(I meant to write this paragraph at the beginning of Day 1, but I forgot. These posts about my Antarctica trip were written as I went, so as you read, it’s as if you’re coming along with me. I’m putting identical posts on both this blog and my frogblog, so if you’re one of the people who read both, be aware that the posts will be the same.)
Well, isn’t Uber a great invention?
I’ve never used it before. Never needed to. But with a day of unfettered freedom ahead of me with no tour guide to ferry me from place to place, today seemed like a good idea to download the app and give it a go.
So that means I was testing out a transport app in a continent so far around the world that if I went any further away I’d be coming home, and it’s a country where I don’t speak the language. What could go wrong?
As it turns out, something did go wrong, but it wasn’t with Uber. I boldly set out to get to the Sculpture park on foot, and somehow got myself turned around. Twenty minutes later, with the help of a nice woman who didn’t speak a word of English, I worked out what I was doing wrong and boldly (but with a far more humble attitude), set off again.
I made it, but that’s when I decided that from now on I was going to use Uber. I’m not all that fond of walking without a dog or three in front of me.
Speaking of dogs, there were quite a few in this park. People seem to use the parks more here than at home. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more canoodling young couples lying on picnic blankets in my life before. But as I said, there were also dogs.
As I was nearing the end of the park, I saw the unmistakable shape of a snag on a leash. His name was Luca and he was a nice old man, walking with a mother around my age and her daughter. Of course, we had a chat and I told them about Scout.
“What do you think about Chile?” The daughter asked. Her mother couldn’t speak English. When I said the polite words about how lovely it is … you know, what everyone with manners says in answer to that question, her mouth turned down at the corners.
“Chile is an awful place,” she said. “There is so much crime and it’s not safe to walk the streets by yourself. I hope you’re not travelling alone?”
Yikes! I said something about being out and about during the day, but at night I stay in.
She nodded. “Oh, during the day it is alright,” she said.
When the waiter yesterday told me about the park, I was expecting something bigger, like McClelland Park at home. This one is a small sliver of land, running in between a river and a road. But it’s very popular with the locals.
Even though it’s little and narrow, it has an atmosphere very different from the hustle and bustle surrounding it.
The roads on three sides are totally busy, especially the one that runs along the length of it, the Avenue Santa Maria. It’s a major thoroughfare. Then, running the length of the park on the other side is the most turbulent river I’ve ever seen run through a city. They say that the Yarra in Melbourne is brown but this one is the colour of dirt and mud, almost to the point of looking like liquid mud.
Yet once I stepped into the park, the noise from outside faded into a background hum. Birdsong was everywhere and I swear that a couple of times I could smell flowers in the air.
After the park, I walked to a side street and summoned my first Uber to go to the Museum of Memories. How easy is Uber? Who knew??? I didn’t even have to pay as the fare was already deducted from my debit card that holds my travel funds. This means that I have plenty of pesos left for when I come back after Antarctica:
But back to the Museum.
When I was at work this year, I’d caught up with a little girl I used to teach in year 7 who had just come over from Santiago to live in Australia for 6 years. She was excited to hear that the trip I’d talked about 2 years before was finally going ahead. Back then, she’d emailed me a list of things to do in Santiago. On that list was the Museum of Memories. I remember being enchanted by its name. “It sounds like something out of Harry Potter,” I remember thinking. A little googling soon showed that yes… it was like Harry Potter… but if Voldemort was running the place.
The Museum of Memories is devoted to human rights abuses that happened during the coup Chile had fifty years ago. I knew it was going to be a bit of a downer going in, but once I knew about it I couldn’t ignore it. I knew I’d feel bad if I didn’t go, so I decided to knock it over and get it done.
When I went in I was pleased to hear that the museum was free. Two free activities on the first day! I was expecting to be issued headphones and a tape pack with English translations like when I was in Europe in 2015, but time has moved on. Nowadays you download an app to your phone and work your way through it: if I’d realised that, I would’ve brought some headphones over with me.
I vaguely remember the coup from when I was a child but it was just a story you see on the news. I’ve heard the name Pinochet from then. But to see the footage as an adult was another experience. Those coup guys weren’t mucking around. They bombed the government buildings to bits, shot the president and then set up torture places all over the country.
There was one part where I stayed the longest. It was a little room with a metal bed, no mattress, with electrodes and a battery attached. Above it was a screen where a video of the survivors spoke of their experiences while in captivity by the new regime. It wasn’t pleasant viewing but I felt as if I should bear some kind of witness. (Plus, the video had English subtitles, so that made it easier.)
I didn’t do the whole museum. I felt an hour was enough so after having lunch – water and a bread roll I swiped from breakfast – I grabbed an Uber and headed back into the centre of town.
Here was where I made a mistake. I meant to be dropped off at a museum of pre-Colombian art but I clicked on the cathedral instead. I’m pretty sure I get to see this on the walking tour I’ve booked for when I come back, but what the hell? I went in anyway and wandered around.
Look at who I saw in a stained glass window! His chain of op shops is legendary.
The cool of the cathedral was a welcome relief from the heat from the square outside. It was around 2 pm and the temperature was hovering around 30C. There weren’t all that many people there. Around half were there praying and the rest of us were tourists wandering around or sitting quietly and checking phones.
I wasn’t sure if I could take photos so I took a sneaky few until I saw a girl openly taking a shot in front of a guard. Then all pressure was off.
At the front of the cathedral, near the doors, was a side chapel. It was sparsely occupied and very quiet. It looked like there was some serious praying going on in here. I crept in, took this picture of the altar and then sat at the very end of the front pew. One row behind me, next to the aisle, was a man praying with rosary beads. He was muttering under his breath while he worked his way through the beads.
Suddenly, on the other side of the chapel, a jaunty phone tune rang out at full volume. As the guy hastily fumbled to get his phone and answer it, I smiled under my mask at how incongruous it was. The rosary guy didn’t miss a beat, though.
I admit I was a bit smug. No way MY phone was going to ring!
Once I was out in the sun again, I saw a few stalls outside the cathedral doors and realised with a jolt that I needed to get a decoration for the Christmas tree. Once that important task was done, I wandered around the square for a bit, looking at the paintings on sale. Gaudy seems to be popular.
As I was walking around, I saw a group of men playing chess, so I stopped to watch a game. The first time I remember seeing the little ‘timer’ clocks was when I watched ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, so of course, I watched a game that was using one of these. Once the game was done, I found a seat in the shade and looked up how far away the pre-Columbian art museum was.
Only 6 minutes walk. Good! But… time was ticking. It was now 3 pm. Did I want to look at things from a part of history that I have absolutely no knowledge, or should I go to the biggest hill in Santiago and ride the cable car to the top?
I think we all know the answer to that question!
A fairly long Uber trip later, I was buying a round-trip ticket on the cable car. Beside me in the queue was an American couple. I’d noticed them on the way in, when they were at the information counter and he was whinging and complaining about everything and trying to bully the girl behind the counter into giving him a map.
There he was again, trying to bully his wife into only getting a one-way ticket. “There’s a tram to take us down,” he said to his wife.
She started to disagree, so I said, “ Yeah, I don’t think there is. “
The wife looked over and quickly flashed a smile, before saying to him, “I really don’t want to walk down the hill.”
I laughed and said, “ I feel the same! I’ve done enough walking for one day!” As I took my ticket and started to walk off, she quietly said, “Thanks for the help…”
Made me glad that I was unencumbered by a grumpy old man!
Much to my surprise, I was given a cable car all to myself. As I slowly rose towards the top, the whole of Santiago lay below me. It’s a big city. Of course, with 7 million people, it’s not going to be a village, but there it all was.
Santiago is ringed with hills. It occurred to me later that night how strange it would be to never have an uninterrupted view of the horizon. Wherever you go, the view is stopped by the hills.
Anyway, in the tradition that started when I went to The Great Wall and bought myself a Magnum ice cream, I bought a scoop of pistachio ice cream and found a seat where I could take in the view.
After a while, I realised I could see my hotel. That mural on the side is pretty distinctive.
The music playing here was all English. Britney Spears did it again etc. I find that kind of weird. In the airport, they were constantly playing Christmas songs in English, but old ones. Bing Crosby thinking that it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas… that sort of thing. I suppose the bonus is that whenever I hear Bing and Britney again, I’ll remember Chile.
After I finished the ice cream, it was time to keep walking. At the very top of the hill is a 25m statue of the Virgin Mary. She’s surrounded by terraced gardens filled with pigface, which made me happy because I have some in the garden, one of my Little Adventures souvenirs.
What didn’t make me happy was the number of steps I still had to climb to reach the top. My feet were starting to hurt after all the walking. But my mother didn’t raise a coward, so up I climbed.
It was worth it. The wind was gently blowing, the sun was shining and the city was laid out before us. I leaned on the rail and took it all in. I was here… on a hill in South America. Me! I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.
Then all too soon, the woman I’d helped at the ticket line started coughing. Now, I’ve had a chronic cough for around 6 years. Worst thing to have in a pandemic! But this was a hacking cough. She was bent over, hands on her knees, coughing up what sounded like huge chunks of phlegm. Of course, she wasn’t wearing a mask.
The man leaning on the rail next to me said to his wife, “This is when we get out of here, I think!” I don’t know about her, but I was in perfect agreement. If I catch COVID now, there goes my holiday. I’d be viewing Antarctica from a porthole instead of actually being there.
So I followed them down the steps.
On the way, the cautious American and I struck up a conversation. He was Kermit, ( yes, really, poor man), from Minnesota. He said he and his wife are retired, so they now spend 6 months a year in California.
“Of course you do! I said. “All of that snow.”
“How do you know about that?” he asked.
“ I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder,” I said.
We had a nice chat as we ambled back, then I made my way down in solitary state in the cable car and then grabbed a taxi to take me back to my hotel.
On the way, guess what happened?
MY PHONE RANG!
I was astonished. I unzipped my bag and grabbed it, looking to see who on earth it was. It was a call through FB messenger from a friend from work, Cam. He arrived in Santiago a couple of days ahead of me. He’s a great guy. He was a student in Exan26’s year level and did year 12 Drama with him. He is another CRT like me.
He was calling to let me know that the situation in Argentina is much easier to navigate with American dollars. He said that their economy is crashing and they’re desperate for USD rather than pesos, and if you exchange USD for pesos you get nearly double the official exchange rate.
I don’t think it’ll affect me much. I’m pretty much just going from airport to airport to hotels while I’m here. The only real travel I’m doing is the actual Antarctic cruise, so hopefully the fact that I don’t have USD on me won’t be an issue.
It was lovely to hear a familiar voice.
I got back to the hotel, took a quick nap and decided to treat myself to dinner in the hotel restaurant. My feet didn’t want to do any more walking! A nice meal with a glass of wine, a quick WhatsApp chat with Ryan27 and then it was bed with a book.
I’ve finished 2 books now and I’m on my third.
I wrote most of this post sitting in the airport and then on the plane on my way to Buenos Ares airport on Day 3 of this trip. I have a 5-hour layover here before I fly down to Ushuaia, landing at 10 pm at night. The next day I board the ship.
One thing about flying with Aerolineas Argentinas. I had to pay to get my suitcase on the plane. Yes, my massively UNDERweight suitcase. I hadn’t heard anything about this before. They’ve got you where they want you- of course you’re going to pay it at this late stage! I was inwardly irate but I coughed up the cash.
Fingers crossed that my suddenly ‘expensive’ suitcase continues to stay with me. I have to confess, I’m looking forward to joining up with my tour group and having the tour leader, Morgan, take care of things for a while.
People are allowed to bring their dogs with them into the actual airport in Santiago. I saw so many of them, even a dachshund on a leash when the people were getting their passports looked at. Amazing.
One more observation:
Small toddlers are utterly adorable when they’re playing in an airport. So cute and such an abundance of energy! When crying in a plane for much of the night… not so much.
6 pm that night:
I’m sitting on the plane bound for Ushuaia, waiting for take off. I have tears in my eyes. I was so anxious that all of the interconnecting flights would fall apart with a delay or cancellation.
But here I am. Five hours away from the southernmost city in the world.
I think this crazy adventure is really going to happen…
Later, at the hotel in Ushuaia:
By god it’s freezing here!
My flight was a surprise. Of the two seats left empty, guess where they were? Of course, I had to stretch out and grab a couple of hours sleep. It would have been wasteful not to, right? Plus there was no in-flight entertainment for a four-hour flight. Thank goodness I loaded up the iPad with books. I’m on my 4th now.
But I was happy to see that the luck of Fortunate Frogdancer was still with me. My two biggest fears about this trip didn’t eventuate: my suitcase stayed with me the whole time and despite the tight timeline, I made it to Ushuaia in time to catch the cruise.
When we landed I could see that it was raining. The linen shirt I was wearing clearly wouldn’t cut the mustard, so while we were waiting to get off the plane I grabbed my carry-on bag, popped it on one of those empty seats and pulled out my warm fleecy jacket.
It proved its worth once I was outside the terminal and in the queue waiting for a taxi. The wind was a bit bitey. There was a guy from Brazil who just had a backpack and a thin coat and trousers. People were laughing, telling him that he’d have to go shopping tomorrow.
I don’t like his luck. I couldn’t get an Argentinian SIM card at the airport. The girl at the hotel desk’s face fell when I asked if there was anywhere to buy one. “Tomorrow’s Sunday,” she said.
The drive into town was quick. As we pulled away from the airport I could see mountains behind the town, looking like scoops of ice cream with snow on top. Clouds wreathed their way around them. It was beautiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
My room is a strange blend of old, crappy furniture you’d expect to see in a holiday house your family has had for decades, yet it has a bidet in the ensuite. Tomorrow I meet the rest of the group and we’ll be boarding the ship.
Here’s hoping for a Drake Lake and not a Drake Shake!