Balmaceda is a tiny village in Patagonia, in the south of Chile. Its airport (BBA), almost as large as the village itself, serves the largest town in the area, Coyhaique, from where you can visit lots of beautiful places including fjords, glaciers, mountains, and lots of waterfalls, which is precisely what I came here for.
I left some images of my first two days in Coyhaique at the end of my previous report. Don't miss the pics of the amazing Marble Caves!! This time I’ll start off with a brief (19-photograph-long) pre-flight bonus with images of my last excursion, when I visited…
Queulat Glacier and the Enchanted Forest
FYI a glacier is a river of ice. The ice flows downhill just like water does in a normal river of water. Ice is pushed down by its own weight, and when it reaches the sea or the edge of whatever it's flowing on, huge pieces fall with thunderous noise.
On our way to the glacier, our guide takes us along the Carretera Austral (Southern Road), past some jaw-dropping sights:
Farellones, on the road from Coyhaique to Puerto Aysén.
Las Torres Lagoon.
A view of the Carretera Austral.
A perfect mirror.
El Cóndor waterfall. There are literally thousands of waterfalls like this in the area. Actually, there's water flowing and falling all around us all the time during our trip.
Notro is an abundant flowering tree in the south of Chile.
This is our first view of Queulat glacier. Our driver stops at this point for us to take pictures of it because this is the only place from where you can see the top of the glacier. Once you get to its foot you can only see its lower frontal section.
And there it is!
Its waters form the Ventisquero lagoon.
A closer view lets you see the crumbling ice about to fall…
And the point where water flows from it.
On the way back to Coyhaique we go for a short trek in the Bosque Encantado (Enchanted Forest), a particularly damp corner of the forest with an abundance of moss, lichen and parasitic plants growing on the trees, giving them a sort of ghostly appearance. Nothing to fear, of course. On the contrary, it's a fascinating place!
Would you spend a night there? I'd love to! In fact, I felt compelled to hug a tree. Silly me. :)
Enough leisure. Let's get down to business. :)
I purchase my ticket six months in advance, in April. For some unknown reason, I am allowed to select my seat three months later when LAN becomes LATAM.
Seat map for the flight.
I check in while in the van on my way back from Queulat. At the end of the process, crafty LATAM announces "We have seats reserved for you! You can keep OUR selection or choose a different one." Hey! I chose my seat myself months ago! I tap on Save and continue and I get confirmation that my check-in was successfully completed. I can see…
…my boarding pass, which is useless if you check your baggage. A new boarding pass is printed instantly at the counter.
To the airport :'''(
It's time to say goodbye to Coyhaique. The transfer swiftly drives southward along Ogana Avenue. Mount MacKay is there to bid farewell.
The way to the airport is also very scenic.
As we get closer to the border with Argentina the land becomes flatter and devoid of trees.
The Carretera Austral continues southward to the right. We keep driving straight ahead towards Argentina.
A sad view to finish my trip: Those gray mounds are remains of trees cut down in the 1930s and 40s. To foster settlements in this area, the Chilean government offered the land to those who "cleaned" it, that is, those who cut all the trees down. The land was never cultivated and the trees were left there to rot. That wood can't be burned now. It crumbles in your hand. The men just came, destroyed everything, and left. There are vast extensions covered with those rotten trunks nowadays.
The road descends slowly to the village of Balmaceda…
…which is only a little bigger than the airport.
There's a lot of construction going on at BBA.
As seen in my previous report, BBA is an old airport, and it looks like it's being completely upgraded.
New taxiways are being built.
We drive around the parking lot…
..and are left at the entrance.
I pay the cinco lucas (5000 CLP) to the driver and enter the main hall. Whoa! I didn't expect such a crowd in such a little airport serving such a little city during such an unimportant time of year!
I hear the first call for my flight while in the queue. Thank goodness we are moving fast. Can you see the monitor on the left? It's airside in the boarding room behind the counters. Small airport, indeed!
Beside us is the line for the Sky Airline flight with the same route (BBA - PMC - SCL)
I check my baggage and am given a printed boarding pass. A waste of paper.
Once my baggage has been checked I still have some minutes for a tour around the premises. This is the whole main hall as seen from the baggage claim area. there's a cefeteria upstairs. That booth with a green shield painted on it is Carabineros, the police.
On the left, rental car stands.
On the right, the exits and a gift shop.
In the gift shop I find these lambs wearing French berrets. No. Patagonians are not mentally unstable. It's just that lambs are abundant here, and berrets are part of the traditional outfit of the Patagonian gaucho (countryman). It's become very popular among men in this part of the country.
And… surprise, surprise!!! I was looking for one of these!!! These cups are called mate (ma as in marble, and te as in test). Mate is a herb you make infusions with, just like tea, and it's also the name of the cup you drink it in. Argentines are addicted to it. All of them. Many Chileans like it a lot, especially seniors. I have tried it once in a while, but only started drinking it more often this year when I went on a diet. Mate makes you feel full.
So here's the mate I'm taking home. It's gorgeous! Made in a single piece of wood. This mate will be my mate for a long time!
Outside, transfer vans waiting, and stray dogs. Stray dogs are a chronic problem in Chile, and it's critical in this part of the country. There are laws regulating the possession and care of pets, but they are not enforced. Look at that ceiling! Gosh. I hope it's considered in the renovation plans. And look at that lady's hair. The Patagonian wind is terrible. It can blow you down!
I fight the wind and go around the terminal.
Control tower. The wind makes it difficult to walk!!
The side of the terminal…
…and its access.
The parking lot.
Brrrrr… I'm freezing out here. I'd better go inside.
Aahhh… it's much better here. I stand in the queue for security check. There's a lot of people!
Security check is next to the check-in counters.
Heater number "2". Hm… that's a suspicious number 2. Bad use of quotation marks!
In spite of the long queue, I'm airside in less than five minutes. The waiting room is behind the check-in counters…
…and is decorated with this large mural depicting Cerro Castillo (see the tourism bonus in my my previous report) and a herd of huemuls, an endangered kind of deer. In fact, I didn't see a single huemul in this trip.
We know that we must board the plane according to row and category, but the reduced space is going to make things difficult.
The FIDS calls my attention. Quite a lot of information in comparison to other FIDS I've seen so far. Older software, perhaps?
There's a small cafeteria in the boarding room. I can't see the restrooms.
Here they are! Hidden behind the cafeteria.
From the boarding room I can see what seems to have been a Hercules, very popular in the Chilean army, "parked" beyond the runway.
We're next to the control tower. The wind is really strong here. It's peeled off the siding!!
Our plane is arriving! Who is it today?
It's one-year-old CC-BEB. I wonder if it's been fitted with the same new seats and cabin as CC-BEG, which brought me here.
All passengers start to move around and line up according to their rows. Well, we try the best we can, but the space is too small and the queue on the right extends along the back of the check-in counters all the way to security check.
The big surprise comes when we hear through the PA system that all passengers carrying a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 must contact the airline staff immediately because those devices are strictly forbidden in the aircraft. On the inbound flight they only had to be turned off. This sudden change in the policy seems to affect a young lady standing right in front of me, who starts looking around in despair, and holds a little flat, square case tightly against her stomach. Oops. She starts walking very slowly towards security check, and disappears in the crowd. Poor thing.
LATAM is announcing its new policy on their website.
Now we start a long, long walk along the longest jetbridge I've ever seen. What about some adhesive for that wallpaper?
View to the left. The airport has two jetbridges, and both are connected. The middle section of this jetbridge has large windows and is surrounded by a sort of scaffold.
We turn left towards the section with the large windows.
The jetbridge widens here, becoming a small hall where we are held for a couple of minutes.
The airport staff are busy loading the baggage for both our LATAM flight…
…and the Sky Airline flight. A little traveler drinks his chocolate milk in the meantime.
CC-BEB is waiting at the end.
After three or four minutes we are allowed to move on. This long jetbridge is an excellent idea, as the weather outside is usually beastly.
We reach the second jetbridge…
…and turn right.
Sky Airline's CC-AJF seen from the jetbridge.
A Dutch couple is walking in front of me…
…and he's carrying a big bottle of water. I'm intrigued. Is that allowed?
I contacted LATAM about this on Facebook and showed them the photograph. Their reply was sort of unexpected. They say that passengers are not allowed to carry containers with more than 100cc of any liquid in their hand luggage, and that an exception must have been made in the case of this man if he needed the water, for example… for taking some medicine!! A liter of water for a pill!?
Few buttons. Life made simple.
Boarding at last. The all-female crew is friendly, but as time passes I get the impression that they are struggling to smile.
And bingo! CC-BEB also features the newest cabin. I feel relieved!
The view from my window. New apron and taxiways under construction.
Charging outlets. Are those the IFE boxes? None under the window seats.
Tray tablet… immaculate! Tray tablets are becoming unnecessary on LATAM's domestic flights, though. :(
Safety information card.
LATAM's inflight magazine. Do you remember the meaning of Vamos? Again, that's in my previous report. :)
The cover article for this issue is Paine Towers, which is a national park in the south of Chile. If you ask me, I have my doubts that Paine Towers can beat what I've seen on this trip. Anyway, if you want to visit the towers you can fly (either with LATAM or Sky Airline) directly to Puerto Natales, which is a little north of Punta Arenas, and go on an excursion from there or stay at a hotel in the park.
The captain is talking to the FAs. I can hear him. He's Argentinean.
The overhead panel. What's the point of that No Smoking sign? Can you smoke when it's off? No!
A nice touch of color. "Latin American colors and textures," as LATAM puts it. Don't believe that. We Chileans are gray and dull. :)
Is that thing hanging loose, or is that the way it has to be?
The FA stands there as the safety video plays. She's wearing a pink ribbon as a reminder of the International Cancer Awareness Month.
Safety video. It's exactly the same video they had for LAN. They only changed the brand at the end.
The belt loader leaves and the cargo bay is locked. We're ready for…
The long, long jetbridge. CC-AJF has already left.
I must come back and see the finished work!
During taxi, this video about LATAM's entertainment system plays.
LATAM is the merger of Chilean LAN and Brazilian TAM. Hence the name. And that's why everything is in Portuguese and Spanish on their planes. And sometimes a mixture of both. We call that Portuñol (Portugués and Español)
We finally reach the head of the runway. U-turn.
A last look at the workers while the captain gets the authorization for takeoff.
And it's showtime!!
See you, Balmaceda!
Hasta la vista, multiple waterfall that I didn't visit!
But… wait… What?? Clouds!?!?
Nooooo…. it's cloudy!!! I was expecting to enjoy the Patagonian landscape from the air!!! That would be the grand finale for my trip!! Boo - hooo…. :'''(
Well, I'll take it as a message from Mother Nature that I must come back and finish what I started. :D
A new video starts playing on the overhead screens. Yes. What you see in the following photograph is precisely what it looks like. A lady is peeking under a Scottish man's kilt! Did the FA pick the wrong tape by mistake? Not at all! It's just LATAM's innocent way to make flights more bearable to those passengers lacking a device that can be connected to their entertainment system. It's a Canadian production called Just For Laugh Gags, famous in waiting rooms the world over. I think LATAM hit the nail on the head. I have a hard time trying to ignore the sketches to concentrate on my flight-reporting duties!
The snack service starts soon after takeoff. Somethig breaks my heart when I'm served a cup of coffee. Those used to be paper cups until some months ago. Now they are made of polystyrene. That's very sad, considering how harmful plastic is for the environment, especially polystyrene. An ugly step back for a company that supposedly cares for noble causes like cancer awareness.
The clouds start to break some 15 minutes before landing. I'll take the chance to contemplate the beauty of nature before it chokes completely on plastic coffee cups.
Left to right, volcanos Osorno, Puntiagudo and Calbuco.
Tiny Huelmo island. You can't imagine how much I had to search to find its name!
Salmoneras (salmon farms)
Downtown Puerto Montt comes in sight (right in the center of the photograph)
5 Sur highway, leading to Chiloé island.
Us on the fields.
Chilean oil company Copec (Compañía de Petróleos de Chile) competing with Brazilian BR. There is some oil and gas in the southernmost tip of Chile, but Copec is mostly a distributor, not a producer.
CC-AJF is already there.
Both planes will continue their trip to Santiago, but it's time for me to get off.
I'm not in a hurry, anyways. I remain seated while the other passengers deplane and this belt loader comes for our baggage.
The captain has just left the cockpit when I say goodbye to the FAs. I take the chance to thank him for the nice flight and congratulate him for the very soft landing. He laughs and says “Thanks! It works out every hundredth time!”
I go through the jetbridge and emerge…
…by the cheese stand! Same door as the outbound flight. :) But I'm not buying anything. You can find the same smoked salmon and chanco cheese at any supermarket for half the price!
The ambiance is relaxed at PMC this evening.
The people are already waiting for their baggage.
In five minutes I recover my bag and head for this counter (still inside baggage claim) to get my transfer ticket. Once you leave baggage claim you can't come back in unless someone opens the door from the inside. Weird place for the transfer stand.
A visit to the baggage claim restroom before I leave. It's clean and smells nice. Not many users, indeed.
The transfer bus leaves in five minutes. I only have time for one photo of the main hall to the right…
…and one to the left.
"El bus celeste" (the light-blue bus) the man said. There it is!
This is the ticket. Only at SCL is the transfer bus cheaper than at PMC.
The driver gets on the bus and we leave for Puerto Montt, where I'm taking a bus home. This marks the end of my little adventure in Coyhaique and Patagonia. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks for reading!
- THE END -
Er… I can't get that song out of my head now!!
Balmaceda - BBA
Puerto Montt - PMC
Positively impressed by LATAM's new Y cabins. Disappointing snack service. Even BOB would be a better option. Small, old BBA being upgraded for the growing number of visitors.
The loooove boat.....
Note: All the photographs on my reports are in the public domain and can be used freely as long as they are attributed to Nelson Álvarez, and are not used with any purpose involving any kind of discrimination or attack against any organization, individual or group of individuals based on matters of nationality, race, religion, political views, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. If you ever do so, I will follow you to the end of the world. In economy class.
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