Sunday, December 14, 2008

About an hour before we landed, they turned on all of the lights and fed us breakfast. Crystal was still asleep, but Justin was up trying to watch the end of Tropic Thunder - there was still 20 minutes left of the movie when they turned off the entertainment. The landing was the best kind, uneventful. We got through immigration quickly (most of the people were Chileans, so the non-Chilean line was short), and we picked up our bags and went through customs.

After we got out into the main airport, we finally got an answer to something we had been wondering about for some time. We were heading to Ushuaia, which is in Argentina, but we were stopping midway in Punta Arenas, which is in Chile. Our best guess was that some people would get off the plane in Punta Arenas, and we'd pick up some more for the second half of the flight. We had no idea whether this was considered a "domestic" flight or an "international" flight. After asking a couple people, we were told this was "domestic." Problem solved.

One of the quirks of the Santiago airport, in the domestic wing, is that it has two halves that are connected by glass doors. When we came in 2006 (for our flight to Rapa Nui), the doors were closed, meaning half of the terminal - the half with the food - was unavailable to us. When we were here earlier this year (for our flights to Calama and Punta Arenas), the doors were open. Today, they were closed again. This was a little problematic, because our flight was due to depart from Gate 20, only there was no Gate 20, there was a 20A and and 20B, one on each side of the closed door. Crystal asked around, and determined we were on the correct side. Then we got to sit and watch couple after couple walk up to the door and unsuccessfully open it. Then they would stare, and look puzzled, and then look around to see if they were on Candid Camera, then try to open it again to no avail, and then walk away, presumably to ask for help. We started thinking about it, and the best we can come up with is that the domestic and international terminals are actually connected, and that depending on the time of day, the amount of gates used for domestic versus international changes.

Sitting with us at 20B were almost all foreigners, from Australia and England mostly. We wondered how many of them, if any, would be on our small ship in 3 days. We slept most of the flight down to Punta Arenas, but we don't think we missed much, as it was foggy when we took off and foggy when we landed, right up until just before landing. There was one point where the pilot indicated we were flying over a volcano, but that was about it. We didn't realize when we were here before that Punta Arenas is right on the Strait of Magellan. The landscape didn't look as ghastly as Justin had read about in books he recently read on Magellan and on Drake. Punta Arenas is basically flat, and for today at least, the Strait of Magellan was calm.

We weren't sure if we'd have to get off the plane, but after all of the Punta Arenas people departed - roughly 90% of the plane - the flight attendants told the rest of us that we'd have to get off the plane, go through immigration, and then get back on. We ended up having to wait in the boarding area for about 20 minutes, but at least there were some interesting maps of Patagonia, Torres Del Paine (where we were earlier this year), and Antarctica to look at.

The flight from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia was 30 minutes, basically taking us across the Strait of Magellan, down into Tierra Del Fuego, and right up to the Beagle Channel. It was foggy most of this trip as well, but shortly before landing we got a take of the landscape, and this looked much more like the Tierra Del Fuego that Justin had read about in the Magellan and Drake books. There were jagged, snow-capped peaks everywhere, the wind was howling (we knew because the plane was rolling back and forth), and many of the mountains were shrouded in clouds. There were no fires raging in the hills however, which is what prompted Magellan's men to call the area the "Land of Fire."

The airport in Ushuaia resembled a huge ski lodge, with tall wooden vaulted ceilings. We went through immigration and customs, got our bags, and took a short cab ride from the airport to our hotel, Hosteria Tierra de Leyendas. On the ride over, it started to rain, and unfortunately this rain would not cease the rest of the day. Our room was very nice, and after we settled in we looked at the various excursions available for the next couple of days. We decided on a Glacier Walk and a trip to the local National Park, hoping the weather wouldn't be too bad.

Around 3pm or so, we headed out, walking from our hotel to the main drag of the city, Avenida San Martin. The rain wasn't too bad, but it made it difficult to take photos, as there were few dry places to stand to take any shots. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the main area, right on the channel near the dock, the dock we would be leaving from three days later.

We looked around the various places, and then stopped in at Tante Sara, which had some warm food and cold drinks. It was pretty full, so either it had good stuff or good marketing. Either way, it was warm and dry. After that, we went into one of the shops, and picked up a wine holder in the shape of a penguin - something you don't see every day. For dinner, we went to a Parilla, which was very good. We split the Parilladia for two (three or four different kinds of beef, some chicken, sausage, pork, etc.) - the cost was 100 pesos (a little less than $30). At this point we were very tired, and took a taxi back to the hotel, where we got ready for bed and quickly crashed.