Tim Hilliard, 1997 - 2003
I wrote this web page mostly to be available to my family and friends. It wasn't
meant to be great travel literature!
In January and February of 1997 I took my first trip to South America. [Note: Since then I've been two more times, and more pages may be found at this address.] We were in Patagonia for most of the trip. Most of that we were in Southern Chile, but we also spent a week in Argentina. We took a boat to Puerto Montt and were around there a few days. I also spent a few days in the Chilean capital of Santiago. The trip included two good hikes. I had a small backpack stolen late in the trip and among the lost items were my notes, so I wrote this immediately upon my return, while the memories were still fresh.
My trip was the beginning of a longer trip being taken by three others. Eric Charlton, of Shelton WA (then a local planner here in Washington State), Matt Feeney of Seattle (another planner), and Jennifer Blevins (then of Lake Havasu, AZ, a nuclear technician who has worked in a planning agency) were the rest of the group. I am a planner too (an environmental planner with a Washington state agency), and we rapidly discovered that "planner" is a concept hard to explain in Chile. "Planero" is draftsman, planificador is planner but a tongue-twister and not a common word. Yet everyone asks what you do. In fact (in Patagonia at least) stating your occupation is required for bus tickets, hotel registers, etc. (why, I don't know). We gave up on planner and started saying architect, the closest we could think of that Chileans would immediately understand. Nuclear technician wasn't so easy to explain, either, so Jennifer became an architect too. No one asked us to design anything, fortunately.
Eric and I met Matt at the Seattle airport on Wed., Jan 8th (my 42nd birthday). We flew to LA where we met Jennifer who'd flown in from Las Vegas. We caught an Aero Peru flight to Lima, about 8½ hours.
Eric and I shared a seat with a young American, Jason, who was working in the mining industry in northern Chile. He was fun and interesting at first but was also drinking hard and soon became rather wild. There was a dumb movie playing and Eric and I started make up a new plot for it and adding dialogue. Jason joined us and got much louder (and more radical) and then started switching to Spanish (he spoke fluently) which brought the ire of the mostly Spanish-speaking passengers. It was actually pretty funny but quite obscene. The captain came out and told him to shut up immediately. When we got to Lima we had 2 hours to kill and didn't want to go through customs so we were stuck in the little international area. We went into a little restaurant for a beer or two and Jason started in again. He wanted to get a taxi and go over to the Japanese Embassy where the hostages were. Soon he was loudly discussing Peruvian politics, much to our embarrassment. He called Peruvian men "masochists" (I think he meant "macho") and then started in on what was wrong with the president, Fujimori. I expected to be arrested immediately but it didn't happen. He was on the Santiago flight, too, but was silent - sleeping I think.
We also slept some, on that 4 hour flight to Chile and reached Santiago early in the AM. We listened to hucksters in the airport who took us to a hotel that turned out to be pretty decent and not too expensive, about a mile from the heart of downtown Santiago. We had breakfast then returned to the hotel and slept through the middle part of the day, before getting out to explore a bit.
We walked a diagonal route across the city to the middle of downtown and spent about an hour in the Plaza De Armas. The plaza is crowded with all sorts of folks, including Pentecostal ministers preaching loudly, vendors of every sort, lovers, kids, dogs, cops, military, etc. We crossed the Mapocho river - a small stream of vivid red color, evil-smelling with pollution. Across the river is the bohemian / yuppie neighborhood of Bella Vista.
There we visited the museum in what was the Santiago home of Pablo Neruda. It's almost more of a shrine today. It is very eccentric, with most of the rooms actually little separate buildings built into the steep hillside, with a courtyard in between, steps of various types of rock and wood, lovely gardens, etc. Behind the back fence is the zoo, and the living room is decorated with works by Siquieros, Diego Rivera, and other artists. Two of the Riveras were paintings of Neruda's wife, "La Chascona." The most interesting room to me, however, is the study. Here are an incredible collection of books on a very broad range of subjects, as well as mementos of his life, including the diploma from his Nobel Prize for Literature and a replica of the medal that went with it (the original medal is in his Viña del Mar home, also a museum).
After leaving Neruda's home, we went up the funicular railway to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal which leaves only a few blocks from the museum. We rode up in a car with a plaque saying that Pope John Paul II had ridden in it to the top to bless the giant statue of the virgin. I was amused by the irony of going straight from the home of a world-famous communist and atheist to a car ridden in by the pope, and on up to the statue of the virgin. The view of the city from the feet of the virgin is quite spectacular. You can also see quite a bit of the Andes, though if the air quality is poor on the day you are there, it makes them less viewable than one would wish. One of the most moving sights to me was the National Stadium (Estadio Chile) where Victor Jara, Chilean folksinger and theatrical director (and a hero of mine), was murdered by agents of the generals who led the military coup in 1973.
Our first day in Chile was rounded out with schop or two in a sidewalk café in Bella Vista and dinner in a nearby Italian restaurant.
On February 10th we flew to Punta Arenas, the world's southernmost city, and spent the night at a residencial on the hill overlooking the town. We had been unimpressed by a couple of hostels in town (full of drunken gringos) and were wandering a bit looking for a residencial when an older gentleman stopped to chat. He asked us what we were looking for and offered to show us his wife's place. It turned out to be a stiff walk from downtown, but worth it for the view. We got a room to ourselves with six beds, and our own front-door key. It was $2,000 Chilean each, about $4.50 US.
We wandered the town later, covering quite a bit of territory, saw the Straits of Magellan and dipped our feet in the water, wandered the port, etc. After dinner, we started slowly up the hill. It was late but that far south, still light until 11 PM that time of year. We all wanted to stop for a beer but Jennifer kept saying "there's a nice place way up the hill near our residencial." So up we went. When we found the place, it had an arrow pointing to a side entrance. Although the door was well-lit with a bright red light, there was no doorknob. Matt pushed on it and said, "it must be closed." Then someone opened it and said to come in. We all pushed in and were face to face with four surprised and scantily clad young ladies. It was obvious from their reaction that no mixed-sex group of gringos (considering the part of town, maybe no gringos) had ever showed up before.
We faced each other in stunned silence for a couple of moments, then they waved us to a chair. We ordered drinks and slowly other customers showed up. Most disappeared for a while with one of the girls. Meanwhile we proceeded to get too drunk, and hours later staggered the couple of blocks home. We were about 50 bucks poorer (all for drinks, of course) but had a pretty good story to tell and something to rib Jennifer about for the rest of the trip.
|Punta Arenas is a nice town, in an odd way. Almost all of the houses are sheet metal, painted bright colors to make up for the drab climate. Some of the 19th century buildings are very attractive, with creative use of metal siding and trim, a style they call "Magellenic Victorian" there, sort of a cross between English Victorian and Moorish. The complex statue in the plaza includes a three tailed mermaid - allowing for more apparatus than the typical American one-tailed type. There's also a representation of an Ona Indian (an extinct tribe). Locals rub the foot as they go by, presumably for luck. I followed suit - it can't hurt, after all, though it didn't seem to help the Ona.|
We spent the 11th in Punta Arenas still, waiting for Bill, a friend of Matt's, to show up. We met him in front of a bar (that was no longer in business) and ate at a nice place. We spent another night at the residencial on the hill. On the 12th we took a guided trip to the pingüinera outside of town. Hundreds of Magellenic penguins were just finishing raising their babies which looked almost as big as the parents by now, though much of that was fluff. The reserve is small and threatened by a strip mine.
Later in the day we reluctantly left the penguins as well as Punta Arenas behind and went to Puerto Natales by bus. The highway has one paved lane, and the other is gravel. The bus was always going back and forth, making for a jerky trip. It was about 4 bucks. All regularly scheduled busses between towns that we rode on were cheap in Chile, while busses to tourist destinations other than towns were expensive. We spent the night in a an hospedaje, where I watched part of the big Peru / Chile game, which Chile lost 2 to 1.
On the morning of the 13th we caught a much more expensive bus to Torres Del Paine National Park. As a tourist-only destination, it wasn't inexpensive like the regular busses, which I think are subsidized. Along the way we were surprised to see flamingoes, a bird we all associated with the tropics. They are fairly common in Patagonia and very beautiful. We checked in with the park service then hiked up a road for about 7 kilometers (to save another bus charge). Then we continued some distance into the mountains, spending the night at Campo Chileno below the actual Torres. Campo Chileno was our first experience with what we were soon calling "Euro-camping," the crowding together of hundreds of campers in a tight, noisy, and dirty little area. It began to rain as we reached the camp and soon was pouring. We ate in rain gear and then climbed into tents about 4:30. I wrote postcards and journal and finally slept a while. We all woke to blue sky and no rain at about 8:00 PM. All the others decided to try to reach the glacial overlook that night. I thought they were crazy. First Bill, and later the rest of them, headed off into the evening. I talked to the other campers, took some pictures, and enjoyed the nice weather. About dark (around 11) it began to rain again and I went to bed. Jennifer, Eric, and Matt returned about midnight concerned because the had never caught up with Bill. He woke us all up about 1:30, equally concerned about the others and I think a bit pissed about them never catching up.
On the morning of the 14th it was not raining at first so we ate and got packed in comfort, but as we got ready to hike it began to rain and then turned to snow. We hiked part of the way back out then began a long traverse of Lake Nordenskjold, a long milky-blue lake that fronts the entire Paine Massif at only about 100 meters elevation. Our trip - in rather poor, windy wet weather and on a trail that was quite muddy in places - led across the base of the Cuernos del Paine. We had some partial views of the spectacular slopes above us but the weather wasn't very cooperative. There were a couple of medium sized, fast glacial creeks to ford and a short but pleasant stretch that ran along a beautiful beach of mixed pink and white granite cobbles about 1 inch across. Most of the slopes were rock and grass and small shrubs but at times, especially late in the day, we were in actual woods, though not of big trees. The trees are lenga, a tiny-leafed southern-beech that seems to be almost the only tree in the southern parts of Patagonia.
We reached Campo Italiano in increasing rain and covered with mud. Due to the rain, wind, wet bushes, and muddy trail, we'd been in rain pants all day and rain jackets most of it. We hadn't seen Bill since the early morning but he was there with a fire going and hot water for tea. Torre Grande, a spectacular peak with an impressive glacier system, was right above us. The camp, however, was crowded, dirty, and even more of a "Euro-camp" than the one at Chileno.
In the evening an argument erupted in a nearby camp, and a young American woman (Joy) stumbled out crying and came to our fire. We gave her tea, calmed her down, and she ended up temporarily joining our party.
On the 15th we went further up the valley that Campo Italiano is in, above the snout of the glacier coming from Cerro Torre Grande. At times huge chunks of ice fell from the upper glaciers onto the lower one, with lots of noise and clouds of ice-dust. We'd been hearing them all night, and it was spectacular to see them. Eric, Matt, Joy and Bill hiked further up but not all the way to Campo Británico. Jennifer holed up under a rock to soak in the view and I hiked up the moraine. Later we descended back through Campo Italiano to the river crossing - a bridge this time, luckily, since it was big. At the crossing we saw a soaring condor, closer than any we had seen before, and Matt got some pictures with the telephoto.
The trail headed up into some plateau country, much of it without any trees, for some miles. There are several attractive lakes up there. It was very windy and the mud on the trails increased. Twice I got pushed into the mud by the wind - was I cussing? At the edge of the plateau, with Lago Pehue below, the trail crossed a small river. There was a bridge but I decided to ford it to wash my boots, socks, pants and rain pants off. I swished them around a bit, getting them fairly clean, and continued around the bend and over the brim to the drop-off to the lake. There I discovered that, just below where I washed off and just before the river fell in a series of falls to the lake, was the water intake for the refugio at the head of the lake! Oh well, what they don't know...
Lago Pehue Refugio is an unpainted two story building with a common room where some food and drink is on sale at relatively fair prices. It has bathrooms and showers, and there are dormitory rooms for about 7 bucks a night. We camped for much less and could still use the facilities. Also we bought a few bottles of beer them moved on to good Chilean boxed wine. Meanwhile Bill and Joy impetuously hopped onto the boat for the other end of the lake. Again it was very windy - there are almost no trees around there - and cold. At least the rain mostly stopped. Matt, Eric and I talked for quite a while with a group of high school kids from Punta Arenas on an outing.
|In the AM of the 16th we piled into the boat for the other end of the lake, right below the Cuernos del Paine. The improving weather allowed us the best shots we got of the Cuernos.|
The 17th was a business day for us in Puerto Natales, buying food, getting laundry done, buying tickets to El Calafate, Argentina for the next AM, etc. We also gave a shot at trying buying tickets for the NaviMag freighter north to Puerto Montt, and to our surprise, got them. We got a cabin for four with bath leaving on the 26th. That night was at Doña Inez's again. I carefully set the alarm for the early bus.
|Or at least I thought I did! Actually it was set for 6:00 PM. So on the 18th we missed the bus to El Calafate. I went to the station later and told them the alarm was set wrong on me (don't you love Spanish reflexives!) and they laughed heartily and changed the tickets for free. Matt made a joke in Spanish, saying "now we don't have to kill him," also much to their amusement. Chileans are great, would an American bus company change the tickets if you missed the bus? So we had a day to relax in Puerto Natales, which included a picnic at the fishing boat harbor. There were many families working on the boats, eating lunches together, and generally enjoying the cool but pleasant day. We spent the night at Doña Inez's residencial again.|
On the 19th we finally took the bus to El Calafate. It was a long trip, on gravel and dirt roads across the Patagonian desert. It stopped at the border (both sides) and then at a remote hotel. We got to El Calafate mid-afternoon. It's a small town, very remote, but geared to handle many tourists, almost all Argentines.
We had a strange experience when we ate lunch at "Rick's Café." Rick was not pleased to see us, was angry when we asked (naively) if we could use Chilean money, was rude during lunch, and told us we owed $30.50 when we were done (Argentine pesos have the same value as US dollars). We expressed mild surprise (all we had was four small mediocre sandwiches, a beer, a cup of tea, and two sodas). He angrily threw a menu at us and for the life of us we couldn't come up with more than $20 even at his inflated prices. He insisted on $30.50 and gave us an odd bill with items we couldn't decipher. We thought maybe some of the charges were for mayonnaise, ketchup, etc. We paid and left him a tip of $5 Chilean (about a cent) which was the only time we were REALLY ugly Americans on the trip, and I think he earned it. We spent the night in campground at a hostel where Euro-camping was the rule (except the sanitation wasn't quite as bad) and the parties lasted all night. No fun for folks who wanted to rise early for a bus.
On the 20th we continued on to Chaltén, which is a tiny village (actually just a park administrative center with a bit of private enterprise). We had an espresso at a place run by "Jesús" (our nickname for the long-haired, mystical looking, but pleasant guy that ran the place) then started hiking. We went up past the Cerro Torre base camp to the moraine that dams Lago Torres, a glacial lake at the base of Cerro Torre. Cerro Torre is a reputedly magnificent granite tower - we never actually saw the mountain due to weather - that brings climbers from around the world. It's said that one waits weeks for a good climbing day.
The lake was scenic, however. There was a glacier calving into it, small icebergs, and a howling wind. We estimated the gusts to be topping 100 MPH, on the top of the moraine. We were having fun trying to stand and walk in the wind (impossible during gusts, nearly so in between). When you reached the top it took several attempts to get over it, usually resorting to crawling. Clouds of water were being whipped off the lake, and though it's only about a half mile long, three foot waves were being formed. Small rocks tossed in the air were carried quite a ways away, and you could jump up into the wind and be carried backwards a few feet. Jennifer decided to run around in the wind with very few clothes on and invited us all to follow suit but only I was dumb enough to. I'm sure it was a contributing factor to the bronchitis I developed a day or two later, since I already had a cough. It was fun, though, I'll have to admit!
It was significantly less windy in the protected (illegal?) camp site we used, though not as protected as the small grove of trees where the official camp is. Even so, it took all four of us to set each tent up and there were a couple of times in the night none of us thought the tents would hold. Eric was able to cook in his tent's vestibule.
I was having camera troubles during that part of the trip, and they continued off and on until the camera was stolen, ending my problems with it. As a result I have a poor selection of pictures for this area.
We hiked out almost to Chaltén again on the 21st, walking along the road a short distance and going in a second trail leading to the FitzRoy base camp. FitzRoy is another world-famous peak, and equally chancy on the weather front. We took a side trail to a fairly good-sized alpine lake called Lago Capri below Mount FitzRoy. The lake has (for Patagonia at least) well developed forest around it. In this area there are at least two tree species, the lenga and another, larger-leafed, southern beech. Our camp (another unofficial one - to escape more Euro-camping) was among trees on a peninsula in the lake. We all swam briefly immediately on arriving, while we were still warm from hiking. Very windy still, and no complete view of FitzRoy though at times it seemed almost to open up. The weather was very variable, with downpours at times.
I awoke very sick on the 22nd. We had tickets for the 23rd back to El Calafate, the nearest place with a pharmacy. It had rained much of the night and was still raining in the morning, and I didn't want to take a chance of getting wet again. When the weather broke, I told the others I'd meet them the next afternoon in Chaltén, packed hurriedly, and dashed out. Although I was blasted by the wind and feeling pretty weak, I escaped without much rain and made Chaltén in about four hours. FitzRoy was visible for a while but I was too sick to care and didn't photograph it. All the rooms (they are pretty limited) in Chaltén were rented and I was lucky to be able to get a shared room. Actually the other inhabitants never stayed there - they showed up, inquired about my health, offered vitamin C, then took their bags and left. I wasn't really very observant at the time but I think they were bus drivers. I slept most of the afternoon and all night. The other three camped at FitzRoy base camp and had some adventures, including stream crossings and more wind and rain.
In the afternoon of the 23rd I staggered over to Jesús's place and waited for the group to return. Although not too warm (the wind goes right through it), it's a nice little confitería with a cat, a dog and a TV running CNN or some Argentine clone. Not sure how they get the TV, maybe satellite. Eric, Jennifer and Matt blew in on the afternoon gale and joined me at Jesús's for café esprés. We caught the afternoon bus back to El Calafate, and spent the night (inside) a different hostel there.
On the 24th the others went to Perito Moreno glacier, one of the preeminent tourist attractions in Argentina, while I went to a pharmacy for antibiotics. On my walk back from town I saw the only vehicle I saw on the trip (except a motorcycle) with US plates. A couple from Massachusetts were fixing a flat, and I talked with them a while. They had shipped the little pickup camper to northern Chile and had been driving for five months in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and now across Argentina on the way to Chilean Patagonia. I rested much of the day. The others had a nice visit to the glacier and said that they had a very good tour guide. I felt good enough to walk with them to the edge of town where there was a large number of flamingoes in a shallow pond. My camera was acting up still and I didn't get any pictures, but I hope to get some from Matt or Eric. The flamingoes are very beautiful, especially when they fly as the underside of their wings is an especially intense red. On the way out to see them we had a beer in an old-fashioned gaucho style barbecue place where the owner took us into the kitchen to see the sheep and pig he was roasting over coals. He said dinner was at 9 but it would be crowded. We should have returned and tried to get a seat but didn't as we were nowhere near the place by 9.
Our bus back to Chile on the 25th was not leaving until 3 PM, so Jennifer took a horseback ride with two young gauchos and a woman from New Zealand. We guys sat in sidewalk cafés and drank beer, joined by a young Englishman also waiting for the bus.
The bus to Puerto Natales broke down in the most remote part of the trip, out in the desert. It took an hour or so to fix it and it was late when we crossed the border. We got to Puerto Natales at about midnight. A woman at the bus stop talked us into going to her residencial (seemed sort of late to bother Doña Inez). Her residencial turned out to be quite remote, about a mile from downtown. However, it was inexpensive and our room had a private bath.
On the 26th we did a bit of business, washed up etc. and in the evening we got on board the ship Puerto Edén, a kind of a ferry/freighter that carries mostly over-the-road trucks. Chile has no through roads from the mainland to Patagonia. There are roads through Argentina, but the two nations get along poorly and the roads north from Argentine Patagonia are long and of poor quality. So, much of the freight back and forth to Chilean Patagonia goes on ships. The Puerto Edén runs between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt and carries (in addition to trucks, other freight, and truck drivers) about 100 passengers. We had a cabin for four with a bathroom, all meals, and pretty much free run of most parts of the ship. We got on the ship late in the evening but it stayed in the harbor and loaded all night.
On the 27th the ship left at about 6:30 AM and was sailing all day and night. I was the only passenger up on the top to watch the ropes cast off, though about a dozen people hurried out when they realized we were moving. We went by many wild and scenic islands and peninsulas the first day. Angostura Inglesa, a narrows where it seemed like only a couple hundred feet either way to the shore, was especially scenic to me.
Only the bottom 500 or so feet of the slopes of these wilderness mountains have trees, and there are no coastal plains - not even a few feet of flat ground - on the islands or mainland. Steep slopes, covered with exposed rock or densely green ground cover and with many long waterfalls, go up into the clouds. Occasionally we'd see glaciers up there though it was cloudy all day and it rained some, sometimes making rainbows. I saw a few dolphins but never saw any whales on the trip. It's a true wilderness - the ship passes no habitations except for one tiny Indian village between Puerto Natales and the southern end of Chiloé, which is about 100 miles from Puerto Montt.
There were a lot of foreigners on the ship, some gringos though there were still more Germans and other Europeans, a man from Japan, and quite a few Argentines and some Chileans. Really an international crowd. We talked a lot with two interesting woman from Denmark. One, a medical student, was originally from Greenland and is an Eskimo. An odd incident happened when we were talking to the two women and a German couple. The German man (talking in English, as it was their common language), apparently wondering why the Eskimo woman's appearance was not that of a typical Dane, asked her "What's wrong with your face?" I hope he doesn't become a diplomat.
The 28th was spent on the ship. There was a brief stop at the small Indian village of Puerto Edén, for which the ship is named, at 4:30 AM. I didn't go out, though the rest of the group did. I don't think they saw much. I saw a bunch of boats circling us out the porthole but don't know why (am told they sometimes sell some crafts but I don't suppose there is much market at that time of night). Mountains like those of the day before continued until afternoon. Then we went out to sea for about 12 hours to get across the Gulf of Penas and around the Taitao Peninsula. Many were seasick though none of our group was (I took a "Bonime," I'm not proud!). The Gulf of Penas ("Pains") appears to be named due to the seasickness common there, though also the history of shipwrecks would seem a likely source of the name. Whatever the reason for the name, the puns were inevitable as people groaned from the roll of the ocean waves being crossed at an odd angle in poor weather.
|On the 29th we were back in inland water and by late afternoon saw a few habitations and farms on islands along the southeast coast of the island of Chiloé. Later we saw the pastoral countryside of Chiloé, and finally fishing towns and farms on the mainland near Puerto Montt. We got in about 10 PM - this much further north it was already dark by then - and were given the option of getting off "right now" or spending the night on board and getting off after breakfast. We stayed on as did about half the passengers. I don't think they want anyone getting off while they are unloading trucks.|
On the 30th we got off the boat in the morning in Puerto Montt. It was raining, and continued to rain most of the time we were in town. It was unseasonable rain and was the headline story of the paper (there were low-lying barrios being flooded). We explored the little city anyhow and found both tourist and native markets. We had some schop and cheese samples in a second floor restaurant made of rickety bamboo in the cheese market. That night we found a nice place in Anselmo, the port district, where we had some pretty good food. My baked smoked salmon was great, though Eric and Matt were less impressed with their seafood stew. Our hospedaje was very crooked, with stairs that looked like an Escher print. Our steeply slanted, low ceilinged room was on the third floor with just a tiny window at floor level. I recommend that no building inspectors vacation in Chile.
We got ready to leave for the lakes district (north of Puerto Montt) on the morning of the 31st. However, in the bus station I carelessly left a daypack in an unattended place where it was stolen. Everything of real importance was in it - passport, air tickets, camera, travelers checks, jacket - as I say, I was really careless. I did still have my Visa card, my cash card (worked everywhere in Chile and gave the best exchange rate) and my driver's license. I filed a police report at the Carabineros (national police) and talked the airline into replacing my tickets to Santiago and changing all of us to Sunday night (we had been scheduled for the next Thursday night. I had to go to Santiago by Monday for a new passport, new Chilean visa and replacing the tickets from Santiago to Los Angeles. So for Friday night it was back to our odd garret room at the hospedaje again.
Saturday (February 1st) we took the bus to Osorno. Our plane tickets were for Sunday night and since we had two days to kill, we wanted to at least see a bit more of the area. In between we saw some of the lakes, some forest, and a lot of farms. Got in to Osorno in the evening and spent the night in another hospedaje. Explored the town during the evening and found a few interesting bars. Not a tourist town, to say the least! Many of the folks there are of German heritage and blond or red hair and blue eyes are very common. It's a pleasant, well-to-do, and clean but rather boring town.
On the 2nd explored more of Osorno then got back to Puerto Montt for our evening flight. However, it was canceled and we had to sit in the only bar in the airport waiting for the redeye to Santiago. Got into Santiago airport at 2:00 AM and tried to sleep a bit there.
On Monday I made it to the US Embassy at about 9:00 AM and arranged for a replacement passport while the rest of the group slept on the lawn. The embassy was fairly red-tape free and they said I'd be an American again in only two days for just $65 US. The national office of the Carabineros, where I had to go for a new visa, was much worse from a bureaucratic standpoint though at least the new tourist papers were free. That night we went back to the same hotel (Los Arcos) as our first night in Chile.
On the 4th, 5th and 6th - they all run together in my mind - I roamed the city, took the combination funicular railway and aerial tramway over Cerro San Cristóbal, saw the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, found the market (it is huge, as you'd expect), talked with a lot of folks, revisited the Virgin, etc. I even learned why gringos are always almost getting run over (you've got to shove right out into traffic - if you hesitate the taxis will push on through) and started to walk like a Santiagan. The Metro, South America's oldest subway, is clean and well kept and not badly crowded outside of rush hour. Daytime fares are less than fifty cents US and it goes over much of the city. When the others got back on Thursday, we tried a vegetarian restaurant (they didn't serve schop - "this is a vegetarian restaurant" they said) but it was still salty.
On the 7th we went to the airport in AM and, while the rest of the group flew to Antofagasta to continue their trip into Peru then Bolivia, I took off for home and back to winter.
Update March 20, 1997: Others all back in one piece after eventful month in Atacama and on the Altiplano. Experienced rain in the Atacama (!) and very muddy conditions in the Altiplano due to major rains.