A city named after the process of fertilization of an egg cell. (Ew!)
And a walk into the maw of hell.
All of this sounds pretty beastly, but it's precisely the stuff this report is made of.
Here we go!
A (mischievous) new kid on the block
This story begins in a warm January evening (it's summer down here, people) when I come across this piece of news that makes me jump from my seat: Latin American Wings, a relatively new airline, is coming to disrupt the binary world of Chilean air travel dominated by LATAM and Sky Airline.
Many have tried and failed before, but this airline, whose acronym is LAW (a bizarre twist of fate, as you will see below) has been in the business of international flights for some time now, and set a date for the beginning of their domestic incursions: March 13, 2017, as reported by En Vivo Desde SCL. Their first route will be Concepción - Santiago.
So what is all the fuss about? It's just another airline, right?
Yes, but it's been in the news… for a bad reason. And this makes it twice as interesting!
LAW took its first steps in January 2016. At first, it offered a destination that sounded quite logical for a Chilean airline: Punta Cana, in Dominican Republic, a popular place among Chilean summer vacationers.
The theory that LAW aircraft had become the Chilean equivalent of those rafts full of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe seemed to be supported by TV reports that showed LAW's planes leaving Santiago almost empty, and coming back from Haiti with a full passenger load.
But the TV channels went a little further, and accused LAW of fostering illegal immigration and somehow blamed the airline for a series of illegal activities originating from the increased influx of Haitian immigrants, including predatory lenders and even protestant pastors that sell invitation letters and fake work contracts to prospective immigrants.
For example, in this report by Televisión Nacional de Chile, called Arrival of Haitians: An Emerging Business…
…LAW is openly linked to expressions like human trafficking…
…and is blamed for the rocketing number of illegal Haitian immigrants in Chile, mainly because of the exceptionally low prices of their tickets.
Luis Correa, a lawyer at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, explains that there are no formal accusations against LAW, but that the government needs to know who the coyotes are. Coyotes are people that take illegal immigrants into the US across the border with Mexico.
The problem is that those immigrants are completely legal when they enter the country. They only become illegal when they fail to go back to Haiti. So, can LAW really be accused of fostering illegal immigration?
With a smeared reputation, LAW defended itself. In this open letter, LAW explains that their business is limited to taking passengers from point A to point B, and that they can't refuse selling a ticket to someone who has all their legal papers to travel to Chile. They also say that the responsibility to check that foreign visitors are returning to their countries of origin is not the airline's, but the government's.
They also mention that, according to the Haitian Consulate in Santiago, only 25% of the Haitian citizens who entered Chile in 2016 used LAW's services. The rest came with LATAM, Avianca, and Copa Airlines.
Well, you be the judge. Did LAW do any wrong? My personal answer is no, unless the authorities find something different as they dig deeper.
However, LAW doesn't seem to be intimidated by the bad publicity. This year they opened another eyebrow-raising route:
I give up.
Let's move on with the report.
Pre-flight bonus - Concepción and The Devil’s Blow
Yes. You’re right. Concepción is Spanish for “conception”, i.e. the process that most probably will take place after you have had unprotected sex.
“How on earth did this word become the name of a city?” you may ask. Well, it has to do with religion, I think. The egg cell in this case was holy, and the sperm was holy, (or came from heaven, I’m not sure). I ignore if the "tools" used in the process were holy, too. Don’t ask me for details. Religion and me are light-years away from each other.
The thing is, the city founders thought this conception in particular was something to venerate, and voilà, Concepción made it to the maps.
Concepción is the center of an industrial area where agriculture, forestry, and fishing are the main activities. Coal mining used to be important here, too, but nowadays all the mines are closed.
The miserable life of coal miners was depicted by Chilean writer Baldomero Lillo in the early 1900s. His book, Sub-Terra, is a collection of short tales depicting the abuse that miners were subjected to, and it’s mandatory reading at schools. If you need some misery in your life, you should read that book!
I learned that you can take a tour into the mine that’s mentioned in one the most famous tales in Sub-Terra: El Chiflón del Diablo, meaning The Devil’s Blow. In that story, a young man nicknamed Cabeza de Cobre (Copperhead) dies in that mine and his mother kills herself by jumping into it.
I arrive early in the city. It is a “Good Friday”, a holiday in the Christian world, so the shops are closed and the streets are almost completely deserted.
Before I take the bus to Lota, the town where the mine is located, I go for a walk around the city. I start at the campus of the Universidad de Concepción, one of the most important universities in Chile.
The clock tower is a landmark here. It was inspired by the Sather Tower of the University of California, Berkeley. The dean of the Universidad de Concepción visited that university one day, and he decided to build a bad copy of it. Very original.
This sculpture has fascinated me ever since I was a little child and saw a picture of it in some magazine.
It was built in 1964 in honor of a former dean, and consists of a human shape holding a sword, surrounded by convoluted ribbons.
Its name is Homage To The Spirit Of The Founders Of The University Of Concepción…
…and faces the clock tower.
Beyond the statue is a large grassy area surrounded by trees.
This campus is nice, but I like my town’s university better, I’m afraid.
Which doesn’t mean I don’t think this is a great place…
…to study and relax.
Not much more to see, unfortunately. I head for the exit. That building in the shape of an arch hosts the faculty of medicine.
Oh, my! I hope it’s not a depiction of some prom party gone wrong!
The streets around the university are very quiet today.
I walk along Diagonal Pedro Aguirre Cerda…
…where I find this colorful example of modern urban furnishing.
I come across the courts of justice, where…
…instead of the traditional statue of blind Iustitia holding a sword and a scale…
…I’m welcomed by Bernardo O’Higgins, called “Father of the Homeland” because of his role in achieving Chile’s independence from Spain, but also considered to be the first Chilean dictator!
A little farther is the Plaza de la Independencia, where O’Higgins solemnly declared Chile’s independence. In the middle is a very elaborate fountain. Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, is standing at the top of that column…
…and there are four lamps and four mermaids blowing conch shells at its base. The fountain was made in Liverpool, England, in the mid-1800s.
Another important landmark is this monument on the corner of the Plaza.
It’s a tribute to Mapuche toki (leader) Lautaro (the Spanish rendering of his name, Leftraru)
Mapuches defended their land, and gave the Spanish conquistadors a very hard time. The tension continues today.
Concepción was not meant to be a beautiful city. As I said before, it’s the head of an industrial area, and economical activity has brought all kinds of environmental disasters, including intense deforestation, which accelerated erosion and choked formerly navigable river Bío Bío with silt.
Let’s go to the mine.
THE DEVIL'S BLOW
At the mine’s facilities in Lota I join a group of around 20 people who have gathered for the same tour.
First, we are taken to a room where we are fitted with a helmet and a lamp with a battery attached to our belts.
Then we gather in this room…
…where our guide reads a sort of disclaimer, asking us to confirm that we comply with the health requirements for entering the mine. First and most important: not being claustrophobic!
Now we are taken down these stairs…
…and along this long tunnel, at whose bottom we must get into a cage that serves as an elevator. Four people at a time, but it’s really narrow and we feel like sardines! We descend around 30 meters.
This is my first view of the Devil’s Blow. You have to be careful not to hit the rafters with your helmet, but it’s almost impossible not to do it!
You can see the tunnels clearly because I’m using the camera flash, but this is what the tunnels really look like only with our helmet lights:
We walk some 500 meters along the tunnels, as the guide tells us about the way coal was extracted. He also tells us that the name of this mine has to do with its natural ventilation system. The air flows steadily along the tunnels, as if someone was blowing. But it’s “diabolical” since many died here because of the frequent cave-ins.
The miners had to extract the coal, that is, the black lower layer. If they mixed it with the brown stone, called tosca (tuff) they were paid less, or were not paid at all. That’s mentioned in one of the tales in Sub-Terra: El Pago (The Pay)
In some places the rafters are wet. We are walking under the bottom of the ocean!
Here the guide is telling us about firedamp, and how it was detected using birds.
Behind him is “gate number 12” (though not the original one). The guide explains that these doors were used to keep the air flowing in a certain direction, as required. But they needed to be opened once in a while. That’s why children as young as 8 years old were kept tied with ropes to a post next to the doors. They were in charge of opening and closing them, as told in the tale La Compuerta Número 12, in Sub-Terra.
When the tour comes to an end, we are taken outside through a different way, not the elevator. The tunnel gets lower and lower…
…to the point that we have to bend down and almost crawl.
It’s funny at first, but the tunnel stretches for dozens and dozens of meters and we can hardly bear to keep walking this way! Nobody is laughing anymore!
It turns into a nightmare when you can’t even rest your hands on the floor, because it’s muddy!
We reach some stairs at last! I don’t care climbing (thank goodness I ride my bike to work every day!) but I climb past some older visitors and some ladies who stand for a moment catching their breath!
The light at the end of the tunnel! I never thought I’d be so happy to see it!
Finally, a photo of the carts used to carry the coal.
I'm leaving the link to a pdf version of the book for you. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find an English translation. Now, if you are too lazy to read, you can watch the complete movie on YouTube! But it's not subtitled, either. :( Let me know if you find a subtitled version, please.
From the movie: Copperhead’s mother walking towards the mine.
Booking my flight, getting my book
As soon as I learn about LAW’s new Concepción > Santiago route, I click my way to their website and purchase a ticket at a very good price: 26.24 USD. It's the cheapest fare, but I can pick my seat at once!
No confirmation mail is sent, so make sure you make a copy of the purchase receipt with the reservation number.
And of course, I immediately order the Sub-Terra book and start reading!
Concepción's Carriel Sur Airport (CCP)
I pick my bag at the bus station, where I left it this morning. I was hoping I could take a city bus to the airport, since it looked so close to the city on Google Maps. However… surprise, surprise! There are no buses going the way of the airport.
Unless I want to pull my bag for two kilometers (I would, but I’m running late), I have to book a transfer (which I didn’t do) or take a taxi. I’m forced to do the latter. I’m charged 7000 CLP (11 USD) for the ride, which I think is OK for the distance.
This is what I see at the roundabout outside the airport.
I have seen weird contraptions in almost all Chilean airports, but they seem to be making a career out of it at CCP!!
I found its creator's website. The contraption’s name is Historia del Trompo 2 (History Of The Spinner 2). They explain (with ugly spelling mistakes) that the project intends to “generate a sculptural visibility in relation with its surroundings”…
…and “pose different visual readings depending on the movement.”
I can’t decide what’s more incomprehensible: the contraption itself or its explanation.
Judging from some of those shapes, I think that a better name would be History Of A Visit To The Sexshop! ^^
I ask the driver to leave me at this point in order to start taking pictures here. Behold Carriel Sur (CCP)’s terminal.
Parking fares are quite simplified. 30 CLP (0.046 USD) a minute. 10,800 CLP (17 USD) a whole day.
The building has unusual, curvy lines.
And lots of glass and natural light, as seems to be the norm for Chilean airports.
According to this, new works will begin in November 2017. Hm… But the terminal looks brand new. I wonder what they are planning to build.
It’s a quiet holiday today at CCP.
Finding some parking space doesn’t seem to be a problem here.
LAW has not implemented online check-in, yet. I have to do it at the counter…
…so let’s go inside.
LAW asks you to check-in 2 hours before ETD…
…but it looks like I am the only one taking the instructions seriously!
I am very impressed by the staff’s friendliness. She’s all smiles and giggles. My boarding pass gets printed on thermal paper. The boarding time displayed is actually our departure time, so the staff makes the correction.
Time for a tour inside the terminal. The west side, next to the counters.
Moving towards the middle of the hall…
…I find a map of the terminal at the foot of the stairs.
Nearby, the necessary elements for a child’s first approach to aviation…and to Disney. You can also see that somebody here doesn’t like empty walls. There are several paintings on both floors. A nice color touch.
This would account for the sleepy atmosphere at the airport today. Only three flights for the rest of the day.
To the west, passengers are just arriving from Santiago.
This mural greets them. Er… Must be a depiction of what happens to you after a crash landing.
We’re in the presence of For The Region Of The Air, by Pedro Millar.
Behind, curved stairs and an elevator.
These seats look OK, but more of those armchairs by the information desk would be great!
At the west end, a cafeteria.
Turning around, view of the hall from the west end.
A suitable symbol of flying, these condor silhouettes decorate the main doors.
Going back towards the stairs…
…I see that my flight comes next.
Going upstairs to security check is a good idea. I should use the stairs, but after a day sightseeing and crawling inside a mine I just want a break, so I take the escalator.
Surprisingly, at the top of the escalators I bump into a stand with books offering to quench my spiritual thirst.
Very practical. You can just pick something to read during your flight. Too bad I already booked my last trip… to Eternal Flames International Airport!
Side note: I tend to be very critical of Chile and Chileans. However, I feel lucky to live in a country where people as different as Jehovah’s Witnesses and me can enjoy life in peace. Just think: both they, being intolerant of LGBT people, and me, being a gay man, would be living in constant fear in other places. Take Russia, for example, where they were recently banned for "extremism" (seriously, Putin?) and crimes against LGBT people are systematically overlooked by the authorities.
Security check is right after "Is there life after death?"
The stairs are next to "Does the devil control the world?"
And this is the view from "The Watchtower"!
This is the first time I see the inside of a VIP lounge. It has transparent walls! I feel so lucky!
Beyond the lounge, over the check-in counters, are some shops…
…and this is the view from above arrivals.
A last view of level 2 before going airside.
Needless to say, I am the only one going through security check at this time, so the process takes less than a minute. After the check, this is the view in front of me…
…to the left…
…and to the right. I’m feeling a bit lonely!
Can anyone tell me what that yellow thing is?
On the right is the access to the VIP lounge…
…next to the access to baggage claim.
At the far end is door 4, my door today.
This is new for me. These footprints on the floor mark the place where you should queue up. However, I hope I’m not supposed to follow them one by one!! I mean, that would be right - right - left - right - right - left - left!! You need to be Fred Astaire to board here!!
I venture myself into this area on the left, which is separated from the rest of the boarding room by a glass screen and a police booth. I guess it’s here in case an international flight ever arrives at or departs from CCP.
There’s a cafeteria here…
…and restrooms. BTW, I’ve got something to do here.
The restrooms are immaculate. Of course. Nobody around to use them.
Not even a baby to change…
…or a disabled fellow to use the WC. Well, I’ll pretend I’m disabled for a moment.
View out of the west side window.
I should be going back to my door.
This artifact is still a mystery to me!
The departure time for my flight is 19:30, not 19:00.
Anyways, boarding is supposed to start at 18:50, but the plane has just taken off from Santiago towards Concepción, as shown by flightradar24.com. It won’t make it to CCP until at least 30 minutes more.
Not much movement on the east side of the terminal, either.
In fact, those baggage handlers look tired… of waiting!
That’s all the baggage they will have to handle for this flight.
Half an hour later… At long last!
It’s 23-year-old CC-AQL.
Some are waiting for it impatiently.
CC-AQL has had an interesting life. It started in Air Europa in 1994…
…spent some years in east Africa…
…and its characteristic flat-bottom engines ended up down here.
There comes the jetbridge.
I like those colors. We Chileans have no clue how the airline’s name should be pronounced, though.
Those who speak English say law, just like the English word. But most people say lou, as in loud.
Hope everything is going well in there.
Passengers from Santiago disembark. I count around 30.
Copycat! I am the flight reporter here!
At last! We queue up for boarding after 7 pm. This is the shortest queue I have ever seen!
I think we are less than 25 passengers.
The view from the jetbridge.
A vintage flight
In less than…
…we are all set to leave.
However, it looks like we are still loading fuel, because I can smell it. Is that normal or is it only my perception? Anyways, I take the time to take pictures like crazy. This old overhead panel!
So different from the standard Airbus kind I’m used to seeing!
As soon as we take our seats, a FA gives us some candy. I only get the last one! :(
Safety information card both sides.
Looks like they were laminated by some secretary at the office.
Aahhh… 1994 was a good old time when legroom as not an issue!
The whole frame of the seats already betrays the aircraft’s age. A bit worn here, a bit shaky there…
The tray tables just won’t fit correctly when stowed.
And the holder only holds loosely.
Those square window frames bring back memories of my first ever commercial flight on a 737-200 back in 1994, precisely when CC-AQL was born.
Oh, my! This armrest…
…reminds me of my legs last January when I forgot to put sunscreen on before sunbathing!
Safety instructions are given manually, and… surprise, surprise! The purser has the most wonderful English pronunciation!!
I give her my most heartfelt congratulations, and I tell her how much better her pronunciation is than what I’ve heard in LATAM and Sky.
The cabin is ready for takeoff. The low load is heartbreaking. I sincerely hope more passengers will come in time.
Though an empty row is never an unwelcome sight!
Pushback some 10 minutes late…
…and then we stand there for at least five minutes waiting for God knows what…
…until we finally start moving and head for the runway some 20 minutes behind the schedule. Nevertheless, the captain says we will be arriving on time.
Then the most stupid version of me takes my place and forgets the trick to take good pictures in low light, and all the ones taken during takeoff are blurred. That’s why I only have these, taken as we climb. :(
As we bank to the right I catch sight of Penco, just north of river Andalién, the original location of Concepción before it was destroyed by earthquakes, and burned down by Mapuches.
That long dock is a conveyor belt. It’s almost 2km long. More info here, by someone who went for a walk on it.
I have the impression that we will keep this slight inclination for the whole flight!
But eventually we level off. I swap to the other side and take this shot of the last sun rays over the sea.
The old, metal overhead bin lock.
And then comes a nice surprise. This snack is something I didn’t expect in a domestic flight in Chile!
It’s a fair-sized croissant…
…filled with a thick slice of ham, some tomato, and cream cheese, plus a nice piece of chocolate cake, and a glass of soda/juice/coffee. Take that, LATAM and Sky!!
The bins above row 24 are reserved for emergency equipment.
May be normal, but I never noticed it before. ^^
We are soon flying over the southern suburbs of Santiago.
We touch down in the middle of the darkness…
…and pass by the international area…
…towards national arrivals.
And here we are.
The cabin empties in a minute…
…but I ask the FAs if they’d let me take a photo of the emphatically branded galley.
They say yes, but they ask if I work for some tourism company. They are sort of curious/worried because they have seen me taking pictures like crazy the whole flight. I tell them about flight-report.com, and reassure them by saying that it has been a great experience and that they have done a wonderful job. I praise them again for their good command of English.
BTW, during the flight the purse handed me a form where I could write down my impressions of the flight. I only had words of praise for the FAs and the airline, so she was really happy.
My good old (seriously, OLD) seat. Very comfy, though.
I leave the aircraft with a good feeling. I had a great flight, different from the boring, all-too-common LATAM/Sky Airline flights.
And as I leave the jetbridge, I’m in for a surprise…
The new McDonald’s has been opened!!
Wooow! How many calories will I add to my already unhealthy diet!!
And the resting area looks very comfortable. The new concession holder, Nuevo Pudahuel, is doing a great job!
But I can’t forget to take a last picture of CC-AQL!
As I’m leaving the terminal and walk towards door 5 in order to take the bus downtown, I come across this, also new, stand featuring a touch screen.
Wow! All the information you need about the airport.
It’s not completely translated into English as of yet, though.
But it does show you were you are…
…and how to reach the bus…
…which is precisely what I’m going to do now…
…after a very long day, and an even longer flight report.
Thanks for reading!! ^^
Latin American Wings (LAW)
Concepcion - CCP
Santiago - SCL
By writing this report I learned that I can be a much better journalist than those working on TV. The way the information is dealt with on those reports about LAW is biased, to say the least. It's true that they are flying to controversial destinations, and that they are making things easier for needy people to reach Chile, but saying that LAW is to blame for illegal immigration, or for the criminality around it, is too much.
LAW is holding to "legacy" catering so far, which is enjoyable and surprising these days when Sky, our only LCC, has started charging for anything additional to your seat and hand luggage.
The most remarkable point: LAW's staff. Always smiling. Very polite. Excellent professionals.
The plane was old, but you can't help loving it. You get a glimpse of what flying was like in the good old times.
Two thumbs up for LAW !!!
CCP: Beautiful airport, but I expected better connectivity (read, public transport)
SCL: I love you, Nuevo Pudahuel !!!
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