Saturday, December 08, 2007

Not Chilly in Chile

Our trip to Antarctica began with an overnight flight from Chicago to Santiago, Chile (through Miami). God bless the creators of Ambien, because I just slept the entire way down there. We arrived at the Grand Hyatt in Santiago early on Saturday morning, November 17th, and had already made up our minds that we were going to spend the entire weekend at the hotel. On Monday we were going to meet up with the rest of the group who would be on our ship to Antarctica, and we knew a city tour had been planned for that day, so we figured it would be best just to rest up and take in all the warmth that we could before heading down to "the white continent." It was 80 degrees the entire time we were in Chile--a full 50 degrees warmer than it was in Antarctica.

Unfortunately, I took in a little too much warmth . . . even though I had on a long skirt and tank top and was sitting under a huge umbrella, on the first day in Chile I got extremely sunburned on my shoulders and neck. Lesson learned: You can get sunburned through a gigantic umbrella made of heavy cloth! The next day I remained under an umbrella but still put on SPF 30 in addition to covering every part of my body with towels. I am sure many people mistook me for Michael Jackson.

In addition to being shocked at getting sunburned, I was shocked at how poor the exchange rate was, and therefore how expensive meals at the hotel restaurants were. After signing off on the bill for lunch on Saturday, I did a quick calculation in my head and then froze. "I think we just spent $90!" I whispered to my husband. We indeed had. That chicken satay was good, but it wasn't that good!

Needless to say, except for one sushi dinner, we ordered room service (slightly cheaper) for the rest of the stay. If you ever go to Santiago, I do still recommend the Grand Hyatt. It definitely seemed like one of the nicest hotels in the area, and they did a great job with the landscaping so that you never felt like you were in the middle of this big, loud, polluted city (if you look at the picture at the top of this post, you can see the smog haze - the city is in a basin surrounded by the Andes, which doesn't help matters). The pool area was absolutely beautiful, so I was glad that our room looked down on that.

Santiago seemed like a very industrial city, and after taking the tour on Monday, we were glad we decided to stick to the hotel premises all weekend. We did go to the very interesting Pre-Columbian Museum and drive around some of the main city squares. At the city's center we were puzzled by the huge Christmas tree they had on display, covered with a ton of Coca-Cola bulbs?!?!

Strike fever is everywhere!

Like in Hollywood, there was a big strike going on in Santiago, too. The union representing the entire county's public sector workers was striking because they wanted pay increases, and our tour guide told us it was a pretty big deal. Fight the power, Chilean peeps!

After meeting up with the rest of the group that would be on the National Geographic Endeavour with us for eleven days, we bid adieu to Chile and flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, "the southernmost city in the world," in the wee hours of November 20th. And that will be the topic of my next post about this trip!

- e

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