Day 13: Travel day, the flight to Santiago, Chile
After sleeping in we did the breakfast buffet at the hotel, and then checked out of the hotel and waited for our scheduled pickup by our driver and guide. To our surprise we saw that the street in front of the hotel had been taken over for some sort of local celebration, in which the local schools were participating. Students were doing tumbling and other gymnastics, and participating in sack races and the like. It seemed strange to have such an important street in the capital clogged with kid's games, but who am I to question the local culture.
Our driver was able to park down the street and come get us from the hotel. Once reunited with the guide and van we skirted around the celebration and made our way through the city towards the edge of town. Some of the streets that we had to detour through were narrow and full of people and cars, and we certainly saw parts of town and the local way of life that would not normally have been on most tourist itineraries.
After leaving the crater part of the city, we got to the outskirts of La Paz where the International Airport is located. The runway there is especially long, due to the extreme high altitude, which requires longer takeoff runs for the commercial airliners. As an international airport, the La Paz terminal looked very small and bare-bones, seeming more like a second-rate airfield building than a major airport terminal. I can only remember two gates for the departing aircraft.... now THAT's small! Maybe it was all that La Paz required, as the airport did not seem crowded at all.
After saying goodbye to our guide and tipping him, we proceeded through customs and immigration. Our passports were stamped, we answered questions about our trip and our possessions, and then we were each taken into a separate booth by a uniformed officer, where the curtain was drawn. I was briefly searched (for weapons, I assume), which was something I wasn't expecting, and had never encountered on any of our previous trips. We were then brought back together and went through the typical carry-on X-ray before arriving at our gate. I got one last purchase at the gift shop there, and then it was just a matter of time while we waited for our flight to arrive.
The flight took us to Arica, Chile as our first stop on the way to Santiago. Arica was a very small airport, along side the ocean and surrounded by desert. I did not see any other buildings, so evidently the city was some distance away. Arica was one of the cities we saw listed as being damaged in the Peruvian 8.1 earthquake that happened on June 23 (about three weeks after we got home from the trip). At the time we were there, though, the only thing that stood out about this stopover was the fact that they came through the plane and sprayed for mosquitoes, which was annoying (especially because we didn't know what insecticide they were spraying with). We had to de-plane here, and went into the terminal where we had to go through immigration and have our passports stamped for Chile.
At the time we thought this stopover was an unneccessary annoyance, but we were to find out later that it saved us each $60 in entrance fees. Normally when you arrive in Chile you have to pay their entrance tax, but the system is set to work for people arriving in Santiago from international flights. We arrived in Santiago from another Chilean airport, and so by-passed the system. Later we were likewise lucky to manage the same sort of thing when we came back into Santiago from Easter Island, which is a province of Chile. So both times we came into Chile from another Chilean airport, and saved $60 a piece each time.
Anyway, after leaving Arica we landed at another small Chilean airport, where they re-sprayed the interior of the plane again. We then set off for the final destination, Santiago (the capital of Chile). By the time that we arrived in Santiago it was nighttime, and raining. We were met by a guide who took us out to a private car (their BMW), and we left the airport, only to get stuck in traffic. After an hour or so we reached our hotel, in the center of downtown. The Hotel Carrera was a very elegant (and expensive) 5-star hotel, probably the fanciest place that we stayed on the whole trip.
Picture from the brochure for the Hotel Carrera in Santiago.
Once in our room we didn't bother to unpack too much, since we would be leaving the next day. We went down to the fancy hotel restaurant for dinner, and had a nice meal. The beef was excellent, as it usually was during the trip, since they used beef from Argentina (high quality, and Mad Cow-free). We later perused the expensive hotel gift shop, and briefly considered some of the Easter Island souvenirs there, but decided to wait until we actually got to the island, where they should be cheaper and more plentiful.