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Senora Flypaper is on the move

Early days in Chile & Argentina

View Southern South America on Wheelspin's travel map.

The biggest invading hordes in history ground to a halt with the onset of Covid in 2020.Tourists were repelled at all boarders. Flypapers plan had been to fly out and conquer 10 more countries a few weeks after it all became impossible. She fretted for nearly 3 years only to discover that plan was no longer possible due to some of the countries (Eg. Ethiopia, Somaliland, Eritrea, Djibouti, etc ) now being in war zones or suffering extreme drought.) That turned her attention to South America … and here we are – Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and a side trip to Antarctica before it melts and the penguins evolve into cooler swimming attire.

The first issue faced was at Auckland Airport. Having read and complied with the instruction to place all liquids and gels over a certain size in their clear Ziplock bag for closer scrutiny, I was taken aside and interrogated in regard a well-known green mouth wash (My Mother regularly me to wash my mouth out and I remember to this day) that remained in my luggage from a previous flight when it had been included in a small bag of toiletries for those throwing their money away in the more salubrious class. Evidently this product looks exactly like liquid Uranium – which is understandably prohibited in business class (but handy for unblocking the toilets in economy). My refusal, and indeed my inability, to declare this was in fact a harmless substance caused consternation. It didn’t help when I said, “I’m not a terrorist, I don’t even have a tattoo”. The interrogator said, “That’s not funny”. I said, “Nether is arguing while trying to hold my pants up without a belt”.

First impressions of Santiago are good. Street restaurants fill their generous sized wine glass to the top (not halfway which seems to be the fashion elsewhere.) but the price remains modest. It makes sense – the wine breaths better and lasts twice as long. In this city the police are locked away in their cars while the rest of us wander free. The way it should be.
It seems most ex-presidents the world over, and particularly in Chile, manage to have a few statues erected to massage their egos and prolong the memories of their ‘reign’. It struck me for the first time in Santiago after viewing only 9 of the 56 presidents since independence, they have all become bird lovers – especially attractive to pigeons. Seems this is a worldwide phenomenon.

I have a well-known aversion to public transport and am becoming unenthusiastic about walking. My dominant religious belief is, “God have us two legs, one for the accelerator and one for the brake”. However, Flypaper cunningly engaged a lovely young Chilean lady to guide us around the Santiago region for the first few days in her country. It’s not a bad idea to have assistance with sorting out communications, learning customs, trying dubious cuisine, etc. Day 1 was a walking tour in 31*C amid chaotic mayhem of downtown Santiago (Pop. 9,000,000 and growing particularly with refugees from Venezuela and Peru.) We learned things like Chile has suffered a 16-year drought and is begging for acceleration in climate change to enjoy more rain and cooler weather (go figure). I was moved to comment in regard to both the drought and refugee street sleepers, (and simultaneously embarrass our hostess) that a few good rain showers would assist wash the streets which have a pervading odour of urine. It adds a character to the city only visitors can appreciate. Following the stroll Zabrina suggested we should visit the virgin. “Really. Is there only one?” I asked. She replied, There’s only one I know of – she lives on a nearby hill and is 22 metres tall and weighs 36,610 kilograms. Quite a gal.
If ever there was a profession in its sunset years it must be shoe shiners. I saw 3 of the most professional on the streets of Santiago … all middle-aged. None with customers but hundreds of passers with modern fabric cross trainers etc. I wonder when they last had a customer. Flypaper suggests they are ‘kept men’ like myself. I suspect criminal activity as its known to pay well. If any reader would like to know where to buy a shiners chair I’m happy to scope it out.
We have increased our knowledge; Valparaiso is the worlds most graffitied city. When added to the many murals, it is completely unnecessary for property owners to paint their own buildings. It’s one of the world’s most bizarre cities. The busses drive so fast around the steep winding streets their passengers become ill. Take an emergency locator beacon because one can get lost in a few minutes. I learned one should avoid the restaurants in Cumming Street – strong beer in 1lt bottles and especially avoid the dish called Chorrillana. It’s a dish consisting of a plate of French fries topped with different types of sliced meat, sausages and other ingredients, most commonly scrambled or fried eggs, and fried onions. Also known as a heart attack on a plate.

Chile's Atacama Desert, the driest nonpolar desert on Earth, stretches across a 1,000 kilometre tract of land wedged between the Pacific coast the Andes Mountains. It’s the oldest desert on Earth and has experienced semiarid conditions for roughly 150 million years. At 5,050 meters in elevation, the desert plateau is the best place in the world to spot the solar system's secrets. Delighted amateur astronomers enjoy as many as 330 cloud-free nights each year. High along the Atacama Desert plateau, an array of observatories track the celestial bodies in our solar system and beyond. We were sucked into an evening just outside San Palo de Atacama where an enthusiastic French astronomer has amassed one of the worlds largest collections of large telescopes. He runs tours for tourists hoping to discover a new solar body like a comet or even galaxy. We saw a close up of the moon, a few planets and a couple of hazy nebulae and some distant galaxies. He did have a great sense of humour which was lost on most who expected a lot more than a back yard explanation of the southern sky which we see most nights at home.)
San Pedro de Atacama is the principal centre for visitors. A town of 4,000 people and usually about the same number of tourists. Although being only 2,500m high, many suffer altitude sickness. However, Flypaper believes the drug scene is the true culture. She formed this opinion by simply observing the majority of visitor who fit the profile – we looked a bit out of place. Notwithstanding, Flypaper did partake of the Coca Leaf Tea offered at breakfast. She says its amaziiiinnnngggg. It’s certainly added spring to her step. (This leaf is the original ingredient in Coca Cola – I suspect it’s still used.) The rough dirt roads and buildings in town are all Adobe Brick – and appear to be hundreds of years old. Our hotel looks suspiciously like a mud hovel from outside but provided excellent accommodation when inside.

Further South back in civilisation, you can imagine my dismay when we pulled up outside a building, we thought would provide dinner one evening. The sign over the door was … Amnesia. I turned to Flypaper and asked, “Did you remember the correct address”. To my great relief she pointed to the restaurant immediately opposite. However, she forgot to bring our eBooks and when I returned to the car, I discovered I’d forgotten to lock it. I suspect a subliminal message.

The rental car to be our transport for the following 8 days/2,000kms is a Nissan Kicks. (aka. Qashqai, Rouge, etc) KICKS! It may wriggle an aggressive toe at anyone attempting to thrash it into action but there is no chance of a kick. Not only is it the most basic car imaginable but it never fails to disappoint on every occasion. I had expected Flypaper to order us a Jeep Wrangler or a Range Rover (in keeping with the image I try to portray whenever I’m unable to speak the local language. It’s a trick I learned from the British in Africa many years ago.) The roads in both Chile & Argentina have so far been atrocious. For example, to access our current upmarket hotel (it pays to have a very good travel agent) we drive 3 kilometres along a narrow dusty potholed dirt road and the 150km tourist circuit around the Patagonian lakes today revealed potholes that would be the envy of NZ Transport Agency (I’m beginning to understand why the name is being changed to Waka Kotahi.) We need a 4WD and will be changing this to something more suitable next time we are self-driving.

The first night I tried to lock the car with the remote, I discovered the little remote battery was flat. Buying a new one was challenging but finally achieved after 3 days. The cost of 500 ARS (Peso) scared me but turned out to be NZ$4.20. I’d have paid much more to stop the possibility of Flypapers underwear and makeup bag being stollen. The Locksmith who provided the battery and fitting service has the honour of having the untidiest collection of rubbish I have ever witnessed anywhere in the world. The customer space was full of materials from old jobs – pure rubbish - leaving room for only 1 person to actually stand at the counter; behind which were 2 guys who appeared to be father and son. The counter was piled high with rubbish amassed from previous transaction. My tiny battery was amazingly unearthed from a collection of boxes on a shelf after numerous rejections littered the floor. My new friend attacked the sealed plastic/carboard packaging these things are supplied in with no success in spite of what I suspect was impressive swearing in Spanish. When his son; busy cutting a key; commented, Dad threw the item at him. It took some time to find among his personal rubbish. Son snipped it with a side-cutter and threw it back. Fortunately, I watched the flight and was able to point to the landing spot. Now, the son discovered the key he was cutting didn’t work. More swearing triggered him to throw the key over the counter to join the rubbish on my side and he started again. Dad then managed to fit the battery upside down. I offered advice in English which had little effect. He then put on his glasses and discovered the problem. Click, click and it was all back together again. I was able to test its effectiveness from inside the shop before tendering a note I hoped would cover both the battery and entertainment. He didn’t give change. The bits of plastic/cardboard battery packaging remained among the other rubbish on the counter.

I’m sure, like us, travellers all over the world remain conscious of the Covid threat in all its new guises. We are also aware in NZ there remains many rules and recommendations to wear masks – particularly in aircraft. It was with some surprise we joined 242 other passengers on a Latam Airbus 321 … with only a couple of masks being worn. After 2 weeks including 2 further internal flights, many guided tours and a couple of thousand kilometres of self-driving, few masks have been visible. However, and the strange reason I mention this phenomenon, there are two things that stand out … 1. The majority of wearers are women, and … 2. Almost all wear them over their mouth leaving their nose exposed to the dreaded virus. Only 2 explanations have occurred to me. A. They may be on a self-imposed diet or B. They may be required to reduce their volume or stop talking totally.

A popular feature of past blogs has been my discrete exposé of toilet features. The first thing one discovers in South America is the global predilection of hotel managements determination to increase profitability by reducing the quality of their toilet paper. A single ply of flimsy absorbent wipe that requires multiple layers created by extravagant unravelling in length – thus defeating the hotels hope of significant bonuses and dividends. This is likely to also result in ‘wads’ blocking the system which I understand was never designed for the western bred travellers’ various discharges. The ever-present sign, “Please place paper in the receptacle provided” is a constant reminder of a potential flooded bathroom. This is the theme of Flypapers travelling nightmares. Having previously been called upon to unblock toilets in the past to avoid the hotel maintenance staff becoming aware of the cause, I’m more than happy to comply. It would be helpful if the flappy lidded receptacle was placed within one’s sphere of visibility and reach. Another phenomenon we have become aware of is the curse of the loose lid. I suspect this is the unexpected result of the Covid lockdowns during which many toilets were used as hideaways to achieve an area of piece & quiet. A little squirming when the novel becomes salacious would account for the loosening of the fixings. My estimate to date is 80% of seats tested are suffering from this malaise. Flypaper on the other hand, has tended the suggestion it is a component of the Chinese ambition to expand their control globally. She makes a good argument. The likelihood of an invasion of any sort is likely to result in a toilet visit and continually controlling the direction and tilt of the seat would slow opposition and indeed, eventually prefer capitulation if a solution was offered by the invader.

The biggest issue relating to our rental car is, the 1600cc 4-cylinder engine with 5 speed manual gearbox is insufficiently powerful enough to challenge even gentle inclines without changing to lower gears. It has caused me to complain about the weight of Flypapers luggage and to asking her to hop out on the steeper slopes and even, on one occasion, push. She refuses which indicates she is developing an attitude towards my chauffeuring service. Given we are constantly in 3rd or 4th gear the fuel consumption is terrible – about the same as a V8 Range Rover.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!! That’s what I decided after 3 hours and ¾ of the way through boarder control between Chile & Argentina. We arrived to exit Chile for the first time by car - 4 more crossings due over the next month as we zigzag down the continent. The road widened into a huge gravel carpark full of dozens of vehicles all parked higley piggily but facing the boarder control. Most, like us, sat in their car for some time trying to work out what happened next. Having had some previous experience of boarder crossings I decided to march down to the building only to discover a couple of hundred people standing in 2 slow moving ques. We joined the 1st and longest que for an hour to receive immigration clearance and permission to join que 2 for customs. Given we were leaving Chile we didn’t understand any of the bureaucratic requirements such as luggage searches. Eventually we emerged after a further hour and drove 37km through no-mans-land to repeat the process for entry to Argentina. Another hour for immigration to gain permission to join the HUGE que for customs. My patience had run out. I marched back to our car and drove through the mayhem to park in an obviously illegal spot next to the search hall. A diligent solder arrived squealing as if I’d run over his foot and waving enough to create a hot breeze. I presented an old NZ CCS Mobility Card issued to me during recuperation for various joint replacements – demanding he take me to his leader. He did with an attitude I imagine was similar to a criminal arrest. The superior understood English and was extremely sympathetic to learn my seriously disabled wife was suffering in the ques awaiting process. He urged me to bring her back to the car. He expected a wheelchair but was sufficiently impressed when I half carried her and gently eased her into the car as she made painful expressions and a few moans demonstrating her pain. Without further ado he signed the documents and invited me to drive out the exit without a search – saving the final hours fighting with the peasants. Flypaper then experienced a miraculous recovery.
The majority of fellow travellers we have spent time with sorting out the worlds great and worrisome issues have been Doctors. 7 so far in 2 weeks. One could ask why the medical profession is so well travelled in the sort of countries we choose to visit. However, at our age it is reassuring that qualified help is nearby should it be needed. I dislike the thought of being examined by well-intentioned amateurs – or Police Officers who may have caused the bleeding or cardiac arrest in the first place.

After 2 weeks we have driven up 2 volcanoes. The rational for this is to obtain the best stunning views of the surrounding country. Generally, this is flawed thinking as its invariably covered in cloud which in the tropics adds humidity resulting and increased body odour. The second possibility is the air quality is so bad – likely to be smog created by the peasants in the surrounding valleys. In Chile we have suffered the smog. The 1st – Villarrica volcano (2860m) is one of Chile's most active volcanos and one of the few permanently active volcanoes in the world. The last eruption was 2020. In early times the locals sacrificed a virgin to keep it happy. I asked if this tradition had been practiced lately and was told the requirements had been downgraded to a ‘maiden’. When I asked what the difference was, the guy explained in Spanish so I’m unable to bring you this thought-provoking information. The road to about 2,000m was a twisty dirt goat track suitable for 4WD. We didn’t have 4wd so we urged the Kicks to greater effort. Nearing the highest access we passed many 4wd vehicles unable to meet the challenge. Our advantage was having a rental car which was able to carry much more speed through the tricky parts where traction was poor.

From our hotel room in Puerto Varas, we had a magnificent view across the lake to Osorno Volcano. It has an impressive history of erupting, but not recently. We learned this 2652m conical peak was drivable to a Ski field near the summit where a 2 stage chair lift is available to reach even higher. We took stage 1 to discover the smog failed to get any better. Never-the-less the view was a spectacular haze over the lake towards the place we thought our hotel might be – and we have a photo to prove it remained invisible.
Further blogs full of enlightening information are planned every few weeks of our journey. You may be glad to be forewarned to enable practising trashing uninvited messages – or you look forward in the hope the content improves.
Maurice O’Reilly
8th February 2023

Posted by Wheelspin 12:24 Archived in Chile Tagged hotels masks volcano rental car south america santiago latin atacama immigration customs flypaper covid argintina

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A great way to start our day reading your manoeuvres to brush with trouble and excitement without spending a night in the clink. Keep it up. Cheers, John and Judy Wadsworth

by JohnRW

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