Chile - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 394 (204)

Santiago

Wednesday 6th April (2005)

I think it must have been the jetlag that caused us both to be so restless, last night, that we weren’t really able to get to sleep for several hours after trying to go put our heads down. We ended up sitting up into the wee hours watching a Sylvester Stallone B movie. Over the past few weeks, we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress around the planet in an Easterly direction. We’ve flown from New Zealand to Tahiti to Easter Island to South America in the space of less than a week. Each of these displacements has been a four or five-hour flight and we’ve lost a couple of hours to the time zone fairy each time. The resulting jetlag that we suffer is an unfortunate bi-product of travelling in an Easterly direction around the planet. If we were to repeat the exercise, I’d perhaps choose for us to travel in the opposite direction instead. Travelling days are generally very tiring and after spending an exhausting day on the move, you generally want the day to be longer than normal and not shorter. We both suffered from the effects of the jetlag but Sandy was eventually off to slumber land before me and I never really managed to get a significant stretch of sleep all through the night. At one point, I realised that my nose was blocked and I was worried that the fatigue plaguing my body was lowering my natural defences and allowing a common cold or something to set in. As luck would have it, I finally awoke this morning feeling surprisingly absent of any illness and my nose was no longer blocked, although I still felt quite groggy and a bit stiff.

We thought we’d have a crack at the free breakfast this morning in the dining room. Much like any real hotel, this one has a dedicated dining room and we slipped in to take a seat at one of the laid out breakfast tables. There were a couple of other people sitting there finishing up their tea or coffee but no wait staff as far as we could see. Eventually, one of the maids came in and put a pot of hot water on the table. Several minutes later, another maid came in and handed us each a glass of very sweet juice. A third maid came on a while later and placed some butter into the table. It went on like this for the next half an hour with small bits of our breakfast being brought in piecemeal. I wasn’t going to put up with the usual slice of bread, butter, jam and tea or coffee this morning so I went out to the reception desk and asked the one passable English-speaking woman I knew would be there if I could get some eggs with my breakfast. She said that their free breakfast doesn’t typically include eggs but that it wouldn’t be a problem and I could just ask the maid. She told me what the correct Spanish phrase was for ordering eggs but my brain can barely manage coherent motor function within my first waking hour of the day let alone that sort of linguistic complexity so I had her write it down for me. I showed this to the maid back in the dining room and she nodded as she disappeared back into the kitchen. Yet another new maid soon came back out and asked me something is Spanish. I could only assume she was asking how I wanted my eggs cooked so I tried to get across the message that I wanted them boiled. I pointed into the hot pot of water on the table as I tried to explain this but she then went away and came back with a teabag so that clearly didn’t work for me. I’m not sure if she understood the resignation in my sunken nod to her as she put the teabag down and disappeared again. I did my best to prevent my head from falling all the way forward into my breakfast. Sandy quietly chuckled. I don’t know how many maids they have here but another new face soon came out of the kitchen with a skillet of scrambled eggs. It was clear that this was about as close to getting what I wanted without putting in considerably more effort so I made do with that. At least we had something this morning.

We’ve been accumulating souvenirs again since I picked up that boomerang in Australia. Add that to the curios from New Zealand and Easter Islands as well as a few guidebooks and other bits and pieces that we are carrying around but no longer need, and our backpacks are starting to feel heavy again. In fact, we’ve been stuffing things into the originally near empty box that contained just the boomerang to the point that it is now a rather heavy third piece of carry-on luggage and it is high time that we sent this home so we sought out the main post office in the middle of the city centre this morning. It’s actually a rather elegant building that oozes character – on the outside at least. On the inside, there is a huge open space in the middle with all the usual post office type departments around the inside slowly tending to queues of people and their postal needs. One queue of people in particular seemed to not only be very long but also doubled back and forth several times and it seemed like it would be an eternity to make it through that one so I found a smaller queue of people lining up in front of what looked like an information booth. I tacked onto this one in the hope that the woman slowly handling those customers might speak at least a little bit of English. There was a fair bit of frustration on the part of the customers in this line due to its slow progress but they seemed to take it largely in good humour and were generally smiling as they were complaining amongst themselves. It was a while before I got to the front and the woman turned out to not speak any English at all, but curiously seemed to understand what I wanted when I pointed to my parcel and tried to tell her in my shamelessly inadequate Spanish that I wanted to send it to England. I tried to get her to tell me how much it would cost to send but they were having problems with the computer and I had to wait for several more people around me to be served before she was able to do this. I needed to repack the package into a larger box that would also accommodate the gold panning bowl we’ve been toting since New Zealand but the only boxes they had were either too big or too small. We ended up giving up on the re-packaging and decided to just send the parcel as it was, sans bowl, and so I tried to hand it over after filling out the requisite forms. She handed it back to me with the sort of pitying look that said something like “look at this poor sap, he doesn’t understand” and mumbled something to me in Spanish. Clearly there was a problem with the package but it wasn’t evident what this problem was. Did she need the package contents to first be check for customs inspection, perhaps? My most pathetic dear in the headlights stare must have solicited pity from the surrounding customers as they all started to mumble to each other and one of them wrote a few words down on a piece of paper for me. I looked at her and the words written on the piece of paper and then they all started to point at the door leading out to the street. They seemed to be willing me to go out onto the street as if to say, “Go on lad, that’s right, you can do it.” So, with my package under my arm and this piece of paper in my hand, off we wandered out into the street, not that we had any idea where we were going or what our purpose was. We walked around a bit and stopped several people whilst pointing at the note but nobody seemed to understand. I distinctly got the impression that some of them were internally mocking this poor foreign idiot, clutching a strange package and aimlessly wandering around the streets of Santiago not knowing where he was going or why. I decided to head back to the post office and noticed a guy standing outside selling wrapping and packaging materials. I showed him the note and he instantly seemed to understand. He handed me a large, folded sheet of thick, brown wrapping paper and a roll of tape and then held his hand out. I pulled a stack of loose change from my pocket and offered it to him. He helped himself to several of the larger coins, smiled and seemed to thank me. Clearly, then, I needed to wrap my already wrapped blue package in brown paper before the post office would accept it. Indeed, we’ve encountered this before in other countries so it did seem plausible. I took the wrapping paper and tape back into the post office and we wrapped the parcel good and solid. When I handed it back to the woman at the information booth, she smiled and seemed to accept it this time. I felt a warm sensation of gratification flow through me for having finally solved the riddle and surmounted this minor mountain. Patience and persistence had paid off this time and we were finally able to say goodbye to this package for just about CLP21,000 (€29). Let’s hope we see it again at some point in the future.

Our next task for the morning was to find the American Express office to change up some of the traveller’s checks that we’ve been carrying with us since the get go. Our Galapagos Island cruise must be paid in US Dollars cash and I want to make sure that we have more than enough of the readies with us when we arrive in Quito. Just as soon as we made the decision to set off and locate the AmEx office, our combined lack of Spanish skills problem came once again to the fore. Subconsciously, I was probably thinking that I would just ask someone the way but we’ve had near zero luck in finding people that speak English so far here in Santiago and trying to stop a random pedestrian seemed like too much of a hit and miss affair so I found a police officer on horseback and asked him for the way to the American Express office. He seemed to understand and tried to send us off with some simple directions – two blocks up and three over. We followed these directions to the letter but were singularly unsuccessful at finding the AmEx office anywhere in that vicinity. There was a bureau de change nearby and I would have bet money on them knowing where it was so I went in to ask. Nope! One of the customers inside did seem to know where it was and gave us clear directions to right back to where the police officer that sent us here was. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggg! We went back in that direction anyway since that did seem to be where most of the action was but eventually ended up stepping into the Bank of Chile in the end after giving up on ever finding the AmEx office. To cut a very long story short, I was finally able to cash US$700 (€538,46) of traveller’s checks there into US Dollars cash for a flat commission of US$18 (€13,85). Added to the US$2,600 (€2,000) cash reserves that we already have, I’m confident that we now have more than enough to cover us for the Galapagos Islands. I still have several hundred Dollars in traveller’s checks if I need them but we’ll probably cash those in when we get to Florida. By now, we were both irritable from the frustrations of the two tasks that we set ourselves this morning and dove straight into the nearest MacDonald’s for a quick fix. Yes, I know, we’re incurable.

If this morning has taught us anything, it’s that we have come to this Spanish-speaking region of the world entirely unprepared linguistically speaking (no pun intended). Something has to be done about this and our guidebook is seriously lacking in the translation section so we sought to locate a bookshop to buy an English-Spanish phrase book. It may already be too late to save any remaining dignity for common use but at least we’ll have something to use in emergencies. I know just a few key words in Spanish and constantly try to use these as best I can but the problem is that I only know a few small words and I keep getting them mixed up with Dutch, French and Germans words too. When I try to say ‘thank you’, ‘please’, ‘excuse me’, ‘yes’, ‘no’ or whatever else, what ends up actually coming out of my mouth is a sort of incoherent and barely audible dribble that not even my own Mother could possibly decipher. Sandy had spotted a couple of bookshops listed in the guidebook and we headed over there to see what we could find. As luck would have it, they did have just one smallish phrase book that went from English to Spanish and so I took it to the counter to pay for it. Here in Santiago, buying something from a shop is not quite the same procedure as back home. Here, you take the article you want to buy to one counter and exchange it for a printed ticket that you then have to take to the cash register for payment. Only then can you collect the now bagged article that you are shopping for. We’ve noticed this two-tier system in several shops we’ve been into so far and it was even this was in the bank when I cashed in those traveller’s checks earlier. I can’t say that I see the logic or advantage to this approach but it clearly works for the Chileans. It does have to be said, though, that every single member of staff in all the shops we’ve been into here have been extremely helpful and friendly. Many seem to go out of their way to be more helpful than you might reasonably expect. This has all added to our feeling at ease here, even if we are out of our depth in the language department.

Back at the hotel, we had a bit of a rest and I took the opportunity to catch up on some discussions on the Internet about how to get the most out of our impending Galapagos Island trip. The overwhelming consensus amongst seasoned travellers and those in the know is to not book a cruise ahead of time over the Internet or even in Quito via the travel agents but to do so directly with the boat owners when we actually arrive on the island archipelago. By doing so, the cruises can apparently be had for well under a half and even a quarter of the advertised prices. Several people have attested to this and I’m confident that this approach will work for us too. Indeed, this seems to be the case for just about any travel-related activities across the planet and is something that we ourselves have learned through our own travels on numerous occasions. Also at the recommendation of another traveller, I sent an e-mail to the airline that operates the route between Quito and the Galapagos islands in Ecuador. Within the hour, I received a very nice reply telling me that we had a reservation in place, although for one day later than we would like. I’ve since sent another e-mail to try to see if we can get on the flight a day earlier so as to maximise our time out on the islands. Hopefully, I will have a reply to that request tomorrow morning.

Sandy had another hankering for a steak dinner this evening. This is happening more and more lately and I’m not entirely convinced that it hasn’t got something to do with her being pregnant but whatever the reason, I too felt like a decent quality meal sounded like a very good idea so I uncharacteristically went through the guidebook listings for places to eat here in Santiago and found one whose description met our mutual approval. It’s in another part of the city so we ventured into the metro system to get to it. The brief, three-stop ride cost us each CLP480 (€0,66) and we had a ten-minute walk at the other end. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day here and dinner can often be very late for Chileans. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were too early and they hadn’t yet opened for business, so we walked around the corner to sip a drink in a nearby café whilst we perused our new phrase book.

Our restaurant was a jazz joint but the live-performing musicians don’t even start to set up until at least ten o’clock, by which time we will long since be back in our room. The meal, as it turned out was every bit worth the effort and was one of the best we’ve had for a while. Chilean fare just happens to lean very heavily towards meat and potatoes and this works out just about perfect for our own tastes and likes. With tip, the final tally came to CLP17,600 (€24,11) for what probably would have cost us anything up to US$100 (€77) in Florida and probably more still in England or Holland.

We might have considered getting a taxi back to our hotel but we were now nearly out of local currency and I wasn’t sure if what we had left would cover the fare so we made our way back via the way we came instead. It’s been a long day here in Santiago and we will unfortunately leave this city without even having really seen it. Alas, this is to be the case for South America as a whole but as I keep telling people, the world is just too big.

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