Expedition members Ryan Waters, Ron Senga, Scott Kress
I am now in Punta Arenas; the bottom of South America and the jumping off point for Antarctica. I am tired and somewhat dazed after a long journey here.
Leaving home was emotional as always. Going away for a month is hard on everyone. Amy and Colin were sad at the airport, but were strong. Saying good bye to Amy, Colin and Susan is always difficult, but as a family this is not the first time so that makes it a little easier I guess. Knowing that this is a significant trip, the last of my 7 summits, also makes it exciting and perhaps a little easier on the kids. For Susan my trips always add much to her plate, but she is very supportive and encouraging.
My flight from Toronto to Santiago left one hour late. I have no idea why, and no one seemed too concerned about it. The flight was uneventful and the movie/tv selections were exactly the same as what I had the previous week on my flight to and from Vancouver. The selection was poor then and did not seem any better now. As I rarely see movies I tend not to sleep on planes as this is my opportunity to catch up on pop culture. However, on this flight, thanks to the poor selection, I actually slept quite a bit.
I arrived in Santiago and the chaos began. Finding my way through the airport was not too bad but I got into a huge line at immigration and everything was moving slowly. There were only two agents on duty and hundreds of passengers. As I was nearing the front of the line I heard some people talking about an entry fee and asked what this was about. So, I got into a different huge line to pay $132 before I could get back into the first line. I was not the only person to make this error as it was not very clear. It appeared that I had 50 minutes until my flight to Punta Arenas and at least three hours of lines. My stress level went up a notch. I am not usually one to cut lines, but this day would be different. I begged my way to the front of the entry fee line and most people were accommodating. I got a few dirty looks, but nothing too serious. Then I had to do the same in the immigration line.
Watching the immigration agent check his email on his iPhone between every person was stressful and a little infuriating, but I learned a long time ago not to pressure immigration. They can, and have, made my life miserable in the past and I had no time for an extended conversation with the authorities at this point.
Getting into the country had been stressful, but not difficult. Now I raced to retrieve my bags. Even though the Air Canada agent in Toronto had assured me my bags would go direct to Punta Arenas I had been told by others that this never happens. Sure enough, my bags were waiting for me on the carousel (having rotate several hundred times, I’m sure).
Throwing my bags onto a luggage cart I rushed to the elevator to get to the third floor departure level. After finding my way to the right line, I had to once again get out of the line and go to the self-serve ticket machine to get my boarding pass.
Back in line now with my boarding pass I had 20 minutes until take-off. I thought I was in the clear and then I was informed that because my bag was 5kg overweight I had to go and get in a different line to pay 18,0000 pesos for the extra weight. I argued that I was going to miss my flight, but they were unconcerned.
Sprinting across the terminal I ground to a halt in the next line. Nobody here seems to have any sense of urgency and the process of paying for my extra weight was deadly slow and extremely stressful. I had no idea how much 18,000 pesos was, but thrust my Visa at the woman behind the counter. She spoke no English and I speak virtually no Spanish so there was little talking. Apparently I showed no stress on my face, or perhaps she just did not care to notice, as she went tediously about her job.
Fees paid, I began to run for gate 32. At least it was not too far. Out of breath and with sweat on my forehead, I was the last person to board the bus that would take us to the plane.
I was not even 100% sure I was on the right plane as no one checked my ticket upon boarding, but when I saw Ryan seated a few rows back I was greatly relieved. I sank down into my seat and took in a deep breath. I had made it through Santiago.
Seeing Santiago from the air as we departed presents an interesting mix of farms, industrial buildings, and residential neighbourhoods all clustered together. There seemed to be no real pattern to it and no separation in land use. Splintering all of this up were dozens of long fingers of mountain that jutted into the land and broke up the settlement patterns.
The in-flight movie on the 2:50 minute flight to Punta Arenas was Captain America. Not really my cup of tea, but I watched it anyway. Looking out the window as we flew over the mountains was a beautiful site. I began to relax and enjoy the experience.
As we began our descent into Punta Arenas the landscape became lunar in appearance. The ground is windswept and barren with very little evidence of human habitation except for the cluster of development around the water’s edge that is Punta Arenas.
Navigating the Punta Arenas airport was relatively easy as it is quite small. Ryan and I found a small taxi van and tossed in all our bags. The ride to town was about 25 minutes and Ryan and I spent some time catching up as we had not seen one another since our climb in Russia in the summer of 2010.
Ron was not yet with us as his flight out of Dallas had been cancelled when a bird went through the engine of the plane.
We arrived at our hotel, the Condor de Plata, and unloaded our bags from the taxi. Ryan speaks Spanish and began the check in process. As we were being escorted up the stair to our rooms, I had the feeling that we were one room short and mentioned this to Ryan. When he asked for clarification this was confirmed. Apparently the reservations had been messed up and there was only one room for the three of us (Ron and I were going to share one room and Ryan would be in the other).
This reminded me of an old Seinfeld episode when Jerry and Elaine arrive at the car rental desk to learn that that there were no cars. Yes, he had a reservation, but that did not mean that there would necessarily be a car.
We too had reservations and the emails to prove it, but that did not mean there was a room. As the Spanish became more heated it was clear the hotel was taking no responsibility and there were no rooms.
Ryan and I headed out to book him into another hotel. Ron (when he arrived) and I would stay in the Condor and Ryan would stay in a different hotel about a five minute walk down the street. Not ideal, but it is rare on these trips that everything goes as planned and you must learn to roll with it.
Once settled into our separate hotels we went out for dinner at Lomitos which is a very popular hamburger restaurant. The cheese burgers were excellent and the beer was cold and thus ended a long day-and-a-half of travel.
At 10:00 I made my way to my room and quickly fell asleep to the sound of dogs barking and road traffic.
It is good to be on expedition once again.