Here comes the saddest part of my summer holidays: the flight back home.
This flight takes place while the whole nation is horrified by the worst wildfires in the history of the country. Santiago is engulfed by a thick cloud of smoke coming from the south, and dozens of fires can be seen from the plane. A not so thrilling ending for what was one of the most thrilling trips of my life.
Here we go.
This is the seventh and last leg of this trip around the north of Chile.
If you like, you can also read the reports for legs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
After a night’s stop in Santiago, I head back to the airport on Saturday morning. As usual, the road from my family’s place to the airport involves a ride on the metro…
…and one on the Centropuerto bus, which usually waits outside Los Héroes metro station, at a specially adapted section of the park that separates both strips of the Alameda. But something is different today. No blue buses to be seen around here! I stand in the street for a moment, bewildered. Where on earth are the buses?!
I’m about to fall on my knees with my arms to the sky crying for help when I see this bus parked across the street, blocking the traffic going downtown. Mechanical problem, perhaps?
I realize that this bus has been placed there on purpose. I wonder if some orange cones wouldn’t have done the trick. I’m intrigued. Looking around I realize that Centropuerto buses are parked one street beyond. Run, Nelson, run!
This is the view from my window. That fat bus driver looks as puzzled as me at the sight of the unusual blockade, and this police officer - or carabinera - doesn’t seem to be enjoying her Saturday morning shift!
In Centropuerto buses, baggage is stored in holds under the passenger cabin - just like standard buses - and in this small area behind the driver’s seat. This turned out to be an advantage compared to TurBus buses, because it makes baggage delivery much faster. See my previous report under "Back at SCL" .
My ticket. You pay directly to the driver when you board.
We head west along the Alameda (Amazing! Many potholes have been fixed!)…
…and then along Ruta 68, which goes to Viña del Mar and Valparaíso…
…as shown by the gray line on this map.
As we arrive at SCL…
…the small number of cars on the road…
…contrasts with the chaos outside the terminal.
National departures on my left.
Considering the size of the city it serves, SCL is a relatively small airport, with a simple L shaped terminal building. Here, national departures is on the right end of the terminal, and international departures on the left. The largest aircraft on the left corner is Qantas 747, which has been flying between Santiago and Sydney three times a week since 2012.
The domestic flight section is crowded at the moment…
…unlike international flights.
However, Sky and LATAM have lots of counters available, so the queue moves fast. My bag was 12kg yesterday. I hope my cousin will enjoy her 600 grams of souvenirs!
BTW, what a dirty counter!
I’m not in the mood for shoving my way through the crowd today, so I head immediately towards security check. Nothing can distract me… Look! Vinyl records!
Why am I so weak?! :’’’(
Madonna and me make it airside in a trice.
My boarding pass. First time I get this red sticker warning that the gate will close 20 minutes before departure. For passengers who don’t mind reading their BPs, I suppose.
Sigh. Madonna’s music is tightly woven into my memories of high school. Look! The lyrics to La Isla Bonita (“the beautiful island”). Poor Madonna. She’s a frustrated Latina. Wait… what is this?! Te “diso”?!?! Ay, caramba! The word is “dijo”, Maddy, my dear!
Let’s see. It’s 11:37 and boarding starts at 12:55. Plenty of time for some airspotting…
…which turns out to be unexpectedly fruitful considering I’m at the national departures wing.
Gol PR-GUG, side one.
And finally my avión for today: five-year-old CC-BAZ.
In a remote corner, somewhere near the parking lots by the access to SCL, British Airways waits for its non stop journey to LHR.
Not really a fan of their livery, though. Almost as dull as LATAM’s, IMHO.
In spite of being a large hub, the environment at SCL is always relaxed. I mean, it can be crowded sometimes, but I’ve never seen anyone exhausted for walking so much or frantically looking for their gate. Hope this won’t change after the enlargement!
Priorities are strictly followed. People with special needs board first.
Cuddling my cat again: Yippee!! Going back to work: Boo - hoo…
Fixing my fence, painting some walls, mowing the lawn… Wait! Don’t push! I want to go back!!!
Too late. :(
Legroom has been acceptable in all my LATAM flights in the last months. Cabins in domestic flights are always full Y down here.
How can this happen! And on a five-year-old cabin!!
“Vamos”. Where? To Quito? Very high on my wishlist.
They forgot “Always carry some kind of eye protection in case you are forced to see our new livery.”
Table tray. Wow!
Five years old?
Instructions are given manually. No monitors at all. I apologize for the bad quality of this shot. I was in stealth mode, just in case. ^^
Yeah! Let women do the hard work while we talk on the phone! XD
According to flightradar24.com we are leaving with a 13-minute delay, but will land ahead of schedule.
Today’s tail assortment. Gonna miss Air Canada’s blue livery. But I also like the new one. I find it sober and elegant.
Gol PR-GUG, side two. I’m proud to be posting the first flight report where aircraft are photographed on both sides. A whole new 3D experience! XD
Flight to Sydney, anyone?
Or to “Америка”, perhaps? XD
While taxiing we pass by what looks like CD’s hanging from a wire fence.
As I’ve said before, every Chilean airport seems to have its own intriguing contraption on display. This is SCL’s. I wonder what this is for.
Eh? Pass me the Raid!
The smoke from wildfires is so thick that the runway lights must be kept on. In fact, I had to adjust the brightness and contrast of many pictures for you to see details more clearly. Take this photo as an example:
Down there is Carén tailings dam, where toxic waste from El Teniente mine is stored. I used to mistake it for Aculeo lagoon, which is nearby.
At least the top of the mountains are still free from the smoke, showing off the last remains of snow at the end of the summer.
However, that beautiful snow caused another tragedy last February. Since the weather is getting warmer, the snow line is getting higher, and it rained where it only used to snow. This melted the snow, causing huge landslides that killed several people and left Santiago without running water for days.
I think I’ll better stop watching out of the window before I get depressed.
The snack service starts. I’m waiting for the young male FA to hand me the brief menu I got used to after the last three flights on LATAM, but this time he just hands me a sweet cake and a cereal bar without asking any questions. Those are precisely the two options I wouldn’t have chosen!
Moments later, my neighbor at 4C complains in a friendly way and a senior female FA replies that they are running short of the salty options. But they change their cake for a salty one, anyway.
Too late for me, though. I have already eaten my sweet muffin. Can’t change it! Wildfires, landslides… and now this?! Isn’t there enough misery in this country already???? :’’’(
We continue our trip south over the smoky Valle Central.
I wouldn’t like to be down there in Cauquenes at this moment!
Global warming is blamed for creating the conditions for the fires, but several people were arrested under arson charges.
Many people asked the government to hire the services of a firefighting 747 called Supertanker.
Surprisingly, the government refused and claimed that this aircraft was not suitable for Chile’s geography. A married couple offered to pay for bringing the 747 from the US to Chile and for the first days of service, but the government still took several days to give their authorization. The couple said that they were shocked that the government was drawing conclusions without ever having asked the experts about the way the aircraft worked. More info here.
There was public uproar. Eventually, the plane was authorized to land in Chile. Since the very first round its effectiveness was clear. In fact, it was amazing! But the government insisted that the plane was under a test period, that the safety of the population might be at risk, etc.
Days later the government announced excitedly that the Russians would send an Ilyushin IL-76 to fight the fires. It was not as large as the Supertanker, but it also proved to be very useful. There was an official, high-profile reception when the aircraft made it to Santiago.
In the end, most of the fires were extinguished, but in many cases help came too late. Several firefighters, police officers, and other people died. And the scandal came when a TV channel revealed in a report called The Cartel of Fire that the government’s wildlife protection agency, Conaf, which questioned the usefulness of the Supertanker from the beginning, hampering its arrival in Chile, had hired three questionable Spanish companies to provide firefighting helicopters. These companies were being investigated in Spain for more than a year for paying bribes in order to get contracts.
Needless to say, president Bachellet’s popularity fell in the latest surveys to 23% of approval (it wasn’t much higher before, anyway), and support to her government plummeted to 18%.
In spite of being “in the eye of the storm”, the little towns of Cabrero and Monte Águila can breathe fresher air because the fires are to the west and the wind blows towards the north. In the distance, Mount Nevados de Chillán…
The town of Laja, at the confluence of rivers Laja and Bío Bío.
Now flying over La Araucanía region. The town of Nueva Imperial, where my parents met. :3
This is where mom used to live as a teenager. Dad moved here when he got his first job. I spent many wonderful summer holidays down there, and went for boat rides in the placid river Chol Chol.
In the distance, volcanoes Villarrica (foreground) and Lanín (background).
River Toltén shows that we have already reached Los Ríos region. Home!
Volcanoes Mocho and Chos-Huenco are just west of Valdivia. We are already descending…
…through the clouds…
…over hills where native forest has been devastated and replaced with pine plantations.
Only some patches of native forest - called Valdivian forest - remain. Another tragedy.
The town of Lanco, and the Arauco pulp mill in the background.
I’m happy to see that the fire didn’t affect this area.
About to land.
San José de la Mariquina.
And here we are.
A gorgeous day at Pichoy (ZAL)
If you notice, ZAL has two jetbridges. The one on the right leads directly to baggage claim. The one on the left has an extension that goes all along the second floor of the building, which makes for a fantastic observation deck.
Sometimes we land and head directly for the terminal. This time we have reached the end of the runway…
…and turn around.
We are welcomed by a proper wing walker. You reading this, Sky Airline?
Jetbridge this time. Too bad. It was a nice day for photographs of the plane. :(
In compensation, we will be using the left jetbridge. I will be able to take some photos from there.
Emergency vehicles on the left.
On the right, the boarding room on the first floor, baggage claim, and the other jetbridge.
That’s the access from gate 1. I must go to the right…
There you are CC-BAZ.
We get to the other end…
…and see a bunch of air-spotters.
The only belt at baggage claim.
I’m not the only one interested in planes, it seems!
I recover my bag in a matter of minutes. To the main hall.
It’s always encouraging when someone is happy to see you… even of only for selling you a transfer ticket!
The road from the airport to Valdivia will serve as a little bonus.
After a couple of weeks roaming around the driest desert in the world…
…you start missing the green fields, the trees…
…and the clouds that occasionally pour a shower without warning.
A man on the sidewalk is offering a cabaña. I guess more than half of the households in Valdivia have a room or a small cabin that is rented to tourists or to the thousands of young people who study at the various local universities.
It’s Bierfest next week! Well, I don’t care much. I don’t like beer or wine. Yes, I know that’s not very patriotic from my part, living in a wine-producing country. Chile also has a strong German heritage thanks to the settlers that came to this area in the 1800s.
We are going to cross river Calle Calle.
The Costanera - or river front - and its posh residential neighborhood. A nice place to come for a walk or to ride your bike.
Here we are. This is “the park”. Nobody remembers its name. We just call it el parque. And el parque marks the end of this memorable journey.
Thanks for reading!
Santiago - SCL
Valdivia - ZAL
LATAM has been making visible efforts to improve its catering and are offering better free snacks. I can't understand, however, why they leave the oldest cabins for the flights to my hometown. I'm gonna take offence.
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