When I woke up on day one in Santiago, the first order of business was to procure a new camera. While I love my little 2 megapixel job, and it's good in a pinch, it's just not the device you want on a trip like this. After asking directions from the German dude at the front desk, I walked up to the city center - about 5-6 blocks to the north. It's quite the place - pedestrian-only walkways loaded with shopping and restaurants and ice cream parlors and internet cafes and banks and... It all has a very European feel to it - I'd swear I was in Madrid or Barcelona at times.
After a couple hours of walking around I could feel it - that crappy feeling right before you get sick - I suddenly had a sort throat and a runny nose. An inevitability while traveling to be sure, but I wasn't looking forward to it. After visiting pretty much every camera shop and department store in an 8 block radius I gave up on the city center and took the subway out to the ‘burbs where I found a very large Americanized mall. It had all the fixins' - TGIFriday's, Ruby Tuesday's, Tony Roma's and all the usual fast food places - McDonalds, Burger King, etc. After my bus ride and being sick, it actually was kind of nice to see. Anyway, I looked around for a camera and finally found my model in a department store. I'd really gotten used to my good camera, and really wanted one just like it. However, when I looked at the price, I had to do the math about four times in my head to be sure - it was almost double what I'd paid for it in the states. Yikes. I liked that camera, but not that much. I checked every other store, and if they had the model, it was the same price. Crap. I moped my way back to the subway, contemplating my options.
As soon as I got to my hostel (which was really cool by the way - lots of people in and out - I met some dude named Andy from KU, and a great girl from Ireland named Ciara - pronounced Kyra, a pool, a BBQ on Friday nights, free wireless internet access, and a great house dog with his own couch) I got online and checked prices for the camera. Finding it to be even cheaper than when I had originally bought it, I ordered a new camera from Amazon.com and had it sent to my folks. They were already set to send a box of winter clothes for my Antarctic excursion. We hadn't yet decided on a specific time or location - the likely destinations being either here in Santiago or in Argentina somewhere. Genius. And a hell of a lot cheaper than buying it here. I spent a couple days screwing around on FedEx.com figuring out the potential for duties and taxes on international packages in both Chile and Argentina (it's freakin' complex), and I figured having it sent to Santiago would be cheaper and faster than going to Ushuaia. So, after going over the plan with my dear mother, we were set.
I ended up spending almost two weeks in Santiago, which I'll attempt to summarize as concisely as possible as to save you from a long diatribe of every day in the capital of Chile. I spent this chunk of time here for a couple reasons:
1) I didn't feel good. I hate being sick. And, as a few of my friends pointed out later - I don't get sick very often. If I actually mention it to someone, it's usually pretty bad - and it was. Enough to keep me in bed for a day or two. I wasn't going to the doctor, and I didn't really want to start my antibiotics just two months into the trip. So, as I usually do, I just took it. Now some people are consoled by chicken noodle soup, for some it's a steady diet of water and sleep... for me it's a little different. My demeanor and attitude improve dramatically inside a movie theater. It's a chance to escape from the world for a couple hours, and in this case, a chance to escape from my symptoms. Fortunately, being the cosmopolitan city it is, Santiago has three movie theaters within striking distance from my hostel. It was actually quite lovely - the majority of the movies were shown in English with Spanish subtitles. And, I figured walking a few blocks in the sunshine every day would help me deal with my ailments. So, over the course of the next several days I saw the following: The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond, Rocky Balboa, The Pursuit of Happyness, Hollywoodland and Dreamgirls. Yes, I know, when said like that, it seems somewhat ridiculous. However, those of you who know me best are probably not all that surprised. For those of you who don't, please visit my movie page.
Anyway, I of course knew the Academy Awards were coming up, and I purposefully tried to squeeze all of them in before the Sunday of the Oscars. I'd planned on just checking out the winners the following Monday, but as luck would have it, the hostel has direct TV, and at the moment of the start of the show, I was the only one in the TV room. I flipped through and found them on TNT - in English. It was like God understood what I needed to recover. Needless to say, by the next day I was feeling quite a bit better.
- A quick side note on watching the Oscars at a hostel in Santiago, Chile - At the start of the broadcast, I was alone. As the night went on, there were 11-12 people watching it with me. A full six made it the distance to see "The Departed" win Best Picture at a little past 2:00 am our time. I'm not the only geek in the world.
2) The package. Between movies and Kleenexes, I was busy figuring out the customs stuff, talking with my folks back home, and arranging for the delivery of a 21 pound box of winter clothes and a camera to Santiago. Since I'm on a bit of a schedule and it was already late February and my trip to Antarctica probably wouldn't wait for me if I told them my jacket was stuck in Venezuela somewhere, I decided to not screw around with it and have it sent via FedEx. More expensive to be sure, but at least it can be tracked. My folks shipped it off on Tuesday afternoon from Joplin, MO, and I was notified it had made it to the customs house in Santiago on Thursday. FedEx rules. However, I had to go out to the Santiago airport to the customs house to pick it up. Now, I don't know if any of you have had to pick up a package from an airport, but I sure as hell hadn't. I'd never done it in the states, much less in Chile... and in Spanish. Where the hell do you go? I rode a bus out to the airport and headed to the main terminal first. Maybe there was a FedEx office in there. Umm no. I talked to the information desk who after looking at me strangely directed me to a set of buildings way off to the east - the cargo area. Awesome. So, there I walked, across parking lots, through fences and across restricted streets. I was pretty sure I'd be stopped by the airport police or security - but I was just fine.
The FedEx office was in the third building I searched. I had to present my passport and immigration card to get in the door. I spent a few minutes with the fine people from FedEx explaining the situation, and 20 minutes later I was through customs and on my way. A sweet little lady named Lorena helped me through customs. I had it in my head I would have to pay a couple hundred bucks in duties or taxes - After 20 minutes I was on my way without paying a peso. I was a happy, happy man.
So, there it is. Nearly two weeks after arriving in Santiago, I was healthy, had a set of winter clothes for my adventure in the White Continent, and also had a new camera. The world was spinning properly again.
My next trick was to find transportation to Ushuaia. It's a remote place - The Southernmost city in the world. I'd planned on booking a bus from Santiago to Puerto Montt, then flying from there to Punta Arenas, with the last leg being a long bus ride from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. I talked to a lady from the travel agency about booking the bus ride for the last segment of the trip. She was pretty unhelpful, and said I should just book it when I got there. Thanks.
I set about gathering my things - packing up and thinking about getting online to book a bus ticket when the lady came screeching after me. She'd found a last-minute fare on LAN.com offering a flight from Santiago to Ushuaia round trip for $270 USD. At first I didn't believe her. Just the flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas was $230, then I'd add on the bus pieces to either end. Then I saw it for myself. I could have kissed her, had she been attractive in the least. Screw the bus - I'm flying to Ushuaia! I was excited. These last two weeks while pretty boring in the grand scheme of things, had really re-energized me. I had my stuff, got my camera back, felt a hell of a lot better, and now had a cheap flight to Ushuaia. I'm back.