We had a very long flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Santiago, Chile about 13 hours. Sadly the in-flight movie system for our flight was not working. I was looking forward to catching up on the movies that I’ve been missing this year.
Thank goodness, I had my Kindle. After arriving blurry eyed at the airport we managed our way through baggage claim, customs, and passport control. Chile has no visa requirement for US citizens, but they do charge a reciprocity fee of $160 US. For a family of 4 our visit to South America was already beginning to add up. Luckily this fee is valid for the life of the passport so we will be able to cross between Chile and Argentina and back again. We then hopped in the hotel shuttle bus and crashed at a very nice Hilton hotel near the airport. We all got a good nights sleep after “sleeping” on the plane the night before, and Patrick basked in the luxury of a nice hotel.
In the morning we headed back to the airport to rent a car and drive out to the suburbs. Our neighbors from home, the Millers, are currently living in Santiago for a few years, and Kristy and JD generously offered to host us in their home while we visit Santiago. We were thrilled to be in such a nice home and they took excellent care of us. Patrick and Alex had fun playing with kids from home, playing video games, watching American TV shows, and jumping on the trampoline. We were a bit jet-lagged during our time there, so we didn’t get too adventurous with our sightseeing. One day we drove into Santiago, had lunch in the very cool Bellavista neighborhood and then jumped on the hop-on/hop-off Big Red Bus. We were a bit rushed since we got off to a late start, but we did get a good feel for the city and we were able to visit a cathedral and a historical museum. Another day we spent catching up on school work and shopping at the mall. When you’re traveling for as long we are, you need days to take care of logistics.
Patrick took the opportunity to attend an International School with his friend Talen. They were having International Day and Patrick was given permission to visit as a guest. While Patrick was at school, Les and I took Alex to a different mall where we heard there was a Taco Bell, something she has craved since we left home.
After lunch, the three of us went to really cool place called KidZania. It’s a place were kids are given fake money and they can spend it at a kid-sized town. When they run out of money they must go to the employment agency and apply for a job at one of the different businesses and earn money. Each store or office is sponsored by a real company from the community. It’s a great concept and Alex had a lot of fun, especially at the vet’s office were she was able to work with a ferret and earn money as a vet’s assistant. With her hard-earned kid-pesos she got her face painted, made her own bottle of Coke, took a lesson on making sushi, and created her own bag of candy at a candy factory, and passed her driving test to get her license and was even issue car insurance.
One evening Kristy invited me to join her for a night of Bunco with friends, many of whom are American expats. I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed getting a peek into the expat lifestyle in Santiago. I didn’t win, but the company was excellent.
On Saturday, we all headed to La Pintana, a neighborhood on the other side of town to do some volunteer work. A parent from the International School works with an organization called Vision for Chile and one of the places that they support is House of Hope. Kristy had asked if we were interested in coming with them to provide some volunteer labor to support a home for older girls who don’t have parents to take care of them. We all piled into the Miller’s SUV and met with the organizers at the school. After a quick headcount everybody jumped into their cars and was off. Unfortunately our car were quickly separated from the group by traffic lights. Between my attempts at navigation and Les’s unrequested help from the back seat, we were shortly located somewhere North of Santiago in the desert – nowhere near the place we were supposed to be. By the time we made it to the work site the work was just beginning. The girls spent the day painting bedrooms – where Alex managed to get a solid coat of paint on her hands, arms, shoes, and shirt. This is a big deal considering her limited wardrobe these days.
The boys shoveled dirt, pushed wheelbarrows, stacked rocks, and loaded bricks through the afternoon. By the end of the work shift Talan and Patrick where quite proud that they had worked the most physical job and had proven themselves up for the challenge. With the exception of getting lost again (this time in a pretty scary neighborhood on the way home) had a great day meeting new people and working with enthusiastic volunteers. That night we went to the Hard Rock Cafe where Talen celebrated his 11th birthday with a giant rack of BBQ ribs that he had been craving for months.
The next morning we had a flight to Patagonia and we set our alarms so we would be able to get up and have a nice pancake breakfast before taking a leisurely drive to the airport. Good plan – right? Well, it turned out that Sunday the US turned their clocks back on account of daylight savings time; and for some reason everyone’s cell phones (Les, Suzanne, Kristy, and JD) turned back an hour as well. This made it so our alarms didn’t go off on time. No pancakes for us! We woke up an hour later than planned, quickly packed our bags (inadvertently forgetting Alex’s Kindle!), and after a quick round of goodbyes, we rushed out the door and just made our flight.
Because it is Fall in South America, we are anxious to get to Patagonia before the weather turns bad, so flew from Santiago South to the Straights of Magellan where we will start our exploration of Patagonia. We plan to be back in Santiago next month and we’re looking forward to visiting with the Miller’s again.