Have a Happy and Bountiful Thanksgiving!

My life is on fast forward, probably just like yours and I cannot believe that it’s that time of the year again.  It is Thanksgiving isn’t it? Ah yes. Despite the three days of cooking – check; table(s) set for 21 – check; and Turkey, totally defrosted with nothing remaining inside that shouldn’t be there – check; it is still my favorite holiday. Bring it on…and try not to think of the clean-up ahead. Read more »

A LAN Flight from Santiago to Easter Island, Chile

Easter Island is 3,700 kilometers/2,300 miles west of South America and the only other way of accessing by air is from Tahiti. Occasional cruise lines do include Easter Island in their itineraries. You may rightfully ask, “Why would someone spend all that money to fly 17,110 miles roundtrip from Chicago to South American and then add an additional 4,600 miles roundtrip from Santiago to Easter Island?” Good question!

I could say because it’s there, or because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or because I have to see the mysterious carved moai head-and-torso figures that stand 4 meters/13 feet high for myself. It has to be now because the volcanic statues are deteriorating across the entire island from weathering and turning back into plain rock.

 

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A Day Tour to The Modern Resort of Vina del Mar, Chile

Vina del Mar (pop: 300,000), called Vina by Chileans, is one of the largest resorts on the South American Pacific Coast and popular with Argentines and Brazilians. Less expensive than other well known South American resorts, high season runs from December to February and teems with surfers and sunners along its white sand beaches.

Visitors from the United States and Canada often come for one day, stopping in neighboring Valparaíso, before returning to Santiago or their cruise ship just as we are did. The two towns are extremely close. We drove on a road overlooking the Bay of Valparaiso stopping first at Vina’s signature flower clock before continuing through the areas of Vina, Renaca and Con Con, filled with layers of condominiums and hotels.

 

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A Day Tour to Charming Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso and Vina del Mar can easily be combined into a day tour from Santiago. Excellent highways lead through vineyards in the Casablanca Valley to Valparaiso, and it is only around a 1-1/2 drive. Tour operators in Santiago offer Valparaiso only tours, Vina del Mar only tours and different combinations. It is also possible to do-it-yourself from Santiago, using a combination of bus and metro.

Main sights for tourists in Valparaiso (pop: 300,000) can be divided into three sectors: the seaport, Plaza Sotomayor and old houses. That is just my opinion and we all have them, don’t we?

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Visit A Winery on The Way to Valparaiso, Chile

You would think it is easy to arrange a private day tour incorporating wineries, Valparaiso and Vina del Mar but it isn’t. My first thought was to book with Viator, a giant among tour operators. After a lengthy conversation with its representative, I was told that Viator only picks up from designated hotels and we would have to transport ourselves over to one of those hotels even on private tours. Well! You don’t think I was going to book a private tour and not get picked up, do you? That’s right.

I googled for days. Get a Guide, group tours or book directly through our hotel which we ended up doing. Back at the hotel after wandering around the city, Reception told us that the excursion is now 130,000 CP/$235 US for two persons and only payable in Chilean Pesos, credit cards not accepted. It was off to the nearest ATM since we are stuck between a rock and a hard place and I’m beginning to think of the local ATM as my personal slot machine since a car back to the airport is also payable in cash only. Stand. Listen to the ATM chug away and watch a stack of CPs spew from the slot.

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Santiago Shopping: Local Crafts and Plaza des Armas

Santa Lucia Handicraft Market (Feria Santa Lucia) located at Cerro Santa Lucía on the other side of Alameda (Metro: Santa Lucia) sells lots of Peruvian, Bolivian, Chile and other native goods made in South America.The outdoor market is hard to miss, with Centro Artisana written outside. This place is considered to be the cheapest craft market locally and rows of stalls hawk clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts. If that is not your cup of tea, forget about going.

Musicians and street performers walk around the market singing for their supper and some play unusual guitars. The typically Andean Charango is a 10-string miniature guitar. Whether they are well-made or not, I can’t answer.

 

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A Lively Sunday in Santiago, Chile

There is always something new and fun to discover in a vibrant city like Santiago, Chile; particularly on a warm, blue-sky day, perfect for strolling. Providencia area includes Barrio Suecia, filled with pubs and nightclubs, and Barrio Bellavista that we briefly walked through on the “Santiago Like a Local” tour before flying to Atacama Desert. Providencia is an upscale area with many restaurants, embassies and parks.

 

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From Atacama Desert to Upscale Providencia in Santiago

TIP: LAN Airlines allows passengers to check in and get seat assignments 48 hours before a flight; earlier if a premium flyer with them.

It is an easy ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Calama Airport and an equally easy 1:50 minute flight to Santiago leaving the fantastical Atacama Desert behind. Security in the small airport allows passengers to carry water on board! Efficient LAN Airlines served the same choices as the outbound flight to San Pedro: bread sticks, fruit, and peanuts. LAN  landed on time, bags came off and we began haggling with drivers holding “official taxi” signs outside baggage claim. When a driver asked 20,000 CP for the ride to Providencia, Marine Steve counter-offered with 15,000 CP, the same amount we paid before and the driver accepted. Either make a deal or walk outside to the “Official Taxi Line” for a metered fare into the city.

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Atacama Desert Trivia

- The indigenous people are known as Atacamenos;

Tamarisk Trees are planted for environmental reasons. It survives well in salty soil, roots are twice the size of the entire tree and grow deep; 20 meters/60 feet;

Rural roads are made of a mixture of salt and clay;

Workers in San Pedro de Atacama can earn $1,000 US a month. Bolivians earn perhaps $100 a month and come to Chile for work. Miners are the most highly paid and can earn up to $10,000 US a month. The Chile mining industry has strict mining standards, and safety regulations;

 

 

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Atacama Desert Information

Following is approximate Tour costs for individual, package and groups tours with transportation:

- Geyser de Tatio & Machuca - 24,000 CP includes breakfast (entrance fees not included);

- Moon Valley and Death Valley – 10,000 CP, 1/2 day afternoon tour (entrance fees not included). This is the most popular group tour;

- Salt Flats and Altiplanic Lagoons – 42,000 CP includes lunch (entrance fees not included);

- Cejar Lagoon and Tebinquinche – 18,000 CP includes cocktail and 1/2 day tour (entrance fees not included);

TIP: Cejar Lagoon can be very cold;

Rainbow Valley – 28,000 CP includes snack and 1/2 day tour, no entrance fees;

 

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