Day 4 – San Pedro de Atacama

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Maurice picked us up at 8 am and took us to the airport in Santiago to catch our flight to Calama.   We had printed our boarding passes the day before and with the help of an agent, we were quickly able to check our bags and get through security.

Our flight took us above the Andes and we could see them above the clouds.

As we approached Calama, the landscape changed to a barren desert.

The flight was approximately 2 hours from Santiago to Calama in the North of Chile.

We arrived in Calama, picked up our bags and as we exited the baggage area, we found our driver waiting for us.

The driver took us from the airport to the Don Thomas hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.

The view along the 96 km ( 55 mi ) drive was of very barren, however, the road was paved, with little traffic and it took us about an hour to get there.

We arrived at 2:30 pm, checked in and then relaxed at the pool for a while.

At 5 pm we decided to go for supper, however, I wasn’t feeling very well, so I stayed at the hotel, which was a good idea.    Shortly after they left, I got the chills and suffered Montezuma’s revenge, which I attributed to food poisoning from the sandwich I ate on the airplane.

Pete, Kathy and Fr. Richard went to a local restaurant, where they had a very nice chicken dinner, before returning to the hotel for the night.


Day 3 – Valparaiso

Saturday, September 14, 2019

It was 8 C ( 46 F ) when we woke up.   We had another very nice breakfast at 7:30 am, before Maurice and Katja picked us up for the drive to Valparaiso at 8:30 am.

We reached this coastal city by 10 am and as we drove through the city, it reminded me of San Francisco since most of the houses are built on the hillsides and many of the streets are very steep. Maurice drove us to a lookout at the top of one of the hills so that we could take some pictures.

The shipyard is expansive and, as we found out later, many of the houses are built using the corrugated materials from the shipping containers.   From the top of the hill, we took one of the many elevators to get down the hill where Maurice was waiting for us.

We visited a few of the old homes and stopped for a short while near the original town square.   The blue building in the background had been the city hall until it was converted to a naval hall after the relocation of the city hall.

The temperatures had risen to a comfortable 22 C ( 71 F ) by the afternoon.   One thing that is common in Chile is the graffiti.   It is everywhere except where people had been hired to paint murals.

We stopped and toured the home of one of Chile’s famous poets, Pablo Neruda, that had been left with its artifacts intact and turned into La Sebastian’s, the Museum House.

I took a picture of Pete & Kathy outside ofthe house which was located on the edge of a cliff.


At 1 pm , we stopped for a small lunch at a local cafe before continuing our tour of the city.   We were introduced to numerous art shops along the way and Fr. Richard bought a watercolour painting to add to his collection.

We left Valparaiso at 3 pm and returned to the hotel at 4:30 pm.   We printed our airplane boarding passes for the next leg of our trip and then headed to a local restaurant called El Txoco upon the recommendation of the hotel staff.    When we arrived at the restaurant, we found out that the the waiter couldn’t speak English, however we were able to translate enough of what he said, to order our food.    I had a grouper in a pesto sauce with fried onion, Pete and Fr. Richard had grilled steaks and Kathy had an appetizer and then we split a couple of desserts which had been recommended by the waiter.   The food was excellent and the waiter was very patient, helpful and very entertaining.

After supper, Fr. Richard, Peter and Kathy went to Mass at a local church, while I went back to the hotel to start writing my journal for the day and packing my bags for our upcoming flight.

Day 2 – Santiago

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pete & Kathy’s room and Fr. Richard’s room, faced the street and they didn’t sleep very well because of the noises.   My room faced the hotel’s courtyard so I had a good sleep.   In the morning, we had a wonderful breakfast in the lobby at 8 am.   There was a good variety, the food was fresh and it was plentiful.

At 9:30, our driver, Maurice and our guide, Katja, arrived to take us on a city tour.   The traffic was heavy but that was to be expected in a large city.

It is early spring time in Chile and the temperatures are about 8 C ( 45 F ) at night and 15 – 25 C ( 60 – 75 F) during the day.

As we left the hotel, we drove past an area where impressive murals on the sides of the walls were common.

Maurice drove us to the top of San Cristobal mountain,which is one of several parks in central Santiago.

From the top of this mountain we could get a good view of Santiago. Santiago is located in a large valley and as is common with cities built in valleys, smog tends to accumulate.

We hiked up, the short distance to the gondola station and rode the gondola back down to the bottom.

From this park we went to the Bicentenial park where we saw some native birds,

incluiding the Chilean swan that has a black neck once it gets to be two years old.

and the Chilean flamingo.

From the park we went to a fish market near our hotel.  There were some very nice restaurants in the market and lots of fresh fish, which made it very easy for the restaurants to serve fish dinners.

Several of the vendors had Conger Fish ( Congrid ), which is what I had for supper the night before.

From the market we went to the central square

and a cathedral that had just started a mass service.   From there we saw the presidential palace, as well as a few other buildings in the area before returning to the hotel around 1 pm for some coffee and a rest.

At 4 pm we walked to a local restaurant for dinner.    On our way we found the first steam powered fire engine used in Santiago.

When we found the restaurant, we each ordered Tapas, so that we could share our meals, however, Fr. Richard had accidentally ordered a meal of assorted raw fish and seafood dishes, so I ate it while the others at the pork, sausage and empanadas.   We all indulged in fine white and dark chocolate desserts before heading back to the hotel for the evening.

Flight to Santiago, Chile

Thursday, Sep 12, 2019

In 2018, Pete & Kathy Roethler, Fr. Richard Burchell and myself decided to investigate the possibility of a trip to Chile and Patagonia.    We have travelled together a few times, most recently to Peru to see Machu Picchu and after checking a couple of tour companies and several options, we decided to go on a 15 day tour with Audley Travel in September of 2019.   This trip had a personalized agenda with plenty of time for side trips.

Our flights were scheduled to leave at 6:30 pm on September 11, 2019 from Cleveland , so I left home at 6:20 am on Wednesday morning, in order to drive to Pete & Kathy’s house in plenty of time to get to the airport.

After a nice lunch, we arrived at the airport at 3 pm and went to the United Airlines lounge ( thanks to Pete and Kathy’s VIP status ) until it was time for our flight to leave.    Pete also got us upgraded to first class seating for our 2 1/2 hour flight from Cleveland to Houston.    During the flight, the fellow sitting in front of me had an issue and caused a bit of a ruckus with one of the stewardesses and it took a while for one of the stewards to calm him down.   Fortunately, it did not affect our flight and the United Airlines staff in the airport met with the passenger after the flight.

When we landed in Houston, we proceeded to our gate and then I walked around the airport trying to purchase a AAA battery but after 30 minutes of searching I gave up and returned to our gate.

After a 2 hour layover we continued to Santiago, Chile.   The flight took about 9 hours and sleep eluded us on the plane but I was able to snooze a bit.

When we reached Chile we had a great view of the Andean mountain range.   The mountains reach up to 7000 meters ( 23000 feet ), however most are 5000 meters or less.   They are mostly barren, however, there are some villages and lush valleys in between them.

We arrived a bit early, which gave Pete, Kathy, Fr Richard and I, a lot of time to clear custom.

We adjusted our clocks an hour ahead, to the local time and after we got through customs, we picked up our luggage, exited the baggage area and looked for our guide.   Someone intercepted us and tried to convince us to pay for a taxi to go to our hotel.   Fortunately, we had been warned that this might happen and we ignored the people and eventually I found our driver holding a sign for us.   The driver took us to our guide, Katja, and we proceeded to the Hotel Altiplanico Bellas Artes, which is located in central Santiago about a 30 minute drive from the airport.

The staff were very helpful and the rooms are very nice.

One of the first things they asked us was, “ Who gets the matrimonial suite “?.   Fr Richard and I decided that we would let Pete and Kathy have it.   We settled into our rooms and then we met downstairs for some coffee and cake.

The brochures had mentioned that most of the coffee in Chile is instant and not very good, however, the hotel had a espresso machine using freshly ground Brazilian coffee beans and it made a very good Cappuccino.

After a few cups,  I went down the street, as directed by the hotel staff, in order to find a local SIM card for my phone.    As I walked down the street, I was surprised to find so many people  at the numerous little shops in the area, however with a population of 6.5 million, that is not unusual for a large city.

I found a ‘ Movistar ‘ location which is one of the 2 main phone plan providers in South America.   I had a few surprises.   The hotel staff had told me that the agents would probably speak English and I would be able to use my credit card to pay.   Both of these statements were not true.   When I got there I was told that I would have to pay in Pesos.   Fortunately with the little bit of Spanish I knew and the little bit of English the agent knew, I was able to find a money exchange kiosk in the mall area and buy some Chilean pesos.   I received approximately 700 pesos for each US dollar.   At home, Kathy had received only 600 pesos for a US dollar.

I returned to the Movistar kiosk and purchased a SIM card for 3000 pesos ( ~ $3 US  ).   I couldn’t use google translate because my phone wasn’t activated yet, so the agent used it on her computer to let me know that I would have to buy credit at a pharmacy to activate the phone and then she directed me to a pharmacy, where I stood in line for 20 minutes while two customers purchased medications.    It was finally my turn and again, the pharmacist didn’t speak English, however, I was quickly able to let him know that I wanted purchase a package for 4000 pesos.

I still had problems accessing the internet, so I stopped at the Movistar kiosk again and the agent helped me modify my iPhone account phone number and I was finally in business.     As we were leaving the airport, the guide had told me that we could have purchased a SIM card at the airport if I had let her know before we left and in hindsight it would have been easier, but not as much fun.

I returned to the hotel with my new phone number ( 96 153 4367 ) activated and the internet enabled.    Pete was waiting for me when I returned, while Kathy and Fr. Richard had gone back to their rooms to shower and rest.   They had made a decision to meet at 3 pm to go for dinner, so I proceeded to my room to work on my journal, rest a bit and take a shower before leaving.

We wandered around the area, visited the Basilica de la Merced and I bought some AAA batteries, before stopping at a local restaurant called A su Mer-C.   The waiter took our picture before we enjoyed a fine fish dinner.

Peter and Fr. Richard had the sole, Kathy had the Salmon and I tried the Conger fish, which belongs to the eel family.     We finished eating around 5 pm, slowly made our way back to the hotel and had coffee before we headed to our rooms, for some much needed rest.