

It was a nearly four hour flight, taking us past incredible views of the Andes mountain range for most of the flight. I should add that all of our worries about the 17.6 pound carry-on limit appeared to be completely unfounded, resulting in needless stress and grey hair for me. Since the flight was a charter flight the carry-on weight limit was ignored, but a few bags were checked for size. Overheads were overflowing however.

Glacial lakes seen from our plane - photo by fellow passenger Bob Reichart

Glacial lakes seen from our plane - photo by fellow passenger Bob Reichart

Volcano peak in the Andes seen from our plane

Volcano peak in the Andes seen from our plane

Regarding Ushuaia, it is the southern most town in South America, never mind Argentina, and located on an island in the Tierra del Fuego (Lands of Fire – based on early explorers seeing Indian-made fires and smoke on the cliffs) archipelago. The locals refer to Ushuaia as the “Fin del Mundo” or “End of the Earth”. Ushuaia is also one of the key embarkation points for cruises to the Antarctic, which is why we were heading there – to meet up with our ship.

The view from the Ushuaia international airport - beautiful mountain scapes

The view from the Ushuaia international airport - beautiful mountain scapes

The town of Ushuaia has a whopping 70,000 inhabitants, many of whom are there to take advantage of extremely high salaries (triple the going rate elsewhere in Argentina) which the Argentinean government subsidizes (along with very favorable tax savings for large employers and manufacturers) to encourage settlement in this remote area. Buenos Aires and Santiago are both about four hours away by plane, and driving to Buenos Aires is a four or five day effort across roads that aren’t always that great.

The region is incredibly mountainous, but at the same time surrounded by ocean, creating some incredible vistas, mostly forested with several different species of native beech trees.

We learned that over the years the government has tried to introduce various species of animals to the area in order to generate both food and revenue sources. Among the introduced species were rabbits, reindeer, and beavers. Rabbits have thrived, while reindeers were eaten by the humans to the point of eradication.

One of several introduced species to the area - a rabbit

One of several introduced species to the area - a rabbit

The beaver introduction is interesting. Apparently Canadian beavers were introduced in the hopes of creating a thriving beaver fur industry, but not enough research was done on how beaver fur gets lush. It turns out that beaver fur grows best in climates where it gets very cold in the winter and temperate in the summer. But in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago it does not get cold enough to encourage heavy pelt growth, so the beaver pelts they harvested here were of mediocre quality at best, and not particularly sellable. However, by the time they discovered this, the beavers had gotten firmly entrenched and now are responsible for destruction of countless beech trees which cannot survive in the flooded plains the beaver dams create.

Bas and Linda on a footbridge in the national park

Bas and Linda on a footbridge in the national park

Upon our arrival at the Ushuaia airport, we were whisked away in three buses to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. After a scenic, guided ride through the park where the history of Ushuaia and the ecology of the area was explained, we got off for a short walk to board a couple of large motor powered catamarans for lunch and a cruise on the Beagle Channel, named after the Beagle – the ship in which Charles Darwin first visited these waters.

A nature moment in Tierra del Fuego

A nature moment in Tierra del Fuego

Krystyana about to board the catamaran for our afternoon water tour

Krystyana about to board the catamaran for our afternoon water tour

We encounter amazing views, saw the virtual boundary between Chile and Argentina, and even had our first aquatic wildlife sightings along the way, all accompanied by very brisk, cold air (relative to Santiago, anyhow).

An Antarctic Sea Lion with a seagull near Ushuaia

An Antarctic Sea Lion with a seagull near Ushuaia

A flock of Antarctic cormorants with some gulls near Ushuaia

A flock of Antarctic cormorants with some gulls near Ushuaia

Our journey ended in the harbor of Ushuaia, where we came upon our home for the next three weeks – the National Geographic Explorer, owned and operated by Lindblad Expeditions.

Three freighters at dock behind the National Geographic Explorer in Ushuaia

Three freighters at dock behind the National Geographic Explorer in Ushuaia

We spot the National Geographic Explorer for the first time - our home for the next three weeks

We spot the National Geographic Explorer for the first time - our home for the next three weeks

It should be mentioned that Lars-Eric Lindblad, the founder of Lindblad Expeditions, was the first person to run commercial tourism expeditions to the Antarctic region, around a half century ago (1964), and his son Sven-Olof has continued with such expedition efforts, ever improving the adventure while at the same time working to preserve the ecology of areas visited.

Lindblad Expeditions was also a founding member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators), whose purpose is to insure safe, responsible, environmentally sensitive tourism in the fragile ecosystem of Antarctica.

Once settled aboard the National Geographic Explorer – we’re in a spacious stateroom at the stern end of the vessel, while the kids are in a regular stateroom located in the middle of the Explorer – we all participated in a mandatory safety drill in the unlikely event of an emergency onboard.

We also all loaded up on seasickness medicine in anticipation of a potentially tumultuous ride through the roughest waters in the world – the Drake Passage. More on that later, though.

After some more orientation and a pleasant dinner, we retired, enjoying the wonderful view from our balcony.

Our wake as seen from our stateroom on the National Geographic Explorer as we head east out of the Beagle Channel

Our wake as seen from our stateroom on the National Geographic Explorer as we head east out of the Beagle Channel

More photos from this day are at my Flickr photo sharing page. A map showing where the photos were taken can be found here.

I will post

 

GPS Tracking – Santiago, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina

February 11th, 2010 at 8:57 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We left our hotel in Santiago, Chile at 7am this morning to go to the airport, where a private charter flight provided by LAN Chile took us to Ushuaia, Argentina. We spent the afternoon in the Ushaia area before boarding our ship. We are presently heading towards Cape Horn and the Drake Passage.

Internet connection is workable from the ship at present, so I will try and get a story and a few photos up tonight.

Below is our GPS Track from Sanitiago to Ushuaia up until the point we boarded the National Geographic Explorer.

 

A Taste of Santiago and Chile

February 8th, 2010 at 10:53 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

As previously mentioned, our departure from Aruba from Saturday was uneventful, as was our landing in Bogota. But as an example of the small world we live in, in Bogota, at the departure gate, we bumped into a friend from Bonaire who was also on her way to Santiago. She regaled us with stories about how tough Chilean customs is with respect to bringing in food, herbs, or spices, and told us to make sure to declare anything that could remotely be considered to be food or be fined lots of money (US$300 for a bag of prunes for her the last time she fell afoul of Chilean customs).

It was good advice to follow. By declaring our protein powder, chocolate, tea, nuts, chewing gum, and hot chili powder at customs they didn’t hassle us at all, and just waved us through after examining our written declaration.

Interestingly, we had also been warned that Chile requires birth certificates and proof of parental status for kids entering the country, but we were never asked for that documentation.

The one last issue we encountered, again with advance knowledge, was something called the “reciprocity fee”. Apparently Chile decided to charge citizens of certain countries (Canada, USA, Mexico, Australia, and Albania) an entry fee commensurate with what Chilean citizens are charged for visas to enter those countries. For Canada, for example, this fee is US$132, while for Mexico it’s $17. For U.S. citizens it is $131. The only white lining here is that the fee covers the passport for as long as it is valid. Great for people with new passports, but less for those with passports about to expire. And it’s quite a hefty tab for families.

Fortunately the kids and I have dual nationality – we’re Czech Americans, so we used our Czech passports and did not have to pay any sort of reciprocity fee (the Czech Republic is part of the European Union). Thus we only had to pay the reciprocity fee for Linda. Savings of $393.

Our luggage was waiting for us when we got past immigration and customs, and outside we found a sign with our name on it, held by a representative of the tour company responsible for our transfer to our hotel. The representative’s name was Pablo, and our driver was Patricio. As we learned, Pablo and Patricio would be our companions during our Chilean exploration as well, with Pablo being our multi-lingual tour guide.

View from our window at the Grand Hyatt - note the Andes in the distance

View from our window at the Grand Hyatt - note the Andes in the distance

We were dropped off at our hotel, had a very early 6am breakfast, and then slept until noon. Red eye flights are never good, but having a bed ready so early in the morning was a wonderful thing to help compensate for the sleeplessness of the flight.

After a good Thai/Chile buffet lunch we met up with Pablo and Patricio for a half-day tour of Santiago.

Pablo had detailed information on statistics, economic factors, and the history of Chile and Santiago. Unfortunately I do not have enough to relate much of that here due to limited time tonight.

In terms of places we visited, the short list would be the Plaza de Armas (translated) (plaza of armaments), the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago (translated) (the main cathedral, located at the Plaza de Armas), the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (the museum of Precolumbian art), La Moneda Presidential Palace, and Cerro San Cristobal. You can see our path in the previous post, and also see a number pictures from our afternoon in Santiago on a map at Flickr. A few of our photos appear below.

View down the Plaza de Armas

View down the Plaza de Armas

Pablo describes the Santiago city plan of the 1712 time frame with Linda and Bas

Pablo describes the Santiago city plan of the 1712 time frame with Linda and Bas

People praying in the silver chapel of the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

People praying in the silver chapel of the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Jake stands guard with the honor guard at the La Moneda Presidential Palace

Jake stands guard with the honor guard at the La Moneda Presidential Palace

Amazing wall murals on a set of buildings in downtown Santiago

Amazing wall murals on a set of buildings in downtown Santiago

The funicular arrives at the top of Cerro San Cristobal

The funicular arrives at the top of Cerro San Cristobal

More important than a play by play, perhaps, would be our observations of Chile and Santiago in particular.

One of the most impressive features of Santiago is that it lies in the foothills of the Andes mountain range, one of the tallest mountain ranges (Pablo says #2) in the world. The city itself is at around 1800 feet above sea level, and we can see tall, snow covered mountain peaks in the distance from our hotel room windows.

In comparison to other Central and South American cities we’ve visited, Santiago feels almost European, and somewhat safer. The climate is also quite moderate, with temperatures into the mid-80s during the day during the summer (now), ranging down to around freezing in the winter. During the summer, the air is clear due to regular winds, but the presence of the six million inhabitants of the area is more prevalent during the winter, when air pollution can get pretty bad, according to Pablo.

Santiago appears to also be European in its prices, which are quite high relative to those we found in Ecuador and Peru, and Pablo mentioned that Chile is the most expensive Latin American country to live in, while at the same time, having the highest per capita income (which makes sense).

Chile has a bit of turbulent history, both politically and geographically. Frequent large earthquakes over the centuries have destroyed many of the older structures in places like Santiago, resulting in a diverse blend of modern, traditional, and colonial architecture, all interspersed with one another. Politically, Chile is a democratic nation, but in 1973 General Augusto Pinochet staged a coup d’état and took power from President Salvador Allende. Pinochet ruled until he stepped down peacefully in 1990.

The Chilean people have a reputation for being the most reserved of the Latin Americans, but our limited experience so far has found them to be warm and friendly.

Finally, the local currency is the Chilean Peso, which trades at a rate of approximately 531 pesos to one U.S. dollar. However, they use the “$” symbol to represent the Chilean Peso, which makes price displays rather intimidating, as seen below:

A very scary ATM display in Santiago - they use the dollar sign for the Chilean Peso - rate is 530 pesos to a U.S. dollar - so this is actually about 500 dollars

A very scary ATM display in Santiago - they use the dollar sign for the Chilean Peso - rate is 530 pesos to a U.S. dollar - so this is actually about 500 U.S. dollars

We’re looking forward to experiencing a bit more of the country and its history in the coming couple of days (Tuesday and Wednesday) as we explore and experience Valparaiso, Chile’s main port.

For those wondering, we spent today (Monday) sleeping in, resting up, editing photos, and trying some new foods, such as calf testicles. Seriously. Wouldn’t probably try them again though, unless they were deep fried, perhaps.

Photos from the day can be found at Jake’s Flickr Pages and Krystyana’s Flickr Pages.

We might be able to post something from our hotel in Valparaiso tomorrow night, but if not it might be Wednesday night before our next post.