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Across the Andes to Chile

Our 0930 taxi arrived by 0910 but we were almost ready to go and were soon at street level loading our big bags into the back of the car. W then ran back upstairs to take photos of the apartment. Neither the driver or I had enough of each other's language to make conversation; we smiled at each other and happily watched the city bustle. A couple of retailers from the menswear shop next to the apartment block entrance wheeled racks of clothing into a van on the far side of the busy street while a varied stream of visitors bought breakfast goods from the bakery next door. Before 0930 we had made our farewells to the doorman and were on the busy roads to the airport some 14 miles out of town. At one of the traffic crossings a street vendor placed 3-packs of tissues on the wipers of each stopped car then ran back retrieving them before the lights changed. I needed more tissues so I gave him the equivalent of 75 pence for a handful of packs.

Ezeiza airport is an attractive modern facility. W was delighted to receive boarding passes for the entire journey to Easter Island because there had been some doubt about the availability of seats across the Pacific. LAN Airlines operate a very pleasing lounge but we did not spend long there because we were soon boarding our flight to Santiago de Chile. This was my first experience of LAN Airlines, which is the flag carrier of Chile owned by the Brazilian airline TAM. We were in the first row of the economy cabin because there had been no business class seats available. The seats had adequate leg room, however, and through the window we had a clear view of the Andes as we crossed their peaks. The flight took just two and a half hours and we were fresh when we reached Santiago at 1445 local time.

Once through immigration and baggage reclaim we came to customs. Of course we had nothing to declare. Except, as it happens, we were carrying W's doggy bag from El Establo and had three cameras over the one per person that is the normal limit. The officers were pleasantly courteous and waved me through after only a brief chat. We knew that we had a reservation with Taxi VIP to take us to our hotel but a friendly helpful man kept hassling us with advice that stopped me from thinking straight. I never did find out what, if anything, he was selling before we escaped him and I left W with the trolley while I found the Taxi VIP desk to collect a voucher. On the road outside the building were a line of Taxi VIP people carriers and we were alone in one of these spacious vehicles for our short journey to Hotel Diego de Almagro just a few miles from the terminal.

Our room was clean, well-appointed, and slightly larger than I expected. Rather than go into the city, we decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant even though it looked unprepossessing with plain pale walls, small tables for two around the edge and larger circular tables laid up for some sort of banquet in the middle. It seemed more dated than retro but it was clean and the staff were welcoming. We were in Chile so we had to start our meal with a couple of Pisco Sours; in Chile these sharp sweet cocktails are made simply with the local brandy, pica lime juice, sugar, and ice without the egg white and bitters of the Peruvian version. Although the cocktail was invented in Peru, the original version was what we now know as the Chilean version; the egg white and bitters were a later innovation.

With what we came to know as typical Latin American generosity, our waiter gave us the surplus Pico Sour from his mixing when we had finished our initial drinks. He then brought a luscious salad for us to share; it contained palm hearts, artichoke hearts, asparagus, avocado, and watercress. This made a pleasing prelude to the big old steaks that seem to have become our standard foodstuff (I expect us to become more fishy on Easter Island) followed by the caramel flan that is another South American standard.

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grin

September 2015

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