Day 114: Goodbye South America

Wed. 5th December 2012

Welcome to Easter IslandNo moaning about how quickly the time is passing, but we are distinctly aware as we wake that today marks the end of our time in South America. It is a continent of real contrasts from the Uyuni Salt Flats to the howling wind in Punta Arenas. We have loved it all – even the time spent at altitude. We could easily have spent the whole year here but equally we are happy to be moving on. I think we have had a good sample of what the continent has to offer – unlike our effort in Central America. This trip was always going to be a compromise and we are still happy that we got a good balance between places visited and time spent. Perhaps we’ll come back at some point and see more.

The first challenge of the day is breakfast – it is the one downside of apartment life. We head out into town to find a cafe but fail to find anywhere open. What do folk who want to grab a breakfast do here? I guess it is fair to say that we still haven’t completely worked out Santiago. We like what we’ve seen, but we don’t understand it. In the end we dive into a supermarket and pick up some orange juice, instant coffee and croissants and head back to the apartment – at least we get that option.

Statues and fountain outside Parque Cerro Santa LuciaThen it is off to get the bus to the airport. We discovered the Centropuerto bus, from an Internet search and noted that it leaves from an island in the middle of the dual carriageway just outside the Los Heroes Metro station. The first leg is retracing our steps back to the Baquedano Metro station – we can manage a fair distance with our backpacks and, if anything, are surprised that we haven’t had longer walks with them on. Los Heroes station is a few stops along the Metro and just outside the Metro exit we spot the bus.

Sometimes the convenience of a taxi wins and they can be not much more expensive than bus fares for two. In this case with the airport being a long way out of town, the bus won easily – only CL$1,600 (£2) and 45 mins to the airport. At the airport we get an odd look from the LAN Airlines rep when we ask her where the Business Class check-in is – as this flight is on our RTW ticket we get comfy seats and proper service – and the answer is ‘down the other end of the terminal’. The bad news is that because Easter Island is owned by Chile, this is a domestic flight and there is no lounge in the domestic terminal. Fortunately, there is a Starbucks though and I am able to have a last vanilla cappuccino before we head across the Pacific.

Getting off the plane at Easter Island airport - Not the biggest in the world!As we go to board the plane, there is a moment of consternation when the boarding pass checking machine flashes red – Janet worried that we had been bumped off the flight and I worried we were going to get moved down to Economy. Neither of these nightmares happened – they just wanted to change our seats – and we were soon sipping champagne contemplating the controls for our lie-flat chairs and looking at the movie list. Sadly, it is not all Chilean Malbec and Bourne Legacy (though there was a bit of both). As ever, when we are not out and about, the laptop is in demand – there is the blog to write up; photos to sort and rate; and expenses to catch up on.

Its a 5 hour flight to Isla de Pascua and our first impressions as we get out to of the plane and head down the steps to what seems to be a shed housing the arrivals hall are that this is a tiny airport on a tiny island in a very, very big ocean. Fortunately, Janet had sufficient of her wits about her to spot the booth selling passes for the National Park – there is a 10% discount if you buy them at the airport.

Astonishingly, the priority tags on our luggage worked and our bags were amongst the first to appear – that never happens at Heathrow. Once outside of the shed we are confronted with hoard of drivers from hotels who have come to pick up their guests. We can’t spot our names on any of the boards but one of the drivers asks us which hotel we are staying at and makes a phone call for us. A couple of minutes later our guide appears and presents us with a lei (garland of flowers) to welcome us to the island.

Not my colour?After Santiago, we need to start thinking on a different scale and at a different pace. Things certainly are much more relaxed here and it is only a few minutes drive from the airport to our hotel. It also turns out that though our hotel is on the edge of town (over looking the sea) it is also only a short stroll down what passes for the main street. We have the luxury of 5 nights in the same hotel. This will be the longest we have stayed in one place since leaving the UK – a really nice change from the two nights and then move on pace that we have been living at for the last couple of months.

We have two priorities as we head into town – money and food. It looks like we are going to need a fair bit of the former as everything is likely to be expensive here (certainly our most expensive room rate, with the possible exception of our very first night in Cancun) with a surcharge for paying by credit card. We find a bank (one of two) which has one of the four ATMs on the island but it declines to give us money – oh well, we’ll try again tomorrow. In town, looking out over the small harbour we can see surfers out and a couple of yachts moored up. Those yachts look awfully small to be in the middle of the Pacific – crossing the Channel was enough for us!

Our first moai - Hanga Roa harbourOver supper in one of the restaurants in the main street – almost Cuban style fish and rice, but with a bit more flavour and without the beans – we are joined by Birgit & Janet, both travelling independently (and separately) but both arrived on the plane with us and staying in the same hotel. A German and an Aussie, both with very interesting backgrounds and lots of travel experience. Truly, one of the joys of travelling is meeting up with new people and sharing experiences. We are all quite excited as to what we might see in Easter Island.

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