If you studied English as a foreign language at school, you probably heard this question in that lesson about superlatives:
"What is the driest place in the world?"
And you might remember when the teacher's pet raised his hand and replied "The driest place in the world is the Atacama desert".* And you felt miserable when he added a new praise sticker to his collection.
Never mind. He might be making millions now leading some international corporation, but you are the one who will visit this land of superlatives right now, as you read about my flight to Iquique (IQQ), a beach city in the north of Chile, surrounded by the driest desert in the world.
This is leg 2 of 7 of this trip:
If you like, you can also read the reports for legs 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.
The most sluggish website in the world - Getting my ticket
Talking about superlatives, several months before the flight I type "latam.com" into my web browser, press enter, and go to the kitchen for a cup of coffee while their homepage finishes loading.
Yes, LATAM's website drives me nuts, but the prices are still great. 95 USD—fees, taxes, and checked baggage included—for a 1500km round trip to a popular summer destination in the middle of the high season sounds OK, doesn't it?
I am allowed to choose my seat immediately. This is an early morning flight and I'm heading north, so I choose a window on the left in order to avoid the intense sunlight from the east. I'm afraid I won't see much more than the ocean this time, though. Will be different on the way back. ^^
Here's the complete seat map for this A321 flight one month before ETD.
The seat next to me is still empty. Stay like that, please!!
The most hated passenger in the world - Checking in
48 hours before ETD.
I'll use my cellphone to check in this time.
Even though I am registered with LATAM, I still have to enter all my personal information on LATAM's app. Due to security concerns, I suppose.
The app is outdated. There are no long distance calls within Chile now. All calls are local. A box for a city code is redundant.
I can change my seat or keep the one I chose when I bought the ticket. Let's see the seat map.
Wait… what?! I can't believe it!
Noooooo!!! Someone has taken 4B next to me!!!
Who on earth takes a middle seat when there are dozens of other free seats available on a plane, huh? WHO!!
But he will pay dearly for his audacity! I will go to the restroom every ten minutes!
MWAA HA HA HA…
Er… my boarding pass:
The reddest eyes in the world - Night at the airport
I still regret my decision to spend the night at the airport. If you read my previous report, you know that I am making a stop at SCL because there are no direct flights from my hometown to Iquique. The thing is, I thought I would be able to sleep like this lady…
…and like dozens of others who spent the night in a dedicated area of the airport, which, in spite of being "dedicated", has nothing to make it more comfortable. It's just a corner of the airport from which the guard won't shoo you away if you decide to sleep there.
The thing is… the floor was too hard for me and the seats, so comfortable to sit in, turned out to be terrible as beds.
I wanted to go landside, where the floor is carpeted, but I had a bag to check. Long story short, this was a sleepless night.
Besides talking to an Argentine couple and sitting next to a Peruvian guy who was making strange noises (like humming, but in a scary way and for hours) I had all the time in the world to walk around the premises.
I found this touchscreen where you can leave your suggestions.
I suggest they provide charging outlets for cellphones…
…and the machine replies that someone will read my suggestion. Can I trust a machine?
Well, someone does read my suggestion. Two weeks later I receive an email from the airport's "communications coordinator" explaining that this kind of improvements are included in their plans for the airport.
But other small Chilean airports have already found a solution, as you will see in my next report.
I pay a visit to the bathroom. Changing boards are available in men's and ladies' restrooms. I never saw this blue sign before.
I don't trust people in this regard. I obsessively avoid touching anything in public restrooms, even door handles! Yes, I know there are doctors for this.
04:06 a.m. I'm so sleepy that I can hardly make out the words and numbers on the screen. In some minutes I'll be able to register my bag and go airside at last.
I am confused. According to this I have to check in my bag in counters 105-108.
But this is what counters 105-108 look like at the moment.
Oh, I see. This is where I must go. Don't ask why. I can't think. I walk (in my sleep) to the counters.
LATAM really appreciates that I'm not changing it for another airline. Thanks for flying with us, they say.
From there to security check.
Airside. Almost all shops are closed.
Airports don't respect circadian rhythms at all.
Something tells me that this will pose a threat to my diet.
04:30 a.m. I wish I could sleep as soundly as they do. I could really use some sleep. I wonder if I will be able to take a short nap before boarding…
I wonder…. yaaaaaaaawwwwwwnnn…. If I could……
Yikes! What time is it? Did I miss my plane?
Phew! The door is being prepared for boarding. I think I slept for an hour or so, but that was enough! Flight status: On time.
There we go.
CC-BEF is already waiting for us.
I'm not the only one eager to leave!
The competition has taken over the jetbridge!
I'm pressing the shutter button when this FA suddenly jumps into the scene out of nowehere. Later he will do something incredible. Keep reading! BTW, I love that flooring…
…and the colors in LATAM's newer aircraft. I wish they had come up with an equally beautiful livery. Nothing is perfect. :(
My seat. Ouch! I will have to stretch and twist to take good pictures.
The view out of my window. The sun will soon rise from behind the mountains.
The seatback pocket.
I love this cover.
Welcome to Melbourne! LATAM has recently opened its longest ever route: SCL - MBW
The art is beautiful in this issue, depicting some traditions of the south of Chile and Argentina.
Safety instructions, both sides.
The charging outlet. Great! My cellphone was needing it badly!
I love these seats. They are thin and leave a lot of legroom.
The overhead panel.
Costanera Center peeks from behind San Cristóbal hill.
This lady drives the jetbridge away. From the depths of my sleepy brain emerges a question: Can women drive a jetbridge in Saudi Arabia?
Meanwhile, the FAs are trying to troubleshoot a problem with the safety video. The video starts three times, but we can hear the sound only. The screens remain blank. They eventually give up and play an alternative safety instructions recording. The screens will remain blank for almost the whole trip, until around half an hour before our arrival at Iquique, when the flight map will displayed.
We taxi to the north end of the runway past some emergency vehicles…
…doubtfully lawful LAW Airline… (oh, my. They are painting a former Alas Uruguay aircraft. This is heartbreaking)
Steep turn to the west. Please forgive the quality of the photographs. It was a hazy morning.
Now we're flying towards the sea.
There's the sea! Santiago is less than 100km from it.
Turn to the right again. Now we're flying north. Hey! What's down there?
Surprise, surprise! It's Valparaíso and Viña del Mar! I was wondering if I could see them from the air, but I never expected it would be this clear!
East of Viña del Mar are the towns of Villa Alemana (upper left) and Limache (bottom center). I climbed those very hills next to Limache in July 2016 and wrote a tourism bonus about it!
The town of Quintero (on the peninsula) and GNL Quintero, a gas company.
Rivers La Ligua and Petorca reach the sea.
Ten minutes later, this is the last portion of land I will see until we arrive in Iquique.
In the meantime, the snack service has started. As mentioned in my previous report, LATAM has improved its snack service and you can pick two snacks out of four listed in a menu. My selection this time is the same as before, because I fell in love with their…
…and their nut mix is better than their cereal bars.
I also add creamer to my coffee this time.
BTW, who was the hideous passenger who took the seat next to mine? It was a lady who was going to visit her elderly mother for her 84th birthday. She was almost in tears when she thought about her. We had a nice chat and she gave me some advice on how to relieve my mother's pain caused by her arthrosis using natural remedies. I personally prefer the doctor's prescriptions, but I'll let my mother know. I didn't have the heart to take revenge and go to the restroom every ten minutes. ^^
A surprise invitation!
Almost two hours later we are arriving at our destination.
U-turn to the right. This is my first view of Iquique.
We leave the city behind us as we head south along the coast towards IQQ airport.
A fisher's town. BTW, you have no idea how expensive the land is down there. Flanked by high hills, the only direction Iquique can grow is south, towards the airport.
The terminal is farther ahead.
Chilean Airways, a charter airline. CC-CVI is a B737-200. My first flight ever was on a B737-200! I'd love to fly on one of those again!
And here we are!
I wait until most passengers have disembarked. The antimacassar. Nice design.
Then the most surprising thing happens:
I walk to the exit and say goodbye to the FA that I unintentionally photographed while boarding. He says: I saw you taking a lot of pictures. Would you like to photograph the cockpit? My jaw drops and the world seems to switch to slow motion. I have never been inside a cockpit! Really? Can I? I don't want to bother the pilots, I say. Just wait a moment until he leaves, he says pointing at a guy who was talking to the captain. I wait in a corner and take this picture of the galley while the FA says goodbye to the passengers.
Then he comes back to me and tells me to go into the cockpit. I walk slowly and quietly, as if entering a temple. And there they are, Captain and First Official. I don't talk to them. They are going through some checklist, I think, and the sun on their faces is enough annoyance for them. I take the photograph and walk backwards as silently as I entered. I'm about to faint, or piss my pants. I thank the FA. I want to kiss his hand!
I walk along the jetbridge thinking about this unexpected experience…
…and emerge at this open section of the jetbridge. Why isn't it completely covered? Remember we are in the driest desert in the world. It never rains here!
It's the Empire of Sunshine, to the right…
…and to the left.
A last shot at CC-BEF.
I breathe in the salty breeze coming from the sea. It's wonderful! And the temperature is at a constant 25°C. This is paradise! We enter the boarding room.
Boarding room to the left…
…and to the right.
Stairs to baggage claim.
Transfer stands are inside baggage claim but, unlike PMC, there's no way you can overlook them.
Who - on - earth flies in stilettos!!
I used to think my English was bad… until I saw this translation. They suggest you use the official transportation only.
My long-unseen cousin Cecilia is waiting for me outside. Before we get in the car I take this photograph of the terminal.
I have a great feeling about this trip: So much light, the delightful weather, the visit to the cockpit… good vibes from everywhere.
Feel the vibes in the following tourism bonus! ^^
Tourism bonus: Iquique
Iquique and its airport lie on a narrow plain between the sea and the cliffs of the Cordillera de la Costa (coast range).
The airport is linked to the city by a well kept higway. There's a toll (1600 CLP = 1.5 USD)
See those dark lines on the hillsides behind Iquique? That's the main access to the city. It's a long, long way up, and a long, long way down.
Access to the city from the airport.
The city has a nice looking costanera (sea front)…
…with manicured gardens.
A major achievement when you're in the middle of the driest desert in the world!
Even these cacti are introduced. They can't live in the Atacama desert, either.
Slava park. These geese are made of stone. It's a memorial to the real ones, that died of thirst.
Just kidding! ^^ It's a memorial to immigrants from former Yugoslavia!
You can go swimming on Cavancha beach.
You can feel safe there. There's always a watching eye. BTW, where did he go??
Don't swim on Brava beach. Bravo/brava means fierce, ferocious, violent. Get the idea?
Even though we are in the desert, the water is cool because of the Humboldt current. Nevertheless, water as clear as this is something unusual for me, coming from the south, where the Pacific Ocean is not as pacific as you might expect.
This is a replica of an old ship called Esmeralda (Emerald). It's historically meaningful for Chileans, since the original Esmeralda was one of the ships in a battle of the War of the Pacific. In that war, in the late 1800s, Chile took a big portion of land from Bolivia, and another big portion from Peru, including Iquique. As you might guess, Chile is not the favorite neighbor in this neighborhood.
I wouldn't really care if someone took some barren land from me. The problem is that this barren land was full of mineral resources such as a nitrogen-rich stuff called saltpeter. Its extraction meant an economic boom for the country, until some smarty-pants German invented artificial saltpeter during World War I. A lot of mineral products, especially saltpeter, were exported through Iquique. The city still preserves some testimonials of that era, like these façades on Baquedano street.
These wooden sidewalks were made with Douglas-fir wood (Pseudotsuga menziesii) brought from North America. The ships left the wood and took the mineral away.
This guy has some very interesting stuff.
Prat square. That old tram is only a tourist attraction.
The Municipal Theater opposite the square. A show of traditional music and dances was being set up. I didn't stay for it, but you will see the participants in the photographs below.
The clock tower in Prat square.
The tram is taking some performers to the beginning of the parade.
The parade begins. Huasos (country men) from central Chile.
I lose track at this point. The signs show that some performers are Chilean teachers, and some are from the Sangre Cruceña Ballet, from Bolivia.
And Patagonian gauchos.
Hope you had fun. Thanks for reading! ^^
Santiago - SCL
Iquique - IQQ
LATAM The airline's new cabins and improved snack service make them climb to the top of my list of favorite airlines. Well, my list consists of two airlines only, but that's enough to turn me into an authority within the Chilean context of commercial aviation. I'm sending all my appreciation to that FA that let me into the cockpit.
SCL Do we really have to wait until 2020 to have a lousy USB charging outlet??? Inhumane conditions for night travellers, especially airside. "You can relax at our dedicated sleeping area" = "Go lie like a dog in that corner, you Y traveller."
IQQ Didn't see much of it this time, but it looks large and comfy, and everything went quite straightforward.
* Some say the Dry Valleys. in Antarctica, are even drier. But at least there is some water nearby in the form of lakes and glaciers. Atacama is dry as a bone.
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