Alex was in Antarctica again from mid-February through most of March. I held down the fort back at home and got things ready for my trip down to Chile.
I flew down to Chile on March 20th, leaving in the afternoon. My trip started off a little hectic, when I realized that I had not switched my shoes out from going to help in Weston's class that morning. I was supposed to switch to my running shoes, which were a little muddy from my morning run. I forgot to put those on before I left, and I really needed them since I knew I would be hiking around a lot in Chile. Luckily we live close to the airport, so I went in to check my bag while my parents headed back home to get my shoes. They made it back in time to swap out the shoes and I made my flight.
My first flight was to Dallas, and I didn't have any problems there. The long flight went well, but I couldn't sleep. I arrived in Santiago about 8:00am there. My flight to Punta Arenas wasn't until 2:30pm, so I already had 6.5 hours to wait around. I got my checked bag, went through customs, and re-checked my bag for the next flight. I sat around for a long time and then about 2 hours before my flight, I went through security and sat at the gate. However... when I was trying to board, my ticket wouldn't scan. It turns out that wasn't my flight and I had been sitting at the wrong gate. I was confused because the flight was going to Punta Arenas via Puerto Montt, but apparently there were 2 flights leaving about 15-30 minutes apart going the same places. AND the flight numbers were both 200-something. When I had looked at the flight board earlier, I only saw the one flight (the wrong one). By the time I was denied boarding on the flight and looked at the board again, my flight said "last call". I ran to find the gate, but it wasn't even on the same level. By the time I found the gate downstairs, it was too late. I missed my flight.
I thought maybe they could still put me on the other flight, but (1) my checked bag wasn't on the first flight anymore and still in limbo somewhere and (2) that flight was full anyway. So then I had to retrieve my checked bag (if you don't get on the flight, they pull your bag, of course) and find another flight. Luckily, they let me re-book with no extra charges, however... the only other flight was at 11:53pm... another EIGHT hours! I held it together getting my bag and the new flight, but after realizing I had to wait another 8 hours, I couldn't hold back the tears. I had already been up for about 31 hours, and I was exhausted. (My fatigue probably was why I didn't pay close attention to the flight number in the first place.)
I guess I could have left the airport for a while, but where was I going to go? Tired, not knowing any Spanish, just wandering around by myself in a big city? So I sat and waited at the airport another 8 hours. Alex met me at the airport in Punta Arenas at 3:30am with a taxi (thankfully I didn't have to worry about that when I got there). I think by the time I went to sleep, I had been up for about 41 hours.
On Friday, we got to tour Alex's ship and wander around Punta Arenas. PA is where Alex goes in and out of when he goes to Antarctica.
The 2nd picture below is a famous boat that was docked in PA when we were there. I hadn't heard of it before, but Alex was really excited about it - the Joides Resolution. There is a statue in the middle of PA of Ferdinand Magellan. Legend has it that if you touch/rub his toe, you will return. Alex and his group always make a point of touching the statue's toe before they head out so they can safely return from Antarctica. I touched his toe too, so I guess I'm going back to Punta Arenas some day!
On Saturday, we went to see a fort, but it was pretty disappointing. It cost a lot to go in, and then there wasn't much to it. The lady said it was "muy interesante", so we decided to go. However, maybe the best part is the view of the ocean, which we couldn't see at all (because it was foggy). Just our luck. This tree was "muy interesante" though!
We also had a nice drive around on Saturday. We stopped at a beach, which had all kinds of cool shells. We decided to keep the decapod shell and a couple other shells - they came back with us and made it through customs. (I wasn't sure about bringing shells in, but they made it).
We went to church in Punta Arenas on Sunday morning. We didn't understand much of the Spanish, but we were there to take the sacrament. That's the one thing that it doesn't matter the language - the ordinance is the same. I did pick a few words out of the talks - such as temple and family and Jesus Christ. People came and tried to talk to us afterwards - Alex did pretty good with his high school Spanish - he could say enough for them to know a little about us and why we were there. We weren't very good about answering any questions, but Alex could say his story. The only thing I could say was "cinco ninos..." - ha ha. I took French in high school, so my Spanish is very limited. I did pick up a few words just being there for a week though. We got by pretty well without knowing Spanish. I could have used it in the airport when I was running around like a crazy lady looking for gate 31. Most places we went there was someone who knew some English, or Alex knew enough to get by.
On Sunday afternoon, we drove to Puerto Natales - we had a very nice view from our window.
We did go out a little bit on Sunday afternoon, to see a cave, Cueva del Milodon Natural Monument. The Mylodon is a sloth - I'm standing by a replica of it (think about Sid in the Ice Age movies, although he was a pretty small creature in the movie). This is a life sized replica of the giant sloth.
It rained just a little bit on us, but that provided a really pretty rainbow. That was the only rain we got all week. We had good weather, being there in Chile's fall - it was a little cold sometimes, about 55, but that feels pretty good when you're hiking around. It was pretty windy sometimes too.
We spent Monday and Tuesday in Torres del Paine National Park, which was a gorgeous area. From Puerto Natales, it was about a 1.5 hour drive to the park. On Monday, we planned to take a boat to our hiking spot. About 15 minutes out from Puerto Natales, we realized that we hadn't filled up with gas. We had to turn around and go back, since there were no gas stations anywhere near the National Park. That was okay, except then we were a little rushed to make the boat (that turned out to be the last one of the day). We also didn't realize we would have to spend Chilean dollars for the entrance fee for the park (they didn't take credit card), and they also wouldn't take a card for the boat. We didn't have enough money for the ride (or so we thought). That boat ride was cutting off about 7 hours of hiking to get to the spot we wanted to see. We didn't have time to walk that many miles. We turned away from the boat ride, feeling sad, knowing there wasn't an ATM anywhere or time to even go back to the car. But then as we were walking, Alex realized that I might have US $ with me (and we hadn't thought about being able to pay in US $). I had just the amount we needed ($50 - for one of the tickets). Alex had enough Chilean pesos for the other ticket. We turned around and ran back, just barely making the boat before it took off. Whew!
We still had a long day hiking - hiked about 14 miles (so you can see why we couldn't have added another 14 miles to the day without the boat ride.) We got a nice view of Lago Grey, a glacier, and some nice views of the prominent mountain range (Torres del Paine - which means "towers of blue"). I also loved the turquoise blue water in some of the lakes, the waterfalls, and the guanacos (similar to llamas or alpacas) wandering around.
It was so windy here at Lago Grey! The lighting wasn't great either, by the time we got there in the afternoon.
We stayed near the park on Monday night in these little cabins - great setting.
We saw more waterfalls on Tuesday and did a much shorter hike. I thought our view of the mountains was much better on Tuesday, and the hike was so much shorter. If we could do it over again, we would have paid for the more expensive boat tour on Monday. I think there was a $90 longer boat tour that would have provided a closer view of the glaciers. Then we could have still done the short hike on Tuesday to get the views of the mountains. Next time I guess!
This was our view on Tuesday, and we only hiked in about a mile or so! We got to see some of the ice calve from the top while we were there.
Trying to film the ice calving - you can't see it very well, but there is a line of white flowing in the top center of the peak. We could hear the ice breaking off at the start of the flow (but not in this video).
This waterfall was in another part of the park. We were glad that we rented the vehicle (Range Rover?) we did, because some of the roads were a little rough in the park.
We drove back from Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas on Tuesday night (which was 4-5 hours), so we really didn't have much time in the park. That was my biggest complaint about our trip - too short. I calculated that out of the 9 days of our trip, I spent 72 hours traveling (either by plane or in the car).
Air travel to and from: 33 hours in the air and 27 hours in the airport
In the car: 11-12 hours
So we only had 6 days to explore Chile. We shouldn't have spent as long in Punta Arenas either, because there really isn't much to see there. I did want to see where Alex comes in and out of when he goes to Antarctica and the boat he traveled on, but we didn't need 2.5 days there.
On Wednesday morning, we had a flight from PA to Santiago, via Puerto Montt. We didn't even get off the plane in Puerto Montt, but as we flew over, we wished we could spend some time in the area. (next time...)
We got to go to the Santiago Chile temple on Wednesday evening. The great part about our hotel is that the temple was only a short walk from it (less than 10 minutes). We didn't have to take another taxi! We enjoyed our visit to the temple, being able to participate in the work via headphones for translating from Spanish to English. Afterwards, we got to talk to a couple from Idaho, who is serving an 18 month mission working in the temple - pretty cool. I didn't realize there were temple missions.
I think this temple is our 46th temple to visit as a couple (it has become our goal to visit as many as we can). And one tip if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and want to visit this temple - you don't have to bring your own temple clothes. It says "no clothing rental" on the website, but that just means they don't rent the clothing. They just let you use it for free! We learned that from the couple serving in the temple. (That would have made our packing a little lighter not to have to bring our own temple clothing.)
We ended up being able to store our luggage at our hotel on Thursday. Our flight wasn't until 9:30pm, so we had all day to explore the city. We walked from our hotel to a nice viewpoint of the city. We rode a funicular up to the viewpoint. The view was nice... but so much smog!
Sanctuary of San Cristobal Hill, a place of worship for the Catholic Church.
We had some empanadas for lunch up at the viewpoint - I hadn't ever had one before - pretty good. In the smog, you can just see the tallest building in South America, Gran Torre Santiago. We went to see it, but then decided not to pay the $20-25 fee per person to go to the top (especially since we just saw what the view looked like from the other viewpoint - so much smog you couldn't see much at all).
We did take another taxi to get back to the airport on Thursday - this time the driver was a little more cautious. We also didn't take the freeway, so we got a tour through the city that wasn't a high speed ride.
We had a good trip! It was my first experience in South America, and I loved seeing Patagonia and visiting another temple. I was also happy to have a kid-free vacation - so much better to travel without kids!