Day 14/15 – Trip Home

Wed/Thurs, Sept 25/26, 2019

Maurice had agreed to pick us up at 5:30 pm in order for us to catch our flight back to Houston at 9:30 pm and we had to check out of the hotel by noon,  so we decided to spend the morning touring the downtown area and perhaps do a little shopping.    We spent most of the morning walking around the downtown area before returning to the hotel for a coffee break.    At 3:30, I went for another walk and came upon ‘ Castillo Hidalgo ‘, which is a castle that was built on St. Lucia Hill in the middle of Santiago in order to protect the city.   It was renovated and made into an event centre, however, many of the areas of the castle have been neglected and need restoration.

The castle occupies a large area and extends all the way to the top of the rocky hill.  When you get to the very top, you are above most of the high-rise buildings in Santiago.  The picture below of the canon is about 20 feet below the very top of the castle outlook.

I returned to the hotel at 5 pm and Maurice was there shortly afterwards to pick us up and take us to the airport.  We arrived at the airport 4 hours before our flight left so we had some time to make the 20 minute trek to our gate and check our some stores along the way.

Our flight was on time and we left shortly after 9 pm.

We slept as much as wee could on our overnight flight and arrived in Houston at 6 am, cleared customs, picked up our bags, had them re-scanned and transferred to our Cleveland flight and then trekked another 20 minutes to our gate.    Pete was able to get us moved to first class and we had a comfortable 2+ hour flight that arrived in Cleveland at noon.

We picked up our bags and took the long-term parking shuttle to Pete’s car.   Pete drove Fr Richard to his house before driving home.   I transferred my bags to my car and started driving home at 1:15 pm.

It took me longer than usual to get home because there were two major road constructions in progress, one at the Pennsylvania border and one near Hamburg on the I90.   There was also a tanker truck that had jack-knifed onto the median and was stopped from crossing into oncoming traffic by the railing and the accident had backed up traffic for miles.    My GPS rerouted me along the south shore of Lake Erie at the Hamburg construction site because the traffic was stop-and-go.   This was much better and it kept me moving at a good pace.   By the time I arrived at home, it was 6:15 pm.


Day 13 – Back to Santiago

Tuesday September 24, 2019

Our driver picked us up after breakfast and drove us to the airport in Punta Arenas.

At noon we arrived at the airport, printed our boarding passes and then waited for the agents to arrive.   At 1 pm we checked our bags, cleared security and waited for our plane.   We left Punta Arenas at 3:40 pm and arrived in Santiago after 7 pm.    After getting our bags, we met Maurice at the exit and he drove us to the Hotel Altiplanico.   Pete and I picked up a few pastries at a local shop and we had a light meal of coffee and pastries for supper before going to bed.

Day 12 – Patagonia

Monday, September 23, 2019

There was another extraordinary sunrise and since we had a 9 am start for our hike, we had time for a leisurely breakfast.

We drove to the parking spot where the hike normally starts to get to the boat landing.   There was a large restaurant and gift shop at the entrance and just behind them, we had to cross a hanging bridge to get to the other side of the river.

From there we hiked along a well groomed path to the beach area and then the 1.5 km ( 1 mile ) to the boat landing.

We walked towards the peninsula in the background so that we could get a better view of the glacier.

As we hiked along the beach, we saw an iceberg floating in the water, that looked like a blue gecko.

There were several icebergs in the water, as well as, a lot of ice along the shore.

We arrived at a peninsula that jutted into the water, next to the boat used to take tourists to the glacier.   We hiked to the furthest point of the peninsula, in order to get a good view of the Grey Glacier at the far end of the lake.

I took a closeup of the glacier, but I still couldn’t show how extensive it is.

After taking some pictures, we hiked around the back side of the peninsula to get back to the boat landing, before hiking back across the beach and up the trail to the parking lot.   By noon we were back at the hotel.

I spent some time in the pool area and fell asleep in one of the lounge chairs, looking at the mountains through the window.

When I woke up, it was 1:30 pm, so I went back to my room, changed and met the others in the restaurant for lunch, although they had already finished eating.

After lunch we returned to the pool area for the rest of the afternoon, before having leisurely supper and packing our bags for our trip back to Santiago in the morning.

Day 11 – Patagonia

Sunday, September 22, 2019

While we were eating breakfast, we were fortunate to see a spectacular sunrise with bright red colors among the blue clouds.

We had signed up for a bus tour of the park, which left at 8 am from the hotel.   We were the only ones on the bus and it stopped at several sights around the park.

We saw a few waterfalls at two different locations.

On one of the hikes from the falls, Pete and Kathy felt energetic so they jogged part of the way back to the bus.

At mid-morning, the guide treated us to hot chocolate and pastries, before we continued our tour.

As we drove around the park, we  had good closeup views of the mountains and the glaciers on them.

A few times, we spotted condors catching the updrafts as the circled the mountains in search of food.

There were a lot of wild Guanacos, a cousin to the Llama and Al Paca, roaming the hills and feeding on the Spring vegetation.

We returned to the hotel for lunch and opted not to take the other half of the tour in the afternoon, but Pete, Kathy and I decided to go horse back riding instead.

We rode on paths through trees and across fields,

as well as, a shallow marshy area.

It was the first time that Pete and Kathy had gone horse back riding. It took us approximately 2 hours and when we returned to the hotel, we went for a swim in the pool and then Fr. Richard led a Sunday service for us.

We had supper at 7:30 pm and sat by a crackling fire until the evening was over.

The hotel restarted operations on September 1, after it’s annual shutdown for the winter months ( July/August ).   The  season starts slowly and currently only 40 of the 200 available rooms are occupied.    This makes it nice for personalized excursions but it also means that some excursions might be cancelled due to lack of participation.    Such was the case with the boat tour to see the glacier waterfalls.    Therefore we signed up to take a hike in the morning in order to catch a glimpse of the glacier falls from a distance.

Day 10 – Patagonia

Saturday, September 21, 2019

We had breakfast at 7 am in the hotel, finished packing our bags and waited for our driver.   He arrived at 8 am and we headed north to Patagonia.

As we left Punta Arenas, we passed many cattle, Llama and sheep farms, as well as rheas ( cousin to the ostrich and emu ) and other different birds we had never seen before.

We drove for 2 hours, stopped for a lunch and then continued for another 2 hours, in order to get to our hotel in the Torres del Paine park in Patagonia.

The Rio Serrano hotel, where we are staying, is located in a valley between the Andean mountains.    It is a luxurious hotel and has a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains.

We arranged for a condor sighting tour that would leave at 3 pm and then settled into our rooms.

We left the hotel on schedule and as we drove to the location where we should be able to see condors, one of our guides made a rare sighting that made my vacation complete.

I have never seen a puma in the wild before and there was one that appeared to be hunting, as it stalked its way across an open field, about 30 meters ( 100 ft ) from us.

When it disappeared into the underbrush, we continued on our way.   As we approached the trail, we had a clear picture of the first hotel in the park ( on the island below the mountains ) built to encourage sport fishermen to come to the park.    Unfortunately, there are few fish and they aren’t good to eat because of the high mineral concentration in the water.

The condor nest is in the mound at the top of the hill that we needed to climb in order to get a better view of them.

It was cool ( 8 C, 47 F ) and combined with a strong wind it was even cooler.    By the time we were almost at the top, the wind was so strong that we could not climb the last section on to the mound, due to safety concerns.

However, we spotted the condors flying above us.   The condor is the largest flying bird in the world if you combine weight and wingspan.   The wingspan can reach lengths of 3.3 meters ( 10 ft 10 in. ).

We also spotted the nest in the mound on the hill.

In all, it was an excellent day!

We hiked back down in the wind even thought it tried to keep pushing us up.     When we got back to the van, we drove to the hotel, took showers and rested a bit.   At 7 pm we met for supper in the hotel.   There are no stores or restaurants in the area, however, our accommodations were all-inclusive, so the ‘ a-la-carte ‘ meals were all part of our package.

After dinner, the staff made a fire in one of the lounge fireplaces and we spent a few hours, listening to the crackling from the flames as they slowly devoured the wood.


Day 9 – Flight to Southern Patagonia

Friday, September 20, 2019

We had breakfast at the hotel at 7:30 am and met our driver and guide at 8:30 for a trip to the German museum in Frutillar.

We followed the coast of Lake Llanguihue to Frutillar as our tour guide showed us some of the farms, houses and salmon farms along the way.

The museum consists of 4 original buildings from the 1800’s and early 1900’s when German settlers had immigrated into the area and colonized it.  There were 4 buildings.

There is a typical family home,

There is also a mill ( left ), a blacksmith shop ( right ) and a round storage building (not visible on the picture below),

A typical kitchen used in the early 1900’s,

A typical bedroom,

One unique aspect of the house is the bowling alley.

There are unique artifacts, such as phonograph players.

There is also an automobile on display.

They have an old threshing machine.

And there are many other machines that they had for cooking and farming.

We spent an hour looking at the displays and then went to a local cafe for some coffee ( or hot chocolate ) with some “ Kuchen “ ( cakes with fruit ).

We left at 12 pm and arrived back at the hotel at 12:30.   Kathy and Peter went into town for a little shopping while I worked on my blog and Fr Richard rested.

By 3 pm, Arturo, arrived at the hotel to take us to the airport for our flight to Punta Aranas.   When we arrived at the airport, we checked our bags and waited for our flight, which was coming from Santiago. At 4:30 our plane had arrived and shortly after 5 pm we were on our way.

We arrived in Punta Arenas at 7:30 pm, picked up our bags and met our driver.   The temperature was 4 C ( 39 F ) with sleet and snow as we exited the airport.

We drove about 30 minutes south, from the airport to the town and arrived at our hotel by 8 pm.   We checked in, dropped off our bags and met for supper at the hotel restaurant, before going to bed.

Chile has a 6000 km ( 3800 miles ) coastline from Peru to the tip of South America and averages only 170 km ( 106 miles ) in width .  We are now almost at the southern tip of Chile and not very far from Antarctica.

I was surprised to see that the town of Punta Arenas has a population of approximately 100,000 people.   The temperatures are cool and stable, averaging between -1 C ( 30 F ) in July and 14 C ( 57 F ) in January.


Day 8 – Puerto Varas

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Today was a Chilean holiday, called the “ Days of the Glories of the Army ”.

It was a cool day and it didn’t warm up.   The temperature stayed around 5 C ( 40 F ) all day.

After breakfast at the hotel, we were picked up at 8:30 am by our driver, Percy, who took us to the Petrohue Waterfalls.   The drive took 50 minutes and when we arrived at the entrance, we picked up our tickets and hiked the short distance to the falls.  They’re not as impressive as Niagara Falls but they were still worth seeing.

The river has some rapids and is used for white water rafting.

On our trek back from the falls, we walked through rainforest vegetation.

We arrived back at the hotel at 11 am, had lunch and rested a little while before meeting the driver and tour guide for our next trip.    They picked up Pete, Kathy and myself at 1:30 pm, before picking up 11 more people at two different locations.   Fr. Richard had decided to stay at the hotel.

From  Puerto Varas, we drove to the Osorno volcano, a short distance from the waterfalls where we had spent the morning.   As we neared the top, the rain changed to snow and there was a bit of a traffic jam near the entrance of the ski lodge where people were putting chains on their car tires so our driver had to stop and put chains on the tires of our 17 passenger bus before proceeding.

It was very foggy at the top and there were many kids sliding down the slopes.

We had thought we would see a crater at the top but instead we spent an hour drinking a hot chocolate at the ski lodge and looking at the kids playing in the snow, before driving back down the mountain.

On our way down we saw a grey Chilean fox and stopped at a green lagoon to take some pictures.

From the lagoon we drove back to the hotel, where we met Fr. Richard for supper at 6:45 pm.    We walked the short distance to a seafood restaurant called Casa Valdes.     Peter, Fr. Richard and I had the Chilean Seabass and Kathy had a seafood ravioli.   By the time we finished our dinner, it was almost 9 pm so we walked back to the hotel and made preparations for leaving the next day before going to bed.

Day 7 – Travel to Puerto Montt

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Our driver picked us up at 7:00 am from the hotel and drove us to the airport, where we arrived, shortly after 8 am.   The temperature was quite cool , about 5 C ( 40 F ) and it was just as cool in the airport.   We checked our bags, cleared security and waited for our flight to Santiago en route to Puerto Montt.

Our flight to Santiago took approximately 2 hours.   We had a 2 hour layover in Santiago, before continuing on a 2 hour flight to Puerto Montt.

While we waited for our next flight, we ate most of the lunch that had been prepared for us by the hotel staff and just before our flight was about to board, its gate was changed so we had to relocate to the new gate.  Just as the plane was about to board, I remembered that I had left my phone at the charging station by the other gate, so I hurried back to get it.   I picked it up and made it back just before our zone was called to board.

As we approached our destination the scene from the airplane changed to a green landscape with many farms and villages.

When we arrived in Puerto Montt, we picked up our bags and met the driver, Arturo, who took us to our hotel in the nearby town of Puerto Varas.   The temperature was 5 C ( 40 F ) when we arrived, which is typical for this time of year in this part of the country, so we had to start dressing with more layers of clothing.

We are staying in very nice rooms in a rustic lakeside hotel called “ Cabana del Lago “, facing a lake called “ Lago Lianquihue “.

After checking into the hotel, we settled into our rooms and met a little while later at the hotel restaurant. Before we sat down to eat, Pete organized a morning excursion to a waterfall, upon the recommendation of the hotel staff.

The meal was very good and by the time we finished eating, it was time to get some rest in preparation for our two excursions the next day.

Day 6 – Petroglyphs and Salt Flats

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

We had a free morning, so we took our time with breakfast and then walked the short distance to the town square.

We checked out many of the shops in the area although we didn’t buy anything of significance.

By the time we returned to the hotel, it was already early afternoon, so we ate lunch in the restaurant and then rested for a few hours before our evening excursion.    During this time I walked back to the local pharmacy and topped up my mobile phone SIM card for a few dollars.

At 3:30 pm our guide and driver, Antal, returned to the hotel to take us on an excursion to see the petroglyphs in Talabre and the Salt Flats at Chaxa Lagoon.

We drove along highway 23 from San Pedro de Atacama and then took gravel roads to the valley near Talabre to see the petroglyphs.  We had to hike a short distance into the valley where the petroglyphs are located.

As the guide explained it, there were many different petroglyphs from different eras etched on the walls, each with its own story to tell.  The one below depicts two male llamas fighting for territory.

From the petroglyphs, we drove to the salt flats where we found flamingos feeding on tiny shrimp in the pools.

We ate a small snack as we watched the sunset over the lagoons.

However, the colours were much more spectacular on the other side of the salt flats.

We shortly after sunset and arrived back at the hotel by 8:30 pm.




Day 5 – Moon Valley

Monday, September 16, 2019

In the morning I was feeling much better and I was ready for our trip to Moon Valley ( Valle de la Lune ).   Our driver picked us up at 7:15 am and then picked up a family of 4 from another hotel.

We drove up one of the nearby hills and watched the sunrise

as we ate the breakfast that the driver had prepared for us.

We got to know the family from Wales that had joined us.   The father was an Anglican priest and an estate lawyer, their daughter was in Chile for 3 months of training for her course in linguistics and their son had just finished his mechanical engineering degree.

From here we went to Valle de la Luna ( Moon Valley ).   There is actually a very bumpy and rocky road that we took from Coyo to the trailhead near Moon Valley that isn’t shown on google maps.

Since Moon Valley is in a desert climate, it had been shaped by years of wind erosion which had created many dunes and modified rock formations.

We drove a little further away to see the “ Three Marias “ which had been sculpted by the wind.

From there we went to a small rural restaurant for a traditional Chilean snack, before returning to the hotel where we spent the rest of the day relaxing.

We are at elevation of 2400 meters ( 8000 ft ) and since the air is a bit thinner at that elevation, I have found that my energy level and my appetite is slightly reduced.

We ate a very nice dinner at the restaurant in the hotel and by 8:30 we were ready to go to bed.