Posts Tagged ‘Santiago’

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.

 

To Valparaiso and Back, and Thence To Ushuaia

February 11th, 2010 at 12:27 am (AST) by Jake Richter

I finally managed to review, select, and tweak my picks from my photos of our overnight trip to Valparaiso, Chile, but have not yet had a chance to add titles or keywords to them.

If you would like to look at the pictures, visit my Flickr photoset for the trip. Warning – there are 247 images to review, so it might take a while.

If you would like to see where most of these pictures were taken, visit here.

At the end of Wednesday (yesterday at this point), we attended a cocktail reception and then had dinner with most of the 150 or so passengers on the National Geographic Explorer. It’s been a pleasant surprise finding that we know several of the crew from past Lindblad trips as well as more than a handful of our fellow passengers (four from a trip to Morocco in Spring 2008, and another couple from the recent National Geographic Grosvenor Council weekend we attended in Washington, D.C., in late November).

It’s now past 1am and I need to be up by 5:15am to help get the kids ready to leave the hotel. Our bus for the airport leaves at 7am, and we should be in Ushuaia by 12:30pm Argentina time. Our luggage has already been picked up from outside our rooms (we had to have it out at 10pm).

Our next post will in all probability be from aboard the Explorer, once we have access to a stable Internet connection.

 

GPS Tracking – Valparaiso to Santiago via Viña Del Mar

February 10th, 2010 at 4:46 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

After a stay at the wonderful boutique hotel, Casa Higueres, in Valparaiso, we toured more of the city, as well as the resort area of Viña Del Mar. We also spent an hour in the Museo Fonck, which had a great blend of Chilean, Easter Island, and South American cultural and natural history. We’re now back in Santiago and about to have our introductory cocktail reception for the Lindblad Expedition to the Antarctic with a hundred-plus other adventure seekers.

Far less pictures today (don’t have the count yet). Hope to post some pictures from our last two day via Flickr tonight, however.

Our GPS track for today is below: