Facts (as we think of them)
Currency: Chilean Pesos
Exchange rate: ~580 peso/$1
Language: Spanish (some English)
Internet connection speed: 16,800 bps (via MCI to Atlanta Mindspring!)
McDonald's cheeseburger cost: 650 pesos
English speaking TV channels (in our hotel): 1 (CNN)
Santiago was the initial destination of our trip. Our first flight was on American Airlines to Miami. There was only business class (no first) so our bulkhead seats were somewhat constraining in the leg room (of course it was better than coach, but we had paid for first class).
We had a 4 hour lay over in the Miami airport and we watched football in the American Airlines Admiral Club until they kicked us out at 11:30, closing time. The did not want to let us in since we were not flying American from Miami, but we talked our way in. Our LANChile flight was not scheduled to take off until 1:55AM and there was absolutely nothing open in the airport at that time in the morning. When checking our tickets against our itinerary one last time, we realized that this next flight to Santiago actually had scheduled stops in Guayaquil, Ecaudor AND Lima, Peru before finally arriving in Santiago – our printed travel agent itinerary had us on a direct flight landing in Santiago at 7:30 in the morning. Instead, our tickets showed us arriving at 2:30PM the next day -- we were mentally prepared for the morning arrival, so we were quite annoyed. Dan called the travel agent to let him know about the mixup and to alert anyone waiting for us in Santiago that we would not be in until 7 hours later than the itinerary said.
We also noticed that we were in row 1 on the long LANChile flight, so we worried that we again had bulkhead for the next 13 hours. Boy, were we pleasantly surprised! When we got on the plane at 1:55AM, we realized what a mistake we had made worrying about being in the first row -- there is only one row of first class (5 seats across) in a space big enough to fit 3 rows. There were 2 flight attendants assigned to first class, but there were only 3 passengers (and that 3rd guy slept the entire time). So from the moment we sat down we had constant attention and complete comfort. The trip bag (typical in overnight trips) had a shoe bag, travel brush, toothpaste, foot-padded socks, etc – we immediately realized we had packed too much!
Although we just wanted to go to sleep, they brought by the menu and wine list and movie list. We figured we would see about the snack since we could not recline while taking off. As soon as we were in the air they brought out the first course of the 3 course "snack" – rolls and butter. Easy but good. Then then a cold cut platter (not just your normal cold cuts), with Chinese shrimp, crab claws and smoked tuna, then a full plate of cheese and crackers. At all times bread and butter and wine and water were replenished immediately. The main course was also outstanding. We had a couple glasses of wine. We "accidentally" started watching Gladiator!
A couple hours into Gladiator (which, by the way, we had both seen before), we figured it was time to go to sleep. The seats reclined into extremely comfortable beds. Except for the 2 landings for which they made us sit upright, we slept great! As soon as we hit the ground we fully reclined again and went to sleep – that means the entire plane unloaded and reloaded walking past a couple of sleeping tourists. The 13 hour ride we were concerned about turned out to be a ride in luxury!
When we finally arrived in Santiago at 2PM Monday. Our local contact (Bernardo, from Sportstour) was waiting for us – he had come by at 7:30 in the morning like we feared and wrestled most of the day with the airlines trying to figure out if and when we were coming in (guess our travel agent did not check his vmail Monday AM).
We were obviously in a new culture. Bernardo's his first topic of conversation was Clinton and he specifically asked if we were Clinton-supporters. Dan had to hold back from bringing up the daily issues that question raises back home! Bernardo said he was happy with Bush because they thought Bush would support more trade with them, and they are dependent on US trade $$. He said that they enjoyed the whole election debacle because we (Americans) are always criticizing the rest of the world for their elections, politics, etc. and they for once got to enjoy our issues. He was not being negative about it, more just letting us know. He also let us know that he was single and looking for a good woman that would stay at home and make his breakfast and dinner every day – he said that Dan was so lucky to have found that type of woman. Wow, where did he get that idea:)!?
Bernardo asked if we wanted to go on a 3 hour private car tour of the city, but we decided that after 12 hours of flying and a 30 minute car ride we needed to chill. When we got to our hotel, we had a saddening realization that we had never gotten to our plans of researching each destination, etc. We knew absolutely nothing about Santiago – we did not know what we should see, what tipping practices should be followed, safety concerns, cultural issues, etc. In the first hour we had to deal with the issue that we we had hoped, through careful research, never to confront!!! We also had that terrible fallback realization that we could just sit in our room until the flight to Easter Island.
But after an hour of relaxing, we talked to a hotel concierge for suggestions (immediately realized we would have to figure it out on our own), and we walked around the downtown district. It was pretty much rush hour (people and buses mostly). Tons of open shopping streets (no cars) and tons of people. The selection of shops were much like in the United States (McDonald’s, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, Dominos, Van Heusen, Radio Shack, etc.)
We stayed in the Hotel Carerra, which has 17 stories, and from the pool/restaurant on top has a great view of Santiago and the nearby mountain ranges.
We were told dinner starts around 9:30PM and it was 7:30 so we figured we would take a 1 hour nap. When we woke up at 11:00PM, we quickly checked with the Concierge about where we could go eat. He said pretty much everything was closed so we would have to go to the hotel's roof restaurant – not sure how everyone could get done eating and close down that quickly?!. We walked a couple blocks on the deserted streets and decided the roof sounded great!
The food at the roof restaurant was very good, although our waiter did not speak any English. Dan settled for sparkling water, and accepted it when his dish was wrong, and even tolerated (with trouble) the smoking Europeans at the next table over. Part of the driving force for our tolerance was a couple of American tourists across the restaurant. They were two quite large men (maybe father/son) dressed in typical tourist clothes – shorts, shirts untucked, tennis shoes, dark socks, and passport pouches on the outside of their shirts. They were loudly discussing their bill, saying that the people who had been sitting with them said they would pay the bill, and they did not understand why the waiter had given them the bill. It was not the issue that was bad, but instead the volume and contempt with which they were ‘discussing’ the issue with the wait staff. Apparently, only one waiter spoke English so he went over to help. We realized how sometimes Americans get a bad rap (not to say other groups don’t act the same way, but we sure were embarrassed.) You can bet we gave our waiter a big tip!
We realized that we had no clue about tipping/payment of items! Bernardo said that the 20% tip for the waiter was unheard of, and typically $1 is enough. Bernardo could not explain why we were charged 18% on the hotel bill on a subset of the incidentals – there were actually 3 unclear totals on the bill, all different amounts with no indication of currency or purpose. We paid the US$89 and figured it was under the ‘concern’ amount, but felt that maybe we were getting had.
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